I wanted to be naked
Keegan Swenson: Let’s start with the Caveh thing. Do you do a lot of theater acting?
Betsey Brown: I did theater from childhood to my early twenties, but currently the stage is a charged place for me. At the moment, it’s scarier than film to me. So jumping back into theater with Caveh was a mixed experience. Caveh’s approach is: “we have this huge, thick as hell script and we are going to vomit it onto the stage without proper rehearsal.” It goes against a lot of the theater rules. And then you add Caveh as a person and an artist plus all of his familiar and sometimes volatile relationships... It was a recipe for intense feelings.
KS: You and Sam Stillman were inspiring to me. You seemed to give yourself into the process better than most of us. I kept thinking to myself: “Is this bad? Why do I care?” You relinquished control.
BB: Jack Dumphy was the leader in terms of commitment. I actually don’t feel I committed hard enough. I try not to give into regret, but I have a lot of regrets around that performance. Maybe my resistance had to do with the Caveh ingredient.
KS: What was the Caveh ingredient?
BB: Caveh is all about going with his version of God. Succumbing to the moment. I don’t feel like I did that enough with that project. I was scared to make a fool of myself.
KS: I went and watched some of Jack’s films afterwards. Talented guy.
BB: He’s a genius.
KS: I saw Caveh on the F train and told him I was going to speak with you. I asked him about his POV on Actors. He has this way of speaking you know: radical honesty and all. He said “I think it’s a very brave movie and it’s very funny.”
BB: That’s so funny. I was talking to this stranger I’d just met. I told him Actors was a comedy. He knew to laugh. Sometimes I wonder if I should tell the viewers: you’re allowed to laugh. But also, who am I to tell people how to experience my movie?
KS: What was the writing process like? I watched it a couple days after watching Assholes. They have a lot thematically in common. Do you see them in conversation with each other?
BB: Yes, they’re absolutely in conversation with each other. I came up with the idea for Actors in 2017 at SXSW where Assholes premiered, and won the visions section award. I was proud of the work I did in Assholes and I was excited about my collaboration with Peter. Premiering at SXSW was a dream come true for Peter and me, so I expected it to be a joint celebration of a fabulous creative duo! Alas, I was stunned to see all of the accolades going solely to Peter. I felt a deep and new sense of jealousy and rivalry. I was used to having an older brother actor/filmmaker who was objectively more successful, but I thought this would be the start of some success of my own. When that wasn’t the case, I started to think about the nature of my rivalry, which led me to come up with the concept for Actors. I really hate feeling these jealous, competitive feelings. The “Betsey” in Actors is the least enlightened version of myself.
KS: Does it feel like an act of processing? Are these psychoanalytical films?
BB: I was raised on psychoanalysis and theater, so yes, my films are psychoanalytic. In Actors, Peter says, as we look at stills from his film, Assholes, “is this why we made the movie? To just look at the photos and jerk off to it?” and I respond, “that is partially why I make movies: to be able to really see yourself.” There are psychoanalytic aspects to each part of my filmmaking process.
KS: Can I ask: where are you at with self promotion?
BB: @actorscellectuals is a place where I feel freedom from self consciousness. Because of the nature of the meme format, and that I share the account with Peter, I find it purely fun. The self-promoting of Actors has become a fun part of the film’s lore at this point. People DM me rooting for my film screenings to sell out because they see that my instagram account is the way in which I’ve gotten people to care about my movie at all. However, I definitely go through phases of feeling very down about self-promotion. Because I care a lot about honesty, it feels weird to be as online as I am when no matter what, I’m not telling the whole story, and the goal isn’t even to do that. But I am going to continue to be shameless and promote my movie!
KS: It gets complicated.
BB: Yes. When it comes to simply curating “myself” (and not the movie) online I definitely feel more confused. Like, I look at my feed and I see so many hot girls post random hot pics on the grid, and I think maybe I should jump in! But then when I do it also feels so strange, like where is this desire actually coming from? I think of all the beautiful selfies I’ll never show anyone. I’m so afraid to simply post a pretty picture.
