Three Trinity Rep Actors Discuss Filming Oscar-nominated Don’t Look Up

Why the local performance scene is fertile ground for Hollywood

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Netflix’s Don’t Look Up may have filmed in neighboring Mass, but it featured some familiar Rhody faces. We caught up with actors Richard Donnelly, Rebecca Gibel, and Stephen Thorne to talk about being part of the Oscar-nominated movie. (This interview has been edited for space and clarity.)

Providence Monthly: Congratulations on being in an Oscar-nominated movie! What does that feel like?

Richard Donnelly: I love doing day-playing in movies. It never gets old.

Rebecca Gibel: It’s amazing to be part of those projects. But what feels even more special is to be a journeyman actor, making a living in the arts. And sometimes you happen to be in films that are nominated. But what feels even more special to me is that I get to make my life here with these beautiful artists in Providence.

Stephen Thorne: It’s a delight. I’ve had more people text me about seeing me for 15 seconds in this movie than have ever texted me in my life. It’s like, “Oh, my God, dude, that was you. That was your face.” So it’s cool but my part was so small. I feel related to it, but not necessarily a deep part of the inner workings of the film. I didn’t even get to read the whole script when we shot it, so I was guessing the tone of the movie. It’s a little like trying to solve a puzzle when you go in and do your scene.

PM: You had no context for the scene?

RG: They guarded the script really closely, I think because of the number of humongous stars on it. So we didn’t get the full script.

RD: Did you two stick to the script, or did you ad lib?

RG: Richard scripted his whole scene. It’s all by Richard Donnelly. [They laugh.]

RD: The first day, [director] Adam [McKay] said “we’re gonna stick to the script.” And then the next three days, we ad libbed, which was all Jonah Hill had to hear.

PM: What was that like?

RD: Fun. There was one point where Meryl Streep was trying to light her cigarette with this little gold lighter and she couldn’t do it. I said, “you want me to light that for you?” And she said, “Oh, would you?” And I wanted to say, “the camera’s on you, so yes!”

ST: That was the same thing as mine. I had, technically, the last line in the scene, but we spent a lot of time improvising this bit with a Xanax pill. By the end of the day, Jennifer Lawrence was responding to me going “he’s not something, something
[expletive].” I was like, oh, Jennifer Lawrence is calling me [expletive].

PM: Rebecca, your scene was tight. Was there room to improvise?

RG: Not for me, because the timing of it was so specific. I’m crossing in and out to different tables. So with each take, I had to keep my path exactly the same and make sure that the food I was dropping was exactly the same, so I didn’t screw up a take. It was all crazy choreography around the restaurant.

PM: What was it like doing this film during the pandemic?

ST: I hadn’t really been around people for like a year. So I go into a hotel room by myself for eight days and get really isolated; then I remove my mask and go on to a set with Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio. I short-circuited for about a minute. The context was just wild. Like being shot out of a cannon.

RG: We’re like a tiny cannonball smushed in this dark, quiet place and then all of a sudden, boom. You’re in Leonardo DiCaprio’s lap. It’s bananas.

PM: What do you think needs to happen to make Rhode Island a more viable location for film and TV production?

RG: Governor McKee, if you’re listening, can we please get those tax breaks permanent? That the three of us are in an Academy Award-nominated film right now is amazing. But the bigger story is that there is an economy here for television and film. It’s possible for artists to make their homes in New England and still make a living as artists. I think that the movie industry is discovering that there is deep talent here. And part of the reason is because of places like Trinity Rep, that have been supporting artists and their development and the ability to make a life here for decades. There have been a number of folks from Trinity – props folks, set builders – who transitioned to full-time work in TV and film in the New England area. And then you think about the food and hospitality industry, the hotel rooms those folks are booking...

RD: I talked to one of the guys on set whose job was to make sure everything was
sanitized. His company employed hundreds of people. Their company skyrocketed because of [the film work]. So there we go with the economics. It just makes sense.

ST: We were working in the middle of the most uncertain period, and that they figured out how to do it, was incredible. The vaccines weren’t even rolled out. We had to quarantine for eight days at a hotel in Boston before we could go on set. And the studio has to pay for all that. But they were like, we want to make this movie. And it’s a big movie, so it employed a lot of people.

RG: I think the soil’s really fertile. Don’t tell too many people though, because it’s really great up here. We want to keep it that way. I don’t want to struggle to get my table at Oberlin.

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