“A slapstick Macbeth romantic comedy.” That’s how director Peter Wellington describes his latest film, Cottage Country, starring Malin Ackerman and Tyler Labine, a dark comedy about a couple trying to have a quiet week at the cottage and cover up a murder, opening Friday, October 18, 2013 in Toronto. “I wanted to collide the safety of a salty romantic comedy with something perverse and see what happens,” he says, “I’m influenced by Bugs Bunny for the violence and a little bit Sam Raimi for the violence and for the domestic squabbling stuff I was thinking Judd Apatow. So we just stacked this perversion and ultra-violence.”
Doesn’t sound much like what the words “cottage country” mean to most people – beautiful vistas, calm, quiet and relaxation, but that’s just what Wellington along with his producers Paul Gross and Frank Siracusa were counting on. Wellington got involved with the project the usual way: the film needed a director. Having worked with Gross on “Slings & Arrows” and Siracusa on some other episodic television, they had a script and thought he would be right for it. “I got a call from the producers,” he recalls, “and they said hey you want to take a look at this? I said what’s it about, they said we’re not telling you, just read it. I said fine. So I did and I called them back right away and I said I’d love to do this, when can we do this? And a few months later we were making it.”
Sounds pretty straightforward. “It sounds like it was easy,” he laughs. “It was the opposite. You need a combination of luck and a good script. And for a long time we had a good script and no luck, and then we had luck and then some bad luck and then some great luck and then here’s our cast.”
The script is strong and provides a good framework for the film, but what really makes the movie work is the very talented cast. Tyler Labine, who is best known for playing great characters on TV shows like “Reaper”, “Mad Love” and “Animal Practice”, or from the cult-classic Tucker and Dale vs Evil, plays Todd Chipowski in Cottage Country, a character that’s a little off-type for him. Wellington says that wasn’t a concern. “I believe that if you put interesting people in the frame, you get a good movie,” he remarks, “so even though Tyler hadn’t done this kind of movie before it was very clear how potent a performer he is. It was clear how good a sense of humor he has. Specifically, he’s just a magician. He can do things. So Tyler could quite effortlessly become this unbelievably middle of the road, overly polite, obsequious schlub who sort of reminded everybody of their friend’s golf dad and he made it instantly both truthful and hilarious and I wasn’t surprised at all.”
Wellington also managed to score a largely Canadian cast, but notes that was just serendipity. “We’re beholden to cast at least one Canadian in one of the two lead roles in order to get TeleFilm to sign off on their end of the financing, but not both,” he says, “so it wasn’t important to me at all to have both of them be Canadians, frankly, but that’s who just turned out to be the best people for the role. We had our necessary Canadian from a financing standpoint in Tyler Labine, but when it came to selling the movie with somebody with real wattage, who also loved the script and was right for the role, that’s Malin Ackerman. Her Canadian-ness was just a coincidence.”
With two solid leads who could carry out their roles and execute the comedy, the filmmakers just needed a stellar supporting cast to round things out – and they definitely got it. Wellington mentions Benjamin Ayres who plays Dov, a very sexual Jewish mystic in training, as well as Sabrina Grdevich who plays a small-town cop with ease and hilarity, and Ken Walsh who makes an appearance as Labine’s aggressive but loving father, but Wellington makes special mention of Daniel Petronijevic, who plays Salinger, the horribly self-entitled brother of Labine’s character (who also dies first, setting much of the story into motion). “It’s worth mentioning that guy’s performance,” Wellington says, “which I think is incendiary. It’s just the worst character I’ve ever seen. I just found him so watchable. I spent two months in the editing room and I’m still laughing at the same stupid things he said. And that’s just him! He just came in and took the role. He just blew us right out of our chairs in the audition room. I think the part was originally going to be for a hipster. Daniel isn’t any hipster, but we said, ‘Who cares?’ We’ll change it. He’s the guy. He’s Salinger. That’s the end of it.”
Salinger’s girlfriend Masha, who is known as “What?” to the rest of Salinger’s family, is played expertly by Lucy Punch, an incredibly funny British comedienne. The role is so genuine, unique and hilarious one can assume Punch brought a great deal to the role. “All the stuff that really pops and is magical about it is her,” Wellington notes. “The script that Jeremy Boxen wrote was fully fleshed out, and Masha was a perfectly legitimate character. She wasn’t that big of a character. She was atrocious. She was sexy. But she mumbled. Those are the three things that we knew about her. So what Lucy Punch was able to do was make her atrocious in a way you’d never seen before. Have an accent and mumble in a way you’ve never seen before. And, weirdly enough, be sexy in a way you hadn’t seen before. She’s just so playful, and sort of recklessly playful, and you don’t really know what she’s going to do.”
The cast made making the film easy, but not everything was. Wellington says that despite shooting in the idyllic location of Lake Sparrow near Gravenhurst, it was the weather that gave them the most trouble. “It rained for 23 days,” he says. “It wasn’t supposed to do that.” The show must proverbially go on, however, so they put up silks and turned on big lights and smiled through the pain. “Comedy doesn’t usually play so well in the sort of weird, misty Newfoundland weather we were getting.”
Despite this, and a fairly short shooting schedule, Wellington, his producers and his talented cast pulled out a great comedy where none of the behind the scenes pain shows – unless, of course, it’s supposed to.
Cottage Country opens on Friday, October 18, 2013.
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