Writer/Director Pippa Bianco’s Share, adapted from her short film of the same name, follows 16-year-old American highschooler Mandy (Rhianne Barreto) who is faced with a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember. Wanting to know what happened, Mandy must navigate the escalating fallout. J.C. MacKenzie plays Mandy’s compassionate father Mickey.
Ahead of the the film’s UK premiere on Sky Atlantic tonight Tuesday 13th August at 11.10pm, James Kleinmann spoke with Rhianne Barreto, J.C. MacKenzie and Pippa Bianco for HeyUGuys about the compelling drama.
James Kleinmann: I found Share utterly riveting, and felt so uncomfortable and anxious at times while watching it, for all the right reasons.
Rhianne Barreto: ”It’s like an elastic band that’s being pulled and you just don’t know when it’s going to snap.”
Rhianne, what were you drawn to about Share?
RB: “’Drawn to’ is interesting, because I wasn’t in a position to be like ‘I chose this job’, it was kinda just like ‘fuck me, I need to work!’ and luckily it was amazing. I think the dialogue was something that attracted me though. I mean, only in these interview situations do I monologue for a about a minute and I think people kind of intercut over each other when they talk in real life and a lot of the script was written like that, with overlaying. Pippa would tell us that we could improvise if we had problems saying some of the words or if we thought ‘this feels like it’s scripted’. So I thought, ‘yeah, I’m going to try that’ and I’d try it in this weird actor, ego-y way and realise that if I did it I drowned. To really to stick to Pippa’s script was like a buoyancy aid in the middle of an ocean and that was safe and that was right.”
How did you get cast?
RB: “I sent out a self-tape. It was the fifth audition that I ever did. I saw the description, and I thought ‘it’s the lead of a big film, I’m not going to get it’. I was at a Premier Inn in Stratford-upon-Avon and recorded the scene with my best friend. I was sat on the floor in this hotel room. And I sent it and then I thought nothing of it. Then the next day they were like ‘do it again’ and so I did it again with my sister. Then I Skyped with Pippa. Those were just ‘dummy sides’, then she sent me the real script and I did another self-tape. And then Pippa flew to meet me and we watched movies and ate snacks together and did the auditions again. Then a couple of weeks later, she called me at 1am and was like ‘I want to offer you the job’ and I was like ‘fuuuuck!’”
What were the films you watched together?
RB: “I don’t think Pippa wants me to say what the specific films were, but the films we watched were for me so I could feel confident that one person can carry a whole film and that there’s interest in just listening and there’s beauty in just being really present in each scene. I think that’s a lot of what Mandy’s character does.”
And J.C., you play the father of Rhianne’s character Mandy in the film, how did you get involved in Share?
J.C. MacKenzie: “Well, I come from a totally different position to Rhianne. I’ve been in the business a while, I’m older. The casting director on the project was Avy Kaufman, one of the top casting directors in the country, so anything you’re going in to her for is generally pretty high quality. As soon as I got the sides I thought ‘this is really muddy, lifelike, it doesn’t sound like written lines’. When we were on set, if there was anything that sounded written Pippa would make it more real, she was very disciplined in terms of that. After the audition though I didn’t think anything of it either, I thought it went OK.”
RB: “I watched your audition J.C., it was sick! Best audition I’ve ever watched.”
JCM: “Thank you! Generally this is not in my wheelhouse to play characters like this, I generally get quippy, funny, irreverent assholes. And so it was kind of a gift that I didn’t want to squander. During the audition, there were four hot guys in front of me who were young and had jawlines and I thought ‘there’s no fucking way I’m getting this part’, so that freed me up to do whatever I wanted to do! Then as soon as I spoke with Pippa I thought ‘this is going to be heaven’, because she said all the things I want to hear as an actor: ‘I’m open to improvisation, I’m open to what you have to say’ and you could tell that she listens to actors, she likes actors. There are actually very few directors like that, bizarrely.”
RB: “Pippa was in the Sundance labs and I think part of that teaches you to be an actor, to have experience as an actor – she told me that she felt that it was really important to understand what’s useful direction and what’s not useful for an actor.”
I’ve heard you say that Mandy’s experience is something that feels like it’s happening to her, in some ways a lot of it is out of her control, but she’s finding her way through that isn’t she and even gaining a sense of control?
