From writer/director Brian Crano, Permission tells the story of a couple who, ten years in to coupledom, decide to sleep around before their inevitable marriage. As they experiment with an open relationship, Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) venture out of the monogamous boundaries that typically come with long-term commitment and explore how their lives could evolve.
During this phone interview with Collider, co-stars and longtime friends Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens talked about how their own personal trust affected playing these characters, how lucky it is to work with your friends, whether they had their own relationship crisis at 30, and how we all want to believe that beautiful romantic relationships exist. Stevens also talked about the changes in Season 2 of his FX series Legion (returning in April), while Hall talked about making a humorous take on Holmes and Watson, with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly.
Collider: You guys are old friends and know each other very well. How does that make working together, playing characters like these?
DAN STEVENS: I think it allowed for an immediate amount of honesty that you sometimes crave on other sets. There’s a lot of trust that goes into filmmaking and performing alongside people, especially with this kind of material. So, there was an instant shorthand. I got a kick out of working with Rebecca [Hall] and (writer/director) Brian [Crano]. Feeling that creative electricity was really lovely.
REBECCA HALL: Yeah, I think it’s really useful, when you’re playing characters who have known each other for ten years, to have known one another for over ten years. Also, it’s just easy. I don’t have anything salacious to say about it because it’s fun. We just all be so lucky to get to work with our friends, and to be so lucky as to have friends that are really talented. It was a real luxury.
Rebecca, as a producer on this, did you and your husband, Morgan Spector, ever think or talk about playing Anna and Will together, or did you intentionally not want to play the central couple?
HALL: It never came up, honestly. One of the things that Brian did, in the early days, was get together a room full of people and do a reading of the script to see how it was playing. Brian instinctively asked Morgan to come play the character that he plays, and he asked his husband (David Joseph Craig) to play Hale, the character that he plays. At the time, we didn’t think it was necessarily going to pan out that way, but they were so great together that that was the obvious choice. It just happened that way, quite naturally.
Did either of you guys have a relationship crisis at 30?
STEVENS: As friends, we’ve all witnessed either our own relationship, or certainly friends that we know, go through transitions of relationships, from early 20s to late 20s, and beyond sometimes. That’s an interesting little decade, right there. Something weird happens to a lot of people, around the age of 27, for all sorts of reasons. We’ve just come through that. As a group of friends, we’re just about through the other side of that strange turning point in a lot of people’s lives, in the way that they view relationships and the things that they value in life. It felt like an important time to make this film about the things that we’d just witnessed and seen. These characters, and particularly Will and Anna, are an amalgamation of characters that have absorbed all of these stories, that we’re sending into the world to explore a new set of rules and may be struggling with that. That’s where our story fits.
HALL: Even in this seemingly sophisticated day and age that we live in, there’s still a point in people’s lives, when they’ve been together for a long time and they have to decide whether they’re going to get married and have 2.4 children. A lot of people start questioning the validity of that, even if their relationship is basically good. It was very deliberate, on Brian Crano’s part, to make this world be very romantic and have everybody looking beautiful with really nice clothes. Beyond that, it seems like the film is going to be about open relationships, but it isn’t, really. These people don’t know what they’re doing, and it’s a coming of age story about how you work out what you want and you grow up. They go on a self-discovery.
Dan, I’ve seen the Season 2 premiere of Legion, which is crazy! What are you most excited about fans of the series getting to see, with the new season, especially now that it is quite a bit different?
STEVENS: It is. We’ve incorporated the move into the landscape of the show. We’ve gone from the rainforests of British Columbia to the arid Mojave Desert, so the show takes on a different turn. There’s a lot of darkness that’s coming with that, but also the music is blowing my mind, this season. As you’ve seen, we have more dance involved. It just gets more and more playful. I love it!
What do you enjoy about telling such an unconventional love story, with David and Syd?
STEVENS: Syd and David are going through a lot. There’s a huge issue of trust, which comes in. That’s also at the heart of Permission. Trust, in a relationship, is an interesting thing to explore. In Legion, particularly, we explore it in a very abstract and epic and insane psionic way. Permission is a little bit more down to earth, I suppose. It’s a deeply romantic, beautiful film, and I’m very proud of it. It evokes something that’s at the heart of relationships. That’s what a good romantic comedy should do. For all of its silliness and weirdness, at the end of the day, there’s a beautiful relationship there, that we all want to believe in and that we want to believe exists, and does exist. If we’ve gotten to experience one of those relationships in our life, then we’re very lucky and probably luckier than a lot of people.
Rebecca, I love that you’re a part of a humorous take on Holmes and Watson, with Will Ferrell as Holmes and John C. Reilly as Watson. What was it like to be on that set, and what is the tone of the comedy for that?
HALL: It was very humorous. It was wild for me. I’ve never done anything so broadly comedic, and it was a joy to do. I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t really know how to talk about it. I can say that, if it’s half as much fun to watch as it was to shoot, then it’s going to be really good.
Would you both like to do more comedy, in the future?
STEVENS: I think we’ve both got the knack for making comedy out of our dramas.
HALL: I tend to gravitate towards things that I find challenging and exciting while also shifting perspective in the world and thinking about things in a different way. It doesn’t matter how serious the material is. If there’s no wit anywhere in something, then I don’t believe it. Life always has wit. Even the most heavy drama has to have wit somewhere.
Permission is now in theaters and on-demand.