Andie MacDowell is an established star and Kenny Doughty a newcomer to the screen, but both were attracted to “Crush,” the script that John McKay fashioned from one of his plays as a basis for his feature directorial debut. The kernel of the piece, derived from the stage version, is a romance between a forty-something American headmistress at a posh English private school and her twenty-something ex-student, the organist at a local funeral parlor. But in adapting the play McKay placed the central relationship within a larger nexus involving the teacher’s two closest friends, women who have serious qualms about the propriety of the affair. Their intervention has serious consequences for the couple.

“I know that John [McKay] thought of me very early on,” MacDowell said during a recent interview in Dallas. “That was unbeknownst to me, because when it was sent to me, I loved the script so much that I was really worried–I was, like, okay, how am I going to get this–I really, really want this movie, how am I going to get it?” She went on to meet with McKay and his associates to persuade them she was the person for the part. “We sat down and I was telling them all the reasons I was perfect for the character, and what I thought I could bring to her. I told them I would be happy to read for them, or whatever it took, I’d read the whole script for them–I didn’t have a problem auditioning–and hopefully I’d hear from them. And they looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, my goodness, she wants to do the film.’ So I didn’t know that they wanted me. I had no idea.”

For Doughty, who participated in the interview along with his co-star, the process was rather different but no less surprising. He auditioned for the role along with lots of other young actors. “I thought it would be a longshot for them to cast an unknown,” he said. “I was just hoping to get a callback after my first meeting. About two days later John got in touch with me and I asked, ‘Do you want to call me back?’ And he said, ‘No, I want to offer you the job.’ I kind of lost it, and was screaming.” The euphoria still continues. “I’m like a kid in a sweet shop,” he added.

The shoot was a joy too, the stars agreed. “It was like one big family. It was great–you really felt comfortable with everybody, got to know everybody, and everybody was really happy to be participating and know that they were working on something that was special,” MacDowell observed. Doughty said that having a crew with lots of females in it helped matters. “I personally thought it was fantastic,” he said to some laughter. “I really enjoyed the female company, because I feel we had the opportunity to be more open about how you feel. It’s a different kind of environment on a film set when there’s more women involved. It’s less of a macho male intimidation atmosphere, of competitiveness. And it kind of created a very safe world–almost like a family environment, which I think this movie needed.” Doughty added that for him, the atmosphere made the intimate scenes easier, too. MacDowell remarked, “We enjoyed making them look beautiful, and we enjoyed making them look real and sexy, because of what the story was. I wanted everybody to believe that she truly loved him and he truly loved her, so that’s what the motivation was. At the same time, we got to do very funny things mixed in”–like, she and Doughty recalled, the sequence in which they made out in a cramped car.

MacDowell described “Crush” as a dark comedy, a comedy with laughs but some tragedy mixed in, noting that it’s precisely such emotionally complex moments that can be the funniest. (She noted how her own difficult experience with divorcing after fourteen years of marriage included much bitter humor amid the depression and sadness.) And this movie, she observed, is about more than a spring-autumn fling. “It’s about how to think about life when you turn forty,” she said. “You don’t want to waste your time, you want to get it right. I do think there are some really deep things here to think about.”

“Crush” is a Sony Pictures Classics release.