By Danny Peary
One of the most highly-anticipated films of the upcoming Hamptons International Film Festival was shot in Hampton Bays and features Robin Singer, who is being touted as one of the event’s “Rising Stars.” Writer-director Stephen Padilla’s “Kisses, Chloe” has the title of a romantic comedy but is actually a provocative three-character exploration of sex and love, friendship, and self-destructive behavior–and other bad patterns people bring to relationships that viewers may find all too familiar. At the heart of the film is a young female who appears to have no heart, Singer’s young title character, who, like a ravenous, if cheery, vampire, sleeps during the day in her huge old house, and emerges mostly at night to suck the life out of those who enter her domain. Her new potential victims are her best and only friend Emily (Mikal Evans) and her boyfriend Alex (Brad Coolidge), who dare visit her Hamptons retreat. For Singer, who had a tiny part in Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works” and danced on “30 Rock,” playing Chloe has been her biggest and most satisfying challenge (“I surprised myself”) The versatile movie/television/theater actress/dancer/singer will be at the festival to support her film, but I had the chance to speak to her beforehand in New York City.
Danny Peary: What does it mean to you that Kisses, Chloe is debuting at the Hamptons International Film Festival?
Robin Singer: It’s a real honor and very exciting. We shot the film here in September 2009, almost exactly a year ago, and it’s like coming home in a way. The film was grown here and it feels that this is the festival where it should premiere.
DP: Why do you think Stephen Padilla set the film in the Hamptons?
RS: I never really thought about it before people started asking me that question. But now I can’t imagine it taking place anywhere else. Besides being so beautiful, there is a mystique and romanticism and luxury that’s associated with the Hamptons, and that stereotype is what this film explores. The house in Hampton Bays where my character Chloe lives alone is very secluded, which is difficult for a person who feels anxious when lonely and isolated, but it is so picturesque, right on the bay with a beautifully manicured lawn. It’s an old house that feels lived in and cared for. It seemed so appropriate.
DP: But didn’t you find it strange that Padilla set his entire movie about three young people in an old house?
RS: Not really. I know quite a few young people who spend time in family vacation homes, including in the Hamptons. The house is Chloe’s uncle’s property and it makes sense that when she got fired as a fashion-trend spotter in Europe she’d move to a place that exuded the lifestyle.
DP: In the production notes it says that the actors stayed in character during the twelve days of shooting. If you stayed as Chloe, who is vain, manipulative, tactless, and dominates every situation, did everybody try to avoid you?
RS (laughing): I wasn’t sitting alone between scenes, no! I was myself all the time but it was easy to step into character because I was surrounded by her world. Mikal, Brad and I were staying in the rooms our characters inhabited and everything was real in that sense for us. The first night, we moved in, had dinner, and just relaxed and there was immediate bonding of cast and crew. It was amazing. I don’t think Stephen could have chosen a better group of people to make this film because it was such an enjoyable experience despite how intense the shoot was.
DP: When did you get the script?
RS: In July 2009. I originally auditioned for Emily, because when I saw the casting notice it seemed that for Chloe they wanted a model, somebody who was very body-conscious, and I didn’t really think of myself that way. I thought of myself as the more reserved Emily and read two scenes as her. Then Stephen said, “Can you read the part of Chloe instead?”
DP: Had you read the whole script?
RS: I made it through four auditions before Stephen gave it to me. He wanted to know what my take on Chloe was from having read about eight pages total and I told him, “I think she’s a very innocent person.” He stared at me and said, “Okay, maybe I should give you the whole script.” When you’re an actor you root for your characters and want to think the best of them, so when I’d read the brief audition scenes I wasn’t convinced that Chloe is aware of everything bad she is doing. But when I read the full script I realized she is very much in control and driving the action. I came back to Stephen and said, “Oh, my god, I can’t believe I said she is innocent.”
DP: But after playing her, do you find her likable?
RS: I personally love Chloe. As Emily believes, she is likable although she doesn’t always do likable things. Like Emily and Alex, she is pursuing love, but doesn’t do it the right way. Having done quite a bit of comedy it was exciting to explore something so dramatic and juicy and play someone who is outwardly very strong but comes to learn the depths of her vulnerability and loneliness. Chloe doesn’t think of herself as a villain.
DP: So do you think Chloe comes on to Alex not because she’s a tramp or insensitive to Emily’s feelings but because she is trying to do Emily a service by revealing her boyfriend likes women on the side?
RS: I think Chloe believes that and her motivation isn’t entirely selfish for acting as she does toward Alex. Chloe is a perceptive, observant person who is really good at reading people, especially men, and she is able to quickly read Alex after provoking him with her shocking language and stories and lay her trap. What she does is a bit twisted, but she does want the best for Emily. That’s how I choose to see it. I wasn’t really thinking that way when I was playing it but watching the film now I think Emily’s pattern is to allow Chloe to seduce Alex, as has happened with her previous boyfriends. It makes her nervous having Chloe meet Alex, but it’s part of Emily’s issue to set herself up to be hurt. This may be how Emily tests Alex’s love for her. Or how she tests Chloe’s friendship. This film is about three people who have negative habits and patterns and whether it’s possible for them to change. Chloe has no one but herself to blame for her sadness, but I hope she can finally take a real look at herself and change.
DP: We first learn that Chloe isn’t made of stone when she and Emily walk back to the house while arguing about their one sexual encounter. When Emily says she never thinks of that night, Chloe breaks stride as if punched in the stomach. I assume there was little improvisation on this film, but at this key moment were you directed to hesitate momentarily or did you do it on your own?
RS: That was my choice. It was important to me that the audience understands that night meant so much to her and that she’s not just stirring things up because she’s a bad person but because she genuinely needs Emily’s love. Chloe always plays an upbeat, energetic, sexy, positive character, but here she finally reveals that it’s an act and that she’s really an emotional, vulnerable person. It’s important to me that she can be defended.
END SPOILER ALERT
DP: Do you expect there to be cringing by viewers who identify with these characters, particularly couples with trust issues?
RS (laughing): That’s life! “Who is your text message coming from?” I would say that a goal of the film is to give people a forum, language, and situation and push them to look at themselves. Viewers might identify with some of the negative habits of the characters, but we’re not trying to break up anyone! It’s enough to start discussions and self-examination. The goal of any art is to provoke, isn’t it?