by writer/director Azazel Jacobs
Can romance survive love? I began writing the script for The Lovers with this question in mind, and also with the premise, no matter how naïve or wishful, that the answer was an emphatic yes—it must! I pictured a couple that had grown so far apart, that unbeknownst to them, they had almost gone full circle back to each other. I see it happen in politics, why not relationships as well?
With this in mind, a simple riddle emerged—a couple who cheat on their lovers with each other. I wrote it at the top of the first page, and with it as a destination, I immediately enjoyed going back and forth between the couple, watching them be equally culpable in their individual ways, somewhat magically in sync with each other. It was (and still is), important to me that this was a film about relationships, not affairs. I did my best to create a situation where people shared the same spaces, but might as well have existed in separate worlds. This allowed me personally to not judge them harshly and, ultimately, find connection between everyone involved.
I also saw a connection to the screwball comedies from the ‘30s and ‘40s, films that I love. It was easy to picture Myrna Loy and William Powell being magnificently delirious in the premise, or a director like Ernst Lubitsch handling it with masterly control. I also saw other inspirations as well, in particular independent titan John Cassavetes, and the trilogy of films by the Swedish director Roy Andersson, who is able to portray the theatrics of life with heartbreak and humor. These forces collectively pushed me to begin this story where screwball comedies usually end, when forbidden romance has become more exhausting than the thing it was intended to escape. And it forced me to place it in a world that felt like a movie set, though it would only use real locations. My hope (out of it all), was that something would emerge both recognizable and new.
Just as importantly, I also saw the chance to work with Debra Winger. I had been singularly focused on that possibility since receiving a handwritten letter almost five years earlier, on stationary with her name above it, expressing care for a previous film of mine. Since then, we had met up almost once a year, with me trying to interest her in whatever I was planning next, to no avail. But with this, I had her in mind from the start, picturing those eyes in particular, and knowing that with her skill, she would bring a life and a truth to it beyond what I could hope for. It challenged me to write with an intimidating candidness that would hopefully be deserving of her.
When the script was ready, I sent it to her, and through the producers, to A24, who were gearing up for a small production called Moonlight. They responded quickly, positively, guaranteeing me an unrivaled control, freedom, an incredible support and a wealth of experience. Debra and I met up soon after, I had yet to hear back from her, other then let’s talk about it in person. Aiy…as you can imagine, I was sweating. Immediately, she started talking about her approach to the role, and it took me a moment to realize—”So, this means yes?” It did, and we were off.
I knew with Debra on board, only the best would follow. Tracy Letts is the best. Every moment working with him I felt increasingly indebted to all the forces that made it happen. Melora Walters, Aidan Gillen, Tyler Ross and Jessica Sula—it all came together in a way that I quickly could picture in no other way, each bringing a talent and a humanity and most importantly, a heart to what began with just a wishful plea for romance to win in the end.