There are plenty of places to get negative feedback these days. Just one post on any social media site leaves you open to judgment. But what happens when the person most critical of you is you? The drama Violet answers that question while taking audiences on a psychological ride.
“It’s really the journey of the viewer,” Justine Bateman, known to many for her role as Mallory Keaton on the ’80s sitcom Family Ties, and making her directorial debut with this film, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Violet is about the negative thoughts we have. In the film, I call it ‘the voice’ that causes us to make fear-based decisions.”
Bateman, who also wrote the script, says the film was designed as an immersive experience through which audiences get to objectively watch the protagonist battle with her inner voice. Violet’s inner dialogue is also scribbled across the screen, and as anxiety builds, audio gets muffled and the frame washes scarlet red. Bateman’s hope is that watching Violet will inspire viewers to tackle the fear-based decisions they make in their own lives.
“I know what’s going on in your head. I know what that voice is saying to you right now, and I’m telling you they’re all lies, and don’t let those lies take you off course in your life,” says Bateman.
The role of Violet, a Los Angeles-based film executive navigating relationships and a hectic work schedule, is played by Olivia Munn, whose vulnerable performance quickly pulls viewers into Violet’s inner world of anxiety and fear. While Violet seemingly has it all together, she battles a critical, internal voice that shreds her confidence and fills her with self-doubt.
Before casting Munn, Bateman says she watched videos of the actress on the internet, from previous roles to social media posts. Bateman explains that learning more about her actors helped to pull out certain elements in their performance. “I get a full picture of what aspects of them are either obvious or subtle that I want to expand,” says Bateman. “So Olivia had some of these qualities that I really wanted, and she really gave herself to the character.”
For Violet’s inner voice, Bateman turned to Justin Theroux. “First of all, he is an outstanding actor and it’s quite criminal that I didn’t have him on camera,” she joked.
Still, it was Theroux’s voice acting that drew her in and embodies the almost seductive and manipulative tone of self-doubt. “I needed a voice that has that insidious quality, like water that seeps into something because it just finds a way. And that’s what those negative thoughts do to us, they find a way into us because we want to believe it’s protecting us,” says Bateman.
Rounding out the rest of the cast is a potential love interest (Luke Bracy), an optimistic best friend (Erica Ash), an insensitive boss (Dennis Boutsikaris) and a film director played by Laura San Giacomo, whose mannerisms echo Bateman’s own.
“I didn’t ask her to, but that’s what she told me,” says Bateman. “She goes, ‘yeah, I’m doing you.’ That was funny.”
Bateman says that the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery is one that she can relate to, explaining that in 2016, at the age of 46, Bateman earned a degree in computer science and digital media management from University of California Los Angeles, and that for her application she wrote an essay applauding the biographies of people who took risks in their lives. At the time she believed that those people were born wired to make bold choices, but an epiphany helped to unlock her real potential.
“I realized, the difference isn’t that they’re making those choices and I’m not. The difference is that they’re not people-pleasing, and I was,” recalls Bateman. “I’ve got these thoughts in my head that cause me to make fear-based decisions. Why don’t I just do the opposite?”
“This film is basically a map to cross that chasm — that bridge between who you become if you’ve made fear-based decisions and who you’re supposed to be,” she explains.
The journey to directing for Bateman, who found success in acting and has made appearances in shows from Modern Family to Desperate Housewives over the years, was winding.
“I wanted to direct when I was 19 but the timing didn’t feel right, and I know for me, creatively, I had to wait. Timing’s a big component of my life, especially with creative endeavors,” Bateman says. “The acting thing was very good to me for a long time. Then my life just shifted and it went into producing and writing mostly in the digital space.”
In 2017, Bateman wrote, produced, and directed the short film Five Minutes, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Violet had its premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
“My greatest hope for other people is that they can become completely themselves. And if they don’t feel like they are, check out Violet and maybe you’ll get something from there,” she suggests, “where it’ll help you to pull away from making those fear-based decisions.”
Violet is now in theaters and available on Amazon Prime.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn