There is just something comforting about speaking with Beanie Feldstein and Amy Schumer. Both actresses have the ability to make a smile appear on your face the moment you start speaking to them. This could be in larger part to them being insanely hilarious individuals, both on the screen and on stage. Feldstein’s brilliant comedic chops in Lady Bird and Booksmart can only be matched by the world famous stand-up comedian and star of Trainwreck that is her co-star, Schumer. But in Stephen Karam’s The Humans, they set aside their comedic roots for more grounded, dramatic work as two sisters struggling to survive Thanksgiving with their family.
Feldstein and Schumer play Brigid and Aimee Blake, two siblings celebrating the infamous November holiday with their two parents (Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell), Brigid’s longtime boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun), and their grandmother (June Squibb). For Brigid, this holiday is special because it makes the move in date for her and Rich’s new apartment in the city. She is struggling to get her careering going as composer, but is working hard in her daytime job till her opportunity in music comes. This doesn’t go by her parents, who both praise her work one moment but question why she did it in the first place. Then there is Aimee, who is mostly an observer to the confrontations between her parents and sister, yet is dealing with the fall out of her separation from her longtime girlfriend, and is coming to terms with the fact they will never be together again.
For both actresses, these performances showcase places we have yet to see them tap in their careers, and they deliver in every scene. Moreover, they have terrific chemistry as sisters, and we buy the fact that these two have been through a lot, and lean on each other when the going gets tough. In a recent interview with AwardsWatch, the two co-stars sat down to talk about how they got involved with the project, what is was like building their ensemble’s chemistry on and off screen, and how they got to explore not just the relationships they have with their family members, but the ebbs and flows they are going through with their significant others. More importantly, they talk about how much fun they had making this movie.
Ryan McQuade: When were you first aware of this property, ‘The Humans?’ Was it when it was on Broadway? Was it when the script was delivered? And then once you did read the script, what was your first reaction to it once you had turned that last page and kind of pushed it there and we’re sitting there contemplating whether you’re going to take the project or not?
Beanie Feldstein: I was lucky enough to see the play when it was on Broadway. It really, really got inside my soul. And I had such a profound experience that when it was in London, I sent my partner to go see it, because she’s British. And I was like, ‘I can’t be on this date with you, but I’m sending you on a date by yourself to go see this play,’ because it really like struck me and all those years later I remembered it and wanted her to have that same experience. And literally that month I got a call that they were making the film adaptation after she saw it in London. And I… it was… I was so moved that they would think of me to play Brigid and the script is such a beautiful… it honors the… so I mean, of course it’s Stephen himself adapting it, so it honors his own source material so beautifully and, like the blood and guts of the piece, the thing that makes the piece so haunting and beautiful, but it also was so cinematic in the way that he wrote it.
And you could see it as you were reading it as much as you could hear it. And that was really exciting to see his own adaptation and the fact that he was going to direct it. It was just the easiest decision of all time. It was like jumping up and down. How did I get this lucky type of idea!
Amy Schumer: And for me, I don’t know if I got the script before I had my baby. He was like three months old when we started filming. So I don’t remember. You know that whole time when you have a baby it’s like such a blur, but I remember being really moved and excited that I was being offered this role because I’m not thought of in this way. And it was a very quick “hell yes” but yeah, it was like you don’t get writing like this handed to you.
It was all just such… it was really an interesting thing to prepare for because we had two weeks to rehearse and we were asked to be off book for those rehearsals. So you know, and everyone’s pretty much on camera the whole time. So to have a newborn and be learning… whatever a hundred… 20 pages of dialogue or whatever… but it was such an honor. It was actually like a real honor to prepare for this. And yeah, it’s still a surreal honor to be a part of it.
RM: Yeah. It shows in both of your work because of connectivity with everyone on screen. It is like watching a real family on screen. And you know, I wondered about that prep time. I wondered about… during the shoot… trying to build this family bond. Can you guys talk about some of the things that you guys did to really connect with each other on set or before you even got on set, with those prep days?
AS: It was just so natural. There was no intent. Nobody came in thinking we need to get close. It just completely happened in a way that I don’t think any of us have ever experienced before. You know, you can connect with someone on a project you’re working on, but it was really like all of us loved each other, wanted to be around each other, felt really connected and the support and appreciation of each other’s work. I think… you know I could feel the support radiating off of, not just Beanie, but Richard, Jayne, June, Steven. Like everybody was so… as the kids say… “there for it.” Stephen Karam put us together and it just worked. And you know, I think that that kids got a future!
