Turkey with a side of politics CHECK IT OUT
‘THE OATH’ DIRECTOR IKE BARINHOLTZ WROTE A DARK THANKSGIVING DAY COMEDY INSPIRED BY THE 2016 ELECTION
You know how the old saying goes — truth is stranger than fiction. The rapper who once said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” is the same rapper who last week donned his MAGA hat for a meeting with America’s current president. You couldn’t make this mess up if you tried, but actor, comedian and now film director Ike Barinholtz has given it a shot.
Inspired by the 2016 election and heated political debates taking place at dinner tables all over the country, the Chicago native wrote, directed and stars in “The Oath,” a dark comedy that chronicles the fallout after Americans are asked to sign — you guessed it — an oath declaring their loyalty to the president. Barinholtz plays Chris, a liberal father and husband to Kai (Tiffany Haddish) who finds his Thanksgiving dinner disrupted by ideological debate and some unexpected criminal activity.
“I know it’s a lot to ask people in 2018 to go to a movie theater, but the two types of movies I enjoy seeing in a theater and sharing that collective experience are comedies and thrillers,” Barinholtz said during a phone interview. “I just really hope people go and see this in a theater and they kind of feed off the energy of the group and they walk out and everyone looks at each other like, ‘What the hell just happened here?’”
Barinholtz shared his thoughts on preserving relationships through political turmoil, the trouble with social media echo chambers and how Chicago’s improv scene influenced the writing and direction of “The Oath.”
Q: When you thought of the idea for “The Oath” it was right after the 2016 election. At one point in the movie your character says, “It’s not politics, it’s current events.” What other current events did you have in mind while developing the film?
A: ’Cause it was so fresh, it was not just the actual election, but I was so focused on how it was covered and how people were reacting to the news. It was like you were in a submarine and the water — more election news — is coming in. It was triggering so many different emotions.
I remember when Trump brought out women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual impropriety before a debate. That was a little cornerstone where I was like, “Ugh, this is so weird and crazy and it’s just so strange how some reporters who maybe know this is wrong are kind of blowing past it.” I was really just overdosing on outrage, which I think a lot of the country was doing. And that outrage was really under this hurricane of Trump. I really wanted to take that feeling — it was that horrible feeling of like, those of us who are already divided are just getting pulled further apart. I wanted to explore family really feeling that separation and that anxiety.
Q: How did your improv background affect how you wrote the script and directed the movie?
A: Chicago-style improv is long-form improv. It’s not like you get onstage for two minutes and tell a joke. It’s more like you go onstage and you build a scene from nothing that goes on for five, six minutes. It helps you as a storyteller. It helps you understand rhythms, beats and timing and that’s something I’ve been applying to my writing for a while. While we’re shooting the movie, the script is very specific and the tone is very specific, but I had all these great actors that had improv jobs and it would be a waste to not use them. We tried to shoot the script with scenes as written once or twice, and then I really welcomed these actors — especially in the scenes where we’re fighting — to improvise and throw in some lines.
Whether it’s the family fighting over the table or fighting over a gun, in that chaos the improv really gives the whole thing a very live feel. You feel like these people are saying these lines for the first time. And then on top of it all, you just end up getting gems. I wish I could take credit for Tiffany Haddish saying the “trash pussy,” but she improvised that and it’s like the funniest line in the movie. I think the take in the movie you see is the second take because the first time she said it, literally everyone on set started laughing.
Q: You talk about the character Mason (Billy Magnussen) as an example of men who exude pure toxic masculinity and how dangerous that is for our country. Can and should you even try to understand someone like that?
A: I think if you can make a determination whether the person you’re dealing with, whether it’s a family member or a coworker, if you truly feel like they are simply not acting in good faith and no matter what you say to them, no matter
Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish in the film ‘The Oath.’