Penn Badgley & Stef Dawson On ‘The Paper Store,’ Acting Chemistry [VIDEO EXCLUSIVE]
Penn Badgley and Stef Dawson sat down for an exclusive interview with uInterview to discuss their new movie The Paper Store, which details the story of university students who fall in love when Badgley’s character hires Dawson’s to write his school papers.
Since it’s a lengthy piece, Badgley said it took a lot of effort to master the fast-paced speech to get through the entire script within the 95-minute running time. Both actors agreed the writers didn’t water down the screenplay for viewers. Dawson said, “It kind of made it a cool challenge for us as well just to get to the point of understanding the concepts and getting over the words, then just throwing it all away being present and that was the challenge and we loved it. It was fun, words are fun.”
The actors felt the film also has an important message about our dysfunctional education system. “That is interesting, the way that this [educational] institution is getting in the way of these people being civil with one another and that really is happening at the heart of this story,” Badgley said, “They are two people who love each other, but they are driven to a kind of mania in their own respective ways by institutions that are essentially failing them that are meant to support them. Rather, institutions can only support themselves at this point.”
Dawson added to this sentiment, speaking as her character Annalee, noting “if the system fails you, then f––k the system,” she continued. “That’s pretty much from her mouth, but [director] Nicholas [Gray] once said something like ‘it’s a story about two good people who do bad things as well’ and I think that comes from a sense of survivalism and a sense of failure by the world and the education system, maybe family in this case and all sorts of things.”
The Paper Store is available for streaming on iTunes and Amazon on July 24.
Read the full transcript below.
Q: Who are your characters in the film?
SD: Well, I play Annalee, whose this super smart girl who has worked her ass off in university, but, um, hasn’t been able to graduate because of crippling student loan debts, like so many people. And so, instead of earning money in another way, she becomes a professional ghostwriter, and in her travels, she meets Sigurd for the first time, and she sees him first and foremost as an opportunity.
PB: He’s like a rapper in need of a good ghostwriter. Introducing my character, Sigurd Rossdale, he’s also, I might be able to call him a brilliant young man. He’s also trying to finish at university in a graduate program and he discovers that in order to make it through the insane and inane bureaucracy, of I want to say American universities, but it might be many other places as well, he has to take a class he doesn’t care about. And in order to get through that class on top of his job and all the other stresses, he wants to hire this one here and he discovers much more than he bargained for. Namely, in his relationship and also in his education, his finances, his intellect, he’s overwhelmed in pretty much every way, and it nearly kills him, actually. That’s the premise from my perspective.
SD: I think they start off both fulfilling each other’s needs in more ways than one, which starts off as a transaction of sorts but goes a whole lot deeper than they bargained for and it becomes more of a love story for both each other and concepts at the same time.
Q: How did you develop your chemistry?
PB: For the lack of sounding kinda utilitarian about it, I think it’s just you work together. This is just my experience across the board, the best way to do that to me is to just stay present in the scene and the words will do enough and you know, you develop a relationship as you’re working together. I think when you’re trading back and forth, the way that a, I want to say a play, it was originally a play, but a movie like this is written like a play. I want to create a new word and say ‘mammalian,’ but referring to ‘Mamet.’ It has a back and forth that I know had some of the best dialogue that either of us have ever read. As an actor, when you’re able to engage in that manner, that’s how you develop the chemistry, you dig into the material. There’s nothing that complicated about it.
Q: What were the biggest challenges filming?
SD: The dialogue was probably the biggest challenge, especially with not a whole lot of prep, especially my end on arriving then shooting a day later, that was a bit rough and I think Penn kept me sane throughout that and we just had a nice working relationship with each other and with Nicholas [the director]. I think the sheer amount of words that we had to make sense of, they were beautiful words.
PB: I think Nicholas can help us out with this, was it 124 pages? So Nicholas said ‘there about.’ So, it was originally written by his wife, Katie, and then they adapted it together. In this 120 pages, and what is the running time of the film now? 95 minutes, so I know there probably are revisions and edits, and maybe the final draft wasn’t quite 120 pages, but to get that many pages into that many minutes, let me tell you how fast you have to speak. In general, it was a lot of fun, it was also daunting. I don’t remember, it’s almost sort of a wash at this point because also when you’re making an omnipotent film, which we shouldn’t shy away from examining this case because we’re really happy to be exploring platforms like this one and others where this is not like a huge blockbuster, big budget. We’re making this thing in very little time, with not a lot of money, which I think we should be really proud about because we’ve got to be finding other ways to make media. And then within that, this movie is incredibly self-referential to media of all types because the degree Sigurd is aspiring for is, or the class he’s hiring her for, is in media studies. So, it’s really just this beautifully convoluted piece that was originally set for the stage, so I think taking it to the screen meant finding a space that you need in a film for the intimacy and the patience and the time that you don’t necessarily always have in the same way you would in a play, they’re just different mediums. I think getting the words out in time so that then we could also create the space, maybe that was some of the challenge. There was one scene where I was walking and talking, to myself, cause I’m speaking into a recorder. It’s this long sequence, many different places, where I’m walking and talking to myself and it’s a good what ends up being a couple pages of dialogue or something or of a monologue essentially. At one point, I was saying it so quickly that when I saw it I thought, “Was I thinking about what I was saying?” I wasn’t necessarily impressed with myself, I was just like, “What am I doing? What am I saying? Can anyone else understand what I’m saying?” I think that was the question I had. So we had a lot of scenes like that. Also, Nicholas and Katie, as humans, they’re incredibly verbose and brilliant and they don’t try to water that down for the potential viewer, for better or worse.
SD: It kind of made it a cool challenge for us as well just to get to the point of understanding the concepts and getting over the words, then just throwing it all away being present and that was the challenge and we loved it. It was fun, words are fun.
Q: What’s the message of the film?
PB: Words are fun. Words are fun. Words have become increasingly meaningless in this day in age I guess, right? From my perspective with what I was working with in Sigurd are a couple things, it’s like shame, masculinity, and then within that masculinity, there’s misogyny and possession and obsession, so there’s some really toxic behavior from Sigurd that he at least has the consciousness to examine and be concerned about, but he doesn’t know how to control.
SD: I could say something really articulate, but if Annalee were to answer this question, I would say if the system fails you, then f––k the system. That’s pretty much from her mouth, but Nicholas once said something like “it’s a story about two good people who do bad things as well” and I think that comes from a sense of survivalism and a sense of failure by the world and the education system, maybe family in this case and all sorts of things. I think these characters go deeper than they would’ve expected and are shocked by what they find.
PB: And I think they are driven to that medium by the innanity or innaness, I’m making up a lot of words today, cause words are fun and less important, of the bureaucracy of the education system and of so many systems of probably all of our institutions that are disintegrating before our very eyes. That is interesting, the way that this institution is getting in the way of these people being civil with one another and that really is happening at the heart of this story. They are two people who love each other, but they are driven to a kind of mania in their own respective ways by institutions that are essentially failing them that are meant to support them. Rather, institutions can only support themselves at this point.
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