Director Ry Russo-Young had just finished speaking to a class of film students at Columbia when we called to chat about her new movie, Nobody Walks. "I really enjoy talking to classrooms and students and being motivational because I came from making movies with nothing, not that long ago," she says. "I remember just being like, 'How the fuck am I going to make this happen?'" Russo got her start making largely improvised, lo-fi films with her childhood friends from St. Ann's school (a style we described as 'hazy vérité' in a 2009 piece onthe filmmaker). Though Russo-Young gained attention for 2009's You Won't Miss Me, starring Stella Schnabel as a woman struggling with mental illness, Nobody Walks, co-written with Lena Dunham (also a St. Ann's alumnus), is destined to be her breakout. Starring Olivia Thirlby as an attractive young filmmaker who moves into the guest house of a sound editor, played by John Krasinski and his therapist wife, Rosemarie Dewitt, the movie explores infidelity, sexuality in your early twenties and being a grown up. We talk with her about the film below.
You wrote this with Lena Dunham, whom you went to school with growing up. And you both went to Oberlin. Did you know each other as kids and in college?
No. I had met her at a party in New York when she had just graduated from Oberlin. This was before she wrote Tiny Furniture, and I just thought she was super-smart and was super-talented and had a really original voice and we both wanted to work together. So we sat down and started riffing and thinking about what it was like to be a young female artist and how we would try to show that. We wrote the movie and then we workshopped it at the Sundance Lab.
The character of Martine felt very real. She's in her early twenties and is this attractive, sexy girl and you get the sense that she both knows that but is also sort of naively unaware of her presence. It doesn't come off that she's necessarily being coy, either, though maybe she is at times.
Yeah. I think at that age you're not aware of your own sexual power. I don't think Martine is aware of that. I just think at that age in general, girls aren't aware that when they walk into a room that they make guys nervous. Or even that guys are thinking 'I want to fuck her' or might might be thinking about them naked. I don't think girls are conscious of that at all. I don't think like that ever, when I'm talking to a guy. I might think 'Oh, he's attractive,' but I don't think that people ever see the way that others truly see them. I think that's especially true of young women around her age. That said, I think she does, in some ways, know her own sexual power. She realizes it enough on an instinctual level enough to manipulate it. And to get what she wants. Like she really does think she might have to sleep with someone to get what she wants or to get ahead. But she doesn't necessarily realize the repercussions of thinking that way or the power that she yields.
You don't know how to navigate those situations when you're that age.
I really think that's where the movie came from. It was certainly the experience that I had, not knowing how to deal with older men. When you're in your early twenties, suddenly you sort of become fair game to all men. Men in their 50s will come on to you. You sort of have to ask yourself 'Is this the kind of relationship that I want to have? Is that a mentor relationship that's really good that I can learn from? Or is that just someone being a creepy older man?'"
The movie dealt with infidelity, and how complicated it can be, in a very straight-forward way. It wasn't necessarily about villainizing any of the characters but more about adults making bad decisions.
That's what the movie is sort of about -- coming of age, no matter how old you are. I think that when you're younger, you expect there to be this moment of 'Oh, I got it! I know what I'm doing. I finally know how to handle myself.' I think that the big secret is that that never happens. You're maybe more confident or more mature in some ways, you might feel more settled. Like, right now, I'm in love. And I feel like, 'Oh, thank god, I've finally found the person who I want to spend the rest of my life with.' And that's a relief. But there's still so much that's unsettled and unknown. And there are mistakes that I'll make along the way, I'm sure. I can't wait for that.
Rosemarie Dewitt is a therapist in the movie but there's this past hinted at, that she was part of this cool circle of women who Martine really admired. But, then again, she betrays this idea of 'a girl code' or maybe an unspoken rule, if there is one, that you don't go after someone's significant other.
Yeah, I think it is breaking some kind of girl code in some way. And I think Martine does idolize her and is afraid of her and does respect her. I think as women, we're always sort of struggling with our alliances and our competitiveness over different men. I'm a big fan of the sisterhood and sticking together with other women. But, then again, if some girl shows interest in my guy, it's like 'Get the fuck away!' And what is that?
Rosemarie Dewitt, in so many words, does say'Get the fuck away' to Martine.
She knows in the long-term scheme of things that Martine doesn't mean anything to the family. She's not a threat. And I think there's a confidence and an elegance to that. She's not actually threatened by her. It's more like, 'You did something. It's over now. Go away.'
And Justin Kirk was perfectly sleazy and intriguing as the flirty Hollywood screenwriter.
He's such an amazing actor. We were shooting a scene and a truck went by. He just stopped in the middle of his sentence and was like, 'I'm gonna let that truck go by' and then jumped back in to character. He's that honed and skilled. He's such a good dude.
Nobody Walks is in theaters today.
Photo by Kava Gorna