Interview: Co-Writer and Co-Star Lauren Anne Miller of 'For A Good Time, Call...'
Sex and parts and rock and roll...
In "For a Good Time, Call ..." underemployed New Yorker Lauren, played by star and co-writer Lauren Anne Miller, finds a room, a roommate and a new profession in short order -- as a phone sex operator. In many ways, considering that Miller created almost an entire film just to give her a showcase the industry couldn't, it's a believable piece of casting. Miller co-wrote with Katie Anne Naylon, and the film stars Ari Graynor as Miller's unlikely business -- and funny business -- partner, with much of the film's charm coming as Miller and Graynor realize their friendship is the real reward of their business. We spoke with Miller in Los Angeles.
MSN Movies: In a lot of ways, the tale of this film is interesting because it like a classic case of someone saying, "Well, the best way to be in a really good part is to make it for myself. "
Laurie Miller: Right. (Laughs)
I mean, is that what it boiled down to? You had the script…
You know, it's one of those things. We wrote the script three years ago and decided to base these characters on sort of exaggerations of ourselves. If you will.
Which is always amusing.
I mean. I think so. I think it wasn't the first script that I had written, but it was the first one that got made, and I think that as a young filmmaker and writer it's important to write what you know. And it's not to say that one day maybe I'll write something about aliens or monsters but right now that's not where I'm at and so this is what…
Well, right now it's not your background.
It's not really my background, no. (Laughs) Who knows? Maybe one day I'll get a monster and then I'll know so much about it. But you know, when we wrote it there was no version where I was going to be in this movie. When we wrote it we wanted to make it in the studio world and I would've never been allowed to play Lauren, and that was the reason kind of why we made it on our own was so that I could play Lauren and give myself this opportunity.
Does having a brother (and producer) who works as a hedge fund manager beat the crap out of Kickstarter?
I mean, we certainly were lucky that we got to ... that it was somewhat easy to find our money.
As resource among friends and family that you could call on, like if you knew a cinematographer.
Mhmm, I did know a cinematographer.
Well, there you go. But a 16-day shoot.
Does that really keep the energy -- I mean it's terrifying, but does it keep the energy moving? You can't really bog down?
(Laughs) I mean on one hand it keeps the energy going and on the other hand it completely depletes your energy. But yeah, I think back about it, I don't know how it happened. I mean, we had some days, we had 12-page days with two company moves in a day, and it's just a testament to how good our crew was, how great our DP was, how fast he could move, how incredible our production designer was, and Jamie. I mean, the guy, he's like an Energizer bunny.
And from an experimental short filmmaker, somebody who just completely gets this narrative and executes it really, really well.
I mean, we were sent his movies and we looked at them and we were like, "This guy wants to direct our movie? Really?" He's so amazing, and he brought the vision. Katie and I knew, we knew the characters. We knew the characters, we knew the story, we had that solid, but we had no idea what this movie looked like. And Jamie was the one that I think this movie could've been taken in a very overly sexual way or an overly sentimental way, and I think Jamie was the one that created this like candy colored world where we could present something so raunchy in a pretty pink package.
And it's clean. I mean, not the language, but your apartment.
If you had a candy wrapper on the coffee table it would've looked like "Trainspotting" -- "Oh! It stinks!"
But it's this tiny repainted space where it works-- I mean were you privy to any of the discussions with the MPAA? Were you amazed you got away with an R?
Well you know, it was certainly a concern of ours but luckily at that point we had Focus to come in and be our guardians, and they were the ones that fought those battles, and I don't know too many of the details. I know with the trailer and the TV spots it's been a little of a rocky road, but I think everyone's happy now.
There are a bunch of great American sex comedies in the '70s like "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice." And then it's now and sex in the movies is awful and cheap and embarrassing and often with a pie.
Or an old person. But did Judd Apatow make it safe for comedies where people talked about sex like people again?
Yeah, I think you know what the Apatow movies have done is they've created... they're all real you know. You know it's funny like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," for example, which is the first one that I feel like broke that mold back into "Sex is funny, let's talk about it, everyone does it. "
Sex is funny, and nice people have it.
Exactly. You know and I remember that moment in the very beginning of the movie where Steve Carell's character is walking, there's the, I forgot what it's called, the perfume that's like a sexy name…
First he walks past ... I want to say it's the bus bench, and then it's like a bigger one, and then it's like a big one or whatever, and I remember thinking like that's not real. Obviously you wouldn't walk past that or whatever. But in that world, in that world that they created in "40-Year-Old Virgin," everything was real, and therefore as an audience member, I accepted it. And they didn't try to make a huge joke of it. And I think that for us trying to make this movie again, you know, this isn't a documentary of phone sex. This isn't the real true story of two girls who started phone sex line. This is the world that we created to entertain people and explore what we hope is a real story of friendship, and I think that's what those movies do. It takes a real situation, creates a world, and that's what makes them so accessible.
