Interview: Joey Klein on The Other Half
In a world full of malaise, misanthropy and unmitigated sorrow, first-time filmmaker Joey Klein says he wants to hold up a funhouse mirror to ambient pain
By Katherine Monk
(November 30, 2016) Joey Klein is what you’d call a ‘late bloomer.’
When he was a kid growing up in Montreal, he assumed he’d become a doctor like his father. He ended up in McGill management school instead, and hated it. So he headed to New York City at the age of 25 to study acting, a career he pursued with success, landing roles in American Gangster and 12 Monkeys — to name a few.
Yet, he craved a bigger challenge still. He had a hankering to address the ambient angst of modern experience – without exploiting Hollywood trope – so he started writing. And now, just a year shy of his 40th birthday, he’s making his directorial debut with the theatrical release of The Other Half.
“Originally, it was a story about grief… and about grief over time. Personally, I have never had the experience where time heals all wounds. That’s just not true for me. And I’ve found it quite rude, well not rude, but the Hollywood trope aspect of it always bothered me. You know…time doesn’t heal all wounds.”
Klein says pain is pain, and the only way to really deal with it is to stare it in the eye and make its acquaintance. Or, in practical terms, recreate the experience through art. Klein started the script for The Other Half years ago with the quiet dream of casting British actor Downtown Abbey’s Tom Cullen.
“I’ve had an actor crush on him ever since The Vow,” says Klein, over the phone from his current home base of Toronto. “The fact that I got him is incredible to me. I couldn’t believe it the first day we were on set.” Yet, Cullen wasn’t the only score. The cast also includes Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany as Emily, a woman struggling with mental illness. Cullen plays Nickie, a man coping with profound loss.
“We are living in a difficult world,” says Klein,
“This is about two people who are having a hard time… originally it was just a story about friendship. But over time, it turned into not a classical love story, but a romantic one.”
Sharing similar thematic terrain with Touched With Fire, The Other Half includes a character with bipolar disorder. Emily suffers from “Rapid Cycling Bipolar 1 Disorder.” She calls it “the jitters,” but despite sinking into the medical literature, Klein says this isn’t really a movie about mental illness.
“We need good art. Whoever makes it, we need it. It’s awful how bad things have gotten, but art makes it bearable. And I want to be a part of that… in whatever small way possible.”
“I was interested in the feelings of loss and friendship… And it was just Nickie’s story. But once the character of Emily came into it, things changed. My father is a doctor but he has a background in English. He was a Woodrow Wilson scholar back in the day, and he read the script, and at one point he told me that he thought I was writing about bipolar disorder.”
Klein started a period of deep research during which time he embraced a few “insane” tendencies.
“I’m a bit of a psycho, you know. I’m an actor, a writer and a director. So I’m three ways crazy. I kind of like that moment of high stakes. But at the end of the day, making films is not curing diseases. You kind of just do it and accept the insanity of it all. But for the most part, I love things that scare the F out of you.”
Klein says he had more than one panic attack over the course of the 15-day Toronto shoot. But the more he could feel the edge, the more engaged he felt – and the better he understood the film as a whole.
“Look, when I say words like psycho and insane, I was referring to the idea of having a career in the film industry. It’s a peculiar decision and you have to be colloquially crazy. The subject matter is somewhat autobiographical in that both characters are based on my own life. I lost someone very close to me at a young age…”
Klein eventually talks about the origin of his own pain. “I lost my best friend growing up. He was killed by a speeding police car in a school zone. It was a big story in Montreal,” he says.
“But in my film, the child just goes missing. Children go missing every day. Bad things do happen and people have to cope. That’s what I wanted to write about… I want to write about the world I am living in. I don’t want to make a film in a vacuum. I want to make a film of today. So I don’t want to make a film about how terrifying it is that Donald Trump is President. But I do want to make a movie that is of that world and tell me about it,” says Klein.
“I will always make movies, if I am lucky enough to make another, about how love pokes through very dark times. The mirror I want to hold up is my own fun house mirror and I guess it comes from the point of view of being pretty heartsick,” he says.
“Obviously every generation thinks they have it the worst, but what makes this the worst is that we are in the future now. We can learn from all this history, and we don’t. My films come out of real distress about that. You won’t see it in my movie but I love Gummo, from Harmony Korine. I love films that communicate the chaos we are living in. You know, a film like Mooonlight, that I am just obsessed with, are stories that are of today.”
Klein pauses. “We need good art. Whoever makes it, we need it. It’s awful how bad things have gotten, but art makes it bearable. And I want to be a part of that… in whatever small way possible.”
The Other Half opens in markets across Canada Dec. 2
THE EX-PRESS, November 30, 2016