Exclusive Interview: Justin Lerner, Katharine O’Brien And Joseph Cross Talk The Automatic Hate


The Automatic Hate tells the story of a man in his early thirties who finds out that his father has been hiding an entire other side of his family. He’s never known that he has an uncle or three cousins on his father’s side and when he finally meets one of them, he sets off to discover the secrets his family has kept and finds himself sucked into his cousins’ world. Directed by Justin Lerner, the movie stars Joseph Cross and was co-written by Katharine O’Brien.

Back in March, we had the chance to sit down with the trio after the film’s premiere at SXSW. During our exclusive interview, we talked crafting the story, taboo romances, playing characters who are older than the actor and much more.

Check out the full interview below, and enjoy!

What was it about that story that made you originally want to tell it?

Lerner: Well, there are two answers. The first impetus that we came up with was the elicit, almost taboo relationship between two first cousins. Everything was built around that. The movie is about a lot of other things: a grudge being discovered in a family, almost getting passed down from the older generation to the younger. In order to make it more of a movie that doesn’t belabor the idea of it just being an incestuous relationship, we had fun with the idea of almost making it a mystery film or a thriller. It just happens to be a mystery in a family.

O’Brien: I think one of the interesting things was exploring what that taboo would be if you met a family member you didn’t know, getting to know them by finding similar likenesses and learning more about yourself by somebody that you didn’t grow up with but you’re seeing similarities in mannerisms. We really wanted to explore those themes and themes about family and inherited grudges.

Lerner: The idea of finding a family member that you never knew existed for thirty years is almost like discovering a piece of your body that you didn’t know you had. Like an extra arm of something. Then realizing that those people are almost a little more like you than your own parents and your own family, then indulging on week-long dream-like fantasy into that world. It’s almost a seduction.

Not only are they seducing each other, but there’s the seduction of this lifestyle, living in the wilderness where there aren’t as many rules. You can say things you can’t normally say in a civilized society. You can sleep with the people. You can hurt people. There aren’t as many regulations and laws. It all plays into what our desires really are. We all have desires that we can’t act upon, but with if you can act on a few? You learn a little bit more about yourself.

I think that was a really fun idea that, perversely through Joe’s character, we get to see what would happen if you could just take a quick little vacation into a world where you can indulge in your taboo desires for a while. We always wanted to take the characters along and make it really desirable for these two to get together and allow the audience to go with and almost admit that we all have these things. Maybe not all the people watching the movie want to sleep with their cousin…

O’Brien: We just wanted to find a line that was close and almost acceptable enough in society where we could walk the audience over it with us. You find yourself having done something or been complicit in something that when you look back you realize you crossed the line. For Joe’s character, once he has crossed that, he realizes why all those rules were important in the first place. Why he might be more comfortable being with his girlfriend who was safer in the long term.

Lerner: But maybe not as exciting. And it’s a testament to Joe Cross and Adelaide Clemens who play the two cousins. Nobody’s going to go on this journey or want to watch them if they’re not portraying the inner life of these two people who are slowly falling for each other. The amount of preparation that both did was unparalleled to anyone I’ve ever directed. Not only that, but their chemistry is great, and you really feel the desirability of Adelaide portraying this one-woman tornado that just destroys everything in its path but is unbelievably seductive in the way that it destroys everything in its path. It was something that was created by her out of her own creativity. Then Joe’s ability to slowly let go of his uptight lifestyle. To just give in and submit to that, it’s a testament to their chemistry. If that doesn’t work, no one’s going on this illicit journey with us.

O’Brien: I think at the end line when he says, “They’re dangerous,” it really means they’re dangerous because they are so seductive. They’re dangerous because they’re so alluring and they can get you to do these things that you wouldn’t do.

Cross: They’re so free.

O’Brien: With that freedom there is danger.

Lerner: And desire a lot of times. We’re afraid of things that we desire a lot of the time. After he indulges his desires, what does he do? He runs the opposite direction right back to his girlfriend. That’s not uncommon for any person. But again, it took people like Joe.

O’Brien: Explain those desires.

Cross: I mean, it felt good. I never really lost it. He was always right with me. I never questioned anything he was doing. You can’t judge a character you’re playing of course, but it felt good. It was really fun.

Lerner: The first meeting with Joe I said, “I love movies about good people who do bad things.” I think that Joe never lost sight of the fact that he’s going to do a lot of bad things, but we don’t have to worry about that. It’s fine.

Cross: We wanted it to be dirty, you know?

O’Brien: Well you’re such a likable guy. It’s so easy to go… Especially for those girls in the town they grew up in, the guys that they were used to, the character of Davis shows up and he’s a bit of a knight in shining armor. It was really easy, I think, for people to go on that journey with you to those places. They can relate to you before you did it.

Lerner: They might not have gone as far as him, but the way that we wrote this was let’s take them as far as we can, then if Joe’s going to continue down this path, they’ll watch him from the sideline. Say, “I get why he’s doing that. I’m going to stay here.”

The character’s not your traditional hero. Did you have any hesitations?

Cross: No, I mean, quite the opposite. I wanted to take him on for that reason. It’s much more interesting for me to have somebody’s who’s conflicted and not socially in the right all the time. He was doing these things that are questionable, but for me that was the exciting part of the film and of the character.

How’d you originally get involved?

Cross: I had auditioned for the casting director Brad Gilmore for a couple things and he liked what I was doing, but nothing had quite worked out. He said why don’t we get drinks some night, so we’re having drinks and he said I’m casting this movie that you’re unfortunately too young for called The Automatic Hate. There’s this actress Adelaide Clemens we found who’s unreal, I’d like to show you her audition tape. He showed it to me and I thought, “Wow, this is a great actress. What a shame.” Then he called me about a month later and said, “Do you have a beard by any chance?” And I did. He said, “That movie that I didn’t think you’re old enough for, I want to bring you in for it anyway.” So I went in and I auditioned for it, the tape got sent to Justin, he watched it and then Justin and I sat down and chatted and decided to do the movie.

Lerner: He’s not lying too, Brad Gilmore called me and said, “I think I’m going to bring Joe in for the movie to read.” My first question was, “Can he grow a beard?” Again, if you see the poster it’s really full. We really got it there.

Cross: “We” as if Justin had anything to do with it.

Lerner: I had a lot of influence on the coloring that the makeup person put into your beard.

Cross: Ah right, so you did have a lot to do with it.

Lerner: I did. No detail is too small. From a director’s perspective it was just making sure that there was an age difference. I thought it was important that she was in her early 20s and he was in his early 30s, living with a girl. I think there’s a lot more at stake for someone who is out of their 20s and on the precipice of deciding whether to settle down with someone and have kids or not.

O’Brien: He was going to firm up his family life, was about to choose his identity in that way. I think he had a bit more exploring to do before he made that decision.

Lerner: So, the beard, I know it sounds petty but, Joe’s got such a young face. I love making films where you get to observe people for a long time. We were going to be looking at this guy’s face for an hour and a half. Can it be an older face so we really believe that there’s something at stake? There’s more to lose as you get older. If you’re going to go dilly dally with your cousin when you’re 21, it’s a nice story. If you’re going to do it in your 30s when your girlfriend is basically making you decide whether you guys are going to continue on and have a family, there’s a lot more to lose. It makes the movie more interesting.