Directed by Andrew Ahn, Driveways tells the story of a single mother, Kathy (Chau), and her young son, Cody (Lucas Jaye), who find themselves cleaning out the house left behind by her dead aunt. During their stay, Cody forms an unexpected friendship with Del (Brian Dennehy), a retiree who lives next door.
ET also caught up with Chau about getting involved in the project, what makes this role special and what a Spirit Award nomination for Best Female Lead means to her.
ET: What drew you to this project?
Hong Chau: What drew me to this project first and foremost was Andrew Ahn. I saw Andrew’s first feature, Spa Night, at my local theater when it came out. I was impressed by Andrew’s choices as a filmmaker and left the theater thinking, “Well, I hope he gets to make another feature.” Independent filmmaking is hard, and a next opportunity is never guaranteed, even if you’re talented. So I was delighted when I got the script for Driveways, along with a very sweet letter from Andrew. We met for coffee and talked for hours. He told me how the script even came to his way. The producers asked Andrew, “What do you want to do?” To me, that is such a big and vexing question. But Andrew’s answer was simple and profound. “I want to make intimate stories about family.” A lot of people would give a much more careerist response, something grand like taking over the James Bond franchise. But not this guy. That was when I knew for certain I wanted to work with Andrew Ahn, not just on this film, but hopefully for the rest of his career. He truly is a special filmmaker.
What makes this film or the role of Kathy different from other parts you’ve played up until now?
I can’t say that I was specifically looking to play a hard-up single mom, but I am drawn to characters who don’t have it all, who haven’t been given the world. Also, I don’t take roles for the sake of representation. But I do think anyone who watches this movie will feel like they’re seeing something new. Kathy was not written as Asian in the script. And I don’t think I would have been offered the role if the director was not also Asian. But I know people like Kathy. People in my own family. Like Kathy, they are smart and capable but didn’t finish school, kept meaning to go back, and then life happened. They don’t have the nice house and the nice car. They seem like they’re just drifting by choice, but they worry. A lot.
Driveways earned two Spirit Award nominations, including one for your performance. How does it feel to be recognized?
What I love about our Spirit Award nominations is that they felt remarkably pure, which is not the word I often associate with awards. I can sometimes feel jaded about awards because they are very often the result of good marketing and relentless publicity. That requires a lot of money. Driveways is a very small film. None of us campaigned. The film did not even have distribution at the time the nominations were announced. The film had only been playing at festivals, so I was very surprised to receive a nomination and am grateful for any attention that it will help bring the film when it is eventually released. We’re going to need all the help we can get! God bless Film Independent!
The film features a great breakout performance by Lucas Jaye. What was it like working with him?
I was pleasantly surprised that Lucas was the only child actor I had to do a chemistry read with. I assumed Andrew would have me read with at least a small handful. That would have been tough -- I get squeamish thinking about any kid feeling rejected. Andrew prepared a warmup exercise for us to get to know each other before jumping into any actual scene work. We talked about our real-life moms, what we enjoy doing with them, what we do that annoys them. Once we got to the actual scene work, I knew Andrew wasn’t looking for a well-done scene, but a believable relationship. So, for me, it was about seeing how Lucas would react to me pushing different buttons. Would he let me, a stranger he met 40 minutes earlier, stroke the hair on his forehead? Would he let me put my arm around him? What if I tickled him? What if I got angry and yelled at him?
What do you hope fans get out of seeing this film?
With Kobe Bryant’s sudden passing yesterday, I’ve been seeing news coverage with people talking not only about what the iconic athlete meant to them, but that it reminds them to stop and appreciate their lives and their loved ones. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragedy to force us to do that -- to take a moment and reflect, to have gratitude. I hope we collectively find more ways to slow down, and I think sitting in a theater and watching a quiet, tender story like Driveways offers such an opportunity.
Driveways will be released by FilmRise in the spring of 2020.