Measure of a Man director Jim Loach and star Liana Liberato sat down with Electric Bento during the Phoenix Film Festival just before their film premiered to an excited audience of festivalgoers. Hear about Mr. Loach’s thoughts on coming of age stories and Ms. Liberato’s experiences on the set.
When one sits down with talent, the first question that pops in to your head should not be “are you enjoying the weather”. However, this is Phoenix and as it happened, when I sat down with Measure of a Man’s director, Jim Loach and star Liana Liberato (Novitiate) that was the first thing we started talking about; it was unseasonably warm as the last day of the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival was wrapping up.
For Ms. Liberato, she didn’t mind the weather, saying that it was the same in the area of L.A. that she’s from. However, Mr. Loach was “thawing out” as he had been on location in blistery Alberta not two days before we sat own. I reminisced about my days growing up in Wisconsin, relating to the cold before I turned to Ms. Liberato, complimenting her on her performance, especially her scenes with Blake. I asked her to elaborate more on a scene where Bobby (Blake) finds her having an intimate moment with the hunk of the film.
She laughs as she remembers, “the scene where we’re walking back and he throws up on my feet. I could not keep it together.” Ms. Liberato mentions a little bit about the magic of movies as she expanded on her thoughts. “I felt so bad because it was so later at night it was freezing. And every time he threw up on my feet, it just got everywhere,” and she was squeezing her eyes shut as she said “I was like ‘Don’t laugh.’ But I would laugh every time.”
Mr. Loach is animated as Ms. Liberato reminisces, but they then share a mutual sidelong glance when she talks about how her reaction might have caused challenges elsewhere, saying “you can probably see it [her laughing on the take],” as she turns to Jim and says, “you probably had fun in the editing room getting around that.”
Mr. Loach, who might seem reserved, smiles the kind of smile when you’re suppressing a laugh and agreed, “Yeah.”
“I remember it was supposed to be so hot and summery, but it was so cold and it had rained that night,” Ms. Liberato continued. “I wasn’t supposed to have a shirt on. [Blake] is also good at acting drunk.” Sounds to us like Measure of a Man was a real fun set to be on.
I went on to mention how I liked the scene and found myself laughing even though it isn’t intended to be funny because of the way Mr. Loach built up the scene and because of Ms. Liberato’s performance, which felt very honest and real.
I shared the same comment about the entire film with Mr. Loach as we talked about his initial involvement in the film. “My involvement didn’t start until David [Scearce] sent me the script in 2013.”
The story is set in 1976, which happens to be the same year I was born. In addition, Measure of a Man is served well by the cast and the setting of the film triggered many happy childhood memories. Without a script, none of this would have been possible and so I asked Mr. Loach about the development process next.
He started out with his influences first saying, “I had always wanted to make a coming-of-age movie in America since I was in my early 20’s. After seeing Stand by Me, it had a really big impact on me and I wanted to make it here in America because I admire . . . American independent cinema does coming-of-age in a way no other nation does it. I don’t know why that is. You just know it when you see it.”
“When I read this script, I saw the opportunity to make that kind of film,” Mr. Loach added. “David and I spent some years, trying different things in the script and then we started to look for whomever to play Bobby, but we knew we wanted to build an ensemble cast.”
Mr. Loach concludes with a general statement about independent filmmaking stating, “like all independent films, it suddenly came together at the last minute. It was on and off for a little bit and it came together.”
We next spoke about Donald Sutherland where I mentioned that he was one of the most prolific actors to have played the role of Dr. Kahn. I shared with Mr. Loach that I had gotten the same vibe out of Sutherland’s performance with Blake to a film I saw at SXSW called Boundaries (d. Shana Feste; SPC) where Christopher Plummer plays opposite Lewis MacDougall. That vibe was more about the experience behind the eyes that dialogue can’t capture, something that adds a lot of well-nuanced layers throughout the film. Knowing this, I asked Mr. Loach about his experiences with Mr. Sutherland and Blake on the same set together.
The softly spoken Mr. Loach lit up when I asked him about this. “Well, a treat, amazing. I found him intimidating, hilarious, anarchic, naughty. All of the above and everything in between.” Mr. Loach shared that Mr. Sutherland’s scenes were shot all at once, “We shot his scenes in the first week at the Chutes [in Rhode Island]. Which was interesting because we pulled out his story strand and put it all back to back because he was going on to another film.” Mr. Loach then spoke of Mr. Sutherland’s magnanimity as an actor and a friend. “When I sent him the script, I was starting another film in Australia. We were in prep, but it was happening and not happening, he called me right from the off, ‘I want to do it, whatever, just get me there. If we can do it in ten days, I’m there. You don’t need to pay me.’” Mr. Loach laughs as he finishes that thought. “I know he’s my friend, I probably shouldn’t question him.”
We next talked about Bobby’s arc and what amounts to my favorite moment in the film. I asked Mr. Loach if he felt a sense of satisfaction in Bobby’s resolution. He responded matter of factly saying, “Yes. We didn’t want to be too neat about it. We felt like it was a story that had a climax. We wanted to make a film that it was excerpts from a diary, which were at the beginning seemingly disconnected people and events bridged together in a defining moment.”
Tying into that last comment, I shared a memory of my first summer job as a newspaper delivery person, and how I felt that my own journey echoed Bobby’s, thus making another moment in the film that much more prolific. Mr. Loach summed up my anecdote adding “we thought that Michelle and Bobby are at a moment of crossroads where they’re at a formative [and vulnerable] age. At age 27 you’d probably react differently than at age 17.” Ms. Liberato added, “I think it’s’ interesting for Bobby, I’m not a boy, but that does seem to be such a crucial age for he and Michelle. They’re both going through a similar story.”
We rapidly approached the end of our conversation, so I took a moment to ask both Mr. Loach and Ms. Liberato what was next for each. Mr. Loach mentioned that he is “doing a show in Canada, and I’m hoping to start a film in fall. It’s a thriller written by Rona Munro, who wrote Oranges and Sunshine. We’ve been working on it since we made that film and I’m really excited.”
Ms. Liberato shared that she’s “finishing a film called To the Stars, which is also a period piece. It’s about two young women who form an unlikely friendship in the 1960’s. It deals with modern controversial topics. It’s a really awesome film directed by Martha Stevens.”
I shared how much I enjoyed her performance in Novitiate and how it seemed like her last three films were period pieces. “I do do that. I don’t know why.” She mentioned that the costumes for Measure of a Man were some of the most comfortable she wore in a period piece. Mr. Loach asked if she’d been in uncomfortable clothes. “Yeah. In Novitiate, I was in the Habit the entire time so that was fine.” We laughed at the fact that she could eat what she wanted on that film and no one would notice. “But in To the Stars, I’m in [uncomfortable] skirts. I was in the tightest corsets and I could barely walk around them. In Measure of a Man, [it] was great cause it was summer clothes, shorts, tank tops and flowy hair. It was fun.”
With that, our conversation came to an end but the memories of Measure of a Man and my conversation with Jim Loach and Liana Liberato will remain with me forever.