From writer/director Hannah Fidell, the romantic drama 6 Years follows Dan (Ben Rosenfield) and Melanie (Taissa Farmiga), a young couple in their early 20s that have known each other since childhood. They are both at a point in their lives where their 6-year romantic relationship is being put to the test, and Dan must decide whether to accept an attractive job offer that could mean the end of his future with Mel.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, co-stars Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield (who both give emotionally honest and compelling performances in the film) talked about why this project appealed to them, the very collaborative process of making it, being able to relate to and understand their characters, how emotionally and physically exhausting some of the scenes were, and what they look for in a project, at this point in their careers. Rosenfield also talked about why he wanted to sign on for Dustin Guy Defa’s Human People and what led him to record an album, while Farmiga talked about her new ABC TV series Wicked City, the upcoming feature The Final Girls, and the experience of being directed by Warren Beatty.
Collider: Did you know just how collaborative this entire process would be?
TAISSA FARMIGA: (Writer/director) Hannah [Fidell] and (executive producer) Mark [Duplass] were very up front about what their vision was and what they planned to do with this movie. I was sent the [scriptment] and read it. I saw Hannah’s movie, A Teacher, and I got to see what she could do, as a director, and I loved it. And then, I sat down on Skype with Hannah and Mark Duplass, and talked about the part and talked about being young and talked about how they wanted to improv it. That was something I wanted to challenge myself with. It was a good conversation and I wanted to do it so badly that they could see that and offered me the opportunity.
BEN ROSENFIELD: I had a similar Skype chat with them, and they laid it out. They explained what they wanted from the story, but also the process that we’d all be living in houses together in Austin and made it sound like artistic summer camp, so I was in.
At any point along the way, did you have a moment where you wondered what you’d gotten yourself into?
FARMIGA: No. There were times when it was very emotionally and physically exhausting to play some of those scenes, but it still felt good. It still felt like we were making something special. You try not to get too excited on set. You do the best you can while you’re making you’re movie, but you don’t want to get your hopes up too high ‘cause you never know how it’s gonna turn out, but it felt good. Something just felt right about it.
ROSENFIELD: I had an amazing time making this film. I felt particularly lucky because it was so different from any other experience I’ve had, and that’s the most you can ask for, as an actor and as a person.
What was it about this project and these characters that made you both so passionate about telling this story?
FARMIGA: Being young and 20 and emotionally unstable, I understand because I just turned 21. Usually you see much older people playing high school or young college. With this, you get to see kids the actual age portraying these characters and what they’re feeling. It’s just relatable.
ROSENFIELD: When I read the scriptment, which was sort of a script and sort of a picture book and outline, I was just blown away by it. It felt very real. Hannah tapped into something that’s hard to tap into. Also, the fact that they were willing to go with younger actors was great. With a lot of relationship movies, they cast people that are closer to 30 to play people in their early 20s. I was excited that they were casting people the age of the people that they were going to play.
FARMIGA: I thought it was such a great opportunity. What I didn’t realize, at the beginning, was how much I learned about myself, getting to play Mel. I had to deal with her frustrations, in learning how to communicate, and that helped me in my own life.
Clearly, Mel doesn’t always understand how to communicate her feelings to Dan, which causes her to lash out physically, more than once.
FARMIGA: Communication feels like it should be the simplest thing, but it’s not. Sometimes you don’t even understand what you’re feeling. You don’t know how to put that into words, so how are you suppose to tell the person you love that you’re upset.
ROSENFIELD: It’s a really interesting dynamic. From what I understand, people are not talking about this as a domestic abuse movie, which it’s not only. But if I had done all those exact same things to her, that is what the movie would be about. It’s a fascinating aspect of the story.
FARMIGA: There was no judgement on my part. I disagreed with her. I didn’t think she should be beating up on Dan, but I could understand where it was coming from. The actual outcome isn’t how I would have handled it, but I understand what it’s like to be so frustrated that you can’t verbally say what you want to say and you can’t express yourself. We all get frustrated and we all get angry, especially being so young. We’re happy so quickly, we’re mad so quickly, and everything is just flowing so fast.
