MASS: Ann Dowd & Reed Birney

We hear too often of school shootings in America. Some are more visible than others but all have devastating, rippling effects. The new movie MASS, explores the aftermath of a violent tragedy. It’s the meeting of two couples after the loss of their children… one the victim, the other the shooter.

We have a deep and emotional conversation with Ann Dowd and Reed Birney.

Interviewed for Risen Magazine

Risen Magazine: I don’t even know where to start with this film. It was so powerful and so moving and you guys just did such a fantastic job. Maybe we’ll start with Ann. I know when you read the script, you said that you had kind of two key things that floated through your head. Can you share with me what those were?

Ann Dowd: Certainly. The first was knowing I would do it, certainly. And then actually in my head is, “Who could ever turn this down?” And the second part was, “How do we live in this level of grief for the time we will shoot that would really honor and respect the character and those in life who are, who have been so tragically affected by these circumstances.”

RM: Reed, the interesting thing was Fran wrote this role for you. Talk to me about what did the conversations look like prior? Or did you know that what was going on?

Reed Birney: I did not. I had met friends socially in probably around, I want to say 2012, maybe? Maybe later than that. And we liked each other a lot. We never worked together. I went to see him and stuff, and he came to see me and stuff, but it was really just a New York actor, colleague thing. I had a couple of fun nights at a bar with him along the way.

But out of the blue, I get an email from him saying, “Here’s this thing I’ve written for you.” It was a play at that point. And I didn’t know he wrote. I don’t think he knew he wrote. And all of a sudden there was this gorgeous play that I dove right into. I called him the next day and said, “I’ll go anywhere to do this.”

And I think he tried to get it on as a play a little bit and realized it was going to take time, the way plays work. And I said to him and Casey Mott, our producer, also said to him, “Make a movie. Do it as a movie.” And the next thing I knew, he was. I mean, in no time at all, he said, “We’re going to film this thing.” So it was miraculous and unexpected and completely thrilling.

RM: One of the things that I find so fascinating is we have four parents, two couples. And they’re brought together, both suffering from the loss of a child, but in very different circumstances, correct? One as you know, the shooter. And the other as the victim. And I had very different reactions to each of the four of you, based on just your facial expressions, your body language, the way you responded to things. And I loved that I had to rely only on your conversation. There were no flashback sequences. I was at the table. Talk to me about what it was like transforming into these individuals?

AD: It was extraordinary, really. We had two and a half days to get to know one another a few weeks before shooting. There was, I would say, almost immediate connection and trust. We both, all of us loved and respected the writing of the script. We all wanted in. We’re in. And we knew what the level of commitment was. We knew how rare and special something like this was. It does not happen ever that you find a piece that’s written this beautifully. And very quickly on, we realized that we were with some master actors together, to create this thing. Yeah. And we’ve done it for a while now, acting, so to speak. It was a gift, really. We were all in.

RB: We don’t get the opportunity to play parts that are really about the acting. It’s not about anything except the four of us creating this world. And it’s the kind of project that we all dream about as actors, together. And it happened.

RM: And it’s so interesting because not only was it so well written and performed, but there’s universal concepts that we’re digesting. I have two kids. So when I see you, Ann, talking about the parenting and navigating the best way that we know how, and you don’t know how your child is going to turn out. I mean, that’s something that resonates with all of us at our core. So maybe talk about the universality of that, and then also that you can’t change something, and grappling with that, too.

AD: Yes. First of all, thank you for expressing what you just said. Yes. As parents, gosh. The idea of ever losing one of our child. And also for missing something so profound, so that, “How did I miss this? Why didn’t I see that this was not, he was not going in a hopeful direction?”

I look back, honestly, I’ve told my daughter this and my boys, too. The times I was slightly not paying enough attention and one of them might’ve tripped. That haunts me to the…tripped. Okay. They’re fine. How much…the profound knowledge of what we are responsible for and the preciousness of life and the sacredness of motherhood or parenthood, it’s everything at the end of the day. What’s most important.

RB: But also as you don’t have to be a parent. We all have things we have not forgiven in other people. We have things that we have done that we want to be forgiven for. And so as much as it’s about what Annie says about parenting and missing and the guilt and shame, it’s also about how do we, as human beings, try to move forward, carrying this stuff and finding a way to maybe let it go? Or realizing I can’t let it go.

RM: Absolutely. I agree that the power of forgiveness and what that looks like and is it needed? And how does it change your personal perspective and shifts? I just feel like the film brings about so many really great conversations starters. And it was a privilege to get to sit while you guys acted and did that. So thank you so much for taking the time today. I can’t wait for people to see it.

REVIEW: These 2 couples, Ann & Reed, Marsha and Jason are simply flawless. I felt like l was sitting at the table with them. There is so much dialogue and it’s delivered without any flashback sequences are gimmicks. It’s raw, emotional and one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It definitely invites conversation long past the end credits.

MASS releases in theatres on October 8

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