The indie dramedy Brightest Star tells the story of a young man (Chris Lowell) who’s fresh out of college and devastated because the girl of his dreams (Rose McIver) has dumped him. While trying to transform himself into the man she desires, he starts to find the person he might actually be. From director Maggie Kiley, the film also stars Clark Gregg, Allison Janney and Jessica Szohr.
At the film’s press day, actor Chris Lowell spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why he wanted to play this character, what Maggie Kiley was like, as a director, working with Rose McIver to develop their relationship dynamic, figuring out the backstory for a character that doesn’t actually have a name, and thinking about where this guy might have ended up next. He also talked about how it was inevitable that the Veronica Mars movie would eventually get made, thanks to the support and loyalty of the fans, and that being on set with everyone again was as exciting as Christmas morning. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
CHRIS LOWELL: It was very organic. It’s so rare that you actually read a script that you like, and I loved this. I loved this very difficult and complicated multi-dimensional journey that this character was taking. You just don’t get that many opportunities to play a part like that. So, I was flying from Los Angeles back to New York, and when I landed I called my reps and was like, “Get me a meeting with the director.” So, Maggie [Kiley] and I went and got coffee in the city, and just really talked about how he both felt about the character, and what we both wanted for the character and the story, in general. And then, Maggie met with Tate Taylor, who directed The Help, and watched some of my scenes from that ‘cause he was still editing, at the time. I think she did her own research, and I did mine. I watched her short film, Some Boys Don’t Leave. I think we both were so excited to work with each other, but we were both so nervous about it that we wanted validation from somewhere else. And then, the moment we really put all of our cards on the table, it was wonderful. I think we fell in love with each other very quickly, and loved working together. I felt incredibly safe and in good hands with Maggie behind the wheel.
So, you didn’t have to read for the role, at all?
LOWELL: No. It was one of those beautiful, very rare moments where I did not. It’s funny, it has its setbacks, as well. I didn’t have to audition, and I remember going in for our first day of rehearsal and realizing that it was the first time she’d ever hear me saying any of it. It was terrifying. I was like, “Oh, my god, in this moment, she’s going to realize that she made the worst casting decision of her life.” But, it was great. We had a few flash starts, right at the beginning, but by the third reading of a monologue or a scene, we just found our groove and we ran with it.
LOWELL: Big time. With a story that’s this purely character driven and that is this non-linear and that has so many moving parts, you want to know that the captain of the ship actually knows what she’s doing. It’s funny ‘cause I always used to associate good directors as being ones who are totally extreme and have an answer for everything and there are no loose ends. And what I learned from Maggie is that she’s very collaborative, and she’s not afraid to say, “I don’t know. What do you think?” She loves to explore and experiment, and she does it all with such grace that you know that it’s coming from a place of wanting to discover, and not a place of, “I don’t know. I’m scrambling for an answer.” I just felt like I was in very safe hands, as a result.
There are still so few female directors compared to male directors. What was it like to work with Maggie Kiley, as a director?
LOWELL: Hopefully, this is a sign of progress, but I never even take into account whether I’m working with a male or female. I’ve worked with plenty of female directors and male directors. For me, it’s just a matter of, “Am I working with a good director or a bad director?” That’s really all that I’m thinking about. And with Maggie, I was just grateful to be working with somebody that was a spectacular director. I do find it staggering that there are not more female directors out there. I think I’ve had a very unique career, in that I was on Private Practice for several years, and that was a female-driven show, from the creator down to the star to half of our directors. It just became the norm to me, that every other director we’d have would be a woman and that our 1st A.D. was a woman. That was the norm. I can safely say that, having seen both sides of it, I certainly love working with women, in all parts of the field. But, it does befuddle me that that’s still a rare thing.
What was it like to develop this relationship with Rose McIver?
