EMMY ROSSUM on 'DARE' (Part 1 of 2)
Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
November 6, 2009
In the character-driven drama Dare, the lives of three teenagers intersect in unexpected ways, allowing them each the opportunity to go on journeys of self-discovery: Alexa (Emmy Rossum) seems to be the model student, but her confident and capable demeanor belies an uncertainty in herself and her future; her lifelong confidant Ben (Ashley Springer) is confused about his own sexuality, all while fearing that he may lose Alexa's friendship; and Johnny (Zach Gilford), struggles with deep-seated personal issues and family crises, despite his reputation as the cool, popular guy on campus who appears to have it made. As their relationships begin to involve sexual experimentations with one another, they slowly gain a better understanding of who they really are.
Based on their 2005 short film of the same title, this feature-length version from director Adam Salky and writer/producer David Brind is divided into three acts, each one telling the story from a different character's perspective: first Alexa, then Ben, and finally Johnny. Each chapter has a distinct look and feel tailored to its central protagonist, allowing for an interesting ride that is perpetually switching gears.
In this first half of our two-part interview, Emmy talks about the concepts behind the film and her character Alexa.
MEDIA: The characters in this story seem to live relatively privileged lives. Do you think that makes it harder for audiences to sympathize with them when they seem to have it all?
EMMY: Well, people always say "write what you know." Our writer did grow up in a relatively upper middle class background in Philadelphia--in fact, we shot in the schools and the cafeterias that he actually attended. So I think write what you know. But for me, I think when you [don't really] have to worry about where you're going to sleep [and] if you're going to be able to eat dinner, you have time and the luxury of examining who you are, how you feel about yourself. And this is an emotional story about three people. So to take out the complication of a day-to-day survival kind of makes it more about what the movie's really about. And I think that the emotions that the characters are experiencing--the confusion, the awkwardness with their sexuality and the kind of comedy that arises from that--is very realistic, no matter what kind of upbringing or class bracket they're from. And I think the question that you asked is kind of the point of the film: you don't know people just from looking at them or assuming that they have it all, or just because they have parents, or they have a house with a swimming pool that they're happy, and they're not the loneliest person and have no friends, and are struggling with their sexuality, and not only can't connect to other people, but can't connect to themselves. So I think that, in fact, the film is about not categorizing people and not taking them on just your initial gut reaction of who they are. And I think so much time growing up is spent examining the lint in your own belly button that it's very interesting that you see the characters from three different perspectives, and they look different in other people's vignettes. Everyone's the hero and totally likeable in their own story, but when you flip the coin on their head, the other person becomes likable and you become unlikable.
Do you think this type of realism is a rarity in movies about teens in high school?
Yeah, that's what was so exciting about making this film...I got the short film that this film's based on by the same writer/director team. They actually made it when they were in Columbia film school. It was one of their first school projects--our writer and director teamed up for that. And it was just a scene between the two boys. It was the pool scene, actually. So it was a very sexually driven scene. But there was so much reality--the dialogue, the characters were so much more multi-dimensional than normal high school characters. Because I think when a lot of Hollywood movies write high school characters, they think "kid." And high schoolers are so much more intelligent and multi-dimensional than people really give them credit for a lot of the time in film. And I think one of the ways that we achieve that is everyone on our cast and crew are, for the most part, under 30. I mean, that's what's so interesting. Our director is late 20s, our writer is just over 30. All of us aren't that long out of high school. Even our grips and electricians and people who did everything on our set were really young. So I think that that's what gave it its authenticity.
Each character shows some degree of duplicity. Do you think it's because people in general are never who they seem to be, or because teens simply aren't sure of their own identity?
A combination. I think when you're young, you try on a bunch of different approaches and see which one fits you. Or maybe it's a combination of a few. And I also think that people aren't as easily categorizeable as you initially think.
Alexa is supportive of Ben's sexuality even though he himself is insecure about expressing it...
...Even though she's really pissed he hooked up with her boyfriend. [laughs]
It's one thing to hear about it, but then quite another to actually experience it. In the scene in which Alexa is in bed with both Ben and Johnny, she has this priceless expression on her face. What do you think is going through her head at that moment?
Well, I think she just thinks, "How the F did I get here? I thought that I was the good girl, and now I'm in bed with my best friend and the most popular boy in school, who I never even thought I could be with, let alone be in a menage a trois with." And, on the other hand, she's just had that moment in the party scene with [Johnny], where she senses that he knows that she's playing a game with him. And almost seeing how she affects him makes her re-evaluate her own selfish self-discovery. She starts to realize that they're having an effect on him...And also, there are two boys making out next to her. I mean, there's that. Which I don't think she's ever seen. I mean, she's pretty sheltered. It's different when Ben tells her that he kissed Johnny, or that they hooked up, [than] when it's actually happening.
Do you think Alexa, Ben, and Johnny are trying to establish a "friends with benefits" type of relationship?
I think that they're more exploring who they are and who they're not, and what their sexuality is. I mean, there are moments of awkward funniness, as there are in life and in sex when you're young in high school. But I think that, more than anything, it really kind of becomes this game of who can win. And these two loners who are best friends are kind of fighting over this ultimate [prize]--what seems to be the bad boy, who is actually so vulnerable and so fragile that they kind of hurt him in the end. So I think that somebody who seemed so untouchable and so strong and so handsome and so perfect in so many ways was actually the weakest.
Most parents seem to keep up an old-fashioned sense of denial when it comes to acknowledging that their kids may be having these types of sexual experiences...
Well, I think most kids aren't doing this. I mean, I think most kids are doing a variation of this--you know, maybe they're doing more, maybe they're doing less. But I think that sex does happen in high school, and drinking and everything does happen in high school. So it'd be unrealistic not to address it.
What do you think about the way this film handles the often sensitive subject of teen sex?
For me, what was interesting about the way the sex is depicted in the movie is that there's no nudity. And even though it feels very sexy, it feels more like we're trying to get to know the characters emotionally and how they function through sex. Sex is a very emotional thing for them, as I think it is, especially when you're young. And your first [time], it's very awkward--you've never done it before, you don't know how to "do it." So there's all this, like, "How do I do this?" And I think that comes across. So there is a lot of that kind of awkward funniness.
Did your approach in playing Alexa change when switching between the story's three main acts, given that she is seen from a different perspective in each?
Well, it's not three vignettes which examine the same time period or the same situation as some films are. All of the story is told through three different eyes as the story progresses. I think that the color schemes, the camerawork, even the music...Everything is indicative and feels like the character that it's following. I mean, Johnny, the last act, is very handheld, a lot of rap music, kind of cold feeling, because that's how he feels, and lots of blue tones. And Alexa's act is very pink and fresh, because you start and you think life is full...And it's like cute, classical musical, and that's her thing. And every act kind of shows you a little bit into the life of the characters. And I think it's kind of what I was saying before: everyone looks different through everyone else's eyes, so that's kind of how I approached the character. In Alexa's act, you see that she's repressed, kind of Type A, can't really connect to her feelings, kind of lonely, can't really express herself, wants to be an actress. And then Johnny seems like just the jock, and untouchable. And then in his act, you really realize that he's actually the loneliest boy in school, and he's the most vulnerable. And even though he seems the strongest, Alexa's actually the aggressor.