'Happiest Season' Director Made LGBT Holiday Rom-Com Because 'I've Never Seen My Experience Represented'
“In a lot of ways, this movie is autobiographical,” filmmaker Clea DuVall tells TheWrap
Clea DuVall loves Christmas movies, but she never saw herself reflected in them. DuVall, who is gay and as both an actress and a director has frequently talked about the importance of LGBT portrayals throughout her career, decided to change that, and wrote and directed “Happiest Season” so she could see her experiences reflected in holiday rom-coms.
“In a lot of ways, this movie is autobiographical just in that I’ve been both characters at different times in this movie,” DuVall told TheWrap. “And being able to tell a universal story like going home for Christmas through a unique lens just seemed like a really great opportunity to tell a story — to tell a story which we’ve heard in a different way.”
“Happiest Season” stars Kristen Stewart as Abby, who meets her girlfriend Harper’s (Davis) family for the first time at their annual family Christmas dinner. However, Abby soon realizes that Harper kept their relationship a secret from her family, and she begins to question their relationship. Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Daniel Levy, Mary Holland, Burl Moseley, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen also star. It is the first LGTBQ Christmas rom-com released by a major studio.
“I have watched so many Christmas movies and connected and cried and laughed with so many Christmas movies that I didn’t connect with directly in my experience,” she explained. “It was wanting to bring myself to a genre that I really loved so much, but I don’t see it as abnormal or groundbreaking at all because it really is just, that’s how I spend every Christmas. There’s no novelty there for me. But I understand that audiences might not you know, they’re used to seeing the story in a very particular package. And I just think it’s really cool that we got to change that.”
“Happiest Season” debuted on Hulu on Wednesday.
Read the full Q&A with DuVall below.
TheWrap: Where did you draw inspiration from for this movie?
Clea DuVall: I am a huge fan of Christmas movies. I always have been, but I’ve never seen my experience represented. So in a lot of ways, this movie is autobiographical just in that I’ve been both characters at different times in this movie. And being able to tell a universal story like going home for Christmas through a unique lens just seemed like a really great opportunity to tell a story — to tell a story which we’ve heard in a different way.
When did you decide you wanted to direct?
I always wanted to direct it. That was always part of the because I made one movie before this. And then when I started thinking about what I wanted to do next, I had had this idea for a long time and wrote it and then started thinking about it more, wrote an outline, and then writing is a very lonely thing. And what I love about filmmaking is the collaboration. So when I met Mary Holland, when we were working on “Veep” together and we just got along so well and she was so funny and we had such great friend chemistry and such great banter. And I completely took a shot in the dark asking her to work on this with me because she’s not a writer or hadn’t really done anything like this before. But we worked really well together and it was so much fun.
What was the casting process like? This is an all-star cast!
It all kind of fell into place that way. For me, when I write, the characters always just exist — I only see them in my head. It’s very rare that I write something for someone. I mean, when I wrote the first movie [“The Intervention”], I wrote the part for Melanie Lynskey. But other than that, everyone in this movie, it was really just… it came together.
It’s funny because casting is such a difficult process, because you can come up with this sort of dream team, but you can’t force anybody to do your movie. But actors were so supportive and really wanted to be a part of it, I was kind of surprised by the response from people who I was like, you really want to do this movie? Like Alison Brie, you really want to be in it?
What was your favorite scene to direct?
It’s a very simple scene that doesn’t give anything away. It’s a scene that takes place in the family kitchen with Mary Steenburgen, Mary Holland, Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis and Alison Brie. And they’re just making cookies, but it’s all of the banter between them and before the scene started and then after it ended, like the scripted part of it, they would just sort of improv their way into it and improve their way out of it. And watching them all interact together and this chemistry they had was just so incredible. Mary Holland and Mary Steenburgen together are comedy gold. I did way more takes of that than I needed to just because I wanted to see what they were going to do.
Thinking back on “The Intervention,” would you say examining and analyzing family dynamics is something that you feel very passionate about in film and exploring those relationships?
I do find myself gravitating towards relationships. I think that it’s very relatable for everyone, but, you know, in a movie like this, these kinds of family dynamics are different in that it really is, you know, this idea of living up to your parents’ expectations and living up to even just the outside world expectations of you and as a gay person, when you’re born, you’re kind of just expected to be straight. You’re expected to be the gender you were born, what the gender you were assigned at birth. But if you are not those things, it’s a journey, you know, and it is not easy. And I think the character that Mackenzie Davis plays, she is going through a lot and she’s carrying around a lot and I think it’s important to show people struggling with that and why they’re struggling and having compassion for them and that, even when they get to the other side of it, that it might not always be clean, it might not always be easy, but that it is a journey that people embark on. And when they get to the other side, they deserve to be loved. So, like, you go through this and even if you’re not always your best self on the other side of it, you know, you have grown and you have changed and then it’s OK.
How do you feel about LGBTQ representation in film and TV recently?
In making this movie, it was really just that I you know, I have watched so many Christmas movies and connected and cried and laughed with so many Christmas movies that I didn’t connect with directly in my experience, you know. myself to a genre that I really loved so much, but I don’t see it as abnormal or groundbreaking at all because it really is just you know, that’s how I spend every Christmas. There’s no novelty there for me. But I understand that audiences might not, you know, they’re used to seeing the story in a very particular package. And I just think it’s really cool that we got to change that.
Do you think that in recent years representation has improved?
I think it’s improved. I think there’s no such thing as too much improvement in that area, whether it’s, you know, LGBTQ+ stories or anything with race or anything. We have come some ways and we have a long way to go. But I do think that we’re never going to reach an end to it where it’s like, that’s fine. We have enough now. But it really feels like audiences have an appetite for it and studios obviously like Sony have caught up to it and they agree and support that and other people are coming behind them. And certainly on TV, there’s so much more representation. It’s crazy. It’s almost becoming you know, it’s not a big deal now when there is a gay character in the show whereas before — You couldn’t believe it.
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