Studios often use press junkets to promote their films, wining and dining members of the press and treating them to airplane flights, expensive meals, and fine hotels. At its latest junket, The Onion enjoyed a delicious steak, several cocktails, the lush opulence of a Beverly Hills hotel, and an advance screening of Your Friends And Neighbors, Neil LaBute's brutal, intense follow-up to his acclaimed debut In The Company Of Men. The festivities also included roundtable interviews with the movie's stars, as well as writer-director LaBute, who had plenty to say about his controversial new film.
The Onion: One thing that struck me about Your Friends And Neighbors is that, despite the fact that it's primarily about sex and adultery, AIDS and safe sex seem to be almost not an issue. Do you feel like those issues are irrelevant to the film?
Neil LaBute: I don't think those issues are irrelevant to the story. I think Jason Patric's character makes a reference to AIDS as a way of getting back at somebody. But we actually see so little sex in the picture that it's hard to say whether they practice safe sex or not. Ben [Stiller] and Amy [Brenneman] could very well have used a condom; we don't know that. It's not given the same sort of detail as everything else, because that tends to be a byproduct of how people have to deal with sexuality, but not necessarily what they want to talk about. They don't want to talk about using this kind of prophylactic or that kind. What they want to talk about is that they've failed, whether they use a condom or not. They weren't able to come together like that. So that didn't seem as important to me. Other than Jason [Patric] giving lip service to having been with a number of people, we don't see that kind of behavior. You know, we see a married couple; we see a couple that has been living together for some time. Nastassja Kinski's background we're not so sure of. But there isn't this great mixing and matching of people so that you have to deal with that in a big way. I also think that today, there is some sense in America that we've rode through that crisis, that not as many people are getting AIDS—and certainly not people of my kind, whom I associate with—so people tend not to have as great a fear. I think people just have a great sense of immortality, that it's always going to be someone else. There's that tendency today for people to live longer and find combinations of drugs to keep themselves alive, and [AIDS isn't] the death sentence, per se, that it was 10 years ago, so people take that immediately as, if not open season, that it's okay to get out there and do what they were doing.
O: Do you think that now that AIDS seems to be less of an issue, filmmakers will start making films that deal with sex in a more adult sort of way?
NL: It's hard to say. I don't know. I think of the movie as a comedy in many ways. I think there are quite a few laughs in the movie. As you're sitting there watching it, you may think about something beyond that, and feel that it's got some teeth to it, but I do think it has some bite. But it's still a comedy. I think in comedies, relationships are usually relegated to, "Let's make it a romantic comedy; let's make it a slapstick comedy." It's rarely just something that's socially observant and willing to be true to itself, true to its subject, rather than just worrying about how to get the audience to like it. I think if I had been trying to do that, the characters probably would have been different. But when someone says, "Who do you find in the movie to be likable?," I've never found it to be a requirement of writing that I have to provide people the audience would want to get a poster of, or would want to see a sequel to their story. I'd be hard-pressed to see who was so likable in The Godfather that people would want to see them again. That's the real issue for a writer, to make someone who is human enough and interesting enough that you want to find out what happens to them, but not where you wish they were real so you could marry them. That's not the task of the screenwriter.
O: When you were making this film, were you at all concerned that people would see the Jason Patric character as just a variation on the Aaron Eckhart character in In The Company Of Men?
NL: That was never really a worry for me, but there was that sense that because I cast in both cases such good-looking guys, that I loved the idea of beautiful people saying awful things. As a society, I think we're very inclined toward youth and beauty, and giving youth and beauty more than they're due. I think we're inclined toward saying, "I'm seeing a really attractive person, and they said something awful to me on the phone, but they couldn't possibly have meant it." So to have someone who is that pretty saying awful things keeps pushing and pulling you, in that you want to be drawn to them, but you keep being pushed away by what they say. I found that really appealing in the casting of the two guys. I think that while they both tend to take over a room and sort of carry a conversation, and they're alike in that way, I think that what they're going for is so different. Their operating methods are so different. Aaron's character in that film is a profound liar. Everything he says is a lie in that movie, whereas Jason's character is the antithesis in that he's such a brutal, honest person that you wish he'd be a liar. It's like, "Please, sugarcoat this. Don't tell the ugly truth." Again, there's just this sense of beauty and power gone horribly awry.