There’s a certain isolated romanticism about a nondescript hotel room. There’s the double bed, an ice bucket, and a television with 200 channels of nothing at all. It’s this sense of romanticism and mystery that drives Room 104, the new HBO show from Mark and Jay Duplass that takes place entirely inside an anonymous hotel room.
Episode by episode, the anthology series has become a showcase for those who enter Room 104—albeit with a supernatural twist. Over the first five episodes of the breakout show, cult priests, ghosts, and past selves have taken up occupancy in the walls of the room.
On last weeks episode, the mysterious powers of Room 104 seep into the lives of two Mormon missionaries whose lives are upended as they’re on their mission. As Noah, played by newcomer Adam Foster, and Joseph, played by Death Note‘s Nat Wolff, relax in their sacred underwear and debate the prospects of converting even a single person to Mormonism, strange and mysterious events start happening in the room under the directorial lense of Megan Griffiths.
For the Duplass brothers, every episode has been a chance to showcase the kind of indie talent they’ve met on past projects like Safety Not Gauranteed and The Skeleton Twins. It’s through the indie film scene that the brothers recruited Griffiths to direct for television for the first time. The filmmaker lends her talents to this weeks episode, “The Missionaries,” as well as an upcoming episode called “The Fight.” Ahead of the Mormon-centric episode tonight, we talked to Griffiths and Adam Foster, who makes his television debut as one of the missionaries, about portraying the religion as a reality rather than a punchline and a masturbation scene you’ll need to see to believe.
OUT: Did you have any familiarity with Mormonism before going into it?
Megan Griffiths: I went to high school in northern Idaho, which is a pretty heavily Mormon community, so I had a lot of good friends who were Mormon in high school.
Adam Foster: When I was preparing for the audition, one of my really good friends that I’ve known since I was 13 was raised Mormon and had a falling out with the religion, so I talked to her and asked what her life experience was like.
It’s very similar and something like trying coffee can be this detrimental thing because it’s explicitly said not to. It became this thing where I tried to figure out how to make these things that are seemingly no big deal into world-altering occurrences. You want to do it justice and take it seriously because this is someone’s life in the world.
It’s not often you see portrayals of Mormonism on TV that are so true to life.
MG: We tried to be really respectful and true to the Mormon experience because I don’t really have any interest in mocking people for their religion. I wanted to approach it with respect.
What was your favorite scene to film?
AF: I think it was when we did the masturbation scene because there’s all these people watching. With the porn that comes on, we had someone reading the lines for the porn so it was really funny to hear this man speak in such a monotone way saying things like “oh baby” while we were going through our motions.
MG: Probably the masturbation scene. [Laughs] I think they were so adorable and earnest in that sequence so their sweetness shines through. I thought the actors brought so much to that moment and really made that sequence work.
Megan, how was your experience directing episodes for the show?
MG: Mark and Jay Duplass are so good about remembering people from their indie roots and supporting and lifting them up, so Room 104 has been a real testament to that. They’ve given so many good opportunities to people from the feature world. I’d been trying to break in to the television world for a while and there’s a lot of resistance against experimenting with a feature director in the television world.
What was the experience of filming the entire episode in one hotel room?
MG: I made a short film once that was set in one room so I had a little bit of experience to draw from there, but it presents a really interesting challenge. It forces you to consider your blocking and make sure that you don’t spend too long in one place.
Adam, how was your experience filming an episode with a gay aspect to it?
AF: I was focused on grasping the content and reality of what it would be like to be a missionary and be told specific things all your life and then start questioning them—to have your whole world upended in one night.