Amber Tamblyn was definitely not expecting Paint It Black to be her directorial debut — just as she wasn't expecting to bump into her prospective star, Alia Shawkat, au naturel at the spa one day. "I went to a Korean spa in Los Angeles, and I saw her there, butt naked, and I was butt naked, and she was like, 'Hey, I read the script [you sent me]!' And I was like, 'Hey, let's have a general meeting together, naked, in a hot tub," Tamblyn tells Refinery29. "So it was kind of love after that point."
Tamblyn — who met Shawkat through husband David Cross, Shawkat's Arrested Development co-star — realized the 27-year-old was the perfect actress to replace her in Paint It Black after Tamblyn made the leap from writer-star to writer-director. (She penned the screenplay with Ed Dougherty based on the 2006 Janet Fitch novel of the same name that a friend gave her years ago.)
Tamblyn, 32, was terrified; it was actually the original director who pushed Tamblyn to helm the film, about the twisted relationship that forms between the grieving girlfriend Josie (Shawkat) and mother Meredith (Janet McTeer) of a young man who dies by suicide (Rhys Wakefield). "She said to me, 'What is it that you're waiting for? What's the reason you don't want to do this?' So I had to ask myself that, and I found that the only reason was fear." Tamblyn decided to go with her gut, "which [was] telling me I have a super phenomenal film in my head and I should try to make it come alive."
The result is indeed a living thing —a visceral, visually haunting exploration of how these women's grieving processes intertwine in some wildly fucked up ways. Tamblyn likes to describe it as "if David Lynch directed Grey Gardens." She continues, "I really wanted to make people who were seeing the film feel what the characters felt while they were watching it. My hope is that people really connect to it on a mercurial, deeply psychic level."
But as much as Paint It Black is about grief, it's also about rebirth. "It's about being born again, finding yourself again, and finding out who you are as a woman, which is a tale that we so rarely get to see in contemporary film. Or if we do, it's not told truthfully," Tamblyn explains. "My hope is that people will see truth in this film."
Paint It Black hits theaters May 19.