With the German Film Festival currently underway across all major Australian cities (even Melbourne is getting an extended season), our own Peter Gray was fortunate enough to sit in on a roundtable event with writer/director Maria Schrader about her comedic and contemplative feature I’m Your Man (read our review here), where she discussed the unique casting of Dan Stevens as a German-speaking robot and how it was to subvert the “girl meets boy” narrative trope.
I appreciated going into this film knowing very little about it and that you took this “girl meets boy” trope and really turned it on its head. Was the point essentially to exaggerate that trope with this movie?
It only really occurred to me (then) how used to those types of stories we are. We’re used to growing up where women are more objectified than men. It’s great fun to add narratives or visuals which we are not so used to seeing. It was already fun writing (the script) and playing with male and female perception. Seeing it in front of me was when I realised that we aren’t used to that. A female asking a very good looking, Cary Grant-like protagonist “Please pull down your pants and let me see your dick!”
The casting of Dan Stevens is interesting. Was he cast due to him being able to speak German? Was he somehow your “perfect man”?
During the writing of the script I asked myself “Who can that be?” This is my first pure German language movie and I’ve always worked with various casts and various languages. Here, I was with a German script, and I thought let’s look abroad for (the character of) Tom. Let’s find someone who’s not so present in the German-speaking region. Let’s find someone who brings a foreign element with this character. Since this is almost a fairytale set-up, it’s like an agreement between me and (the audience) that Tom is a robot. I thought it would be nice to have an actor that German audiences don’t immediately recognise.
There was so much to ask of this actor, so I needed him to be very good looking. Someone who everyone agreed that he was good looking, a classical appearance. As well, someone who was capable of speaking these very complicated German sentences. Tom’s dialogue is very elevated that even a native speaker would have had problems delivering those lines as fast as he did. I couldn’t be happier with Dan Stevens.
When you are directing actors such as those you worked with and asking them to play artificial intelligent robots, what direction do you give them?
It started from our very first meeting – and we met (on a Zoom call) – and our first question was “Do we want to see the machine?” Is it all in our heads or all naturalistic? Because you could read the script like that. I loved the idea that the machine is visible, because that is the big hurdle (for the lead character). It’s so interesting, I could talk about this forever. We had many ideas. It was like ping pong, like sparring partners.
What is too much? What is suitable? What is he doing with the eyes? These are my favourite moments because you see the humour and the irony that Dan Stevens brings to the story. He enjoys having Tom completely disorientated. We created a selection of material, and when it came to shooting I could ask (Dan) to elevate the machine element. He was a wonderful partner for this. He’s such a controlled and precise actor. It was pure joy.
I felt like this story could have been treated with a horror mentality. Was it deliberate to diverge from that?
We are all so used to that, right? That narrative of man creating artificial (life) and that gets out of control. I only really realised this when I was on set, the interesting thing is that (the character of) Alma is used to that story. She’s seen those movies. Even though she detests the whole concept of Tom, she gives him so much attention. He is unpredictable to her. I’m sorry I’m not really answering the questions (laughs).
It was tempting to not lead this story in the usual path of the machine develops ambition, the machine develops the call for freedom…it was tempting. Maybe Alma is threatened by someone like Tom because he’s so far ahead. They might be able to create a society that’s much more peaceful, that’s not driven by egotism. They might be the better human than we are. This is a crazy thought for people.
I’m Your Man is screening as part of this year’s German Film Festival, which is running across major Australian cities between May 25th and July 4th, 2021.