Interview: Carrie Preston Talks Girls Doing It Raw & For Real in THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID
I had the pleasure of spending last week becoming well acquainted with That’s What She Said, an uproariously funny film about three chicks who aren’t afraid to tell you what’s going on up here, down there, and everywhere.
Over the course of three days, I researched the film (which, by the way, was an Official Selection: Sundance Film Festival 2012), watched (and loved!) the movie, spoke on the phone with star Anne Heche about her no-holds-barred character, Dee Dee, and had a one-on-one girl-talk with director Carrie Preston about the film’s nearly decade-long journey from theater script to the silver screen, the current state of chick comedy, and how girls do it with girls.
Directed by Carrie Preston and written by Kellie Overbey, That’s What She Said (R, 84 mins.) stars Marcia DeBonis, Anne Heche, and Alia Shawkat.
* * *
Screen Invasion: What did you think the first time you read the script?
Carrie Preston: Oh my gosh, the first time I read it, it was a play. It was about eight years ago, I was doing a play with Kellie Overbey, and we were in New Haven, CT, and in the cast with us was Marcia DeBonis. Kellie and I were playing sisters—Mia Farrow was playing our mother. When you’re doing regional theater, there’s a lot of time to sit around and talk about things, and Kellie was like, “I’ve started writing,” and I said, “Well I’ve started directing.” At that time, I had a feature under my belt, and directed some plays and stuff, and she showed me this play . . . called Girl Talk at the time, and I sat down, and I was enthralled immediately and laughing out loud. When you read a script, it is very rare that you actually laugh out loud. You just don’t. You’re reading it, and it’s like, “Uh huh, that’s funny—chuckle, chuckle.” But this was like “Ha ha!” . . . So, I immediately said to Kellie, “You’ve got to let me direct this. And we have to have Marcia play Bebe. It’s like you wrote it for her.” And she hadn’t. So we did [it.] I directed it on stage, and then I said to Kellie, “Well, we could try to raise some money and do it off-Broadway, or we could try to raise some money and make a film. Make it last forever.” . . . I wanted to put Marcia and her performance on screen . . . .
SI: Other than the humor, what attracted you to this story? Why made you say this story had to be told?
CP: I think it’s really raw, and it’s refreshing to see women flawed, and messy, and culpable, and hilarious, and heartbreaking, all at once. You see that a lot in dramas. But in comedies . . . women still have to be ‘sexy’ and ‘adorkable,’ or whatever. And this is like, no. These women are actually kind of annoying at times, and they’re funny, but they’re also mean to each other and nasty. But you still know that they’re all coming from a place that they want something good in their lives. So, I thought, “I want to see that,” because . . . [a]t that time, I had not really seen that. This was, you know, before Bridesmaids . . . and those kinds of things, and I just thought, “This is like an indie version of one of these bromances, but it’s a womance.”
SI: I’ve read that no audible line of dialogue is spoken by a man. Do you think that affected the performances you got? Do you think that people were more open when they were getting into it? Were they a little bit raunchier or less worried about taking risks?
CP: Luckily I had an amazing cast—and a seasoned cast who could tackle anything from the phone book to Richard III. I had people who had an amazing facility with language and comedy. So, if anything, I had to pull them back—you know, . . . there were times when I was like, “OK, you can pull that back,” and other times where I would push them harder. (That’s what she said! You can imagine the jokes that went flying around on set . . . .) I think that what was clear for everybody was that this was a story about women and how we relate to each other by talking about relationships. We do that a lot. We just do that. And then it becomes more about our relationship than about the men or the women that we’re talking about. And so, on this particular day in this film, it’s about them, and the men are peripheral—even though that’s all they’re talking about, they’re peripheral to the friendship.
SI: When you read female character, what is it you want to see in that character that makes it either worth your while to do or worth your while to direct?
CP: I always am very interested in whatever their flaws are. Somebody who is well-rounded—I want it to have layers. There are a lot of times that we as actors have to take material that isn’t layered and make it layered—that’s part of our job. But, when you see something on the page like this script, for example, where it is there, it’s in the text, that’s when it gets really exciting . . . then you have more of an equal marriage. . . . As far as directing, all the things that I have directed have strong characters: sometimes they’re men, sometimes they’re women, and sometimes they’re kids. But, as an actor, I definitely look for things that I know are going to challenge me emotionally.
SI: That’s What She Said has some good company out there, in terms of the type of movie it is: For a Good Time, Call… and Bachelorette.
CP: Yeah, those were all at Sundance when we were there.
SI: By coincidence?