KS: Your performance in The Scary of Sixty-First is truly horrifying. It freaked me out. I don’t connect with a lot of horror films. Your performance is communicating on a level that’s very post-verbal. Or maybe pre-verbal?
BB: Thank you. When I was younger, I had intense word retrieval issues. I would have to shuffle words a lot to find the right ones. It was painful, and I became more quiet. It led me to loving acting: a container in which I am given the words to say, but still communicate a truth. This summer I played another “pre-verbal” role in Peter’s sophomore feature (and third installment in our Brown Family Cinematic Universe) www.rachelOrmont.com. My character in this film knows so little because of how she was raised. I feel so free portraying characters who formulate sentences differently than is expected, because it allows me to rid myself of any residual childhood shame of not having the right words at the right time.
KS: That scene in Actors when you’re in the background, making those faces. You look so trapped.
BB: Trapped is the right word. Talking about my past word retrieval issues makes my body vibrate. Sometimes I feel the betrayal that words have brought me in my body. When I’m acting and dancing, I feel so aligned. When words come out, I fear not being able to articulate exactly what I want.
KS: An attempt to attain inhabited communication. When I show people Caveh’s work, it can be very triggering for them. He’s always saying quiet parts out loud.
BB: Art wouldn’t exist if the truth wasn’t so hard to say and communicate. Eugene Kotleyrenko posted a quote from David Mamet: “Movies possess the power to speak to the human soul. They free us from the weight of repression. What is repressed? Our knowledge of our own worthlessness.”
KS: Would there be any art if we could communicate our feelings?
BB: I relate to Caveh in this way. He uses the camera as a key to say the unsayable to people.
KS: How is the character in rachelormont.com related to the character in Scary? Do we have an arch Betsey?
BB: The baby voice in Scary and Actors will have its culmination in www.rachelormont.com Dasha Nekrasova (director of Scary) is also in the film and part of the Brown Family Cinematic Universe. We have come to think of Dasha as a part of our artistic family. There’s not a direct reference to Scary in the film, but the characters and films are definitely in the same extended universe.
KS: Are you working on a new film?
BB: I’ve recommitted to my writing practice every day and am now on page 175 out of an intended 360 page screenplay (don’t ask!) Through the process of making and putting out Actors, I needed to honor that film and I didn’t feel I was ready to start writing something new until recently. But I am a religious journaler, so getting back to writing a script has included mining my journals from when I was putting out Actors. In that sense I have been working on my new project for longer than I think.
KS: I just watched this interview with Brian Eno where talks about scenius. So instead of saying Betsey Brown is a great actress and deserves a lot of awards…
BB: Why thank you!
KS: Eno would say you’re embedded in a scene. The intelligence of a scene produces everything lasting, not individuals. Same could be said for building 20 in MIT, or the Bloomsbury Group.
BB: I agree. Who do I spend my time with, what masks do I wear around them, what masks are other people showing me? A huge part of Peter’s character in Actors was influenced by conversations with cishet white men in 2017-ish. Everyone sounded very fragile. His character is a real mirror to the people I was talking to.
KS: The movie seemed pretty liberal to me when I saw it.
BB: Some even say it’s a woke movie. Either way, Actors portrays how relationships can overrule your moral beliefs. While the “Betsey” character stands up to the moral reprehension of “Peter’s” actions at first, she ultimately falls in line and starts supporting him.
KS: I felt very sad during the taping of www.rachelormont.com. Needed to go home and lay down for a long while.
BB: That was a very intense experience. But for some, it was an opportunity to meet people who share a similar interest in a certain corner of the internet, and it’s been fun to witness actual friendships and collaborations form from that shoot. It seems like a real community is being created from these things that start online.
KS: That’s very compassionate.
BB: Post-pandemic people have realized we don’t need institutions to tell us what to do or where to go. There’s so many self-run events for people to actually make some friends. The edgelord vibe is there but there’s a lot of love too.
KS: Well thanks for talking. I’ll turn my camera on now to say bye.
BB: Sorry I can’t turn my camera on. I’m only in my bra right now. I wanted to be naked for this interview.