It must be a bit frustrating to be Alice Eve. She’s an Oxford-educated, Shakespeare-trained actress who is a favorite of heavyweight playwrights like Tom Stoppard and Neil LaBute. She’s turned in textured, sensitive performances in small indie films like Crossing Over (alongside Ray Liotta), Starter for 10 (alongside James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall) and Stage Beauty (alongside Tom Wilkinson and Claire Danes). But because she’s genetically gifted with nearly flawless beauty, all Hollywood seems to want to do with her is cast her as “the hot chick” in a romantic comedy or a horror film.
This month, though, she really gets to spread her wings in LaBute’s film Some Velvet Morning, a two-hander starring Eve and Stanley Tucci. In the film, a man shows up on the doorstep of his much younger former lover’s house with a couple of suitcases. The near-real-time conversation that follows is a maze of storyline. Like much of LaBute’s work, it’s intense, insightful and brutal at times.
“What happens is you go on a journey to reach a destination,” Eve says about the intensity of the shooting process. “And you can only reach that destination if you have a warrior’s mentality. You can’t stop to breathe, or to feel pity, or to think you can’t do it. And then at the end, you definitely pay the price, emotionally and physically, and you need some time to recover. Yeah. It was an intense experience.”
Late in the movie, there’s an explosive development that changes (or perhaps elevates) the tone dramatically. Spoiler concerns dictate that our discussion of it is vague, but suffice it to say that it’s a big enough deal that knowing it was coming must have affected the actors’ performance. “I think that’s an interesting question,” Eve muses. “The ending was obviously predetermined for us in the script, but we had to believe that the characters didn’t know that it was necessarily going to end there. We know that they know it ends, because of the nature of their relationship. It reaches a literal climax. But I don’t think it’s necessarily that way every time. And I don’t think these two knew where it was going to go. I think Velvet goads Fred for love. She’s needy. She’s been through a trauma. And she needs some kind of reciprocity. So she goads him, not knowing where it’s going to go, and it goes there this time.”
That kind of intensity can be difficult to maintain on set, but it helps when actors and directors have worked together before, as LaBute and Eve had (albeit on stage). “I’ve only done that with two directors,” Eve explains. “I worked with Trevor Nunn—I did Tom Stoppard’s Rock and Roll, and then we went back and did a production of Cyrano de Bergerac, with Joe Fiennes as Cyrano. And with Neil, we did the play, and this film, and then we just did another film with Matthew Broderick. He keeps mum about these things, but we did. But yeah, it’s the ultimate for an actor. Because we want safety. And the way to achieve it is through familiarity. And so repeat experiences are familiar, and you feel safe. So that’s a great pleasure.”
Working with the great Stanley Tucci didn’t hurt, either. I ask Eve whether it was important to create a closeness with Tucci so that she could feel safe in the role, or to stay distant to better access the tension between the characters. “He’s a very good actor,” she says, “first and foremost. So everything that comes after that is informed by the above, because it doesn’t work with everyone. But with Stanley, you know that he can act the tension, so you just want the trust. Because the trust is what you need to allow you to get to the places you need to get to. And you know that if you trust each other, I trusted him to be able to get to whatever level of pain or tension that we needed for the scene. He would run fast, and I’d see how fast he was running, and I’d match him and raise him. That was a game of two people who trusted each other. And like each other as well; I like him very much.”
That closeness is often prompted in lower budget productions where luxuries are held to a minimum and actors can’t just retreat to their regal trailers. But there’s one exception Eve mentions. “On Star Trek we had a pretty close community,” she remembers. “We all sat in a line of chairs between takes, and we were pretty tight. JJ engenders a tight environment, and we were all around the same age, and all the same type of people. JJ casts a good class.”
LaBute is often accused of misogyny or even of misanthropy, but I’ve always defended him. After all, observing, exploring or even being fascinated with the darkness in men’s souls isn’t the same thing as delighting in it. Eve agrees. “I think Neil’s just depicting a reality,” she says. “Maybe it’s an alternate reality to the one we were used to seeing in the cinema before him, but it’s no less a reality. And there are those kind of people; those kinds of things go on. I don’t think he’s delighted by it by all, and I think that’s a great way of saying it. He depicts the evil in the ordinary man, rather than in the maniacs. These are people who are getting away with their hateful behavior on a daily basis, and causing huge emotional damage to the people who are involved. And to accuse him of misogyny is not really to live in the gray area that Neil is investigating. He’s investigating the inherent differences in the sexes here. She plays a man’s game. She matches him piece for piece, as a man, with cruelty and comebacks, and she’s taking him to a place where she’s going to lose. He’s ultimately stronger than her. Men are. He’s just depicting a woman who either wants trauma, because she’s had some, or just doesn’t want to win. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be depicted.”