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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: DAN BERK AND ROBERT OLSEN ON 'SIGNIFICANT OTHER'

Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
September 29, 2022

In the mystery thriller Significant Other, a venturesome couple (Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy) backpacking in the Pacific Northwest begin to notice unsettling signs that something dangerous may be with them in the woods. As tensions rise and relationship issues boil to the surface, their uneasy situation escalates into a threat far more unexpected than either could have imagined.

Reuniting writer/directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen with actress Maika Monroe (It Follows, Watcher) after their 2019 dark comedy Villains, Significant Other blends elements of horror, science fiction, and drama in a fusion of genres, with a number of twists and turns thrown into the mix. In this exclusive interview, the two filmmakers talk about formulating the movie's specific tone and writing the lead role of Ruth specifically for their returning star.

Significant Other is available to stream on Paramount+.




RadioFree.com: Based on your previous films Villains and Body, it seems you both enjoy mashing up genres and subverting expectations. How did you approach the task of finding the right balance of horror, sci-fi, drama, mystery/thriller, and even comedy for Significant Other?

DAN: You know, this one was kind of a different prism through which we were doing that same sort of genre mash thing that you presented. With something like Villains, we took some horror elements, some thriller elements, some comedy elements, some slapstick elements, and we kind of threw them all into a Vitamix and blended it up, so that every frame of the movie feels like the amalgamation of those disparate genres, or tones. And you know kind of what you're getting--like five minutes in, you understand what the tone of the rest of the movie's going to be. But with Significant Other, we wanted to do something a little bit different, and make you feel like you understood the movie you were watching for the first half or so--like it was this sort of austere, sort of sparse, A24, sci-fi, cerebral, psychological thriller type thing--and then pull the rug out around the midpoint, and blow the scope open into this more bombastic, spectacle-based back half. And those twists and turns leave you on uneven footing so that you really don't know what's coming next, and as a result, there's this built-in, automatic tension throughout the whole film, because you're sort of asking on a meta level, "Where are these guys taking me?" [laughs] And so that was the challenge with this one. And as far as the little bits of comedy in it...Without hitting any third-rail spoilers, the antagonist's motives in this movie are a little more complicated, we think, than antagonists' motives often are. Usually they're pretty cut and dry, like, "Kill the protagonist." And obviously it's very different in this, and there's a lot more nuance. So the absurdity of that situation felt like it needed to be serviced with a little bit of comedy at those points. And, you know, you'd be hard-pressed to find any of our scripts that don't have some levity sprinkled into them. So yeah, it's a lot of pivots, a lot of twists and turns, but we hope that audiences will respond positively to that experience.


What did you take away from your experience of working with Maika Monroe in Villains that made you feel she would be a great choice for the role of Ruth?

ROBERT: Well, we wrote the role for her. You know, we had the best time working with her on Villains. And I think the thing about Maika is that she is just as valuable from a technical standpoint as she is from an emotional and final product standpoint. She's obviously an unbelievable actor. But there's a lot of actors out there that are unbelievable actors on camera, but then are nightmares everywhere else, and you have to treat them with kid gloves, or they need an hour in their trailer to get ready for this emotional scene. And Maika is one of the best technical actors we've ever seen, because not only can she get to those really high emotional places that horrors and thrillers demand of an actor, but she can get there so damn fast. At one second, you're laughing and joking and talking about something, and as soon as we're ready to roll, she's stepping up there and [delivering the] waterworks--she's all of a sudden in this high emotional state. And it's like that! [snaps fingers] And what that does is buy you time as a director, as a filmmaker, where, because of how good she is and because she's nailing every take, you have more time in your shooting day, because it only took you two hours to shoot that scene, [whereas] maybe with another actor, it would have taken you three and a half. And so we just couldn't wait to work with her again. And then in addition to all of her technical prowess and talent, she's just a great person that we've become close friends with. So we knew that if we got her onboard for this, we would at least have a great time shooting the movie, and that it would have a decent chance of being a good flick.


Given that you wrote the role specifically for her, was Ruth's fight scene in the ocean a way to make use of Maika's background as a kiteboarder?

DAN: Yeah, totally, it was. We... [laughs] Not necessarily the crippling anxiety, but other elements of the Ruth character are all taken from Maika's real life and the skill set that we knew she had. So if she had said no, it would have been quite heartbreaking for us, because we put a lot of the person that we knew into this character. And so yes, her background as a professional kiteboarder certainly came into play there.

ROBERT: And let me tell you, it was necessary, because that scene was an intense day of shooting. We were on the coast, and we were waiting for the surf to be at the right wave height and everything like that. We had the whole water safety team. And there was only a small window where this ocean wasn't absolutely just ripping people with the current, and so we had to shoot in that window. And she was just such a pro. And Jake, too, because he used to be a lifeguard. And so having the two of them in the water, and being comfortable in the water, was so, so necessary for that scene to work.

So it sounds like you were able to shoot much of the movie on location?

ROBERT: Oh yeah!

DAN: Yeah, it's all on location. It came with its challenges, but it was just gorgeous. And obviously you can see it in the final product--you know, the visuals can't be beat. It's one of the most beautiful places on the planet, that Pacific Coast.

Thanks for your time today, and congratulations on the film!

ROBERT: Thank you so much!

DAN: Thank you, Michael. Thanks a lot!


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