Lawrence & Holloman is one of those movies you either love or you hate. Based on a stage play from Morris Panych, it tells the story of two very opposite men – successful and sunny suit salesman Lawrence and dour, depressed clerk Holloman – who become friends and, later, foes.
It was a bold move for a first-time feature director, Vancouver’s Matthew Kowalchuk, and Daniel Arnold, who plays Holloman, to attempt to take the text to a different medium. The play is challenging and darkly funny, and its transition from a two-person show to the big screen was full of challenges and changes.
Last week, I sat down for an exclusive interview with Arnold and Kowalchuk, who discussed why their film is like Barton Fink, the biggest changes from stage to screen and when it is ok for a dark comedy to cross the line.
Check it out below and enjoy!
Of all the fine Canadian comedies that you could have adapted to the screen, why this one?
Matthew Kowalchuk: Whenever I get involved in something, whether it’s a movie or a play or even something I’m writing, I always find that there’s a practical reason for beginning it in the first place. In this case, it was this two-hander play and we thought we could probably make that into a movie and do it very cheaply.
As you get into it, further along, I find that it just naturally goes deeper and you begin to understand and realize why you’re really doing it. There’s always something in the story that attracts you. We don’t start something this big if it’s not something that touches up deeply in the first place, whether we know it or not. I love this story and I love the message in it. I love what it’s really about and the question that makes me think about in my own life. The more we work with it and the closer we get to the material and the characters, the more I’m in touch with that, the idea of perspective and how we’re looking at the world. Can how we look at the world change our own lives?
Daniel Arnold: We come from the theatre and I had seen three productions of this play before and I always found it funny and dark and hysterical… a great premise and great characters. I had never been able to do it as a play because I was always too young. So when Matt said, “hey, we’re kind of getting old enough, we could do this play,” I looked at it again. By that point, I was a little bit more into film and television. We had made a short film together. My mind was just more in film and TV land, and I was like, “wait a sec, wait a sec! This could be an awesome indie feature!”
Lots of stage plays aren’t really plot-heavy. They’re not really about the story that’s going on, they’re more about the relationships. But this one, even though it’s very much about the two characters and there’s a lot of witty dialogue, there is this plot that happens, which is the downward spiral of Lawrence. That plot is also very visual. You see this businessman who’s happy and successful and on top of his life – we see him go further and further down toward missing a leg, being in a cast. I thought that would be not just be a fun acting thing, but a great visual journey for a movie. The journey they take together is so different from how it starts.
It’s such a visually oriented film. Were there things you have to change or modify from the stage production to translate to the screen?
Daniel Arnold: The premise of the play is the same, but we definitely had to open up the world. The play is only the two characters and it’s only 12 long scenes. You never see anything violent happen to Lawrence. You just hear about it. The lights will come up on a new scene, and all of a sudden, Lawrence will have a black eye and a bandage on his head. You learn through the witty dialogue how it happened. Well, you don’t really want to have the whole movie rely on dialogue, so a lot of times where there was a section where they talked about happening in the past, we said, We’re writing that scene. The dinner scene with Zooey and Jill… we just had to make up new scenes and make up the car hit, all that sort of stuff.
Daniel, in another interview, you mentioned you channeled John Turturro in Barton Fink for your performance as Holloman. How did that role inspire you?
Daniel Arnold: He’s highly intellectual and smart, and yet he’s not happy and he’s not a winner. In Barton Fink, when John Turturro gets upset, he’s almost girly. I liked a lot of that so I kind of pilfered from him.
Matthew Kowalchuk: Barton Fink is one that I kept coming back to in terms of the atmosphere. That movie, for me, was kind of a game-changer when I watched it as an audience member. It made rethink what do I have permission to do as an artist. I couldn’t believe that the Coen Brothers were allowed to do this movie. It was a piece of theatre inside of a movie. In terms of finding the aesthetic for this film, a part of what we had said when we were pitching it, and I think we achieved some of this in the actual film… it was as if Barton Fink stepped out of his world and into the world of Entourage.
When we were prepping for the film, I showed Daniel the character of Barton Fink. To me, I related with his plight, some of the things he’s doing. He wants some greatness, but at every turn when something bad happens, he kind of goes, Yeah, I should have known. Turturro gets so much mileage in that role without saying anything. The first 10 minutes of our film are basically silent. You meet Holloman silently, and so it’s really important to find a way into that.