Amanda Kramer wants to break up your marriage.
“I’d like to break up some couples and I’d also like to get some marriage proposals. I’d like to fracture people’s entire lives or bring them together in a new solidarity.”
If there is any film this year that could inspire such a strong reaction, it’s Please Baby Please. Kramer’s latest work is a bold, genre-defying examination of gender-fluidity, remixing 50s and 60s film tropes to reveal its seductive, explosive power as a mode of expression and identity.
Taking place in the 1950s, the story is centered on a couple, Suze and Arthur (Andrea Riseborough and Harry Melling), who are shaken following an encounter with a seductive street gang. Feeling restrained by societal expectations, the two go on conflicting journeys and discover new sides of themselves that could put their marriage at risk.
“I hope [people] either love it or totally hate it,” continues Kramer. “If you think this movie is like a C, fuck that, you know? You need to either think this is the worst thing you’ve ever seen or you need to think it’s the greatest thing.”
“It’s different,” insists co-star Karl Glusman (Nocturnal Animals, Watcher). He plays Teddy, a gang member who Arthur is immediately attracted to. “It’s dreamlike, it’s a little trippy, it’s a little haunting, it’s sweet, it’s a little scary. I hope it sticks with people rather than, ‘Meh.’ That’s the worst death of a film.”
The film’s energy refuses to be defined–at times manic, at times tragic, but always electric. It feels entirely unpredictable, in part because Kramer encouraged improvisation.
“My actors are incredible at minor improv where they take a line, and they just make it…” she pauses. “I mean, it’s ineffable. There’s no word for it. That’s not mine. That doesn’t belong to me. That’s something that I’m receiving as a gift. That’s the actor.”
Kramer and Glusman recount one specific moment with Riseborough that confirmed this sentiment.
“There’s a great moment at the end of the film where Karl turns to her—and I remember this moment on set—and he blows his cigarette smoke in her face. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘Oh god, is she going to be okay?’ Is she going to be like, “Uh, you can’t blow smoke in my face!” But she just didn’t skip a beat. She wants his guttural reaction in that moment and she is ecstatic that he gave her something that she can work off.”
“[The moment] felt right to do, but I remember being, on the inside, scared of Andrea, because she is a force,” says Glusman. “I’m so grateful that she allowed me to do that. It was like staring in the eyes of a bull and she just ran with it.”
Glusman also shared spontaneous moments with Melling, who shared romantic scenes with him. “There is a moment [in the film] where he tries on my character’s hat. It’s this moment when he’s sort of emotionally undressing my character. He checked with me to see if it was cool to take my hat and then try it on. Harry was sensitive enough to say, ‘Hey, I have this idea,’ without planning it out too much. He’s a wonderful, generous, professional guy.”
On the cusp of the film’s wide release on October 28th, Kramer and Glusman dished on more on-set stories, the film’s musical theaters, and how Glusman’s casting against Riseborough and Melling made for a perfect love triangle.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Larry Fried: Guys, this movie really knocked me on my ass, I’ll be honest. It was a really incredible experience. So, first of all, thank you so much for your work on the film. It’s being released this upcoming weekend and I’d love to hear from both of you how it feels now that this project is out in the world. What are you hoping for in how audiences will see the film and experience the film?
Amanda Kramer: I feel like filmmakers and actors go through some of the truest tests of patience in this world–the years that you wait to make a thing, the years that you wait before someone sees a thing. I mean, you change, you look different, your life is different. You never think it’s coming and then it does and you’re like, “Remember that time we were on that set?” It feels very abstracted, but you’re so proud and you’re sort of flung back into that gratitude. I’m really excited for people to see it, obviously. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for people to see it. Thank you for the compliment and for watching. I hope that they love it. I hope they either love it or totally hate it, right? No middle. If you think this movie is like a C, fuck that, you know? You need to either think this is the worst thing you’ve ever seen, and it haunts you and it’s your nightmare, or you need to think it’s like the greatest thing. That’s my hope.
Fried: Strong feelings only!
Kramer: Right? Memorable, iconic, for good or bad. Right, Karl?
Karl Glusman: Yeah. I think that people will feel like this is something unlike most of the movies or shows or anything that they watch. I think that the closest thing is like a play, you know? And probably an off-Broadway play.
Glusman: It’s different. I think that that’s something people will appreciate because there’s a lot of stuff out there that kind of falls into a big CGI action thing. This is totally not that. It’s dreamlike, it’s a little trippy, it’s a little haunting, it’s sweet, it’s a little scary. I hope it sticks with people rather than, “Meh.” That’s the worst thing that can happen, to go home and forget about it. I would rather someone go to a diner and argue about what it meant than immediately forget about it. That’s the worst death of a film.
Kramer: I’d also like to break up some couples and I’d also like to get some marriage proposals.
