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Peel: Director Rafael Monserrate on Creating A Film with Innocence and Authenticity [Exclusive Interview]

Pure innocence can see the truth in people.

Peel is a comedy drama that follows a 30-year-old man, who was abandoned by his father at the age of five. He was raised in near isolation by a loving, yet emotionally unstable and over-protective mother. The only life Peel Munter has ever known is within the confines of his childhood home. Upon his mother’s unexpected death, Peel is left lost and utterly alone in this quirky, coming-of-age story about a young man’s journey to find and rebuild a broken family.

The film stars Emile Hirsch (Into The Wild), Jack Kesy (Baywatch), Shiloh Fernandez (Evil Dead), Garrett Clayton (Hairspray! Live), Jacob Vargas (Luke Cage) and Amy Brenneman (Judging Amy). The screenplay is written by Lee Karaim and directed by Rafael Monserrate (The Dissection of Thanksgiving).

LRM Online spoke on the phone exclusively with director Rafael Monserrate on the attractiveness on working on a unique family film of Peel. He also talked about the approach of the film and on why Emile Hirsch was perfect for this role.

Peel is currently available for digital release today.

Read our exclusive interview below.

LRM: What attracted you to direct Peel?

Rafael Monserrate: Great question. I was actually in search of a story about brothers and family. In sorts of transformational relationships and family with what happens when families struggle and break apart for whatever reason. I was searching for that script. Actually, I found this script on Craigslist. It was attracted to me, because it was the story of an innocent, a humble young man who didn’t know much about the world. What really drew me to it was the power of his ability to sort of see people in circumstances for the truth of what they are and to bring healing to those circumstances. That really pulled me into the story.

LRM: Wow. Is putting a script on Craigslist that very unconventional? I bet that’s sort of a roundabout way to tackle this.

Rafael Monserrate: [Laughs] It is. It’s unconventional. When I had done, I’ve directed my first film, The Dissection of Thanksgiving, a few years before this. I was looking for another family oriented story. I cast a wide net in different websites and reached out to agencies and managers. I decided that there must be untapped talent out there. I just gave it a shot. It is unconventional. You sometimes take that path unconventional path and you strike gold. Lee Karaim was the writer. I think this was a project that went the furthest for him with Sony gotten involved. We did about a year of re-writing on crafting story, character and script. When I first got on board, it was a little more of a broad comedy. We had created some nuance and real depth to what I felt he was trying to say,= in the original script. I was really wanting to draw that depth out. I really want to draw those relationships out in the story. It turned more into a little more as a drama or dramedy, comedy and humor throughout as necessary.

LRM: What were the most biggest change from the original script that was on Craigslist to the movie that we have now?

Rafael Monserrate: I would say the tone. The tone originally was more of a broader, bigger comedy. The tone now is sort of a deeper exploration of the themes. The film is really about two things that attracted me. One was the power of innocence to feel. The power of innocence to overcome the cynicisms and betrayals that we experienced in the world. The other thing is–who is our tribe? How do we find that tribe? It doesn’t always have to be blood, right? It depends on who we encounter along the way in our lives. It’s who supports us. It’s who understands us. It’s who sees us.

In those two scenes is diving deeper into what they meant. The themes in our interactions within the family, the core family, especially with the brothers. It really deepens and gave it a sense of a more powerful transformation for Peel himself in finding his tribe. For every the other character that he would encounter, he is sort of like the Pied Piper of this misfits, wittingly or unwittingly so.

LRM: A colleague of mine, described the film as a coming of age story, but we’re talking about a 30 year old as coming of age story.

Rafael Monserrate: [Laughs] Great point.

LRM: Why is Emile Hirsch so perfect. He could play a variety of great characters. Why do you believe he is perfect to play Peel?

Rafael Monserrate: Upon my first meeting with him, I was a big fan of Emile’s work such as Into the Wild and everything else he’s done. There’s a few things. Emile has a lot of truth and a lot of depth in his eyes. We watched him in all of his films and followed him as a craftsman. His honesty really comes through his eyes in a very genuine, organic way. I knew that to capture that purity and that innocence of Peel, which is so critical to the story. It’s so powerful. That’s the one of the main reasons why Emile was perfect.

