Clea DuVall has impressed audiences with performances in “Argo,” “Girl, Interrupted” and HBO’s “Carnivàle.” Now she moves behind the camera with “The Intervention,” a story of four couples gathering at a lakeside cabin, that premieres at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Think of it as “The Big Chill” with a little more acid. Under the guise of vacationing, the couples try to convince two of their friends to stop bickering and get a divorce. DuVall wrote the script for the film and co-stars along with Cobie Smulders (“How I Met Your Mother”), Melanie Lynskey (“Heavenly Creatures”), Natasha Lyonne (“But I’m a Cheerleader”) and Jason Ritter (“Parenthood”).
DuVall spoke with Variety about how therapy, a certain ’80s classic and a new lease on life inspired her feature film directing debut.
What prompted you to tell this story?
It was really this moment of self awareness that I had. It was not a great time in my life and I was not in a good place. I was aimless and unhappy, and looking at other people’s lives and talking behind their backs. I’d always talk what they should be doing and make plans for other people. But I had no business telling anybody what to do. I needed to start bettering my own life instead of looking at everybody else’s.
What happened once you had this revelation?
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I went back to therapy. I had gone for a brief period of time, and then I stopped going. But once I was back in it, I realized there were things, traumas I’d experienced and never acknowledged. What happened was I began being honest with myself.
Are you feeling better now?
I do feel better. I think there are a lot of different reasons. There were things in my past relationships with people, with some of my friendships, that were not healthy. There were substances that I used — not drugs, I never used drugs — that helped me do whatever I could to not be in the present moment. I don’t drink anymore. I drank in a way that was unhealthy for me. I’m taking care of myself and exercising more, and I’ve eliminated the unhealthy relationships in life. I’ve removed all the toxins, be they in the more traditional forms or embodied by people.
Did your writing improve after you made these life changes?
Definitely. The original draft was glib. It felt like it had been written by someone who wasn’t honest with themselves. As I worked through my own issues and my own personal growth, the script changed a lot. It evolved.
Therapy is something that works for me. It doesn’t work for everybody, but the more I understand where I come from, the better able I am to see that the entire world is not about me. That allows me to look at things from the characters’ perspective.
At a time when the number of men far outnumber the number of women in behind-the-scenes jobs, you have a female cinematographer, editor, composer and lots of other members of the crew. Did you set out to do that?
It happened organically. They were recommended to me.
You’ve been in the entertainment business for over a decade. Are you seeing more women directing?
From the perspective of a person who directed a movie, I understand that my experience is not the norm. I’m not someone coming out of film school trying to get a movie made. I have watched friends, female filmmakers, who work their a–es off to try to get movies made and they never get made. I feel like that’s changing. People are making more of an effort. They’re making noise about the problem and that is making a difference. Hopefully the conversation will pay off.
The film sounds a lot like “The Big Chill.” Was that a touchstone for you?
This was largely inspired by “The Big Chill” and those movies from the ’80s. They had such a different tone and feel. The performances are extraordinary. I remember seeing that movie for the first time as a kid, even though I had no idea what anybody was talking about, I felt like I was being brought into this world.
Was it hard to direct yourself in scenes?
It was definitely difficult. On purpose, I wrote myself a character that was as close to myself as possible, so that it wouldn’t be too demanding. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to focus properly if I was worried about doing a giant, emotional scene.
What advice did you get before you started directing?
People told me that there would be times where I was going to feel really lonely and feel like everything I was doing was wrong, and that I’d want to quit and go hide and live in the mountains.