A woman prepared to take her own life finds herself fighting for it instead after crossing paths with sinister strangers in Eat Me. An adaptation of Jacqueline Wright's play of the same name, Eat Me is out now in theaters and on VOD platforms from Blue Fox Entertainment, and to celebrate the movie's release, we caught up with actress and writer Jacqueline Wright to talk about adapting her play for film, living on the movie's set until filming wrapped, and re-teaming with director Adrian A. Cruz to bring the harrowing tale of Eat Me to life on screen.
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for us, Jacqueline, and congratulations on Eat Me. This film is based on a play that you wrote. When and how did you originally come up with the idea for Eat Me?
Jacqueline Wright: I wrote the first draft of Eat Me around 2002. I was sitting in my apartment off Wilshire Blvd. staring at the page. I don’t usually have a set plan or rigid idea of what I am going to write. I allow stories and characters to emerge in the doing of it. It feels like when you are a kid playing with another kid and together you create the thing you want to experience together. If something engages me, I chase it—follow it to the end. I like the unknown space, that’s where the characters I’m writing surprise me and reveal something to me that leads me to the next moment. I trust the creative spirit, which I believe is more worthy and intelligent than I am. That frees me from my ego, from judgement or self-censorship as I write. If I had known what I was writing with Eat Me when I started, I don’t think I would have written it. It would have been too scary.
I started writing about a woman preparing for her suicide—hiding things she didn’t want to be found after she died, leaving enough food for her cat to survive, preparing herself and her home to be presentable when she was found. And she was engaging me—her caring about what others thought about her even after death. So I just followed her, and then two characters broke into her home to rape her. And I kept writing for three days straight. When I got to certain grotesque parts, I wrote faster and even held my notebook and pen at arm's length, as if that would protect me from it. But I just got it down and kept going until I got to the end. In the re-write, I look for clues already embedded in the original draft to give me the answers as to what I’m trying to convey, what I’m trying to work through. And it’s from there that I shape, like excavation. Bob’s monologue came from me asking, “Why does he need Tommy to write a suicide note? Why does he need a partner in his attack of women? Why doesn’t he just kill her?” And the answers gave me chills. So I wrote them down. All that said, when I finally see a play I’ve written performed—or, in this case the finished film on the screen—only then does it becomes absurdly obvious to me, the parts of me being expressed, the undercurrents of my pain and need for forgiveness are revealed to me. When I finally saw Eat Me as a finished film, I had a massive personal catharsis. I finally understood why I was the person to write this particular story. It was healing for me.
What were the challenges and rewards of adapting your play for the big screen? Was it an easy transition?
Jacqueline Wright: I went through many drafts of the screenplay in my attempt to open up the story, to get out of the house, make it more “cinematic,” but honestly most of my attempts didn’t work. I ended up going back to a draft much closer to the play. Opening it up didn’t serve the story. It lost its tension and its claustrophobic energy. The biggest discovery was a cinematic way to depict the wedding fantasy. And the ending—which I won’t give away—was discovered by the director. It’s essentially a two-hander that takes place in one location, in nearly real time. And trying to make it into something else, makes it into something else. Duh. In the end, I trusted the characters and the story to be enough. The last part of the equation was finding a director who trusted the material and knew how to keep the audience engaged without betraying its core.
Where did filming take place for Eat Me, and how long was your shooting schedule?
Jacqueline Wright: We shot the film in my actual house in Los Angeles. At 5:00 am the cheerful, lovely PA, Brittany [Falardeau], would show up and at the end of the day, when the last producers would leave, it would be midnight. I slept in a tiny space on the floor because the whole house was a hot set. Noelle Maline, our production designer, turned the whole house into a strangely beautiful hoarder’s dream—a museum to the generations of family that lived there before the character.
We had to shoot in continuity because we knew the house would be destroyed over the course of the film. We shot the entire film in 10 days, on a very tight budget. It was insane and very taxing physically and emotionally, particularly for me. We wrapped principal photography knowing that we would need a day of exteriors and a day of pick-ups, just to be sure we hadn’t missed anything in our frenzy. We figured it would be a short break of a month or two. But in the end, it took us over a year to schedule everyone and raise the money for those last two days. And in that time I lived on the “hot set,” this hoarder’s nightmare of junk and grime, with blood on the ceiling blood and dirt on the walls. When the mailman came to the door, I would just barely crack the door open to get packages so he couldn’t see the madness.
