From writer/director Matthew Brown, the indie drama Maine follows Bluebird (Laia Costa), a married woman from Spain who attempts to hike the entire Appalachian Trail by herself, but when she comes across American hiker Lake (Thomas Mann), they continue on the journey together. Even though they develop an emotional and romantic connection, Bluebird must ultimately decide whether to return to her solo trip and face her own feelings while looking for clarity on life.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Thomas Mann talked about the unusual nature of the storytelling in Maine, the film’s collaborative atmosphere, getting to do different versions of a lot of the scenes, having Laia Costa as a co-star, and the challenge of being out in the elements, every day. He also talked about playing Jim Dear in the live-action version of Lady and the Tramp, the experience of working with real dogs, the film’s tone, and how beautiful the production design is, along with shooting The Highwaymen, and the director that he’d most like to work with.
Collider: Really tremendous work on this. This is such an interesting film because there’s really just two of you, off in the wilderness, with a whole opening that has no dialogue. Was the unusual nature of this project part of the appeal?
THOMAS MANN: Yeah, exactly. I was looking for something like this because I thought it would be a real acting exercise for myself and I liked how sparse the dialogue was in the script. There wasn’t a whole lot written. Sometimes it was just scenarios, and then we would get there, on the day, and fill it in with our own dialogue. We got to improvise quite a bit, and we had a big rehearsal period, so we shaped a lot of the scenes during that time, as well. I was looking for something that was kind of quiet and that would rely on just the subtleties of the actors. I had just done Kong: Skull Island, so I was looking for something a little bit more intimate, quieter and more meditative, and Maine was like the perfect anecdote to that. It was great timing, and I’m glad it found me when it did.
One of my favorite scenes is the one that you guys have together in the diner, where you can tell that there are so many things that you want to say, but you just don’t say any of them.
MANN: Yeah, that’s what made it so much fun. [Writer/director Matthew Brown] said, “Now, have this conversation, but you can’t say any words. It’s just in your head, but try to get it across through your faces and your overall behavior.” That was actually a lot of fun. And we shot different versions of a lot of scenes, so I’m sure there was a version that did have dialogue, but then Matt when in and reshaped it all. That character feels like he’s owed something, but then has to come to terms with the fact that he’s actually not owed anything. As this person spends time with him on the trail, there’s nothing promised there, for the future, and he has to come to terms with that, and I found that heartbreaking. There was definitely a lot of layers to play in this movie, and there was not a lot that you could lean on. It was on our faces, the whole time, but that just made us rise to the occasion.
What was it like to have such creative freedom with the material that you were working with? Did it take some adjustment to deal with that, or was it something that you hope to be able to keep doing, as far as having a say in the material?
MANN: I guess it depends on the script and the story, and whether or not it lends itself to that sort of thing. Obviously, if they are shooting some talky mobster movie and there is lots of fast dialogue, that’s harder to mess around with. You could ruin the rhythm of a scene when it’s super written out like that, with a lot of heavy dialogue. With this, where it was pretty light on dialogue, you can go in and tweak things or sometimes even take things out. For this movie it was about just knowing what the scene was, and then taking the actual words out of it. That was a really cool little experiment. I love anytime an actor has the freedom to not necessarily change the dialogue, but enhance it and put it though your own filter. Matthew was really great about that. Me and Laia both spent a lot of time in rehearsals, saying what didn’t feel natural, or what we wanted to focus more on. It was a very collaborative experience, in that way.
Where there any major changes that were made, either in the rehearsal process, or as you guys were shooting?
MANN: It’s so hard to remember now because we shot this so long ago. I think the sequence of events changed significantly. Depending on what mood I was in, on the day, when we were sitting on this rock overlooking this big valley, or when it was raining all day and I might have been a little more miserable looking, Matt just shaped it around our performances, which is really cool. There was a lot of freedom to try the scene several different ways, and then Matt would decide, later on, where he was gonna put it in the movie, which was interesting.
In order for this film to work, since it is basically just two characters, you have to want to watch these two people together. What was it like to have Laia Costa to experience this with?
MANN: You couldn’t ask for a better scene partner than Laia. She is so generous and present, and there’s nothing that is too much for her. Whatever you throw at her, she will throw it back at you, twice as hard. That was actually really fun, especially for the scenes where we were drunk by a fire. We were genuinely having a great time while we were doing it, and I think it shows. She was so great. We really took care of each other. It was rough, just being outside in the elements, every day. It’s not like we had trailers to go back to. We were essentially hiking the Appalachian trail, and it was rough sometimes, but we both knew that we wanted to make this movie work and that we couldn’t complain, so we didn’t.
You went from doing something so sparse like this, to doing something like Lady and the Tramp. What’s it like to be on a set when you are one of the only human characters?
MANN: Thank you for asking about that because it is very strange. Obviously, Lady and the Tramp is a little more comedic, for my character, at least. I get to be little more broad because of its period. That was actually something that was very, very different for me, whereas Maine is a character that’s the closest to myself that I’ve ever played.
There is such an interesting trend with these Disney classics, like Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, The Lion King and now Lady and the Tramp, where we’re getting to see them in a different way. What most excites you about the way that you’re telling the story of Lady and the Tramp?
MANN: I really think it’s an enhanced version of the world that you saw before. Obviously, the human characters are a little more flushed out. They’re not these passing faces that you barely get a glimpse of. You get to know them a little bit better. And also, there are real dogs. Who doesn’t want to see two real dogs kiss over a plate of spaghetti? That is the main draw for me. You get the charisma of real dogs in there. Lady and the Tramp came out in 1955. I understand people who are like, “Don’t mess with the original,” but they aren’t re-animating it. It’s a live-action remake. So, why not?