When director Stephen Karam decided to adapt his Tony Award-winning play “The Humans” for the big-screen, the first-time filmmaker decided to re-imagine the story for the medium.
“I love family dramas and comedies, and I love psychological thrillers and horror films. And I feel like the play always worked because the DNA of the play was very hard to describe,” Karam said, during a conversation Variety’s TIFF Studio presented by Canada Goose. “[It was], in a good way, like a family drama, but somehow bent or tilted a little bit.”
“I felt like [with] the film I could take advantage of that even more, because it feels like it’s embracing this sort of DNA of a real genre collision,” he continued, defining the movie as a “family thriller.”
The A24 film made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival with Karam and stars Richard Jenkins and Jayne Houdyshell on hand to celebrate. In Variety’s review of the film, chief film critic Peter Debruge explained, that “playwright Stephen Karam hasn’t just made a movie out of his Tony-winning play “The Humans”; he’s made an A24 movie, with all the idiosyncrasies and directorial self-indulgences that implies.”
The story centers on the Blake family, told over the course of one Thanksgiving dinner hosted in the claustrophobic and creaky confines of youngest daughter Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard’s (Steven Yeun’s) New York City apartment.
“The Humans,” which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama, had been a major hit during its Broadway run and earned Houdyshell her first Tony Award (for featured actress in a play). So, as she decided to step back into the role of matriarch Deidre, the actor found the way into this new version of the story through the chemistry with a new ensemble of actors — Amy Schumer, June Squibb, Feldstein, Yeun and Jenkins.
Houdyshell describes the working relationship between the actors and filmmakers as a “peak experience.” She explained, “the process of making the film and getting to wake up in the morning knowing that I got to go be on set with this group of actors and this director, and this fantastic crew in the synergy in the room was always just alive, on point, focused concentrated.”
Jenkins joined the group at the insistence of his agent, who told him he’d been offered a part in the film adaptation. “I said, ‘Can I read it?’ and she said, ‘No, you’re doing it,'” the Oscar-nominated actor recalled. “And then when I read it, I understood [why], because I hadn’t seen the play.”
In fact, Karam said Jenkins once told him he didn’t really understand how “The Humans” could have ever been a play.
“It’s so hard to adapt to play to a movie,” Jenkins explained. “And sometimes they’re very good, but they’re still plays on film. This is not.”
“You always hear, ‘Oh we’re going to open it up, so it won’t be a play anymore’ and you go to restaurants, but it’s still the play,” he continued. “[Karam] closed this down. He understood the camera and what the camera was there for. I didn’t know where the camera was half the time. When I saw it, I went, ‘Oh, that’s where it was.’ It was incredible.”
For more insight into how Karam pulled off the adaptation, watch the full interview above.