AE: Films with lesbian protagonists are still pretty few and far between. To have a film where lesbian sex and the eroticism of lesbian sexuality are not presented for the male gaze is even more rare. Concussion is kind of like a precious little ruby in that respect. As an actress, what is it like to portray a role that celebrates a character’s sexuality in such a way? I believe I read somewhere that these were your first sex scenes ever?
RW: Yeah, yeah. [laughs]
AE: Way to dive in!
RW: [laughs] Thank you. Yeah when I look it it’s funny, they are all so psychological in some ways too. There’s such a mixture. They feel incredibly raw, some of them but they don’t feel like, salacious and sort of build for their erotic—I don’t know. Maybe because I’ve never done a sex scene before, I don’t know how to play them differently from other scenes. Which is to say it’s about relationships, right? It’s about what’s going on between the two people always in a scene, sex scene or not.
My only way to approach these, and some of these were really quite: I would meet the woman for the very first time, and the sun would be setting, and I’d know that we’d need to accomplish the sex scene before the sun went down. I’d be like, “Jesus Christ, how is this going to happen?” Some of it was like that. The only thing I had at my disposal was to tune in energetically to her, whoever she might be, and try to bring out the best of what might be there in the time that we had.
Some of them were very clearly delineated by Stacie [Passon], exactly what she wanted to happen. But other ones she might have in the script, “woman #7,” and that’s it. So even the event of what happened between the two women wouldn’t yet be described. As an example, there was a woman who I knew was a performance artist. That’s all I knew about her. Stacie and I were driving to set together that day, “And what would this scene be?” and I thought out loud, “What if it’s the one where Abby is worried that she might bring home a visible wound from the experience? Like what if this woman gets violent with her?” I thought she’ll probably be a good actress to do that if she’s a performance artist, because she’s likely to be comfortable in her body, and so not be afraid to go to those places. So let’s propose that to her. That was invented on the day, and then it sort of ended up being built in an interesting way to accompany some of the dialogue. That was done in post.
Or the sort of really raw scene with the Asian woman toward the end—that developed the quality it had because the actress seemed to me (I didn’t know her at all) to be so shy, and we had so little time. I felt like the only way I could make that scene happen was to be extremely dominant with her, and kind of order her around. And as soon as I did that, she reacted in a very electric way, and suddenly we were in some territory that God knows, whatever was going one, that was really, really dynamic. That was captured, and then that became of course, this needs to be that sort of final beat that she’s really in the life now because that’s what it read as. Some of the things plugged into their places in the film, only after it was clarified, like what that event was. What was the event of that one? What was the event of this one? The clearest one in terms of what was on the page was the event that needed to happen with Maggie [Siff], with that character, because that journey was so important to the whole storytelling.
AE: That’s actually my next question for you. Abby/Eleanor has many encounters throughout the film, but for the most part, even though to me they have this almost…therapeutic feeling to them…she stays for the most part, unemotionally attached. Not to say that she’s is cold. She’s actually quite warm and giving, but I couldn’t help but feel Abby being pulled emotionally toward Sam (Maggie Siff) however. It felt like things began to shift after her encounters with Sam. So I wanted to know, was that the intention? Did Abby/Eleanor develop some real feeling for this woman?
RW: Yeah, yeah, and that was very clearly in the script. All the beats of that were very, very much predetermined. The character that Maggie plays is this straight woman who is a great danger I suppose to a gay woman, because she can just play with no consequence. So Abby ends up getting burned. This is what I came to feel about it: What she didn’t even realize that she needed was to be taken in hand, and here’s a woman who is able to take her, sort of masterfully, in hand. In that scene where she’s insisting on the eye contact and Abby suddenly realizes there’s this great danger in the eye contact. The great danger in meeting eyes with this woman, is that she knows she will sort of fall in. It’s like that experience of falling through the door in the floor, where suddenly it doesn’t feel casual at all anymore and you’re really in trouble. So that is this sort of a thing that happens between those two, and how Abby is suddenly then on the hook, and in some real, genuine pain. There had to be that for the story to have weight. There had to be one or another of these things that had real emotional consequence.
The other thing that has real emotional consequence for her is she did also have a really loving relationship with the older woman played by Laila Robins. For that woman to begin to call her out on her real life stuff—for her to begin to feel known, that’s too close. Too close. So there have to be these measures of what’s safe enough and what cuts too close to the bone. And then when she steps over the line, those degrees have to be in there. I think in the different scenarios that exist, those are in there. There’s no cost-free sex in it really. It does have more in common with sex surrogacy. She’s giving something; it feels to me each time. Her joy is partly in feeling that she’s someone with something to give because she’s not allowed to feel that way with her wife. Part of how she’s being fed is in the validation that comes from feeling like you can bestow something on someone that they very much need. Which is had won between two partners over time, because everybody knows each other very well at that point.
AE: Robin, you are about to get a whole bunch of new lesbian fans. I hope you are ready.
RW: Oh, it would be fantastic! Wonderful!
Concussion opens in theaters on October 4. You can also see the film on VOD or through iTunes. Read our review of the film here.