So you’re going along living your life and suddenly find yourself at a point where most of the people in your inner circle are having kids and you’re the last woman standing so to speak. The dynamics have changed within your relationships and you realize you’ve embarked on a new phase of your life so you end up asking yourself…”Self, what happens next?” Well if you’re Jennifer Westfeldt you partner up with your gorgeous boyfriend who happens to be wonderfully talented and round up your equally smart, funny, talented friends and you write, produce, direct and star in your own film and name it Friends with Kids. Recently I had a chance to sit down with the ever lovely and multi-talented Jennifer Westfeldt to discuss women in entertainment making it happen for themselves, our ten year reunion and of course her wonderful new movie “Friends with Kids”.
I had a chance to catch your movie last week and absolutely loved it. It seems to mirror my own life a little and it just made me laugh so hard. So I’m assuming that is where you have been in your life lately as well.
Jennifer Westfeldt: Yes! I had a couple of friends have kids early but most of the people in my world who have kids it sort of all just happened in the last five years. It’s an interesting thing to observe how everybody handles this really profound life change and identity shift. You definitely feel on some level like you’re losing your friends a little or you’re losing your one-on-one time and you miss and long for the way it was. It’s also an interesting thing to be out of sync with your peer group on one hand and really wanting to understand and experience all of their highs and lows that’s happening in their lives but also being distanced from it being able to know what it is until you’ve had it.
I’m fortunate that I have so many dear girlfriends who have been really candid with me about the experience…the highs and lows of it. I think sort of the germ of what made me want to write about it was that my close friends, when they became parents they all said a similar thing. The love that you feel is so overwhelming and indescribable and like nothing else and never could have imagined as deep or as rich as visceral or as all consuming. At the same time they all say that it’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life bar none. And they seem surprised by that!
[We both laugh]
They’re like “No one said that, no one told me that!” I don’t know why that is or why people don’t talk about that more but it was interesting to me that the two unbelievably strong and powerful sentiments could coexist in everyone who is experiencing this at the same time. I guess that was the jumping off point.
So where you writing this during your previous TV show Notes from the Underbelly?
JW: I wrote the first half of the movie four years ago so that might have been in the second season and then I put it in a drawer. I didn’t know what to do with it. Once they [her character and Adam Scott’s character] had the baby and the friends were feeling judged then I was like “Where does it go from here?” Then I just got busy with other acting jobs and I kind of forgot about it. So I pulled it out of a drawer like two years ago and I just reconnected with the story I was trying to tell and that I really wanted to tell this ensemble piece and follow these different friends and the ripple effect of this decision that Julie and Jason, my character and Adam, this alternate family arrangement that we decided to embark on. We think we can sort of have it all and beat the system and do it our way and have perfect romance and co-parent with our best friend and not fall into the strains and traps of some of the part of parenting we’ve seen with our friends.
I guess I realized I was most interested in how that decision ripples through the friend groups and how it changes the dynamic of the friendships and relationships and how there had to be real consequences for everybody. Maybe I shied away from that originally just because it’s darker and more dramatic than what I’m known for then what I’ve done before and I think maybe that scared me a little bit. But when I went back to it I realized it had to get that dark and dramatic because of the seriousness of the topic, which is bringing a life into the world. That’s when the Vermont dinner scene was born!
That was an excellent scene with Jon [Hamm]…
JW: …and Adam [Scott] square off.
Yes. He totally loses it making it such a powerful scene. Because it then poses the question to that couple of what the hell were you thinking having a kid with your best friend and where do you go from here. Which was necessary to bring that intensity and add a darker layer to the film overall that you haven’t been known for in your previous films. Though I have to say there are still these wonderful nuggets of comedy gold throughout that break the tension.
JW: Oh good! I think life is full of a lot of funny and a lot of sad and everything in between. I really just hope that it’s relatable.
I know it was for me! My best friend Bobby and I have had a similar conversation about if we hit a certain point should we consider having a baby together. [We both laugh]
JW: I know, right? Why not? This is ironic I told this story on Jimmy Fallon because of the timing but three months after I rapped the movie so I guess last May or so my manager’s best friend and business partner, a man and a woman, sat me down and were like we have something to tell you…we’re having a baby together. They had their baby the other day!
