After reading Matt Harris’ script for The Starling, director Ted Melfi couldn’t get it out of his head.
“It was just a beautiful story about a couple trying to figure out how to make it,” he said in a recent virtual conversation, as part of Deadline’s Toronto Studio. “I’ve been married 25 years, and I’m always trying to figure out how to make it—in a good way—and that’s what attracted me to the script.”
While Melfi always knew he’d aim to make the film “one day,” after encountering it a number of years back, he officially got to work on it around a year and a half ago. On the Netflix project, he’d seize the chance to reteam with actors Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd, who he’d previously set to star in his 2014 dramedy, St. Vincent.
The Netflix feature centers on Jack (O’Dowd) and Lilly Maynard (McCarthy), a husband and wife that respond to a personal tragedy in very different terms. While Jack checks into a psychiatric facility, Lilly remains in the outside world, butting heads with a territorial bird, and turning to psychologist-turned veterinarian Larry (Kevin Kline) for guidance, as she looks to address her grief.
For McCarthy, who joined Melfi at Deadline’s studio, the first major draw of the project was the filmmaker himself. “He’s such a good storyteller. He’s such a good filmmaker. Without sentiment, he can be funny and heartbreaking and relevant, and it never feels like a teaching moment,” said the two-time Oscar nominee. “It feels like, ‘Here’s what it is. This is the story of these people, and it’s messy, and it’s up and it’s down, and it’s sideways.’ And I think that’s what we all go through.”
From the actress’ perspective, Lilly and Jack’s inward, emotionally challenging, yet ultimately hopeful journeys of “coming back” to each other felt all the more resonant, given the highs, lows and isolation she’d personally experienced, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. “[The film] was about, you never know what’s going to get you to the other side,” she said, “what’s going to get you out of a bad place.”
The Starling premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 12 and will hit theaters in limited release on September 17, becoming available for streaming on Netflix on September 24. Timothy Olyphant, Daveed Diggs, Skyler Gisondo, Kimberly Quinn and more also star in the film, which Melfi, Quinn and Dylan Sellers produced, with Alex Dong, Zev Foreman, Gabby Revilla Lugo, and Zack Schiller exec producing.
Check out our entire conversation with Melfi and McCarthy above.
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