Ethan Hawke and Ewan McGregor pair up to anchor the movie Raymond & Ray on AppleTV+ (premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival) from writer-director Rodrigo García, playing half-brothers who reconnect for the funeral of their terrible father.
When the film begins, we see Raymond (McGregor) appear at the home of his brother, Ray (Hawke), to tell him their father is dead and the funeral is the next day. Ray's instinct is to stress to his brother that he doesn't have to go, but Raymond convinces his brother to go to the funeral with him.
"I want to know what it looks like to put him underground, what it feels like, but I'm scared it's going to kick my a—," Raymond says to Ray. "Come with me."
Raymond is a more mild-mannered businessman who's been divorced twice, while Ray is a charismatic recovering substance abuser and musician. They both connect on the deep hatred and anger they have towards their father, who was impossible to please and "didn't have a humble bone in his body," which ultimately created lifelong scars for the half-siblings.
"It's more complicated, I think, than just forgiving the father. It's forgiving yourself for giving in to anger and self-loathing, and how to accept yourself in the moment," Hawke told reporters.
"Ray is telling Raymond throughout the film, 'Why can't you just let yourself hate him, why can't you be angry with him?' And at the end, ... he's able to express and accept his anger at his father," McGregor adds. "I don't think it's forgiveness, in his case. It's an acceptance of the truth, that it's OK to feel this way about this man who was a horrendous father to him."
'It's very easy for us to be critical of masculinity'
Filmmaker Rodrigo García is mostly known for creating films with women-centric stories, but for Raymond & Ray, he dove into the particular dynamics of a male relationship.
"I think that denial of emotion, which can happen to anyone, I think is perhaps more frequent in men and perhaps in heterosexual men, ... these are gross generalities, but that's how I leaned into the story," García says.
"It's very easy for us to be critical of masculinity or hyperbolic about its positives, but when you don't have a positive role model as a father, it does cripple you, and I think so many men deal with that in different ways," Hawke says about exploring a story that touches specifically on masculinity.
"We're told all the wrong ways for anger to manifest itself. We were told it's wrong to repress it, we're told it's wrong to act out on it, and so, in a way, for me the movie is a meditation of what is the right way for anger to manifest. Because if you don't release it, it's a constant stoppage in your life, and if you release it in the wrong way, you trip over it, and it's really complicated for a lot of people."
One important aspect of Ray's story is his connection to music and how there is still a wound from his father's lack of acceptance and appreciation of his passion.
"They're sort of expressing their hatred, or their disappointment, or their heartbreak from the way their father dealt with them when they were children in different ways, and they unlock it and they release it in different ways," McGregor says. "I think it's so beautiful, the musical journey of Ray and that he's able to express it.
"I think the fact that the father has destroyed Ray's confidence in his music, which is his creative expression. We can see that he's very talented, but he's unable to express it because of the damage his father has done to him over the years, and the fact that by the end of the movie, he's able to express himself through music is just such a beautiful idea that Rodrigo wrote beautifully."
When asked about being able to, as actors, put themselves into these characters, Hawke identified that they use their personal "knowledge of the universe."
"One of the things I think drew us both to this project is how fully imagined it was on the page, to imagine being given the same name as your brother because your father was worried about confusing you, and to know that both of our mothers, whom we both adore, were severely hurt by our father," Hawke says. "It's hard to forgive your father for hurting your mother, it's really difficult and both men are trapped in that."
'What you perceive as bad at first could be good later'
While the actors praised the complexity and three-dimensionality in which their characters are written, a core aspect of the ebbs and flows in the story are linked to both Raymond and Ray realizing there are people in the world who saw their father completely differently.
"I've always found it moving, my last line about, we didn't really know him, and this awareness that we have these ideas of who our parents are, in how we perceive them, but one of the things that the men keep getting hit with is that they only saw one aspect of this person," Hawke says. "There are other people that had different positive relationships.
"I remember at my own grandfather's funeral, my mother felt very much the same way. She sat there watching everybody give these speeches and started seeing different cuts of a person and of a life, and what this person was as a professional, what they were as a lover, what they were as a human and as a parent. And so the movie to me, sometimes, seems really wise about what you perceive as bad at first could be good later."
Two of the characters Raymond and Ray meet that had a different view of their father is Kiera (Sophie Okonedo), their father's former nurse who is able to see right through Ray's more problematic traits, and Lucia (Maribel Verdú), their father's vibrant and eccentric final lover who grows particularly close to Raymond.
"For Kiera, she's a nurse, so I think she likes listening to people and hearing their stories. That's probably one of her qualities, and not everyone's like that," Okonedo says. "I feel that from the tiny bits of history that are in the script about Kiera, she obviously has some, like everybody, some dysfunction in her family, and I felt that perhaps she was at an age where she kind of decided the things she wants and didn't want in life, ... she seems quite sure about herself and quite comfortable in her own skin."
"I think the most interesting thing in this film is basically the relationship between these two brothers, these two wounded souls, and I think my role has nothing to do with them, so Lucia is a free soul and suddenly she runs into them, but nothing changed in her life," Verdú adds.
While it would be easy for a story like this to completely fall on the drama, there is a comedic air to the brotherly banter between Hawke and McGregor, in particular, that adds much-needed levity to the story.
"You needed to introduce the nuttiness, the craziness of it. I didn't think of it so much as humour as sort of folly, eccentric behaviour. But of course, once you're really working with that and staging, it becomes funny," Rodrigo García said. "Ethan and Ewan brought a lot of the humour to it, I think they immediately connected to that way that brothers give each other crap and sort of provoke each other, and tell each other the truth and call each other on their bullshit.
"They just had a great rapport on screen that was funny. I think just them giving each other grief people found amusing. ... I think I concentrated on the craziness of it, but they made it even funnier and I think that's necessary to tell tragic stories."