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The world of corporate finance has long made for a mesmerizing entryway into gripping explorations of social issues—most recently showcased by HBO’s gritty, London-set hit series Industry. Now, Fair Play has entered the canon, marking the first feature outing of writer-director Chloe Domont, whose sharply written and darkly comedic film will have your heart racing from beginning to end, just as it had Sundance audiences at the edge of their seats. (“It was amazing to get the reaction from the crowd; we got a standing ovation,” star Phoebe Dynevor tells me after attending a screening.) With this tense and sleek psychosexual corporate thriller, Domont—who previously helmed episodes of Ballers and Billions—tackles all the ways gender, sex, and power operate within the highly intense industry.
Starring Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich—who both deliver electrifying performances unlike anything we’ve seen them do before—Fair Play follows Emily and Luke, a newly engaged couple whose romance is largely kept a secret due to the fact that they both work as analysts at the same cutthroat hedge fund in New York City, where office relationships are strictly verboten. When Emily unexpectedly gets the promotion Luke anticipated he would receive, their passionate and twisted relationship starts to unravel. Tensions rise as the film unpacks toxic masculinity and puts female rage on display in a whole new way.
Following Fair Play’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival—where it was quickly purchased by Netflix for $20 million—I caught up with Domont and Dynevor, who chatted with me over the phone about their ruthlessly brilliant film that’s bound to provoke discourse.
Finance is a male-dominated and hyper-masculine field where women are forced to carve their own space within the boys’ club. What made this landscape the perfect backdrop for an exploration of romance?
Chloe Domont: I picked the finance world for a number of reasons. I like the high stakes, the toxicity of the work environment, and showing how that can feed into the toxicity of relationships and vice versa. Also, I wanted to show the toll it takes on women in that world and what they have to do to survive. Sometimes they’re forced to play ugly. I mean, I personally would never judge a woman for doing what she has to do to make her way up in that kind of world, with those kinds of men.
Phoebe, how did you get involved in Fair Play and what appealed to you about Chloe’s script?
Phoebe Dynevor: It all came around quite quick. I read the script a couple of months before we started shooting; I thought the writing was so brilliant, and I’d never seen an arc like this in terms of what Emily is battling against. I immediately wanted to meet Chloe and hear her take. She’s brilliant, so I was all in from the get-go—pretty much from the first page.
What conversations did you both have about the gender and power dynamics at play in the film—which are deeply ingrained within the finance world, as well as workplaces in general?
CD: The conversations we’ve been having really speak to the intention of the film. I wanted to show how these ingrained gender dynamics still have a hold over us today, especially in a world where the roles are changing faster than people can keep up. We’re caught between men who are raised with traditional ideas of masculinity but are trying and wanting to keep up with the times—but there’s still so much instilled in them and the way they’re wired and conditioned. There is this duality to the way that men like Luke feel and behave, and that’s what I tried to put into the movie.
PD: From a female perspective, I saw myself in Emily, and many of the experiences I’ve been through in a male-dominated environment. The thing that interested me was how Emily is so isolated by her success—she can’t really enjoy it. It’s something she has to hide. She has to diminish herself and make herself smaller in order to please the men around her.
Fair Play also feels reminiscent of erotic thrillers from around the 1990s, and many people at the festival have been associating the film with the genre. Chloe, was it your intention to make a film with these kinds of undertones?
CD: I did not set out to make an erotic thriller of that era—what I did set out to do was make a thriller about gender power dynamics within a relationship that is highly sexual. I think that the execution of that intention ended up flipping the erotic thriller genre on its head.
What was the rehearsal process for this movie like?
CD: We spent a lot of time rehearsing beforehand. Obviously, I would always like more [laughs] but we got a comfortable amount of time to get on the same page, really explore certain scenes, try different things, [and] speak the same language before we started shooting. Because it was essential for the two actors to form that bond and that chemistry, which is undeniable on the screen.
PD: It was really important that we had those hours and days just to establish a dynamic. We workshopped some scenes to make us feel like we had a real relationship, a real bond before we started shooting. We also had time with an intimacy coordinator, which makes us all feel safe so that we can go to the really dark places that we go to in this film.
Emily feels like such a departure from any of your previous roles, Phoebe. How did you approach playing the nuances of this character—who’s very fierce, ruthless, and ambitious?
PD: To be honest, Emily was a character that I’ve always wanted to play without being totally aware of it. She embodies everything I feel a modern woman is, and in a lot of ways, is like the women I know around me. Obviously, she’s in some ways a heightened version of that, but it was such an actor’s dream to be able to go to those places and let out some deep-rooted feelings in that way [laughs]. I have felt how women can feel crippled and isolated by their success. This role was about accessing feelings from the past that I think a lot of women will be able to relate to: making yourself smaller and suppressing your strengths to avoid the rage of an insecure man.