In “Duck Butter,” co-writer and star Alia Shawkat explores a unique kind of intimacy while breaking away from the conventional romance narrative.
Naima (Shawkat), a struggling actress, and Sergio (Laia Costa), a free-spirited singer, have a chance meeting at a nightclub. After a fun-filled night, they decide, for better or for worse, to challenge the typical tropes of dating after both reveal their own dissatisfaction from past relationships.
Their experiment is this — to have sex every hour for 24 hours, in an effort to speed past the disingenuous “getting to know you phase.” It starts out as a fun scenario of two people coming together, but quickly turns into something neither expected.
Shawkat, who co-wrote the film with director Miguel Arteta, sat down with amNewYork to speak about creating this personal story, which hits theaters Friday.
There’s an interesting dichotomy between Sergio and Naima. How did you develop that relationship?
The casting of Laia was pretty much what made the movie what it is. We were originally looking for a man to play Sergio. We couldn’t find the right person for it. Laia was playing a much smaller role and then Miguel said, “You know who is more like Sergio than any of these men we met? Laia Costa.” It really solved a lot of the problems we had in the script, but so much of it is in the luck of chemistry. It was the luck of our chemistry together and the understanding of our characters and the dynamic of these two people.
It would’ve been a completely different film if you had a masculine presence.
Completely, it would’ve been a scarier one and it’s still a little scary and dark but it did change the story so much. What was important to us is that we didn’t want it to be about, “men and women being different” or “the dynamic of how men and women can’t date and how they figure each other out.” We just wanted to tell the story about two people who have a hard time with being themselves around each other and who desperately want to show themselves to each other, but sometimes it’s impossible, to be honest with yourself and somebody else. Also, we didn’t have a penis on camera which I didn’t want around anyway.
Naima is in this part of her career where she still feels like she has to take a job, even if it’s not something that’s driving her. As an actress, how do you make sense of that?
When I was 18, I didn’t work for a year and I had been doing it all my life. For a second, I thought, “Is this what I’m going to do? Do I care about it? Am I good enough at it?” You have to kind of learn how to balance the responses you get versus what you actually want to do. It’s tricky as an actor because so much of it is about the audience and the way people respond to you. I’ve had every wave of what it means to be in this industry — good, bad, confusing, want to quit, and then feeling like I’m on top of the world. I feel like I’m at a good stage now where I’m making the work I want to make.
What’s the next script you want to write?
I hope it doesn’t take five years but I want to write more and direct soon. My biggest challenge was making “Duck Butter” and now that it’s out, I’m like, what’s next? I have two ideas, one that’s about my family and one that’s about clowns. Family clowns.
Screening at Tribeca 2019.
Yeah, next year I’ll be like “Remember family clowns!?”