In a unique take on the exploration of love, Fingernails (now on Apple TV+) stars Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed shared that it was a special opportunity to take on a film about love in an "anti-rom-com" format.
"Most rom-coms or most stories about love say, look we all know what love is, now let's see some characters trying to find it," Ahmed told Yahoo Canada. "This actually flips that whole premise on its head and goes, ... what if we didn't know what love is at all anymore? What if we had to learn ourselves and teach each other from scratch what love is? And what if someone told you there was a test for it, would you believe them? Would you trust it? Can you measure it?"
"There's all these things that actually, to me, make it really appealing as someone who doesn't naturally gravitate towards rom-coms. It's almost like an anti-romcom, it makes you lean into it even more and go, OK right, that's an interesting flip on the whole thing. I think it's so fascinating."
Buckley added that the uniqueness in Fingernails is that director and co-writer, Christos Nikou, also doesn't "sensationalize" love in this story.
"Love in its best place is just kind of being in the unknowability of it all and not trying to make it OK or make a perfect, or once you sign that line that you're going to be 100 per cent in love," Buckley said.
"I agree, it's kind of an anti-rom-com, and I think there's bravery for somebody to take the premise of a love story and slow it right down, and leave you a little bit uncomfortable in it, rather than trying to make it a sensational hit or adrenalized hit, which I guess a lot of how people find love nowadays is based off that. The click and the connection, and then you're going to be fixed."
What is 'Fingernails' about?
Nikou’s Fingernails takes place in a world where people can take a love test to determine if their romantic partner is truly their perfect match. The test is conducted by a fingernail being extracted by each person, which allows a machine to measure the love between the two individuals, with the goal of getting a 100 per cent score.
Anna (Buckley) has successfully found her perfect partner, Ryan (Jeremy Allen White), but she's having doubts, which lead her to take a job at the Love Institute that administers the love test, run by founder Duncan (Luke Wilson).
At the Institute, Anna meets Amir (Ahmed), whose job includes conducting a series of exercises with couples hoping to strengthen their love for each other before they take the definitive test.
As Anna's feelings for Amir evolve, she begins to wonder if he could be her true, perfect love match, instead of Ryan.
The 'old school' beauty in the absence of technology
While technology is integrated into the story of Fingernails, Nikou’s film has quite an analogue feel when it comes to tech in the film. The machine used to conduct the love test is really the only technology we see.
As Ahmed stated, that more analogue feel also plays into the film's reflection on the limits of technology.
"It's not about putting science on a pedestal, it's about maybe our folly in doing that," he said. "I think [there's] something interesting about depicting all this technology being inherently limited, in feeling inherently a little bit VHS and analogue, and like something that could be out of date by a day after tomorrow."
"Even though it's a scientific test, there's something very visceral about it. It's about ripping off your fingernails and going into a computer the size of a room. It speaks to me about an era of technology that was slightly more kind of naive. ... To kind of transport that into the film, I think it subliminally just puts you in that space of like, oh yeah technology is just a box of tricks that's going to be out of date by next week. So why do we trust it so much?"
Buckley described Nikou as "old school" and an "old romantic" in some ways, tapping into a "different era" of "humans just trying to be human with each other."
"Personally, I bloody hate when somebody's texting on a film," Buckley admitted. "It's so a part of our lives, but when you watch people be like that on screen, you're like, oh god, it's so detaching, and ... I've been those people when they're texting on screen and you're like, can't you talk to a human?"
"I think when you go to the cinema you want humans to be human, in some way. You don't want them to be robots or god forbid AI."
Music, karaoke and lots of jokes on the set of 'Fingernails'
One thing that's abundantly clear in Fingernails is that the actors and Nikou had a good time making this film.
"It's often the people before the script," Ahmed said about what drew him to this project.
"I just feel like when the chips are down and you're running out of time on set, the scene doesn't work, you need to make something up, it comes down to how much you're connecting with those people, how much you trust those people, even more than a script or a story. I think that was the biggest pull for me."
That also extended to Nikou's decision to play a specific song before shooting each scene, in order to establish a particular mood for the cast and crew.
"I always loved that, it sets a tone and a mood really for the scenes when you're going into them," Buckley said.
"We used to play karaoke. [Nikou] loves singing [Ben E. King's 'Stand By Me.'] He loves doing karaoke. It wasn't all serious, he'd be singing, you'd hear in the background Christos giving his rendition of a karaoke song, lightening the mood as well."
Ahmed also introduced Buckley to some new rap music while they were filming Fingernails.
"I feel like we just had such a good time making this film, we were just cracking jokes and ... that's the dream, really," Ahmed said. "That you can go into each take and each scene just kind of loose and relaxed, and enjoying the people that you're working with."
"I know sometimes people say, look, you can have a terrible time making a project, but it's still a great project, or you can have an amazing time making something and it's terrible. But I don't know if I believe that as much. I feel that even if something goes wrong, when a project doesn't quite work with audiences, if there's a certain amount of love and connection, and joy in the heart of making it, I do feel that comes across, and I think people are picking up on that."