James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan didn’t know one another before this year. But the two actors got very familiar very quickly thanks to the new film “Together,” a cutting examination of a failing relationship during the pandemic only held together by their 10-year-old son.
Armed with acerbic dialogue and honest monologues written by Tony Award-winner Dennis Kelly, an Oscar-nominated director in Stephen Daldry and a freedom to break the fourth wall and address the audience directly, McAvoy and Horgan got to flex their skills as actors while diving into the collective trauma of the past 18 months. The film opens in North American theaters Friday.
McAvoy and Horgan spoke to The Associated Press recently about the intense process and not holding anything back. Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: This was an insanely quick 10-day shoot. Were you at least able to rehearse beforehand?
HORGAN: Oh yes. There was an awful lot to work out because we were going to be in this one house and mainly utilizing two rooms and so in order for them to be in any way interesting visually to look at, we needed to sort of get it up on its feet and get moving with it. Stephen just kept us moving constantly. Then this funny thing happened, well it wasn’t funny at the time, but it kept happening... we would rehearse something and work it all out in movement and choreograph it and then no one could remember what we did... but in actual fact, you would usually end up in a place that worked better.
AP: This isn’t quite as mean as say, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” but these characters are pretty cruel to one another. Was that exciting to perform?
HORGAN: It was really exciting. Every day you just didn’t know where you’d get to and it felt really unusual to get to do that... I’m quite shy as a person. I’m a bit like, "Don’t look at me" and James is so immediately in it and doing it. It was like, “Oh we’re doing this?” You had to lose your inhibitions. You had to be willing to try anything.
MCAVOY: There’s a little bit of film acting where it’s like, “Save it for the camera, save it for the take”... People don’t even care sometimes if you’re saying the lines in the script as long as something truthful got captured on camera, something vital and alive and full of energy... But this is so detailed and so dense... you couldn’t just save it for the camera. You couldn’t just save it for the day and hope a better truth would come out because maybe a truth comes out in the first five seconds and then you realize you have 20 minutes of this and you need to make every minute work. If one minute doesn’t work... the audience will check out. It felt like we were getting to use our craft rather than just being little vehicles for honesty and truth.
AP: James, is doing a project like this about the emotional toll of the pandemic coming from the same place as your impulse to raise money for PPE?
MCAVOY: No, absolutely not. It’s just completely selfish and personal... Sometimes it’s just as simple as, “My God, the writing is compelling enough that all I need to do is look into the camera and talk to you for 10 minutes and it’s enough.” There’s something so pure about that. It’s like when you’re in the pub or your pal’s telling you a story or you’re having a conversation with a mate or your missus or your son or whoever. When the conversation is that compelling and that exciting, hours go by, days go by, weeks go by. If we can do that in writing and filming and acting, then that is really, really special because that’s real connection. This felt like it had the potential to be that.
AP: Sharon, you excel in awkward relationship truths in works like this and “Catastrophe.” Why are you drawn to that?
HORGAN: It’s what I find interesting to write and it’s what I find interesting to perform. When you’re writing about relationships, the things that are easiest to write are the ones that are dysfunctional because it’s funny or interesting. I don’t have a huge amount of interest in just having sweet stories.
MCAVOY: Generally when we’re happy, we kind of understand why we’re happy. We don’t really understand why we’re a mess, that’s why we do years and years and years and years of therapy. That’s what drama is for, that’s what comedy is for, that’s what any kind of art is for — to help us look at ourselves and understand why we’re such a (expletive) mess.
AP: Did you find yourselves turning to art over the past year for comfort or catharsis?
HORGAN: I watched an awful lot of true crime. That’s it really... When bad things are happening you kind of turn to see something worse happening to someone else.
MCAVOY: I actually started playing online video games with four of my pals. A bunch of 40-something males and here we are playing computer games.
MCAVOY: Mainly the violence happens to us though... It’ll be like kids from far-flung countries just kicking the (expletive) out of us. Every second or third night we’re chatting about life, love and everything in a way that we’ve never done and more regularly than we’ve ever done.
HORGAN: Whilst holding guns?
MCAVOY: Whilst holding control pads, pretending to be good at games whilst getting our (expletive) handed to us by foreign children.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr