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Alia Shawkat Explains The Kind Of Gross Meaning Of “Duck Butter”

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Photo via The Orchard

Talking to the stars of the new, sexually charged movie

In Duck Butter, strangers Naima (Alia Shawkat) and Sergio (Laia Costa) embark on an experimental romantic bender, in which they spend 24 hours together, having sex every hour. Unsurprisingly, this marathon doesn’t go quite as planned, especially once romantic feelings emerge and emotional baggage starts to come out. Co-written by Shawkat and Miguel Arteta, who also directed it, Duck Butter explores what happens when you naively give the most vulnerable parts of you to a complete stranger and expect it to work. 

Filmed over the course of an actual, improvised 24 hours, Duck Butter explores the self-destructive tendencies of two people trying to call bullshit on the artifice of relationships, but who are really just lying to themselves. We spoke with Shawkat and Costa about the real-life inspirations behind the movie and how they prepared for such an intense, vulnerable experience. Read our Q&A, below. 

Alia, can you tell me a little bit about co-writing the project? How did the opportunity come about?
Alia Shawkat: Miguel and I had worked together years ago, and he approached me and said he wanted to write something together. We just started talking about terrible relationships we had been in, and also the obsession of them. We both had different experiences of getting addicted to someone, so we wanted to make a story about these kind of people that meet and throw themselves into it. Like, what happens when you ask someone to expose themselves? And then once they do, you're like, “Oh, sorry, I don't like that?” And how can you maintain honesty through that stage even though you're like, “Fuck it, let's throw all sheets to the wind and just go for it?” 

It does relate to me a lot personally—wanting to fall in love, wanting it so much, and this idea of it. And then finding an identity in somebody else who makes you go, “Oh, she gives me permission to be myself.” But then you realize, “Oh, no, I'm the only person who could do that.” 

I've been in a lot of dynamics where I just can't [be direct]. You know when someone's like, "What's up? Are you okay?" and you’re like, "Yeah, yeah, I'm totally fine. I don't know what you're talking about." And then the minute I'm alone, I'm like, "Oh god, how do I get rid of this person?" 

So it’s like that scene in the bathroom? When Naima locks herself in there?
AS: Yeah, I've been in that bathroom heavily breathing a lot in real life, so it was kind of a healing experience to make a film about it.

It was important, too. At the end, there’s this beat where [Naima] has her fists clenched, and then tries to relax them, and then balls them up again. It's kind of like, you can have these crazy experiences and, at the end of the day, you change, but not that much. We all want to be like, “And after that moment, I never looked back.” But in this story, it's like, “No, you have moments with people, and you hope you learn a little bit next time.” 

Laia, what drew you to this project?
Laia Costa: The 24 hours. I actually was there for a supporting role at the beginning, and then I said to them, "I want the supporting role only if I can be in it [for the whole] 24 hours—just watching," [and it went from there]. In film, it's very hard to find something that you think that no one else is gonna ask for, and I didn’t think anyone else was gonna ask for a 24-hour shoot, nonstop... If someone asks me to do something that I think no one is going to ask me, [I want to be able to grasp the] unique moment and just do it, you know? Like, the first TV series I did back in Spain, they asked me to shave my head. And I thought, No one's going to ask me that ever, so I have to do it.

I didn't actually realize that you guys just shot the whole thing in 24 hours. 
AS:
 We did, yeah. Twenty-four hours, straight. It was really fun. There was a moment, after the first 12 hours, when we took a 20-minute nap while the second crew set up in my character's house. I remember waking up, like, “I really fucked this up. I'm so tired. How am I gonna do this? Whose idea was this? Why did do this?” And then Miguel told us to take a little jog down the hill and back, and from there, our energy just kept skyrocketing. It was so much fun... It created the right manic energy that the characters were going through, so it was really honest.

Alia, you talked about drawing inspiration from your own dating life while writing this. Laia, were there any parts where you improvised and drew inspiration from your own life, too?
LC: 
You know, they wrote this script and, for a long time, they were very attached to it—some stuff is very personal. And my real life, it’s not that interesting at all. So when they said, “You can share real stuff with [us],” I had nothing to share. I have nothing to do with Sergio in my real life. So I just invented everything… I was just reacting to [their feedback about] this girl, so that was so much fun for me. 

AS: She's in a healthy relationship and has it all figured out.

LC: My real life—I'm not crazy. I'm boring. I’m not Sergio. It's like, I was trying to take just some memories, but I had to also make them up a little bit.

How did you prep for such intimate, powerful interactions ahead of filming?
AS: We had been Skyping for a while, because we had to wait to shoot until I finished another job. We had always been in touch for a while, but then we hung out for like a week before shooting. There are only so many things you can control [while filming], and you hope for the best. Especially with a film like this, where it's really just [two people]—it's all about our chemistry and our dynamic.

