The heart wants what it wants, and so director Brett Haley leaped at the chance to bring the Oscar-winning 2004 film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” to Film Independent’s star-studded, live-read series for a March 4 event that will star Tessa Thompson and Adam Scott.
“For our generation this is our romance,” said Haley, the “Hearts Beat Loud” director and self-described “hopeless romantic” who counts “Eternal Sunshine,” written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, among his favorite films. “This film was so brutal, and yet so beautiful … and the premise is genius.”
Nominated for two Academy Awards, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” followed the tangled tale of Joel and Clementine, two strangers who discover that they were in a past romantic relationship that both had erased from their memories.
Kaufman took home the Oscar for original screenplay alongside story writers Gondry and Pierre Bismuth. Kate Winslet starred opposite Jim Carrey in the sci-fi romantic drama and was nominated for best actress. Critics and fans celebrated Gondry’s whimsical visual invention and score by composer Jon Brion.
Performing with Thompson and Scott in the live-read will be Kiersey Clemons, who starred in Haley’s 2018 indie “Hearts Beat Loud,” “Star Wars” alum Kelly Marie Tran and Bridget Regan of “Jane the Virgin,” with additional cast members to be announced.
Chatting excitedly from New York, Haley teased a musical element he’s hoping to work into the performance, as well as the revelation that this “Eternal Sunshine” will be a rendition most fans of the film haven’t seen: It will include the character of Naomi, Joel’s previous ex, portrayed by a pre-"Grey’s Anatomy” Ellen Pompeo but cut from the film.
Haley even managed to get on the phone with Kaufman himself, and plans to share some insights from their chat with the live-read audience.
Inaugurated in 2011 by filmmaker Jason Reitman, Film Independent’s popular one night only live-read series matches guest directors with actors to bring beloved screenplays to life. With no rehearsal, the storytelling magic unfolds onstage in the moment.
Dozens of classics from across generations and genres have been mounted, including “The Princess Bride,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Shampoo,” “Network” and “The Maltese Falcon.” Last June guest director Randall Park led an all-Asian American cast in a live-read of Nora Ephron’s “When Harry Met Sally … " and in October, James Ponsoldt guest directed Cameron Crowe’s “Singles.”
Part of the magic of a live-read event is the opportunity to revisit films with fresh eyes and ears. (1979’s “Breaking Away” will be staged Tuesday at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts by “The Climb” directors Michael Covino and Kyle Marvin.) Haley says it’s also a way to show how inclusive casting choices can bring new dimensions to great stories.
“We get to do it through a different lens, with a different cast, and bring people in,” said Haley, who will gender-flip at least one of the roles for his live-read. “Let’s mix it up. Let’s make it a little more 2020.”
Haley’s upcoming Feb. 28 Netflix romantic drama “All The Bright Places” shares a heart-aching DNA with “Eternal Sunshine” in many ways, he says. Adapted from the YA bestseller of the same name, it stars Elle Fanning and Justice Smith in the story of two alienated teens who find each other while wrestling with their own demons.
"['Eternal Sunshine’] was the first movie to really get the complexity of love and the complexity of how difficult it is, and not in a clichéd way,” said Haley. [‘All The Bright Places’] “has that doomed, tragic romance element that gets to the heart and to the soul of what it means to love, and what love really means. It’s not just this fluffy, sweet thing. It’s so much more than that. It’s so complex and layered and difficult. Love is difficult!”
For his next film “Sorta Like a Rockstar,” Haley cast “Moana” actress Auli’i Cravalho in her first leading live-action film role. Casting talent in roles they don’t usually get asked to play, whether for a film or a live-read, “comes down to privilege,” said Haley, who applied that principle to casting his “Eternal Sunshine” ensemble.
“I thought, let’s get some great people that maybe wouldn’t be offered this normally, or certainly weren’t in the original film,” he said. “Why not? It takes extra thought and effort, but I always think it’s worth it.”
Every department matters in the making of a film, he notes. “But the two things that matter the most are the script and the performances, and that’s what you get in a live-read,” said Haley, cheering the ways in which the series has gone steps beyond to re-imagine more diverse and inclusive cinematic visions.
“Randall Park directing an all Asian American ‘When Harry Met Sally … '? Yes please. A queer, all-women ‘Casablanca’? Who wouldn’t want to experience those screenplays, as written, through a different lens?” he said. “I think that’s what this opportunity opens up beyond just getting to hear something that we all love.”
Film Independent’s Live Read of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is 8 p.m., March 4, at the DGA Theater, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets go on sale Monday.