Give Me the Backstory: Get to Know Alice Englert, the Writer-Director of “Bad Behaviour”

By Lucy Spicer

One of the most exciting things about starting each year with the Sundance Film Festival is having a front-row seat for the bright future of independent filmmaking. And while we learn a lot from the art that these storytellers share with us, there’s always more we can learn about these filmmakers as people. This year, we decided to get to the bottom of those artistic wells with our Backstory questionnaire!

Alice Englert is no stranger to Sundance, having appeared in three films that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (In Fear, Them That Follow, You Won’t Be Alone) in the last five years. But the 2023 Festival is extra special — it’s where she made her feature debut as a writer-director with Bad Behaviour, an explosive black comedy that premiered in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. 

Bad Behaviour stars Jennifer Connelly as Lucy, a former child actor with toxic tendencies who attends a semi-silent retreat led by the enigmatic Elon (Ben Whishaw) in her quest for enlightenment. But Lucy doesn’t seem terribly committed to the process, and the presence of a  young social media influencer triggers something truly ugly within her. “I always think it’s worthwhile to make stories that bypass the binary of good and evil and stick to being complicated,” says Englert. “I also think a lot of people like Lucy are in tandem with something more and don’t know what to do about it.”

Despite some of the heavier elements in the film, Englert — who also plays Lucy’s daughter, Dylan, a stuntperson in training — had a blast on set. “I felt deeply overexcited about having such an epic stunt coordinator, Dayna Grant, who taught me how to roll around all over the place, get strangled, and twirl a stick. I love that part of filmmaking, the tactile part, even the touch of inevitable bruising. Rehearsal was a joy.”

Bad Behaviour hit theaters in the U.S. back in June of this year and is now available to buy or rent. Read on to learn more about Englert and the making of her feature debut, including what inspired the story and what challenges came with the filming process.

What was the biggest inspiration behind Bad Behaviour?

Passive aggression with the lid off of it. I kept imagining a woman closed like a Pandora’s box, full of promise, desperate for release, but when it comes, it isn’t freedom — it’s rage and pain. I wanted to tell a story about enlightenment, the people huddled around that contrary final frontier, battling their demons and, in some cases, becoming them. I wanted the story to be a distorted hero’s journey where you don’t get to save the world, though by crawling toward love, its responsibility, and its power, you find something worth wanting to savor… and I thought it should be funny.

Alice Englert

Tell us an anecdote about casting or working with your actors.

Jennifer gave me the idea of Lucy and Dylan’s shared language in the movie. It was the way she embraced and riffed on Lucy’s past as a child actor in a fantasy TV series! The weird warrior (worrier) princess moves evolved between mother and daughter because Jennifer made it infectious. I had to join her. It was beyond my control.

What was a big challenge you faced while making this film?

I got COVID on the very first day of shooting and directed over Zoom for the first two days in isolation. Also, unexpected snow!

Films are lasting artistic legacies; what do you want yours to say?

Sometimes letting go means you find something to hang onto.

Tell us why and how you got into filmmaking. Why do you do it?

I grew up around film, so apart from being obsessed with it from exposure, I find it mentally and physically exhausting, which I love. I have been trying to write stories since I was a kid, and I do it because I love it and it makes me feel like my insides and impulses make sense and belong somewhere. I like the dedication, the people, the vulnerability, the wrap parties. I like film for its impact and its pragmatic elements. It is epic and intimate. It’s my favorite thing to be overwhelmed by.

If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you be doing?

Writing fantasy books.

What is something that all filmmakers should keep in mind in order to become better cinematic storytellers?

Be kind. To yourself, too. Cruelty isn’t truth; it’s a phony kind of power.

What three things do you always have in your refrigerator?

Something that has seen better days, shallots, and mangled butter

What’s the last book you read?

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

One thing people don’t know about me is _____.

I pun more unintentionally than I pun on purpose.

What’s your favorite film that has come from the Sundance Institute or Festival?

I loved The Last Black Man in San Francisco and am really proud of Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t be Alone. Truly so many more amazing films. Being included [in 2023] is an insane honor.

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