Exclusive interview: Room 104 director Megan Griffiths talks The Fight and The Missionaries

Natalie Morgan, Keta Meggett
Natalie Morgan, left, and Keta Meggett before they psychologically flip in The Fight on Room 104

Tonight on Room 104, The Fight is a fierce and frantic episode which sees two women war with each other as the male-dominated MMA fight system keeps them marginalized financially. In short, and without too many spoilers, they cook up a scheme.

The technically accurate and stunning choreography of The Fight proves how few limitations space presents to film when in the right hands, thanks to the eye and skill of Seattle-based director Megan Griffiths (The Night Stalker).  This incredible episode is one of the best so far and the second effort for the series directed by Griffiths, who previously helmed The Missionaries.

Griffiths centers the drama around two female Mixed Martial Arts fighters (played by Natalie Morgan and Keta Meggett — both real-life fighters) who realize their ability to conspire to turn the tables on fight promoters may free them from MMA indentured servitude. Michael Chandler and J. Claude Deering also star.

Like all the other episodes of Room 104, everything in The Fight takes place in one room. The half-hour, written by Mark Duplass, is an energetic and taught face-off that morphs the space into an MMA cage.

We spoke to her ahead of the knock-out episode about her experience on the series and what’s next for her.

Monsters and Critics: The Duplass Brothers were at the summer Television Critics Association and they talked about how they wanted to step away and let the directors take over. It’s a diverse group of directors with a lot of women. Can you talk about that and how you were approached and what they told you?

Megan Griffiths: Sure. Yes, that is in keeping with how they framed it to the directors, if my experience is anything to go by. I know Mark well. I know Jay less well, but I’ve known him for a few years as well.

Mark and I worked on a film called Your Sister’s Sister together many years ago now, six-seven years ago. He has been sort of a friend and advocated for me ever since. He just reached out to me directly to ask me to direct The Missionaries episode initially.

Then I came down to do that, and then as we were in that process, he approached me about doing The Fight episode as well, which I was super stoked about because it felt like such a good episode for stretching my directorial muscles. I jumped on that one right away, too.

Those fighters were so incredible, just such passionate, talented, amazing athletes, so I was a bit in awe of both of them.

M&C: The two women in the fight, Natalie and Keta, where did you find them?

MG: Mark and I both talked about…in the early stages, he said he really wanted to have fighters who could act as opposed to actors who could learn to fight.

I was super-on board with that, because I love the level of authenticity it lends, that they’re not just faking it. I mean, they are faking it because they’re not really throttling each other, but they know what they’re doing. The moves are very natural to them because they’re both trained in MMA.

Natalie Morgan, who plays Greta in the episode, was someone who was recommended to me by a friend of mine who used to do MMA training in LA and she had met Natalie. I reached out to her directly to see if she might want to come audition, and she sort of reluctantly did, because she’d never been on set before. She’d never considered acting before. She just had such an interesting magnetism and such a great toughness and authority, and we just thought that she had a really special quality.

Then Keta came in through Nicole Arbusto, who does all the casting for the episodes. That was by really digging into the fight community, and she found Keta, who plays Rayna. She came in and auditioned.

Then the challenge was, we’re putting together these two women in this episode and they have to both be real fighters, they both have to be actors, and they both have to be realistic [seeming] people who would be paired to fight, so they have to be the same weight class.

Keta Meggett
Keta Meggett puts in a compelling turn as a fighter at a crossroads

Keta Meggett is a fighter who’s done more acting than Natalie and she’s in WOW, Women of Wrestling, so she’s done some false fighting too, she’s done the sort of play fighting, so she had some good things to bring to the table in terms of how to land, how to make it sound like you’re landing a punch when you’re not. How to sell the fighting, too, that was great.

It was a real casting thread-the-needle, but I’m really happy with the actors we found.

M&C: Let’s talk about the two actors in The Missionaries, Adam Foster and Nat Wolff. Did you have a say or influence in casting those two young men to play the Mormon missionaries?

Nat Wolff, Adam Foster
The Missionaries showed the moral war between duty, curiosity, and desire for two young Mormons

MG: Absolutely, yeah. Nat was someone who was brought up by the Duplasses because Jay had worked with him on the movie Paper Towns, which Nat’s the lead in. He was able to reach out directly and we all thought he’d be great.