RB:”I think one of the useful things about Pippa’s script for an actor is that every character could be the lead, which means that every character has an objective and something that they want. They’re not just used as a vehicle for drama. My character verbally says throughout the whole film that she just wants to know what happened. And that was massive for me, to know what I wanted in every scene. That was a really simple thing to latch on to. Also with the US visa experience that I had [Rhianne was denied a US visa to act in the film after she’d been cast, so the entire production had to move to Canada]. I’d never been sexually assaulted and that was a fear of mine in taking on the role, but actually my character Mandy can’t remember that experience in the film, so I didn’t really need a memory of that myself to play the role. But also I didn’t do anything wrong to have brown skin; the colour of my skin isn’t something I can change or something I did to hurt America, but for some reason I wasn’t allowed in this country because of it and that was a really easy way to tap into Mandy’s emotional cauldron. In some ways it’s a very vain experience, because it’s like ‘oh, I can’t get into this country to act’ and she’s going through something much tougher that sticks with her for the rest of her life, but at that point I didn’t know if I would ever get into America, so that was an endless feeling of ‘fuck, fuck, fuck.’ And people were telling me how to talk to the embassy and that’s exactly what happens to Mandy, she’s told how to talk to police officers and how to speak to a news reporter, it’s a really similar experience on some ways. Now I can get into the country, but I couldn’t before and I didn’t even know if I was going to do the job because of it.”
You have some emotionally charged scenes together, one in particular really stood out for me where you’re in the car together. What can you tell us about filming that sequence?
JCM: “I remember on the day you were nervous. Pippa is such a good director in that it’s not prescriptive. She doesn’t say ‘I need you to weep’, that’s bad direction, but you’d be surprised how many directors do that. It was just setting a tone for us to begin to explore emotionally what was going to go on. Crying is hard, because we try not to cry, we don’t want to cry. I’ve seen a lot of actors cry on screen and I just want to turn off the TV. I just want to move on. So it’s a precarious spot to be in. Having said that, I’m a father, I have been sexually assaulted myself, at a young age, eight or nine, so I can really relate to this. And Rhianne is so kind, is so nice and kind. There’s usually a huge correlation between talent and walls, emotional and psychological walls, but not with this one. I was saying yesterday that I thought she was an intern, a young enthusiastic intern…!”
RB:”I talk about J.C. in a lot of my interviews because I think you can work with actors who switch off when they’re not being shot, it can be very much ‘I’ve done my bit’. But with that scene in the car especially J.C. would say ‘let’s do this one, let’s just really listen to each other’ and ‘it doesn’t matter’. When you’re shooting a film and you have to respect survivors’ stories, that can really get on top of you. But actually knowing that we were not saving lives and that no one is going to die in that film set environment, and just to listen to him, that was invaluable. He taught me so much, and it was a really beautiful thing to have such an incredible cast and crew for the whole film.”
What are your thoughts on the ending of the film?
RB: “Beautiful. I was surprised that after the film screened some people were in uproar about the ending. I think there’s justice in the ending and Mandy says throughout the film ‘I just want to know what happened’ and then she gets that and she makes a really strong choice about she wants in terms of getting on with her life. And maybe tomorrow she doesn’t want that, or maybe ten years down the line she regrets that, but in that moment she makes a really strong choice. I had to respect that choice as someone playing the character, so I never thought of anything other than that being the right choice and it’s interesting that other people have a problem with that, and not getting a sense of ‘justice’ whatever that is. I think Pippa made a perfect film and I think to have respect for a choice you wouldn’t make yourself is a really big message of the movie. Most people don’t come forward about their experiences and that’s heroic. I think it’s a heroic ending.”
Have you seen the film with an audience and witnessed their reaction to the end of the film?
RB: “I watched it with my old school. I went to The BRIT School and we did a screening the other day and it was full of young people and I’ve never been in a cinema where at the end of it people stood up and screamed at the screen! All of these 16 or 17 year-olds were so engaged and so up in arms about something, so moved by this film, which is an art-house film that is also just a really fucking good film. This film is more of a question pot. It simmers underneath it without it being preachy.”
