Writer & Director Ken Mok On His Inspirations For The New RomCom ‘The Right One’ [Exclusive Interview’]

Can we really say that we each only have one personality? Are we the same with our parents as we are with our partners or our employers? Changing the way we act can be used as an escape or a coping mechanism. In order to avoid a certain problem or set of emotions, it might just be easier to become someone else completely.  But what happens when we lose ourselves in the process? Or do it for so long that it just becomes easier to be someone else? This is an interesting theme that is explored in the romantic comedy from Grindstone Entertainment, a Lionsgate company, The Right One.

In The Right One, we follow the story of Sara. She is a novelist that is struggling with serious writer’s block.  Her publicist and friend, Kelly consistently keeps the pressure on about her deadline. This seems to make everything worse. She then finds her inspiration after she meets Godfrey. He is a mysterious down-on-his-luck character that consistently changes personas and alter egos in order to deal with his past and avoid reality. Just as they begin to really click, he discovers that she has been using him as an inspiration for her next novel, and disappears. Did Sarah just lose the best thing that has happened to her? Or can she find him and make things right?

The Right One

With the release of The Right One today on Digital and On-Demand, LRM Online had the opportunity to talk with writer and director Ken Mok about the film. During our conversation, we focus a lot on the real-life inspirations behind the film. We also talk about some of the challenges that he faced putting the film together and how they were able to overcome them. It was a fun conversation that complimented a fun film. You can check out the full interview below!

The Right One is now available on Digital and On-Demand and will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on February 9th, 2021.

Ken Mok Interview

Emmanuel Gomez: Congratulations on the  fabulous fun film, The RIght .

Ken: Oh my god, did you see it Emmanuel?

Emmanuel: Yes, I had the privilege of watching it a few days ago, and I had a lot of fun watching it.

Ken: Oh, I’m so glad you enjoy it, that makes me very happy.

Emmanuel: It’s interesting. Sometimes romcoms almost seem very linear. Very by the book. I had a good time in not only the story of Sara trying to regain her mojo. But at the same time, learning about Godfrey and everything that he’s been through.

Ken: That’s great. Yeah. Thank you. I so appreciate that feedback.

Emmanuel: Could you tell me a little bit about your inspiration for the film because I know you’re also served as the writer, as well as the director?

Ken: It’s interesting. This particular film came from a couple of sources. One was, I’ve always been fascinated with this British actor named Peter Sellers. I don’t know if you know who he is. He was in the Pink Panther movies, and he did this movie Being There, very famous British actor. What was amazing about Peter Sellers was that he was a brilliant mimic. He could play any character on the planet. He could play Cockney British, he could play upper-class, he could play Indian, he could play American. Whatever character he chose to play, he did it brilliantly.

He completely slipped into that person, completely. But the thing about him was, in real life, when he wasn’t playing a role, he didn’t know who he was. He had no identity. He was just this weird cipher, empty vessel that would only come alive when he played a role. I found that really fascinating, and I kept on thinking, “What would cause a person to not know who he was?” Then I thought to myself, “There must’ve had to been some sort of emotional trauma that happened to this person that created that.” So that started making me think about that.

The Right One

Then a few years ago, I read this article about this big social influencer who suddenly quit. The reason she said she quit was because everything she was posting on social media was fake. That everything she was doing was this idealized kind of curated version of herself, and she couldn’t deal with the pressure anymore, or what she said, the lies of who she was, and she left. That started really making me think about identity in our culture now, and how in a lot of ways, social media is corrupting identity for all of us. None of us are presenting our true selves to the world. And so when I kind of had that idea, and I thought about Peter and what was going on with him, it kind of naturally led me to the screenplay.

Emmanuel Gomez: I thought Godfrey’s character was very interesting. I’m glad you brought up the social media part because as we’re watching the film, I realized that he has the opportunity to play all these characters, yet nobody realizes he’s the same person.

Ken: Yeah.

Emmanuel: I find it interesting that our protagonist played by Cleopatra Coleman. Sara was able to catch on to that and really kind of latch on to him, even from the moment in the gallery.

Ken: Yes, exactly.

Emmanuel: So my question to you is. Why do you think it took somebody like Godfrey to bring Sara out of her shell?

