The cast of Animals talk about their new project
“We wanted to show friendship in all of its mess and horror and beauty.”
Animals, starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat, tells the story of two friends running wild in Dublin as they edge into their 30s. Here they talk about why it was such a rare project.
It was a long journey to get the new film Animals made and director Sophie Hyde had not quite expected that. She thought the popularity of TV shows such as Girls and Broad City meant there would be a keen appetite for an adaptation of a book about two female party-loving friends running wild in a big city. But this wasn't the case. "I thought, 'This is funny, it's timely, people love those shows, come on! This is a moment, women are just not being serviced in this way,' and then it was really hard. I had some really rough conversations with people that were disappointing."
Reading Emma Jane Unsworth's book of the same name, Australian director Hyde, 42, had immediately related to Laura and Tyler, played in the film by Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat. "I was like, 'Oh gosh, this is great, these characters are very familiar, they are so interesting to me, I'm not seeing them on screen'. Nothing I had been sent came close to that, everything felt very ordinary."
So it was crushing when other people didn't feel the same way. "I thought it was going to be a lot easier, to tell you the truth. I had a couple of distributors say, 'I really love it but we did a film about women five years ago and it didn't work for us'. But how many films since then have been about men? Basically everything else apart from some that are targeted at over-60s. But they are not seen as films about men, so if they fail they are seen as a failure for another reason. But we are the other, we are not neutral. If you are the neutral, the man, you can be many, many things, a war film, a story about a dad, a young boy's story. But we are primed up for failure because we are seen as something else."
Unsworth had a similar experience. "I had a meeting with a production company in the very early days before the book was optioned and they said, 'We really love it and we would love to make it with you but we want you to take all of the booze and the drugs and the sex and the swearing out'. There wouldn't be anything left! They just wanted a nice story about friendship I think, which it was never going to be, well certainly not just that."
Indeed the film follows Laura and Tyler through their party-filled days, as they drift into their 30s. When Laura meets a handsome pianist, her friendship with Tyler comes under strain, even as Laura struggles with a more conventional approach to life. It was the fact that the friendship was so different from those often depicted on screen, in the idealistic mould of Sex And The City and Friends, that was so appealing to its stars. "I just felt like I knew Laura and knew Tyler, I knew everyone. This is the closest thing to me I've read," says 31-year-old Grainger. "I loved so much that it focused mainly on female friendship and they are the closest relationships in my life and haven't really been the focus of many films in themselves."
Shawkat, 30, best known to UK audiences for her roles in Arrested Development and Search Party, nods in agreement. "I think it was important to make them seem as real as possible but it definitely highlights a moment in their life when they are starting to question whether they really are the supportive person that they thought they were for each other. I think these kind of films are starting to happen a lot more at the moment, maybe because people who are our age are now in a place when they are starting to write things and be a part of this industry and wanting to tell those stories. A bunch of people are making lots of content so the people who grew up with Spice Girls are now making things about the Spice Girls, or at least about that generation, which I'm all about."
For Unsworth, 41, the story was ripped straight from her own experience. "What I write tends to be semi-autobiographical, so the seed of this story came when I was at the age of 30, just a little older than that, and I started to feel as though I wasn't doing what most of my friends were doing, or most of the world who is my age were doing, which is settling down and having a kid and taking life a bit more seriously, as they say. I was still living quite chaotically I suppose, but enjoying myself, I just was careening around town writing."
"I was earning a living," she hastens to clarify. "I wasn't like a deadbeat! But I wasn't feeling any pressure up until that point, to sort myself out and become some sort of respectable member of society and fall in line. Then suddenly I started to think, 'Oh, where did everyone go?' And we wanted to show friendship in all of its mess and horror and beauty and joy and just show the full complexity of it, often as complex and heart-breaking as a romantic relationship can be. It was important that we showed it warts and all."
"The truth is so refreshing too," Hyde adds. It's so hopeful and so reassuring to sometimes see things that feel really difficult and messy and you feel better usually because that saccharine idea of friendship, no-one can live up to that. Also it's really boring."
Animals is released in UK cinemas on August 2.