CS: Welcome to CSReview, Bethany. What is it about Iceland that inspired your decision to film a heavily psychological drama there?
Bethany Orr: Psychosexual drama, is what we’re calling it, just because people want to call it something. Agorable has been termed a suicide comedy. That’s not a thing either. Genre is a mental construct created in an attempt to identify potential consumers. People want to know what they’re in for. Personally I don’t have a whole lot of use for it. As Gertrude Stein said, “There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the subject of anything.” So you know, I’m very aware that this film won’t be for everybody, but it deals with experiences most of us can relate to. Particularly, the consequences surrounding human loss.
I find the Icelandic landscape incredibly honest – very sad, very beautiful, and surreal. It’s devastating. This is very important to the externalization of what’s going on in these characters.
CS: After seeing your Agorable and with your background in psychology I am not surprised to see you working on exposing another rather complicated element of human condition. So, why grief?
Bethany Orr: Grief is the greatest adventure there is. There’s a complete loss of control that happens when a person is in mourning. You enter this kind of fugue state where everything is more real than it’s ever been, and none of it is important at all. And it seems to have you in its clutches until it doesn’t anymore, or until you learn how to function and move forward with it living inside you. I don’t know that we ever really move on from profound losses like these.
So much to me is compelling about this. But what I’m most interested in exploring is the intimate relationship between loss and freedom. A person is truly free when they’ve lost everything, or that one person who’s been most important to their daily reality, or identity… whether they know it or not when that happens they’ve entered a space of infinite possibility. I see it as primordial, really. The source of all creation. Emptiness.
I’m speaking very sweepingly here, but a great deal of the imagery in this film has to do with these things. How grief is tied to relief, and the guilt associated with that.
CS: I can’t help but feel that this is going to be a very surgical production, very edge cutting. Are you nervous? Are you setting the bar too high?
Bethany Orr: Ha! No. The idea for this film came to me during the time I spent with Werner Herzog in 2012. When you hear him talk about Fitzcarraldo… no bar is too high. At the end of his Rogue Film School he handed me a credential, this certificate like I had passed or something. I decided right then that I wouldn’t frame it or post it in any way until after the Iceland movie wrapped, once that piece of paper is stained with the production’s blood, sweat and tears. So I folded it up and put it in my pocket, and there it stays. The only kind of credentials I have use for are experiences and creations. My time with Herzog means nothing unless I put it into practice. I have an obligation to this story, to back it with everything I’ve got, and we will see what happens.
CS: I understand you’re creating a controversial – what you call ‘borderline disturbing’ – imagery in this film. How do you justify the means? Where do you draw the line between conventionalism and absurdism?
Bethany Orr: There’s no borderline about it. Point blank, I’m a lover of the disturbed. I think disturbance is absolutely necessary, especially in cinema. Without it we can’t be moved. So there’s zero justification, it’s just what I’m drawn to.
And life – life is completely absurd. There’s nothing I could do in this film that would make it weirder than it already is. But I’ll probably try.
CS: Are we going to see paranormal elements in this film?
Bethany Orr: Like, ghosts, goblins, alla that? Not in that sense, no. One of the characters has an extra ability, he moonlights as a psychic phone sex operator (a very good one). But that has less to do with the supernatural than it has to do with being close to the edge. Of death. Living in that fugue state we talked about.
CS: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Bethany Orr: Translating. Extricating this story from my bones out onto paper, then attempting to communicate that with interested parties. [laughs] So thank you, you’re doing me a favor here.
CS: I have to ask this. Now that you’ve successfully explored directing and acting, which is dearer to you? How do you negotiate the divide between these two professions?
Bethany Orr: You know I can’t answer that! Truthfully, I’m lucky in that acting and directing are complementary sports. Performing is my first love and always will be, and I will continue to explore directing as long as I’m able. Directing feeds a different side of me. It’s a different responsibility and requires a massive amount of energy. I’ve been successful so far being both a performer in and director of my own projects, but Iceland is on another scale. Which is why I’m so excited to have Patrick [Kennelly] on board as a shepherd for this story. Being under his direction on Excess Flesh was the most extraordinary experience I’ve ever had as a performer and I’m eager to top it. We’ve talked about it quite a bit and will continue to explore what that means as far as roles are concerned on this movie. Neither of us has attempted any kind of co-directing relationship before, and I don’t know at this point what that would look like. But I’m very open to the idea of giving some of the reins over to him on this if that’s what’s best for the project.
CS: Thank you for stepping by, Bethany, it’s always a wonderful experience talking to you about the art of filmmaking. We’d love to hear how your new adventure in Iceland turns out. Go break a leg!
Copyright Camilla Stein ©2014. All rights reserved. Images courtesy Bethany Orr.