Rear Window, Peeping Tom, Blow-up and The Conversation, the voyeur has made ideal anti-heroes for cinematic thrillers; creating a chain reaction of observer subjects with the audiences. In Camille Thoman's psychological thriller Never Here, she flips the story with her lead actress Mireille Enos, whose professional voyeur/installation artist Miranda suddenly finds herself as someone's new obsession. Thoman, a visual artist herself, finds a refreshing mix of popcorn thriller and artistic philosophy in a film which also stars Vincent Piazza and the late Sam Shepard (in one of his final performances).
Lesley Coffin: It's still a bit rare to see female leads playing anti-heroes and playing characters that can be somewhat unlikable. What aspects of Miranda's character did you and Mireille want to focus on when shaping the character?
Camille Thoman: It took a long time to get this movie made and financed, and one of the things I heard from financiers over and over again was, she's not likable, she's not likable enough, we have to make her more likable. Because it is so unpopular to present a female protagonist as someone who isn't 100% likable. And both Mireille and I feel it's very important to have female characters out there who are both likable and unlikable. Miranda is a predator, she's also a victim, everything lives in this very grey area with her. But as we know, some of the most interesting characters live in that grey area, they just usually happen to be men. It's important to put a greater variety of female types and experiences out there. But to Mireille's credit, I don't think we ever spoke about Miranda in terms of likability, we talked about her in terms of what motivated her behavior.
Lesley Coffin: It's interesting that her predatory nature comes through her role as a voyeur, which in classic cinema has often presented women as the subject and men as the observer. We have the iconic examples in the films of Hitchcock, but it used to be a very common in thrillers. Why put that aspect front and center when creating the character?
Camille Thoman: Men are the voyeurs in our constructed society, as a gender construct. But in reality, everyone is a voyeur. I didn't think about it as reversing the male gaze, but it made sense for Miranda as a human being. She's an artist, watching her subjects in their real-life. But the audience is supposedly watching her in her private life, which of course is a fiction I created as the filmmaker. And that aspect is something I reference frequently in the visual narrative, the audience is always aware that while they're being voyeuristic, it's also a constructed narrative. And Miranda is an observer, but she's constantly constructing the narrative that she will present in her art. She even talks to the audience in her voice over and references that fact that she's being watched. So it was more about creating a triangle of voyeurism than making a comment about gender.
Lesley Coffin: And I imagine that played a big role in how you choose to film the movie. It doesn't look traditional because of how often you use long lens and frame things between walls and in doorways to create a literal frame within your frame. What inspired you to use that visual approach?
Camille Thoman: First, I'm so glad you picked up on that. I'm not sure what references I drew from, but I know when discussing how the film would look, that was the approach I wanted to go for. I want the audience to constantly be aware, on a subconscious level, that they are watching a constructed image. I know I was inspired while making this film by movies like The Conversation and Don't Look Now. But not so much in their look.
Lesley Coffin: I'm not at all surprised you'd mention The Conversation, considering it's about another professional voyeur. And like that film, this movie has a very jazzy score but one that constantly escalates. What were you aiming for when selecting the music and overall sound design of the film?
Camille Thoman: I was originally very inspired by that piano music in The Conversation. But then our composer James Lavino did a piano score but added some unusual tones underneath his score which felt right. But I still felt like there was something missing, and that's when I found a singer-songwriter Elijah Ray to create music at the moment using this voice box, and when we mixed James and Elijah's music together we found the sound that really fit the movie and managed to add tension.
Lesley Coffin: You have to feature a lot of Miranda's artwork, and artwork which would reveal something visual about her character and move the story forward. Did you hire artists to create original pieces?
Camille Thoman: Some of the artwork I stole from myself because of my background. That older work I'd presented in London. But her exhibit I had a strong idea of what I wanted it to look like and there were three of us who created those pieces, myself, our producer Dan and an artist Cori Williams to fill out the exhibit. And that allowed us to create a functioning exhibit. Because you have to trust that Miranda is a real artist to buy into the story.
Lesley Coffin: And you have to stage the exhibit in a realistic way.
Camille Thoman: That's to the credit of our art department. And we asked friends and family to come to the exhibit as if it were attending a real gallery opening. They were our extras and I'm pleased to say, it looks like a real gallery opening.
Lesley Coffin: I wanted to ask about the performance you got from Vincent who really gives a great performance in a very difficult role. What was the casting process like on this film?
Camille Thoman: On this film, I really went with my gut instincts. Every actor had to have a certain frequency that was hard to describe during the casting process. But I found a lot of the actors were too literal, and wouldn't fit within the world I was creating. Because sometimes the real world becomes a bit more metaphorical and surreal. But Vincent's ability to be very naturalistic without being completely literal. And Vincent and Mireille had wonderful chemistry.
© Lesley Coffin (10/23/17) FF2 Media
Read FF2 Media's review of Never Here.
Photo: Mireille Enos & Sam Shephard in Never Here
Photo credits: Before the Door Pictures, Wonderbar Productions