The other thing about Emile was I never really seen him play a character such an innocence at perceived naivete with real depth. I saw that innocence in all of these characters, there was a wonder in him instinctively. A curiosity that I knew was right. When we sat down and spoke for the first time, one of the things he said was fascinating. He told me what attracted him to this role is that he can’t really pinpoint who Peel is yet. It made him very interested in exploring, which was right for the character. Peel, himself, struggles with this issue of being seen, being understood. He recognized that he has awareness as different. He has awareness he is simple. He has awareness that people look at him in a strange way that people believed he is weird or different. He knows his awareness. There is something that he does see in circumstances in people. People don’t recognize him for that level of observation or depth. His level of innate curiosity and his level of wonder, I thought Emile was exactly right to play Peel. It was very exciting sitting with him, diving deeper into what that was for exploration on who Peel is.

LRM: Talk about the rest of the cast for this film in basically seeking out his tribe and his brother.

Rafael Monserrate: Absolutely. It’s interesting to sit down with every single one of the cast members, whether it was Jack Kesy, Shiloh [Fernandez], Jacob Vargas or even Amy Brenneman, who plays mama. One of the things that every single one of these characters related to, understood and what they loved about it–was that at some point in their lives–they had felt out of place. They didn’t belong. At one point marginalized. At one point different. Or at one point didn’t quite fit in. They loved about the story was that this was a group of misfits, who find each other and learn from each other that inherently each and every one is enough just with who they are. I think when it comes to Amy Brenneman as his Mama, which was really brought her to the piece of the film. Yes, it’s an unconventional relationship. She’s very over-protective, over-nurturing, homeschooled him and isolated him. She’s breastfeeding till he’s ten years old and very unconventional.

There’s a real bond and an ability to recognize that Peel is unique. She sees that. She recognizes that. Through that bond, although a little strange, she tries to Peel the courage to believe in himself, to be who he is. Although, albeit, a little in a strange way. According to others, it might be unacceptable. With his brothers, Peel shows up in the search for his brothers. The biggest thing Peel inherently is able to do, he doesn’t even realize it, he does not judge them for who they are. Troy Hall, wonderful actor who I’ve known years, is the older brother, Will, who after the family had been broken apart and be taken away by his father. Will is unable to deal with the truth of his own emotions and the truth of his own circumstances. He runs away when there are issues with his family and his life.

When Peel shows up to his brother, he says, “I missed you. I wanted to see you and I want you to come home. And there’s no judgment.” What it does for the characters in Will and Sam, they don’t know how to handle at first. It’s almost too much. It’s like looking in a mirror. That action is too strong. You can’t look at yourself. Peel has that ability to do that. He accepts them. The one scene that I think is the most powerful is when he goes to see Sam, the one who has an addiction with a drug problem. He’s run away from issues with his wife. He’s isolated himself. When he goes, it’s like visiting a lion in his cage. With his innocence, his non-judgment and acceptance, Sam asks, “Why are you giving me all this money?” Which we all knew he probably would use it for drugs. Peel innocently just says, “I hope I’ve given you enough money for you to feel good. I hope I helped you.” He doesn’t judge his condition, on who he or where he lives. Ultimately, it allows the brothers and the other characters to accept themselves.

That’s how powerful feeling for a character to be able to do that. It’s something that I personally think we need more of in this world, especially in the state of how we find ourselves in our politics and our social interactions. We need to be able to accept ourselves for who we are.

LRM: Was it difficult to balance the drama and the comedy for a film like this?

Rafael Monserrate: That is always a challenge. It’s a very delicate balance between the humor in the dramatic elements. The thing that I think we all set out to do was to be authentic. The way to balance it was to really search for the truth of a moment, a scene or interaction, whether it be comedy or whether it be more dramatic moving moment, scene or interaction. If we could find the authenticity and pull the truth out scene, moment or intention, I think we could balance it. We accomplished that. That was the sort of the approach.

LRM: Thank you very much, Rafael. I really appreciate it.

Rafael Monserrate: Thank you, man. Thank you.

Peel is currently available for digital release today.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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