After falling in love with I Love My Dad back at SXSW Film Festival in March, the theatrical release is finally upon us! How could we pass up a chance to chat with two of the film’s leads, James Morosini and Claudia Sulewski? We talk one of the craziest catfishing stories of all time, cringe-comedy inspirations, favorite sequences to film, and character motivations in one of our breeziest interviews to date!
Written and directed by lead star James Morosini, I Love My Dad is multifaceted in its approach to laugh-out-loud comedy and touching drama. I could barely fathom how deeply personal and realistic it feels; it makes perfect sense then that I Love My Dad is inspired by Morosini’s actual experiences. One can only guess how deeply it must cut, or how cathartic it must have felt to spill his truth in such deep brushstrokes. After introvert Franklin (Morosini) blocks his father Chuck (comedian Patton Oswalt) on social media, Chuck gets desperate. Using the photos and personality of cute waitress Becca (Sulewski) from a local diner, Chuck creates a fake profile, and friend requests Franklin from it. What follows is a scenario that only gets more complicated in each passing moment, with every flirtatious text signaling that Chuck might be taking things too far. But how far is too far when you’re already catfishing your own child? Check out our full interview transcription after the jump!
For those who may not know, this film was inspired by your personal experiences with your own father. What was the extent of this scenario in real life, and did you find catharsis in exploring it in cinematic form? I’m assuming it never went as far as in-person meetups.
JAMES MOROSINI: So my dad and I, when I was 19 or 20, got in a big fight. I decided to cut him out of my life. I blocked him on social media, changed his name in my phone to ‘do not answer.’ I was going through a tough time, and he was really worried about me, but I wouldn’t talk with him about any of it. I got home one day, and this really pretty girl sent me a friend request online. And I was very excited. She had all these amazing pictures, all the same interests as me. It turned out to be my dad—my dad had catfished me, and that was the foundation of the story.
How long did this real-life catfishing go on in comparison to the movie version?
JAMES: Longer than I wish it had!
We both felt that I Love My Dad works best when it approaches the weirdness of the premise through dark comedy and uncomfortably hilarious moments. Did you have any primary cringe-comedy inspirations when crafting the script for the film?
JAMES: Yeah, so many, man. I grew up watching a lot of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work, like Da Ali G Show, and Borat and whatnot. I was a big fan of The Office and these discomfort-driven comedies. There are a lot of filmmakers who really specialize in this moral collision situation. There’s an Iranian filmmaker named Asghar Farhadi, whose work often orients around a moral quandary where there’s really no right answer. Ruben Ostlund’s work is often dealing with this hypertension of social discomfort. Michael Haneke’s work—he thrives on creating and generating that tension. My taste is a collision of a lot of these things. I try to think what makes me the most uncomfortable, and then make it as emotionally grounded as I possibly can.
Claudia what made you decide to move into acting, and more specifically, what drew you to this darkly comedic project?
CLAUDIA SULEWSKI: I started acting back in 2016. I was starting out with just smaller kind of digital roles. From there was just waiting for the right project to hit, and making sure to train and coach and all those things. I think coming from a digital background, I have this deep awareness of really wanting to respect and do the work, and wait for the right thing to happen at the right time. In so many ways, I Love My Dad really felt that way. It was so fun to play Becca, and play two versions of this character, real and fake. It allowed for me to get super dynamic, and really dig deep into all of this psychological stuff that imaginary Becca contained. It was very fun.
Which one did you have more fun with, the real Becca or the fake one?
CLAUDIA: You know what—my first answer is imaginary Becca, because she got to do so many cool things physically, whether that’s walking on water, stepping out of a freezer… Things that as a little kid, are what you imagine making a movie might be like. Doing these things that you don’t do in your normal day-to-day life. I will say the scene at the end where Franklin meets the real Becca and the awkwardness—that scene, we got to improv a bunch, which really let us play into the uncomfortability. That scene was just way too fun.
James, Allison went to a Q&A in New York where you talked about your dad seeing the movie for the first time at SXSW. What was his opinion on the film? Did your relationship improve with him as a result of channeling a bizarre memory through the filter of filmmaking?