But at the same time, I mean it's weird in American culture because considering how much sex underlies our human responses, it's kind of like if everybody decided it's rude to talk about gravity. Do people in general, I mean certainly both these characters do well, but with them understanding how to articulate their desires and wants better, is that the spoonful of medicine beneath the bright pink candy sugar of this film?
Maybe. You know, I think it's always frustrating to me that audiences are so accepting of violence and that you could make a PG-13 movie about people blowing each other's heads off and people don't bat and eye, but god forbid you talk about sex in a movie, something that in theory all humans do at some point if they're lucky…
Or at least have been involved in.
Yeah. You know (Laughs) And suddenly it's like, "(Gasps) I couldn't possibly go see that movie. Awful!" And I think that I love that our movie, I hope that our movie presents sex in a way that is fun and shows that in a way that people can access it and not be super turned off by it. And like I said I think it does present the sex and raunchiness but with this pretty pink bow.
There's this great line from "The Big Lebowski" where Maude Lebowski goes "Sex, Mister Lebowski. A natural, zesty enterprise."
Right? I mean, everyone does it. So why do we shy away from it? Why is it taboo? I don't know. But I'd like to try to make it not.
At what point were you practicing with phone calls preparing yourself into them or were you afraid you'd get too good and neutralize the comedy level a little bit?
You know, no. We tried to keep everything fresh and in the moment. We rehearsed, don't get me wrong, we spent around a month ahead of time, me and Katie and Ari and Jamie around my dining room table and we would go over the script, but like those calls especially, we tried to keep them fresh and improvise and Seth was the only one who was on set reading his lines on the other side and improvising with us. Everything else like with Ari in the bed with Kevin Smith, like she did all that with our script supervisor. And that was the first day of shooting by the way. The first thing we shot was her on that bed, which is very funny. But it was always to entertain, not turn on.
Were there moments when you said, "We can't do this. It changes the tone of the script too much. Like we're trying to stay in a place between exploitation of real feelings but that brightness, that lightness, that swiftness." Were there plot threads where you were throwing things out, not for budget reasons but tonal reasons?
Yeah, a couple things. Well you know what's interesting is the most uncomfortable things to shoot were the scenes between Ari and Mark Webber.
Not the really outlandish phone, the callers. It was those real moments that suddenly everyone would be blushing off camera and be like, "Oh my God. We have this chemistry. Oh my God." That was more intense whereas the other calls were just funny. Certainly, you know, there were some moments where we pushed it and some jokes didn't end up in there. (A lot) is on the extended cut of the DVD. I don't want to say what it is that I found absolutely hysterical and a lot of people we showed the movie to were like, "that's disgusting, that is too far. Take that out of the movie at once." And so we did but it's on the extended so.
Did doing this teach you anything? Not teach, but give you a better understanding of, for lack of a better word, desire?
Or do you feel like talking about it this much has beaten down any possible self-knowledge already?
A combo of the two. You know I think that my husband certainly wishes that it taught me something, but I think making this movie, playing this character, and now watching the movie, I see how important is it for myself because what is real in movie Lauren and real Lauren is that I'm a girl with a plan. And if I make a plan, I do it. And maybe sometimes realizing that plan is not the right thing to do, and that's been so interesting in making this movie. We had a plan to make it a certain way, and I had to admit to myself that's not working, now we do it this way. So that's sort of been my meta answer to your question is as a character and the real Lauren, learning to open up and be more in the moment and listen to what the world is telling me and what my relationships are telling me and trying to be more accepting of that instead of just being like, "No. This is what I'm doing."
People talk about Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton, and Shelley Long. I don't recall them doing scenes opposite ridiculously large sex toys.
Well, we just had to, we had to take it and then raise them, raise the stakes a little bit.
'The stakes' being an entirely appropriate phrase.
How good does it feel to be part of something that tries to be even a little bit honest, even a little bit real instead of this ridiculous sort of sealed-under-glass phoniness that some movies have.
Yeah. Aww, thanks for saying that. It feels great. I mean, we wrote a script and we tried to tell a story and lots of people make independent movies and they don't have this outcome and they don't get to be purchased by Focus Features or play at Sundance or whatever, and I just feel lucky and it feels great. I can't deny that it feels great and who knows if this will happen again and I'm just trying to savor every moment of it, you know? 'Cause we didn’t know. We just made this movie. We tried to make an opportunity for ourselves 'cause no one was giving it to us so we tried to make it for ourselves. And I feel so lucky that it turned out.