But right when we met, Miguel and I were just immediately like, “Oh, this is the team. We're set.” We were just able to really bond right away. And, yeah, Miguel and I had created Sergio, but she was not a real character until Laia came along. Then all of a sudden, it's like, “Oh, that's Sergio.” So once it came together, we just hit it off. And the whole rehearsal process was just super-fun, like just hanging out at my house and eating every meal together.

Was Sergio originally written as a dude?
AS: Yes. It was originally a scripted [film] about a relationship over a year-and-a-half, about a guy and a girl. And then it evolved into a 24-hour improvised film about two women. 

As you find out in the movie, “duck butter” refers to smegma. I’m curious why you chose such a visceral, in-your-face name for the title?
AS:
 Duck Butter had always been the name. There's the scene where you see why the term comes up, but it just more and more kind of became the perfect name. In a way, the film is about two people asking each other to show the realest parts of themselves. And then, once they show it to each other, it’s like, “Oh, actually, that's too much.” We just liked the way it sounds, too. "Duck butter" sounds fun. Miguel and I would just say it all the time. We always thought it was funny and sharp, and I liked the way it looks written out in red.

It autocorrects on my phone to "fuck butter," which is apt.
AS: Totally. That’s definitely a synonym for it, in a way.

Since this is a film about flawed relationships between flawed humans, tell me what the worst quality of each of your characters is.
AS:
Naima’s [problem] is that she’s tragically dishonest with herself. 

LC: I would say the same for Sergio.

AS: Yeah, because, in a way, they end up having both the same flaws.

LC: Yes, but they face them in different ways. I think Naima's not honest, but she's not trying to fix it. I think Sergio, she's saying that she's super-honest, but she's not. She [puts on this] face of being super-cool, honest, and brave. But it's bullshit.

AS: We all show each other the best parts. And then, eventually, it crumbles.

LC: I always say that we have 10 beautiful, perfect minutes. If I meet you, it's like [I have] 10 minutes [to be perfect]. But 24 hours…

AS: I like that. That's the next film: 10 Minutes.

Duck Butter premieres on April 27 at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, and Agyness Deyn also star

Elisabeth Moss is trying to keep it together as punk rock artist Becky Something in the trailer for forthcoming movie Her Smell. She's surrounded by iconic faces who make up her band Something She, Gayle Rankin as Ali van der Wolff and Agyness Deyn as Marielle Hell, as she grapples with the fact that her musical prowess just doesn't draw as big a crowd as it used to.

In addition to the wavering fame, Becky is "grappling with motherhood, exhausted bandmates, nervous record company executives, and a new generation of rising talent eager to usurp her stardom," according to a press release. "When Becky's chaos and excesses derail a recording session and national tour, she finds herself shunned, isolated and alone. Forced to get sober, temper her demons, and reckon with the past, she retreats from the spotlight and tries to recapture the creative inspiration that led her band to success." And what's clear from the trailer, Moss is absolutely meant for this role, transforming into the punk on the brink of collapse.

Rounding out the cast are Ashley Benson, Cara Delevingne, and Dan Stevens. Watch the official trailer, below. Her Smell hits theaters on April 12 in New York and 14 in L.A., with "national expansion to follow."

Her Smell | OFFICIAL TRAILER HD www.youtube.com

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In an acceptance speech at the BRIT Awards

As The 1975 accepted the BRIT Award for Best British group, outspoken frontman Matty Healy shared the words of journalist Laura Snapes as a way of calling out misogyny that remains ever-present in the music industry. Healy lifted a powerful quote from Snapes' coverage of allegations against Ryan Adams for The Guardian: "Male misogynist acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of 'difficult' artists, [while] women and those who call them out are treated as hysterics who don't understand art."

Snapes reacted almost immediately on Twitter, saying she was "gobsmacked, and honoured that he'd use his platform to make this statement." Snapes had originally written the line for an interview she published with Sun Kil Moon singer Mark Kozelek back in 2015, in response to Kozelek publicly calling her a "bitch" who "totally wants to have my babies" because she requested to speak in person rather than via e-mail, which she brought up in the more recent piece on Adams. Kozelek's vile response, and the misogyny that allowed it to play out without real consequences, it could be argued, could have easily played out in the same way in 2019, which makes her reiteration of the line, and Healy's quoting it on such a large platform, all the more important.

It should be noted that back in December, Healy caught a bit of heat himself on Twitter for an interview with The Fader in which he insinuated that misogyny was an issue exclusive to hip-hop, and that rock 'n' roll had freed itself of it. He clarified at length on Twitter and apologized, saying, "I kinda forget that I'm not very educated on feminism and misogyny and I cant just 'figure stuff out' in public and end up trivializing the complexities of such enormous, experienced issues."