It’s not perfect and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Your joy doesn’t have to be perfect because it can still be transcendent.
In her accomplished feature-length debut, Sabrina Doyle keys into something so coveted and so universally profound as to seem illusory and unattainable, like a mirage, in those most unforgiving chapters of our lives. On her canvas also a lyrical and poetic manifestation, what she telegraphs has everything to do with hope, making up for lost time, a metamorphosis, and ambitions going up in smoke only to get reignited. Second chances. Third, fourth, and fifth ones in which to start over.
The story of Lorelei rests heavily on the broad, encumbered shoulders of Wayland (Pablo Schreiber), a thirtysomething man newly released from prison following a fifteen-year stretch for armed robbery. Attempting to readjust on the outside in small town Oregon and just a week into his new life at a halfway house, the ex-con unexpectedly finds his way back into the life of his high school flame, Dolores (Jena Malone), and they quickly pick up where they left off. Before long, Wayland has moved in with Dolores, whose circumstances have drastically changed in the intervening years. Once a star athlete, her Olympic dreams were dashed by an unplanned pregnancy soon after Wayland’s conviction. Now a single, unwed mother to three children—Dodger (Chancellor Perry), Periwinkle (Amelia Borgerding) and Denim (Parker Pascoe-Sheppard), all curiously named after different shades of blue—Wayland becomes a reluctant father figure to them. To make ends meet, Wayland sells his blood and secures a job at a construction site. Meanwhile, Dolores is holding down a part-time job as a maid at a nearby motel. But as financial pressures mount between them, Wayland is being drawn back to his old unsavory ways. As for Dolores, as the kids remain resentful of their new arrangement, she yearns for pre-motherhood, reliving her dreams of moving to Los Angeles. As the life-bruised pair go on living like this within the constricts of their surroundings, they’re eventually cornered into making some hard decisions.
Schreiber and Malone— well-matched leads for two incredibly vivid portraits—are the lifeblood of Lorelei. Malone, for her part, is a live wire of an actress as she’s ever been, capable of conjuring a dazzling range of moods without hitting a false note. She’s nothing short of magnificent here.
Anthem sat down with Malone to deconstruct her latest role during this year’s Tribeca Festival.
Lorelei will hit select theaters and VOD on July 30.
I first want to champion you for this wonderful portrayal. You really made this movie sing. I appreciated her openness. She bears no prejudice. A striking example could be made of her healthy relationship with Denim Blue, her non-binary child. She doesn’t have to announce anything at all nor make a big thing of it. What did you make of that inherent goodness?
Well, I appreciate that you see her inherent goodness because she’s also wrapped up in a long stream of bad decision-making. [laughs] I think that some people have a certain light, no matter the state or quality of life that they have to survive through. They are able to maintain that somehow. I think that’s sort of the unsung hero in anyone’s life: the light that doesn’t go out.
It says so much about Dolores’ essence. Like you said, she can make all these poor decisions in life, as we all do, but she is sturdy where it really counts. She is resilient. I didn’t find her downtrodden or helpless at all, even though I think she’s greatly, greatly tested.
The film does test her a lot, and what it tests is the bias we have towards mothers. I think had Dolores been a man, this would’ve been a very familiar story, where you leave your kids with your wife or your partner and you go pursue your dreams and it’s no big fucking deal because that’s what men have done for so long. This flips the script on that and allows it to be a woman who’s not incredibly smart or well-adjusted or on top of her game. She’s just never really been able to pursue her joy, you know? I think a lot of parents have to go through this sort of alchemy of fire—of transformation. And if you didn’t really get to have much of a journey before you entered into parenthood, it’s very hard to reclaim that joy. It’s very hard to reclaim that space of purpose, identity, passion, and creativity. What I really admired about her is that, even though she makes really poor decisions—she leaves her kids with some guy that she hopes is a good person—she reclaims her space. That’s one of the biggest things that struck me when I watched the film. I admire the filmmakers for that. I admire the journey. I admire the story because it’s hard to make bad decisions as a parent and still see the through line like, “We’re gonna get somewhere.” Just being a parent myself, I know this even deeper now that I’m further on my journey. I shot this two and a half years ago. My son’s five now. He was two and a half at the time.
You just really have to thrive, you know? No matter what that looks like for you as a parent, that’s the best thing you can do for yourself. If you can just demonstrate thriving, that’s all your kids need to see. I think so many people are stuck in a space of just demonstrating survival that it doesn’t give them a lot of opportunities in which to demonstrate joy. I think that’s what Dolores constantly tries to do: demonstrate joy for her kids. It’s really brave, particularly when she’s without all of the normal tools. We’re always told, “First, you have to survive! Then you can start living your life.” But that doesn’t really stop Dolores, does it? That I really appreciate.
