So, here's the thing. When I was heading out to interview Alex Karpovsky about his two films—Red Flag and Rubberneck—which are premiering together courtesy of Tribeca Film, I thought to myself, "I'm not even going to ask him about Girls. That isn't what this interview is even about." Then I made the mistake of saying that out loud, in my office. "You have to ask him about Girls." I was told. "You would be stupid not to." Which, yes. That's true. I would have been stupid not to. And so I did ask, but only after getting the chance to talk extensively to Karpovksy about his experiences as an actor/writer/director in the New York independent film scene, his commitment issues as they pertain to relationships, movie-making and death, and what was the inspiration behind a scene in Red Flag—the funniest suicide note-writing scene since Heathers. And then, yes, I broached the topic of Ray and Shoshanna. But, really, there was so much more to talk about.
Red Flag and Rubberneck almost couldn't be more different. Which movie did you write, or at least, conceive first?
Rubberneck. We wrote it and shot it first, but before I really started the edit of it, I went off and shot Red Flag, but before I started the edit of Red Flag, I went back and edited Rubberneck. So they're kind of checkerboarded, but the first piece was Rubberneck.
Did you always think of showing them together? Because the two make a certain perverse sense together, opposite as they are.
If it seems like it makes perfect sense, then I probably did not premeditate it. No, I didn't premeditate it. I didn't know when they'd come out or if the same distributor would pick them both up. When we started brainstorming marketing ideas, this was one way to prevent getting lost in the clutter. We were hoping for them to stand out and be singular.
So, the inspiration for Rubberneck was a true story? Or was the idea to write a psychological thriller one that was already brewing?
It's kind of an interplay. I heard about this story. I have a folder on my computer where I collect interesting news stories and when I finish a project and I'm looking for new idea, sometimes I'll go through that folder and see if something jumps out at me. So, when I finished my third film (Trust Us This Is All Made Up) I went into this folder and looked at a bunch of stories and this was one of them and it sort of got my mind going. But it's not based on real events—it's just inspired by real events. I want to distance myself, and be forthright in saying that we took a lot of narrative liberties. But the basic conceit is based on something that happened up in Boston, a workplace romance gone horribly wrong. And I was kind of in the mood to make a thriller, a slow-burning, character-driven story and we sort of built it around this real life thing.
So, you're from the Boston area, what do you think Boston lends to the film specifically? The sense of alienation and claustrophobie were pervasive, although that might be inherent to any workplace movie, more so than one set in Boston.
The sensibility of Boston reverberated with the story we were trying to tell, but we really shot in Boston just due to circumstance. I'm from Boston, so is the guy who I wrote the movie with (Garth Donovan) and we were working with a small budget and trying to make it look like it had a lot of production value. So there was nothing inherent in Boston, other than the fact that there are a lot of biomedical facilities in Boston—a lot of research institutions—and we wanted to tell the story in a scientific workplace. You know, with scientists there's so much happening below the surface, it's such solitary work. A lot of introversion and repressed desire and we wanted to contrast the cold, sterile lab environment with the sort of burning, passionate undertones that fuel the motivations within the characters.
Have you ever worked in an office? Inter-office relationships are really interesting because they have the ability to be so boundary crossing, but also to totally backfire.
I've worked in an office environment, but not in a laboratory. But, yeah, there can be a lot of repression there. A symbology can develop where you try to give signals discreetly to another worker so that no one else in the office notices. It's interesting. People have trysts and one weekend- or one night-affairs all the time. And if you don't see that person very often or you see them once in a blue moon it's much easier to recover, the scar tissue forms quite quickly. But if you see the person every day and they're no longer interested in you, nine hours a day, five days a week, it can really make you go crazy. It's like Chinese water torture. A drip on your forehead every two minutes. So that's sort of what we wanted to explore. And coupled with an unstable foundation to begin with, some childhood issues that the character is still struggling with, it all makes for a very unsavory recipe.
Do you like playing characters who are so different from you and the sort-of meta-characters that you frequently play? (In Red Flag Karpovsky plays "Alex Karpovsky")
I like doing it, but to be honest, it wasn't premeditated for Rubberneck. We had cast someone else. We wrote the movie, but it wasn't with me in mind. It wasn't a premeditated strategy, more a reaction. Sometimes I act in my movies and sometimes I don't Right now, I' working on two scripts. One for me to act in and one where I just direct. I feel like I can direct with a lot more precision and focus when I'm not in the movie, but on the other hand I have a lot of control issues and I don't trust certain people to be in a movie if I think I can do it better.