18 Jun 2012
The Guest House stars Ruth Reynolds (left) and Madeline Merritt (right) © Peccadillo Pictures
Review and interview by Toni James
The Guest House is Peccadillo Picture’s latest summer love story; a steamy, yet tender romance featuring the lovely Madeline Merritt and gorgeous new-comer Ruth Reynolds.
Blue-eyed, bad girl Rachel (Reynolds), lives alone with her father in their swanky Los Angeles Guest House. Always in trouble, she sneaks home one morning having stayed out all night, only to run into her father. He instantly grounds Rachel for the weekend, before heading off on business and leaving her stranded on her own. Rachel’s mother has died some years earlier, an experience which has left her unusually mature and sensitive for her eighteen years. But, she is also lonely and when her Dad’s new employee, Amy (Merritt), turns up to stay at the guest-house, Rachel finds herself instantly drawn to this beautiful stranger. A wholesome college graduate, fresh to California from the cornfields of Iowa, Amy happily confesses her dreams and desires to Rachel over the course of the weekend. Rachel responds in kind, revealing her passion for music and the deep sorrow she feels over the death of her mother. The two women are polar opposites: Rachel is complex and rebellious, whilst Amy seems innocent and upright, yet they quickly find common ground in a surprisingly powerful, mutual attraction. Inevitably, over the course of the weekend the two women fall in love.
The Guest House is a stirring lesbian romance and an engaging representation of two women who, against all their own expectations, fall deeply in love. The film will appeal to hopeless romantics and strong performances from both Ruth Reynolds and Madeline Merritt, create an interaction and intimacy between the two central characters, which is both entertaining and convincing.
I asked Ruth Reynolds and Madeline Merritt about their shared experiences in The Guest House and how they felt about playing their first-ever lesbian roles.
What was it that drew you to the respective roles of Rachel and Amy?
Ruth: The beauty of a damaged soul. Rachel dealt with death, discovery, fight, love, heartache. Still through it all grew to find true happiness in life.
Madeline: What I loved about Amy as a character is that she is finally in a place in her life where she can follow her heart. In the past she has had to play certain roles to get what she wants, but through this unexpected love affair she is finally able to prioritize herself and open up to her own heart and who she is in the world. I love that she is intelligent, honest, and that through the course of her journey she is able to experience a real moment of truth in her life.
When you first read the script, was it an instant hit with both of you?
Madeline: When I auditioned for the role originally, I only had selected scenes to read. And I read for Rachel actually first, but they also had me read for Amy. Even in those selected scenes, there was a clear arch of self discovery: it was fun, flirtatious, but the connection was so clearly more than that. What I loved about the script was twofold: the innocent chemistry that turns into something much deeper than mere attraction.
Ruth: Of course the script was an instant hit. The journey it portrayed for a young woman to discover the love for life once again.
What do you think are the film's main strengths?
Ruth: This film is strong for the statements made that love can be found anywhere in anyone at anytime.
Madeline: Yes. These two women have an earth shaking connection with each other, and they discover this through all the trials and errors of first love and the obstacles that they overcome to be with one another.
Ruth, what were the most challenging aspects of the role from your perspective?
Ruth: The singing was a sensational challenge. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to be a musician and tackle the honesty that lyrics can portray to people.
And Rachel is a complex young woman who has had to deal with some difficult issues already in life. You conveyed her inner conflict and pain very effectively. How did you manage to get into her head so completely? Were there any aspects of her personality or life experiences that you could relate to?
This character lost her mother and the want to continue her dreams. She has a father who won’t give her the time of day. It was an inspiring challenge to feel vulnerable and unwanted and then get to fall in love. I feel like we have all been through a time in our lives that certain situations can knock you down. You feel like the wallflower that nobody can seem to see. It's your choice to be seen and heard and stand back up. Yes my life is not exact to my character but I do feel like I, like most people, can relate to Rachel.
Madeline, The Guest House is quite a serious film, as well as being a love story. Is this your favourite kind of movie or are there other genres that you prefer?
