Bruce McDonald and Maxwell McCabe-Lokos on The Husband

Trista DeVries of Toronto Film Scene interviews director Bruce McDonald and star Maxwell McCabe-Lokos.


The Husband is the latest film from prolific Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald. Paired with lead actor and co-writer Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, a film about a man jilted by his wife’s infidelity becomes not only a tensely black comedy, but a true cinematic gem.

Toronto Film Scene had the chance to sit down with McDonald and McCabe-Lokos to discuss this fascinating film.

My first question is for Maxwell. How did this script come about?

Maxwell: You kind of just pick a subject –

Bruce: You had sex with your teacher, right, in high school? Didn’t you? Grade, nine I think it was?

Maxwell: I heard this song by Van Halen and I was like I gotta make a movie about this. People ask that a lot, but you just kind of pick a subject and write about it. Is that always how it goes? It doesn’t have to be some divine inspiration. You think about the kind of movie you want to make…

Bruce: I always think of these guys in Billy Wilder days and they’re sitting in their writer’s rooms on the lot and they’re looking through the papers to look for a story ideas, and they go, ‘Oh, here’s…’

Maxwell: Yeah!

Bruce: And they pick it out of the newspaper. They kind of go, ‘Oh! this is a good one, a kid fell down a well.’ Okay, well let’s do that. And then they jump and they go anywhere from there, but it gives them some bones to go from.

Maxwell: In that way, when Kelly [Harms] (the co-writer), when we were working together on it years ago, we talked about Mary Kay Letourneau and let’s just show the other perspective. She had a husband obviously, so we don’t know what happened to him. It was one of those things, what’s in the atmosphere, what’s something that’s an interesting topic that can facilitate all of these other things that you want to tell or that you think would be entertaining, like somebody in a sticky situation.

I found it very interesting that there is a pervasive idea that hipsters are very “happy”. People who are between 25 and 35, work for start ups, don’t hold traditional jobs, are just very happy with their lives. But in this film Henry is not happy with these things that are supposed to make him ostensibly happy. How did that figure into the script?

Maxwell: He’s unhappy because of this. It was all set into motion by this thing. We don’t really know what he was like before, but we see one scene of him and his wife before in the mattress store at the beginning and they seem happy. So I think you can definitely attribute his misanthropy to the current state of affairs.

Bruce: There’s that modern thing that you’re not supposed to show you’re unhappiness if you’re a modern person. That’s a sign of, whatever, weakness or it’s a sign of dysfunction.

So the idea was always to look at not only infidelity, but also to inject a little bit of, I guess you could say pedophilia, into the mix?

Bruce: Yeah. I don’t think I would call her a pedophile. He’s mature. He’s not a kid, he’s like a teenager. My friend BJ could never figure out what the problem was. He was like, ‘They had love. They made love. In North America you guys are all uptight about it. It seems something to be celebrated. A young man makes love with an older woman, that’s very fantastic!’ You know. He loves it. He would always make me laugh and I would say, ‘BJ, you’ve just got a different view.’ ‘Yes! I have a view from the East. You see, you Westerners are uptight and you’re all messed up and this is the problem with the Western culture, is that it’s all uptight and stuff. You have to open up. Just let it go.’

Anyways, that’s another perspective. I mean it’s infidelity, but it’s this extra twist that makes it just weird and kind of even that much more humiliating, I think for our man Henry. Not only did she cheat on him, but she cheated on him with a very young man.

Maxwell: It’s really, you know, again with the facilitating an idea through plot, it’s a really good mechanism [show], if somebody’s feeling a little bit inadequate about their maturity level, or their masculinity in this example, then a good way to exacerbate that is by having to compare yourself with a much younger – considerably younger – person. I think a lot of people in their early 30s, there’s this late maturity. This process in the 21st Century there’s less responsibility maybe professionally and with a familial way at an older age. My parent’s generation had kids younger than the people that I know that are having kids now at. Henry was probably at this point where he’s starting a family and he’s kind of half in and half out.

Bruce: He’s almost still like that kid, in a way.

Maxwell: Yeah! He’s saddled with the responsibilities of an adult, a fully matured person, but maybe he didn’t get there as quickly as he should have. And so when this happens, he’s really got to compare his maturity and inadequacy with somebody who is a good example of younger. It’s a good age to be at, when you’re like thirtysomething and you’re balding and some of us don’t put on weight, but others do put on weight, however it shows. Losing my hair is perfect. I wouldn’t want Henry to be this, like, strapping example of maturity. He’s supposed to be a bit uncomfortable with his age.

