Coming to theaters from writer/director Mora Stephens and Alchemy comes the story of a political games and a “Zipper.”
Sam Ellis (Patrick Wilson) is an up and coming federal prosecutor who wins his cases and speaks right to the people. Supported by his loving wife Jeannie (Lena Headey), he decides to run for office.
Running his campaign is George Hiller (Richard Dreyfuss), a man who begins the fast paced job of seeing Sam elected to office. There is one slight problem – Sam has a problem keeping his zipper closed.
His weakness becomes an obsession as Sam makes call after call to an escort service never seeing the same woman twice. While his stress level increases he turns more and more to his obsession. That is until one afternoon he notices agents outside of a hotel room.
He runs trying to stay one step ahead before it all comes crashing down!
Wilson as Sam is a man who can not seem to control himself. This was a tough one for me because Wilson is such a dynamic actor who is able to pull off roles from good guy to bad. Here Sam Ellis is a politician which already makes the hairs stand up on the any ballot but … it’s Patrick Wilson! Good guy, wife, family, home, and career this character seems to be headed in the right direction until absolutely power corrupts absolutely. Ashamed one minute and brazen the next, this character got me to the point where I was yelling at the screen! Oh yes, that always makes life more interesting.
Headey as Jeannie is a woman who has given up her own career for her husbands’ success. Never once feeling as if she has lost something in her life, the hurt comes fast and hard. Trying to keep her head just above water, the family image is of utmost important to her. A woman of strength, the tower cracks a little when faced with choosing disaster for her family or the path they all started on before the chaos. Headey just nails this character and I loved the twists.
Penelope Mitchell plays Laci as a woman with a story of her own. Believing that Sam might be a good man, it takes only a moment to realize that her perception of his situation is exactly what she’s come to know. Mitchell gives a sad performance which is to say well done!
Dreyfuss as Hiller is a smarter man than Sam takes him for. It is the final scene that I love watching this legendary actor make his remarks and walk away with a smile that says more than words.
Writer/director Mora Stephens debut feature film, CONVENTIONEERS, won the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards’ John Cassavetes Award for Best Low-Budget Feature. The film premiered at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival, and had its international premiere in Korea at the 2005 Pusan International Film Festival. Following rave reviews and awards at festivals worldwide, the film was released theatrically by Cinema Libre Studio in the fall of 2006.
An alumna of NYU’s Graduate Film Program and Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Stephens was featured in Film Independent’s “Reel Visionary: The Future of Independent Film” in Vanity Fair magazine. She collaborated on an original screenplay for director Rodrigo Garcia and has taught screenwriting at the Graduate Film Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Stephens is a co-founder of Hyphenate Films. “Zipper” is Stephens’ second feature.
I had the fantastic opportunity to speak with writer/director Mora Stephens about “Zipper” the Official Selection of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, casting, the topic of politics and zippers.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today Mora.
What made you decide to choose this particular topic for a script?
I have always been fascinated by political sex scandals and frustrated by how they can paralyze a country starting with the Clinton scandal. The origin of the movie began around the time of the Edwards affair and I was fascinated by how men and women few scandals differently. It is interesting how people immediately judge or have an opinion about what goes on. What compelled this is telling it from a woman’s point of view trying to get inside this guys’ head. From what he does I have to put myself in his shoes and where did it all start and how did he get to that place. I had to look at it from a place of empathy and curiosity. So I was looking at it as solving this mystery and riddle and at Sundance, getting feedback, it is fascinating how men and women view the film itself differently.
There are many dimensions to this film as well. It isn’t all about the sex scandal but also this man’s addiction – what made you bring that into the piece?
I am a daughter of two artists. My father is the writer who is a recovering alcoholic and I can talk about it because he’s written books about it and been sober for over 26 years. As a child going through it with him I was fascinated by all the literature about how it can change your brain and the brain of your child. So that was the start of understanding the character Sam Ellis, having addiction and he himself is afraid of it and trying to repress it. He has this potential but comes from a place where his own father is an alcoholic and he comes from this place of always trying to ‘be good’. He is on a very ambitious path and his wife Jeannie is part of that path as well. Then we see seeds of that from the beginning with his little white lies and deceptions and addiction to porn. It hasn’t full evolved and come to the surface yet and the potential is there.
Why did you choose Patrick Wilson because really he has that endearing look about him, he’s such a good looking and All-American guy sense about him?
