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Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale, And Riley Stearns On The Anti-Action Of Dual - Exclusive Interview

One of the strangest science fiction films to premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, "Dual" takes place in a future where those facing terminal illness can have clones made to continue their lives after they're gone. Karen Gillan of "Doctor Who" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" fame plays Sarah, one such woman who has a clone made of herself. The catch is the original Sarah beats the odds and survives her illness — and there can't be two Sarahs running around. The solution to this conundrum: a duel to the death.

The cast of this deadpan dark comedy also features "Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul as Trent, a martial artist who trains the original Sarah to face her seemingly inevitable fate, and "Hawaii Five-0" actor Beulah Koale as Sarah's boyfriend, Peter. Looper had the chance to spend some time chatting with all three actors and director Riley Stearns about the challenges of acting against yourself, how "Dual" comments on the action genre, and also, clone sex.

Attack of the clones

"Dual" is premiering at Sundance shortly after "Swan Song," another movie about clones for the terminally ill, premiered on Apple TV. Both movies go in very different directions with this setup, but why do you think so many people are thinking about clones nowadays?

Riley Stearns: I don't think it's necessarily a "nowadays" sort of thing. I do think that it happens to be timing, coincidentally, it happened the way that it did, but I do think that there's this innate interest in confronting yourself. If you could meet yourself or see another version or, potentially, a better version of yourself, how would you react and how would that make you reassess your life? I think that the existential questions that are raised, especially in, it sounds like, in "Swan Song," are a little bit more on the serious and dramatic side. For us, it was more interesting for me to go down a more subversive, darkly comedic route. I feel like even though there's a similar setup, they go in very different directions.

I think my favorite science fiction to deal with this subject is Don Hertzfeldt's "World of Tomorrow" series. Was that an influence?

Stearns: I love that. Don, he's an influence in the sense that he's one of my favorite filmmakers, but it's not necessarily directly influencing this story. Honestly, I don't feel like a lot of things seeped into my consciousness other than my own consciousness for this movie, but I'm sure that there are indirect inspirations throughout that I don't even realize. I bought the ... did the Kickstarter for the Blu-ray of all three of the "World of Tomorrow" films and re-watched them recently. it's one of the best series of films that you can find ever. [I'm a] huge, huge fan of his.

Karen Gillan makes the MCU 'heavy'

Karen Gillan has some experience fighting other versions of herself in "Avengers: Endgame."

Karen Gillan: Yes. I have done that in the MCU and in "Doctor Who," a TV show that I was in. So yeah, weirdly, I'm used to acting opposite myself somehow.

Aaron Paul: We just want more of you. The world, the audience obviously wants more.

Gillan: I'm sick of myself.

Yeah. Well, we're not sick of seeing more of you, so-

Gillan: Oh, thank you.

Yeah. So speaking of the MCU, anything you can us about "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3" or the holiday special?

Paul: Let's do it. Do it, Karen.

Gillan: Nice try. Okay. Here's everything that happens. Are you ready? No, I probably have about four Marvel snipers on me right now. What can I tell you? I can tell you that my character, well, her father's dead, who was Thanos, the worst man ever. Now, she gets to start to live her life without the presence of the source of her childhood abuse, essentially. I just made the Marvel universe really heavy. It's really interesting to explore her life beyond Thanos, and I think it'll be interesting. It's interesting for me. Hopefully, it's interesting to watch.

Dual is less action-based than you might expect

Getting back to "Dual." It's interesting how many genres it touches upon on and how it sort of plays with expectations. The Sundance website has it listed as an action movie, but to me, it almost felt like an anti-action movie. Were you trying to make a statement on the nature of the genre?

Stearns: Not necessarily consciously. Again, I just noticed the action tag yesterday, which kind of cracked me up. I look at it as a dark comedy that happens to also be a science fiction film, and it has some action in it. It starts with this big set piece, so to speak, at least in the terms of an indie budget, but I knew that I wasn't making an action with movie.

I knew that I was making a fairly grounded film, despite what you may kind of think going into it, that deals with real emotions and real people who happen to talk in a slightly stilted way, because that's my favorite way of working and delivering dialogue and delivering ideas.

Aaron Paul's advice for Daniel Radcliffe

Stearns: I think anti-action is kind of funny and fun, so I'll run with that. I feel like ["The Art of Self-Defense," Stearns' previous film] had some anti-action as well, but also a little bit more full-on [action]. Our slow-motion fight scene, that was –

Paul: That was action.

Stearns: It's slow action.

So now an important question for Aaron Paul.

Paul: Yes.

14 years ago, you starred as Weird Al in the Funny or Die short, "WEIRD: The Al Yankovic Story." Now, Daniel Radcliffe has been cast in the role for the feature film version. Any advice for Mr. Radcliffe?

Paul: Just be weird, man. Just be weird.

Stearns: That's what I tell the actors every day.

Paul: I got so excited when I saw that news. Al is such an incredible man, and I got to know him through that journey of doing that Funny or Die skit, and we stayed close throughout the years. I'm excited to see his wild, wild life on screen.

Nobody wants to do their clone

I hope it's okay to follow that up with another weird question. So, after seeing "Dual," I have to ask everyone, would you do your clone?

Paul: I would not. It's hard for me to hear my own voice, so I can't imagine what it would be like to see another version of me.

Stearns: Wait, did you say, "do your clone" as in the movie, or have a clone made?

Paul: Wait, what?

Yeah. Like what they suspected about the guy in the support group [in the movie]. Like-

Stearns: Okay. That kind of "do."

Beulah Koale: That's what I thought.

Gillan: Oh.

Stearns: You don't remember that, do you?

Paul: No.

Stearns: The support group.

Paul: Yeah.

Stearns: Yeah. Well, I'll say "tell you later."

Paul: Okay.

Stearns: The easy answer — God, no. But that's one of the funniest questions.

Paul: That is so funny.

Stearns: So good.

Paul: Would I? Wow. No. Can you imagine? I'm like, "Yeah. I've been dreaming about that for my whole life. Finally."

Gillan: No, I [wouldn't] because I'm not my type.

Paul: That's a great answer, Karen.

Stearns: I love this question so much.

Paul: Wow.

Stearns: You got to hit us. Hit us.

Koale: Well, I just laughed at ... I thought I heard the question that way. I was like, "Is my mind mishearing?" And then Aaron said, "Yeah man." I was like — No, I would not. No.

Paul: Believe it or not, the answer is no.

Stearns: "No's" all around.

RJLE Films will release "Dual" in theaters later in 2022.

Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity.