MARMALADE: Check Out Our Exclusive Interview With Writer And Director Keir O'Donnell!

MARMALADE: Check Out Our Exclusive Interview With Writer And Director Keir O'Donnell!

Marmalade director Keir O'Donnell talks to us about his debut movie, detailing his approach to making the movie, sharing his inspirations, why he cast Camila Morrone as the title character, and more...

By JoshWilding - Feb 06, 2024 07:02 AM EST
Filed Under: Movies

Keir O'Donnell's directorial debut, Marmalade, follows recently incarcerated Baron (Joe Keery) who strikes up a friendship with cellmate Otis (Aldis Hodge), a man with a well-versed history of prison breaks.

As the pair hatch an escape plan together, Baron recalls the story of how he met Marmalade (Camila Morrone), the love of his life, and their "Bonnie and Clyde" style scheme to rob a bank in order to care for his sick mother and give the couple the life they’ve always dreamed of.

Many of you will know O'Donnell best for his acting work in movies and TV shows like Wedding Crashers, Lost, Dawn of the Planet of the Ages, Fargo, Legion, and Ambulance. However, Marmalade marks his first time stepping behind the camera to write and direct and the result is an early contender for "movie of the year."

We caught up with the actor and filmmaker last week to discuss the project, learning how he approached his first movie as a director, the way his acting experiences informed what he brought to the table, and the decision to cast Camila Morrone as the title character for what proves to be a scene-stealing performance. 

O'Donnell also opens up on his approach to creating such a visually distinct world and weighs in on possibly reteaming with Noah Hawley for his upcoming Alien TV series. Finally, we get to hear from him on his next project (which is already being written).

Check out the full interview in the player below.

I had such a good time with this movie. I’m curious, as this is your directorial debut, what it was about this story that made you want to step behind the camera to tell it?

Quite honestly, it all started…you know, I’ve been an actor for 20 plus years now and, all this time, people have asked me, ‘If you could play any character, who would you play?’ I could never come up with an answer for that. It started the wheels of imagination where I’d think, ‘This could be a fun character.’ That’s how the world started and I started chipping away at this script with no intention to direct it. The more I created this world, I really fell in love with it all and realised I wouldn’t be able to pass it on to anyone else. That’s really how it all came to be. 

Something I really appreciated about the film is having that unreliable storyteller in Baron and the awesome transitions where we go from a sex scene to seeing Aldis Hodge sitting on a prison toilet - 


- so did that originate in the script or was it something you found in the edit?

All of that was in the script. I knew, doing my directorial debut, it would be all about preparation. I knew exactly what I wanted. Of course, things shift and change depending on locations, casting, and everything else, but I was pretty…I spent years crafting exactly how I wanted it to go. They always say, ‘Good artists copy and great artists steal,’ and it’s really my love letter to the films I grew up watching and loving in the late 80s and 90s. It’s a thin line between homage and ripping people off [Laughs] but that is what it is. It’s my aesthetic and the things that I’m drawn to. It’s a wild, poppy, whimsical world with these really colourful characters, Following this black comedy genre and a fable I wanted to weave together.

This is a very ambitious movie but it must have been fun to get into those smaller scenes in the prison cell between Joe and Aldis’ characters?

It was fantastic. When we started, we had very little time. We shot the entire film in 19 days if you can believe it so that required a hell of a lot of planning. We had 40-plus locations and were scratching our heads halfway through going, ‘Who wrote this thing?’ Whoops. I knew if we could pull it off, it would make the film feel bigger and wider than the means we had. We started the whole film and the first half of the shoot was just Joe and Camila doing all the Baron and Marmalade stuff. In the second half of the shoot, it was Baron and Otis with Joe and Aldis. It was really nice to get to that point where we were in one location in the prison and were able to have some nice back-and-forth dialogue as opposed to bouncing around a tonne of different locations.

You mention Camila there and Marmalade is such a great character. She’s fun, a little bit crazy and dark so what was the challenge of casting a character it seemed, to me, that you poured a lot into?

