On tonight’s episode of HBO’s Room 104, the Duplass brothers’ critically acclaimed series on HBO, we meet The Missionaries inside the motel room where anything can and does happen.
Actor Nat Wolff is cast as Joseph and newcomer Adam Foster is cast as Noah, two Mormon missionaries who go through a startling journey of self-discovery, faith-testing and a sexual awakening.
The incredibly taut and compelling episode was directed by Megan Griffiths, who also directs a future episode titled The Fight.
In the confined Room 104, two young men have — at different moments — a ballooning crisis of faith as Noah questions their unsuccessful lengthy run of proselytizing non-Mormons to convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Noah ask a barrage of questions and wonders about why they even do what they do, igniting the other missionary, Joseph, to freak out and go inward to the scriptures.
But Joseph weakens and eventually tests the boundaries of his latent sexual curiosity after a chance accidental encounter with motel porn construed as a “sign from God”.
The episode is a tightly focused character study and is a break-out role for Foster as Noah, the initially inquisitive missionary who emboldens Joseph to express his physical feelings.
Monsters and Critics spoke to Foster, from Saint Charles, Illinois, about his incredible first significant role on the smallscreen:
Monsters and Critics: Your character is beset by doubts from the beginning. It’s like you’re having a crisis of your Mormon faith initially, which sets everything off. How did you mentally get yourself prepared to play this role and how you wanted to approach this particular character?
Adam Foster: What I started to do is I started to believe.
Before I have doubts on anything, I wanted to make sure that I believed in this faith — what it feels like to believe all of these things, what it feels like to be told all of these things since I was born. And told that this is the way, this is the right path, this what you need to do to have eternal salvation. And if you stray from it, you’ll be damned forever.
I really wanted to create that. I created what going to church or having this group around you…of all these people that are like-minded…was like.
And then when you go to a different location, you go to some place else, and you have doors slammed in your face.
You have people rejecting what you tell them, and you’re just trying to save their souls, to help them out. And then, what comes of that.
If you start to question it, it’s like ‘why don’t people believe this?’, you know? If Heavenly Father is real, then why hasn’t he helped us if we’re trying to do His work?
My character says that ‘we’ve been here for how many straight days and we’re at the end of our mission. We’ve been here for almost two years and, you know, we haven’t gotten a conversion. Father hasn’t come to help us yet.’
It’s like really wrapping your head around what it would be like coming from this frame of mind to having it all questioned. That’s where I started.
M&C: Your character Noah, with his lack of conviction and curiosity. Then the reveal about the ‘delicious coffee’. There was sort of a turning point in the teleplay. Talk about those scenes and how your characters interacted.
AF: It was kind of a fun ride. I was in this mind frame, mood-altering…coming from Noah. It’s like having these questions and then you want to express them to your best friend.
There’s some trepidation because it’s like ‘we’re not supposed to talk about this’, you know?
Then I bring it up and then it’s kind of like the fun, the chaos that happens after, you know, I say these words and then Joseph starts to doubt as well and…I guess his doubts are manifested, [then we] bounced off of each other in the sense of, where do we go?
How far will we experiment or how far will we stray from the Mormon path?
It’s fun to really dive into stories and then just experience it — to put Adam aside for a moment, put Adam the actor aside and really become Noah, and just let this take the course, let everything be as true as possible.
I think it was a great experience because this is one of my first major [acting roles] and every moment of it was awesome, from getting to work with Nat [Wolff] and getting to work with [director] Megan Griffiths.
I was just trying my best to be as true to the story as possible so that when someone views it, you see the story.
You don’t see Adam on television trying to play a Mormon, you just see a Mormon boy questioning his faith. Just letting it all take place and just being present for everything.
M&C: Noah seems the more virginal of the two…wide-eyed and naïve. From the questions you were asking and the way you were reacting, and the way Joseph was reacting. You turned a switch in Joseph who went off the Mormon rails…
AF: Well, definitely. I mean when you watch the whole episode, I am the one that is like more innocent that has just like…is asking a genuine question.
I think that really serves the story because whether it’s explicitly said or not, Joseph is having some doubts as well and he’s trying to really hold on to his faith because he doesn’t necessarily know the answers.
I think that he kind of goes off the rail a little bit cause it’s like, here I am, Noah, with these questions and Joseph is normally the one that is devout, and he’s like on track and he’s got the answer.
It’s like what happens when he’s asked a question that he doesn’t know anymore, that he doesn’t know the answer to or what he’s been told to do.
How to combat it doesn’t necessarily work. Praying hasn’t worked so where do we go from here?
I think when you really look at it, it’s just as a monumental experience for Joseph. Maybe even more so because I feel like he’s taken on even a greater ride cause he’s hanging on.
He’s trying to hang on to his faith so much. Then here I come with these questions and it creates such a whirlwind for him; so many doubts that he wants to continue with this exploratory endeavor.
He wants to go see a movie that they are not supposed to see. He wants to try more.
Whereas with Noah it’s just a little…it was a question, he wanted to try it out. And maybe he’s not as exploratory or ready or…maybe he’s not…maybe he’s more faithful than he initially thought he was.
Whereas Joseph has more questions. He wants more information.
M&C: Your performance as Noah unleashed a Pandora’s Box in Joseph, it was a really interesting unfolding.
AF: Yeah, talking about it now it kind of makes me a little sick and a little proud. I’m like, ‘Oh look at all the chaos that I caused.’
M&C: Talk about the set, it was very confined. Have you ever worked in that kind of tight space, with the blocking. Your dialogue was pretty much all like that one room…
AF: There were a lot of firsts for me with this experience, because I’ve only done like one project before this and so this was a major opportunity for me and I definitely learned a lot.
I think the singular space of it, the one room, really adds to it, because it becomes less about the actual space, in a sense.
You know that you are here in this one room for thirty minutes. You know you’re going to get your complete story in this thirty minutes. It’s like this package, it’s all right here.
I thought that was a really cool idea. Like what story, what journey, can we take you on in this one space?
But in the things that they were actually able to do, like the way that they transformed the space, how they moved everything to get certain shots…I was in awe of the work that the crew was doing, and the directors and the shots, and everything.
Because it’s a set, and it’s a stage, and there are four walls but they would say ‘Cut. We’re gonna move on we’re gonna get a different shot.’ And when I’d come back to set like there’d be an entire wall missing. They’d take it, and then there’d be cameras there and they’d get different shots and I’m like, ‘This is so cool.’
It’s just like a view into something that I hadn’t seen before. This is how you do it, this is how the pros work. And it’s just like, ‘I’m here and I’m a part of this.’ It’s very awesome.
I’m going back and thinking about it, and it’s so cool to be a part of that, and it just makes me proud, and it affirms what I want to do.
It’s like, ‘Yes, I am on the right track. I am here. I’m a part of this team, you know, like we are all working together.’
Yes, it is like the story of Noah and Joseph, but there’s so much that goes behind that, and now getting to see it, it gives me such an appreciation for all the art that you see, or like a major motion picture.
These thirty minute little independent films [of Room 104], that’s what we ended up calling them cause it’s like they’re their own contained little thing, but it’s just like as minimal as it might seem because you’re in this one room.
It’s so complex, and it’s just like…my mind was blown.
Room 104 airs Fridays at 11.30pm Eastern on HBO. Don’t miss our interview with director Megan Griffiths about her other episode, The Fight, which we will publish ahead of it airing on October 6, 2017.