Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) are BFF’s forever. Nothing can ever get between them. Then Tim (Adam Brody) steps in. Suddenly their friendship is tested as Paige gets serious with a guy for the first time. During a recent roundtable with reporters, I had the pleasure of chatting with stars Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs and director/writer Susanna Fogel about LIFE PARTNERS.
LEIGHTON MEESTER started her acting career in theatre in Florida. At the age of 11, she moved to New York with her mother and worked as a model and actress. She moved to Los Angeles three years later. She made her tv debut in “Law and Order”, followed by numerous tv roles on such shows as “24”, “7th Heaven”, “Surface”, “Entourage”, “7th Heaven”, and “Veronica Mars”to name a few. She finally landed the role of Blair Waldorf in “Gossip Girl” in 2007 which brought her into the forefront of Hollywood. Her film credits include “Date Night”, “Country Strong”, and “The Judge” to name a few. In addition to acting, she is a musician. In 2009, she launched her recording career with single entitled “Somebody to Love”. She continues to perform with the band “Check In The Dark”. Her LP “Heartstrings” was recently released this fall. This talented actress won the Teen Choice Award for “Gossip Girl” multiple times and has nominations for several tv shows.
GILLIAN JACOBS studied acting as a child and performed in theatre in Pittsburgh, PA. She moved to New York City where she graduated from Julliard School and starred in Off-Off-Broadway and numerous theatrical productions. She is best known for her role as Britta Perry on tv show “Community”. Film credits include “The Incredible Wonderstone”, “The Box”, and “Maid In Cleveland”. Her numerous tv credits include “Fringe”, “Law And Order”, “Comedy Bang Bang”, to name a few. This award winning actress won the Critics Choice TV Awards for best supporting actress.
SUSANNA FOGEL is a writer/director known for “Washingtonian” and “Chasing Life”. She and her writing partner Joni Lefkowitz have written several scripts for film and tv. Her show “Chasing Life” has been picked up for a second season. She makes her directing debut with “Life Partners”.
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Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs, Susanna Fogel: Hello!
Leighton and Gillian, what surprised you about each other when you first met?
Gillian: I didn’t know Leighton before we met, so I didn’t know what to expect. To find a goofball weirdo like myself was a really pleasant surprise. It was not a surprise but she’s a very talented musician. I didn’t know that before.
Leighton: Oh thanks! A lot. Everything was a new surprise. It was like a blind date. I did trust that Joni and Susanna knew what characters we were going to play. Sometimes that doesn’t always go well, like blind dates, but it did. She says that she finds things similar in the character. The uptight thing? I don’t see it.
Gillian: Thanks, I hide it well. (laughing)
How did you go about creating good chemistry. Did you hang out before hand? Did you jump into it?
Gillian: We had a handful of rehearsals and a table read to establish familiarity with each other. There was lots of time on set to be super weird and talk about off color totally not correct things to talk about in the workplace. We were both in love with the story and in love with the characters and wanted to portray the friendship accurately, and we did. Mission accomplished.
Leighton, I kept waiting for you to break out into song. Did you ever film any scenes where you were singing?
Leighton: No, I’m getting that question a lot. People secretly want music all the time. That was one of my favorite aspects of Sasha. The character in the film and what it is saying. You can have a career change and you can change your mind.
Everything was lined up for her – family that supports her, she has talent and education. She just doesn’t have the passion for it. So much in the end of a romantic comedy, it ends with huge record label. “I saw you at the coffee shop and now you are a rock star”. It’s not like that. It’s real life. It’s “I feel more established doing what I want to do rather than what I’ve been told to do.”
Do you think Sasha was after her parents?
Leighton: Yes. It wasn’t about the gay thing. The parents supported her no matter what. She had this secret life.
Susanna: It is one of the colors of a well rounded characters. It made her who she is. It gave her a lot of insight into being a non-judgemental human. At the same time, It’s is not like, “Oh, I like guys” or “I’m in love with my best friend”. That’s the past, early 20’s. This is later. This is a different time.
