Thanks to her deep dive into the competitive world of hedge funds for her first feature, “Fair Play,” it would be easy to assume that writer-director Chloe Domont has had firsthand experience on Wall Street. She has not, but she wasn’t fazed in the slightest. “I think the easy part was the finance lingo,” she says. “It was like learning a new language, like Spanish or Italian.”
The high-stakes workplace serves as a backdrop for a much more personal story that Domont, who cut her teeth directing episodes of Showtime’s “Billions” and HBO’s “Ballers,” believed that she needed to tell. “It was this feeling I was having at a certain point in my life, when my professional success didn’t feel like a win,” she explains. “It felt like a loss, because the men I was dating were threatened by me on some level. Finance felt like a work environment similar to film and TV, which is still a boys’ club in many ways, in how things can fluctuate between extreme highs and extreme lows.”
The result is a tense thriller, executive-produced by Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman (the duo behind “Glass Onion”), that digs into the power dynamics between newly engaged couple Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich), who are competing for the same job at a prestigious hedge fund.
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Domont’s idea had been bubbling under the surface for so long that the first draft of the script came pouring out as soon as she sat down to write. “The first scene that came to me was when Emily gets promoted, and her first reaction isn’t excitement—it’s fear. That was the feeling I wanted to put onscreen and [to] surround the story.”
The struggle between Emily and Luke felt like a thriller from the start, though Domont says that “it’s not a traditional thriller. The intention was to subtly lean into the genre to shine a light on various types of ugliness—to explore the dangers of male inferiority, to show all the ways women have to play ugly to survive in the workplace and at home.”
Phoebe Dynevor in “Fair Play” Credit: Slobodan Pikula
She adds that playing Emily demands a “vulnerability but also a fierceness—the way we read distress in her eyes and the way the anxiety sits in her body.” In her first major role post-“Bridgerton,” the filmmaker says that Dynevor has those qualities in spades, and Ehrenreich delivers an equally explosive performance. “He is an incredibly confident man who I knew could go to those insecure places and wouldn’t be in his own head,” she explains.
For Domont, the success of the film rests on its chilling final scene. A crane was brought in so she could shoot continuously, in order to avoid breaking up the actors’ performances. Rehearsing ahead of time with an intimacy coordinator was also crucial.
“I don’t understand filmmakers who don’t rehearse,” she says. “Not only is it invaluable bonding time with the actors, but it means that on shoot day, you can just fly. In order to lean into the spontaneous stuff that happens in the magic of filmmaking, you need to have done all the work beforehand.”
Domont wrote many scripts before “Fair Play,” but ultimately abandoned them when they didn’t pass her “does anyone give a flying fuck?” test. She believes all aspiring writers and filmmakers could benefit from asking themselves that question.
She says that, while “telling the story you can’t not tell” is important, it also has to “challenge the world we live in on some level”—and that’s where “persistence and obsession” are invaluable.
“There is so much stuff out there these days. We are oversaturated,” she adds. “I don’t think it’s enough to just make a good movie anymore. A film has to say something about the state of the world that hasn’t been explored.”
This story originally appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of Backstage Magazine.