CP: I think they programmed it that way. . . . I think Sundance had been accused of not really taking films that were directed by women, as much as men, and I think they came to look at that and realize they were overlooking some stuff and . . . had this opportunity to program these films. I felt very happy to be in the company of those films, and we went and supported them, and we . . . were like, “Yes, we’re all in this together.”
SI: I love all three. I think it’s great and I couldn’t be happier that there are so many out right now. Do you think that all three got made around the same time because of Bridesmaids?
CP: Not in our case. We’d been working on this for eight years. But I was really happy when Bridesmaids came out because I saw that, professionally, it’s going to be easier for us to sell this film. That was the way I looked at it—I was like, “Oh, thank G-d.”
SI: It made [over] $100M—it showed that there was a market for it.
CP: Yes, and that is a chick flick with . . . women pooping on a sink in all this Hollywood splendor, and ours is a woman scratching her vajayjay, in all of its low-budget, indie, East Village glory. So, you know, they’re all cousins.
SI: You’ve described the film as “a chick flick that’s not for pussies,” and said that audiences want movies that are “a little more edgy.” (Target Audience Magazine) Do you really think this movie is only “a little more edgy”?
CP: Bridesmaids had people pooping on sinks—pooping on sinks—but . . . it was, you know, glitzy. If we really break it down, there was a woman shitting in her wedding dress in the middle of a street. So, what I’m doing, not that much [more]. But I think what maybe you’re responding to is that the characters are a little more real and things are a little more raw. Hollywood is still not quite sure that they want to be that messy with the women, that we want to see all those flaws. We’re still going to make the lead character sexy and adorkable. . . . There’s no one adorkable in That’s What She Said. There’s sexy, but in a totally alternative way. And I think that is what makes it subversive.
SI: Do you think that there’s a difference [because] as the children’s book tells us, “everybody poops,” but a lot of the humor in That’s What She Said is entirely female. Do you think that, perhaps, separates the two? That it pushes past where Bridesmaids was because of that?
CP: Yeah, because we’re not doing what dudes do in comedies. And we’re not just taking what they did in The Hangover and having chicks do it. I look at the film, in my way, and I think of it as a feminist film and an art film. It’s a comedy, and I want everybody to laugh. But I also want people to think about how difficult it is to be a woman in this world—and especially in this city—and that there is a bit of a war on women, and that we are feeling that, and we’re feeling the tensions of what’s being thrown our way, and having to try to juggle everything, and trying to live up to all these expectations, when really, you know, we just want to be happy. These three women just really want to be happy, and they’re just really misguided on how they’re going about that. What is important, I think, and what kept me going with the film, is that they love each other. And that Dee Dee (Anne Heche’s character) is doing everything she can to get Bebe to give her an exorcism, because Dee Dee needs to let that stuff out. It’s like her life has become this huge pimple that needs to be popped—and Bebe is the only one who’s going to do it. And then she feels so much better afterwards. (laughs)
SI: I really love how much the characters delved into the reality of how much truth women each other, and not only that, but also how much truth we actually tell ourselves. What made you decide to emphasize [and explore] this aspect?
CP: I really wanted to achieve that with the flashbacks. The flashbacks are very quick (snaps twice) and you get this little glimpse. But somewhere around in there, you start to realize that there’s a difference between what’s being said and what actually happened. And we do that a lot. . . . [T]hey’re telling each other [and] themselves things that aren’t true in order to make it through the day. And it’s the truth that comes out that frees them from whatever . . . jail . . . they’ve been living in. That speaks to me too, and [was] part of what made the experience so rich, and the telling of the story so rich, and not being afraid to literally put the camera on these women’s faces and keeping it there, and not trying to make it look Hollywood, or glossy, or whatever. I kept saying to my production team, “If you make this look like Sex and the City, we’re wrong—this is not what we’re doing. This is like the other side of that coin.”
SI: More like Girls? Grittier?
CP: Yeah, and I was so happy to see what Lena Dunham was doing with that, because it’s the same type of storytelling. And I just think that people relate to it more.
SI: I agree. I would much rather see something and be able to empathize with it than not.
CP: Than feel like you have to live up to it . . . because it’s impossible.
SI: Were there other particular aspects of female friendship that you really wanted to highlight with these characters? Or was it just kind of like, “I’m going to put these characters in the hands of very capable actresses, and say, ‘Let’s see what you find'”?
CP: Luckily, because I lived with the material for so long, and had worked with Kellie in getting the screenplay streamlined, everything that I shot was very deliberate and everything that I shot is in the movie. You know that whole, ‘it’s on the cutting room floor’ [thing]? There’s nothing on the cutting room floor! (laughs) And there was no improv either. The actors were really honoring what Kellie wrote and the story that we wanted to tell. And the characters became more and more and more specific. . . . They do represent women as whole, but at the same time they’re who they are, and they are individuals. That’s another reason why I liked it. It’s not some stereotype of a woman—it’s Dee Dee, and Bebe, and Clementine. And they all have their very specific flaws and idiosyncrasies.