Glusman: There you go.
Kramer: I’d like to fracture people’s entire lives or bring them together in a new solidarity.
Glusman: I love it.
Fried: This is truly the film to do that if ever there was one.
Fried: Karl, I love that you mentioned that it feels like a play, because I spoke to the film’s two composers and we talked a lot about how you were trying to channel a musical theater ethos into this project. They told me you’re a musical theater fan and West Side Story is an immediate corollary literally from the first frames. What is it about musical theater and that kind of storytelling that you were trying to channel into what is very much a very cinematic film?
Kramer: Well, here’s the thing about not being cool, right? When you’re not cool, or something’s not cool, it just has a stain that feels timeless. People are like, “Oh, Oklahoma, that’s not cool.” And as coolness changes and shifts, the not-cool thing always kind of stays not cool. But if you’re a fucking cool person and you think something not cool is interesting, you can make it cool. And you can show the world what about it is vibrant and evocative. I like musical theater and I’m cool but, generally, the singing and the dancing is not a turn-off. It’s sick. It’s awesome. It’s like an experience, an expression of life, and if you can get cool actors to do it in a cool way—I mean, these are actors who are, most of them, not trained dancers. But they’re actors. They’re great with their bodies. They’re great with movement. So, they’re just act-dancing. That, in and of itself, is something that you want to watch, that you’re compelled toward.
In a way, I hope I can do that with every genre, because I think it would be great to make a really, truly cool action movie or a really, truly cool gangster movie. I mean, these things have become so safe and recognizable. As this movie was coming out, we’ve already had our second West Side Story, which was not cool. Whatever it was, it’s not cool. How can we do that and sort of inject our personal aesthetic into it? That’s a great challenge that I wanted to rise to and the challenge I asked the actors to rise to also.
Glusman: As Amanda mentioned, a good portion of us were not trained in musical theater or as dancers. I’m one of those people, although I wish I was. Working with Marty [Kudelka, the film’s choreographer] was really fun. It was a new experience. Part of the reason that I was excited about the prospect of working on Amanda’s project was that there was going to be a new challenge. Something that I look for in any project is to try to learn something new or do something that makes me feel uncomfortable. I only wish that there was more, you know? I wish that we had more gangster dance strutting.
Kramer: Some lifts, maybe.
Glusman: I mean, yeah. I really dug it. Our budget was a modest one, so we didn’t get unlimited takes. What you saw is probably take one or two or maybe the third take, if we ever did a third take. I felt out of my element, but I was there with the other actors. Amanda creates this safe space where you feel like you’re on a holy mission, but at the same time, you can do no wrong. Amanda, you really make us feel invincible and that’s an amazing quality for a filmmaker. I think that’s positive reinforcement. You get goosebumps and you think like, “Oh man, we’re going to fucking nail it this take.” I just wanted to do more of it. I really wanted more practice and more rehearsal and more takes, but that feeling will probably never go away and I think that what happened was what was supposed to happen. I think what we got is so rad, so I can’t wait to hear how people receive it. People who are not my friends. [laughs]
Fried: Karl, I love what you’re saying about Amanda as a collaborator because I’ve heard this from every person I’ve seen talk about working on this film. Amanda, you create this incredibly open space to allow your collaborators to put themselves into the project as much as you. When I spoke to your composers, they said that you basically gave them carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. I feel like we’re in a moment right now where the “director’s vision” is a heralded idea but, from all that I’ve heard, you aren’t on that wavelength.
Kramer: Well, look. Christopher Nolan thinks he’s the Queen of England–rest in peace–but it’s like, his mission in life is to, what? Deconstruct all of history and create the entire future? That’s not my mission. I think it’s about your perspective–how you look at actors, how you look at work, and how you look at process. There’s a movie in my mind, there’s a movie in Karl’s mind, and then there’s the movie we make together. I can’t destroy what’s in his mind just because my mind is the first one. The actual end product is what we are doing interlaced. Hopefully he’s surprising me and hopefully I’m shifting as I’m watching and I’m learning as I’m going.
For example, you have this choreographer and you’re thinking, “Okay, the choreographer will teach them the dance steps. They’ll learn the dance steps and I’ll be looking at a choreographed dance.” But then you see it and everyone’s slightly off and people are doing a different thing. And you’re like, “Oh, I get it. I have a different thing. I’m looking at a different thing and I’m making something actually eclectic and eccentric.” And then I’m like, “Oh, that’s just better.” I don’t need the ego trip of being the boss sauce, you know? Everybody knows I wrote it. Everybody knows that I’m the person to come to with the questions but, really, we’re just there to learn from each other and feel surprised and feel shocked and gain moments.
