Neil LaBute


“I’m the Chronicler of Men Struggling to Become Men, but Mostly Remaining Boys.”
Thoughts Neil LaBute asked himself while working on The Distance From Here:
How do I write this honestly if I just want to tell the story of two people?
What if this one feels like a happy ending?
Are people gonna feel cheated, or are they gonna be happy?

As we sit down for coffee on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Neil LaBute immediately begins to talk shop. We discuss actors, turning in scripts to studios, his latest stint directing episodes of AMC’s Hell on Wheels. Ten minutes pass before I realize I haven’t started recording.

We all know that an artist is distinct from his or her work—that a person could, for example, write a string of dark and twisted plays populated by morose sociopaths and remain a charming, personable guy—but that doesn’t end one’s suspicion that Neil LaBute must be dark and twisted himself. Instead, he’s a gracious workaholic, someone who revels in rewriting, riffs on imaginary sequels to some of his most famous work, and admits to liking productions of his plays that are unrecognizable to him. There is nothing finished or sacred in his career; there’s simply more to be explored.

Since the early ’90s, Neil LaBute has invited controversy with plays and films that revolve around things like infanticide (Bash), infidelity (Your Friends & Neighbors), male cruelty (In the Company of Men), female cruelty (The Shape of Things), the embarrassment of dating someone who is overweight (Fat Pig), the potential for personal gain from 9/11 (The Mercy Seat), and everything else icky and hard to watch, including incest, rape, office shootings, and racism. He’s maintained a hit-or-miss career directing films: he has garnered praise and a Sundance Filmmakers Trophy, but also directed an unnoticed thriller (Lakeview Terrace) and a universally panned horror remake (The Wicker Man). Meanwhile, he has established himself as one of the most produced and popular playwrights alive.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Rider Strong is an actor and a filmmaker. His films have won audience and jury awards at many film festivals, including Tribeca, Sonoma, and Woods Hole. He co-hosts the podcast Literary Disco.

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