While attending Sundance, I had the opportunity to speak with Andrea Riseborough (Birdman, Oblivion, Black Mirror) and Chris Abbott (James White, It Comes At Night, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Catch 22) of POSSESSOR. We discussed how their participation in the project came to be and how they brought the central characters of Tasya Vos and Colin to life while inhabiting the same body.
Thank you so much for speaking with me today. What drew you to the project?
Andrea Riseborough: Brandon, the script, how innovative he is. His first film, Antiviral, was beautiful. I’ve been watching him for quite a while and so when he came to me with this project, I was really, really excited that he sought to offer it to me. Brandon, that was my first connection.
Christopher Abbott: I’m pretty much in the same boat, getting to work with Brandon, getting to work with Andrea. The script was a unique and fun acting challenge, to essentially split a role with someone.
I think you both did amazing work in the film. What was it like having to share the body of Colin and create the performance when you’ve got more than one person inside?
Christopher Abbott: We had some time before we actually shot the movie, a few years really, where we were able to get together every once in a while and talk about it and Brandon would make some adjustments scriptwise. It was always floating around in all of our heads, obviously Brandon’s for much longer, but it was floating around in Andrea and I’s head for quite a while. So even if we were off doing another project, I felt it was always back there and I was always kind of thinking about it. By the time we were ready to shoot it, we were quite ready. We had plenty of prep, for lack of a better word.
Andrea Riseborough: It was really fascinating and what we didn’t expect was that so much of what we found out that we would do together would happen while we were shooting. We did have years to prep and we must have made, between us, ten projects or something like that in between when we signed up for the film and actually made it. So there was a sense of ease and a shared common goal by the time we got to make the film. Brandon’s brain is so wonderfully balanced and twisted. He’s one of the kindest people you will meet and so, so bright and you want in every way to help him achieve whatever it is that he is trying to achieve. I know that we had a common goal there. We always wanted to bind ourselves to his vision in whichever way was helpful and we had that willingness. When you’re getting good direction from a lovely director, then there’s a sense of ease about it. But there are things that we couldn’t control and those things were external things that manifested that we didn’t plan on. Where we all strangely made the same body movements which happened with everybody who was inhabited or who was a possessor themselves. Chris and I both experienced that. We had strange hand gestures, things that we couldn’t control, and that we hadn’t planned on, and we didn’t realize had happened until later, which was really interesting.
It was like you were synched up and it wasn’t something you were trying to do, but it synced up anyways, somehow.
Andrea Riseborough: We were in tune, but without the awareness, perhaps, on some levels. On other levels, there’s a lot of awareness and we were very conscious of trying to be in tune. There were lovely things that came out of that that we had no control over.
What do you think was the biggest challenge for you both with this film?
Christopher Abbott: I mean like it’s always always a challenge. I don’t know, try not to suck?
Andrea Riseborough: Ah, hallelujah.
Christopher Abbott: Specifically for this, I think it was keeping track of the arc of the decline. Vos in Colin losing the identity and just always kind of keeping track of it. Not going overboard with a Body Snatchers type of thing. Just trying to be measured, but still kind of going for it when you need to go for it. All of the challenges were exactly what was strange and weird about the part.
Andrea Riseborough: I think for me it is occupying the psyche, for a very long time, of somebody who’s lost their own identity. Someone who is untethered and addicted to escape. It’s a difficult headspace to be into for a long time, but we had a lot of laughs too, which was wonderful.