BF: He’s magical. I think he’s a magical spirit. I don’t even know what to call it. He’s very, very special. And his writing is very special. And, and you said in your question “how did you try?” There was no trying, there just was an ease of comfortability and really there’s no… these are six people acting as one. And anyone that would read the script would know that. It’s the definition of an ensemble piece. And so showing up you’re just one sixth of a larger puzzle and we were all really honored and excited. I mean, for me, I could not believe my luck that I was working with these people. And I felt like there was this master class to get to watch and work with everyone. And it was the most giving group of actors.
None of us had a… there was no “okay, it’s your coverage so I’m just going to. Take a breath. It was lived experience. He was filming lived experience. We ate all of that turkey and all of those cakes!
AS: Oh yeah.
BF: And we were setting the table over and over and cooking the meal.
AS: And drinking!
RM: That’s the best part! (everyone laughs)
AS: Who gets to do that every day?
BF: In the order that it happens, which never happens. It just felt easy. And I think looked up on the film because it was also pre COVID. So it feels like another time ago. But I look back on it with such tremendous fondness of just how simple and easy.
AS: It’s like honestly strange. It was almost like we knew COVID was going to happen cause we were just so grateful to all be together. It was really… yeah and I think it only worked because we all felt that way. There wasn’t like one of us that was back in their trailer on their phone or something. It was like… we were all really into it and into each other and we’ve continued to stay close.
RM: That’s awesome. And beyond just the family component, this is a movie also about relationships. You have Jayne and Richard’s marriage, Beanie, you and Steven, and the new relationship there. And then of course Amy, what your character is going through in the film with her breakup. So can you guys talk about connecting with your characters not from just the family bond that you have to create, but then what’s going on within their personal relationship with their significant others?
BF: Well, Steven Yeun’s character, Richard, is in such a uniquely tricky, delicious sort of situation of being welcomed and simultaneously the observer and a part of the… and he’s in such a tricky spot of navigating, wanting your partner to feel seen and honored, but also wanting to be loved and accepted by their family. And, and Brigid doesn’t make it easy by… you know she doesn’t make it easy on anybody and I sure my partner Bonnie, well she hasn’t seen the film yet, but I’m sure she’ll really understand that feeling of, sort of being like being on the outside of the Feldstein existence and inside of it simultaneously. But it’s this feeling of I think, that’s very understandable for those that have lived it and very relatable of like wanting your family to see you in the adult partnership that you are living in day to day, Like you know Brigid and Richard do have a really supportive, lovely thing going, but when that’s examined by her family, she feels like she has it justify it or defend it in such an intense way.
And I think that’s tremendously relatable and I love the moments in the film where people take time to themselves or like in couplet. So like our scene… mine and Amy’s scene on the mattress…, is like such an intimate sister moment that they need away from the rest of the pack. And I also feel that way about the stolen moments between Brigid and Richard. Like there are just, you know that feeling of when you just need your partner to take you aside and be like “take a breath right now. I’m going to give you a kiss and you’re going to take a breath and you’re going to calm down and walk back in there” and its so necessary. And I will just say as an observer, like watch Amy perform that phone monologue, like every single time she did it when we would read through or rehearse, like we all would be teary eyed because it just… how you captured heartbreak was really singular. It was very special to witness.
AS: Thank you. Yeah, that phone call and all that, where my character is with her breakup and that moment just I can relate. I think a lot of us can relate to that feeling like just so lost and just so sure that life is kind of over for you and you see your future is so bleak. Really it’s one of the takeaways for me of this film for me is like… you know, it’s from so many things… it’s like really all you got is your family. And you’re lucky if you’ve got whatever kind of family you have, it’s whatever your family looks like. And it could be just one person that you’re just bonded in this other way. And it’s like, I feel like probably the only thing, keeping my character like alive, like wanting to be alive in that moment and yeah, and just like exploring and mining that area of my own life, of like that kind of heartbreak where it hurts to take a breath and you just feel like life is over. It would be kind of fun to see. I mean not really, but to see where this family is a year from then or something.
But I love that the end of this isn’t like, and everybody’s great and they… you know not to spoil anything, but….
BF: That’s not the end of the story!
AS: No, there isn’t a horse and a princess riding off into the sunset. (Laughs) But it kind of doesn’t matter the moment each character’s in… like the immediacy of, you know that my character’s going through a breakup. Brigid is at the beginning of this relationship, all the different moments of these relationships, and it shows that life just keeps going and evolves and the only really stable thing is the family in its instability. Sorry, I can’t talk about this movie without going on some tangent.
BF: The Humans is therapy.
The Humans premieres simultaneously in theaters and on Showtime on November 24, 2021.