Set in Los Angeles, The End of Love is an intimate, honest and raw portrait of a young father (played by writer/director Mark Webber) in transition between the life he’s been working for and the one that’s already waiting for him. When the mother of his two-year-old son Isaac (played by Webber’s real-life son) suddenly passes away, the struggling actor is forced to face his inability to grow up and begins to realize that he can no longer remain in denial about the real-life consequences that his choices have.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor and filmmaker Mark Webber talked about how this whole project came about, why he wanted to approach filmmaking in a different way, how heady it was to play a version of himself with his own child, how he found himself reflecting on his own life while making the film, how crazy it was to screen the film for people and get their reactions, how the experience has changed him as an actor and the way he approaches roles, and what he looks for in a project now. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
MARK WEBBER: The first film I directed (Explicit Ills), I did when I was like 27 years old. I had been an actor for a certain amount of time, and then I was like, “I want to start directing.” So, I made a film and I learned a lot from it and knew I wanted to do it again. I had recently just become a dad and, for me, writing has very much been about exploring different themes in my life, either from what I’m going through or what I’m thinking about, and it becomes this therapeutic and exploratory process for me. I knew I wanted to make another film, so I started writing. I was writing about what was going on, and what was going on was that I was a new dad. I took it from there and really became obsessed with figuring out a way to make a movie, in not the normal way you make a film.
Why was it so important to you to make the film in a different way?
WEBBER: I’m at a point now, in my life, where I really look at this as an art form. It’s my art and my artistry. For me, I can only really get off on that, if I’m pushing myself and pushing the medium and doing things a little bit different. I’ve been so accustomed to working on giving a “good performance” in a movie, and I wanted to do something that didn’t even feel like a performance, per se, but was just so grounded in authenticity that people could relate to it. I wanted a level of vulnerability that you don’t normally see.
WEBBER: Oh, it was so crazy! For this movie, it’s really interesting. People who know me – my close friends and family – have a completely different reaction to the film than people who don’t know me. It’s been really fascinating, to hear about that experience for people. When I showed the film to my son’s mom for the first time, talk about intense. That was probably the most intense thing I’ve ever done, in my life. It was like, “Here’s the movie that you’re in briefly, and that is also this odd metaphor for us and our relationship, and it involves our son.” That was the most emotional experience, ever. It was really amazing! I got so much out of it. The premiere at Sundance was phenomenal. People were coming up to me with tears in their eyes and completely moved by the experience. That’s why I do this. It was just incredibly fulfilling, in that way.
When you were playing a version of yourself and working with your real child, did it ever get more heady than you expected it to?
WEBBER: Totally! This whole thing was one major mindfuck. It was a really hard movie to make. It’s so hard to make something seem so easy. You have to put that much more effort into something to make it seem effortless. Throughout all of it, I was being a dad, on top of everything. Being a dad in reality, as opposed to the way I was being in the film, is totally night and day. And I didn’t have a crew. And then, when I’d go and watch the footage, at the end of the day, it was hard not to get so cerebral about it all, but it was so cool. I got so much out of it. I actually just watched the movie for the first time in awhile – pretty much since Sundance – about two weeks ago, and I had such an amazing experience. It was the first time I actually really saw the movie. I thought I had, but I hadn’t, really. It’s just really fulfilling, and an odd feeling, as well. To get things out of watching yourself is pretty cool.
Everyone says that having a child really forces you to grow up in ways that you’d been resisting, prior to having a child, because you’re now responsible for someone else’s life. Did you find yourself reflecting on your own life while you were shooting, in ways that you didn’t realize would happen?
WEBBER: Oh, yeah! It was like one big meditation and exercise on that. I had been profoundly changed since the birth of my son, and I still am. The things that were really happening in my life, at that time, made me feel like, if I hadn’t fully felt like an adult before, now I do and I have to. And to be making a film, at the same time, that’s about similar things, was just really fascinating. It was such an incredibly therapeutic process, in every way. What was so cool about the whole thing was that the biggest thing I could from all of it was just about bring present. The whole movie is one big exercise in being present. The way it was made, it was an improv film, so you have to be in the moment. Isaac is always in the moment, and children are generally always in the moment. They’re not dwelling in the past, and they’re not thinking about the future. They’re going from one moment to the next. One of the biggest things I struggle with in life is not being present. I’m worried about my future or I’m dwelling on my past, and I’m wondering why I’m not feeling so great right now, but it’s because I’m everywhere else, besides what is currently happening in front of me. 99.9% of being a good parent is just being present with your child. On the flipside of that, 100% of being happy is just being present. So overall, the impact that this process had for me was so reaffirming for just being in the moment. Be in the moment as an actor and as a human being, and you’re going to be happy.
WEBBER: Yeah, it really did. It’s actually been really hard, to be honest with you. I did five films last year, including two bigger studio films, which is the most amount of movies that I’ve ever done in a year. Thankfully, each and every director that I worked with was open to hearing this new headspace that I’m in, and has allowed me to let a little bit of that in. It’s really hard to do, in a traditional set environment, but I’ve shot myself in the foot. I’m at this point in my life where I’m like, “Am I only going to be in the films that I make? Is that sustainable? I don’t know.” But, it’s been cool to see people be that much more open to it, especially actors. It’s really about not letting so much bullshit in. A lot of filmmaking is all about filtering out the bullshit. It’s like, “Okay, let’s get people together and create a really real, nuance moment, but let’s have 50 people surround you and have 10 of them be there from a corporation – the studio – that’s there solely just to judge you and think about whether or not this is commercial enough. And then, let’s shine these really bright lights on you. And then, let’s have people come up and touch your face constantly. And then, let’s have another actor come in who thinks they’re the most amazing person in the world because they’re a movie star, and they want to fuck with your head in the middle of the scene because it’s about their ego.” For me, I’m such a sensitive guy and I now have such an awareness about this stuff that it’s hard to function in that world. So, it’s been cool to find my voice in this way and be like, “This is what I like to do.” And I’ve gotten to see other actors respond to it and want to sign up for doing things in this way. At least I have that.
WEBBER: It’s pretty instinctual. Beyond the script, I’m also really curious about who’s directing the project. I’m definitely at a point now where there’s some people I really want to work with. If I can’t work with them an they don’t want to work with me, then I’m going to continue to do my own thing. But generally, I just never know. Whatever scripts I’m fortunate enough to get sent to me to read, to either audition for or because I’m being offered a role, it’s just whether or not they speak to me, at that time. It’s really just dependent on where I’m at, at that moment of my life. There’s no set thing. It is very much a gut feeling. As a director and filmmaker, I love creating my own opportunity, and getting to share the love, in that way, by creating other opportunities for people that I admire, so that they can do something in a way they haven’t done it before.
The End of Love opens in theaters on March 1st.