Talking with Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen is immediately intoxicating. The on-screen (and off-screen) couple star in The Other Half which premiered earlier this week at SXSW. The insanely accomplished (and TBH, hot af) pair have been at the helm of some of the best shows on television, Cullen on Downton Abbey and Black Mirror and Maslany playing multiple roles on the incredible Orphan Black. (Where's her Emmy at?)
Their obviously insane chemistry helps to elevate The Other Half, a romantic drama about Nickie (Cullen), a grief-stricken, aimless dude who gets his life's wake-up call when he has a chance encounter with the magnetic Emily (Maslany). The two go back and forth before committing to embark on, um, a rather difficult relationship, that's further complicated by Emily's bipolar disorder. We sat down with Maslany and Cullen to talk about the film, working together, and love.
It’s such an intense relationship that’s explored throughout the film. Do you feel like your IRL relationship helped tell the story better?
Tatiana Maslany: I don’t think we ever wanted to rely on our knowledge of each other to carry the movie or anything. It was a bonus to know each other the way we do and to have an understanding of each other, a respect for each other, and a real need to work together. I think all of that fed into it.
Tom Cullen: The relationship helped the process of acting. In terms of the characters and the relationship, it’s so alien to us and our relationship. I find the idea of using personal experience in any work that I do difficult.
Did it feel strenuous at all?
Maslany: Honestly it was a lot of fun. I think it’s because of the way we shot it, the way Joey [Klein, the director] let us play. I think the thing is that these characters—I’ll speak for Emily—have an enormous emotional life that coexists at all times. In that heaviness, there’s these highs as well. It never felt like I was going home and being like, “Fuck. I hate this.” It was like, “Oh my god. I’m so turned on by this and I feel so alive.”
Cullen: Being able to work with Tat, who is an actor that I think is one of the best actors of her generation, I was consumed with this feeling of gratefulness for the whole process.
I’m always nervous about watching movies where the female lead has mental health issues, because I’m afraid it’s going to fall into cliché, or that she’s going to be limited to her illness, or "saved" by a guy. Was that something you guys talked out to make sure Emily didn’t fall into that?
Maslany: That was something I was really worried about too, just because of where we are at right now in terms of female roles. But to me I also had to go, well, this character’s dream is to be more than her illness. That’s her big drive through the film, to be more than that, to define herself as more than that. She wants to go to school. She wants to live a life where she can control things and can be the creator of her own destiny, not be defined by it. I think that’s what Nickie offers her, this chance to connect with somebody on a level that’s not “I’m your caregiver.” They both deeply need each other and, even in her illness, she's able to offer him a large amount of health.
Cullen: At no point really was Emily defined by a mental illness. This is a character who is a painter, who is effervescent, who is so many things. And also, she’s bipolar. I think they are two people who don’t necessarily fit into the world. That hasn’t got anything to do with the fact that she suffers from bipolar or that he is grief stricken; I think they are just two people who don’t just quite fit in.
Maslany: They both have one friend. I think that’s totally it.
When I watched the film, my first thought was, “I really want to ask them relationship advice.”
Maslany: It’s all fucked. [Laughs.]
True! What do you guys think the movie has to say about love?
Cullen: To me, it says that human connection is vital and that it is important. Love is a huge word that’s undefinable. It needs to be broken down into far more complex categories.
Maslany: It’s never perfect. I like the idea that when I’m watching a movie I go, “I don’t know if these two are good for each other” and also, “These two are amazing for each other.” That complexity is what I’m interested in exploring with love. It’s that danger.
To read more coverage on SXSW 2016, click here.