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“Dual,” the latest film from director Riley Stearns that stars Karen Gillan and Aaron Paul, contains humor amid a bleak premise.
Gillan stars in the film as a woman who gets a terminal diagnosis and chooses to pursue a cloning procedure to ease the emotional toll on her friends and family when she’s gone. But when she makes a miraculous recovery, she attempts to have her clone decommissioned, which leads to said clone taking action to hang onto her life by suing for a court-mandated duel to the death of original vs. the double.
“I just really liked the idea of confronting oneself and like finding out who you are, who you want to be, who you don’t want to be, all those themes are really intriguing to me,” Stearns said at TheWrap’s virtual Sundance studio. “Once I figured out the whole duel to the death aspect of it, it felt like the movie just made sense to me.”
Stearns was joined in the interview by Paul, Gillan and Beulah Koale, who portrays Gillan’s husband. Gillan plays a dual performance in the film, and Paul stars as the trainer in the duel. For all the intensity and seriousness of the story and acting process, a hip hop dance lesson in the film takes viewers by surprise and comes out of nowhere.
Paul recalled a few humorous moments behind the making of a dance sequence in the film.
“Our dance instructor also thought it was very funny just watching us desperately trying to learn these dance moves,” he said. “Obviously Karen and I, we take ourselves seriously, you know, we come ready.”
“We gave a hundred percent,” Gillan agreed. Paul continued, “She just just kept pointing at us and laughing — and I love saying this because it’s true — ‘It’s funny because you’re trying, trying.”
“You’re trying and it’s so bad,” Stearns added. “It’s so bad and that’s why it’s funny,” Paul quipped.
“For me, it’s looking to subvert the expectations of what you’re expecting,” Stearns explained. “And so if you set something up to be a certain thing, and you lead the audience a certain way and then you flip it on them, and then they go, ‘Oh, obviously my brain decided it was going to be this other thing, but this makes more sense in the context of the movie’ — that’s where I want to be. And so even like the people who watch this and know about it, I think they might still not see it coming which is going to be fun.”
Each cast member also discussed obstacles they faced making the film.
“The main challenge was probably figuring out how I slot into Riley’s style,” Gillan said. “Because Riley has a very specific style to all of his movies and that’s why they’re so brilliant why I wanted to work with him, but it’s very specific.”
Koale echoed Gillan’s answer summing up how he adjusted to Stearns’ style.
“I pretty much just told Riley, I was like ‘You told me run through a wall, and I will run through a wall for you so you just tell me exactly what to do,'” he recalled.
Paul hinted that his biggest challenge was getting to the set. “Dual” was shot in Finland, according to IndieWire.
“My biggest challenge was first of all getting out there — that was a challenge, but I’ll save that for another day,” he said. “But I got out there [and] just dealing with the jet lag at all. Literally I landed [and] I had I think a day, and then I started with the heaviest I think of my scenes with you know, a huge monologue of his beautiful writing, but yeah, it was just such a beautiful experience.”