An interview with Rose Troche

Writer-director-producer, Rose Troche‘s first feature film, Go Fish, premiered at Sundance in 1994 and went on to become one of the most significant titles in lesbian cinema. Fast forward through Troche’s career and you’ll make stops at The Safety of Objects, the award-winning film starring Patricia Clarkson and Glenn Close, the pilot of South of Nowhere, HBO’s Six Feet Under, ABC’s Ugly Betty, and, of course, The L Word.

Troche’s latest project is Concussion, a film by writer-director Stacie Passon. Concussion tells the story of Abby, an upscale housewife married to a woman, who becomes a prostitute for other women, following a head injury.

We caught up with Rose at the Berlin International Film Festival and asked her about the project, which is in post-production, what she thinks about The Real L Word, and why there should be more lesbian films. What attracted you, as a producer, to Passon’s script? It’s a very unique story.
Rose Troche:
I believe in helping friends when they need help, particularly, but not exclusively, my women friends. So, if a friend says, “Here. Can you read my script? Can you give me notes?” I do. I think we should help each other succeed, because it’s very difficult out there.

When I read Concussion, I knew it was something special and I knew I had to help make sure it got done and seen.

AE: Was it hard to refrain from donning your director hat once shooting began?
Stacie is so certain about what she wants to do, and is such an extraordinarily smart woman. There were times when I said, “It should be this way. It should be that way.” And she went up against me and didn’t back down. I really respected that because sometimes I can be bossy.

AE: In the story, Abby doesn’t have her epiphany unaided. It’s brought on by a head injury.
This is what I love about this movie. It is called Concussion but the concussion is not really an inciting incident. It’s not as if she gets knocked out and forgets who she is, or anything like that. She gets hit in the head and is like, “F–k this!” In some weird way, it knocks the sense into her, even though it knocks the nonsense into her, too. Becoming a prostitute is probably not the best thing for a marriage.

AE: What do you think will lesbian audiences say about the prostitution element? Do you think it’s less objectionable because her clients are other women?
The lesbian audience is a very difficult one. We have so few images that we tend to hang on so much to one piece. It’s tough to hold up under that pressure. I imagine there will be much said. I just hope some of it is positive.

AE: Why? Because you’ve been reading the comments about The Kids Are All Right?
It’s funny. I really liked The Kids Are All Right. I remember being on a rooftop at a party, and a friend of mine was so up in arms about the fact that Julianne Moore had hot sex with Mark Ruffalo, and not with her wife. And I was like, “Oh, is this what we’re going to get on about?”

In both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, people leave each other, sexually. It happens. I hate that lesbians get so [upset] because of the old myth of “Lesbian Bed Death.” But you know what? It’s actually a marriage bed death. It’s not just a gay thing. You have to work on your sex life with your partner. If you’ve been together for 20 years, and have two kids, you really have to work on that s–t. But Concussion is not a cautionary tale.

AE: How would you describe it?
It’s a fantasy of a mid-life crisis. A fantasy of what one could do, played out in a film. It’s about a woman who feels like she has little time left in this gorgeous body, and wants to use it. And her wife is not so interested.

Abby becomes a prostitute and trespasses on the vows of her marriage. But there’s a part of her marriage that is sacrosanct, and she will not trespass on it. No one has a name. It’s Woman 1, Woman 2, Woman 3. It’s fulfilling a desire to have sex without invading into intimacy, if that makes any kind of sense.

AE: How steamy is this film? You know that’s what everyone’s waiting for.
[Laughs] Well, obviously, there are a lot of sex scenes in the movie. There are some more graphic than others. Her clients are a range – that’s another thing I like about the film – the women range in age. There’s an NYU student, there’s a woman in her 50s. We wanted to get a woman in her 60s, but we couldn’t find an actor. So, sometimes you see boobs, sometimes you don’t.

AE: How was it working with Robin Weigert? Audiences who only know her as Calamity Jane on HBO’s series Deadwood might be happily surprised to see how attractive she really is. She cleans up nice!
Robin was one hundred percent. I think she had the same response to the script that we all did. She just seized the opportunity and ran with it. There are 130 scenes in the movie and she’s in almost every single one. That’s a pace to keep up with. I think she came through like a champ.

