We’re just a few hours away from the world premiere of Dual, the latest cinematic endeavor from writer/director Riley Stearns, which is debuting at 8 pm EST/5 pm PST at the virtual edition of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival (you can find out more about the film on Sundance’s site HERE). In the film, Sarah (Karen Gillan) is diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease, unsure how to process the news. To help ease her friends’ and family’s impending loss, she participates in a cloning procedure called “Replacement.” In her final days, Sarah will have to teach the clone how to live on as Sarah once she’s gone. But things become significantly more challenging when that double is no longer wanted by the original Sarah.
Ahead of its Sundance debut, Daily Dead had the opportunity to chat with the creative force behind Dual, and during the interview, writer/director Riley Stearns discussed the inspiration behind his sci-fi drama/thriller. Stearns also talked about collaborating with Gillan on both of her performances in Dual, his experiences shooting the project in Finland, and more.
So great to speak with you today, Riley, and congratulations on being a part of Sundance this year. I'd love to start off by talking about what inspired the story of Dual. Obviously, technology is moving forward, and what does that mean for our own sense of identity? Were there certain things about where we are today that inspired you to take this idea and explore it here?
Honestly, it was less about the technology and the science fiction of it all. It was more just the setting, the place, than the initial conceit. It was more about the humanistic qualities that are talked about in the movie of just figuring out who you are out of the context of what this life was previously and now, going forward, what this new life is. Those were all the things that I wanted to talk about more so, and just really finding a way, not necessarily being literal about my own feelings or emotions, where I was when I was writing it, but finding a way to connect audiences and viewers with Sara, wherever they came from, whatever their life experiences were. I wanted to create something that people could relate to.
What I think is really interesting about Karen’s performances for Dual is that there is such a deliberate nature to her performance. The way that she delivers her dialogue in both cases, where it should feel off-putting, but yet, there's something really human about how she approaches everything. I was wondering if you talk about that because especially we see these little layers peeling back and the humanity of both of her characters really begins to shine through.
Yeah, this is my third feature, and each of those movies I feel like has been a step towards this one, if that makes sense. I really loved the first two movies I made, but they were both their own thing and what I really wanted to come across this time was that you can have something where it's very literal and direct and you've got this matter of fact way of speaking that everyone has and information is just presented as fact. These are things that I've played with before, but I wanted it to feel more relatable this time and less alien. I really just think that a lot of that has to do with how Karen and I came about that character and making sure that when we had those conversations about these are things that I'm after and things that I want people to be able to relate to, how is it that we can do this then?
I think that a cool thing is that Karen’s a very talented actor. She's super great at comedy, where she can be really big when she needs to be and can really pull it back at times too. So it was trust from both of our ends and why I think it works in the way that it does so well and why I'm so proud of Dual.
I also wanted to discuss how you have Karen here doing two performances, and there are subtleties to both. How did you guys break that down on each shooting day, in terms of making sure she was able to stay within the space of Sara versus the space of double Sara and things like that? I was completely mesmerized by what she was able to do here.
You know, there have been times where I forget that Karen is playing two people when I am watching it, which is just a testament to her as an actor, but also with the editing, too. Sarah Beth Shapiro, my editor, and I just really tried to find those nuances that Karen brought on the day and that I was trying to get out of her as a director. But it was always important for there to be subtle differences and not have one person talk with a different accent or anything like that. They're still the same person in some ways, but they've got these things where they've started to veer off from when she's cloned.
I guess we just did it the right way and had all those conversations ahead of time so it wasn't us trying to figure it out on the set on any given day. We did the homework prior to that and then just stuck with it and stuck with our plan. But we were constantly talking and constantly sharing ideas about what something could be or maybe shouldn't be. I mean, Karen's just the best and I can't imagine doing something like that myself. I'm not an actor. It's hard enough directing somebody opposite themselves, but the person actually having to do it and memorizing twice the amount of dialogue for every given day, it's a lot. She was in hair and makeup all the time, too, because anytime she would transfer out of Sara's clothes or hair and makeup and go to Sara's double, there are minor differences. So, it was a difficult shoot for her but I think she's going to subvert a lot of expectations of what people are expecting out of her performance.
I know we're already getting close on time, but I wanted to ask about one final thing. Now we’re dealing with this new reality of having to shoot things under COVID restrictions and things like that. Did that change your approach at all in terms of what you had planned for Dual? Or, because of the nature of the story and the isolated nature of Sara's life in general, did all of that lend itself to having to work within the confines of everything that's happening externally beyond production?
No, it was exactly what you said for that second part. That's what ended up happening. I think that if anything, it influenced the movie in a good way. COVID obviously has been very, very hard for all of us and I think that it was a miracle that we were able to make it the way that we made it in the country that we made it in, which is Finland. But shooting in Finland under these guidelines and testing every other day and our crew having to be this smaller unit. And also in Finland, we are 10 hour days as opposed to 12 hour days in the states, so we had less time to work so we all had to be even more on top of our game.
I think we just came into it all as a more focused team than I'd even experienced in the past, which is saying a lot because I've had really, really positive experiences on both of my shoots prior to this one. But I don't know. As weird of a statement as this is, I think that because of COVID, the movie got better, but I also think that COVID has been awful and if it had never happened, we would've made a cool movie regardless. But I think that the constraints made for a more emotionally resonant and relatable movie in the long run because we’re all just sort of “there” right now.