Lily Collins teamed with director Charlie McDowell and actors Jason Segel and Jesse Plemons on the new Netflix film Windfalland, yes, one of those men is now her husband, but that’s not the way she saw him while on set last summer in Ojai.
“It’s really funny because I kept forgetting that we were together because he treats everyone equally and he’s such an actor’s director,” Collins told The Hollywood Reporter about McDowell last week at London West Hollywood, site of the film’s special screening. “The way in which he communicates was so easy that it felt as easy as it normally is. But I always saw him as my director. Obviously, going home at the end of the night to talk about the day is different.”
They likely had plenty to discuss about the tight-knit production, made in 2021 under strict COVID-19 protocols. In fact, they conceived of the story with the virus in mind as a way to keep locations to a minimum with a cast of only four (Collins, Segel and Plemons along with actor Omar Leyva). The story follows a couple (Collins and Plemons) who arrive at a vacation home for a last-minute getaway only to be surprised that a man (Segel) is already inside attempting to rob the place.
“It is a single location and that’s something Charlie has done in his work before,” Collins explained of McDowell, who previously directed the films, The One I Love and The Discovery, and TV shows On Becoming a God in Central Florida, Legion, Dear White People and the Segel-led Dispatches from Elsewhere. “He’s masterful at that. It takes a lot to make one location feel a million different ways. You start to feel stuck, claustrophobic and uncomfortable and it becomes a character in and of itself. We wanted to be creative.”
And they all had a chance. Not only did Collins, Plemons and Segel produce the pic with McDowell, Segel also developed the story with McDowell and close collaborators Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker. The four writers logged on to Zoom during darker days in the pandemic with creative juices flowing and nowhere to go. “Everything was shut down and we were trying to figure out, how do we stay creative? Where do we channel that creative energy?” McDowell recalled of the online meet-up. “Jason came up with an idea of shooting at one location to create a bubble and do it safely.”
They immediately started writing and six months later, they were in production, with one caveat. “We didn’t want it to be about the pandemic. We also felt like there was going to be a lot of pandemic movies being made so we’re like, ‘OK, let’s take the essence of it, but have it be about something else,’” McDowell explained. “You watch all the emotions of the characters — they’re laughing, they’re terrified, it’s scary, it’s funny, it’s all these things — and we felt that was very right now.”
Speaking of right now, at the moment THR caught up with both McDowell and Collins, they separately had a laugh over fielding questions about being a husband-and-wife creative team, as it’s still relatively early in their relationship. The pair, who were engaged while filming, have been married now six months. But work often has a way of revealing new layers and both were keen to share what they learned by watching the other.
“He’s weirdly calm under pressure and very solution-driven,” Collins said of her husband. “He knows exactly what he wants. He has a very clear vision. He can make decisions like that — super, super quick. If something changes because of unforeseen issues or whatnot, he’s very calm. He’s just about the end game; how do we get there and how do we tell the story in a way that makes sense, is honest and makes you feel comfortable.”
McDowell returned the favor: “When she did Mank, she left in the morning to go to set, always very sweet and bubbly. She’d come home after a long day, still sweet and bubbly. When I pictured the film in my mind, I thought she was doing something where she was that kind of version of herself. But when I saw it, I was so blown away. I got to experience that myself [on Windfall]. She is a chameleon. She’s so kind and respectful to everyone, and then she can play a scene where she does a dark turn. To experience that with her, and be really creative with her, was something totally new, but really, really special for us.”
Windfall is now streaming on Netflix.