The film does radiate joy and hope, even though she’s having to contend with life’s cruel realities—so much of it. And about that gender issue, I saw you make a great point to Salon. You described Wayland’s depiction as a “de-commodification of masculinity” in a “story of the anti-masculine man.” He makes room for Dolores to dream. It frees her up to be more impulsive to meet her own needs. She quits her job. She leaves town. She tests the waters again in more ways than one. Why is this kind of dynamic still surprising to find in movies?
We can only go as far as society allows us, you know? And it doesn’t mean that those films were never made. It’s just that those films weren’t seen—nor were they celebrated. I think we’re finally in a time where we’re ready to start celebrating a different type of man. A thousand windows can open when that natural social phenomenon takes place, where we’re just ready to see something different. We’re craving it. I think more films will be made to meet us there. I also think there will be archivists looking back to find those films that were already made. We’re trying to find reclamation for a different type of masculinity. I’m sure they were always there! [laughs] It just wasn’t the social norm. It wasn’t where we were at as a society. We just weren’t ready to celebrate that. But I think we really are now. I think Pablo [Schreiber] gives a very fearless, vulnerable performance. In the beginning, you’re really made to think that this man is a man you’ve seen. He’s on a bike with the thing, with the booze, and the jail and all of the stuff! You realize that these are the shackles of where we’ve been. Now we’re allowing him to pursue something different: maybe fatherhood in a different way, a partnership in a different way. It’s about surrendering your dream so that someone else might thrive. I mean, all of those things are really, really important. The new modern narrative needs to emerge for men to be able to shift into their full power.
That was literally me watching Wayland walk out of prison, thinking I had him figured out.
I know, I know. You’re like, “I know where this is going!” [laughs]
I was wrong about him, and what a relief that was. Let’s talk about resentment, too, because there is so much time lost between them. Wayland got locked up, which is also when Dolores’ life spiraled. She missed out on a huge chunk of her coming-of-age story. It went against another expectation I had: I didn’t see any sort of resentment from the either of them. Is she resentful? Maybe it’s so obvious that it didn’t need to get addressed fully.
Yeah. The resentment that lives in the feminine is pretty deep, right? We’re really taught and demonstrated how to alchemize resentment to make it palatable for the rest of humanity. ‘Cause if we didn’t? Honey, it would be a whole different universe. I think Sabrina [Doyle] really navigated that line of how to show a woman alchemizes resentment to still be a cheerleader—to still want to believe in her man, even though she doesn’t see what she wants in him. He might not be making the choices that she wants, but she still has to be his cheerleader, not his criticizer. And I’m glad that it didn’t turn into this feisty thing of, “You shoulda, coulda, woulda!” [laughs] Because that’s built in! We can all go there, but it’s also very base. I appreciated that these characters, though they may not appear to be the most evolved, continually made choices that were pretty brave.
You and Pablo share executive producer credits on this. That made it feel extra personal.
Yeah, well, it was Sabrina’s first film so I think it just felt right to get us on board so that we could help in whichever way we could. We came in early before the rest of the cast came together. It felt important to just be there as a sort of mentor, to make sure that we were all aligned, and to make sure she was getting the support that was needed and we were going to make the film we all wanted to make. I mean, everything should be a passion project, right?
I bring that point up all the time!
[laughs] It’s awkward. It’s awkward if it’s not. Though, now, in my journey with parenthood, I feel much less punk-rock about it where I’m like, “I need to make money, too!” It’s a different element that I never really allowed myself to have in my 26 years of acting, where I’m more forgiving: “Well, you don’t have to love it. You can work. It doesn’t have to completely fulfill you.” But I don’t know… I still struggle with that. If you don’t love it, it’s just hard to make it right.
Sabrina is from the UK, isn’t she? I think she moved to America in the past decade or so?
Yes, I think that’s right.
I bring that up because there is an undeniable Americanness to this movie. I mean, Wayland is driving around an ice cream truck that has the American flag emblazoned on it. He’s chasing that American dream. I think when a filmmaker makes observations about another culture, they can get laser-focused about certain things that we maybe gloss over because we’re just so used to being around it. Is that something you experienced with Sabrina?
