Part drama, part comedy and even part thriller, "The Husband" takes the ripped-from-the-headlines premise of a female teacher convicted of sleeping with a 14-year-old student, and instead focuses on the one left out of the scandalous love triangle. McCabe-Lokos plays Henry, who's already struggling to cope with raising the couple's young child while attempting to process what his wife (Sarah Allen) has done, when, just as she's days away from being released from prison, a chance encounter with his teenage rival throws Henry into an even more self-destructive downward spiral.
With "The Husband" premiering in Toronto this week, Moviefone Canada spoke to McDonald and McCabe-Lokos about what drove them to collaborate again, working with friends (and family), and why McCabe-Lokos can see some of himself in McDonald's "Roadkill" writer/star-turned-filmmaker Don McKellar.
Moviefone Canada: Obviously this isn't the first time the two of you have worked together. What made you decide to collaborate again? Was there anything you remembered from your previous experience that let you know it would work well again?
Bruce McDonald: It was fun. When you work with people, it's a great bonding experience. It's like taking a road trip together. You go, "Oh, we made it to New York and it's all good, and we're still friends, and we'll be friends for life." So when it comes up again, you look forward to it. Because you know you can go through the struggle, you know there's going to be some tough times ahead, or you know there's going to be some rapids, and you know that you can get through it, because we got through it last time, and we'll get through it and generally have fun doing it. So yeah, it's fun to work with people on what we call "repeat business." [Laughs]
Maxwell McCabe-Lokos: Yeah, when you have a script, you put a lot of work into it, and you can be very protective of it. And it wasn't like an experiment, like, "I don't know, I heard this guy's good, I like his movies..." It was like, yes, both of those things are true, but also I knew Bruce and we had worked together and we were friends, so I didn't feel nervous about bringing him the script. It was pretty clear that it would work out well, and I think it did.
You always intended to star in it though, right? How does knowing that inform your approach to the script? Was that something you always had in the back of your mind?
McCabe-Lokos: Yeah, it helped because I could sort of pretend to be Henry and think like, what would Henry do? And you can do that no matter what you're writing, but I guess because I had really developed the character in my head for a long time, those things came relatively easily. There weren't a lot of questions like, "I don't know, I never thought about what the character would do in that situation." I pretty much knew, or had an idea -- it might've changed, but what Henry would have done, because I was living with him for a long, long time. And a lot of his reactions were monstrous versions of my own reactions. They were inflated, exaggerated versions of how Maxwell McCabe-Lokos would react to a situation. All of his backstory and everything, I don't work in advertising or anything like that, but they were relatable to me, people based on me and people that I know.
McDonald: It's like the old thing I guess, you write what you know. The world that you know.
Bruce, does that change the way you read it then, knowing you've already got your lead figured out?
McDonald: Absolutely. That was a real treat. I liked the design of the script, and I liked what it was about, but knowing that Maxwell was the guy really helped me go, "Oh OK, I totally see this, I totally get the tone and I understand it." And it's a great thing, you start building from there, you know who number one is, you know who your guy is. Yeah, it was a really nice thing to start that way.
It seems like this was a pretty collaborative process for you two. Do you both have to approach the script from the exact same vision, or can you each bring a slightly different frame of reference to the material?
McCabe-Lokos: Yeah, I felt good when Bruce would say something that I hadn't [thought of]. I felt like I was really spinning my wheels creatively at the end, because my job, when it was time to act, I really looked for something new. Because again, I had been with that for so long, you can't see the forest for the trees sometimes. You have to pull your head out of your ass and have somebody to say, "Well, you may think that what you're doing is [good], but it's not entertaining or whatever." And he wasn't scolding me on set or anything, but any time Bruce suggested something that I hadn't thought of, it was fantastic. He knew the character as well, he knew this story, he knew the script. So yeah, that stuff was always a gift and it was very helpful. I remember feeling like, God, I can't even tell if I'm speaking English anymore. I know this so well, I don't even know if it's translatable. So it was good to have Bruce there to change it up.