Would you say the best thing about this movie is that it breaks away from what you would expect? For example–becoming a famous musician or living happily ever after?
Gillian: It is much more about emotional milestones for these people than it is the things you were talking about. That’s what is refreshing about it. The thing I like most about it is the beautifully written characters, it is a relatable story, and it feels like something I haven’t seen onscreen before. Aside from the fact I did a movie about a butt monster . . .
Was Adam Brody cast first?
Susanna: It happened simultaneously, around the same time. We didn’t know. We had a meeting with Leighton and at the same time we got a call from Adam’s agency saying he wanted to do it. It’s a weird thing when you’re a director when you sit down with an actor and – 1) you’re not supposed to let on you know about their work and 2) you’re not supposed to let on you know anything about their personal life. We said down with Leighton and after one hour we fell in love with Leighton.
Leighton: I really just wanted to play Sasha, so I said, “Yes, let’s do it”.
Susanna: For Joni (Lefkowitz) and me, not only did we not set out to cast them, together it was a moment that would pan out and we would never have guessed. Leighton and Gillian . We wanted the roles to be fully developed. We loved them so much that we cast them.
I liked Paige and Sasha’s staged instances of road rage. Was that laid out in the script or was it “let’s get angry and just see what happens”?
Gillian: We may have thrown out some of our own insults, but that was clearly laid out in the script, which is a great way to start a movie about friendship. Thank God that is the only road rage instance I’ve been involved with in Los Angeles while shooting that scene.
Leighton: I have been involved in road rage before in real life.
Leighton: Yes, a guy got out of his car because I wouldn’t go through a red arrow. I didn’t want to block the box. He got out of his car and started yelling at me. I rolled up my window. I thought, “Man, that guy needs to chill out!”. It was a lot scarier than I’m letting on.
Gillian: I would be terrified.
Susanna: I was with my Mom once and I guess I cut somebody off at the light. She got in front of our started weaving in both lanes so we couldn’t pass her. She stopped the car and started yelling at us.
Gillian: She didn’t blow that out of proportion at all! (laughter)
Adam’s character always wears t-shirts with quotes. Do you have any habits of saying certain things often or signature clothing?
Gillian: I wear a lot of stripes. I wear a lot of striped sweaters and shirts. And I say things like “golly jeez” and other old fashioned phrases that other people make fun of me for.
Leighton: Somebody recently called me out for at the end of the day, I go off on a tangent a lot, then bring it back by saying “in any case”. It’s my habit. And I have penguin slippers I wear a lot. I wore them in the movie actually!
It goes very well with the duck quacking ring tone.
Leighton: I still have that. It’s the most annoying thing. No one ever has that so I know it is my phone. I want to change it. Someone just the other day said, “You know, you can change that.” Ok, I know. It’s funny, but it’s really annoying–but I like it.
You were using a real phone in the shoot?
Leighton, how many mozzarella sticks did you destroy in the making of this movie?
Leighton: About a thousand! Someone had asked me when was the last time I had driven through a Jack In The Box. It had been really a long time. Two months ago, I did it. It was about 1 o’clock in the morning and I was leaving my friend’s house. It was a really long drawn out dinner. When we left, we ate 5 hours ago and I was hungry so I got tacos. I found out there’s not actually meat in them. It is like tofu. That makes me feel so much better than mystery meat at 1 o’clock in the morning! (laughing)
Susanna, was Jack In the Box your go-to comfort food? Is that why it made it in the film?
Susanna: This is not the first time we have incorporated Jack In The Box in our writing. We featured Jack In The Box in several episodes of a web series we made. It is that much a fabric of our being. It wasn’t specific to this movie. It is specific to our lives in general.
You should get sponsorship from them!
Susanna: I’m trying! (laughing)
Leighton: Our faces on the cups…
Gillian: It’s a very loving portrayal of Jack In the Box.
In real life, do you identify with the friend who is moving on or the one who is left behind? Which is worse – the guilt or the shame?
