"It was a safe place to get horny!" laughs Margaret Qualley, talking about the set of her highly-charged new comedy Drive-Away Dolls. “Oh it's horn-dog!" nods her co-star, Geraldine Viswanathan, in between fits of giggles.


"By the way, this giggling that we're doing is exactly what it was like on set, trying to keep it together." But this aside, she adds: "All the sex scenes felt either silly and outrageous and over-the-top, or, like, meaningful to the story and beautiful and tasteful."

Both these actors know comedy inside out, of course. The daughter of Four Weddings and a Funeral star Andie MacDowell, Qualley is the 29-year-old Montana native who many will remember for playing one of Charles Manson's hippie-girl acolytes in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The Australian actress Viswanathan, meanwhile, broke out in the 2018 American sex comedy Blockers, about three girls planning to lose their virginities.

Still, neither have ever made anything quite like Drive-Away Dolls. Co-written and directed by Ethan Coen – without his brother Joel, his co-director on such classics as Miller's Crossing, Fargo and No Country for Old Men – it marks is a new direction for this Coen Brother.

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His co-writer is the Coens' longtime editor Tricia Cooke, who has been his wife since 1993. Cooke is a lesbian – the unconventional couple got married anyway, had two kids and now have separate partners; she based this 1999-set story on her years frequenting lesbian bars.

The story sees two roommates, the free-spirited Jamie and the uptight Marian, go on a wild journey down to Florida. Unbeknownst to them, the car they’ve been instructed to drive to Tallahassee happens to contain a briefcase with some sought-after cargo that a bunch of violent criminals want back.

What's in the case? Well, that's a major spoiler, but suffice it to say, neither Qualley nor her co-star had seen the contents until the day of shooting. "They let us have that genuine reaction," teases Viswanathan. "And that was a lot to take in."

Working with Coen and Cooke was pure harmony, says Qualley, who notes just how in sync they were. "I feel like they had a shared north-star that was very clear to both of them," the actress adds. "They wrote it together. They created the whole thing together. But I will say that sometimes they had different notes on how to achieve that same end result. So that's really nice. Ethan's a very dry man. And so sometimes Ethan would say something and I'd look to [Cooke] to get her note. And some clarity on the situation."

With a word-perfect script, there was no room for improv, either, adds Viswanathan. "Usually with comedies, you're trying to punch up the jokes in the scene and that's when you improvise and try to find something new. But we didn't need to do that here.

"I think the script is so brilliant and perfect. And the dialogue is so specific and melodic and going for something tonally so I think anything that we tried would have felt off. It would have been hard to match that."

Intriguingly, Coen and Cooke have already written two other lesbian B movies to complete a loose trilogy. "From what I gather – and I've gathered quite a bit – they're quite different," says Qualley. "The stories aren't connected. The thru-line is that they're lesbian stories. Or has a lesbian character at the helm." Sadly, with different characters headlining these scripts, it sounds like Jamie and Marian won't be returning to screens anytime soon.

Back to the important stuff, though: the sex. While most lesbian movies tend to focus on the trauma of coming out, Drive-Away Dolls is an exuberant celebration of Queer culture. There are visits to bars like The Butter Churn and the She Shed and – yes – lashings of sex that Qualley and Viswanathan had to simulate.

As is customary these days, an intimacy coordinator – Chelsea Pace – was on set to ensure the actresses felt comfortable. Not that she made a great impression, it seems.

"I don't even remember her to be honest! I believe we did. I'm sure we did. I don't remember her! She had short hair… she was great. She was a real sweetheart!" laughs the forgetful Qualley. "It was all so PC, the whole thing. PC and PG in a way. It felt like icing on the cake to have an intimacy coordinator, but we'd be fine either way. There's a respectful bunch doing a respectful job. With respect. The… sex scenes that I partake in are a bit like... it's not cheap thrills."

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While the film co-stars Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal and Beanie Feldstein, the real diva on set was Ricky, the Chihuahua that played Bruiser Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical – the touring stage version of the movies starring Reese Witherspoon as the go-getting Elle.

"Our first scene with Beanie Feldstein," explains Viswanathan, "she had to be hysterically crying, while the little chihuahua is barking and yapping and jumping. And this dog was too well behaved... just not barking on cue. And then the trainer had to be like, 'Bruiser, where's Elle? Where's Elle?' And then the dog just started going off!"

At least Qualley had no issues getting into character. She could draw on her own wild road trip with a friend, when she got pulled over by a cop for speeding. "I realised I didn't have my licence with me in the car."

Before she knew what was happening, her friend slid over to her seat. "She said, 'I got this.' The policeman comes and knocks on the RV door. She gets up. She's hot. She's a model. She's wearing a tank top – British, blonde." The law enforcer let her off with a warning. "I got away scot-free," laughs Qualley. "I sat in the passenger seat utterly relieved. We had all kinds of belongings in that van. It was a long time ago! Anyway... road trips, baby. Am I right?"

Drive-Away Dolls opens in cinemas on Friday 15th March. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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