Maggie Kiley never aspired to be a director, but she says a fluke offer to direct a short film a few years ago opened up a new part of her brain. The recipient of a BFA from New York University, Kiley is already a seasoned actor on the stage and screen. She made such an impression on her professors – among them, actor Clark Gregg, best known as Agent Phil Coulson in The Avengers – that the Atlantic Theater Company asked her to join their ensemble before she even graduated.
As an actor, Kiley starred in We Own the Night for director James Gray and Andrew Jarecki’s thriller All Good Things, with Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. She was also one of eight women selected from hundreds of applicants to be a part of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women. The short film she made in that program, Some Boys Don’t Leave, starred Jesse Eisenberg, whom she had worked with at Atlantic on the play Scarcity. That short film won Kiley several awards at the Tribeca Film Festival and the strong response inspired her to write and direct Brightest Star (formerly Light Years), an expansion on the story and characters from her award-winning short.
Recently, we had the chance to sit down with Kiley for an exclusive interview. During our discussion she spoke about turning her short film into a feature, finding her passion to direct and working with Allison Janney.
Check it out below and enjoy!
WGTC: Brightest Star was inspired by a short film you directed and wrote a few years ago, 2009’s Some Boys Don’t Leave. Why were you interested in expanding this story into a feature-length tale?
MK: The short had a great festival run and that break-up story seemed to resonate with so many different kinds of audiences, young and old. It just really got us thinking, What was the bigger story behind this guy? People would come up after seeing the short and want to know what happens next and how did he end up there. I wanted to really explore that time in someone’s life and see if it could become a bigger story, and it did.
WGTC: Were any of the scenes or situations in the film inspired by some of your or your co-writer [Matthew Mullen]’s experiences in college and then branching out into the working world?
MK: Absolutely. I went to NYU and studied acting, so that shot of The Boy in Washington Square Park was straight out of my youth. Similarly, I’d say the character of [musician] Lita was. I personally went and saw a lot of shows at The Living Room, which actually just closed recently. It was a great, great club on the Lower East Side. Matthew and I, we both had a lot of experiences working at restaurants. So the scene in the alley with the waiter training the characters before they go in to work, that was definitely directly related to an experience my co-writer had.
WGTC: You write what you know.
MK: Yeah, I think so. Not everything, though. There’s other parts of this story that came about on their own. But those three were directly pulled.
WGTC: Have you ever studied astronomy?
MK: I have not. I think we liked the idea that The Boy found the one class that resonated with him, but it was the one he understood the least. For me in college, I studied at NYU and I loved the idea of having a dual major with art history. And I think it was the lowest grade I ever got, along the same lines as this guy. I loved the idea of understanding art history but I really didn’t excel in that course. So for The Boy with astronomy, I think he likes looking far away and trying to make sense of something outside of himself, which is basically what he does for most of the movie.
WGTC: Were you interested in having the actors from your short film, Jesse Eisenberg and Eloise Mumford, reprise their roles?
MK: Even though it was inspired by the short, I felt like the film needed to have a new group. Jesse is a wonderful actor and a good friend and someone I go to a lot for help with scripts and things I’m developing. But it felt really exciting to find this sort of feature-length Boy in Chris Lowell. He’s such a wonderful collaborator, as an actor and a person. He brought such great energy to set each day.
WGTC: How did you decide on Rose McIver and Jessica Szohr? I recognized Rose from her role on Masters of Sex, which I really enjoy.
MK: She also had a great part in The Lovely Bones, and I knew her from that. I did meet a lot of great women for the role of Charlotte. Rose has a very vulnerable, present quality to her work and she’s a beautiful person inside and out. It was really instantaneous for me when I met with her, I felt like she was it. I actually had a reference photo for a costume choice for Charlotte that I had pulled and she looked exactly like the girl from the picture, which was kind of unexpected. And Jessica’s just so special in her style, her sensibility, her passion. It’s important for me as a female director to write and develop characters for women that are really three-dimensional and textured. Both Jessica and Rose are the kinds of actors I felt could bring their whole selves to each of those parts.