Gillian: Gosh! I think I’m in both. Isn’t it that if you are left long enough, you get the feeling of being left behind? Those are terrible emotions. Guilt is powerful– as I stare at my cup. Call your mother! (laughing)
Leighton: I would say both, and I don’t know which is worse. Yes, I guess guilt. But I don’t really feel guilt . . . Actually, I do. I never felt weird and left behind. I drove by where I went to high school on the way here today and I thought, “I was friends with so many people there and now I don’t know where they are or I’ll never see them again. Nothing will ever change.” It’s just life.
Do you have any experiences with guilt or shame?
Gillian: I went to college in New York. A lot of my friends were from New York. Then we moved to different parts of the country. That creates more of a distance in friendships when you can no longer get on the subway to see your friends. You find different ways to communicate. I was texting with somebody today. But everything is cool now. These are good things, except for the day they destroy us all.
Do you have guilty pleasures, like eating mozzarella sticks when you are stressed out?
Susanna: I like to eat mozzarella sticks. I enjoy 90’s music. Good guilty pleasure. Anything low brow is ideal, or hanging out at the mall or staying at home watching bad movies, especially in this business which is intense and stressful and competitive. If you try to do things moderately intelligent, you start to take yourself seriously and ruminate to do better. It’s the guilt and shame thing. It’s nice to escape.
In our society, co-dependency is looked down upon. How was that for you?
Leighton: I don’t think about it because I haven’t had a chance to be co-dependent with someone. It feels really good at some point in life with a friend. You do it a lot in this business. You have to trust other people and put yourself in them. That’s really important to learn. It’s bad when you get let down.
Gillian: The interesting thing about this movie is that it talks about co-dependency in a friendship sphere rather than a romantic sphere. A lot of times when I was younger, I thought friendships were completely safe relationships and you could pour all this energy in them. Your friends never really hurt you. They don’t come and go like romantic relationships do. Then I started to realize they can have the same conflicts as romantic relationships. You can be hurt, sometimes in a more painful than a romantic interest. It is interesting because I can’t think of another movie that does that. I didn’t know there was a thing as an unhealthy friendship. You can come out in the other end of it, but you have to confront aspects of yourself that you don’t really love.
Susanna: One of the things the things we tried to incorporate, especially if you live in LA or New York, is that you are encouraged to take your time finding life partners. People in their 20’s or 30’s don’t feel the pressure to settle down like in other parts of the country where people get married in their 20’s. You want to form those attachments and to lean on people. If you don’t have a partner, your friends play that role. The co-dependency and emotions you invest in a relationship go into the friendship. It can set you up to have heartbreak later.
Gillian: Whenever you are looking for whoever else, that’s going to lead to conflict in the end, whether it takes ten years or six weeks. I think the natural thing with friends in the post-college years is that you can grow apart. These characters are different. They are held together with the bond of friendship. If they met at that age as well defined people, they wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to each other in the same way as if they met ten years earlier at a younger age. You look at certain people’s friends and you think, “How are you two friends?” And they say “We’ve been friends for fifteen years… We have this deep connection because of the things we’ve been through.” It’s like family.
Do you have friends in your own life with that same connection like in the film?
Leighton: Yes, I do. I’m thinking of the people I’ve been friends with the longest. There’s no differentiation between me and them. It wouldn’t be “Why are you guys friends? You’re weird and need to spend some time apart.” Three of my closest friends from middle school or even before are the weirdest ones that I know. We cut through the small talk. Months can pass and we pick up where we left off.
Susanna: Jordana (Mollick), one of the producers, is one of my very best friends and Joni. Obviously we’ve been writing partners for twelve years. It felt really organic to tell this friendship story. It bled over into creative a vibe of comfortable spazziness for everyone.
Gillian: I have friends. They are real people! (laughing)
What do you do when you’re with your best friends?