SI: Each of them is kind of out there, in one way or another. Do you think that makes it easier or more difficult for the audience to say, “I’ve met a crazy person just like that! So I can understand this.” Or, “Oh my G-d, if I ever met someone like this, I’d leave the coffee house and cross the street!”
CP: For me, I don’t like to go to movies, or plays, or any kind of art to have a pleasant time. I want to go to have an experience. I want to go and have all kinds of emotions. I want to interact with whatever that art form is. So, I was not interested in making something palatable. I was actually OK to make it ugly, at times. And I think that’s why I like what Girls is doing. It’s making some people very uncomfortable, and I’m OK with that. I’m OK to make some people uncomfortable. There are some people, men and women, who just have no desire to get on board with a movie like this. But the people who do want to get on board with it are so excited and so relieved that they aren’t having to have a pleasant time.
SI: I think there’s tons of beauty in it—and you keep saying ugly—but by the end of the movie, there’s so much beauty in what they achieve. You feel it.
CP: Yeah, there is so much beauty in their relationship, and their hearts, and their vulnerabilities. To me, vulnerability is gorgeous and is something that I like to watch in movies on TV. I’m always drawn to things that are a little more damaged, because I think we all walk around with that. We all do.
SI: So much of [New York] is highlighted [in the film] and it really plays a role in their relationship—traipsing all over, in the pursuit of friendship. Could [these women] exist in any other city?
CP: I think so. If we put it in Cincinnati, or Macon, GA, my hometown, friendship is friendship. So, I think, anybody can watch this movie and relate to that, and how it’s a comedy, so everything is heightened, obviously, and I like that. And it’s language-based and I’m a theater person, so obviously, I love text, but the situations are relatable no matter where you live. I did want to create a New York story, a love letter (or a hate letter—(laughs)—no!) to New York, and how challenging it is just to face that city on a daily basis. So, they are contextualized in that, [but] I think we could contextualize them in any situation and they would still be the same lovable, messy characters that they are. . . . I deliberately kept putting them in situations and then, . . . every once in a while, I would remind the audience that they’re sitting in a spa and that there are people, like, staring at them, and then just [go] back to them. Because they’re so self-involved, but you can do that in New York City. You can be completely self-involved and a crazy person sitting next to a table of people from another country, [or] sitting next to a table of ladies who lunch—all that can happen in one room.
* * *
Carrie Preston and the That’s What She Said crew want you to become a TWSS Bestie!
When asked about the TWSS Bestie promotion, Preston said:
I knew from the get-go that I wanted this film to be a film that women in particular, but men too, go [see] as a group, and that they make it an event. Because we’ve been trained to only go to Batman as a group, but not these films. We watch these at home. Which is fine, you can watch this movie at home. But you’re going to have a fuckload more [fun] time if you go with your besties, and then you go out and have drinks and have dinner. . . . We need you. Come. Do it. Join us.
* * *
Have your own girl-talk questions for Carrie Preston? Ask her via Twitter tonight at 6pm ET!
— That’s What She Said (@TWSSmovie) October 16, 2012
Got a hot date tonight? That’s cool—Carrie and That’s What She Said have your back. Join Carrie, writer Kellie Overbey, and star Marcia DeBonis for a Google+ hangout on Friday, October 19 at 3pm ET instead!
— Carrie Preston (@Carrie_Preston) October 15, 2012
* * *
That’s What She Said–produced by Daisy 3 Pictures and distributed by Phase 4 Films–will be in theaters (New York and Los Angeles), and available on VOD, starting Friday, October 19.
22 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003
7:40pm and 9:35pm[/one_half]Laemmle’s Music Hall 3
9036 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, 90211
Showtimes To Be Announced!
For more information about That’s What She Said, check out the Official Website and Facebook page, and follow @TWSSmovie, director Carrie Preston (and watch her daily “V(agina) Log” videos), writer Kellie Overbey, and star Anne Heche on Twitter.
Also, stay tuned to Screen Invasion tomorrow for a This Chick’s Flicks recommendation piece on why you (and all your besties) need to see That’s What She Said immediately, if not sooner.
Carrie Preston photo and @TWSSmovie tweets: © 2012 Phase 4 Films (USA), LLC. All Rights Reserved. || @Carrie_Preston tweet: © 2012 – Carrie Preston.