Ken: I think it was because she is living an inauthentic life herself. In a lot of ways, she realizes she’s just as much of a phony as he is. So she has this relationship with Simon, but she was trying to shape it into a way that it’s supposed to look like in an idealized version of her world, but he wasn’t that. Then she realized that her friendships were phony and that she was being inauthentic as well. It really kind of took a person like that, with these multifaceted personalities, to kind of help her examine herself. So it really is a film about two damaged people who are able to bond and heal, not only each other but themselves.

Emmanuel: I really loved what you did with Iliza Shlesinger’s character, Kelly. Throughout the film, you realize how much of more than just a publicist she is, but she’s actually probably Sara’s only friend. Can you talk a little bit about Kelly’s character?

Ken: Kelly’s character is actually based on a real-life friend of mine, named Kelly Cutrone. I don’t know if you know who Kelly Cutrone is, but she’s a big publicist in the fashion world. She had her own TV show on MTV a number of years ago. The character of Kelly is exactly like Kelly Cutrone. She’s really brash, she’s really no filter, she just confronts people, she just tells it like it is to you, as she will to me, all the time. She’s a tough woman, but she’s got a heart of gold underneath that.

By the way, the real Kelly Cutrone is a Buddhist, which I found hilarious. I actually had this conversation with Kelly, it’s in the film. I said, “You’ve got to be the worst Buddhist I’ve ever seen.” Because she’s so volatile. I’ve literally seen her fire her assistant in the middle of the airport when we were leaving from Hong Kong to come into the US. Kelly was a judge on America’s Next Top Model for me.

We were literally going from Hong Kong, getting on an airplane to come back to LA, and she fired her assistant in the middle of the airport. So, she’s just this character. I said, “I have to write a character based on you in one of my films.” That’s how Kelly came to be. Then, when I was writing the script, I wrote it specifically for Iliza Shlesinger because I’m such a big Iliza Shlesinger fan. And I was like, “This role is handmade for Iliza.” She came on board the movie and she totally, in my opinion, hit it out of the park.

Emmanuel: I have to agree with you. My favorite scene is where Kelly’s telling Sara like it is, and that, for me, is when I realized, “Oh my god, she knows so much more about her than Sara does about Kelly.”

Ken: Right, exactly right.

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Emmanuel: Another character that I really found very important in the film was Shad played by M.J. Kokolis. For me, he almost served as the narrator and completed the entire story for The Right One.

Ken: Right. Yeah. I mean, M.J. is just a terrific actor. I found him in Vancouver where we shot the movie, and he’s this young Australian kid, had just kind of moved to Vancouver. The casting director said, “You have to see this kid.” He had auditioned on tape, and I thought he was riveting.So, he fit perfectly into the film. I got very lucky with this cast, Emmanuel, I really did. I think, at least I feel like, everybody from the stars of the movie all the way down to the supporting players, even to the day players, they all deliver it for me. I’m just so grateful.

Emmanuel: I just felt there was so integral and there were so good with it made your overall film that much better.

Ken: Yeah. Thank you so much. Like I said, I’m very happy to talk about the supporting cast. They need to get their love too, as they should. They’re all so talented and there’s such a wealth of talent up in Canada, I was just shocked at how good the actors and actresses were. I did, not coincidentally, get a bunch of actors who were really skilled in comedy and improv as well, and I think that shows in the film.

Emmanuel: When you were developing the story, was there any method of choosing what personas Godfrey was going to take?

Ken: Yeah, it’s interesting. The backstory here is that I had originally written this screenplay for a very specific actor. When I had finished it, and I sent it to him. I said, “Listen, I wrote this for you. Will you star in this film?” The actor read it and said, “Oh, I’d love to do this, you captured me perfectly.” So I cast him in the movie. I cast the leading lady who he had a relationship within the movie.

Then what happened was, when I was prepping the film up in Canada, six weeks before we started shooting, he dropped out. Then, as a result, the leading lady dropped out. So I had no leads to my movie with a month to go. Then luckily I scrambled and got Nick and Cleo who I was big fans of, and got them into the film literally two weeks before we started shooting.

So what happened, I had to do a mad scramble with Nick because Nick’s skill set is completely different from that other actor’s skillset. So when he got up to Vancouver, right away he and I worked on the screenplay together and I was like, “Okay, what can you do?” “Well, I can play the guitar. I can sing.” There are two numbers in the movie that he wrote, that he performed as a singer. Then the other personas that are in the film were custom made for Nick and not for the other actor. So, it was a real mad scramble right before we started shooting to make sure that I could custom make that role for Nick Thune.

