Tessa Thompson and her real-life dog star in the trailer for Steve Buscemi’s “The Listener”

Tessa Thompson and her real-life dog star in the trailer for Steve Buscemi’s “The Listener”

EW has an exclusive first look at the emotional film, in which Thompson is the only actor to appear on-screen.

Steve Buscemi may be best known for roles in Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Reservoir Dogs, but he’s also amassed an impressive career behind the camera. The 66-year-old filmmaker has helmed projects like 1996’s Trees Lounge, 2005’s Lonesome Jim, and 2007’s Interview, as well as multiple episodes of acclaimed TV shows like The Sopranos, Oz, and 30 Rock. Now, Buscemi is once again in the director’s chair, directing Tessa Thompson in the intimate new drama The Listener.

EW has an exclusive first look at the film’s trailer, starring Thompson as a crisis helpline operator named Beth. The entire film takes place over one night in Beth’s home, as she juggles late-night calls from a variety of troubled voices. Thompson is the only actor to actually appear on screen, but the film’s starry supporting cast includes the voices of Rebecca Hall, Alia Shawkat, Margaret Cho, Derek Cecil, Blu Del Barrio, Jamie Hector, and Logan Marshall-Green.

Thompson tells EW that she jumped at the chance to work with Buscemi and found herself drawn to Alessandro Camon’s intimate script, which follows Beth as she talks — and listens — to countless callers, always wondering whether this might be the night she loses someone. Every caller rings with a different story, but they’re all united by their loneliness, and Thompson says she was fascinated by how the film explores a “very human thing that I think we all experience.”

“I think so much about the utility of stories: Why do we tell the stories that we tell?” Thompson explains. “I think a story that compels the audience to want to listen more actively — in a time when there’s so much division and dissension — is a really useful thing to be talking about.”

Thompson completed the shoot in six days during a brief hiatus from filming Westworld season 4. While Thompson is the only human actor to appear on screen, her real-life pooch, Coltrane, costars as her character's dog. The initial script called for Beth to have a cat, and Thompson remembers an early Zoom meeting with Buscemi, both of them looking through pictures of available feline actors. As they were scrolling through cat photos, Coltrane wandered into frame, plopping himself down on the couch behind Thompson, and Buscemi knew he had found his star.

<p>Courtesy of Vertical</p> Tessa Thompson in 'The Listener'

Courtesy of Vertical

Tessa Thompson in 'The Listener'

“Coltrane kind of cast himself,” Thompson says with a laugh.

Thompson adds that she was nervous about how her dog might do on a chaotic film set, but Coltrane proved to be a consummate professional. (It helped that Thompson’s younger brother worked as a production assistant on The Listener, and since he and Coltrane were already friendly, he became the set’s de facto dog handler.) The actress jokes that Coltrane’s big-screen debut was such a success he’s now a “nepo dog,” and she’s already lining up future audition opportunities for him.

“He was very inspired by the dog in Anatomy of a Fall and his award-season run,” she deadpans. “So, I think there might be a little bit more of this in his future.”

Even though Thompson spent most of the shoot alone (except for Coltrane), she still relished the chance to work with her fellow actors over the phone. Some, like Shawkat, came to set, sitting in another room as they talked Thompson over the phone. Others — like Hall, who previously directed Thompson in 2021’s Passing — were overseas and rehearsed virtually. But regardless of whether her costars were near or far, Thompson praises Buscemi for creating such an actor-friendly set.

“I think the environments in which you do your best and bravest work are environments of trust, where people feel safe to take risks and mess up,” Thompson explains. “I’ve found with Steve just a tremendous amount of clarity when he has a thought. He knows how to create a real environment of safety, too, making you feel really held and trusted to take the thing and make it soar.”

The Listener debuts day and date on March 29. Watch the trailer above.

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