This interview was originally published during the Sundance Film Festival.
Every director has a postapocalyptic vision in them — fiery skies, ravaging bike gangs, zombies running amok. Reed Morano’s is mostly just lonely. The director and cinematographer, fresh off a great 2017 with her acclaimed work on The Handmaid’s Tale, premiered her highly anticipated second feature film I Think We’re Alone Now at Sundance this weekend, a low-key end-times drama starring Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning — and (almost) no one else. While the film takes place after a cataclysmic event, the nature of the disaster is never explained. Morano and writer Mike Makowsky are more interested in the lives of the few remaining survivors. Dinklage plays Del, a lone survivor after an unexplained event wipes out nearly the entire human population, and Fanning is the runaway who interrupts his quiet, orderly routine. I spoke to Morano and Dinklage after their Park City premiere about their own theories about the end of the world, and why red wine would be the end-times drink of choice.
The title of the film is very accurate — talk about a two-hander. Peter, had you done anything so intensely one-on-one with another actor before?
PD: Yeah, that was the first time I’d done that, which was insanely exciting. Especially with someone like Elle, who was a big help. It would have been very hard working with someone who was difficult or demanding.
Was that a lot of what attracted both of you to the project?
RM: Definitely for me. I love when you can delve into one or two characters. And actually, I love it when it’s two. Because I feel like you learn more — you can’t just have one character that you know the best in a movie. I’ve always tried to make things more of a two-hander, because you’re able to make more discoveries about each character as an audience member.
PD: And you don’t have some supporting actor stealing your thunder.
Where did you shoot the film, out of curiosity?
RM: In upstate New York. In about five towns, actually.
How did that work? Do you just pay the entire town to go on vacation or something?
RM: Oh my god. It was not easy.
PD: It was tricky.
RM: It was five different towns, because every time we would piss off the town, we would just move on to the next town.
PD: People were on their way to work, and we were like, “Nope! You can’t go to work.” But for the most part, they were very accommodating. For the most part.
RM: They really were. We just had to be very strategic about it.
I appreciated that the apocalyptic event was so undefined — the how and why of it is not what’s important in this case. Did either of you have any personal theories about what the event was, or at least a story you were working with in your heads?
PD: I didn’t, because my character didn’t, so there was nothing to research, really. I feel like my character was just kind of okay with it happening — or he thought he was. He didn’t want to find out.
Was he really taking a nap during the apocalypse, or was that a bluff?
PD: I think it was true.
RM: I think he was.
PD: I don’t think he lies. He doesn’t have anything to hide. I mean, I know people who — and not to bring it there — but when 9/11 happened, I knew lots of friends who were asleep, because it was early in the morning. That can be somebody’s story, too.
RM: I was okay not knowing. I was more concerned with if everyone who sees the movie was going to need to know. But I also decided, you know, fuck that, because it’s gonna be … I find these two characters so compelling together and I know their potential. But in the unknown, there’s a lot of profound messages. And for me, there are so many things happening on a day-to-day basis that I wouldn’t be surprised if suddenly something like that happened, and we didn’t really know why. But it’s not really what’s important at the end of the day, when you’re actually in that situation.
PD: They’re not scientists.
RM: They’re really not scientists. [Laughs.]
PD: They don’t know, so as an audience we don’t know. And I love that.
RM: And I think this is the kind of movie … for people who want movies who spoon-feed them, and explain everything, this might not be the movie for them. It has so much restraint, and you’re really just an observer, walking right next to them. And I like that about it, because it makes your mind work harder. I like movies that challenge me, that I can form my own ideas about.
One thing I found particularly non-dystopian about the movie was that the characters spent so much time drinking red wine in a library. That seemed like a pretty amazing way to live out the apocalypse.
PD: Red wine would only get better.
RM: Even boxed red wine.
PD: Remember, we had that discussion —
RM: We were like, should we have boxed wine, or …
Please tell me there was an on-set sommelier.
RM: We kind of threw the wine detail in at the last minute. Because I think actually, originally, Del was not a drinker.
PD: Yes, that was something we changed from the original script.
RM: And then Pete said, you know, “I really want to not be not a drinker.” And I was like, “Thank god!” Because I just think, you’ve got to. It’s the apocalypse!