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Q&A: Director and Stars Reveal Their “EXCESS FLESH”

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Debuting today on VOD and DVD from Midnight Releasing, Patrick Kennelly’s EXCESS FLESH is a nightmarish look at two women tearing each other down, via a hostage-taking attempt to get closer through emotional torment—and food. FANGORIA spoke to Kennelly and his lead actresses at SXSW 2015 about fleshing out this scenario.

Jennifer (Mary Loveless) is a model: outgoing, the best smile, so perfect—but to her roommate and long-suffering friend Jill (Bethany Orr), she acts like a haughty bitch. Jill, not as glamorous or Hollywood-thin, suffers from depression, and what then seems like a psychotic break. Her chaining Jennifer to a wall is Jill’s solution, a symptom of her emotional decay. Now the tables have turned, and Jennifer is forced to bear witness to Jill’s frustration with body image, crippling loneliness and generally being treated like shit—not only by Jill, but by the whole world…and that means you, LA, where the women reside. Madness and cupcakes erupt within their apartment, which symbolizes their psychodrama as a prison of food and bad feelings.

FANGORIA: Patrick, what led you to make this movie?

PATRICK KENNELLY: This is my first feature film. All the projects I do start from a conceptual place, and then, as they evolve and I bring in all these different collaborators, the pieces start to come together and it tells me exactly why I’m doing this thing. A lot of filmmakers say, “Oh, I have this idea! I want to tell this story!” but that’s not how it starts for me. I was watching a lot of sitcoms and romantic comedies, which to me are the most frightening of any genre. Horror movies, and the most vicious stuff, doesn’t bother me as much as SEINFELD. So that’s where this started. I was reading a lot about body issues—dysmorphia, anorexia and bulimia—and this was tied to ideas I’ve explored a lot in other media and forms about construction of identity, and the splintering and refraction of that from society and other exterior forces. It started with the title and these ideas, and I worked with a writer [Sigrid Gilmer] I’ve been collaborating with for many years to put the story together.

FANG: Any other influences on the screenplay?

KENNELLY: Just this real desperation and loneliness, in terms of feelings I have about Los Angeles in particular, having lived there for over a decade. It’s a sprawl, and you feel like you’re in a cocoon within this expansive place. It’s very, very isolating. That’s what ultimately this story’s about: You have this huge panorama of Los Angeles, where the film is set, and basically the entire movie is in one apartment.

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FANG: Mary, what attracted you to this script?

MARY LOVELESS: I read it, and immediately was like, “Whaaaaat?!” and read it again. The script itself read like a comedy, though it maybe doesn’t play that way. I was so lucky to have had it passed my way.

FANG: What was your process of developing your character?

LOVELESS: This movie was very grueling for me, physically. I lost 20 pounds over the course of filming. I don’t know that it’s such a stretch as an actress in LA to deal with body issues or worrying about how you fit in, or how you look compared to everyone else at the casting call, so I guess I’ve been working on this part since I moved to Los Angeles, in a way.

FANG: How was it to be in that emotional state for the entire shoot?

LOVELESS: It was hard, mostly, because I just didn’t have the physical strength to kind of carry myself over. If it wasn’t for the amazing crew we had, you know, rubbing my back after each take, and making sure I got water, I probably would not have made it.

FANG: How were you able to sustain the physicality through take after take? Especially when you were chained against the wall.

LOVELESS: We probably never did more than four takes of any scene, because it was such an aggressive schedule. That being said, it was so aggressive that we didn’t have time between takes to take me out of the chains, and I had to stay in there the whole time. So, you know, “Cut!” and then someone would put a bathrobe over me—but I would have to stand up with the chains.

FANG: How was that psychologically?

LOVELESS: It was hard. I’m very lucky that I have such a great personal support system around me, and the crew was very sympathetic and very helpful. As you go on a liquid diet, and start to lose all that weight, and get real hungry, it is much harder to keep that stamina up. I slept in between almost every take, I was so tired.

FANG: Bethany, how were you able to bring out the psychosis of your character?

BETHANY ORR: I ate it up. I got to set half an hour early every morning and meditated for 20 minutes, and just kind of listened for inspiration, maybe what was needed for that day, to help me kind of reset.

FANG: How did they make you look like a larger girl?

ORR: The lighting is amazing. Camera angles. I was larger then. Somebody came up to me after the premiere and said, “You know, I just can’t figure out how you gained that weight!” [Laughs] Like I’m Charlize Theron. That’s just what I looked like when I walked into the audition. I wasn’t overweight, but I’ve struggled a lot with body issues.

FANG: How is that in Hollywood?

ORR: It f**kin’ sucks, ‘cause it’s so image-obsessed. It’s difficult to get by without adopting some of that narcissism. I never wanted to be that, and that’s why it’s been almost 10 years in Los Angeles for me, and so much of that time has been banging my head against the wall, because nobody has really known what to do with me. I haven’t known what to do with me. And so when you ask about how the script settled with me, it was like, “Oh, there is a place for me. And somebody knows what to do with me.”

FANG: What insight did you gain from making this film?

ORR: Working on this project was incredibly positive for me. We both have those people inside of us, Jennifer and Jill, and they are reflected in our realities, and it’s a two-way street: they both need each other. I felt a lot of dignity in the process. The way Patrick works, and working with Mary, I felt like it was OK to be that—probably for the first time creatively, for me.

FANG: Patrick, how did you assemble the resources to make EXCESS FLESH?

KENNELLY: This was independently put together. I’ve been working with the producers on this for—well, like a decade now. This is our first feature film; we’ve done documentaries before, and a lot of theater work. So a lot of the team involved with this are people I’ve been working with in many different capacities—not necessarily doing movies—for many years. We were really flying under the radar with this thing, and that’s what allowed us to do exactly what we wanted.

FANG: Did your decision to make a horror movie derive from the subject matter of EXCESS FLESH?

KENNELLY: I am a huge fan of horror movies, but I didn’t think I was making one here [laughs]! If I did, I think I might have done some stuff differently. One of my big influences is Lon Chaney, THE UNKNOWN—all the early Tod Browning stuff. FREAKS, to me, is the seminal horror movie, in my mind. More recently, that Russian film COME AND SEE… Most people have expectations about what a horror movie is. We know it encompasses a lot more than that, but—it’s the whole PARANORMAL ACTIVITY kind of thing now, jump scares. I guess from a general audience standpoint, when you’re going out on a Saturday night, you just want to have INSIDIOUS; it’s that very specific thing where these moments come every certain number of minutes, and there’s a mood to it, and it’s just safe enough that you can walk away from it. I was in South Sudan over the last year, doing a documentary right before it all just went to shit, and saw some awful stuff that I knew was just going to get worse. To me, these are the real things. Shock is a very effective tool if you’re using it in the right way: to move forward ideas.

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About the author
Heather Buckley
Heather has a dual career as a Producer (Red Shirt Pictures) and a film journalist. Raised on genre since the age of 13, she’s always been fascinated by extreme art cinema, monster movies and apocalyptic culture. Her first love was a Gorezone no. 9 bought at Frank's Stationary in Keyport, NJ. She has not looked back since. Follow her on Twitter @_heatherbuckley
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