People are definitely going to talk about it afterwards. I was gasping at times while watching it and talked about it for a long time after seeing it. You mentioned The BRIT School Rhianne, could you talk about how you got into acting in the UK?
RB: “Well, my sister was the lead of the year six leavers’ play and it was ‘Olivia’, like a mixture of My Fair Lady and Oliver. So I got my hands on the script and I somehow in year five, like nine years old, learnt the entire script. I was such a geek! I was playing ‘opera-goer number two’ or something and none of the girls wanted to wear a suit or play a man and I was going to wear my brother’s holy communion suit and put dirt on my face to be the orphan, I was really into it! Then one of the kids went on holiday and they hadn’t told the school, so the school was like ‘fuuuck, we need someone to say these 16 lines’. And I was like ‘I can do it!’ And so I ended up having a bigger part and I think a lot of parents came up to my parents afterwards and said ‘your daughter was really good.’ I think I was just really loud and people could hear what I was saying, so they thought I was good, because that’s all you really need to do in the primary school play! I got the performing bug and I went to ‘amdram’ improvisational classes and I was just addicted to it. Then I applied to the National Youth Theatre and The BRIT School. I actually applied to the National Youth Theatre once before and didn’t get in, I think I got into it the second time. So I got into both of these institutions and learnt how to act I guess, and how to be a human and to be political. I think a lot of being an actor is being aware of what’s going on around you. Then I got an agent, then I got Share and now I’m here!”
Have you watched any of the other high school set movies or TV shows that are currently on? How do you think Share compares?
RB:”I think that we don’t talk in witty puns. You know, everyone is reaching, everyone is trying to find the words and that was really prevalent in Pippa’s script. People don’t always have the answer. The parents aren’t always horrible or dark. There’s a lot of love in Pippa’s script. No one is used as a vehicle for exposition. It’s just a good story and there was a feeling on set of everyone offering their heart to the film.”
Picking up on what you were saying about the depiction of parents in some teenage drama Rhianne, one of my favourite scenes in the film is where Mandy’s mother says that she wasn’t surprised by what happened to Mandy, but for her father it’s different because he didn’t expect these things to be happening, every minute of every day, as she knows they do.
JCM: ”I think the way the scenes are structured and written by Pippa, shows that my character doesn’t want to be engaged. But we all have some sort of line. As a parent, all you do is worry about your kids, and Mandy might have been sexually assaulted, which is so weird and surreal to get your head around for my character. It’s just dealing with that and the day to day stuff, it’s getting on with life, not making a big deal so that Mandy doesn’t freak out. A lot of that is in the script and the fact that she’s reticent about getting, what we as parents see as some sort of retribution.”
Share is very layered and complex. I felt at the beginning of the film we were feeling some of your character’s guilt, or something like guilt, a sense of responsibility, almost like she feels like she’s done something wrong herself.
RB:” I think as a woman you are. I don’t know how men feel because I’m not a man, but I feel like especially as a British woman it’s easier to control things if you take the blame, if you take these awful things and have control over them in some way. I think in that conversation between Mandy and her father in the car, at least for me as an actor, it was about saying ‘I fucking like going out’ and then J.C.’s character fills in the other bit, which is ‘that doesn’t mean that anyone has the right to do whatever they want to you, or to hurt you’. And I think just cut that message away and give that to the world, because that is a message that needs to be told. You could be dancing on a table fucking naked swinging your boobs around and that doesn’t give anyone has the right to touch you or hurt you, and that is enough. That’s one section of the film and that’s such a beautiful thing that I think all women and men need to hear. Everyone.”
Pippa, Share was originally a short film, how did the feature come about? What was the process of adapting it like?
Pippa Bianco: “Well, actually I had the idea to make the feature first, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to trick people into giving me millions of dollars with very little to show for myself at that point! So I decided to make the short in order to make the feature and also because I wanted to learn and the only way to learn is to make things. The only two anchors I really I had were that I knew how it would start and how it end, but nothing in between. So the short is just that opening really and then when writing the feature, obviously so many things in the world and also in me had changed over the course of that time. I’d lived years of experience at that point, so my feelings changed in relation to the subject matter, and I think the film grew along those lines, but the beginning and the end stayed the same.”
