This past Friday, IFC Midnight released writer/director Charles Dorfman’s intense thriller Barbarians in theaters and on various digital platforms as well. Starring Iwan Rheon, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and Tom Cullen, Barbarians is set over the course of 24 hours and explores the breakdown of civility and manners once a dinner party celebration takes a macabre turn, leaving those caught in the middle having to fight for their lives.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with both Charles Dorfman and Catalina Sandino Moreno about their experiences working together on the project, and the duo discussed how their collaborative efforts helped heighten the material in Dorfman’s script, the intimate nature of the production, and more.
So, Charles, I'd love to start with you and talk a little bit about where the idea for this story came from. Because I have to admit as somebody who used to throw a lot of dinner parties, you realize as you get older just how ripe they are for things to go so horribly wrong. And I think you really tap into that extremely well here.
Charles Dorfman: Oh, thank you so much. I mean, I think we've all had that experience of dinner parties, where I think people trot out their opinions on contemporary issues and are not really sure whether people believe what they say anymore, or they just repeat things. And there's always someone who wants to cause trouble and say the deliberately divisive thing. But I wanted to explore the character of Adam, and he's in a relationship with his partner, Eva. But then once they're in another group, it's a different way of exploring how people are in public. And if they're not honest, the more people that are around you, the less honest you get, I think. So, yeah, it was also a way to explore manners and civilized behavior, which would contrast eventually with what happens.
To follow up on that, was setting it throughout the course of one night just a great way to amplify the heightened tension and the feelings that were going on in here? Because I really think it helped in terms of the pacing and keeping you on your toes as the viewer.
Charles Dorfman: Yeah, I had the idea of setting it over 24 hours and having there be this very deliberate start and a deliberate end. The run Adam goes on at the beginning is the exact opposite of the run he goes on at the end. And with the summer solstice being the longest day of light of the year, it gave everything this almost supernatural feel at a time when people celebrate the transitions from one season to another. It's also my birthday, the 21st of June.
Oh, that’s fun. And Catalina, for you, I'm curious, what was it about this project where you knew you wanted to be involved? Was it something about the character of Eva? Was it getting to work very intimately with just a very small cast in this manner? Was it collaborating with Charles? Or maybe it was all of the above?
Catalina Sandino Moreno: All of the above. I think it's not an everyday script that you get, where there are four people sitting around a table just talking, and I love that. I love that intimacy between the characters, the unspoken words that there always are at a dinner table. And the actors. I mean, I love them—Tom Cullen and Iwan Rheon. They're such interesting actors, and I just wanted to keep learning from great actors and just explore different dynamics and work with Charlie, who knew exactly what he was doing. It was just a good dynamic.
When you guys were coming together as a cast, did you get a lot of time to rehearse and work on the back-and-forth? What I thought was interesting about this was that you could actually take this story and turn it into a stage play because of just how the drama rolls out and continues to amplify as everything goes along.
Charles Dorfman: My background is in the theater, actually, and when I started writing it, I guess I probably leaned on that quite a lot when I was developing the characters. So, to answer your question, we did rehearse. We spent about a week rehearsing it, sitting around this big gymnasium in a school, and we rehearsed the dinner party probably the most. But then, with all the other scenes, we also rehearsed those. It was a way for everyone to answer any questions about the characters' aggrieved past circumstances between each other, to get to know each other as individuals, to get to know me, and also quite important, for me to get to know everyone also.
But I think my touchstone was always that I knew the action was going to come from putting these characters through all this violence. And I've seen films, and the more you know and care about the characters, the more that you empathize with them. So, it was really always important to me to spend far more time on the characters so that when everything happens, it's really, really engaging.
Catalina, did you enjoy that process then? Did that sort of help you immerse yourself further into the character of Eva?
Catalina Sandino Moreno: Yes, completely. I think I have never had time for rehearsals in any of the productions that I've been in before this. So, to have that kind of time with everyone, with the director involved, was just awesome. And I think for me, the most important aspect, for me as an actress, is not just becoming the character. Because becoming the character for me, I feel that it happens when you start your movie or when you start your journey.
So, for me, what's most important is to develop that relationship as a person with the other actors and with the people that I have to be with a lot through this process because that's the way to really develop your character. That's the easy way to develop the character. And thank God we had that week in the beginning to really help each other, to get to know each other, to get to feel comfortable right next to each other. It's not like, "Okay, so here's you and Rheon. He's your husband. Go for it." No, we had time to develop relationships and feel comfortable, and to feel safe around each other. That's a luxury to just have that at the beginning of any project.
Charles, I wanted to talk about the visual approach for this film. I was wondering if you could talk about working with your DP, who's also named Charlie, in terms of setting the tone and marrying the visuals with some of the themes in this movie because I think you both did a great job there.
Charles Dorfman: Thank you so much. Yeah. Charlie is fantastic. A bit tricky to have two Charlies on one project, honestly [laughs]. But I storyboarded everything even before I met Charlie, and I definitely had the idea of separating each unit. This is a story where if everything's safe and secure, then actually you can be immature and not speak the truth and not have any sort of integrity because the world around you is safe and secure. But when chaos comes, you are untethered to any sort of sense of self and maturity, so that was the idea.
And that was what Adam's character is all about. So, the idea was when, before the knock on the door, the shooting style was going to be very still and deliberate. And then once that happens, the camera doesn't stop moving, so that was certainly deliberate. There's a film called Force Majeure, which is fantastic. And the dinner party scenes in that were so amazing because you could get to really enjoy the relationship between characters while they were sitting around eating, and you’re not just watching this person talking, but the person sitting beside them, being really awkward while that was happening. That was a big influence on me. And yeah, there are some other Easter eggs from other films in this, too, but I won't go into that.
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[Photo Credit: Above photo courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight release.]