How ‘Tuesday’ Brings Death to Life With Heart, Humor, and a Giant Bird

To Julia Louis-Dreyfus, funerals can be a great place to laugh — “maybe one of the best laughs you would ever have,” she says. “In dark times, a good laugh is almost like a drug. It’s bumping up against something it’s the opposite of, which makes it much more needed.”

The ability to find humor and absurdity amid deep pain is at the heart of Louis-Dreyfus’ latest film, the dark comedyTuesday (in theaters now). Louis-Dreyfus plays Zora, a mother struggling to accept the fate of her terminally ill daughter, the titular Tuesday (Lola Petticrew). Written and directed by the Croatian filmmaker Daina Oniunas-Pusic, the A24-produced film uses a big dollop of magical realism to bring lightness and whimsy to the heavy subject matter: Death takes the form of a macaw — sometimes tiny, sometimes giant — who visits people in their final moments on Earth. But when the bird prepares to take 15-year-old Tuesday’s life, Zora makes a deal with it to buy her daughter some time. 

The film draws inspiration from one of Oniunas-Pusic’s friends, who died of a degenerative illness while Oniunas-Pusic was a teenager. Tuesday — who Oniunas-Pusic says suffers from neuroblastoma, though that isn’t explicitly stated in the film — is restrained to a wheelchair and must use a ventilator. In many ways, Pusic says that creating this story helped her heal from the profound loss she suffered when she was younger: “The selfish part of art or making films is that a lot of the time, its private function is to help you process things and look at them from every possible angle, and and then get over them, and put that chapter of your life behind you, and move on.” 

When bringing Death to life, Oniunas-Pusic knew that she wanted a creature that could talk, dance, and tell jokes. Humans felt too mortal, she says, and puppets felt too childlike. Once she settled on a parrot, she examined 17th-century Flemish paintings as well as Ornithomimus dinosaurs to figure out how the film’s computer-generated bird should look — bright red plumage, soot and scars from the dirty work it does — and move. Casting was the final step: The actor Arinzé Kene voices Death with a harsh, raspy baritone. 

“One of the things that informed my decision for him not to be a puppet was to avoid this possibility that people might think, ‘Oh, he’s a figment of Tuesday’s imagination,’ or he is not real,” Oniunas-Pusic says. 

In fact, bringing this supernatural element to the forefront somehow only grounds the story. In Oniunas-Pusic’s imagining, Death is troubled by the cacophony of voices calling him to put the dying out of their misery. When the bird flies onto Tuesday’s back porch, she instinctively cracks a joke about penguins headed to the beach. The pair become quick friends: She offers him a bath, they jam to Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” and puff-puff-pass a vape pen. To Oniunas-Pusic, the ordinary-ness of their connection is part of the point: Yes, death is an inescapable reality but, we shouldn’t dread or attempt to run from it; it’s neither positive nor negative; rather, it’s a driving force to live life to the fullest. 

“He just arrives as a fact of life,” Oniunas-Pusic says. “If I were to say anything on what the film is saying on life and death, I would say that life gains its meaning and its weight and wonder because of the fact that it has an expiration date.”

Tuesday (Petticrew) and Death

Kevin Baker/A24

To Louis-Dreyfus’ Zora, however, Death is very much a threat. Before Zora strikes a deal with the bird, she attempts to destroy Death to keep her daughter alive: slamming the bird with a textbook, setting it ablaze, and then swallowing its charred remains. As a mother of two adult children, Louis-Dreyfus says she wouldn’t have handled things any differently herself. Reflecting on the strength mothers can muster when their kids are in danger — like those stories of women who can lift up a car that’s run over one of their children — she says she approached that scene with similar gusto. 

“That was very satisfying, to set him on fire and club him to death,” Louis-Dreyfus says. “I mean, just talking about it makes me very happy.”

Although in the film Zora is navigating her first dance with death, Louis-Dreyfus has confronted it several times, and called on those experiences, too. Her father, Gérard Louis-Dreyfus, died in 2016. The following year, she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer and underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.

“When you’re up against something that’s as critical as a cancer diagnosis, you certainly consider mortality in a way that you might not have prior,” she says. “And so I’m keenly aware of how fleeting this beautiful life can be. So I brought that to bear in the film.”

After she was declared cancer-free in 2018 and had returned to work on Veep, her half-sister Emma died of a seizure while camping in the Sierra Nevada. Over time, Louis-Dreyfus says she learned that when a person dies, our relationship with them does not end. It simply takes a new shape. 

“If we are lucky enough to live long enough, we will all suffer some loss,” she says. “I have had some in the last 10 years, more than I had really considered [or] thought about, but it’s happened. So, I’m familiar with grief and anticipating grief.”  

For Petticrew, 28, working alongside Louis-Dreyfus was a “pinch-me moment” — though it wasn’t problem-free. Filming began in the summer of 2021, amid mask and social-distancing mandates, and Louis-Dreyfus had to quarantine in London for two weeks before arriving on set, which made building the intimate mother-daughter bond a challenge. Ultimately, though, Petticrew says, the experience fostered “a great kinship and admiration and love from both sides.”


The actor, who uses they/them pronouns, appreciates how kind the film is to all of its characters — especially Tuesday’s grief-wracked mother. “What’s really lovely about it is the light that it shines on motherhood and the fact that there’s no handbook,” they say. “The love that you have is so big that sometimes it’s actually quite blinding. That’s what’s really lovely about this film is that nobody’s a bad guy. Everybody’s just trying their best.” 

Born in Belfast, Petticrew’s ideas about death originate from Irish lore and Catholic ritual — open-casket vigils and three-day wakes. Though they’re now an atheist, the actor echoes Oniunas-Pusic on the film’s core takeaway, one they hope should resonates with believers and nonbelievers alike: “If you spend a lot of time focusing on what’s going to happen to you, you forget to enjoy what’s happening to you right now.”