My actors are incredible at minor improv where they take a line, and they just make it [pauses] I mean, it’s ineffable. There’s no word for it. Sometimes it’s funnier, sadder, more tender, more interesting, more unique. My feeling going home at night is how fortunate I am for what I captured. That’s just the way that it feels to work with actors. They’re my favorite in the whole process. That’s my department–I’m their department head, and I’m so lucky that I’m with them and not, like, the props, you know? They’re not props. They’re the faces and the feeling, so I take extraordinary pride in working with actors.
Glusman: I just have to add, this is why people love working with her. She doesn’t treat actors like props, and some filmmakers do. I mean, I try not to edit the movie in my head because I’m not the editor, you know? The thing in my head is not going to be what ends up on screen because I’m not the editor, I’m not the filmmaker, but the fact that Amanda trusts us to maybe surprise her allows for all these wonderful little discoveries–that little magic that happens where we’re like, “Ooh, I have an idea,” or something just happens and then Andrea plays off it and then you get this great moment on screen. That’s the thing. That’s behavior. That’s life and that’s what makes these words come to life. I mean, hearing you, Amanda, say that I’m like, “yeah, this is why we like working with you.” Love working with you.
Kramer: There’s this amazing scene with Karl and Harry where, in the script, Harry [Melling]’s character says, “That’s deranged,” and Karl has to say, “What’s de-ranged?” because he doesn’t know the word, right? Karl’s timing in that moment is one of my favorite moments in the movie. He goes, “What’s de-ranged–Say…” and he just moves right onto the next idea. It’s that timing. I can’t write that. That’s not mine. That doesn’t belong to me. That’s something that I’m receiving as a gift, so that’s when you go, “oh, my movie just went from being a pretty good script, because I’m proud of it, to being a great movie,” which I can’t do on my own with a PDF. That’s the actor.
Fried: I hear that there was one particular moment of improv that involved Andrea barking at a couple walking down the street.
Kramer: Yeah. [laughs]
Fried: I love the improv sensibility in this film and I would especially love to hear about working with Andrea on this film because her performance here is something undefinable.
Glusman: I mean, she is one of those actors that the rest of us want to be. I mean, I’m not just saying that. Andrea’s a wonderful, wonderful actor, and she will pick up whatever you lay down in the moment.
Kramer: I think a secret that people don’t really talk about, because it’s part of movie magic, is that sometimes the lead—or whatever you want to call it, number one on the call sheet, whatever—they perceive themselves as having the most to lose. The movie sets its timer and its clock on that person’s persona, personality, character, vibe, energy. When Andrea comes to set, she shows everybody there’s nothing to lose. She’s at 11 and she’s unafraid and she allows everyone to embody that. If she sets a tone and the tone is “we’re barking, we’re doing accents, we’re peeing on each other, we’re touching each other, we’re not touching each other, we’re running all around the room, we’re using our arms and our legs, we’re leering,” then everybody else feels really comfortable. There’s a great moment at the end of the film where she and Karl are standing by the window in this gorgeous two-shot, and she’s saying something to Karl, and Karl turns to her—and I remember this moment on set—and he blows his cigarette smoke in her face. And I’m thinking to myself, “Oh god, is she going to be okay?”
Glusman: This is a moment I was going to bring up.
Kramer: Is she going to call cut? Is she going to be like, “Uh, you can’t blow smoke in my face!” But she just didn’t skip a beat and was just like, “Yes, that’s what your character would do to my character, and I’m absorbing that and here’s how I’m revealing it.” I was like, “oh god, do I have to go up to Karl and be like, ‘Karl, can you not?’” but of course I didn’t have to do that. She wants his guttural reaction in that moment and she is ecstatic that he gave her something that she can work off. Of course she doesn’t fumble that, you know? She gives that to me and allows me to use Karl’s great moment of improv and then it’s not destroyed. That’s a real union and she allows for that, I think. I just remember I looked at my DP [Patrick Meade Jones] and we were like, “Well, we’re using that shot.”
Glusman: That was a particularly scary thing, by the way. We were in the midst of COVID, so everyone had been tested many, many, many times at that point. [The moment] felt right to do, but I remember being, on the inside, scared of Andrea, because she is a force. She was number one on the call sheet. I’m so grateful that she allowed me to do that. It was like staring in the eyes of a bull and she just ran with it. That’s what I’m talking about. She’s so good and she will work with what you’re giving her. She’ll give you gifts, and she’ll pick up gifts. It’s like a dreamland.
Fried: I’d also love to hear about working with Harry. You reference Shakespeare in the film, but his performance does feel Shakespearean. There is a much more insular drama happening with his character that made Harry the perfect casting. Karl, specifically because you worked with him the most on this project, I’m curious what it was like to work off of him.