I was a fan of him from the one with Shailene Woodley that I’m spacing the name of [The Fault in Our Stars]. Anyway, he was just a direct offer and then we opened it up for the other actor, looking for someone who could be a good match for Nat, that felt like he had this slightly more sort of wide-eyed, innocent, earnest quality that we found in Adam Foster, who was another person who hadn’t spent a lot of time on set before this, but who just felt like he really embodied the quality that we wanted for the character.

M&C: Your two episodes, in particular, are great acting showcases. What was it like for you as a director, working in this extremely contained environment?

MG: I kind of love having limitations as a director, so I was really game to get in there and figure out how to do it in that…how to do these episodes in that space.

It’s kind of fun because the first one…the two episodes are very, very different, tonally, but they both really relied on very energetic blocking, just to keep the characters moving around in space and the audience getting to sit in different parts of the room and really utilize all the different places in the room.

I think it really came down to just trying to…I can’t imagine the answer you’d get from someone who was there for every week of the shoot, the cinematographer, I’m sure he had his hands full trying to keep it engaging and different every episode for 12 episodes. But between the two I had, the nature of the set was such a blank slate that it really allowed for a lot of different styles to be placed on it.

We kind of embraced the blandness for the Missionaries episode, and for the Fight episode, we really fought against that. We really tried to make it this gritty MMA fight ring feel.

M&C: Talk about your working with the Duplasses, and also the cinematographer, Doug Emmett, and your production designer, Jonah Markowitz. Can you talk about their work and what they brought to you as a director?

MG: Well, with Jonah, who’s amazing, I didn’t have that much exposure to him especially in The Missionaries episode, because the set was built, and they just kind of, that was sort of, ‘here you go’.

But the Fight episode, since we were destroying a lot of the set, Jonah and I had a lot more conversations about how to do that and what parts of the set were destroyable, what parts were designed for breaking and what parts weren’t, and helping to design the fight scene around that.

That was really exciting and fun. Then, Doug, I had much more exposure to on a every-day constant level. He and Mark had, when I came in for the Missionaries episode, sketched out ideas, visual ideas, for each episode but they really wanted each of them to feel unique.

So that one I had a little bit more, ‘this is what we’re thinking’, and I liked what they were thinking. It was very much sort of odd framing, some static shots, and it felt like it matched the tone of it, so I definitely just embraced that and went with it.

When I came back for The Fight, they were in the middle of the eighth or ninth episode, or maybe it was, yeah, I guess it was closer to the end, the eleventh episode, so they were all very much heads down, focused on that. So I came in and said ‘this is what I think it should look like’ and they were game for that. I think it matched their initial idea for it.

Then I would say, too, just about Doug, something that I was really grateful for was when we were shooting the Fight episode, we were really trying to figure out ways to keep the fight engaging and keep it evolving over the course of the rounds. One of the rounds we decided to do on the spot, sort of on the day.

We decided to do it as a one-scene uninterrupted shot and it’s my favorite part of that episode, that one round of the fight, because it just feels so visceral. I give Doug a lot of credit for being able to get in there and be part of the fight and choreograph himself along with what the ladies were doing.

M&C: Yes. The lighting, too, in both of those episodes, it’s so drastically different…

MG: I know!

M&C: The Missionaries has this buttery palette, and then The Fight is like a smoke-filled ring with the audience in the edges, the appropriate darkness. [Cinematographer] Gordon Willis would be proud. 

MG: I love that. Yeah, that was a blast.

M&C: So outside of your two episodes that you’ve done for the Duplasses, what’s your favorite episode of Room 104 thus far?

MG: Well, it’s funny, I haven’t seen all of them yet, so I don’t want to necessarily rule out anything…yeah, because I haven’t seen the whole batch.

I’ve seen probably, now at this point I’ve probably seen seven of them, though. But I really loved Dayna Hanson’s dance episode [Voyeurs]. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. I know Dayna a little bit so, of course, I was ready to go in and support her, but it screened at the premiere, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and it’s just such a poetic, beautiful, bold experience.

I just feel like I’ve never seen anything like it on television, and I’m so excited that the Duplasses and HBO were courageous enough to try something so different.

As a person who doesn’t seek out modern dance on the regular, I was really drawn into it and it really captured me. I just was really riveted to it, so I love that one.

M&C: What’s next on the horizon for you as a director?

MG: Well, I did The Night Stalker last year, and then in January I shot a feature called Sadie, which I just finished. Hopefully, that will be making an appearance somewhere on the festival circuit and then in theaters somewhere near you next year. But that was what I just…I literally finished it a week ago, so I’m just coming off of that.

Room 104 episode The Fight will air October 6th at 11:30pm ET/PT on HBO

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