ROSENFIELD: And I really appreciate the way Hannah handled those scenes. Rather than making them incredibly violent, they’re in a grey area.
FARMIGA: It felt so truthful because there are so many young couples like that. It is a grey area because what’s one push? What’s one shove? You say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that,” but then you do it again. Hannah just wanted to show it as it is.
ROSENFIELD: I think a lot of people have been in those situations, where there’s a little bit of a physical thing going on, or you’ve seen it, especially when you’re young. You’re still a kid and you connect to that rough-housing stage of your life.
Was it difficult for you guys to spend time bonding before the shoot, and get to know and like each other, and then have to play out the more intense and unpleasant parts of this relationship?
FARMIGA: It’s great that we have a connection and that we like each other, as people. There’s just a trust there, and it’s easier to get to a darker place, if you can handle the easier scenes together and the happiness.
ROSENFIELD: The whole thing was great. I didn’t feel like we had to be angry at each other, all the time, even off camera.
FARMIGA: We left it on set. Afterwards, we were buddy-buddy.
These two were together for six years, by the time that we meet them, which is a long time for any couple to be together, let alone one that’s still so young. Do you think they were happy for most of that time?
FARMIGA: When you see them in the beginning, and you see that montage of them in the summer, just hanging out with friends, you see that there’s a history there and that they obviously must have been happy.
ROSENFIELD: It’s first love, but because they haven’t broken up yet, there’s something really pure about it and really naive about it. I think it was an incredibly good relationship that they learned a lot from. You want that stability, but you’re not ready for that responsibility of being in a relationship.
Do you think that these two had been having trouble before it became more obvious?
ROSENFIELD: From Dan’s perspective, it probably started to end a little bit before we got there. I never went to college, so I don’t know exactly, but I can imagine that when you’re at that time in your life where you’re starting to get to the end of that and you’re starting to think about the future, that’s usually when those kinds of thoughts start to happen, in terms of a relationship.
FARMIGA: When you’re young, you have to be open to being a little selfish. Selfish sounds like a bad thing, but when you’re trying to figure out who you are, you have to make decisions that are best for you, so that in the end, it’s better for whoever your partner is, in life. You have to figure yourself out before you can figure out how to be with someone else. They’re figuring out their own selves. Who knows what happens in the future, but it’s okay to take that time for yourself.
What do you guys look for in a project, at this point in your careers?
ROSENFIELD: It’s definitely hard. I look for really great scripts. That’s the most important thing to me, that the words are going to be there, or that it’s a great story. And then, if it’s a film, the director is huge. I could care less about who the other actors are.
FARMIGA: You get sent a lot of material and have to sort through a lot of scripts, and I think you should listen to your gut. You should go out for auditions that you really want, and you should put your effort into the things you want to pursue. That can be hard sometimes, if nothing feels exciting. Sometimes I read a script and I’m on the fence, but then I meet the director and I’m like, “Oh, my god, my mind is completely changed. I have to do this movie with you.” I think you have to just be open to it and go with your gut. I’ve been so lucky because all of the TV I’ve gotten to do has been one year at a time. I did Season 1 of American Horror Story. The next year, I shot four movies. I did Season 3 of American Horror Story. I shot four movies last year. This year, I’m doing another TV show, called Wicked City for ABC, that I have a one-year contract on. It’s another anthology series. If you can find a way to do both, it’s great.
ROSENFIELD: And TV is where a lot of the best writing is, these days. You can get to work with great writing, and you actually can get paid really well, too. That’s really remarkable, and that blew my mind.
FARMIGA: It’s nice to have a steady job for a few months, be able to go shoot some indie movies that you really, really love, and say no to some things that you don’t. To be able to have the freedom to do that is nice.
Are you guys working on anything now?
FARMIGA: I just started shooting that TV show, Wicked City. It’s this L.A. noir detective story set in the early ‘80s. That’s taking me through the end of the year, and I’m excited to stay in one place for a couple of months.
ROSENFIELD: I just finished recording an album, so I’m going into post-production on that. And then, I’m shooting a film in October called Human People, that’s being directed by this guy, Dustin Guy Defa, who’s a really talented filmmaker.
