The romantic drama The Other Half takes a look at a relationship between two broken people, who desperately want to have a normal life.

When Nickie (Tom Cullen) meets Emily (Tatiana Maslany), he is at a low point in his life, haunted by grief over the abduction of his younger brother a few years before. Emily beams a bright light into his life and helps him get past his anger and depression. Emily, however, also has problems; she is bipolar and has trouble staying on her medication to regulate her moods. As difficult as it may seem, the two still manage to fall deeply in love and try hard to make their relationship work.

ScreenPicks spoke with Maslany and Cullen about their intimate film, the way relationships can be complicated when dealing with outside issues, and what they hope audiences will take away from it.

What were your feelings when you first read the script?

Tatiana Maslany: I felt it was a complicated story and that’s what attracted me to it. That it didn’t really solve anything and wasn’t tied up in a nice bow. It felt like life in that it was complicated and difficult. But also filled with love and joy. It was a great mix. It was interesting to get to work in that territory.

Tom Cullen: I hadn’t really read anything quite like it in terms of portrayal of two people really struggling, I guess. It not being a glossy version of what it is to be in a relationship. I find it really hopeful, the film. It’s a film about two people who are in difficult places in their lives, but in each other they find a solace, an understanding and respect. Of course the ride isn’t always going to be easy, it doesn’t always work but they’re willing to try and that’s what I find really gorgeous and hopeful about the film.

The film left me a little sad, but it also leaves things ambiguous on whether it will all work out. Do you think these two characters will make it?

Maslany: I don’t know if they do or not and that’s sort of what I love about this film. It doesn’t decide those things or let you off easy, going, “Oh, I know how this ends.” It is something that people might talk about, like say, “Oh those two weren’t good for each other” or “hope it works out for them.” Just like in life, you don’t know what the next step is, you don’t know what it’s going to look like in 10 years down the line. I think the one thing that is true, if they are survivors and will continue to deal with the things they are dealing with. And that these things are lifelong journeys. Whether they do that together or separately, they’ll always be dealing with it. It’s just fortunate that they found each other and recognized that in each other. And to make each other feel whole for at least awhile if they don’t stay together.

Tatiana, what were some of things you found fascinating in doing research on being bipolar?

Maslandy: What was interesting in the exploration was talking with people about how relationships function when a partner has that illness. And how people can feel alienated from their partners or from the world. There’s a lot we take for granted from people who aren’t bipolar, in terms of how they move into a relationship, what we trust and reveal in a relationship. I think what Emily is afraid of is revealing that part of her. But the wonderful thing is when she does, Nickie doesn’t flinch. It makes him react more passionately. Not because it’s a romantic illness or a beautiful thing but because it’s her and he loves her. I think Nickie’s revelation of his grief and loss is what drives Emily to reveal herself. He gives himself to her and so she is able to give herself to him.

I wasn’t aware before watching this that you two are a couple in real life. How was it working together?

Cullen: Yeah, we’re in a relationship. We met on a job in Budapest about five and a half years ago (in the 2011 series World Without End). And Tat was already attached to do the film, and the director saw some of my stuff and really liked it, so brought me on. And we started dating and fell in love in Budapest. [Director/writer Joey Klein] wrote the script for us over a course of four years. It was lovely, actually, to be in a relationship because what you have to do, as actors, you have to instantly form very close bonds. And it can be awkward at times, but we had that shorthand already. We felt very safe. It was good fun.

Now that I know, it makes me realize how real some of your scenes in the movie really were. And fun, like when you’re laughing in the car!

Cullen: We’d often do scenes and sat beforehand just to give ourselves a different flavor each time we’d go into the scene. So as they were getting the cameras ready, rolling the video, we’d start to improvise and play. And on that one take, somebody said something and we just lost our shit laughing. Then we went into the scene like that. That’s where that realness came from.

What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

Maslany: I hope people just talk afterwards, and that it inspires a conversation. We’ve gone to festivals and talked to people who were dealing with prolonged grief like Nickie and they were really grateful to see that onscreen because they don’t see that ever represented. Or people who have said that they are bipolar and they feel seen by watching Emily. That to us is exciting, and I hope that it inspires dialogue about love, life and these people who are struggling and inspires empathy for people who are struggling.

Cullen: We just tried to make the most honest depiction of these people going through these issues as best we could. I hope the most important thing people take is what they want to take from it. But that it encourages thoughts and discussions.


Make sure to check out The Other Half when it opens in theaters this Friday.