JAMES: My dad loved the movie. I grew up watching a lot of movies with my dad. I would go to the movies every weekend with him. Movies are a big part of our relationship, and so he was able to appreciate the movie standalone from its subject being based on something that happened with us. He’s somebody that really doesn’t care what other people think of him, and so he’s able to laugh at himself and have a sense of humor about the whole thing.
The scene where Becca and Franklin are “dancing” down the street was hilarious, as was the “internet kiss” and the shower sexting. What was your favorite sort of fantasy sequence to film for this catfishing relationship?
CLAUDIA: It was honestly that scene because there’s something just so like, I think if I was if you were asking younger Claudia, what shooting a movie would be like I would imagine that it’s just that experience, which is kind of like la da dee da-ing down the street, having a car holding the camera going backwards and tracking with you guys. I think that scene was definitely the most kind of pinch-me moment. I feel like I’ve seen that in so many other films. The dancing down the street montage of it.
JAMES: I love the scene where Franklin and Becca kiss for the first time, and then Chuck has to imagine kissing his son. Then we go back to Franklin and Becca kissing, and it’s even more heightened and euphoric for Franklin. This movie for me was all about that juxtaposition between Franklin’s highs, being Chuck’s lows, and going between those two polarities throughout the story.
Claudia, were you on set when James filmed by himself as well? Were they filmed subsequently, one right after the other?
CLAUDIA: So for many of the montage scenes, whether it was watching a movie or the dancing, Patton and I were just on standby, swapping in. Which was hilarious, because in my montage scenes with James, we’re filming a rom-com. That was truly my experience. Then having to watch Patton make out… do everything that I had just done… oh my gosh! We had to hold back so many laughs. It was very satisfying to do it, and then get to watch that happen, and unfold in real life.
Claudia, you inject so much passion and life into Chuck’s text messages. Was that all on the page, and how much improv was there within the film?
CLAUDIA: I think because this movie dances on such a fine line of what is crossing the line, and what is just barely… all of the imaginary Becca scenes were not improvised, because we really wanted to make sure we were nailing certain moments and certain lines. I did go back on back and forth on what line it essentially am I really allowing Chuck to kind of come out. Which lines am I playing into the idea of this imaginary girl that Franklin is manifesting into thin air. For that, it was getting to be really precise, and really intentional about the way that she moves and goes about her environment. That was what was so fun about Becca, was just giving her this levity and sort of sense of freedom because she’s new to this world. She’s just oogling at Franklin the whole time because she wouldn’t be there without him. Giving her this sort of childlike consciousness was also really fun to play with.
The scene where your character, Becca, is walking on water and suddenly sinks as she breaks up with Franklin is so cool visually. How was it filmed – was there a stunt double involved?
CLAUDIA: No stunt doubles! That scene was challenging, I will say. I was walking on a plexiglass table that was weighed down with sandbags. Because the pool curves at the bottom, it was right up to the edge so there was about a foot of open space. My first take, I slip stepping on the table, which at that point just makes my body totally anxious, just on nerves for the rest of it. It was very slippery and very wobbly, but I think it was so worth shooting because it made for such a such a centerpiece for the film in terms of stunts.
The jumping—I mean, that day, it also rained. I think it thunderstormed too. There were a lot of elements working against us. One of them is just like being water, and having to jump in the pool and then immediately reset, blow dry the hair. It was very chaotic, but I’m so glad it worked out. At first we were starting to curl her hair. And we’re like, ‘what are we doing? No, no, no, We cannot have to dry and curl and reset every single time.’ It was a lot.
How did you find the right balance between the serious nature of suicide and cringe comedy? Why did you decide to approach it as more of a comedy versus a drama?
JAMES: I’m somebody that struggled with anxiety and depression my whole life. I think that’s why I’m so into comedy. I don’t know what else to do—I have to laugh at my life, otherwise, I’ll go crazy and be depressed. I’ve used humor and comedy as a way of just making my life bearable at certain moments. I see this film from a similar angle where it’s like, if it was a drama, it would just be like, a hat on a hat. I mean, you have to laugh at it.