Since the Harvey Weinstein allegations came out and the #MeToo movement really started to build, a lot more people have come forward about their stories and I wondered how that influenced your writing of Share?
PB: ”The Harvey Weinstein allegations broke when we were on set making the feature, so that was a really dark day. It was a very disorientating, dark day because obviously there are a lot of things that are positive about people coming forward and being empowered to speak, but at the end of the day there’s so much suffering. And for me at least, maybe because of the film we made, whenever you hear certain voices you know that there are so many other voices that you are not hearing and so that was very haunting. In terms of how it changed the film, in some ways significantly, but in a lot of ways not at all, because to me it wasn’t new. Just because we started looking at it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t happening. The one thing that maybe is a little different now is that it seems very easy for a lot of people to come forward, it’s like ‘oh, well, people are doing it now so it must be easy’, or some people at least even seem to think that you’ll be rewarded for it, it’s appealing, and that to me is really dangerous and upsetting idea. So I think in that way the film I hope dignifies the choice that most people still make, which is to not come forward publicly and also hopefully it examines the context of why someone might make that choice, so that we can make it a better place for people.”
J.C. told me that he’s a survivor of sexual assault himself, so for him making the film had a particular significance.
RB:”I think that may be the first time that J.C. has talked about that publicly. We talked about that stuff a lot as a family. There were a lot of survivors on our cast and crew. I don’t know a woman who hasn’t experienced some shade of this and I think a lot of men obviously have too. Certainly, there are parts of my life and my experience of coming of age that are in the film. But for me I think the most profound emotional experience I can relate it to is grief. I lost my mother right after I’d agreed to make the short, right after I’d submitted the first draft of it to the AFI workshop where I was going to make it over a couple of months. It was that night actually that I got accepted that she passed away and I think it really changed the script in ways I didn’t realise. As we finished the feature I lost my dad as well. I don’t think I even consciously thought about it until recently, but Mandy is also grieving kind of an unknown, this thing she’ll never have access to. I think the ways in which we all have to accept really painful parts of our lives are kind of similar journeys.”
“I don’t personally believe in the five stages of grief, but it was something that Rhianne and I talked about on set, which I didn’t remember until she brought it up. The denial, the anger, the bargaining, the pleading, and then finally coming to terms with the loss and saying ‘I can’t I undo what happened to me that night’, in Mandy’s case, ‘I can’t take that away, I have to make peace with that’. Maybe she can’t get an answer, maybe she can, but she can chose to move forward in the way that she wants to. So to me, I think of it as a grief movie that also speaks to my experience of how one comes to terms with trauma more generally. Certainly I think that there are a lot of men and women in my life who have been through that literal experience and then there are my own experiences as a teenager and also as an adult woman that relate to the film.”
Rhianne mentioned that she’d witnessed a powerful reaction to the film at a screening she was at, especially the ending. What kind of feedback have you had on the ending of the film?
PB: ”I don’t think I actually realised how intensely people would feel about the ending. With an American audience, they really want to know and will explicitly ask after the film ‘what is the moral of this story? What is your message? What do you think people should do in this situation?’ Which isn’t how I approach filmmaking. I do think you obviously have to have a point of view and an opinion, you should be participating mindfully and intentionally, there’s something you want to communicate to an audience. But also I tend to think films are strongest when they activate an audience, when they ask a question and allow space for people to have emotion. If you want a lecture or a morality tale or an essay you could go to a lot of places for that, but I don’t think that’s what’s most powerful about cinema.
“But there are a lot of people who I don’t have to explain the ending to at all. I made the film hopefully for a lot of people, but first and foremost I was thinking about those people whose lived experience this touches on and I really did want to remove shame from the equation. Part of this #MeToo moment is that we really do feel that there is a right and wrong way to respond and that justice means one thing, it means legal and public resolution. I don’t think for anybody who’s in a situation like this that there is a choice that doesn’t have a cost. And of all the young men and women that I interviewed were each haunted by the road not taken. For the ones who did come forward publicly, they wondered if it was worth it and if there would’ve been less pain if they hadn’t. And for the ones who didn’t come forward publicly they wondered if there would’ve been less pain if they’d gone that way. So I wanted the end to hopefully engage an audience to say ‘well, what can we do to make this function differently, what kind of world can we make it so that people who have to go through things like this have more bureaucratic and institutional support and the infrastructure to give them more resources’. And also to say ‘you are not making the wrong choice, you are no less heroic because you make a deeply personal choice that is unpopular or that isn’t what an audience wants of you’. It’s absolutely heroic to be an activist and an advocate for others, but it’s also heroic to just get up out of bed every morning to do whatever it is that you need to do, even if other people don’t understand or appreciate that.”
