That’s what friends are for

Posted on 26 Aug 2016 at 6:00am

Officially out spreading her creative wings, actress/writer/director Clea DuVall is ready for her ‘Intervention’

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DuVall, center rear, wrote, directs and stars in a ‘Big Chill’-like comedy with a contemporary gay twist. (Photo courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films)

It took an intervention for Clea DuVall to finally come out of the closet publicly.
While she’s played queer characters throughout her career as actress — in 1999’s But I’m A Cheerleader and more recently in HBO’s Veep — DuVall’s delightful directorial debut, The Intervention, finally gave her a chance to play a lesbian character that she related to … as well as feel comfortable enough to officially open up about her own identity.

A dramedy also written by and starring DuVall, The Intervention sees a group of friends gather to tell a couple, Ruby and Peter, that they urgently need to divorce, since their relationship has become completely dysfunctional and toxic. However, this well-intentioned meddling causes Ruby and Peter to lash out at these friends, including could-be-an-alcoholic organizer, Annie (Melanie Lynskey), and call out their respective issues. For example, lesbian couple Jessie and Sarah (Natasha Lyonne), the former of which is beguiled by one of their friends’ latest conquests, a frisky 22-year-old bisexual girl, Lola (Alia Shawkat). (One of the funniest bits of drama resulting from the emotional fireworks involves a frenzied, vengeful kissing competition between Sarah and Jessie — it’s worth the price of admission alone.)

“It was actually one of the hardest scenes to shoot,” DuVall says. “There was so much about the timing, the people, getting the dialogue out. There were so much technical things involved I walked away from that worried, but it’s my favorite scene in the movie now.”

While The Big Chill serves as a cinematic inspiration for The Intervention (shot in and around Savannah, Ga.), real life also played a major part in the script’s genesis: DuVall’s personal experience staging a disastrous intervention (“We were all out of our league and it was a bust, but eventually it worked out for that person”) and reconciling a difficult emotional period due to years of intense relationship woes and tribulations.

“Ten years of relationships building on top of each other,” she says, “and running from one problem into a new problem, not really dealing with anything, and the accumulation of shit that stacks up as a result. I think I finally just stopped running away from those things and let myself feel it and go through what I had been fighting to avoid.”

Today sees DuVall in a much happier place relationship-wise, engaged to her girlfriend of four years (she declines to share her name, as the fiancé prefers privacy). As for her choice of onscreen partner for The Intervention, DuVall reunited with longtime friend and Cheerleader co-star Lyonne, these days best known for her Emmy-nominated turn as libidinous prisoner Nicky Nichols on Orange Is The New Black.

“I didn’t originally write the part with Natasha in mind — I saw the role as someone very different,” DuVall says. “Then, as I started casting and getting more people involved, I really wanted someone I already was comfortable with and had an intimacy, where you wouldn’t have to create that or a dynamic on the fly. She’s like my family, and you can’t manufacture that. Because I was doing something so far outside my comfort zone by writing, acting and directing at the same time, any support system and comforts I could give myself was much appreciated. Plus, she’s so talented and funny and could add so much.”

DuVall also agrees that Lyonne — who identifies as heterosexual — makes an amazing lesbian onscreen. “She does!” DuVall laughs. “There’s something very commanding and alpha about her, and I think that stereotypically people equate that with a more male personality, so she feels very comfortable being the guy. With me, she’s always the girl though, which I think she also likes.”

Despite boasting a litany of LGBT roles to her credit, in shows like HBO’s Carnivale, TNT’s Saving Grace, and FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum, after Cheerleader DuVall admits she avoided lesbian turns for years, while also keeping her own identity ambiguous on a public level.

“I was scared,” she says. “There were a lot of lesbian roles offered after, and I was scared. It was the 1990s, I was in my early 20s, and there was so much indirect pressure to be a certain way. No one was ever saying to me, ‘Don’t take on these gay roles,’ but I think I was definitely putting that on myself and that’s too bad, because there are things I look back on and wish I had been more brave.”

That’s all changed now, however, and DuVall feels especially comfortable in the skin of behind the scenes director: This year she directed the video for Tegan and Sara’s synth-drenched earworm of a single, “Boyfriend” (she also enlisted Sara Quinn for The Intervention’s original score), while several projects are in various stages of development.

Yet there’s one zone DuVall admits she feels compelled to enter despite her lack of comfort to date: politics. With this insane, high stakes election versus Trump and a pro-gun, anti-female/LGBT GOP platform, she’s motivated to intervene.

“I’m in conversations with people I worked with to see what we can do to get involved and help with gun control,” she says. “There’s an organization called Emily’s List, and their goal is to get female Democrats elected to all the levels of political office. I think I’ve shied away from being too publicly political, mainly because I felt I wasn’t educated enough, and I want my opinions to be based on education rather than reactions to things I don’t like.”

— Lawrence Ferber

The Intervention begins a national roll-out this week.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2016.

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