So, Bruce, how did you get involved? What attracted you to the script?

Bruce: I think [the writers] had tried it once before to get it going and it wasn’t quite happening and so Max and I had worked together before and had a great time, so Max thought of me and they came by and I read it and I said, ‘I think this is great. And I love this project. I like it because it’s suspenseful, it’s cinematic. It’s a lot of watching and looking and moving through space and the premise is funny, but it’s very complex. I love the whole thing about the relationship between the husband and the wife, like how do you get over the bad patch in your marriage. There were some nice universal themes like that, that I thought ‘Wow, this is really great’. There’s just a kind of cheekiness to this idea of like toying in this kind of land of you’re not supposed to go there too much. I just thought it was a smart idea. A clear idea. It was very clear and very well constructed. It was just a very nicely built premise, with a lot of room to play. Some really great parts, you know, the friend played by August Diehl Rusty, and Alyssa [Andreas]’s character. It’s also fun to work with people that you like working with. Reading it knowing that Maxwell was going to be the guy really helped me for that first read. You could see the scene. You could see the tone, you could feel the tone right away. You could feel the seriousness, you could feel the humour. It was a delight. It was like, ‘yes!’ Then we pulled in Dan Bekerman and [Cherilyn Hawrysh] who are our producers, and it was really up to them, they were really the ones that really pulled it together to make it shootable. With the key team in place then it was their efforts to raise, you know, not a lot of money, but enough to do what we needed to do and get some very talented people together and go shoot a movie.

That sounds ideal, doesn’t it?

Bruce: It was one of those films, too, it was a very ideal kind of shoot. It was very, very pleasurable. There was a great spirit among the people making it and a great understanding and a great clarity and it was one of the more fun things I’ve ever worked on.

Your films have a lot of consistency, but are never about the same thing. Even Hard Core Logo 2 wasn’t about what Hard Core Logo was about, but this is your first film ostensibly about family.

Maxwell: [laughs] I knew you were going to say that!

Bruce: It’s true!

Tell me about how that evolved for you in the process of making the film. Was this the right time for you to do a family movie?

Bruce: I don’t really plan. I wish I did, maybe, plan things a bit better, but you just kinda… it was time to make this. It seemed to kind of arrive at the right time. If Dan and Cher didn’t get the money, I probably wouldn’t make it. You know, interesting time, I have a daughter and I’m married and I kind of have a family. But I have wondered on occasion, it’s funny, when I think of Norman Jewison and a lot of his films are about families, or many, many of them. It’s a powerful mechanism. And it was like, “Hmm, I haven’t really made a movie about a family.”

Maxwell: Did you cross the threshold now?

Bruce: Maybe that’s why it was so fun making it. I don’t know. I’m not really opposed to it, I just haven’t really come around to that. Maybe it’s just that eternal teenaged thing with always trying to get away from your suburban family upbringing, so you’re like, ‘Okay, I gotta join a rock band, I’m gonna go to the jungle and eat peyote,’ or whatever it is to be outside of that framework and then you realize, oh, no, there’s as much creativity and there’s as much –

Maxwell: You can have as much dysfunction…

Bruce: [nods] You can have as much dysfunction inside a family as outside, so yeah, but it’s an interesting observation that whole thing of about families. It’s true. I’ve never really made a film about family. I suppose this was a fun family to begin with. [laughs]

Tell me a little about the casting process. How did you choose your actors, and what qualities were you looking for in everybody?

Bruce: Well, Maxwell and I spent a long time auditioning people, as you do. I think, you know, when we talked about the character of Alyssa we had a few people in mind. The one quality that came up again and again was we wanted her to have this kind of innocence about her, rather than being a sort of predatory vixen. Just be more, kind of innocent.

Maxwell: You had to believe that she would do that, but then still kind of forgive her.

Bruce: Yeah!

Maxwell: What was your thing, you could tell whether or not she gets a pass or not, basically. That was kind of our short hand.

Bruce: Yeah. Because the audience is going to judge her, no matter what is said in the film. They’re going to go, ‘She should stay in jail.’

