Jennifer Westfeldt and Adam Scott
That’s What Friends Are For
by Jay S. Jacobs
A while back actress and screenwriter Jennifer Westfeldt and her long-time boyfriend, Mad Men star Jon Hamm, noticed something odd happening in their lives. Many of their friends, people who they used to go out with all the time, were now parents. Slowly, these friends started fading away. Weekly nights out changed to the semi-annual. When they did go out, the friends were no longer the carefree people they used to be back in the day.
It occurred to the couple this was a fascinating dynamic for thirty-somethings to deal with. Westfeldt, who had co-written and starred in the acclaimed indie bi-sexual romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein back in 2001, thought it was a story worth telling. The result is the smart, funny and just a little tart romantic comedy Friends with Kids, which Westfeldt not only stars in and wrote, but marks her debut as a director.
One of the friends she wasn’t seeing nearly as often was Adam Scott, star of NBC’s popular series Parks and Recreation. Yet, she knew right away that he would be perfect to play Jason, the long-time platonic friend of her character. However, in fiction, the couple takes it a step further, deciding to have a baby together as just friends. Not surprisingly, deeper emotions surface.
Hamm signed on to play one of the married friends, bringing along his Bridesmaids co-stars Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd. The smart ensemble is is rounded out by former Transformers babe Megan Fox and The Brothers McMullen scribe Edward Burns.
Recently, we were lucky enough to be one of the websites invited to take part in an exclusive chat with writer/director/star Jennifer Westfeldt and co-star Adam Scott.
This was your first film as a director. How did that change the process, juggling the acting and being in charge?
Jennifer Westfeldt: I hadn’t planned to direct the movie. We were in talks with Jake Kasdan to direct, which we were thrilled about. But on any indie film, you generally find one small window when your cast is available at the same time – and when that time came, Jake was still working on Bad Teacher. So Jake, along with our other producing partners, strongly encouraged me to step in. We would have lost our cast otherwise, and not made the movie. I only agreed when Jake proposed a deal – he would come aboard as a producer, and was on set for the actual shoot, as a second pair of eyes when I was onscreen. He was a mentor and incredible collaborator, and was so, so generous to uproot his wife and newborn baby to be on our set during the worst winter in New York in over forty years! My DP Will Rexer was also a great partner – he was endlessly patient and generous with me. He spent so many hours in pre-production fielding questions from me. We watched films together, spent a lot of time shot-listing, blocking out scenes, making sure I could translate my thoughts to a crew clearly. It was a steep learning curve for me and I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen it, but I was ultimately happy for the challenge. But I don’t think it would have been at all possible to juggle these hats without an incredible team supporting me.
What is your writing process like?
Jennifer Westfeldt: I am not sure I have a writing “process,” as I have only done this [written a film] three times in ten years! But on this one, I wrote the first half of the film quickly, about four years ago, then put it in a drawer, got busy with acting jobs, and forgot about it. I picked it up again about two years ago. I guess I just reconnected with the original idea that interested me – the group dynamic, and how this alternative family choice that Jason and Julie make ripples through the group of friends and makes everyone feel jealousies, insecurities, judgments. How it makes everyone re-examine their definitions of love and friendship and family. Even physical attraction. That’s when the Vermont dinner scene was born. The night I finished the first draft, we had a table read at our house – to hear it out loud and see if we had anything. A group of actors (Adam came and read Jason) came – as well as screenwriter friends, and we all stayed up until about 2 am talking about the ideas in it, what resonated, what didn’t. I continued that reading and workshop process for the next few months. It was after one of those readings that Mike Nichols [the legendary filmmaker behind The Graduate, Silkwood and Charlie Wilson’s War] came aboard as an EP [executive producer].
What was it about the script that most made you want to work on the film?
Adam Scott: I was really moved by it because I thought Jennifer really pinpointed what it’s like to have a kid and how it changes you. I was taken aback by it especially since Jen doesn’t have kids of her own, and I was surprised she really got what it feels like to have kids. It’s a great character, a great role, and I was really thrilled that they wanted me to do it. I wasn’t totally sure why, but was more than happy to oblige.
Adam was great in the film. How did you decide he was the right guy for the part?
Jennifer Westfeldt: Adam came and read the role at our house the very first night I finished the first draft. We had a group of actors and sat around our dining room table, pasta and wine and a cold table read. Adam was fantastic, as I knew he would be. After that, I honestly couldn’t picture anyone but him playing this role. I didn’t want to make the movie without him. I think the film is really about Jason, and we needed an actor with tremendous range to pull it off – that’s Adam. I’ve known Adam for fifteen years, and I’ve seen him in almost everything he’s ever done – onstage, on TV, on film. I think he’s just as good as it gets.
