Anyone who has ever felt fraught with jealousy over their partner’s relationship with another will relate to Ben Petrie’s powerful new short, Her Friend Adam. A film that teeters between comedy and drama, as our main character Robert (played by Ben himself) spirals out of control suffering cringeworthy sexual insecurity. The film features thunderous performances from Ben and his on-screen, and real life girlfriend, Grace Glowicki who took away the Jury Award for Outstanding Performance at Sundance back in January. I picked Ben’s brain to find out how he manifested on screen that feeling of despair spawned from the jealous fear that our loved one may have eyes for another.
Can you tell us a bit about what originated the narrative of Her Friend Adam?
I went through the meat-slicer with jealousy one night, hanging out with two people I trust with all my heart – my partner, Grace, and our mutual buddy Andrew. It went from 0 to 60, then quickly up to 666. Hellfire twists. It was nuts. Writing the screenplay a few weeks later, long after I’d made peace with my inner tantrum, this stuff all came flying out. I had been thinking about jealousy a lot – there’s a paradox to the way that it’s always rolling around in the no-mans-land between observation and delusion, which I find very tragic (and therein very funny) – and evidently I still had to exorcize some residual guck from my bout with it. The script just came out in one, in a 3-hour improv session, pacing about in my room with an iPhone voice recorder. I guess I ought to thank Andrew for being such a flirty bastard.
How do you simultaneously balance directing and performing? In what ways do you adapt your style of working to be strong in both roles?
It meant putting a lot of the directing work into the front end of the process – planning, planning, planning to smithereens! Then on set, all I could really do was try and stay as connected to Grace as possible, and trust my intuition that if a take felt good from the inside as an actor, it would look good from the outside as a director. It was a leap of faith, and it mostly panned out – but it certainly came with some consequences that needed to be remedied in the editing room, too.
What did having your real life girlfriend also playing your girlfriend add to the performances?
Having Grace as a scene partner was hugely helpful. In part, that’s because she’s my partner in real life, which certainly helps to an extent. But largely, it was helpful because of how compelling she is as a performer. It’s much easier to have an emotional reaction in a scene when your scene partner is compelling enough to evoke one!
The script just came out in one, in a 3-hour improv session, pacing about in my room with an iPhone voice recorder.
You said the film was originally going to be a comedy, but that when you realised the scene’s power, you told DP Kelly Jeffrey that the planned visual style of the film needed to change. How did you adapt the shots to match the weight and intensity of the scenes you’d rehearsed?
The big change for us was going from wide static shots to close-up handheld imagery – opposite aesthetics. The decision came about after rehearsing Grace’s fake masturbation scene; her performance is so vulnerable and dramatically intense in that sequence, that we ended up changing the film’s whole aesthetic around it. Shooting the film in static wides would have provided the film a detachment from the characters’ realities that was originally meant to invoke comedy — watching from a distance as these two people’s lives explode in a crazy mess — but it became apparent after our rehearsal that to shoot Grace’s fake masturbation scene with any kind of detachment would have been cruel. We realised that we had to be right in there with her, supporting her emotional experience in that sequence with much more human, empathetic camerawork. From that decision, we worked backwards to make it work for the rest of the film.
The use of provocative painting in the film accentuates the sexual insecurities of the characters, how did that idea come about?
It came about very naturally! Like most things in my work, I first wrote those paintings into the film because they made me laugh.
What’s next in the world of Ben Petrie?
I am currently working on my first feature script!