AE: I don’t want to make you feel old, but it’s been 18 years since Go Fish.
We are talking about doing another Go Fish.

AE: Seriously?
Yes, I’m serious. [GuinevereTurner] and I still have such a good time working together. But I guess (because we’re both Gemini) we butt heads. It’s always been that way.

AE: Well, you’re exes. That’s always fun.
Sometimes you never lose the magic. [Laughs] She is a very beloved friend of mine and I love her. But yes, we definitely both think we’re right.

Guinevere Turner (L) and V.S. Brodie (R) in a scene from Go Fish in 1994

AE: What are you guys thinking? Sequel?
Several years ago, Guin, V.S. Brodie and I met in Paris. We opened a bottle of wine and sat in V.S.’s apartment and put the movie on. And, oh my God. There was such hopefulness in the film. There was something so sweet and “can’t we all get along?” about it. It was coming from the most sincere place. It’s so difficult, after years of life, for us to come to that place of pie-eyed hopefulness.

So, we said, “OK, let’s make it a where-are-they-now-on? sequel.” But the idea, now, is not that. Now, it’s like a Go Fish 2.0, a different take on the whole thing.

AE: Go do that. We need content.
It’s funny. I’m in Berlin at this film festival, out of almost all the international festivals they program the most gay films. That said, I’m not seeing a lot of lesbian content at all. It’s perplexing to me.

AE: Do you think it’s financial? It’s so hard to find investors for lesbian content. Even a web series costs too much money, if you have none.
I agree. But crowd funding is alive and well. There were two movies that raised $2 million apiece on Kickstarter last month. I have given in the past year. That’s what we have to do. Even if you get annoyed by how many times your friends asks you for money, if you want to see that project, give them a hundred bucks, or whatever you can afford. In the case of lesbian film, it’s not just for your entertainment. It’s part of our cultural heritage. I feel like there’s a larger issue here.

AE: I never thought about it that way, but you’re absolutely right. Speaking of more lesbian films, have you heard any news about an L Word movie?
I don’t know. I have not spoken with Ilene [Chaiken] in so long. I think she has a show on CBS now. I’m so happy for her. She’s been out there every year. She’s written a pilot, directed a pilot. So that’s pretty awesome. But no, I have no idea.

AE: She’s also Executive Producer on The Real L Word. Have you ever watched any of those?
I remember seeing that Whitney girl go to the airport and drop off someone, and pick up someone. I saw that episode. So yeah. I don’t know why I don’t watch it. Maybe it has something to do with being married to the original.

On the set of The L Word with Katherine Moennig

AE: Are you not a big reality show fan, in general?
No, but that said, I live and breathe Top Chef. That’s pretty much the extent of my reality TV.

AE: The Real L Word is a guilty pleasure for many lesbians. They sit there and slap their foreheads for an hour, and yet, they can’t take their eyes off the damn thing.
Yeah, that darn lesbian audience. They just love to complain. It’s hilarious. I remember doing Go Fish and having someone say, “Why is everyone so ugly? We’re not ugly. Everyone’s so dumpy, we’re not dumpy.”

Then, The L Word comes out, and everyone goes, “Why is everyone so pretty? That’s not what we look like. Why can’t you have someone normal?” It’s just like, “Oh, you!”

AE: [Laughs] Why would anyone stay in the game?
I’m sure there will be many discussions about Concussion. But I hope the lesbian audiences will appreciate it. It’s a real film.

AE: And it has the amazing Robin Weigert. When is it scheduled for release?
I am very hopeful for October 2012, depending on who buys it. We will distribute, no matter what. These women are not slackers. Even if they self-distribute, it will get out there. And I will keep you updated on Go Fish 2. Go Fish Again.

AE: [Laughs] Gone Fishing.
We wanted to call it Go F–k Yourself. You get the tone of where [Guin] was going with it.

AE: I like it.
We talked about what we were going to do, what it was going to be, and we ended up fighting.