In The Unicorn, a couple enters their fourth year of engagement with no wedding in sight. So they decide to venture out to Palm Springs to try and have a threesome to rekindle their spark. The film stars Lauren Lapkus as Malory and Nicholas Rutherford as Caleb (Rutherford also co-wrote the script with director Robert Schwartzman), and it recently played as part of the SXSW film slate. It’s there we got the chance to talk to Lapkus about her character, the joys of improvising with her co-stars, and more.
What sparked your interest in The Unicorn initially?
It felt like a story that I could relate to, not in the sense that it’s about a couple who try to have a threesome, I have no experience with that. It’s about a couple that has been together for a long time and reaches a point where they don’t know if they should stay together or not. Are they an interesting couple? Are they boring? Are they tired of each other? They just don’t like even really consider their relationship enough, they almost take it for granted. I think that’s a really relatable story that a lot of people have experienced in their lives and I really like that.
The only stories I’ve heard from anyone who’s tried a threesome is usually something along the lines of, “Oh, it’s the worst.”
Yeah. I’ve pretty much only known bad stories about that. So, it’s not something I’m looking to do.
This movie doesn’t really sell you on it, either.
No. No, it doesn’t make it look that fun.
The story is really carried by the rapport you have with Nick Rutherford and the interplay between your two characters. Knowing he was one of the co-writers, how much of that was on the page and how much of that was something like you two were able to work out together?
The writers definitely did a great job with that. It was really helpful that we were able to improvise within the script a lot. Before I officially got the part we kind of did a test run at Robert’s house with Nick and myself. Running through a couple of the scenes and improvising within them finding the relationship through each time we did it, kind of changing a little bit and seeing what works.
I think they had definitely established a good relationship on the page. That was really helpful going into the film because usually you don’t really get a rehearsal before starting something. So it was nice to feel like we had built a little bit of a connection. Then coming on set and being able to improvise and find stuff, it really built our characters up and made them more three-dimensional. You kind of see that relationship being a little bit more real than just words on a page.
The two of you really sell the idea that you’re a couple that seems to have sort-of grown tired of one another.
I hope we weren’t totally tired of each other, but we were spending a lot of time together because it was this indie movie we were on set all the time. No one is, like, disappearing into [their] trailers. So we got to know each other which I think really helped with just the comfortability between the two characters. Which definitely can read as tired of each other. I think that is something that happens in real life all the time.
I wasn’t aware of the term “unicorn” before I watched the film.
I had already heard the term “unicorn,” which is a person who offers themselves up to couples to be a threesome, like the third in the relationship without any strings attached. I listen to a lot of Savage Love podcasts, so I was very familiar with that idea. I think there’s also elements [that] a unicorn is an imaginary creature. It’s a thing that like doesn’t exist. Even someone who says they are a unicorn, are they? Is that even possible to be somebody who comes into a relationship and doesn’t mess it up in some way? I don’t know. It does seem like it is a fantasy all around.
The film does speak to that imaginary aspect. It seems like it would be impossible to go into a situation like this where there isn’t jealousy or resentment.
Because this couple has so much shared history and they know how to push each other’s buttons or what they get sensitive about or whatever. When a new person comes in you could feel protective even in a negative way of that other person. You’re predicting what they’re going to do or say. I think that, at least in this film, it gets in the way of them having any fun most of the time. They know too much about each other.