McDonald: That's why it's fun to work with people that you trust, because when you do get to the beginning, on the set, everything changes. Even though it's all worked out and you know, oh yeah, we're shooting in this place, it's never quite how you think it's going to be. And to be able to roll with that and embrace the new things that you find there that just present themselves in front of you, we're doing this together for the most part. Sometimes I'll be like, "Hey Max, we found a new angle," or "Daniel [Grant] the cameraman has come up with this great idea of how to shoot this, and I think it'll be really good." I often look for accidents or things that I don't expect on set, because especially on a film like this, you don't really have control over much. Say we always imagined this scene to be in sunlight, but it's raining today. If this was a big picture, we could probably make the sunlight, or we could make the rain, vice versa.
So you're really at the mercy of a lot of elements that can either freeze you up and freak you out and create distress and tension and awfulness, or you just gotta go, OK, we're just gonna roll with it. And as long as we're not f**king up the original intention, it might add something beautiful and unexpected to it. So when you're constantly presented with, "Whoa, I didn't expect this to happen," and when you're with the people that you trust, it's easier to cross that bridge because you're crossing together. And if there's something like that because of the newness of it, Max, being the writer, might remind me, "Remember we still have to get across that this is a scary scene, or that the character is excited here." It's like, oh right, yeah, yeah, yeah. I got carried away by these giant snowflakes that are falling or these beautiful extras in miniskirts or something. [Laughs]
I know you'd both worked with most of the cast and crew before, including Stephen McHattie. But neither of you had worked with Sarah Allen. How'd you end up finding her?
McDonald: No, she was a delight. Our producer Daniel Bekerman brought her to our attention. I'd known of her, but I'd never worked with her. And she was kind enough and gave us a very beautiful audition and we thought, wow, this girl's great. When you see it sometimes, you're just like, yes, that's it! And I was pretty much just like, "Yes, do that, and when you come to shoot the film, you already know what to do, so please just do that." [Laughs]
McCabe-Lokos: Yeah, it's great to work with people you know, but it's also great to be surprised by like, well, I didn't know that person and then they did a better job than the one I knew. You've gotta look far and wide sometimes too.
Speaking of which, I noticed that the baby who played Charlie has the same last name as you.
McCabe-Lokos: Yes, that's my nephew. Not my son, my nephew. [Laughs]
Is it easier to work with family like that, or more difficult in a way?
McCabe-Lokos: With a baby, it's probably easier.
McDonald: You were sometimes a little worried about his hours. He would watch out for him.
McCabe-Lokos: Yeah, maybe I was a little bit stressed out sometimes, because if it were just some stranger's baby, I would've been like, "Keep workin' him, I don't care!" [laughs] But since it was my nephew, I was a little bit on edge. But it was nice, because there was a babysitter, and when we shot weekends, my sister-in-law would come to set. And also, I knew the kid. Like, babies are touchy, so he wasn't completely in strangers' hands when I was with him. But we cut corners where we could, right? [Laughs]
McDonald: Oh yeah, yeah. No, it was great to have Mr. Brando, as we called him. Because he would control the set. Whatever mood he was in, it was like, [whispering] "Oh yeah, he's good, he's in a good mood, he seems OK." But he was mostly fantastic, and your sister-in-law and your brother were very wonderful to open their arms to us and allow it. And it'll be a great little record for them to have of little Bertrand.
McCabe-Lokos: Yeah, my sister-in-law was like, "He's not on IMDB yet, when is there going to be a page? His name's not on IMDB." I think I went in. I was like, "OK, I'll do it." [Laughs]
So after this experience, do you think you'll end up working together again? Is that something you're looking to do down the line?
McDonald: Absolutely. We're always cooking up stuff. And there's probably things for Max to play in those things. And if I can help on his productions either in some kind of director capacity, producer capacity, or just be the cab driver.... [Laughs]
McCabe-Lokos: It's funny, I was hanging out with Don [McKellar] the other day, and I was thinking that I feel close to him in a way. Because I don't know if he brought the script to you, but he had a script and he was an actor and he also went on to do his own stuff. I see that as sort of my hopeful trajectory. But he also hasn't stopped working with you. There's always things in the works. And you know, I'm an actor for hire too, if Bruce ever needs a guy to yell at children.
"The Husband" opens in Toronto on March 14.