‘Causeway’ Writers, Director on Military Research, Why Brian Tyree Henry Was the “Only Person” for His Role
The A24 and Apple drama Causeway largely revolves around the relationship between Jennifer Lawrence‘s returning soldier Lynsey and Brian Tyree Henry‘s mechanic James, so it was key that the two actors at the center of the film had strong chemistry with each other.
Lila Neugebauer, a first-time film director, knew that the pair were the right match “from the moment they met .”
“I had an inkling, having met Jen and spent time with her, meaningful time with her,” Neugebauer, who worked extensively in theater before directing Causeway, told The Hollywood Reporter at a New York screening of the film earlier this month. “And having known Brian for almost 20 years, I had a suspicion that they would connect easily and deeply and fortuitously, that suspicion proved accurate.”
Neugebauer, who met Henry when the two were students at Yale, says the Atlanta star was “the first and only person” she wanted for the role of James.
He was a good fit for the role partly because of his “depth of spirit and humanity” and his “sensitivity, empathy imagination,” which she felt were especially important for him to play the role of a man dealing in the aftermath of a car accident.
Neugebauer states that Henry would play the part of a man who has lost a leg in traumatic past events. Neugebauer believes that this aspect of the character’s story was essential to the film. She says that she knew Henry would do the meaningful work to prepare for the role in a thoughtful, responsible manner .”
Elizabeth Sanders felt that James’ physical reminder of the accident was an important part of his relationship with Lynsey. Lynsey suffered a brain injury in Afghanistan and is currently dealing with emotional trauma.
Sanders stated, “I believe that in order to demonstrate that it was human empathy which would allow them to go through their griefs and trauma together. That sort of visual representation allowed them both to start a friendship that might never have otherwise started.”
She said that the bond forms quickly because they recognize the “trauma” they share.
Sanders stated that the idea for the film was born out of Sanders’ curiosity about the experiences of military veterans attempting to reenter civilian society.
“I was interested in what life was like [for them], especially when their injuries were not visible and what that entailed as far as them coming back and processing their trauma and overcoming their grief,” Sanders told THR.
Sanders and his team spoke to veterans who had been to Afghanistan and military personnel to help them understand this aspect of the story.
Ottessa Moschfegh and Luke Goebel were added to the film later in the production process.
“We did a lot of research on traumatic brain injury; Afghanistan water systems, the work Lynsey would have done there; her experience in getting injured and her recovery back home — what that looks like for a lot of soldiers,” Moshfegh told THR.
Goebel said that while much of this didn’t make it into the film, they learned extensively about “ancient water systems” in Afghanistan, which he expressed “great admiration” for and said were “brilliant, sustainable” and “incredible.”
They also learned about the recovery process and non-physical manifestations that can result from traumatic brain injuries.
Goebel stated, “Just learning that you would airlifted from Kandahar into Germany, undergo brain surgery, and then go to stay with a caretaker who’s an independent caregiver for months or longer just so you can brush your teeth again.”
Moshfegh said, “I had never thought that the recovery from a [traumatic head injury] was so emotional.” Working on scenes early on where Lynsey is first staying in the home of this nurse and coming up with ways that she might say something that she didn’t mean to say or have a really unexpectedly emotional response to something and the way that that sort of made her aware of what she was going through.”
Neugebauer, despite not having any military experience, said that she felt a “feeling” of recognition after reading the original screenplay.
She said, “I felt very connected with this character’s inner lives.” “I’m not a military veteran. Although I am not a veteran, her insides spoke to my heart. I also liked the care and patience, and attention to detail that was shown in the story.
Neugebauer was also pleased to discover that directing for film and for the stage “are deeply aligned.”
Neugebauer spoke of the similarities between the two mediums, stating that the core questions you are asking and seeking answers, the collaborative strategies and the physicality of creating an actor’s language, the role of visual composition to storytelling, were all very similar.
Lawrence stars in the film and is her first production manager through her Excellent Cadaver shingle. She was attracted to Neugebauer’s first film director and the stripped-down project.
“It had been a long time since we’d seen Jen in something this intimate, something this stripped back,” Lawrence’s producing partner Justine Ciarrocchi told THR. “She had done a lot of big studio films, but I felt she was looking for something smaller. The script was also unconventional and had a lot soul. I think she connected pretty immediately with the character.”
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.