LOWELL: It was amazing! With all films, but especially with independent, low-budget character films, like this was, the film really lives or dies on the chemistry between the cast. Rose and I were both really committed to the project, early on. We just started a dialogue, really early, where we became friends. I just wanted to know as much as I could about her, and she about me, so that when we started shooting and we had such a crazy schedule, we at least felt like there was a history between us and there was trust. Building trust is usually one of the longest things to do, and we didn’t have the luxury to find it and get comfortable with each other. We just had to jump right in. We just happened to be really in sync with each other. I love this girl. We are still very, very good friends.
Did you find it challenging to find this character and figure out this backstory without even knowing his name? Did you give him a name, for your own reference?
LOWELL: I had a name for him, and I think Maggie had a name for him, as well. But with a character that’s just so close to me, in terms of being in my early to mid 20’s, living in New York, and doing this one thing while I was thinking maybe I should be doing something else, and having had my heart broken, I’ve asked a lot of the same questions and taken a lot of the same rides. I feel like when you’ve got a character that’s so similar, standing right in front of you, it’s almost counter-productive to try to build something else, as opposed to just taking what you know to be true about yourself and apply it to this. I think Maggie decided not to give my character a name because she wanted to convey the message that it’s not this character’s story, it’s every person’s story.
What do you think it was that drew this guy to Charlotte?
LOWELL: I don’t think there’s any rhyme nor reason to how we fall in love, or who we fall in love with, and there certainly isn’t any rhyme nor reason to the timing of it. This is a person that has always been in the middle, and who has always been coasting. Just the sight of Charlotte is enough to give him the first shot of adrenalin and the first butterflies in the stomach. I remember the first time I fell in love. That rush is just overwhelming and you don’t think there’s ever going to be anything like it. So for him, being someone with no direction in his life, to feel this joy from this one thing, it’s like, “Well, that’s my direction. I’m just going to do this, and be with this person. My purpose is just to hold onto this person.” And I think what he learns throughout the film is that that’s not enough. It’s unfair to put that pressure on her, and it’s unfair to put that pressure on himself. His real discovery, through the film, is figuring out what makes him happy, and then hoping that she still likes that person.
Seeing how different this guy is with Charlotte, with Lita (Jessica Szohr) and with The Astronomer (Allison Janney), and how they each affect him, did you think at all about where he ended up next, after where he is, at the end of the film?
LOWELL: Yeah. I hope that, walking out of the film, the audience will have the same questions. Some people will wish that he stayed with Charlotte, some will wish that he stayed with Lita, and some will wish that he stayed with Allison’s character, out at the Observatory. I love how messy the ending is, in a lot of ways. There are a lot of questions that are still left unanswered. I’ve been in love before and had my heart broken before and learned from it before, but I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. And I think that’s a really accurate reflection on what happens when you come to the end of that journey. You find out that it’s not the end of anything.
What was it like to work with Clark Gregg, and share some of the fun moments that you had together?
LOWELL: He’s great. Maggie and Clark had worked together, through the Atlantic Theater Company. I have always just enjoyed his work and he always seemed like such a playful actor, and that’s exactly how he is. I think it’s always been a priority to him to enjoy himself on set. A lot of times, actors so badly want job, and then they get the job and they’re miserable. For Clark, he always makes it a focal point to just have fun. He finds ways to have fun and keep it light. It was wonderful to watch him work and to learn from his style.
When you closed the book on Veronica Mars, could you have ever imagined that not only would you have actually made the movie that had been talked about for as long as it was talked about, but that it only got done because of the fan support?
LOWELL: It’s funny, I simultaneously feel like it was impossible and inevitable. The fans were not going to let this film go and not be made. It had to be made. We’d get these emails from Rob [Thomas], every year, saying, “I think it’s gonna go. We’re gonna do it through this distributor and studio.” And then, we’d get, “We’re gonna do it completely independent. We found this financier.” And every time, it would just fall apart, for one reason or another. Ironically, the Kickstarter campaign was just a last-ditch effort, and it turned out to be the greatest thing that could ever happen to this project. It’s great! Just to be with those guys again is such a joy. I love them all. And immediately, it was like Christmas morning. Showing up on set, that first day when we were all together, we were just jumping around because we were so excited.
Brightest Star opens in theaters and is available on VOD on January 31st.