Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Zora in 'Tuesday.'

In Tuesday, Death Is A Parrot & Motherhood Means Letting Go

Director Daina O. Pusić and co-star Lola Petticrew speak to Romper about this heartbreaking mother-daughter fairytale.

I could swear that writer and director Daina O. Pusić made Tuesday just to hurt me personally. As a mom, and, above and beyond that a human with feelings, the trailer alone made me weep. The movie… well, watching the full film did nothing to scale back the sobs.

Pusić’s debut feature tells the story of Zora (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a mother who refuses to accept the impending death of her teenage daughter, Tuesday (Lola Petticrew). But when Death (Arinzé Kene) appears to the pair in the form of a bedraggled parrot, they have no choice but to move forward toward the inevitable.

And yet the film is far from bleak. Tuesday skillfully balances emotional grittiness with whimsical storytelling and no small amount of comedy. I spoke with with Pusić and Petticrew about bringing this dark fairy tale to life, confronting the realities of death, and why an actress best known for comedy was the “only” choice to be the hero in a tragedy.

I was surprised that there’s a lot of humor in this movie, starting off with Tuesday holding off Death by telling them a joke, which I feel like all of us secretly hope we can do. What do you see as the role of comedy in this movie?

DP: There is a lot of tragedy in this film, but my way of dealing with tragedy as a director and I think as a person is through comedy. It feels as if it’s the only way to generate hope at the other end of a tragic situation. It also feels truthful to what life is like. It is a tragedy, but it is a comedy and it is fantastical, and you never know what's going to happen. That all feels like life, and that was very important for me, for that to come across in the film, to feel genuinely, not for me to exactly represent what life is, but to show what life feels like.

Speaking of being true to life, we are seeing these characters in a very particular moment in their lives, but there’s a real sense of their relationship. We don’t know everything about them, but the way they interact with one another speaks to a deep history. Lola, what kind of character work did you do to get into that space?

While Tuesday requires her mother’s care in the end stages of her illness, she often falls into a parental role for Zora emotionally.A24

LP: It’s a question for us both because that was work that we both did in immense detail together. We together created Tuesday from the ground up. Daina had obviously already written Tuesday and knew her incredibly well. There were gaps that we filled in, things that we began to figure out about how she copes and figures things out. We knew her history and we spent a lot of time doing that in very precise detail so that when we got onto set and we began to do things that the truth would flow like a river, and we didn't have to think about it too much. We created a world where there were many different avenues that we could go down and, regardless, it would speak to the truth of Tuesday and her situation.

DP: We ended up just having a one word — one movement even — that would have nothing to do with the scene, and the other person would just know...

LP: … and be like, "Yes."

DP: I think a lot of how we talked about emotion and characterization had to do with movement, centering oneself, grounding oneself, projecting oneself so we could just move and know what the other person was thinking.

Can you tell me how you developed the character of Death? I'm obsessed with him. I am laughing and crying, and I really, really felt this character.

DP: Oh, gosh. I mean, just stop me! Well, I wrote the profile for the character first, and I felt that I wrote Death's history, his relationship to his mother, his relationship to being an eternal creature, feeling everything that everyone else is feeling in order to be able to reach them and kill them, and how that affected his psyche, how that affected his state of mind. And really at the beginning of the film, he's completely distraught. He's half bald, he's dirty, and by the end of the film, he's regenerated both physically and emotionally.


I designed the character based on what I felt that he is. So I felt that his personality was quite birdlike in the sense that he is both cuddly and friendly in one moment, but at the turn of the head he could be frightening and foreign and dinosaur-like, and obviously he needed to speak and sing and dance and do all these things that parrots are famous for. There was a great deal of thought put into how I think people have a tendency to view visual effects as an exact science — that you just go in a room full of guys and they just pom-pom-pom. But it's really not like that, especially on a limited budget like this film was. There are a lot of different considerations to be taken into account when creating a character like that. A lot of it is very instinctive, but ultimately it was all reliant on Arinzé Kene, on his performance and the strength and genuine emotion that he's projecting when he plays Death.

Lola, I wonder how you think about Tuesday as a person. How would you describe her?

LP: I think Tuesday is somebody who is well-equipped and capable to carry a tremendous amount of pain and burden. Not just her own, but other people’s. I think she's incredibly tough, but I also think that she's an incredibly joyful human being. She's incredibly funny and brave. I think she's a tremendous source of life. I think you can see that in the overwhelming, almost blinding love that her mother has for her. I think she's smart and I adore her. Although she has an incredible capability to care for others, the roles reverse a little [with Tuesday and Zora], and she ends up almost in a parent role. I think ultimately she just wants to be granted permission to be a child.