What made Adrian A. Cruz the right director to helm the film version of your play?
Jacqueline Wright: Adrian A. Cruz directed a play of mine called Have You Seen Alice? It was our first time working together and I was blown away by his direction. He served my story in ways that exceeded my expectations, and he is an actor’s director—actors love working with him. He makes them feel safe, respected, and valued. And that encourages them to show up fully with everything they have. He’s got their backs.
Afterward, we did a short film in which I acted and it was an effortless collaboration. He read Eat Me and told me he wanted to direct it, and I knew immediately that he was the right director for it. He is sensitive, passionate, and as a “man,” he is not afraid to ask difficult or uncomfortable questions, not afraid of not having all the answers—he understood the heavy responsibility of directing a film like this. He wanted to “get it right,” not just for me, but for anyone who has suffered from depression or has been sexually assaulted. This is not an easy story—it’s dangerous—and he wanted to do it anyway. I have tremendous respect for him. And I am so damn grateful that we found each other.
Eat Me is a very intense character-centric story. What was it like working with co-stars Brad Carter and Michael Shamus Wiles to bring out the psychological and physical horror of this story?
Jacqueline Wright: DREAMY! I have worked with Michael before on stage and he is all love! The most gentle, kind, and generous grizzly bear. I can’t tell you how safe he is to work with. In the film I spend most of my time barefoot and tied up, but I knew that I was in safe hands with Mike.
I had never worked with Brad before. He had done a television show with Adrian, though they had never met. But he knew, instinctually, that he had all the qualities that we needed for Bob. And he was right. Brad was so much fun to work with! He just jumped in and did it. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciated his courage. Sometimes actors will need to have long talks with you about how uncomfortable they are with what they are about to do to you, and weirdly that can make me feel like I have to make them feel okay with these terrible actions, which honestly can be bad for the scene. With Brad, he just did what was on the page of the script and trusted in that bond between actors. He was professional and committed to executing the vision and THAT made me feel safe to fully show up in the moment and just play the scenes. He’s always prepared and passionate and ready to rock. We only had ten days to shoot and his ballsy energy was so appreciated by everyone! I adored working with him.
Looking back at your time on set, what was the most memorable experience you had while making the movie?
Jacqueline Wright: Probably the first day. Just having the whole crew, cameras, lights, everyone busting their asses around me. I was like, “Oh shit! We’re actually doing this!” I just couldn’t stop smiling. The gratitude I felt was unmeasurable.
What was the most challenging or exciting scene to shoot?
Jacqueline Wright: The long assault scene where I’m crawling. By the time we wrapped that day, my knees where raw and emotionally I was so beat up. I’m used to theatre, where you do the scene fully once, maybe twice a night and then immediately move on to the next scene, go through the full journey and get the catharsis, and you have a whole day to fill back up emotionally before the next time you have to do it. For the film, it was one long 10-hour day of crawling and being tormented. And then another and another. You don’t get to the good part, the catharsis, until day 10. I wasn’t prepared for that. I was still filled with such gratitude and of course was ultimately fine, but I think in the future, as an actor, I would be better prepared to take care of myself during those kind of days, like with a headset with happy music to listen to or something. Still, I was happy and grateful—it was good for my performance.
With Eat Me now in theaters and VOD platforms from Blue Fox Entertainment, what other projects do you have on deck that you can tease, and where can our readers follow your work online?
Jacqueline Wright: I have a modern-day film noir that I wrote called Lola Loves Red that Adrian A. Cruz and I want to collaborate on next, hopefully with someones else’s money! I also have a whimsical sci-fi script called XX that I am working on with a producer I so dig, Shannon Gaulding.
Like many artists, I am hoping to get another job. I am available for work. Please call me. Or find me on Twitter at @jacquelinewrite