Adam, I read you mentioned somewhere that you were one of those friend couples that had the kids, were any of the couples in the film based on you guys?
Adam Scott: No, it wasn’t anyone specific. I’m not saying it was specifically based on me. I just know I’m one of the many couples in Jon and Jennifer’s life that had kids and in our particular case; we just dropped off completely because we got so busy and were overwhelmed by child rearing. We dropped off the face of the earth for six months. But no, I don’t believe I inspired any specific couple or character.
Jennifer Westfeldt: None of the characters are directly based on anyone in my life. But the kernel of the idea does come from my life. That is, from being out of sync with my peer group, and observing so many friends and people in my sphere making this profound, seismic life transition. Observing the ways in which different people handle that transition, the ways in which the friendship dynamic can shift and morph for a time. The ways in which the romantic relationships can be affected, the way you miss (and your friend misses) the one on one time you used to have, and the like…. I am lucky that I have so many close girlfriends who were incredibly candid with me about the experience and the identity shift. I noticed a theme or thread in what they all said – they all said (in one way or another) that they had never experienced a love as profound or deep or rewarding as the love for a child – and also, that it was the hardest thing that they had ever done. And that no one had told them that part! It was that duality that really intrigued me.
Adam, you do mostly comedy. How was it to get a chance to show more emotional range with this part?
Adam Scott: Comedy I’ve only been doing primarily for four or five years. Before that I was on a serious HBO show [Tell Me You Love Me], so I was kind of able to do both. So it was a great opportunity to do Friends with Kids.
Did you encourage improv on the set, especially with comedic actors like Wiig & Rudolph?
Jennifer Westfeldt: I wish we had had time for more improv on this shoot, given the unbelievably talented comic actors we were so lucky to have! But when you are on an indie, up against it every day and not sure if you’ll even make the day, it’s hard to find time for too much of it. It was easier in the two person scenes than in the group ones – just given how many people you have to cover and the time constraints with our budget. But there is definitely some improv that made it into in the cut – maybe 10% of the film?
You once said you still felt like a guest star. Do you still feel the same way? If not, what has changed?
Adam Scott: I still kind of operate form that mentality. When I came to Hollywood, I didn’t know anybody and so movies and TV was just something I grew up with, thinking it was another world. Even though it’s been 18 yrs, I still feel that way – I can’t believe I get to be on TV sets and movie sets – I really am excited and thankful that this is my job. Every time a job ends, I’m hoping it’s not my last.
How involved were you with selecting the songs for the film? I loved how you expanded what was happening in a scene with lyrics from artists like Jenny Lewis and Ella Fitzgerald.
Jennifer Westfeldt: I was involved with every music choice. I fought for every cue and made personal appeals to the artists, since our budget was so tight and we couldn’t afford many of the tunes!
You are used to the small screen stuff – Party Down and Parks & Rec – how was the set different or similar to the others?
Adam Scott: The set was similar in that it moves pretty quickly – we didn’t have much time to shoot it, just like on TV. With TV, we have about 5 days to make a whole episode and here, we had 25 days to make this whole movie. So it was very similar pace-wise with TV.
How long was the project from the moment of idea, thru writing, to the end of filming?
Jennifer Westfeldt: I wrote the first half of the script four years ago and then put it away. I took it out two years ago, finished it in February 2010, wrapped in February 2011, now it’s coming out in March 2012 – ten years after Kissing Jessica Stein came out and five years after Ira & Abby came out. There have been a lot of weird coincidences on this project.
I’m curious; did you toy with any alternative endings? Or was that the only ending you envisioned?
Jennifer Westfeldt: We definitely discussed other endings – and I took a few stabs at other endings during the process. But the ending we have is one that Adam and I both believed in from the start and stuck with. We stand by our last line.
With the abrupt ending, is there any thought to do a sequel?
Jennifer Westfeldt: No thought to a sequel as yet! Not sure what that would be…!
Do you enjoy making TV more than movies, or the other way around?
Adam Scott: I like them both. I watch more TV than anyone I know, so I love making TV, but the same goes for movies. They are becoming more and more similar as the years go by.
Jennifer, is there anything you are working on next?
Jennifer Westfeldt: My next project is a pilot I am attached to co-star in, with Alan Ball Executive Producing. I am teaming up with another writer to write the pilot based on an idea and treatment I sold a year ago. It was put on hold when FWK got greenlit. They have been very patient with me! So I am happy to be diving back into that next.
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Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 9, 2012.