Known for his three "comedies of manners" Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), and The Last Days of Disco (1998), Whit Stillman finally has a new film out. Damsels in Distress follows Stillman's preoccupation with the distress of the upper-middle class with a collection of brilliant girls at a mostly male-dominated college. Starring Greta Gerwig (Greenberg), Analeigh Tipton (Crazy, Stupid, Love), Carrie MacLemore, and Megalyn Echikunwoke (90210), the film premiered at 68th Venice Film Festival this year to glowing praise. Damsels in Distress' leading men, Adam Brody (The O.C.) and Hugo Becker (The Assault), describe their characters, working with the famed director, and just how to court a damsel in distress.
Izumi Hasegawa: How would you describe the movie to someone who wants to see it?
Hugo Becker: Surprising!
Adam Brody: Surprising.
HB: Yeah, Surprising, right? If somebody doesn't want to see it.
AB: Well, it's so vague, yeah.
HB: You know, it means the person has an idea of the movie, like not a very interesting movie. But it is. So I would say just surprising.
AB: Yeah. I would just attack them personally.
HB: Yeah, and we'll just punch them in the face as well.
AB: Oh man, that's just a whole other... I don't think that would be very Stillman-esque of you.
HB: That's true. Stillman-esque?
AB: Yeah. I would describe it as, not to paraphrase myself, but an intellectual romantic comedy. It's set at college, obviously, but love and romance and comedy abound.
HB: It's original, fun, crazy, and witty.
AB: I don't want to be derivative, but if you were really introducing someone completely new to it, I would make comparisons to Woody Allen, I would make comparisons to Wes Anderson and other dry humorous with very play-like, theatrical, qualities and staging.
HB: Especially first films of Woody Allen and Wes Anderson, I think, like Rushmore.
IH: Did you guys go to college, and was it anything like this? I'm not American, so I don't know what it's like here.
AB: Oh, you're not American. I didn't go to college, so no. I only know from television and film as well. I always viewed college -- at least in this movie, though -- as a microcosm of society as a whole, and I do think you can draw parallels to group social life. And even in other movies -- disco -- there are always cliques and different groupthink and what-not.
IH: Suicide symptoms?
HB: No. I think it's all very exaggerated, but it's very accurate. It's very like that, I think, in colleges. People have specific activities. They're a part of a club, they're a part of society, they're a part of a fraternity. And they want to make themselves look special. They want to be in this one, in this group, part of this way of thinking and way of life. So I think this is very true, even if it is like, of course, very exaggerated. That's why it's funny.
IH: In the film, Lily has two men fighting over her. How does a woman attract two men at the same time?
AB: I think being beautiful helps. [Speaking to Hugo] While you and Analeigh know each other when the film begins, my character is attracted first visually, but doesn't know her yet. It starts by appearance, and then she's intelligent and seems to have a good character and interesting, so those help as well. Old-fashioned values.
HB: I think it's also in the way she looks at people. Like in real life, I think you feel really attracted to somebody when this person pays attention to you. At least with my character, it's definitely that, I think. He feels like she's looking up on him.
AB: Also, she has seven different smiles.
HB: And she has different pairs of shoes as well. You were about to say that, right? No, but I think it's true. It's the way she looks at people.
AB: Come here or stare.
IH: Adam, you were telling me about the old-fashioned courtship. Do you think that still works today?
AB: Yeah, sure, why not? I think Whit has a lot of old-fashioned values, and I think what his movies are about and being very aware in not just having those values, but being very aware of are those values out of date? And what are the pros and cons of that? And do I think that still works? Yeah, to a degree, I suppose. It's hard to say specifically what we're even talking about, but in general, I think old-fashioned gentleman – gentlemanliness is probably a good way to go still.
IH: Not so much the operator tactics?
AB: Well, no. I mean, I don't think my character was the playboy operator he was made out to be. He did put on, under false pretenses, and try to court these women; however, only the exterior or his nature was the same. He never said anything he didn't believe in. In truth, if they dated him specially only because of a job title, then really, perhaps they got what they deserved anyway.
IH: You would never do that, would you?
AB: Well, I think...
HB: You would.
AB: I'm not as overt, I'm not as cunning... Not because I'm too good; I just don't know. I think it takes a strong person to be a bold liar. [Laughs] It's definitely something probably best in all of Whit's movies, but I do think that you socially can fib, I suppose. And in a way, it's not always a bad thing. In fact, it's sometimes necessary and even the more polite thing to do. So not necessarily lying about your job being one of them, but there are social graces that involve untruths. So I definitely give in to that from time to time.
IH: So what's the most exciting thing you've done to impress someone of the opposite sex?
HB: This morning.
AB: What was it?
HB: Adam started dancing and getting naked in the room. And I had the...
AB: She said the opposite sex.
HB: Oh, but I still had a lot of fun.
AB: Or the same sex. Go on. Okay, so I was naked and dancing. Go on.
HB: Yeah, well, you know the story. I'm not...you know. I mean, Adam please. I think that was one of the best moments of the day.
AB: Naked is the best way to dance...
HB: For you, maybe. Not for everybody, yeah?
AB: I guess I just have one of those bodies.
IH: So what's the nicest or most exciting thing you've done to impress someone?
AB: Gosh, I don't know.
HB: I think I did a play in high school. I took a part to impress somebody, I would say.
IH: How'd it work?
HB: Very well. I was lucky. I think I've done a lot of things to impress, to be honest. I don't know about you. It's quite sad to admit it, but it's true. Especially to impress somebody you love or you like. To impress friends when you're a teenager, to impress a girl that you have strong feelings for...yeah, dumb things, like be expelled from school because you did something to be funny to some extent. That time, it's funny; other times, it's like you're cool doing so. Actually, even now, it seems pretty cool. It was fun. I'm happy I did it. But yeah, I've done a lot of things like that.
AB: I would punch these girls in the shoulder, when I was in sixth grade, who I was friends with. And I think I was ill, to be honest.
HB: Fireworks from the rooftop. I was a boarding student. I did that once.
AB: Wow, actual fireworks.
HB: Actual fireworks, yeah. I did that. In boarding school... I mean, it wasn't the most amazing fireworks on Earth, but it was fun. I was at boarding school so we were divided in teams, so we organized a lot of stupid things which were funny at the time. So it's stuff like that. Anyway. I was going to tell you my whole life; I don't think it's very interesting. I fought somebody sometimes too. Really. I fight. I don't know if it's very impressive, but I think it is what it is.
IH: Did you win?
HB: I always win. [Laughs] No, I don't. I'm, I would say, equal.
AB: A draw.
Sony Pictures Classics' 'Damsels in Distress' is released in theaters April 6, 2012 in New York and Los Angeles.