The trailer for Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ new movie Downhill opens with a Very Bad Thing. Billie (Dreyfus) and family are on vacation in Austria when what appears to be an avalanche rumbles down the hill, presumably to end their vacation in tragedy. At this precise moment, Billie’s husband Pete (Will Ferrell) grabs his cell phone and leaves Billie and their two children, huddled together awaiting their deaths, as he escapes into the ski lodge. It turns out, the avalanche was a controlled one and everyone is fine, but Pete’s still the bad guy, right?
Nope, says Dreyfus. Downhill, which is a remake of the French, Norwegian, and Swedish film Force Majeure, is a bit more complicated than all that. And when you see why, it just might stave you off long term relationships forever. But the actor is hoping that audiences will see the layers in it before giving up on commitment altogether.
“We are trying to tell a story that had some ambiguity to it, not black-and-white, but more gray. Muddy it up a bit,” Dreyfus tells Refinery29 in Los Angeles, ahead of the film’s release. She produced the film — in her words, she “lived and breathed” it — and it marks her first project post-Veep. While Dreyfus misses Selina Meyer (“I love that horrible lady”), she’s excited to deliver a different outlook on life to audiences. And one that is, perhaps, not as bleak as Veep’s.
“Good people can do really bad things, and we are playing with themes of truth telling, the theme of shame, of responsibility. How does one go on after a moment like this? How does one reconcile when something terrible like this has happened?,” she ponders.
In essence, what happens after Pete’s terrible deed is a series of equally terrible reactions by both Billie and Pete. This isn’t a movie about a bad husband getting caught. It’s bigger than that.
“It's not like Billie’s a bad person, but she makes a couple of pretty bad decisions in this movie,” says Dreyfus, referring to one moment we won’t spoil. The actor calls the scene in question straight up “heinous” and “not a great mothering moment for her.” But it’s hard not find more sympathy for Dreyfus’ character, who is essentially reacting to Pete’s bad decision — one he refuses to acknowledge. “She's being essentially gaslit by her husband after the fact, and that's not cool, but then she kind of spins out.”
But this is a movie that comes out on February 14, also known, for better or worse, as Valentine’s Day. Isn’t this kind of a bleak premise for a day on which most people are trying to celebrate all the mushy, rose-colored glasses versions of love?
“I would say that it opens up conversation,” says Dreyfus. She points to the “foil” of Pete’s much younger coworker and his girlfriend (played by Veep alum Zach Woods and Zoë Chao), who Pete asks to join him and Billie in Austria as a means of diffusing the tension post-Avalanche. “The younger couple in this story are in the throws of early days, which is divine, and I remember those days well. There's a lot to be said for them, but there's also a lot to be said for experience and walking through tough times together, which Billie and Pete certainly are.”