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Interview: Director Casimir Nozkowski, Plus Stars Sunita Mani and Olivia Edward Discuss ‘The Outside Story’

No one wants to feel out of control, and the times that it does happen tend to be the least convenient. Everyone should be able to relate to getting locked out and the necessary steps taken to regain access to one’s own home. The new film The Outside Story, out this Friday, shows what happens when one man (Brian Tyree Henry) unaccustomed to venturing outside his safe space is forced to endure sunshine and socializing in a desperate attempt to get back inside. Awards Radar had the opportunity to speak with director Casimir Nozkowski and stars Sunita Mani and Olivia Edward, who play a police officer and neighbor, respectively, about what appealed to them about this story and its resonance in the present moment.

Q: This is a fun movie. Do you think that, coming out now after people are just starting to emerge from staying inside most of the time, it has an added weight and relevance for audiences?

Casimir Nozkowski: That is a good question. I would say, you know, it probably depends on how the audience is feeling. I mean, I’m sort of shocked that it’s echoing, that there’s a pandemic echo in this film, of someone reemerging and embracing all the things you take for granted. That was something I definitely thought about a lot this year as you’re quarantined, you’re sequestered. Oh man, I sure would like to just go to the bodega and browse around. I’d sure like to go sit at this bar. All those things that it initially seemed like we couldn’t do indefinitely. It’s wild to me that the film has some of that same feeling of exploring the things we take for granted about the world around us. I’m really curious to see how people who are really sick of this pandemic by a lot, how the film resonates with them. That will be so interesting.

Sunita Mani: It comes from Cas, who is a Manhattan kid, he was born here. It’s been called a love letter to New York. It’s so local. While watching it, it felt really nostalgic for the four blocks that you live around. The seat of it was evergreen for you, I’m sure, Cas. It’s awesome that it resonates in this way right now. Unfortunate, of course. It’s an unfortunate situation we’re all in. It’s terrible. We got to see it outside at a film festival, at the Rooftop Film Festival, which is like a drive-thru situation. It brought people together in the summer in the middle of this. It’s cool that things that are cared for can be timeless and also resonate so deeply in this moment.

Olivia Edward: One thing that I find really cool about when it’s coming out is that Charles is kind of experiencing the opposite of what we’re experiencing. We’re all trapped inside, we all want to go out, have fun, see people, and we’re all trapped inside, while he’s trapped outside and wants to get back to his safe space.

Q: Brian Tyree Henry’s Charles works as an editor creating in memoriam montages for famous people that are still alive, which also seems like something that might have added relevance now, where we don’t really know what the future looks like. How does that strange grappling with mortality propel his journey?

Casimir: For me, there were a couple things there. One is that, whenever you’re shying away from life, or in a rut, or stuck in your ways, a lot of times, you’re really missing out on something really special since life is short. Having something that was about someone else’s life and death be a part of the film, and that Charles is initially kind of oblivious to it, thinking about the summation of someone’s life, I really liked that in the background of all the decisions and thoughts he’s making. This is a little trippy, but I thought about the movies that these actors are in, the people he meets, almost, it’s like he’s meeting these different movies. That’s my own vibe – don’t worry about that. I had made some in memoriams in my life. The job that he has, where you’re prepping in memoriam. It’s really McCabe, you’re picturing someone dying and preparing for that by editing together a video of their successes. There’s a nobility to doing that, capturing someone beloved’s life, but also something grim about forecasting their death. What would resonate with people when this person dies? I just thought it was the best job also for someone who was a depressed character. The last thing is that I wanted someone who was having trouble repairing their life at the same time that they’re obsessing over someone else’s life. He’s obsessing over how these movie stars are remembered but is unable to see how he is not giving attention to his own life.  

Olivia Edward

Q: Olivia, I’ve enjoyed watching you on Better Things as someone with a memorable parent, and you definitely have that here with Maria Dizzia. What did you like best about this role and working on the film?

Olivia: What I loved about working on this film is that the whole idea of the film is about something that’s so relatable. Getting locked out of your apartment, getting locked out of your room. It’s something that happens to everyone. I think that’s what made it so relatable. I think that’s what made people feel, aw, because it’s something they can relate to. It shows just how big of a deal it is for Charles, who’s an introvert. His safe place, the life he likes to live, is inside. Now, he’s completely out of his comfort zone, he has no clue what to do, and he’s talking to people he’s never met. I thought that was really cool.

Q: Sunita, I saw you in Save Yourselves at Sundance last year, which is such a goofy role. Here, you’re much less patient and more prone to anger. What attracted you to this part, and what did you take away from sharing scenes with Brian?

Sunita: I was attracted to the whole picture of this movie, and working with Brian and Cas was a big part of why I wanted to do the role. This little slice of life that Slater provides, and being this weird friend to him and this tour guide of his own neighborhood. That’s specific of a cop who writes parking tickets on the job, also touring the fare of the neighborhood for a stranger, it’s the job she’s meant to have as if there were an alternate reality where you could do that. It is funny – she’s the butt of the joke in many ways, and I’ll take that representation. That’s fun. Brian Tyree Henry is so warm and so generous, and working with him, he’s probably almost in every scene of the movie, and I’m just coming in for a little bit, in a meta way, much like his character is going through the day. I’m just coming in and out of his life too. To take away such a generous feeling from meeting and working with him, that was really fun. It was very easy and I look forward to another time.

Casimir Nozkowski

Q: You all spoke very positively about New York City at the beginning of the conversation. There is a sense that this feels like an antiquated, romanticized version of what the city is or could be. Do you think that this four-block radius idea still exists in reality, or is this a glamorous picture of what we’d like it to be?

Casimir: I mean, I think it still exists, absolutely. I think people are wearing a lot more masks. I’m someone, I grew up in New York, I’ve lived here all my life. at this point, I think New York’s got a good rep and I don’t need to help it, but I would say that a lot of times you meet people who have never been to New York and they’re like, oh, New York, it’s so tough. People just step right over you. They really have this bizarre idea of New York. And it certainly is tough and can be competitive or fast-moving, but it’s also really, on the low, super kind. New York is kind. It’s a place where people will help you. That’s a factor. I can think of so many times where I was genuinely moved by someone, giving someone directions, picking up something you dropped. There are so many little kindnesses, they probably happen everywhere. But they happen here where people sometimes have a funny idea of what New York is. That was something I wanted the film to speak on a little bit. There’s real kindness around you at all times, and available to you if you’re able to ask for it. And even if you’re not able to ask for it, it’s there. People want to help each other. That was a lot of the New York interplay I was interested in fleshing out.

Q: Was this always the title you wanted for the film?

Casimir: Yeah, I think so. I’m trying to remember. I always like thinking about alternate titles. Early in the process, I was like, the inside story? The outside story? The outside story! Great. That’ll be great. This is terrific. I like titles that have story in it. I like stories. I like a good fable. The outside fable, that didn’t feel right. So, yeah, the outside story – that was the title. It had to be it. What did you guys think? Was it an okay title? Did it work?

Olivia: I think you got it with that title. I think that was a good title.

Sunita: Yeah, love it.

The Outside Story will be released by Samuel Goldwyn Films on digital and on demand on Friday, April 30th.

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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