For me, this movie was in many ways as much about motherhood and caregiving as it was about death. Though, full disclosure, death and motherhood are two of my favorite subjects. Can you talk a little bit about the way you wanted to portray motherhood in this movie and what specifically drew you to Julia Louis-Dreyfus for the role of Zora?

DP: I wanted to take a character to the very edge of being likable, to the very brink of being someone who is acceptable and then reel them back as being the real hero of the film. And that's what you see Julia do throughout the film. She starts off, I think, in a lot of people's minds as the villain because she's in such denial about what's going on that she just absolutely ignores her daughter.


You see that this denial is part of her journey of grief. In a way, that's also an answer of why I thought of her for the role because the character ended up demanding an enormous range. I could ask Julia to do deep, deep tragedy and absurdist comedy and nuanced drama sometimes in the same scene, sometimes in the same moment. And she would do that at such a level that was really incredible for myself and for the rest of the crew and everyone else to watch. Also, it's very rare to find someone of that caliber with the gumption to go for something so completely out of their comfort zone and to do it with such boldness and deliver this knockout performance that somehow at the same time is very complex, but also looks effortless.

I would say my ambition for the film was always for it to be entertaining. I really felt that that was important and Julia is someone who understands that. She understands what it means to entertain people, not just as an actor, but as a collaborator. I was very grateful for that as well. People keep saying, "Oh, Julia is such a departure." But if you look at it from my perspective, Julia is the obvious choice. She's almost the only choice.

Immediately, I mean a second into the movie, I was struck by the use of sound in the film. The sound designers and and sound editors and the Foley folks were working overtime on this one. It was gorgeous. Can you talk a little bit about the sound choices? Why was the juxtaposition of silence and chaos important?

DP: It was an incredibly important aspect of the film. To the degree where I would say a lot of the scenes without the sound design just did not make any sense. It was written into the script from the very beginning. It was something that I was heavily relying on, especially because of the limited budget we were working with. Sound was such a big part of bringing this reality to life. I could talk about it endlessly, but a good example of how the sound design informed even the shoot was that, for instance, sometimes you were inside Death's head where you would hear all the voices in his head and sometimes you weren't. When you were in Death's head, when you would hear the sound design, those were very specific shots. It was either his point-of-view shots or behind his ear.


I cannot tell you the amount of sound layers that go into Death. I have very, very passionate email threads with the sound department entitled, “what does a woman shrinking sound like?”

It makes a difference! Now, Lola, in an interview with The Guardian, you brought up the fact that we're constantly bombarded with social media. We're bombarded with images of death, and we are not as humans equipped to deal with or process it all. But I also think that in a lot of places in the world, for many of us, death is very separate from our everyday lives. We often don't necessarily encounter or even talk about death until it's right at our doorstep. I don't know if either of you have thought about this dichotomy, but if you have, I'd love to hear it.

LP: I am Irish. I think we have a long history, almost lore with death. In the same way like fairy tale stories about and around death, it's still very typical in Ireland to do open casket funerals. We wake people, we wake people from the house for three days with the body there. From a young age, that's just something that's very normal. But I think that ultimately is so different to being bombarded with images from across the world of atrocities or things that are happening that are on such a scope and a level that is so different. So I think, obviously depending on where you are in the world and your background, death is something that's really cultural. Different cultures deal with it and speak about it differently. But I think what this film does is confront. Although we may see death in our lives or think about it's the conversations to be had with each other in the truth of it and seeing death and letting go are incredibly different.

DP: In this film, when death arrives in the characters’ lives and when they're struck with this enormous grief and pain, it creates a domino effect that ends or almost ends the rest of the world. And I feel like that's right. I feel like that's what should happen when we experience that grief. I feel like the world should fall apart and that we have to keep that. But it's obviously such an enormous feeling to keep to understand and to constantly comprehend as you hear of other people's circumstances. But I hope this film speaks to audience members in that way where they recognize, where they see that type of domino effect coming from someone's private world crumbling, and that making the rest of the world crumble as well. That they feel recognized and a sense of relief at seeing that.

Tuesday is playing in theaters in New York City and premieres nationwide on June 14.