Maxwell: Pretend you’re the parole board, right?

Bruce: So we wanted an audience to be able to parole her and forgive her. So Sarah kind of passed that test.

Maxwell: She won’t re-offend.

Bruce: Other than my friend BJ, who’s the East Indian kind of sensual man who’s ready to fuck anyone any time, North Americans are a little bit more prudish about these issues, and so it’s going to be an issue and we thought Sarah could charm us. She could charm an audience, and we’re happy that she gets out of jail. She’s done her time and she looks a little sheepish about her actions and that sort of thing.

We saw a few people, and there were a few actresses who were keen to play this part, because it’s just such an interesting character. And Sarah won our hearts and she was terrific in her scenes. Maxwell knew and had a relationship with the great August Diehl, who plays his friend, and I just became a superfan of his from the first time I worked with him. He was just great. And it was nice because they had a history, I don’t know if you guys had ever worked together on a film, but they were friends, too. They hang out together and there was an instant kind of camaraderie and a brotherhood there, which didn’t have to be created. There was a nice feeling between the two of them.

And then [Stephen] McHattie, I’ve just worked with many times and just love him. And he’s a family guy. It’s funny. I used to be terrified of Stephen McHattie. Now, you know, I visit him at his family farm and he’s got kids and he’s like a regular guy. Holds babies and stuff. Does father things, so, often he plays these scary, terrifying, freaky guys, but he’s –

Maxwell: He’s a pussycat.

Bruce: He’s a pussy. And then Dylan was somebody we found in auditions, and he plays Colin.

Maxwell: Those two, especially for Dylan and Sarah, they were like, a lot of great auditions, but there was something about both those parts that was just so specific that it wasn’t like it was either him or him. It was they got it, or they didn’t get it. Especially the Alyssa part, they have to believe she could have done that thing, so there has to be a naiveté to it, or whatever it is, she has to be a little bit lost. There are these subtleties that you can’t act, you can’t pretend. It’s in the presence –

Bruce: The physicality.

Maxwell: [nods] The physicality. Same with the Dylan character, you’ve got to believe that he’s still a kid, but that he could have done that. He’s not supposed to be some strapping lad with an eight inch cock swinging between his legs, he’s just a kid! That did this thing. Both of them are kind of innocent in their own way. He might have an eight inch cock swinging between his legs, we don’t know.

It’s true. We don’t know. It’s never discussed.

Maxwell: DVD extras.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Bruce: I guess the biggest challenge on my end was trying to, because it was more of a visual film, and it wasn’t relying too much on language and talking and working things out by dialogue. It was about trying to pull the inside of the character outside, in ways, whether it might be the tone of the performance at that part of the story. Or the music, what is the music like there, or the lighting or the framing there, or the energy of the… So it was this kind of mercurial, mysterious that we didn’t really [understand] until we got it in the editing room. It was a great learning process for me, in terms of how delicate a performance can be. You know, how small things are huge things. And it was a really great lesson for me. I think Max did a fantastic job in that and it was one of those things where it was just a delicate set of building blocks. There were a lot of options and it was finding that right sort of combination of the journey that he takes.

Maxwell: It was almost like formed in the edit. Is that more than you usually with different sort of assemblies?

Bruce: It was maybe more than usual. The editing process was a great learning curve. We would try, because there was enough play, we could move things around and change the structure of the journey. The time was fairly fluid. It wasn’t like this is a story over three days. This was kind of a season in hell for this Husband. There was kind of these little side trips and journeys and wonderings and musings alone so it was a bit of a kind of a movable feast in terms of structure. All that to say that the biggest challenge was taking the true performance that actors gave and just putting it in the right… have it navigate the rapids properly and have it move the right way. Build the roller coaster in the right way so it wasn’t too aggressive, it wasn’t too…

Maxwell: That makes a lot of sense to me because I know just from the editing process it could have gone another way. You guys had a really light touch with every little thing had such a huge ripple effect because of the tenuous nature of the story and the character. It was like, he can’t really get angry there because we’re going to lose them, and he’s gotta show, like, a wink of niceness here. It was really massaged.

Bruce: Yeah, because you want to keep it kind of mysterious. You don’t want to explain everything. You didn’t want to lose people either. You wanted to be able to follow the logic of the illogical journey of this man, and that was basically the challenge, I guess.