A good year for women on film, as exemplified in new releases The Eyes of My Mother, Miss Sloane, and more
Matthew Lickona 5 p.m., Dec. 9
The prissy concierge at the W Hotel wanted nothing to do with me.
"I'm here to interview the stars and writer of a new movie," I pleaded, "and for the life of me can't remember the title of it."
This was followed by a barely perceptible, "Hmmm" and "Do you know their names?"
"Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller, and Katie Anne Naylon," I replied.
A glance at the hotel registry proved futile. "It's the new comedy about two women who start their own phone-sex business," I added, hoping that the guy might have at least seen a TV commercial for the movie.
"Do you have some form of ID, sir?", he asked with eyebrow raised.
At that moment the PR rep appeared like an angel of mercy and I was whisked upstairs to a secluded cabana where I would meet the ladies.
Before the interview, I knew very little about co-writers Lauren Miller and Katie Anne Naylon. Katie was a former phone-sex operator and her 2006 New York Press article, No Experience Necessary, was her first foray into telling confessional tales of the phone sex trade.
Lauren, who also stars in the movie and has appeared in such comedies as Superbad and 50/50, was best known to me as Mrs. Seth Rogen. Certain to have spent much of her time with other interviewers talking about what it's like to be married to one of the America's funniest, most recognizable film actors, I purposely avoided the mention of his name. Besides, her performance is terrific enough as is and I never once felt the desperate need to play the Rogen card.
I was in it for Ari. At least initially. Her performances as the amiable sidekick in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Holy Rollers made an instant impression. In For a Good Time, Call..., Ms. Graynor leapfrogs over Vivian Vance to go full Lucy, handing in her most accomplished comedic performance to date.
They are slowly rolling the film out across the country and San Diego is one of the few markets that the movie opens in today. (It's currently playing at AMC Mission Valley and Landmark's La Jolla Village.) For a good time, see it!
Scott Marks: Forgive me, Lauren and Katie, if I ignore you at the outset, but I have a history with Ari.
Ari Graynor: We do?
SM: I fell in love with you the moment you ate the gum off the toilet seat after puking your guts up in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It was so smart, so subtle.
Lauren Miller: It was in the water!
SM: Forgive me. I’m a little nervous. That was such a magical moment for me. And I’m sure you get this all the time, but you look like a Jewish Monica Vitti.
AG: That is my favorite when people say that. They don’t usually add the Jewish part, but I like when they say I have Bette Midler’s vibe and look like Monica Vitti.
SM: And Youth in Revolt? Wow! You were dressed for excess in that one. That’s where the Monica Vitti similarity first became apparent. I’m a big fan of (director) Miguel Arteta. Any good stories?
SM: What’s the matter?
Katie Anne Naylon: I just love Miguel Arteta.
SM: So do I. He’s never made a bad movie.
KAN: I don’t think so.
AG: He is amazing. He’s a great director. He would sit right next to the camera and he’s so intimate. After every take he’d talk about it. I took away a great lesson from that movie. I was doing a scene with Michael Cera, Steve Buscemi, Fred Willard, and Justin Long and Miguel had a moment where he said, ‘Okay, people. If you want to improvise now and go off and say whatever you’d like.’ He was speaking to Steve Buscemi who said, ‘That’s okay. I won’t. I think it’s good.’ It was a real lesson in just because you can doesn’t mean you should. That was a real nugget of truth that I took away from that experience.
SM: It’s 2012. They don’t still have phone sex lines, do they?
AG, LM, KAN: Yes! Of course there are.
SM: Can’t you get all that stuff on the internet?
LM: Have you ever watched TV after 11:30 pm?
SM: No. I'm usually watching internet porn around that time.
LM: There are commercials for phone-sex lines all the time. And flip to the back of a local paper. There are so many. Phone-sex provides a sense of anonymity that the internet and cameras do not provide.
KAN: There’s an intimacy there, but there is also an anonymity. Keep in mind that phone sex is all about this fantasy. For instance, I am blonde and I’m 5’ 11” and weigh 105 pounds. It’s like you are who you want to be. But if you’re on Chat Roulette with a webcam this is what you get. This is the flavor you get. There is no fantasy. You can’t be in a hot tub or in Barbados. I think that it totally works out plus no one can see the phone bill.
SM: Can someone be taught to be a good phone sex operator? Isn’t that a talent God instills in you at birth?
AG: I think you have to be born with a sense of comedy as far as our movie is concerned, but you can be taught how to be a phone sex operator. Katie sure learned when she was younger.
KAN: Yeah. I think that’s about being open and non-judgmental. Actually, I think that even if it’s not about comedy, it’s about improv. No matter what you say, I have to say yes. You need to be able to move with whatever they’re saying and you can’t really be shocked. It’s not even the voice or sexuality that’s so important. Those things are just bonuses. To be open and creative is probably...I don’t know if you can be taught creative.
LM: It’s about being supportive. If someone wanted to call Katie when she ran her own line, those guys called just to talk. It’s about being open and listening.
KAN: No, Lauren. I was just a prude.
SM: You set out to make an R-rated movie. You know PG-13 sells more tickets. Did you meet with any reluctance or pressure to tone things down?
LM: When we wrote the script we met with a lot of resistance. We tried to make the movie through the studio system and it had been a long time since a female R-rated comedy had done well. So no one wanted to make our movie.
SM: Didn’t Bridesmaids do well?
LM: This was long before Bridesmaids.
AG: Once they decided to make it internally and I came on board and then the three of us met with our director, Jamie Travis, it was clearly going to be rated R.When it came to pushing it or going over the line, there was no one else to answer to except for us.In terms of the rating board there was never any fear of crossing into NC-17 territory.
