‘Stress Positions’ Star John Early Tackled Film’s Physical Comedy After Back Surgery: ‘A Little Terrifying’ | Video

“Stress Positions” star John Early’s back surgery delayed the release of “Stress Positions,” which premiered at Sundance 2024 Friday.

Early revealed this detail when prompted by TheWrap Executive Editor Adam Chitwood in an interview at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP. When asked if he relished the physical comedy of the film, Early revealed he was recovering from back surgery.

“I did, but with some fear, because I had just had back surgery actually,” Early said. “It delayed the movie, which by the way, made me feel like a star delaying the whole movie. But yeah, so I was fresh off back surgery and doing pratfalls which was a little terrifying, but that was like one of the great reasons why I was so moved by Theda writing this role for me. It was letting me do something that’s both incredibly broad in some ways, but also very deep and sad, and it’s not rare that those things get jammed up together so elegantly.”

Early confessed that he doesn’t exactly have a technique for balancing the broad and deep moments of his character.

“There was such a clear task of trying to keep everything under control. And then you know, the utter failure of that at every point made it so fun,” Early said. That’s also that’s my sweet spot that Theda was writing for, which is like panicked hostess. This is the final [role like that for a while] so Theda has very ceremoniously put that to rest in my wheelhouse. But no, it was such a dream for Theda to take my comedic sweetspot and contextualize it in something much more just intellectually rich than what I do on my own, which is far more blunt.”

“Stress Positions,” stars Early as Terry Goon, who is quarantining in his ex-husband’s Brooklyn brownstone during the COVID-19 pandemic while caring for his nephew Bahlul (Qaher Harhash), a 19-year-old model from Morocco who broke his leg in a scooter accident. Everyone in the cautious Terry’s life wants to meet the model.

“I was thinking, what is this neoliberal hell? It’s a weird scenario for me to be in because I’m surrounded by all these characters that are like, ‘Oh, we know enough about the Middle East,’ but then you hear what they know about the Middle East and they say Afghanistan is in the Middle East,” Harhash said. “It felt like it was an authentic representation for how someone from the Middle East that would come to America would actually feel like. People thinking, ‘Oh, we’re Americans, we know everything,’ and then five minutes and you’re like, ‘You don’t know everything? Not much as well.”

Director Theda Hammel describes Bahlul as “the moral center of the movie,” which is Hammel’s directorial debut. “Stress Positions” marks Hammel’s return to the indie film festival after writing, directing and starring in the Episodic “My Trip to Spain.” One of the many reasons Hammel thinks Bahlul makes the moral heart of the film is that “they know anything at all about the world.”

“The main character, the ambulatory character is this character who, at whose mercy this [Bahlul] is [and that character] know[s] nothing and will probably never know anything,” Hammel said. “The screwball element is very much enhanced by having this moral center, this observing center at the heart of everything, because it really allows people like the two Johns like myself, to flail in our capacity as just sort of dissipated millennials.”

John Roberts described himself as “the gross Gen X-er.”

“John [Early] took the lead and it was just fun to come in and f f–k his shit up, and I based it, my character, off of this toxic top I dated in the nineties,” Roberts said. “And revenge! No. And yeah, as the movie was kind of whipping up, my character arrives at the perfect moment.”

Hammel cut in to tell Roberts not to give anything else away.

You can watch the full interview above.

Neon will release “Stress Positions.”

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