A far cry from your typical love story, 28 Hotel Rooms, tells the story of a fragmented romance that exists in the confines of the rooms they inhabit. Both traveling for work, a man (played by Chris Messina) and a woman (played by Marin Ireland) have, what’s intended to be, a one-night stand. Months later, the two run into each other in another hotel and rekindle their sexual encounter—regardless of the fact that she’s married and he has a girlfriend. Both intend for this to be the last time they’ll meet but as the two spend more time with one another and grow closer, their relationship unexpectedly develops into something intense and beyond their control . The film spans over years of their lives as they grapple with the confines of their love and the world outside one another. Directed by actor and first time feature director, Matt Ross, their story plays out reminiscent of a stage drama, documenting the evolution of their chance encounter. We chatted with Marin Ireland to discuss her strong working bond with co-star Chris Messina, the immediate nature of the film’s production, and what holds their characters together.
You’ve done a lot of theater and were trained in theater, is that what you initially wanted to do? How did you transition into film from there?
Well, as a kid I was doing a lot of community theater and then I went to a boarding school for the arts in California for the last two years of high school, so I was starting to get some training them and then I went to a conservatory in Hartford, Connecticut. I auditioned for a bunch of schools and found myself on the east coast. I found New York really exciting. And I’ve been lucky because a lot of the work that I’ve done in TV and movies has somehow been connected to that a little bit. Like this movie, one of my first jobs in New York was a play I did with Chris Messina, so that’s how all this really happened. We still kept in touch and that play was almost ten years ago but then he called me up and was like, I’ve been working on this project with a friend of mine and do you want to meet up with him and talk about the project? It would have been very different if we hadn’t had some familiarity with each other and from doing a play together too, which is a very different kind of experience.
Also, because it is set in such a closed location and because it is just the two of you, it must have felt a lot like the intimacy of theater.
Yeah, and we talked about that a lot. Also, Matt went to Julliard and he started out doing theater as well so we talked about a lot how that was an atmosphere we were all very familiar with and then we could sort of use that language a little bit with each other too. You want to preserve the best elements of doing a one act play or something but also not rely on that and not have feel so classical in a way that wasn’t helpful for the movie. But that kind of language was definitely in the room a lot with us.
Do you feel you have to change the style of your acting from stage to screen?
The play that I did with Chris a long time ago, the third actor in it was Frances McDormand and I remember specifically he asking her at one point during that play, because she does a lot of theater and always has, he asked her did she feel like she had to adjust her acting in any way when she went between movies and theater. And she was like, “No.” And I remember that so clearly like, Oh okay I won’t worry about that then. Because, I feel like, when you work in theater, people think of it as bigger but what’s funny is most of the plays I end up doing in New York, especially in off-Broadway too, are in pretty small spaces. What’s funny is, when you do theater, sometimes you’re in a 1000 seat theater and sometimes you’re playing to 50 people, you know? So I feel like, in my mind, you’re always slightly adjusting for the size of the audience. It only relates to the project itself.
What did you think the first time you read the script?
It was interesting because I met with Matt before reading the script and he was like, “remember right now the script is a pretty loose outline,” because he and Chris had been working on the story for a long time and on Chris’ character. Their idea was always once they brought me on or the other actor on, they would spend a few weeks rehearsing and developing female character with the actor who was doing it. In spite of that, he kept saying to me like, “when you read it, it’s not finished, it’s just an outline, I’m looking forward to your input.” But I have to say, when I first read it, I was really really moved by it and I was pretty impressed because to me it didn’t seem like it was over-romanticized or overly sentimental. If it felt like it was romantic, it seemed like the characters were really trying to create a romantic moment for themselves as opposed to the filmmaker over-romanticizing something like that. I really liked that the relationship wasn’t like a quirky indie girl. I liked that they were really trying to make sure that the woman was a different sort of a character than I’ve seen in a lot of movies—she was very professional and had a lot of secrets and wasn’t overly emotional available.
And this was your first starring role in a film?
I did little movie called The Understudy four or five years ago that just came out now after all this time. But that was even a smaller budget movie. Having that experience helped me have some sense of the kind of work I needed to do. But in terms of more of an adult actor, this was a pretty big difference for me. It was pretty special, I have to say, because knowing Chris so well beforehand made for a really unique experience. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like if we didn’t have a level of comfort with each other already and to imagine how long it might have taken to get to that place with someone else. It was interesting because the stuff we had to do in the scenes together was so intense and these sexual situations are challenging but weirdly that didn’t take over our brains in the same way as it usually might because we knew each other and we were comfortable. There was also a lot of improvisation; we would be lighting the set in another room and while they were doing that we’d just go in another area and make up a scene. Matt would be like, “go over there and have a fight,” and then we’d paint my toenails and talk about something and one of those scenes ended up in the movie. And if we hadn’t had that level of comfort with each other and understanding of the characters, we wouldn’t have been able to have that, which is what Matt and Chris always envisioned for the experience. Their vision of the movie was partially having a particular experience in the actual shooting of it and we could be creating it while we went along as opposed to just shooting what was on the page.
That must have required a pretty strong sense of the character in order to improvise a lot of those scenes and change so much as you went along. Did you fin that difficult?
But that’s what was so great, we had a couple weeks of rehearsal where we were really breaking down the characters and the scenes. I also don’t know how we could have done it without having that time together because that’s exactly right. Matt was able to say something to us like, “I don’t know where this is going to go in the movie but just start talking about your childhood with each other and we would have the ease to do that.” Also, Chris is an incredible improvisor. He’s an incredible actor always, but his facility with if you give him space and something to talk about, he’s incredible that way. I don’t know if I’ve ever met an actor who is able to just riff on things like that. I was so grateful because some of those scenes are my favorite in the movie and he really lead the way on those a lot. There were a lot of surprises everyday and that’s enjoyable. You spend time doing TV stuff or movie stuff and a lot of time it’s just about cramming all the shots that you intended to get done into your day, and with a movie like this, there was so much joy just showing up and knowing that there would be a lot of unexpected things that would happen that day. That’s rare, especially in a low-budget thing—we had a lot of freedom.
Was there also a lot of freedom because it did take place in one location?
Definitely. And also because Matt knew there was always a possibility that it could get too claustrophobic for the audience. So, I think that was part of why when it’s just the two of us and we’re in very restricted locations, we tried to crack everything else open and see what we can come up with and try and be creative every day we’re at work. That’s like dream job, you know?
And did you feel like you could relate to her?
There was a lot of freedom in the fact that I didn’t have to be concerned with if she was necessarily likable or not. I think that that wasn’t something we were not trying to worry about too much. It was a great relief for me knowing that all of the other parts of my personality as me, the parts of me that are guarded and can feel brittle or whatever, that that was totally okay and then bleed into those aspects of myself and just trust that if Chris’ character liked me then the audience would find a way to like me through his eyes as well. I did that there was so much to relate to her.
And in the end, what do you think happens?
In my mind, it just keeps going on a loop for as long as they’re both around. I feel like that’s the way they are; I imagine their relationship existing in this kind of universe. I feel like this world that they’ve built with the two of them only exists in this space.
And you wonder why, if this has been going on for so long, why can’t they just leave their spouses and be together, but then you realize there are so many complications.
And there are some things too in the way things work between people; it works better when they don’t see each other all the time. There is something unique about them occupying a separate space in their lives. I don’t know, I imagine that’s part of how it works, that they have a separate space inside of themselves that’s reserved specifically for the other person.
28 Hotel Rooms opens in theaters on November 9th.