Gillian: My life revolves around going to restaurants with people, whether restaurants we always go to or going to new places. I feel it’s a very LA thing. I never thought of that when I lived in New York. I have a lot of friends in the art world so going to museums and galleries have always been a part of our friendship.
The film is very lighthearted in its dialogue and conflict resolution. Was it a more effective way of doing it with humor or in a natural way?
Susanna: In my life, we’ve always deflected everything with humor and will speak with humor to explain really tragic things and really light things. When we approached this story, we wanted to tell a story about sad and poignant emotions, but we wanted to tell it through the lens of two people who use humor in the same way we do as their coping mechanism.
We always feel that both comedy and drama, if comedy is working and the characters are funny and self aware, can tell you something profound, or deeply sad stories and get away with it. The best humor is the humor rooted in pain and suffering. Ultimately, we always want to do both. The drama enhances the comedy and the comedy enhances the drama. The best compliments we got is that people teared up in different parts of the movie because the humor is the easy part, but for us, people can relate, that is what we want.
Gillian, a Prius is a distinctly goofy looking car. How was your scene using a car as a comedic prop?
Gillian: I’m not a great driver so that wasn’t unfamiliar to me. That may have been me really trying to back out of that space and not trying to drive funny. Thank God for backup camera. Otherwise I’d probably still be on that street trying to get out of that space. Although the movie doesn’t take place in LA, the Pruis is so ubiquitous in LA. It is kind of the “state car” of California. I’m not a great driver.
Suddenly we want to see you doing stunt driving in “Fast And The Furious”.
That would be great. A stunt driver in a blonde wig would do a great job.
Leighton, you play so many characters. What are you looking for in the future?
Leighton: Life Partners 2–the trilogy! (laughing). This character is different from anything I’ve done. That’s what made me want to do this. She’s such a well rounded, funny, person similar to me in that she uses humor to make serious situations less serious. She has tendency to say the wrong thing and have to back pedal and get real dark in jokes. I take it to a dark place.
That is what is exciting – playing characters that are fun to take on and develop. I like the friendship and that it is about two women and their friendship. It is not based around a man or competition or cattiness, but around a real life grounded friendship. It is about growing up and finding yourself.
What is next for all of you?
Gillian: I started season 6 of “Community” for Yahoo, shooting for the next few months. I am in “Hot Tub Machine part 2”, the spiritual cousin of “Life Partners”. That opens next year. And various other things.
Leighton: I spent a large portion of this year doing a play in New York. I just put out some music so I’ll be doing a lot of promotion in the next few months. The early part of next year I’ll be doing a tour in the United States, do residency at the Hotel Café, and in January some overseas things. I did one other movie “Like Sunday Like Rain” out in February (2015). It is a lovely, simple sweet story about my character who is a nanny in New York City who meets a young man. They couldn’t be more different but they fall in love but not in a romantic way. They save each other. It’s really sweet.
Which countries overseas?
Leighton: Going both ways. Life Partners! (laughing). Europe and Asia, and possibly South America.
Susanna: Joni and I have a tv show adapted from a Mexican telenovella called “Chasing Life” just picked up for its second season. We are both writing and looking into potentially directing other people’s writing too.
And of course Life Partners trilogy?
Susanna: And of course Life Partners trilogy! (laughing)
Leighton: Every 10 years… They are roommates in a nursing home.
Gillian: Okay, that’s a pledge. Life Partners retirement home!
Leighton, Gillian, Susanna: Thank you!
During the roundtable interview, it was evident that the friendship between Leighton and Gillian was not just on-camera, but off as well. This extended all the way to director/writer Susanna. It was reminiscent of a bunch of gal pals hanging around and chatting about just about anything. The film is more than just another romantic comedy or film about the the lesbian lifestyle. It is about friendship in its purest form – both the good and bad. When a film makes you think about your own life, you know it has hit home. Check out this heartwarming film which hit theatres today!
Official web site: http://www.magpictures.com/lifepartners/
Leighton, Gillian, & Susanna are on social media!
Twitter: Susanna Fogel
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures