A Directorial Debut

A former graduate of New York University film school, Sophie Brooks began her career with the shorts Malcolm and Maple Leaves. She now makes her feature directorial debut with The Boy Downstairs, a breezy New York romantic comedy that premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Zosia Mamet plays Diana, a young woman who finds the perfect apartment – until she realises she’s living above her ex-boyfriend, Ben (Matthew Shear).

ASFF: How close is this story to your own life?
SB: I didn’t experience an ex moving in, or me moving into an ex’s place. That is fiction. I did live really close to an ex when I was in college. And I’ve experienced a romance that I’ve been over-thinking! So there’s a lot stuff in the movie that’s is really [personal]. I’ve obsessed over decisions I made and not known if it’s the right decision. I’m writing from a very honest place but it’s not autobiographical.

ASFF: Casting Zosia Mamet as Diana, were you – or she – concerned with comparisons to the TV show Girls?
SB: I think she was excited to play a role that was quite different from her role on Girls. Shoshanna is such a different character from Diana. And she’s amazing on Girls, but her character is so grounded in my movie. So that was exciting for her – still in the same world of 20-somethings in New York but at a totally different angle, at least character-wise.

ASFF: Did you improvise on set with her at all?
We did improv on set so there were certainly elements that we played with while we were shooting, but the script was pretty much done. Zosia is so good. She has such a genuine sense of comic timing; you can’t teach that. She’s so good at it. And, yeah, she was just so committed and game and lovely. I really can’t praise her enough. I was so excited to work with her. I thought she was a dream.

ASFF: How did you cast her opposite number, Matthew Shear?
I don’t think of men who look like toothpaste models as men I want to date! I’m sure they’re lovely people, but they’re not generally the people I’m attracted to. I just thought Matt was so endearing. He has the most gorgeous eyes on the planet and when I met him, he just felt like Ben to me. He’s such a genuinely kind person and he’s really funny, and that was important to me.

ASFF: What are your big influences when it comes to romantic comedies?
SB: I love Woody Allen, I love Annie Hall and Manhattan. I love Nora Ephron. When Harry Met Sally is one of my favourite movies of all time. And I love You’ve Got Mail. I love romantic comedies. That’s my favourite genre. I love Richard Curtis, I love Four Weddings and Funeral, I love Notting Hill. I really love Nicole Holofcener too. I think she really does intimate stories so well.

The Boy Downstairs opens in cinemas on 8 June. For more details, visit Altitude.

James Mottram

1. Zosia Marmet in The Boy Downstairs.