I always feel that. I feel like any time anyone gets to have a fresh perspective, they are always gonna see something different, you know? And it doesn’t mean that a coal miner can’t tell a coal miner’s story. But sometimes a coal miner needs an outside perspective just to find that third angle because it can’t just be from the inside. You do need to have fresh eyes on things—particularly in filmmaking, which is a very visual and a very subjective medium—so you don’t have preconceived ideas about things. And I think it’s sweet that these are the stories she wants to tell!
What did you find most striking about filming on location in Oregon?
I think the biggest thing for me was realizing what a great film community Oregon has. Every actor was amazing. The entire crew was amazing. It just felt nice to know that there are these little pockets of film communities that are so hungry to create and so rad and so on top of it, and it didn’t feel like we were operating so much outside of Hollywood or something, you know?
I understand you had taken a year and a half off prior to working on Lorelei. Do you think motherhood enriched your performance in a way that could only come from that?
Yeah, I don’t know… I mean, I have no idea because I didn’t do it any other way. There was just no other way for me to do it. As soon as I got pregnant, I just sort of stopped working altogether. But then friends kept bringing me back. Nic Refn asked me to do Too Old to Die Young and I was like, “Okay, it’s a week here, a week there. I guess I can make it work.” But this was the first time where it was a leading role again—a two-hander. I know it’s Pablo’s film, but I worked a lot, you know? It’s an independent film so I was kind of worried about that: how much time I would be spending away from my child. It was actually really hard. This was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had as an actor. It was really my first time being a mom, recently a single parent. I was working out how to be a co-parent, figuring out how to share this child while working on location. I was at the end of my breastfeeding journey. I had just gone through a very extreme breakup. I was not doing well emotionally. So it was all of these things! [laughs] I remember meeting with Sabrina like, “I don’t know if I can do this right now. This is a lot. I don’t know if I’ll be able to embody what you need me to embody.” Then she was like, “Honey, use all of it! Take all of that stuff! You’ll be able to do it!” I was like, “Yeah, I guess so.” But it was really hard. There’s actually something bittersweet about watching this film, because I had such a hard time. I just beat myself up a lot about being away from my son so much and working such long hours, just thinking about how to make it work being a working mom. It just felt like it was never gonna work out. Then, you know, you end up doing more stuff, my son gets more adjusted, and now he’s like the king of filmmaking, right? He wants to run the boom and wants to be on set. It seems so easy now. It’s a good reminder that everything can be really hard at the beginning, and I’ve been doing this for 26 years! You’d think it would all even out, but this was a really challenging time actually.
Boy, that’s a lot. Although, quite selfishly, I’m still glad that you went and made this.
You were in the end able to do it all. There’s a kind of parallel with the film’s ending. I think it’s important that Dolores reclaimed the things she wanted: leaving town and going to LA. It limns that precarious space between reality and fantasy so beautifully, too. She’s swimming again and she’s a mermaid, but in costume. She’s now free to make an informed decision.
Yeah, it’s very cinematic. It’s almost like, had this movie been made twenty years ago, she would have to have gone away to like cure cancer or to become an astronaut. It would have to be something really important—important enough to leave her kids. I liked that she just wanted to swim, you know? She just wanted this very small, beautiful thing. It was very smart what Sabrina chose to do. It’s a mermaid bar. It’s kind of divey. It’s not perfect and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Your joy doesn’t have to be perfect because it can still be transcendent. I really loved that. And of course, it’s a very cinematic thing to witness her becoming this mermaid. It’s cool to watch, too.
That’s not a real bar, is it?
It is! There’s one in Miami. There’s one in Sacramento and that’s the one we shot in.
I had a fifty percent chance of being right.
It’s okay. It seems fake. I didn’t know there was a mermaid bar in Sacramento and I grew up in Reno! I’m a Lake Tahoe girl! It’s a real thing!
Considering Dolores as a mermaid, the nymph of legends, has she lured Wayland to his death or is she his savior? Can it be both?
Maybe it’s the death of the masculine and the reclamation of the new masculine. There has to be death for a rebirth.
A metamorphosis. We don’t know what Dolores ultimately decides, do we? Does Dolores embrace the life she has or the one she thinks she ought to have? Can she have both?
I think it’s a little open-ended. You don’t really know where they’re gonna go from there. And no film ends, right? The story doesn’t end. You just choose to stop watching. The director shifts the gaze away and you move on with your life. I think she’s just choosing a moment, the tiniest bit of resolve or reclamation of joy, to allow the story to have a breath. ‘Cause who knows what happens after that? Do they move to LA? Do they do this or that? Are they still mad at each other? Are they gonna work it out? There are a thousand what ifs. But in that moment, it was worth it. Whatever it was, it was worth it.