It's taken a few decades, but Clea DuVall's career is heading in new directions. With her ability to inhabit a spectrum of roles in film and television, she has stolen scenes in iconic '90s flicks (
But I'm a Cheerleader
) and recent binge-watchable series (
). Since 1996, a year hasn't passed without her name appearing in a project.
Now the 38-year-old Los Angeles native has moved behind the camera with her directorial feature debut,
, a film she also wrote and in which she co-stars. The dark ensemble comedy, which premiered at Sundance, follows three couples who conspire to break up the marriage of a troubled fourth during a weekend getaway at an estate in Georgia. But as the days pass, the plotters discover cracks in their own relationships. Soon they're snarling at one another, drinking heavily, and fumbling, sometimes spectacularly, through hookups and squabbles.
"It started out as, 'Wouldn't it be funny if the person who's always talking behind people's backs said something--what would happen?' " DuVall explains, reclining on a leather couch in a photo studio in Hollywood, her denim shirt buttoned up to her neck. She began writing the film four years ago and shot it over 18 days last summer. "As I wrote the script, I was doing a lot of work on myself, therapy and reading books and trying to get to the bottom of all the things I was running away from. And true to that, the script evolved. I had a lot of insight into my own behaviors, and I put that right into the characters."
The movie also marks a reunion for DuVall and Natasha Lyonne. Seventeen years ago, they played moony lovebirds in
But I'm a Cheerleader
, a film that tackled the absurdity of gay conversion therapy camps and became a bighearted (if now a bit dated) cult classic. At the start of it, Lyonne's character faces a different sort of intervention from her family and jock boyfriend, who are convinced she's gay. She discovers and accepts herself through DuVall's character.
plays out differently. This time, it's DuVall's Jessie and Lyonne's Sarah staging an intervention, as a couple whose sexuality is normalized to the point where their "otherness" is never highlighted. Their troubles bubbling up, the pair gradually succumb to the toxicity around them. Jessie fantasizes about, and then gives in to, the advances of a young interloper (Alia Shawkat). Another guest tattles on her, prompting frenzied verbal and physical blows (Jessie tackles Sarah into a lake after Sarah admits she misses sleeping with men).
It's a caustic tale that upends the doe-eyed nature of their
dynamic. But in real life, the actors are best friends. "I don't know what the deal is with us," says Lyonne, who also plays the bare-knuckle lesbian Nicky Nichols on
Orange Is the New Black
. "When you think about it, it's pretty funny that we've been together longer than my parents' marriage, which ended in divorce. But Clea and I have been together longer than a
Portraying gay characters has been a constant for DuVall. This year she guest-starred as the love interest to President Selina Meyer's daughter (Sarah Sutherland) on HBO's
in which she's a stone-faced Secret Service agent who volleys back impenetrable one-liners to POTUS's (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) canine-toothed barbs. She never flinches while doling out her impassive "Yes, ma'am"s, but she hints at a hidden depth.
DuVall, too, is guarded. She publicly discussed her sexual orientation only recently, at a panel for
. "I've always sort of lived my life and never made a huge statement about it," she says. "It's just, like, leading by example." Paparazzi pics of her and her girlfriend kissing surfaced in 2013, which she considered an invasion of privacy. "But I was also like, 'Who cares?' It's not like I'm Reese Witherspoon. I'm just a character actor. As a kid I would have really appreciated seeing that. That would have meant a lot to me. So the people it matters to, it matters for a positive reason."
, DuVall has also been exploring new TV and film ideas. Though she admits to struggling with the process, she's started to settle into the director's chair. "All of the things like directing a movie and doing comedy, I was intimidated by them," she says. "As I've gotten older, when my first reaction to something is 'no,' I usually do that thing, because I think it's OK to be scared, and to try, and to fail. When I stay in my comfort zone, it becomes hiding rather than growing."
Photography by Matthew Welch. Styling by Alison Brooks. Hair: Gui at Exclusive Artists management. Makeup: Samuel Paul at Forward Artists. previous page: Shirt by Rag & Bone. Jacket by Saint Laurent. this page: Shirt by Saint Laurent. Hat by Ugo Mozie available at Church Boutique, L.A.
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