Madeline: I grew up as a drama queen: I love the catharsis of those deeply emotional moments. There is something about experiencing something as a character that really allows you to explore your own depths, and I love that. I also have fallen in love with comedy, which is a totally different, irreverent side of myself. It is so much fun to play, and to poke fun at the quirkiness of human nature. I am a bit awkward, and I love embracing that side of myself in characters that I play. I wouldn't give either type of role up!
Have either of you ever played a part like this before - by that I mean a part involving intimate scenes with a woman?
Ruth: Popped the cherry with this film. It was in fact my first time taking part in a film where there is an intimate scene with another young lady. I was lucky to work with Madeline and this crew for they made my first time a really good experience.
Madeline: I have, but never on screen. At university I played a lesbian role in David Mamet's Boston Marriage, which is set in the Victorian era. In that play, I was the unrequited lover: wanting to make my platonic love into something more, well, intimate. This film takes place in the modern era, and these two women didn't have as many social barriers as existed for the women of that era and time. We have our own obstacles to overcome, but the social norms of our time are more welcoming to our love story than those of the past.
I’ve heard actors say that shooting intimate scenes is terribly difficult. How do you prepare yourself for sequences like that? Did you spend time getting to know each other before the filming started and was it ever awkward between the two of you?
Madeline: There's not much one can do to prepare for shooting those scenes except to be really comfortable with your co-star and to have that level of trust with each other that you have each other's back. We were almost halfway through our shoot schedule when we shot those scenes, so we already knew each other really well and the trust was there so we could really "go there" as actors. It is true when they say intimate scenes are awkward because they are: we've become good friends and now we are kissing, but in those moments you are your character, and it's your character's experience, not your own, so you have to be true with that and honor that moment.
Ruth: Preparation for the scene was new to me. Especially the first time we shot. I remember singing Barbie girl on set to ease my nerves and then took a deep breath and just had fun with it. Madeline and I got to know each other mainly on set. We did hit it off and it was never awkward. We simply just had fun with the scenes and kept in check with each other. Communication was key. There were no hidden thoughts amongst us.
There was a lovely warmth and chemistry between you two. Are you guys friends off screen?
Ruth: Yes we are friends on and off screen. We have even done yoga and meditation together.
Madeline: When Ruth and I had callbacks, we read together and we just clicked. The chemistry and connection were just there: it wasn't something we had to work at, we really played well off of each other from the start. From there on out we got to play, and that was great because we were able to really explore our characters with total confidence that we had someone who would come back with something new and interesting to play off of. And of course we have become good friends and allies for each other. It is so great to have a co-star that you totally respect, and I think we are champions of each other as young actresses trying to make our way in this world of film-making.
Madeline, In addition to your acting work, you also have credits as a producer and a writer. Do you prefer to work in front of the camera, or behind the scenes?
Madeline: I really love both sides of the camera and I think knowing and experiencing both sides can inform your work on the other side. As an actor I love knowing what's needed in terms of continuity and artistic angles and how to play to a small/medium/wide shots and as a director I love having the actors perspective in mind as I operate as a story-teller in the narrative. I am a story-teller at heart and that comes out in many different forms and mediums.
What are you both working on right now?
Ruth: I have been shooting a few shorts and features this past year. Presently I am working on two Web series.
Madeline: I have been living in Paris and working on my writing quite a bit. With my two projects coming out so soon in the US (The Guest House and American Idiots) I plan on moving back to Los Angeles and pursuing some emerging opportunities there.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
Ruth: My future ambitions are to tell stories. It is who I am and what I aspire to always be. A storyteller.
Madeline: I want to tell stories that need to be told: stories of love, loss and laughter. I want to be involved creating and acting in projects that are good for humanity or just our spirits as humans. We all need spark in our lives and I want to be a part of that spark in any way that I can! Whether it's through acting, writing or activism, I love being a part of the human voice right now and think that we all should share our vision with each other and the world.