One of the more provocative films that screened as part of the Midnight lineup at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Lucas Heyne’s Mope, which is centered around the real-life experiences of two low-level porn stars (generally referred to as “Mopes”) who are chasing fame and women, but their dreams and lives are both tragically cut short. While in Park City last week, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Heyne and several of the cast members from Mope, including David Arquette, Brian Huskey, Kelly Sry, Max Adler, and Tonya Cornelisse, and they chatted about the parallels between the film’s two main characters and their own struggles in Hollywood, the weight of creating a film based on true events, helping erase the stigma surrounding pornography and sex workers, and more.
Lucas, I'd love to start with you and talk a little bit about how this came together, and exploring this idea of these people who are dreamers. But they're in this industry where some people go on to do great things and some people just get chewed up and spit out. I was wondering if you could discuss that to kick things off.
Lucas Heyne: So, in 2010, during this time period, pornography has become more and more extreme, with wilder and wilder stuff going on in order to try to attract people to buy. And so it created this vacuum where these porn performers called Mopes could get jobs. And it would be extreme things like gang bangs, bukkake, really extreme things. So, the story is about two Mopes, in the last year of their life, as they try to make it. Once I heard about them being dreamers, I could automatically just latch on to what that's about. Because it's a different dream than what I have, or the dreams of the other people here, but they were so passionate about it, that it mattered to them. For them it was everything.
And you could kind of relate to that. And it was sad in the sense where I think every creative person has this fear that they're not good at what they love. And thinking about if all you wanted in life was to sit and be a porn star, but you weren't good at it. Something about you, it just prevented you from achieving it. So that was really the essence of why I thought people would care about these characters.
For you guys, the cast members, there are probably a lot of parallels between this story and some of your own creative struggles, and I was wondering if you'd talk about exploring those ideas here, in terms of wanting to do your best work and chase your dreams, but sometimes the world doesn't let you get to where you wanna be. Was that something you all connected with?
Brian Huskey: I totally identify with that thing of co-opting your dignity for the sake of the advancement of a greater dream, and just that idea of this greater dream will prove something to everyone. The more you struggle for something, the more what you're trying to get becomes important, so you put yourself in situations where you're like, "Why did I do that? Why did I give my power away to that person?" This industry, and my character in relation to the Mopes, is very much that. And also, being taken care of, sometimes it reminds me of our relationships with our representatives, it's like, "Will you help me, will you deliver me to the higher mountain and stuff?" You give away all your power when you forget that they work for you—it's crazy.
Kelly Sry: I think that's why a lot of us gravitated toward this script, because despite it being set in a porn industry, it's more about these guys chasing this goal. I play Tom Dong, one of the two Mopes who try to become stars in the porn industry. When I first read it, it's so easy to relate to these guys because I myself have struggled for so many years in this industry, and when it's good, it's really good, but when it's bad, you just feel like you're at the very bottom of the barrel. You sometimes want to sacrifice, whatever it is, your dignity to succeed, to get to that goal, but you gotta keep yourself in check. It was just a very relatable story.
Tonya Cornelisse: It's interesting because everyone has a line, where enough is enough. And I think that’s something we all get and have had to keep in mind in our careers. Some people get driven past that line, like Steve does in this movie, so it was interesting for me to look at just where that line was with all of these characters, especially mine. And it can be a sad thing to watch when someone is out there with absolutely no boundaries at all, because those are the people who tend to go too far.
Max Adler: Some of the Mopes we met, they don't even refer to themselves as a Mope, as a derogatory term. They're excited to be there and I understand that feeling. My relationship to it was when I first moved to LA, I was doing background work, and I was so excited. I was like, “Oh my god, I'm on set, there are cameras and cool people, free food," and I was just excited to be there. And I feel like, for a Mope, there's an entryway, there's just a belief that they stepped on that set, and they're there and gonna get discovered and seen. So, it's really about the dream, that they already got that far, they beat 100 people down the line that would kill to be a Mope, and that’s something.
