In Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, Arabella Bushnell stars as Carol, a shy woman who beings singing songs to people so she can express her true feelings for them. That may initially sound like a good idea, but when her songs are actually revealing the kinds of things that you would normally keep to yourself, trouble is likely to follow. When Carol sings a song called Asshole Dave to her boss, played by Brad Dryborough, the reaction she gets is unexpected. It reignites a passion for music in Dave, who convinces Carol to help him achieve his dreams. Going along for the ride, Carol really just wants to sort out her life, and it’s her honesty in song that will get her there. Toronto Film Scene had the chance to speak with Dryborough and Bushnell just before the film opens in Toronto on Friday, May 1, 2015, after a number of successful screenings at festivals across North America, including TIFF in 2014.
Songs She Wrote is a wonderfully funny film, and you can tell how so much of that comedy comes from its stars. Both Dryborough and Bushnell are hilarious to speak with, which helps out when it’s Dryborough who gets stuck with the oddly funny nickname of Asshole Dave in the film. A quick glance through his credits in film, television, and even voice work for the video game Dead Rising 2 shows that Dryborough may be used to having strange character names, the most obvious being Man On All Fours for The L Word. “I actually ended up not being on all fours.” Dryborough jokingly corrects. “I ended up being strapped to a giant wooden cross wearing a rubber thong and wrestling boots. So it’s Man On Cross actually.”
I think there is something very sexy about brutal honesty, but I don’t think we’re equipped to deal with it.
Obviously Dryborough is comfortable with all kinds of strange situations, and it’s something that Bushnell not only agrees with, but recognizes in her own performances. The two have worked together numerous times in the past, including some short films as well as the film The Cabin Movie. That film is about a group of people in various relationships getting together at a cabin for a weekend to revitalize their sexual relationships. Bushnell spends much of the film in her underwear, which she explained wasn’t as revealing as one may initially think. “I do have a background in costume design as well, so the stuff that I brought to the table for the costumes for The Cabin Movie, I knew that I would be super comfortable in.” Bushnell continues with a laugh. “Technically from my boobs down I’m completely covered, you just can’t tell. I’m wearing a bra, a corset, short shorts, stockings, knee socks, I’m really super comfortable, but it looks much more revealing than it really is, because I strategically show my assets and not necessarily much of anything else.”
While Bushnell may have had the luck to be covered, Dryborough didn’t have that option, as Bushnell explained. “I mean Brad gets full frontal naked. Brad is naked. It’s just not sexy naked.” Bushnell says with a laugh. “Brad’s nudity in that film is; it’s not that Brad is not an attractive man, it’s just that him and Ben Cotton [who plays Jason in the film] are actually having a physical altercation while Brad’s naked. So Brad actually gets kicked out of the party, legs flailing, everyone averting their eyes because it’s just not pretty stuff to look at.”
With work like that behind them, one would imagine that Bushnell and Dryborough would have no difficulty with the performing aspects of Songs She Wrote. Carol spends much of the film singing her quirky songs, while Dave is constantly carrying his guitar around with him, but according to the two actors, it was actually a little intimidating. Bushnell spoke a little about finding her voice for Carol. “With the singing for Songs She Wrote, it was quite a vulnerable thing because the singing that I would do in shows, I like to be more of a belter. I like to pretend I’m Judy Garland or somebody who just sings really loud, that kind of style for doing musical theatre. Trying to figure out Carol’s voice was a little interesting because it had to come from a completely different place and I think that Carol’s actual voice is more similar to what my real voice sounds like when singing that I don’t use. I would rather impersonate somebody else’s style because it’s less vulnerable, where as the voice that I used in Songs She Wrote is probably more authentic to what my real voice actually sounds like.”
That’s when you know you’ve got good close friends because you just have that connection where you feel like you don’t have to hide anything.
Dryborough may be okay with full frontal nudity, but being comfortable performing musically is a very different story. “Music wise, no.” says Dryborough of his level of comfort in performance. He continued. “My sort of guitar playing career has been alone in my living room. I do some theatre stuff with Kris [Elgstrand, director of Songs She Wrote] where I do some singing, so I’m used to not being a good singer, so that part of it I don’t do it with a lot of self-consciousness. It’s easier when you’re a character; it’s harder when it’s me up there singing. If I can be hiding behind some kind of character, it’s easy. You can separate it that way.”
Conversation about Songs She Wrote About People She Knows eventually turns to honesty. Carol is attempting to approach the problems in her life not only through song, but with a level of honesty that we don’t really see in life. The interesting outcome of this in the film is that she seems to draw the attention of all the men around her. Her honesty is something that becomes an attractive part of her personality. Perhaps this is because you would always know where you stand with a person like Carol, but can honesty actually be attractive? “I think there is something very sexy about brutal honesty, but I don’t think we’re equipped to deal with it.” Dryborough comments. Bushnell agrees, but is a little surprised to hear how Carol’s honesty makes her such an appealing character. “That might be the first time I was ever told that Carol’s honesty was attractive. I find that honesty is refreshing almost, that’s when you know you’ve got good close friends because you just have that connection where you feel like you don’t have to hide anything, and yeah, I can see that being attractive.”
I would rather impersonate somebody else’s style because it’s less vulnerable, where as the voice that I used in Songs She Wrote is probably more authentic to what my real voice actually sounds like.
As Bushnell talks about close friends not having to hide anything from each other, it makes you wonder about the level of honesty they have with Songs She Wrote director Kris Elgstrand. Bushnell, Dryborough, and Elgstrand have all worked together many times before, so it seems like the best place to finish the interview is by asking Dryborough if they’re able to share the kind of honesty we see in Songs She Wrote in real life when working on so many films together. “We collaborate very well together and because I’ve, for so long, been in some way part of the process, whether it’s reading scripts as he’s doing drafts or talking over new ideas, at that stage it’s really easy to be honest, because that’s what he’s looking for, and so then creatively that kind of honesty remains. It’s easy to have a discussion about something with him and ultimately if it’s his film I’ll say my piece and he can listen or not, but I’ll say my piece. Some of the other stuff we’ve made we were also producers on together, so that process was always good, so there’s always been a lot of talking about the projects at every level and discussing choices. It’s actually quite easy to be honest with Kris when we’re making stuff or after we’ve made it.”
If you missed out on Songs She Wrote About People She Knows when it screened at TIFF in 2014, you’ll finally have your chance to see this hilariously honest film when it opens on Friday, May 1, 2015 at Carlton Cinema. Check their website for more information. There will also be a soundtrack listening party and some karaoke after the opening night screening with director Kris Elgstrand and director of photography Amy Belling, so fans can get their own chance to sing a song about someone that they know.