Alien meets girl. Girl falls for alien. Government agents track alien as she and her intergalactic friends attempt to save their home planet through heartbreak. The plot for Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same might be a little out there -- actually, galaxies out there -- but its creators weren't going for the Hallmark card-variety romance.
In advance of the low-budget, high-imagination indie flick landing at the Denver FilmCenter for a week-long stay on its CinemaQ roster, Westword talked to head earthling (and Lakewood native) Lisa Haas in her Brooklyn home about the realities of intergalactic dating, both on screen and off.
Haas, who moved to New York to launch a career in screenwriting in 1995, spent roughly the first thirty years of her life in Lakewood. It was at Loretto Heights College that she started her theater career, majoring in directing before attending graduate school at the University of Montana for drama. In her own productions, she pens insightful comedy often seen through a queer lens, though in recent years her acting has been highlighted on the festival circuit. In 2011, her portrayal of Jane in the shoestring, black-and-white film Codependent projected her face onto screens at Sundance.
Through Jane, Haas plays an introverted greeting card-store clerk who falls for Zoinx, a strangely named woman Jane doesn't realize is extra-terrestrial. Along with two other visitors from the stars, Zoinx traveled to Earth with the mission of saving her planet by breaking her heart. Where the three have come from, romantic emotions are slowly destroying the atmosphere, leaving Earth and its notoriously unsuccessful love lives as a last refuge for the wannabe brokenhearted. While Zoinx's relationship with Jane makes rescue problematic, the government agents trailing the group prove even more so. The result is less X-Files than When Mulder Met Scully.
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Westword: How do you prepare for a role like Jane, an ostensibly plain woman who then finds love with a traveling alien? Lisa Haas: The director [Madeleine Olnek] and I sat down and talked early on, and the biggest thing that I thought about in advance was that we didn't want Jane to be a victim or a sad sack. Her scripts are always incredibly hilarious, and everything I've been in of hers has been creative and inventive and funny. It's so much fun to be part of a world where these things are possible. I read the script and knew immediately that it was funny, and I had to be a part of stuff like that, and we wanted to make sure Jane was in keeping with that. Even though she appears lonely, I didn't want to play lonely. She's proactive. She wants things.
There are some scenes in the movie where Jane could sound like she is putting herself down, but we gave that a positive twist where Zoinx, the alien, knows she's funny. When he tells her, for instance, Jane replies that no one else thinks that except for her. It could have been depressing, but we chose to reverse that and celebrate the fact that no one else cares -- but Zoinx does!
In the movie, Zoinx is a female alien and Jane is a female earthling, but the gender politics stay in the background. How did that affect your portrayal?
In terms of us as actors, that made us really present to each other, and we never had to worry about politics. I usually try not to think about the political ramifications of something I'm doing because the characters aren't thinking about that. They're only thinking about love.
At 76 minutes, this is your longest film piece yet. How did you handle the transition?
The film was shot over a three-week intensive period, with us shooting every day. It happened around Christmastime, and everyone involved volunteered their time and has day jobs, so that was the only time we could get together. For the next six months, the director went back and took pick-up shots of things she was unable to capture.
Before this, I was in a film called Dyke Dollar, and when I say it was short, I mean it was literally eleven minutes long. It was short over one weekend. I really like the opportunity to act in a film, because it's easier to be present, to get something out of it. In theater, you have to be present with the actors and what's happening, but you also have to add the element of broadcasting that to an audience. I didn't have to worry about everyone being aware of what's happening with me, because the camera can sneak in and get whatever the director wants you to see. It's a great environment, because Madeleine allows you to do your best work while making you feel important.
Who is your favorite alien in cinema?
I really, really like the aliens in Codependent because they're so determined to date. The way the script is written, you can tell that English is not their first language because of the way they phrase things. I feel so fond because they still try to communicate no matter what, to make love happen. Cheater! Outside of your own film, which alien tops your list?
Oh, wait! Here's my answer! My favorite alien is the one in District 9. They're so human and animal at once, and there's something so visceral about their behavior. They're really primitive and really sophisticated, all at once. They also eat cat food, as if it's some special treat, some gourmet specialty. I just think that's humorous. That movie also says so much, with the aliens clearly representing refugees or people who are in a concentration. The message underneath is completely sobering and shocking.
Since completing the film, what qualities did you notice that you and Jane have in common?
I think Jane's a kind person, and I am, too, in real life. Jane is willing to get to know somebody who's a little strange, which I am also willing to do. I always give people a second chance. In Jane's story, my favorite aspect was her journey through therapy, announcing that she has a girlfriend and being challenged by her therapist about the relationship with the girlfriend. I, too, go to therapy, just like Jane. What would your therapist say if you also started dating an alien?
(Laughs.) I think it would be a big problem. A huge problem.
Could that ever happen?
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Yes, totally. I could totally fall in love with an alien. So what do you look for in an alien?
"Hubba hubba." That's what I look for in my aliens - the hubba hubba factor.
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same opens Friday, March 30, at Denver FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. Tickets cost $9.75. For more information, call 303-595-3456 or visit the theater's website.