Emmanuel: I’m very glad that you ended up with these two fantastic actors because I enjoyed Nick’s performance very, very much. This brings me to another question, was there any personas that he wanted to play that just didn’t work?

Ken: No, actually not. If I had had more shooting days to experiment with characters, we would have done that. But we were so under the gun. In fact, during production, my shooting days got cut. It was crazy. When you’re doing a small indie film, especially a film like this, this is what happens. You already have less shooting days than you have on a major feature film. I had originally started out with 28 days where I was in the shoot.

Then all of a sudden, three days into production, the producers tell me, “We’re cutting you down to 23 days.” So I’m like, “What?” So, because we’re shooting this film, which is called practical, which is, we didn’t have any sets, we shot it all on location. Half your day already is taken away because the production team’s moving from one location to the next. So you’re under such incredible time pressure to make your day get done. We didn’t really have time to experiment with other characters, although we would’ve loved to. I was lucky to get through my day and lucky enough that I had such good actors and pros that we were able to not only get through the day but get great performances out of them.

Emmanuel: What are the challenges in developing a romcom like The Right One?

Ken: I don’t think the challenge is specific to any genre. I think when you really you’re trying to do when you’re developing stories to at least for me is, create some really interesting characters that you care about that you want to go on a journey with. Create a story that feels fresh, that doesn’t feel cliched, and build up enough story momentum that it engages the audience and propels them to the end of the movie. I don’t think that matters whether you’re doing a romcom, or a drama, a comedy, a sci-fi film. All of the same principles apply to storytelling. So, that’s really what I focused on when I was writing the script.

In fact, Emmanuel, the truth is, when I wrote this script, I had not pictured it as a romcom. Originally, it was really a drama with some comedic elements to it, but then what happened was, when I was shooting it, Cleopatra is so good at comedy that she changed the tone of the film. There was a scene that I shot with her, it’s the scene in the park where she sees her ex-boyfriend, and the ex-boyfriend introduces his wife to her. She was so funny in that scene.

The Right One

After we shot that scene, I said to Cleo, I said, “I did not know you had such comedy chops”. So what ended up happening is that I ended up rewriting her part for her during the shooting of the movie to fit her comedy. So then you ended up having Cleo doing the comedy. Iliza doing the comedy and had Nick doing comedy. Then I had David Koechner. So it changed the tone from the film from this very kind of more dark movie into this really fun, sweet, romantic comedy. And it just came out in a way that I’m very happy.

Emmanuel: Wow. That is kudos to you because under the gun, taking away five days and changing the script on set. You are very talented to deal with all of that.

Ken: Thanks so much.

Emmanuel: Speaking about your personal work, I’m curious now, how do you fight writer’s block?

Ken: I’m going, to be honest, and I don’t even want to say this because I don’t want to jinx myself. I haven’t had it yet. Obviously, when you write, there are times where you hit a roadblock, where you can’t figure out what to do next. But usually what I just do is, when I hit that roadblock, I just take a couple of days off. I spend time with my kids, my wife, I go do some other things. I try to fill up my creative gas tank with other things.

Usually, what happens when you have that writer’s block. You know that when you’re off doing something else, or you’re spending time distracting yourself, what’s happening in the back of your mind, the mind is working still. It’s still bubbling, it’s still trying to find a way to solve the problem. Usually and invariably, after two, three days, when you come back to the script, it will solve itself. It will reveal itself to you. That’s what normally happens to me, and I’ve been very lucky with that.

Emmanuel: Very good. Ken, thank you so much for spending some time with me. There’s so much more I want to talk to you about, but I also respect your time. Congratulations on the film.  I really wish that we’d be able to see Godfrey in something in the future.

Ken: Well, thank you, Emmanuel, I really appreciate your time. I’m just hoping that people find this movie. Do you know what I mean? We’re kind of a smaller film, we’re kind of the little film that could. And I really hope people find it because I just think it’s a different take on the rom-com. It’s kind of sweet, it’s very funny. I think the most important thing about the movie is it’s a feel-good film. Given what all of us have gone through in this last year of 2020, everybody needs a feel-good. I think people would really enjoy it. I think you watch the film and you kind of feel better about the human race as a whole, which is, I think, a very positive message to send out to people right now.

The Right One

The Right One is now available on Digital and On-Demand and will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on February 9th, 2021.

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