KAN: There’s no nudity or anything.
LM: It’s literally all talk.
KAN: I don’t think it’s that far off from a marathon of Sex and the City episodes.
SM (Laughing): It’s so much better than that.
KAN: I love that you say that.
SM: What makes it work is the love between Katie (Graynor) and Lauren (Miller). I saw this and Hit and Run back to back and they’re both above-average summer fuck-around comedies aided and abetted by the chemistry between the leads. I don’t want to crap where you eat -- I’ve read your filmographies -- but this is better than any Judd Apatow film with the possible exception of Knocked Up. It’s a lot funnier and unlike Apatow, you actually dare to address your character’s bisexuality.
LM: That was not our intention.
AG: Maybe that’s sort of a male fantasy, but for us the truth is with women this is subverting the idea of a romantic comedy. Two friends meet, they fall in love, they hate each other, and they get back together. In terms of us, women have really intimate female friendships.
LM: You sleep in the same bed, hold hands, touch each other, say ‘I love you’ at the end of conversations...When we wrote it, that’s what we started with.
KAN: It was more like The Odd Couple with women. We were definitely making a joke about it by winking at it. That’s why she says, “About last night...” In a way maybe we did leave it open. We’ve heard this before. You’re not the first person to bring it up. And I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily male. Lesbians...
LM: Usually it’s women.
KAN: Maybe it’s because you used the term ‘bisexuality.’
SM: What would have been a better word?
KAN (Laughing): I don’t know.
SM: I just love the way the film ends because there is that little hint that there might be something going on behind the door involving three people.
LM: Maybe that’s what you bring to the film.
SM: Guilty as charged. Where did you find Sugar Lyn Beard?
LM: In our back pocket because that’s where she fits.
SM: She sounds like she swallowed Sniffles the mouse from the old Warner Bros. cartoons.
LM: She’s a good friend of ours and we obviously wrote that for her. She was a radio deejay and she was also did voices on Sailor Moon and The Care Bears.
SM: Gee, having been a big fan of The Care Bears I can’t believe that I didn’t make the connection. How would the film have been had the two of you reversed roles?
KAN: Great question!
SM: It’s about time I did my job.
LM: If I played Katie and she played Lauren?
SM: Yes. You played the virgin instead. (To Ari.) Good acting, by the way. Very convincing.
AG: Maybe I really am!
LM. Gee...You really stumped us. It would have been crazy.
AG: This may be an overly earnest-answer, but I think that Lauren and Katie wrote such a beautiful script with such clearly defined characters, that we each brought a lot of ourselves to these roles and identified with them in different ways. I also think that that the character’s spirits are so clear we probably could switch them.
KAN: I’m dying to see that right now. I want to go to our room and have you guys put on each other’s clothes.
LM: We should just do one scene to put on line.
AG: That’s a really clever idea. We could put it on YouTube.
SM: Just send 10% my way. Who is the target audience for your film?
SM: Don’t go there. You need guys like me in the audience like you need a head in your hole. Seriously, the rep said they were targeting students, but I really laughed a lot during this movie.
LM: We have found that everyone in the audience...that’s a bit of an overstatement, a lot of people like the movie. This is our fourth week traveling around the country showing the movie and people of all sizes, ages, shapes, and colors all seem to find something that they like in it.
AG: The idea is that through word-of-mouth the core audience of women ages 18 to 35 will bring their moms and best friends to help spread the word. In that sense it really is for everybody.
SM: Don’t limit this to women. The guys who I know that saw the movie like it, too. I really hated Bridesmaids. It’s a film that exists to show that women are capable of being pigs just like men. There is none of that in For a Good Time, Call... It’s the chemistry, what you two bring to the script that helps to make this such a delight.
KAN: I am so glad that you are a reporter, because that’s a wonderful way of putting it.
SM: I couldn’t stand Bridesmaids.
AG, LM, KAN (Practically in unison): We like Bridesmaids...
LM: ...but we’re not here to debate that.
(All three begin talking at once.)
SM: Okay! Okay! Calm down. You both essentially play cartoon characters, but do it with such style and conviction that it works.
LM: The movie is a world. Jamie Travis, our director, is so incredible at creating a world. What we do -- and I have to say what Judd does in a lot of his movies -- is that in this world things are real. In our movie, I don’t know that Katie and Lauren are necessarily people that walk among us. They are archetypes of girls walking among us and I think that’s why people relate. And in the writing and the script...
KAN: Really beautiful writing...
LM: Just amazing writing. Really talented people wrote it! We wrote a movie that we wanted to see. You can relate to it. There are these kernels of truth in there.
AG: You can’t please everybody. All you can do is please yourself.
SM: You have faith in your material.
LM: I’m embarrassed to admit how much I laugh at it.
SM: So how did the three of you hook up?
KAN: Ari got really drunk, and Lauren was high, and I started to undress.
LM: And we were bisexual...
SM: Talk slower.
LM: I knew that’s what you wanted! (Katie and I) were a random roommate match in college and have been friends ever since.
KAN: Then we met this one...
LM: We admired her work the same way you did.
KAN: Yeah. We wrote her a love letter. We had the same management company, which was so lucky. She read the script and responded to it with a lovely letter. We had a little cry fest and when we met, it was love at first sight. We were nervous to think that she would actually be friends with us.
AG: That’s one of my favorite stories when they asked, ‘Do you think we’ll get to see her apartment?’ Now, all the shine has worn off of me and I’m one of them. It was so much more fun when they were impressed with me.