Glusman: Harry’s a wonderful and generous actor. He’s the kind of guy you want to be friends with too. When you jump into playing romantic love interests in a film, that can be scary because you don’t know if you’re going to get along with the person or not. It’s a whole lot easier if you do. He was very sensitive to me as an actor. There is a moment [in the film] where he tries on my character’s hat, which was also a hat that I had made personally for the movie. I wanted a thing that was going to help ground me. It’s this moment when these characters get closer and start to really understand each other more and as he’s sort of emotionally undressing my character. He checked with me to see if it was cool to take my hat and then try it on. It’s sort of similar to that improvised moment where Marlon Brando puts on the glove in On the Waterfront.
I just thought the fact that Harry was sensitive enough to say, “Hey, I have this idea,” without planning it out too much, just checking with me [pause] I mean, he’s a wonderful, generous, professional guy. Then, when I watched the movie–I wasn’t there for the [ending] dance sequence, but wow, you know? That was lovely. I can’t do that. So, I’m fortunate to be on screen with him, with Andrea, with the rest of the gang, truly. I would love to work with him again.
Fried: Amanda, it seems like there’s an interesting balance here. Harry is more sensitive, asking about moments, and then Andrea just grabs them and runs with them. I’d love to hear from you, Amanda, about working with Harry, but I’d also love to hear about that kind of back and forth on set. What was it like to have that balance?
Kramer: I want to pat myself on the back here for something that I feel like I deserve all the credit for and that no one else can take the credit for, which is that I have the three chicest leads, period. I was immediately just so proud of myself. It’s so easy to rely on these lists that you get. An agency will throw you a list, you’ll look at the names, and you’re like, “Oh, this is why movies are bad.” Because everyone’s going off of these terrible lists.
Kramer: I’m making Karl sweat. [laughs] But the lists are bad, the actors are bad, and they’re all being recycled by people with pretty interesting ideas. Why? Creating the way that these three would work together, that’s about instinct. Is Harry a typical leading man? No. No one casts him as a romantic lead and I disagree with that. So, you start there. As far as Ms. Riseborough, I think she’s hilarious. There’s been Birdman, there’s been The Death of Stalin, but her humor is really special and comes out in her drama, and that is really amazing. As far as Karl’s concerned, I don’t want to embarrass him—I always embarrass him—but if we’re talking about a visage, if we’re talking about something that is to be just honored, just a gorgeous—I mean, are you crazy? Of course I picked Karl. It was like, hello?? I mean, if someone’s going to break up a marriage, it’s going to be Karl. [laughs]
Fried: Well, that’s what you wanted, right? [laughs]
Kramer: People talk about the female gaze, the male gaze all day long. Male directors can look at female actresses and say all day long, “Oh, she’s gorgeous,” and everyone’s just like, “Sure, sure.” Karl’s gorgeous. I mean, he’s just absolutely beautiful as a man, he’s beautiful as an actor. I mean, this is so dorky to say, but the lens just completely loves him. When I had the three of them, I was like, “I have a sexy, romantic, tender, tragic, sensual movie already.” Our supporting cast is brilliant and fun and cool and campy and wonderful and elevates them, but I hang the entire movie on that triangle. That’s in casting and that’s a credit to me. Then they do good jobs, of course, but you have to put the right people together and you have to give people things that they don’t see. No one sees the three of them together in other movies. We don’t get gifted with interesting casts normally. That, I think, is the real tension of casting the three of them and casting them correctly.
All their processes are different. Like you said, Harry is a mannered English gentleman and a child actor. He’s been doing this for a very long time. He asks. He’s very “please” and “thank you,” and he’s very courteous and he’s very thoughtful. [Andrea] is not not thoughtful, but she’s intrinsic, fast, lightning, “I’m doing it, I’m not asking. I’m doing it,” you know? Karl is quite brilliant with prop work and is the kind of person where he, in the scene, is the scene. The way that he touches the scene and the way that he touches props and costumes–when he makes a choice to touch, it really feels momentous and specific. With all those processes together, you get something quite interesting and, I think, pretty magical. You’re basically rooting for everyone to win, which I think is a great thing. Usually you have the Baxter in these triangles where you’re hoping somebody gets fucked over, which is such a wonderful thing we have in movies. But in this movie, you’re like, “Oh, I want Harry and Karl to be together, but I want their marriage to work.” I think that that’s a testament to the acting. You want everyone to win and you want everyone to be happy and feel pleasure, so that’s a great romantic triangle.
Fried: Well, I feel like, at the end of this movie, everybody wins, including the audience who get to see it.
Larry Fried is a filmmaker, writer, and podcaster based in New Jersey. He is the host and creator of the podcast “My Favorite Movie is…,” a podcast dedicated to helping filmmakers make somebody’s next favorite movie. He is also the Visual Content Manager for Special Olympics New Jersey, an organization dedicated to competition and training opportunities for athletes with intellectual disabilities across the Garden State.