NEW YORK – Perhaps Andy Warhol’s famous saying holds true that “one’s company, two’s a crowd, and three’s a party.”
At least, if you ask Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy the stars of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, in theaters on Friday, and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her, opening Oct. 10.
Them tells the tale of the couple, and the fallout from their breakup, while Him focuses on the story of Conor and Her focuses on the same story but told from the perspective of his wife, Eleanor.
It’s the combined version of the first two films, Him and Her, each of them focusing on the demise of a relationship from the point of view of a grieving husband and a suicidal wife. They gambol, flirt, frolic, and then, appear to self-destruct in very disparate ways. The horrifying cause is revealed midway through the film, in a scene that’s breathtaking in its candor and simplicity.
“So many people were afraid to release a film like this. The easy route would have been to cut the film. The purity of what the filmmaker made is there, in its entirely. That’s a huge deal,” says Chastain, who’s a longtime friend of writer/director Ned Benson.
Benson says that above all else, he feels “lucky. I think as a first-time filmmaker to get all of these versions of the film come out, it’s pretty special. As a first-timer, it doesn’t get any better. Each of the two versions have their own rhythm. With the third film, even though it’s from the same material, the same footage, you have to find a completely new rhythm. It’s a heartbreak, cutting out scenes that you want. The Them version focuses on the couple. Him and Her have these digressions into subplots and other characters and the familial and friendship aspects.”
When Chastain, who has been involved with the project from its inception and produced it, heard that there would be a merged movie, she was “adamantly against it in the beginning.”
“I didn’t know if something was being pressured that wasn’t what the filmmaker wanted,” says Chastain. “That sometimes happens. I wanted to make sure he felt confident that the vision he wrote would get to the screen. I was assured that there’s Them and it would work as a platform.”
As for McAvoy, he turned down the role of Conor the first time he was offered it, because, as a new dad, the subject was too raw and too close. But the script remained in his inbox. After finally saying yes, he quips that he was unaware he was signing on for two films – much less, the trio it would ultimately become.
“I remember my agent or manager saying something about two movies and me thinking it was just a weird thing and not hearing it. I got there on the first day of rehearsal. I got a hard copy of the script and it was really thick and I remember thinking, it must be that they’re not using both sides of the paper. And then I (expletive) myself. How could I have missed that?” he jokes.
(McAvoy) in Him, his wife Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and finally, in a merged story opening Friday called Them.
Shooting the multiple storylines, and dealing with a subject so unfathomable, didn’t weigh heavily on McAvoy. He is, after all, someone who announces that there’s a suspicious stink of curry in the air — and proudly watches the Fox reality dating series I Wanna Marry Harry, the arc of which he recounts in impressive detail.
“We had a couple of stressful days. Generally it was a big laugh. I found that over the last couple of years, I’ve played some of the most mentally ill and harrowed and upset people and damaged people – Conor is suffering major grief – and weirdly in all those cases I’ve had more fun than ever before. The darker the character, the more fun you have to have,” he says.
As for Chastain, she says the Scottish actor taught her that it’s perfectly fine, even normal, to find joy and lightness in your work.
“Working with James was a good lesson for me. Sometimes I make my work too precious. I always have this feeling that I have to give everything to it, like there’s torture in the work. There’s something about being free and light and easy, even when you’re dealing with the most difficult of situations. It’s not forced. I learned that from him. That’s a big deal for me. I’m a worrywart worker,” she says.