In some ways this story could’ve happened at any time over the past fifty years say, but the technology aspect of it is something that changes things. I think one of the things that got my anxiety going watching the film was the scene early on where the girls have played a basketball game and they are back in the women’s locker room and we hear the text messages coming in and the reply sounds. Could you talk about your choices behind that sound design, which continues throughout the film, and is heightened when Mandy’s being bullied and receiving a barrage of text messages. We don’t necessary see what they are, but we hear the sounds.
RB: “From the sound design perspective, I have a phobia of my phone. It’s something that’s haunting me. I tend to feel haunted by even the vibrating sound. Everybody knows it, it’s an immediate emotional reaction, so maybe in some ways that’s why it’s in the film. Mandy doesn’t have a memory of that night in a literal sense, but it was a question I asked myself, what ways might the motifs of light or those sounds reflect how she’s haunted by the experience. So I think the suite of iPhone sounds that are kind of always around us in all spaces, for me, I’d rather represent the horrors of the Internet that way, than by literally showing her scrolling through a Facebook interface looking at mean comments. I think it’s much more visceral to see her being haunted by this kind of audio ghost of social media. And to your point I think technology is a tool and I don’t think human behaviour is necessarily wildly different than it was 10, 15, 20, 50 years ago. But I do think that it’s modulated now through this new interface and amplified in good and bad ways. To me, I think the conversation she has with her mother in the middle of the movie touches on that, the way in which it’s both a blessing and a curse now to be able to document these things. On the one hand, there is “proof” and evidence of what people are saying or doing or what’s been done in a way that people wouldn’t have video cameras in their pockets all the time before. But on the other hand, it has this eternal life that it wouldn’t have had when it was a hard copy. That things can kind of live forever in a way is really disturbing.”
Mandy’s phone is almost another character in the movie.
PB:”Yes we thought a lot about that and how to treat it as a character.”
One thing that I found very powerful about the film was the way that you managed to make ordinary, every day places seem threatening like the 7-Eleven store and it’s very tense, Mandy’s high school too, places that shouldn’t be threatening.
PB: “Thank you! I thought a lot about what public spaces would feel like to her and there’s certainly an aesthetic language that we treated all of those spaces with in terms of scouting locations or how we lit or coloured those scenes. They’re full of fluorescent light banks that have a sound to them, which is such a creepy sound, the buzzing, which is in a lot of those scenes in those spaces. I wanted those spaces to feel like she was naked, under a spotlight and they would have that kind of vulnerability to them. For most of the movie, there’s only one scene with daylight, once Mandy gets that video she’s in darkness all the time, she’s inside in the dark, she’s outside in the dark or she’s in that white hot light. All these spaces where she’s being looked at. So to me, I wanted make those things feel like her nightmare, that they would be very exposing and haunting to her. I’m wondering if this is something pathological about me and how I feel about being in public! But no, I think it was Mandy’s nightmare! I don’t like 7-Elevens either, they stress me out. We filmed in an open 7-Eleven, it was a nightmare. We couldn’t afford to shut it down apparently and we only found that out the day we got there, and we lost two and a half hours to people buying Lotto tickets, because we had to shut down every time somebody came in we had to stop and wait!”
Could you talk a bit about the film’s title. It has multiple meanings.
PB: ”To me Share is a word that has a digital connotation, but it’s also about ownership and disclosure and what we feel entitled to of someone else’s experience or expect of them, and how we maybe expect them to provide us with access to it. In terms of the ending of the film, and what we may want her to do or feel like we need to see to get closure, maybe very different to what she wants to do or needs to do. So to me that’s one layer of the title.”
Which high school set movies and TV shows have you watched? What do you feel they sometimes lack in terms of an authentic teenage voice?