What is Human People about and who are you playing in it?
ROSENFIELD: I play this New York City street kid. It’s vignettes, and the stories connect but the characters don’t necessarily that the stories are colliding. It’s one of the best scripts I’ve read, ever. I’m really, really excited to make the film. This guy has a great short film that you can see on The New Yorker’s YouTube channel, called Person to Person, which is worth checking out.
Why did you decide to record an album?
ROSENFIELD: I’ve been writing music for a very long time. I had a lot of songs built up that I had to get rid of to write new ones. Being an actor these days is tough, but the music industry is a rough scene. I’m glad I don’t have to live off of that. I make my money off of acting, so I can just make the music for the music. You have to be willing to be a live performer, if you want to make money as an independent. For me, at this point in my life, I don’t particularly love live performance of my music. I love writing and recording, but you can’t make money off of that. The expectation now is that you have to be able to do both.
Taissa, the trailer for The Final Girls was so awesome and original. Did you immediately get what that movie was going for when you read the script?
FARMIGA: That was one of those times where I read the script and was a little on the fence. I got what it was trying to do, but I sat down with the director, Todd Strauss-Schulson. I had an hour-long conversation with him and picked up his vibe, and thought he was just weird enough to make the movie what it needed to be. I met him and completely trusted him, and wanted to go after it and try my hardest to get it. It ended up working out, and I love how it turned out. It’s a horror comedy. It’s funny and scary, and it plays on all the tropes from bad ‘80s horror movies, but it also has a heart to it. I love that it still stems from a real place. With everything else going on around it, there’s still that main story of a girl dealing with the loss of her mother, and then getting to interact with her. These kids get sucked into the movie, so my character gets to interact with her mom, who’s been dead for two years, but it’s in a scenario that’s not her mom. It’s cool. The movie is a good time. That’s what I love about it. You go in and have a great time, and you feel good coming out of it.
You also recently worked on a movie that Warren Beatty wrote and directed. What was that like?
FARMIGA: That was an experience. When I first met him, I texted my sister (Vera Farmiga) and said, “Who’s Warren Beatty?” I knew he was an actor, but I didn’t grow up watching a lot of movies, so I didn’t watch any of his. I only shot a couple of days on his movie. Honestly, I haven’t even read the full script. To me, it’s just as exciting and a mystery as it is to everyone else. I got to shake Warren Beatty’s hand a couple of times.
What was he like, as a director, especially with his history and understanding of acting?
FARMIGA: The first director I ever worked with was my older sister, Vera, and I think there’s something special about a director who’s been an actor because they know how to relate to the questions you’re asking, unlike technical directors that want to have a cool shot but don’t know how to explain to you. So, working with Warren Beatty was exceptional. It was so cool because we did four takes and he was like, “All right, we’ve got it. Let’s go again.” Ed Harris played my dad in a scene and the same thing happened. We did three takes and Warren Beatty was like, “All right, we’ve got it, so do whatever you want to do.” We did six more takes, and you could just see it going to a place I never thought it would. Once you know you’ve got the take, the weight is lifted off of your shoulders and you can just completely go with it. It was great to just have the experience of being able to let go and try something new.
When you have an experience, like with 6 Years, where it’s much more collaborative and you have much more of a say, does that change you, as an actor?
FARMIGA: Absolutely! I grew so much on 6 Years, as a person and as an actress. You film a movie and you don’t get to see it until about a year later. When you watch it, you just know that you were a different person then than you are now, and you know that you’ve grown. It’s nice to know that you can take those experiences and learn from them, and incorporate them into the next one. With the preparation work that I learned to do on 6 Years, like really developing a backstory and that kind of stuff, I took the aspects that worked for that and brought it to my next project. That’s all you can do.
ROSENFIELD: There’s a spontaneity in an improvisational setting. Getting to make a full feature like that definitely gave me a lot of that technique, and I’d like to try to bring that to more scripted situations. That definitely helped improve that side of me, as an actor.
6 Years is available now at iTunes, Amazon Video and VOD, and on Netflix on September 8th.