Maggie Kiley’s acclaimed 2009 short film Some Boys Don’t Leave with Jesse Eisenberg left viewers wondering where the young protagonist came from and what happened to him after the breakup (and subsequent hanging around) that’s the story’s focus. Fortunately for us, Kiley has turned the short into a full-length feature, Brightest Star, which EW can announce exclusively will open in theaters Jan. 31.
The film stars Chris Lowell (The Help) in the role played in the short by Eisenberg, and features Rose McIver (Once Upon a Time), Clark Gregg (The Avengers), and Allison Janney (The Way, Way Back). Janney and Lowell reunite in the film for the first time since starring together in The Help. In the film, Lowell’s character tries to reinvent himself after being dumped by his first love. After working in corporate-land for Gregg, he finds a kindred spirit in an astronomer (Janney).
EW spoke with Kiley about the challenges in turning a short into a feature and working with Gregg — her former drama teacher.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jesse Eisenberg is so central to the short film Some Boys Don’t Leave. How difficult was it to replace him for the feature?
MAGGIE KILEY: Chris [Lowell] is such a lovely guy and such a wonderful actor. It definitely was hard thinking about shaping it into this other story and obviously that was the first thing everybody asked – ‘Was it Jesse?’ But the more it became about this kid’s journey and his life the easier it was to adjust and have someone else telling this story. It’s really a different piece altogether. In a way I feel like the short inspired the bigger story.
How did Clark Gregg come to work on the film?
I’m part of the Atlantic Theater Company and Clark’s one of the members. I’ve actually known Clark for a long time — he was one of my acting teachers in college. And he’s not only a fantastic actor, but a fantastic person and a really extraordinary mentor to me.
Why does astronomy figure into the story – was there a class you took in college that inspired you like Lowell’s character does?
I think we wanted them to be obsessed with things outside of themselves, unable to deal with what was happening internally and really always looking for ‘who’s the girl who’s going to define me, what’s the job that’s going to define me?’ So it made sense that the one class that he was probably not very good at at all was the study of something that’s so far away and so far removed. That would be the thing that he decides he can’t let go of. It’s amazing how often the notion of stars and heaven and galaxies are connected to love and first love. It wasn’t entirely a conscious connection but when it all played out I felt like it was kind of cool.
What first love/ coming-of-age stories were you influenced by?
I love a movie like Sixteen Candles. Like/Crazy I think is a great newer indie romance that’s much more grounded in the truth of how things are, and is not so romanticized. Also High Fidelity, that idea of finding yourself under the mountain of ex-girlfriends and how hard that is to come out of.
Is it a romantic comedy?
I feel like it’s a dramedy, I hate that word. I think your first love and your first heartbreak and finding your way in the world is not something that’s lighthearted. There are some funny moments but it’s an intense process! Your first heartbreak is massive.