When do you think Chuck truly took things too far with stringing Franklin along? The virtual kiss? The phone call? The sexting?
JAMES: Oh, that’s a great question. I think the initial idea is probably too far. Then everything after that is just the fallout from it. But too far is really in the eye of the the person saying ‘too far,’ you know? So I don’t know. I think that’s the question that this movie poses: is it okay to do the wrong thing for the right reasons? I think the answer to that question really depends on who you ask, and how important the right reason actually is, and if it’s a matter of potentially saving someone’s life? I don’t know. If you asked me, would you catfish your son if that’s the only thing you could do to save their life? I would probably do it.
James, did you always have Patton in mind to play your dad? Did you feel he captured the vibe and mannerisms of your real life dad?
JAMES: Patton is a comedic genius… he is able to inject so much levity, even into the darkest material, and he just has tremendous heart in everything he does. He was able to make things funny and dark simultaneously. He’s done that throughout his career. I knew that he was going to be really the perfect fit for this role. I think he exceeded my expectations tenfold on his execution and performance.
Claudia, James mentioned at a Q&A in New York that you spent a lot of time to mirror Patton’s body language for cuts—can you tell us a little more about that?
CLAUDIA: During the rehearsal process, we were rehearsing the scenes in the diner, and exploring what differences we want to set between Becca and Chuck… we did really want to confuse the viewers and pull at their heartstrings, because you’re rooting for this cute, young adult couple, but also every four seconds, you’re reminded that it’s actually his dad. We did play around with certain mannerisms, whether it’s like touching the chin.
I think a lot of that also played into editing. There are certain moments within the film where our positioning or our limbs are in similar spots. I want to give James credit on that, because it was so much about just catching those little tiny moments. But for the most part, we really wanted just the difference of a girl falling in love, and a dad that’s just shouting and screaming in cringe-agony as he’s catfishing his son.
Claudia, who would you love to work with? Who would be your dream co-star?
CLAUDIA: Dream co-star? Oh my gosh. I mean, my high school crush was always Ashton Kutcher. I would love to play within his vicinity. Director-wise, I’ve always loved Mike Mills’s work. His films capture such an intimate slice of life perspective. I love those sorts of films. We’re filming all these self-tapes. We’re doing everything we need to do, and I think when the right thing comes, it’ll come, and I can’t wait for it.
I loved that in the end, the message is ultimately one of positivity, forgiveness, and the love between a father and son. What do you hope are the biggest takeaways for the audience?
JAMES: First off, I just hope audiences have a great time watching this in the theater, and if not in a theater, then in their living room with a bunch of friends. It’s one that is heightened by having other people around to view it with you. After that, you know, I hope it makes Some of the most meaningful interactions I’ve had around this film have been people coming up to me, and saying things like, ‘I haven’t talked my dad in five years. I’m going to call him this afternoon.’ I hope it makes audiences feel more inclined to reconsider the walls they’ve put up in their own life. Maybe those walls are necessary, but maybe there are cases where there’s a way they can work things out.
We always close out with this one—do you have any current or upcoming projects you would like to plug?
CLAUDIA: I don’t have any that are out, or that can be talked about at the moment. Recently, I was asked to direct Finneas [O’Connell’s] newest song, called Mona Lisa. Filmed, edited, directed the whole music video. That was really fun! Making YouTube videos for so long, I really appreciate being on the other side, and getting so hands-on with the editing process with everything leading up to filming, and then post production. I hope to do more of that as well. That was such a great honor and so fun to do for him.
JAMES: I have a couple movies I’ve written that I’m really passionate about. One of them, I have partners on. One of them, I’m looking for the right partners. I want to keep telling stories that really push boundaries, and use techniques that haven’t been used before. Potentially risky stories to tell. I’m looking at projects right now—some as a writer, some as a director, and some just to act in. I’m excited about the things that are coming my way right now.
James and Claudia were both lovely and inviting—we cannot wait to see where their careers go next!
Don’t forget to check out our review of I Love My Dad back from 2022’s SXSW Film Festival.