Oh my gosh, that’s amazing!
JW: I know! That’s why I mentioned it on the show because I just got the text with the photo and was like this is too crazy not to share that suddenly this is in my world first hand.
It’s amazing! [JINX…we said it together]
And they live nearby and they’re co-parenting and they’re going to make it work and trading off and all that jazz. I was just amazed that it happened so close to me.
It’s funny how your life really did just imitate art!
JW: Every stage in this journey, and I guess this has happened on all of the films that you start writing about something or putting something out there and then suddenly peoples stories come to you. I don’t know they smell it or they see it or they read it and they’re like you don’t understand this is me this is my cousin, my friend from college and that’s an exciting part of making your own work. People in three different stages of this process shared with me that oh I had a girlfriend ask if I would do that with her. So it was something that kind of kept coming up that was much more prevalent than I realized I guess.
Ok final question. How did this all-star cast come together?
JW: Adam and Naomi, his wife, have been in our lives for a really long time. We’ve known them for about fifteen years. In fact, Naomi is a producer herself and her first producing gig was on Kissing Jessica Stein so it all comes full circle, it’s all in the family.
Adam came over to read the script. We did an informal table read. So the first day I finished the first draft we invited some actors over to just do a cold read and we had pasta and wine and sat around to read it. Adam read Jason and was amazing as we thought he’d be. After that moment I was just like I don’t even want to make it without Adam. It’s Adam or bust!
So I was just like a dog with a bone figuring out a way to make this movie with Adam and when his schedule was free. We were in endless discussions with Parks and Rec. We had two windows we could have done September or January and I was definitely not wanting January to be the bulk of this film but that’s when Adam was free so that’s what we did. So me and Jon and Adam were attached early. Kristen [Wiig] got on board early, before she even shot Bridesmaid’s. Mostly I think she responded to this role because it was so different from how she’s normally seen and cast. She’s such a wonderful actress in addition to being such a wonderful comedienne that I think it was nice for her to kind of do something unexpected and it was nice for us to get the opportunity to show people she can do anything and to do a quieter more dramatic role.
After that I met Chris O’Dowd. He’s agents were keen on this role for him. I didn’t know him or his work and he was just this festival of charm. He’s the most charming man ever and the most loveable! He auditioned for us with an American accent. He was amazing!
I met with Megan [Fox]. I didn’t know much about Megan except for her persona and she was so different from that. She’s so funny and so smart and sassy and really just a sharp girl…free spirited. I feel like no one knows this about her! Let’s show how funny and cool and smart and free and wise cracking she can be. I don’t think she quite had a role to show that.
And then Eddie Burns, his whole family is best friends with my DP’s [director of photography] family so they’ve been best friends forever and that’s how I met Eddie. So it all came together in a pretty organic way. There were a lot of familial ties and a lot of built-in histories and chemistries and that’s obviously helpful when you have a no rehearsals and sometimes you get two takes and that’s it. So all of that felt pretty organic.
You know I have to say that prepping for this interview I came to the realization that it’s been ten years since our first interview…
JW: …for “Kissing Jessica Stein”!
I can’t believe it!
So in the last ten years between the three films you’ve done, what would you say has been the greatest learning experience?
JW: Gosh, that’s a hard question. All of it feels like a learning curve. I think it’s been exciting for me to see in those ten years how many more women are doing this. I think that’s been the most exciting. My take away is just…we can’t complain about there not being stories for women or not enough roles for women unless we all participate in changing that. Right now between Tina’s [Fey] success on 30 Rock and Kristen and Annie’s success with Bridesmaid’s, we just had a Sundance where five movies were women writing for themselves. Lena Dunham’s success…a young girl writing, directing and starring in her own stuff now she has a series. It’s amazing. I’m really excited and inspired to be part of that wave of people doing it for themselves and trying to get some more female voices out there. Obviously it’s hard to make a film with not a lot of money. It’s a challenge and it always will be to make an Indie film but it’s also the only way possible to have more of a say in your creative life and get your own voice out there. I think even though it can be painful and difficult it’s worth doing I guess every five years or so which is what I’ve done! Three in ten years! [We both laugh]
For the record Jennifer is not on Twitter or Facebook so if you think you’re following her I’m sorry to say you are not!