David Arquette: I play Rocket in the film, who is a director, so my relationship to the material is a little different. He's just a completely narcissistic, despicable character who's just an awful person. Part of the reason I did it is because I read it and it's like, these words that he's saying are just hideous. But it's like, people know me, I've been around for a while, and they always expect me to be funny or nice, and I'm a horrible guy in this. I liked playing against expectations. Last night at the screening, I was watching everyone as they are watching these horrible things I was saying, and I could just feel it. It almost hurt to watch because there are just so many moments in this that are just painful. But it's a true experience, it's a very real film, and sometimes the truth of a situation is ugly.
Is there a different weight that you guys feel when you're bringing forward a story like this, where it's based on people’s lives and real experiences and stuff like that?
Lucas Heyne: Yeah, so much. We didn't tell the audience before the movie, but the real father of one of the main characters was in the audience. And so, I was nervous for his reaction, but he absolutely loved the movie. And after the screening he came up to the lead actor Nathan, who was with Kelly, and he was like, "I could hear my son when you were talking." He sent me a text this morning that he loved the movie, and you become intertwined with these people’s lives, so you do have responsibility. And when you watch the movie, you'll see how it's an unflinching and brutal look at this world. We always felt if we didn't go that extreme, it wouldn't be doing them justice, because we wouldn't be showing their reality as much as we could.
Brian Huskey: I think it's true. It essentially makes me think of Bohemian Rhapsody, like the story they wanted to tell, and I'm not a fan of that movie. I thought it felt like just another biopic, but I think it was controlled by the other members of Queen, they wanted to sort of manage this thing. But I came away feeling that it doesn't give me any insight into Freddie Mercury as a person, because the struggle of what he dealt with is something I can identify with on top of everything else. So, I think it does do it a disservice if it isn't something that is truthful and brutal. It has to be an experience as other people actually experienced it to have any kind of truth to it.
There's been this longstanding stigma around pornography, but it does feel like we’re starting to make strides because of films like this one or Cam, which came out last year. Both films do a great job of humanizing these performers that people often forget are real people, too, and I was wondering if Mope was your way of helping break down those stigmas?
Lucas Heyne: Yeah, totally. What I loved about Cam was the film didn't judge her at all. That wasn't what it was about, it had much bigger ideas. So absolutely, I saw it at AFI Fest and really enjoyed it. I think for this, once you know people and you get to meet them, you take the time to know who they are, and the judgment kind of seeps away. A lot of the people who are still alive in the story, they're living their normal lives now, they have kids, and they're still doing what they do. They live sort of an outlaw existence, but it's to their own path and it's what they want to do. That has nothing to do with whether you're a good person or not.
David Arquette: When I was a kid, I bought this book called "I Was a ’50s Pin-Up" and I'm turning the pages and my mom's completely naked in a show. And then four pages later, she's having a cat fight with another girl. I was like, “Mom? Really? I found this book of you.” And she was like, "You know, we weren't really fighting." So, the illusion was ruined, and beyond anything else, she was more worried about the violence than anything else [laughs].
Brian Huskey: We went to a few porn shoots and met some of the actors. There was, I think, maybe the stigma of what happened to them in their lives to lead them to this point, but it was really quite the opposite. They're all looking at us, like your job is so tough, and we love what we do. They love being there. It's like a couple of hours and great money. They're having a great time doing it. There's no stigma, no shame, and that’s great.
Kelly Sry: They were all so open, talking about everything. I remember when we were in production, and some of the poor girls on the set were like, “We're shooting for 12 hours? This is so hard! Oh my gosh, you guys, this is like, the worst.” They really did feel like we had it worse than they did [laughs].
So, how cool has it been to be able to bring this film to this audience here at Sundance?
Lucas Heyne: It is everything. Sundance is everything for this film. It's a tiny film with a very low budget.
David Arquette: We shot it in 15 days.
Lucas Heyne: And as I told the programmers, them taking this film, it changes everything about the film. It's the reason why a lot more people will see it. I know, and I can speak for everyone, we are so grateful for Sundance, it's everything.
Kelly Sry: This was a total passion project. Everyone who came in to this project believed in the script, believed in Lucas, and we just gave it everything we got.
Max Adler: It really is the definition of Sundance. It's a movie for people that truly love independent cinema.
Lucas Heyne: And challenging, provocative stuff that pushes boundaries.
Brian Huskey: We're very lucky to be here.
Kelly Sry: Absolutely.
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