Benny Safdie’s obsession with realism and actuality TV are core to ‘The Curse’


A man in a dark shirt, with dark curly hair, rests his chin on his hand and smiles slightly

It has been a giant yr for actor-director-producer Benny Safdie, who starred in “Oppenheimer” and “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and co-created and stars in Showtime collection “The Curse.”

(Evelyn Freja / For The Occasions)

When Benny Safdie started doing stand-up whereas in highschool in New York Metropolis’s Higher West Facet, he created a personality named Zach Mulden.

Zach’s shtick wasn’t simply that he bombed. It was that this character carried out so poorly that, as his maker describes it, “His complete level of existence was to exit onstage and bomb.

“Bomb not in a approach that was simply unhealthy jokes, however bomb in a approach that was 100% plausible to the viewers that this man had no concept that he wasn’t humorous,” Safdie remembers in a current Zoom dialog. “I’d go in wearing that mind-set, be the man by way of and thru and discuss to folks [as him]. That was a part of the factor.”

Individuals like to make use of the time period “Kafkaesque” to clarify darkish and troublesome characters and conditions. Safdie’s strategy is extra Kaufman-esque. Just like the late comic Andy Kaufman, who’s one in every of Safdie’s idols, he thrives on making folks uncomfortable.

“Once you really feel uncomfortable, it’s virtually such as you’re feeling any individual else’s feelings,” Safdie explains.

Benny Safdie stands on a wide carved railing outside a townhouse.

Benny Safdie in New York Metropolis.

(Evelyn Freja / For The Occasions)

He says that with a number of media, “The work is doing a number of issues to come back to you [with] as minimal effort in your half as attainable. … I feel that it will be important so that you can form of be pulled off of your seat to wherever that you must go. It is advisable see folks’s awkward silences; that you must see folks really feel uncomfortable. However along with that, that you must perceive why they’re feeling that approach. So that you must have seen the context that acquired [them] to that place.”

This must let the uncomfortableness fester and relish the minutia has lengthy been a part of Safdie’s profession ethos. “I’m very obsessive about realism and what that does to folks once they watch it, or expertise it,” he says.

Rising to notoriety by way of the indie movie world together with his brother and filmmaking companion, Josh, the Safdie brothers — as they’re colloquially identified — created tasks just like the Robert Pattinson-led household crime drama “Good Time” and “Uncut Gems,” a essential darling that solid Adam Sandler as an indebted playing addict working in New York Metropolis’s jewellery district. (It additionally gave actress-model Julia Fox her breakout function because the paramour of Sandler’s character, Howard.) And Safdie additionally made scene-stealing meals out of some appearing roles: Along with starring reverse Pattinson in “Good Time,” he’s identified for portraying a younger Joel Wachs, the long-serving L.A. Metropolis Council member and mayoral candidate, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza.”

A man in a brown suit stands outdoors next to a woman holding a microphone toward him.

Benny Safdie as Joel Wachs, left, and Alana Haim as Alana Kane in “Licorice Pizza.”

(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Footage)

However when you’re going to pinpoint precisely when Safdie’s identify went mainstream, it most likely can be 2023.

Himself broad-shouldered with full eyebrows and a pile of thick, darkish hair, he performed the lumbering turncoat/comedian aid Edward Teller in writer-director Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” and the very best dad a child may hope for in writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s adaptation of the Judy Blume novel “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” — a narrative that teaches acceptance of others’ non secular ideologies as a lot because it does of menstruation and puberty. A couple of days after this interview, it was introduced that Safdie would direct Dwayne Johnson in a biopic about Mark Kerr, the MMA fighter additionally identified for his dependancy to painkillers.

On tv, Safdie and his brother had been govt producers of the HBO documentary collection “Telemarketers,” which was directed by Sam Lipman-Stern and Adam Bhala Lough. Utilizing archival footage that Lipman-Stern shot of himself and his former co-worker Patrick J. Pespas, the miniseries exposes a telemarketing scheme in such a profound approach that it rises by way of a number of federal companies and the halls of Congress.

