SXSW Interview: Director Patrick Kennelly and the Cast of ‘Excess Flesh’

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Playing as part of the Midnighters section of this year’s SXSW Film Festival, Patrick Kennelly’s Excess Flesh is a bold exploration of the horrors surrounding eating disorders, depressing, and jealousy. It’s a highly stylized descent into madness and masochism, and pretty much guaranteed to make audiences queasy and uncomfortable.

We caught up with Patrick and stars Bethany Orr and Mary Loveless at SXSW, the morning after the film screened at the Alamo Drafthouse. Check out what they had to say below.

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This movie was not at all what I expected. I’d like to start with Patrick…

Bethany Orr: Can we start with you, actually?

With me? But I didn’t make the movie.

Bethany Orr: But you received it.

I did receive it.

Bethany Orr: How did that feel?

It was bizarre. Not what I expected. It’s almost sort of a weird fever dream, with all the slow motion, the music, the sound effects.

Patrick Kennelly: Well that’s kind of what it is, a fever dream. The impetus for this particular project, like other stuff I’ve done, comes from a conceptual place. It’s making the product with collaborators. I realize what it is, why I’m doing it. It’s a learning process for me. To live a life doing this stuff, you’re constantly learning things. I want to explore something, usually outside of myself.

That’s sort of like how this began: a deep dread and horror around sitcoms and romantic comedies and doing my version of that. So we write that on paper, and exploring these particular issues around body, identity, eating disorders, these types of things. We write the script, go through the casting process, make the movie, and each time that happens it’s sort of “yes, this is how it is.”

For you guys, when you first saw the script and saw what it was going to be, what was your initial response?

Mary Loveless: Oh my God, I’m so lucky.

Bethany Orr: I have to do this and if they don’t let me, I don’t know what I’ll do with myself. Honestly, that strong.

Mary Loveless: It really is just an actor’s dream, just to be able to go through such an arc.

Bethany Orr: You called it a fever dream, it’s more of a fever nightmare. It’s so great. So much fun.

You both get a chance to play the bad guy. Starting off, Mary, for the first 20 minutes of the film I absolutely hated you…

Mary Loveless: I was that bitch.

Exactly. You were “that bitch,” but then there’s the shift that happens at a certain point where the audience has to feel sympathy for you because of what you’re going through. It’s almost a complete role reversal, so you both got to play both sides of the fence.

Bethany Orr: I wonder how audience members will feel about Jennifer, because we all have that friend who is a total bitch who we’ve been friends with forever, and you totally want to be her, but you can’t let go of her. [To Mary] But I find you incredibly likeable even at your worst in the film, and I actually felt jealous of you during shooting which was great, you know, entirely appropriate.

You can channel that.

Bethany Orr: Totally. And it is cool, the role reversal that happens, and then the kind of full-circle thing. It’s, you know, maybe a little different place than it started.

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I have to ask about the food. Every time someone was eating it was in slow motion and it always looked so delicious. Was that a conscious decision?

Bethany Orr: Really? We were warning people against getting food at the Alamo last night. Maybe it’s different on the big screen? To me it comes across as grotesque and hilarious, but not appetizing.

Yeah, I was just like “Man, look at those ribs…”

Patrick Kennelly: I’m always saying there’s a very fine line between sexualization and complete disgust. Which in the porn world now has been completely crossed.

Bethany Orr: Human bodies are absolutely disgusting. Be around a baby for an hour. Especially female bodies are hyper sexualized. Maybe food is the metaphor for that. Bodies are fleshy by definition.

Mary Loveless: I took a liking to Chimichangas after the film. I didn’t want to be like Mac in Always Sunny, just walking around with a bag of them, but I definitely started buying them at Costco now.

What was the experience like just shooting this film? Some of these scenes are getting into some heavy material.

Mary Loveless: The shoot itself was very short. We didn’t have a lot of time. For me it was very grueling. Mostly because I didn’t have the physical stamina because I was dieting and losing weight over the course of the film. I went on a liquid diet after a week in, so I was just so tired. Every lunch I would be asleep. I didn’t have the stamina. It was challenging, but I had a great emotional support system. It felt like a family. Everyone was there for you.

Bethany Orr: Physically, very demanding. Emotionally demanding. I just knew I had to build some sort of structure around that. The shoot was 3 weeks, but I took 6 weeks off of my life to get into and stay in the character, which I pretty much did. With the exception of bookending, in the morning I would meditate for 20 minutes and at the end of the day I took a bath. Those were like my two detoxes. Short of that, I pretty much lived there. The biproduct of that is that it was quite a comedown after we wrapped. There was this disentanglement. I didn’t know how to separate myself. I think that happens for a lot of actors.

What was the editing process like, as far as piecing everything together? There are a lot of cuts and stylized shots. I can imagine it was tough to get your head around in the editing room.

Patrick Kennelly: Totally. There are actually two different versions of this movie. There’s a huge amount of material that isn’t in the final version. There’s a whole dance sequence with Doritos falling from the sky. It was honing that down and figuring out the structure of it, because of what this thing is. Also not terribly difficult because I just had a lot of great material to work with. We didn’t do a lot of takes. Most of the stuff was done in less than four takes. A lot of the scenes were one take, one shot. For me it was mostly about structure and honing in on what the best way to communicate the ideas to an audience.

How did you feel when you found out you would be one of the midnight showings here at SXSW?

Bethany Orr: Not to be too forthcoming, but I was at the end of a therapy session, and I got the text and I just burst into tears. It was very exciting. For me the process of making this film is so inherently fulfilling that I wasn’t attached to any sort of result, but I do want this film to be seen and experienced. SXSW was a marker for that unfolding.

Mary Loveless: We all want to be Jennifer, we all want the validation, that we’re good and better than other people.

Patrick Kennelly: I’ve really gotta hand it out to SXSW for taking a chance with us. A lot of people out there didn’t want to.

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Excess Flesh is currently screening at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival, and will next be screening at the Boston Underground Film Festival.

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