It was very important to me to cast this with someone who has sexual charisma and with that comes a character you don’t see coming. I wanted Patrick’s character to be that kind of every man that every man can relate to. You want to also see it from Jeannie’s point of view in that he is a good man, a good father and a good husband. A big think I was talking about with Lena Headey who plays Jeannie is that she worries more about herself than him. She believes that they are real partners and Sam really kept that part of himself repressed from her.
At the beginning you realize Sam has problem and I found myself yelling at the screen when he begins to fall down. It is interesting that his addiction sways into doing what he wants because he has power – I was honestly conflicted about it.
Patrick was one of my early collaborators on it. Once I met with him I could only think of him for the role. We had been talking about the character for a couple of years before we did the film. I think Patrick is a tremendous actor who can do anything and he is a real gentleman in real life. Genuinely an nice person that has all this good in him and yet he is willing to go into a dark place.
That’s what makes it so believable.
Yes, it’s the element of surprise.
When he changes your jaw drops a little bit I have to say.
With the ending …
That ending IS a jaw dropper for me. Walking down that hall way my brain was racing and I’m yelling at the screen.
I love that reaction and I hope that people in the audience will have that reaction and that the person next to them has a different reaction. My intention is to lay all the seeds there and people to come away with their own feelings about it. There is a wide range of how people feel about how you can view the ending.
With Lena’s character – it’s almost as if she starts out the strong one and is the go getter and supports her husband but somewhere in there things start to change.
I love watching her in every take of this film. The whole cast was incredible to work with and we were in a lot of dark places and Lena could be hilarious off camera.
So was that flip intentional?
It was but it can be interpreted in so many ways. She is his campaign manager and has all these ambitions. She is part of the box around him but in the end she does flip it on him but you could also view it as tragic. I wanted the main characters to do something that they never would have seen themselves doing. With Lena we were talking about how at the beginning she sees her image as a great partner and friend and in her back story there was adultery in her family so it’s an issue she carries with her. She thinks she married someone with whom she wouldn’t have that problem.
The scene between Lena and Ray Winstone just threw me.
Yes, her character had the potential to go there. She was going to do whatever was necessary for her husband. You don’t know how you are going to react until put in that position.
Lena’s character Jeannie just shuts down and becomes a bit scary.
I’m a huge fan of Lena and Ray Winstone and they have been friends working years ago.
I have to ask about Richard Dreyfuss, he could read a phone book and I’d be happy.
It was such an honor to work with him.
Where you thrilled when he agreed to do the role?
Absolutely, I feel so grateful for the entire cast. Richard is such a great story teller, knows a lot about history and politics. The film is so much inside Sam and Jeannie’s skin and a tight shoot. At Sundance it was a class reunion because each actor didn’t necessarily get to do a scene with the other. So this was Richard’s first time as Sundance.
Richard’s character is kind of like sandpaper, he just irritates the situations that Sam is in. There is such inflection in his voice and the way he interacts with Sam. The final scene between Patrick and Richard is scary. When people walk out of the theatre, what do you hope they take away with them.
I hope that they have all these thoughts about it and that a conversation continues at a dinner afterward. I hope that it provokes and stirs up a dialogue about why these guys do it and when the next scandal hits that people might have a different perspective about the person and what its like to be that person. I hope they think of the family and wife and see if from a different side, the addiction side. A conversation about addiction and the way it is portrayed in film and television that it can be done with more empathy and understand.
The title of the film is an attention grabber as well.
That came from the expression “he has a zipper problem” and it perfectly summarizes what the film contains. The question at the center of it is one of character: Why did he do it? What was he thinking? But what if, before people could judge, they could see inside the man, see the humanity, see what it feels like to be him? I want the audience to experience the movie through Sam Ellis’ skin. To feel every thrilling, messy, heart-pounding, titillating, goosebump-y moment that he does.
They most certainly will! Thank you for talking to us about “Zipper” today! Congratulations of the film, the cast and with such an intense story!
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give “Zipper” four tubs of popcorn out of five. This is an intense roller coast ride of emotions from beginning to end. It is a political nightmare come true with one man’s actions rippling in every direction. Everyone comes to that place where decisions are made and repercussions are inevitable, but who pays?
Of course it is easy to judge a scandal once it has been brought out in the public eye but writer/director Stephens decides to explore the before it all hits the media. The interpretation of each character in the film is so in depth, there is no black and white here. Instead there are histories, addictions, rivers of denial and spin doctors that run deep into this storyline.
In the end — it’s the age old question, why take the risk?