And he additionally partnered with “The Rehearsal’s” Nathan Fielder — one other expertise whose model is uncomfortable — to create the Showtime collection “The Curse.” Starring Fielder and Emma Stone as Asher and Whitney, a pair making an attempt to make an eco-friendly HGTV present, and Safdie as Dougie, their director and Asher’s childhood frenemy, “The Curse” is a cringey examination of how some good intentions can have excessive negative effects. (In his assessment, Occasions TV critic Robert Lloyd famous that “The Curse,” which is presently airing weekly, is “not a comedy and doesn’t appear to wish to be. But lots of the incidents may, with a number of changes, launch an episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’”)

“I don’t suppose we consider issues when it comes to ‘awkward’ or ‘excessive,’” Fielder tells The Occasions through e mail. “There simply needs to be a core honesty to every second. I really feel a number of the discomfort is coming from watching characters that care an excessive amount of. How trustworthy that caring is to the characters is up for debate. However there’s a palpable and actual desperation to be higher, in some kind, however with out the trail of learn how to get it carried out.”

A man stands behind a video camera next to a man holding audiovisual equpiment.

Benny Safdie, proper, performs Dougie in Showtime’s “The Curse,” which he created and wrote with Nathan Fielder.

(Richard Foreman Jr. / A24 / Paramount+ With Showtime)

He provides, “When the execution fails, these painful fissures find yourself forming interpersonally between folks. These moments got here out of the writing, and because the characters get extra determined, they take larger swings. I see it on a regular basis in actual life. And it felt like wealthy territory for the present.”

The impetus for “The Curse” was a real-life occasion — just like what occurs to his character, somebody informed Fielder he’d been hexed when he’d refused them charity and he then felt the necessity to rectify the state of affairs — and Safdie’s personal obsession with home-flipping packages, particularly those that don’t acknowledge their culpability in gentrification. He remembers watching a compilation of those exhibits on a airplane experience to Los Angeles. One had the slogan “Should you don’t like your neighborhood, change it.”

“Actuality TV, it’s all the time dismissed as this type of non-nothing medium, however a number of my inspiration comes from that form of stuff,” Safdie says. He name-checks packages like “Choose Judy’’ and “Kitchen Nightmares” earlier than persevering with, “You’ve gotten these characters who’re in a framework. However as a result of it’s so completely manicured, it has a system.”

He and Fielder additionally talked about inverted detective tales just like the traditional Peter Falk collection “Columbo,” packages that inform you what occurs originally so that you’re not a lot guessing who dedicated the crime as studying why they did it.

“It turns into a examine of human emotion: How does that individual look responsible? How does that individual lie?” Safdie says. “These are all actually fascinating issues as a result of, if we give it some thought, if you see any individual mendacity — and you recognize they’re mendacity — you recognize that individual higher than you ever have.”

Benny Safdie sits with crossed leg, his foot resting on his knee.

“Actuality TV, it’s all the time dismissed as this type of non-nothing medium, however a number of my inspiration comes from that form of stuff,” Safdie says.

(Evelyn Freja / For The Occasions)

He applies this logic to the guilt of lineage that Stone’s Whitney experiences in “The Curse.” She desperately desires to distance herself from her rich mother and father (performed by Corbin Bernsen and Constance Shulman). However she additionally makes use of that privilege to make her really feel superior to them, shopping for mates costly issues they didn’t actually need or personally paying shoplifters’ tabs once they steal from her retailer as an alternative of urgent prices.

“Once you take a look at any individual they usually’re doing the appropriate factor, that needs to be sufficient for you as a result of, hey, the top result’s that they’re [helping],” Safdie says. “However if you go additional, as a human being ought to, you see potential, and also you see motive and also you see motive.”

It was crucial to Safdie that “The Curse” use jazz legend Alice Coltrane’s hypnotic and hovering meditation music as an overlay to the making of Whitney and Asher’s fictional present and different pictures within the very actual filming location of Española, N.M. Safdie says he even wrote a letter to Coltrane’s son, jazz saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, and the property’s lawyer, telling them, “When her songs are available, within the present, it’s not judging what’s occurring. However it virtually exists like an emotional closed-captioning.”

“The music is there to not even make clear something, however it’s placing you in a way of thinking to possibly see a path,” Safdie says. “I feel that’s what’s so vital about her music, specifically, as a result of it does really feel like she had entry to one thing that I’ll by no means have entry to. And I’m in awe of that. She was capable of not solely verbalize it however make such lovely music with the organ and the harp.”

Safdie, who says he virtually turned a physicist, compares Coltrane’s music to string concept, noting, “There’s all these vibrations that exist after which they kind larger issues.”