PB:”I find that it’s very easy to trivialise teenage stories, especially ones with women at the centre and they’re treated like aliens from another planet, they have to speak in weird ways and wear weird things and it’s like we were all there, maybe more recently or more distantly, but they are human beings I don’t feel like my emotional life is in a lot of ways necessarily more complicated than it was then. I’m older and hopefully wiser in certain ways, but I don’t think my inner life or my pain or my joy is any less rich or complicated than it was as a teenager. There a lot of films that I love that I think reflect that really well, like This Is England, Girlhood or Ratcatcher. There’s a whole suite of films that are really nuanced and treat teenagers like people. But then I think there are things like…and I shouldn’t criticise it because I stopped watching it… because it made me feel not good…13 Reasons Why, where I feel like teenagers are dehumanised and fetishized in a weird way for and by adults. It’s not easy to tell a story about someone who is a “passive” protagonist, where the launching point of their story is something being done to them. So I think in terms of these kinds of narratives in particular there’s a tendency to artificially activate them. So they’ll murder somebody or they’ll kill themselves, or they’ll take some other kind of dramatic violent action, so that then they can be active protagonists, rather than to say let’s look at the choices that people really make because no one is a passive protagonist in their own life. There is so much heroism, and strength and direction and activity and agency in the choices that people make that are quiet, that aren’t as visible as killing somebody or yourself, or as easy to tell through a detective, or a friend who’s avenging or investigating or some other kind of genre device. I think that the burden is on writer/directors to listen and observe their own lives more carefully and respect teenagers and victims of violence and to see that there’s a lot of interiority there and a lot of agency, they just need to look for it and to tell it more truthfully.”
I’ve been enjoying Euphoria, which I feel on the surface in some ways is quite stylised and it might at first glance appear to be like one of those shows that you’re talking about that fetishize the teenage experience, but actually it really takes its time and we get to know these characters well and there’s a lot of layers. You’ve directed episode 6, can you talk a little bit about coming on to something mid-season and although it’s quite different to Share in some ways it’s similar in that it takes teenagers seriously.
RB:”It’s a very complicated show in so many ways. Sam Levinson is the creator and it’s his story, I think he’d be the first one to say it. I’ve rarely worked with or had the pleasure of meeting someone so emphatic. I think he fully inhabits each of those characters regardless of gender or age or orientation or anything that he isn’t. They are as human to him as he is and his experience is imbued in each of their lives and I think it shows in terms of the complexity and richness of those people. I think of the show in terms of if Mandy had a nightmare or a fun fantasy of what her life could be it might be Euphoria.
“In the most fascinating way it embraces high style and some more elevated plot devices, but that’s part of the pleasure of it. When I was working on it, I tended to think of it as being psychological realism, that’s its so sensual, and so emotional and evocative stylistically and in terms of the things that are larger than life in the story, but that is more what I tend to think life feels like. In terms of my life, when something horrible happens, like when I was grieving for example, those things felt like my world was ending, it didn’t just feel like somebody had died, it felt like I didn’t know what planet I was on anymore, so to me there is in some ways more truth in something that’s surreal because that’s what it feels like. It doesn’t feel real, it feels bizarre, or when you’re in love, it’s what Rue feels for Jules – it’s all encompassing, it’s bigger than what the facts might like look like to somebody else. Euphoria was a pleasure to work on and one of the most beautiful things about working on a show like that was that everyone was so empowered to make really bold, weird creative choices. Sam hired actors and department heads and directors and then let us run and gave us so much freedom in terms of what we made. It was a really cool show to work on with wonderful people.”
What kind of stories are you looking to devote your time to telling next?
PB: ”Recently, even more so I think because of what was happening in my personal life, I was really hungry for movies with a happy ending. I think a lot of American movies that are heroic or happy are structured around the idea that a hero is somebody who does not lose, who beats the odds, or who almost loses something but in the nick of time saves the day and that there isn’t tragedy in a happy ending. I was so hungry for stories where tragedy happens, as it does to all of us, but where that’s the beginning of a beautiful story and not necessarily the end. I like the idea that there can be a heroic story full or joy, or peace or romance with tragedy in it. So I’m looking for stories that speak to that.”
Share premieres in the UK at 11.10pm tonight Tuesday 13th August on Sky Atlantic and is available on demand now on HBO in the USA.