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Director Alexandre Lehmann Interview: Paddleton

Recently, Screen Rant had the opportunity to attend a screening of Netflix’s new film Paddleton. It stars Mark Duplas (Micheal) and Ray Ramono (Andy) as two misfit neighbors that build a strong unexpected bond through a game they have created that set out on an emotional journey when Michael is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The film becomes a very deep look at relationships, that inadvertently redefines healthy alternative views of masculinity and how friendships and life long bonds can be created and fortified. It was directed by Alexandre Lehmann who coincidentally also wrote the screenplay. He spoke to us about the process of making such a subtle, yet poignant and impactful film.

Screen Rant: I like to start off every interview with a little old before covering a lot of new. So first off thank you for *Asperger’s Are Us, it was a banner waving, inspirational documentary for anyone on the spectrum.

*An award winning coming of age documentary directed by Lehmann, in which four friends on the Autism Spectrum who have bonded through humor and performed as the comedy troupe “Asperger's Are Us” prepare for one last show before parting their separate ways.

Alexandre Lehmann: Thank you for watching it. It wasn’t something made just for views or critical acclaim. I hope all their friends and family members feel the same way. I think that a lot of people that are or maybe are not on the spectrum still related to these guys and the feeling of not always being understood. By the way we will be releasing a follow up docu-series in April on HBO. We took the same guys on the road, put them in an RV and filmed their experience.

Screen Rant: Speaking about films with relatable protagonist. You wrote and directed Paddleton. This is a small film with a big heart and even bigger performances, How were you able to get such honesty out of both Mark and Ray?

Alexandre Lehmann: I think they are pretty honest guys. And due to that they were able to find the truth in the story that spoke to them and in turn were able to give life to characters they loved as much as I did, and that’s what translated to the screen. If anything [I like to say] I captured their honesty. [Maybe] I’d like to say to filmmakers [in general] that may ask “how do you get a certain level of honesty out of actors?” The answer is: by starting out as honest as possible yourself. And be willing to share and/or overshare yourself; and others will recognize that humility, in being vulnerable and be more inclined to join you in that. [and again, though I didn’t say in so many words] I feel that is in Mark and Ray’s wheelhouse, and may be something a lot of us didn’t notice or realize while we watched their respective sitcoms. Though they may be slightly heightened versions of reality. They are both real guys, they’re very accessible and beyond that they are incredible actors. It was just us doing something from the heart that was a lot of improv and being in the moment instead of trying to regurgitate words that made sense at another time. So it was [you know] a genuine process with genuine people. I wish I could take credit for it but I was being as real as everyone else.

Screen Rant: You said a keyword there “improv”. There’s a storyteller/standup scene between Mark and Ray at the bar. Was it fully scripted or where they able to run with it mostly?

Alexandre Lehmann: Well, funny enough that was Mark regurgitating the plot points to a fictional Kung-Fu film that we created for this film called “death punch”. Ray knew a little about the film and just did a bit of “yes-and” making for a very meta performance.

Paddleton - Ray Romano and Mark Duplass

Screen Rant: speaking of meta is there anything we, as an audience can expect from this film like an epilogue much like how you treated Asperger’s Are Us?

Alexandre Lehmann: I'm just waiting for a million people to send ninja stars to Netflix. Just ninja stars that say “Death Punch” on it [paper or metal; your choice], then they’ll ask me to make the Death Punch in its entirety. That would serve as the proper epilogue for this film. [being 100 percent honest] I just want to make Death Punch. Those movies [Wu shot sub-genere in Kung-fu] they really are Duplas bro-mancy movie attributes to them. Yes; there’s the master and the student. And ninja stars being thrown. But they get real, there’s some real introspective heart felt stuff going on there.

Screen Rant: How were you able to seamlessly navigate such powerful and almost polarizing subjects like terminal illness and assisted suicide while still giving us such high peeks of levity?

Alexandre Lehmann: I mean, there’s nothing funny about death, there's nothing funny about assisted suicide, there’ certainly nothing funny about terminal illness. There’s only a couple ways to handle really difficult things in life; we can get irrationally angry, you can shut down, or [you know] we can refer to comedy, we can choose to laugh at the absurdity of things or at the pain of things. And that seems to be the best coping mechanism and the most relatable. It’s treating the issues genuinely and seeing how difficult cancer/death can be in anyone's life and at the same time being able to laugh at how crazy and unpredictable life is and remembering to celebrate the good things and not being ravaged by the bad.

Screen Rant: At the ore of this film it was about two single men whose lives become inexplicably entangled and a platonic bro-mance develops. Is there any relation in your life to that dynamic that was captured in the film?

Alexandre Lehmann: Oh yeah, for sure. I’ve got one friend that I used to see all the time [everyday] when we were living one on top of the other in an apartment complex. We will be best friends until the very end. There are a couple of guys I love so much that I just want to share so many experience with and I feel so lucky to. [It’s funny because] In a couple of interviews its been the topic of masculinity, what about this version of masculinity and toxic masculinity. Being honest I’m not smart enough to speak on that and what masculinity should be or how to redefine it. All I can say is Michael and Andy, I have that relationship in real life and nobody ever told us we shouldn’t or weren't allowed to. And it happens to be that those relationships mean the world to me so of course I want to celebrate that. [to be honest] I forget sometimes that it is weird to some people to have a relationship like that at my age. I see it as a no-brainer. Any of us would be lucky to have a relationship like Michael and Andy, to be so understood and be able to live in such simplicity while you have everything you need in the world. [I mean] Nobody would need social media if they had a Michael and Andy dynamic. You wouldn’t need that validation form anywhere else. You would just feel like you belong.

More: Javier Bardem Interview for Everybody Knows

Paddleton is now on Netflix.

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