Some audiences have questioned if “The Curse” is a dialog on Jewish mysticism, as each Fielder’s and Safdie’s characters have (like them) Jewish heritage and Stone’s character is a Jewish convert. It additionally was promoted with the premise described as “how an alleged curse disturbs the connection of a newly married couple as they attempt to conceive a baby whereas co-starring on their problematic new HGTV present, ‘Flipanthropy.’”

Safdie says the logline wasn’t his and Fielder’s thought, however “Judaism is a giant a part of the present,” he concedes.

“Judaism, what I like about it’s, there’s a number of ideas inside it that aren’t essentially non secular,” he says, giving the instance of breaking a glass at a marriage. The custom has totally different interpretations, however he says he was taught that “on the happiest second in your life, we’re going to break a glass to remind you the way fragile that second is, and that there’s disappointment and principally that every part may crumble.”

He additionally thinks there might need been one thing kismet about filming on this space of New Mexico, the place locals like Edward Martinez readily provided their very own companies and houses as areas (Martinez additionally ended up with a small half on the present, enjoying contractor Freckle). It additionally meant that the creators may use their platform to debate precise circumstances skilled by Native folks, particularly those that stay in a pueblo close to Española, an irony on condition that it is a purpose Stone’s tone-deaf do-gooder desires for her renovation present.

“As soon as we settled on Española, we knew we had been going to dive head-on into a number of issues that will be problematic to speak about,” Safdie says. “Although we picked it, we felt pressured. When you’re there, you actually have to know it. We needed to inform essentially the most practical portrayal of the city for them.”

“The Curse,” in addition to “Oppenheimer,” which additionally was largely filmed in New Mexico, meant Safdie needed to problem himself artistically too. Most of his tasks till now closely relied on New York Metropolis’s distinctive realism. Not solely did he have to regulate to a extra laid-back tempo on the earth past the Hudson River — a day of working errands earlier than heading to set for “The Curse” was derailed as a result of the place that made the egg sandwich he favored was too swamped to do takeout orders — he says, “There was one thing actually superior about having the ability to discover a brand new place and a brand new panorama. There’s browns and there’s all these new colours there.”

And whereas Safdie does acknowledge that his tasks from this yr include some form of social or political message, it isn’t essentially his intent to create culturally aware content material.

“As you make the mission, you’re simply doing it,” he says. “When it’s carried out is when you possibly can form of sit again and perceive the place a number of these items got here from.”

With “Telemarketers” particularly, he says, “I favored the message that these guys tried to face as much as energy.”

“I’m so pleased with the place that ended up with that present as a result of it actually does converse to this concept that you might have taken that very same footage and minimize collectively some form of bizarre Christopher Visitor-style factor — and I like Christopher Visitor. However that wouldn’t be proper for this, as a result of I don’t wish to make enjoyable of anyone,” Safdie provides. “Loads of the time, I’m watching an edit and I’ll be like, ‘OK, let’s not put that in there’ as a result of it’s gonna harm folks’s skill to attach they usually’ll be capable to write off the character too simply.”

He’s additionally impressed by the early work of British writer-director Mike Leigh, noting that in these movies, “When any individual leaves the room, what occurs?

Benny Safdie stands on a stairway and leans against the railing.

Benny Safdie was an govt producer on the HBO docuseries “Telemarketers”: “I favored the message that these guys tried to face as much as energy.”

(Evelyn Freja / For The Occasions)

“It’s simply finding out human habits,” he says. “ people like that, inevitably, you’re going to come back into the ethical query. As a result of that’s what you do daily, proper? You’re continually making these minor judgments of no matter it’s.”

The irony could also be that Safdie says all of this whereas trying extraordinarily comfy himself. He’s carrying a big white sweatshirt that his spouse, Ava, gave him. It has an image selling the Tremendous Struggle, a 1987 boxing match between Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard.

An avowed boxing fan, Safdie says, “There’s one thing about that camaraderie that I discover endlessly inspiring; you could get punched within the face and say thanks to the opposite individual on the finish of the day.”

However this battle is especially noteworthy, he says.

“Marvin Hagler, when he acquired the draw on this battle, he stop, as a result of he realized, ‘I gained that battle. I do know I gained that battle.’ And he was so upset that they didn’t give it to him, he simply stopped boxing,” Safdie explains, including, “He knew he was comfy sufficient to make that call, and be genuine to himself, and transfer on.”


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