“The Lovers,” starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts opened to rave reviews from Rolling Stone Magazine and RogerEbert.com as well as yours truly. It’s written and directed by Azazel Jacobs whose previous work includes “Terri” and “Momma’s Man.” Sitting down and talking with this meek and soft-spoken filmmaker allowed me to gain insight into this evocative and socially relevant film about love and marriage.
Pamela Powell (PP): You appear to be rather young, but your topic matter is more fitting to someone a bit older and in a different stage in life. From where did you draw this topic matter?
Azazel Jacobs (AJ): I’m younger, but I’ve always felt older. I’ve always felt connected with different people, whether it was my parents or my parents’ friends. I wound up when I got to my 40’s, hitting this wave for the first time of real divorces and splits even though my parents are still together and I’ve been married now for 16 years. So this is not my story, but I got hit with a wave of people breaking up suddenly…This film was in some ways trying to make peace with the idea that these couples that I knew as couples…were suddenly no longer together. Where did that love go? HOW could that love go? It didn’t have much to do with age as that feeling of getting to the place that you stop talking.
I’ve had a good marriage and at the same time, definitely have hit those points where you [think] this is not who I wanted to be…I think that’s what’s so interesting about marriage is that we’re saying, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow even though I’m not sure I’ll be who I am tomorrow’…And that’s a challenge which I understand when it doesn’t work out.
PP: And you see that change in connectivity and identity with Michael and Mary when Michael sings a song at the piano.
AJ: Both Michael and Mary have trouble expressing themselves so it made sense to me that they wound up, especially him, expressing himself using someone else’s words.
PP: Tracy Letts is incredible in anything and everything he does. Tell me about casting him in this role.
AJ: I cast Debra Winger first and I felt like that laid down the gauntlet of what type of film and what kind of skill…and level I was looking for. There were three things: the script which he responded to; Debra Winger [and] the chance to work with [her]; and also I know A24, he told me on our first phone call that every time he and his wife were watching a film and they liked it, they’d see the same logo at the end and they started realizing A24 was going to be one they would like. Those three things were what made him willing to give [“The Lovers”] a try.
PP: Debra Winger has proven herself as an actress, but I think that it’s difficult for women to get great lead roles like this as they get older. Did you discuss this at all with her?
AJ: I think that she saw that it wasn’t avoiding age, but it was acknowledging it in a way where it wasn’t a joke…Tracy’s had been saying that in movies, from the point of 50 on, well…life has kind of ended. But we know that that’s just not the case. And I think that’s something that she responded to as a person that’s been long-married and also as somebody [who’s] trying to keep things going and interesting. All relationships are changing. We’re changing as people so she connected to that and she connected to the fact that A24 was giving me such freedom.
PP: The music is as much of a character as Michael or Mary. Would you agree?
AJ: I do see it as a character. I see it as a way to talk about how [Michael and Mary] could have wound up in this place….since there’s such little back story and there’s such little dialogue in the first third of the film. Besides just harking back to the movies that inspired this film, these classic romantic comedies, it’s what happens when those romantic comedies end and the music keeps playing all these years later. Where is the contrast? Where does it sync up? I knew I was getting great actors, [but] I didn’t know what would happen until they were together and what I have is way beyond what I could have hoped for…but then on top of that, the music…it was cool to bring in something that was not totally in sync. It rubs it in another direction. Since music is a key character and actual music as a part of their history, it opened up and changed things.
PP: I must say that the ending was a complete surprise! Did you play with the ending at all?
AJ: It’s great to hear that! It was the only ending. I was surprised by the ending when I was writing it! I didn’t see any other ending that felt truthful.
Jacobs also talked about his admiration of Letts’ work in “Bugs” and “Killer Joe” as well as Winger’s want and need for rehearsal which turned into more of a reading of the script with Jacobs allowing the two to really understand each other. Allowing creatively daring writers and directors like Jacobs to fully express their thoughts gives us genuinely unique films not of the Hollywood format. Bringing on talent the likes of Letts and Winger beautifully augments Jacobs’ original endeavors and we are the lucky recipients as we watch and are fully engaged in “The Lovers.”