Yes, certainly. It’s a hell of a role for someone to pull off and, boy, does she really add to it. By design, it was, ‘Can we play with the trope of this manic pixie dream girl with an edge to her?’ It’s designed in a certain way to be this red herring and she has to carry the film and draw the audience’s attention. Part of that was looking for someone who could hold that charisma on screen. I was slightly familiar with Camila’s work and had seen a movie she’d done called Mickey and the Bear which she was fantastic in. She came in, we worked together a little bit, and immediately it was a no-brainer. She has this electric, magnetic, dangerous edge to her and was able to give that in her performance. Like you said, it’s a little bit unhinged, it’s a little charismatic, scary, and warm. We had to constantly tow that line and it was to decide when to amp that up or not.

As an actor, you’ve worked with directors like Michael Bay, Marc Webb, Matt Reeves, and Clint Eastwood, so do you feel all these years have been you learning from them to bring you to a point where you could make Marmalade?

Absolutely. No question. Like I said, I had no great designs to direct. It was always in the back of my mind as I think it is for any actor or anyone who has been on a lot of sets in their lives. When it came time, it was me taking all these pieces of information I’d learned from those masters. So much of it is surrounding yourself with an incredible team and being open to communication and collaboration. That is what it is. I’ve seen how directors interact with actors. Not just me but other actors on set. That was monumental when it came to doing this. I had the knowledge that different actors have different processes and languages that they speak so you need to go with the flow and pick up on those things. That was instrumental, for sure.

This film has such a big personality with the unique structure and colour as well and, you see a lot of actors who direct and it’s maybe nothing special. With this, it felt like someone who had directed a lot of movies - 

Oh wow, thanks man.

- so when it came to the planning you mentioned, were these all ideas you knew you wanted to touch on because they’d been percolating away for so long?

Yeah, I did. What was really fascinating when writing it was you quickly discover, ‘Oh, I’m the head of every department as I write.’ You have to create the costumes in your mind, the lighting, the casting, and the locations. The more and more you hone in on those things and become clear on them, when it’s time to go, it’s just about communicating that and seeing if they line up as best as possible. I had put together this lookbook that went with the script and I’m proud to say if you look back at it now, even though it was created years ago, it’s pretty identical to how the film looks now. I guess we set out to create a stylised, fun film and I think we achieved it.

100%. You mentioned the 80s and 90s influence and there are some great gun and car chase sequences reminiscent of those. What was it like cutting your teeth on that side of things? 

Of course, we had limitations because of our budget and the amount of days we had to shoot. We had some bigger sequences at one point and then it was a case of asking, ‘How do we tell the same story but pare those things down?’ A lot of that stuff is being quite inventive either on the day or in the edit to make things seem more action-y than they are when you really don’t have the time or money. That’s really it. The films I saw growing up, especially in the 90s, these bright, poppy movies where style meets substance like True Romance and The Usual Suspects. In the late 80s, it was the great Coen Brothers movies and Raising Arizona. It was trying to meld those together to create my own rhythm. 

Someone else you worked with, Noah Hawley, you did some great shows with like Legion and Fargo but now he’s working on an Alien series so are you angling for a role?

You never know, you never know. He’s been such a loyal great guy forever. You talk about learning from people I worked with, I remember the scripts on Fargo were so fascinating to read because I realised very quickly you couldn’t grab one line and give it to another character. I really took that to heart while I was writing Marmalade. I knew these characters had to have really distinct voices.

Do you have any specific ambitions about what you’d like to direct next? Are you thinking about the blockbusters or more stories like this?

Of course, right, there’s something very enticing about doing something with a much bigger budget, but there’s also something enticing about limitations. It makes everybody on set think outside of the box. We don’t have a giant crane to shoot the shot, so how are we going to do it? Well, climbing up a telephone pole, you can get the same effect! There’s something about that I’ve always loved about filmmaking. It’s putting yourself into a box and trying to figure out how to get out. We’ll see where it goes. I’m writing something else right now and really enjoying it. I’d love to jump back into the director’s chair soon. 

Marmalade arrives in theaters and on demand starting February 9.

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