Phoebe goes to the movies in Happy Endings
We all know the simple-minded Phoebe Buffay on the hit tv show 'Friends,' but Lisa Kudrow is far from that in her latest film Happy Endings. She plays Maime, an abortion counseler. The ironic part of that is she was supposed to have an abortion herself at age 16 after getting pregnant with her step brother. Oh, and she did have that child and that's where this story gets a little hairy. Twenty years later, a documentary filmmaker, played by Jesse Bradford, finds Maime and blackmales her into making a film about their reunion. Maime really doesn't want that to have the reunion filmed, she asks her Mexican-massage boyfriend to take her place and have the film made about him - and yes, those kinds of massages - hence the title of the film. Are you confused? Yeah, there's a lot going on at once and that's just one of the three stories going on in Happy Endings, written and directed by Don Roos (most famous for The Opposite of Sex).
It was very apparent how much chemistry was between Lisa and Jesse on screen and off screen in sometimes some very intense scenes. I spoke with the two together about the film; this is how the converstaion went:
So what was it like working with Don, you've worked with him on many occasions I guess?
Lisa Kudrow: Don is a phenomenon, because there's no earthly explanation for how layered and complicated his stories and his characters are, and how effortlessly it seems he directs the film, and it was just pure fun, and ease. It was a 30 day shoot, I'm not going to ever let you talk (she says jokingly to Jesse),
Jesse Bradford: I was just going to quote you anyway. I was going to quote you and say what you said in the prior interview, which is that it was like heaven on a stick.
How much of it was adlibbed?
Lisa Kudrow: No, it was all well scripted and we didn't really need to. I think he let us loose in that really intense scene after Bobby storms out.
Jesse Bradford: Yeah, that kind of went over the place a couple of times. I think what probably most of what didn't seem scripted, was, and that's Don Roos, but there were a couple of times when he wanted us to keep going at the end of a scene, or he had to shoot these little things he called bumpers, that were little scenarios, like when we're playing the videogame together, that was bumper. He said, ‘Alright, look, you guys play this videogame together, that's what I want, make something out of that.' And that was just us goofing around. So there were times when we did and times when we didn't.
What was it like to get behind the camera? Was it a little different?
Jesse Bradford: You mean with the video cam? It was great. I asked Don if he would let me do that early on, when we took a lunch after the deal was in place, and I said, ‘I would love it if you give me the chance to shoot that stuff myself.' I want to film school, and I believed my best efforts would probably come off sophomoric enough to be believable as Nicky's best efforts, so he let me do it, and it was fun because Clark Mathis, the DP and camera operator and I, kind of got to develop this funny thing where whenever he was setting up a shot and lighting, I would come in and go, ‘You know, Clark, it's not how I would have done it, buddy.' It became this little game we played.
Is that something that you might want to continue?
Jesse Bradford: Yeah, I definitely want to direct, I just am not in a huge rush to actualize that. Someday it'll feel right to actually start putting more effort into it.
The story is based on these secrets or lies, when you looked at the script is that what drew you into it, because we all have these things that we keep to ourselves.
Lisa Kudrow: Yeah, because it seems really true that it's those secrets that you try to keep secret that led to the most damage, so I liked that aspect of it.
Do you have secrets?
Lisa Kudrow: Yeah, let me tell you a couple! (everyone laughs) It's just between us, right?
It said in the press kit that the role was written for you.
Lisa Kudrow: Don had me in mind when he was writing Mamie, yeah.
When you read the role, did you see yourself as the part – it was different from other things that you've done.
Lisa Kudrow: Yeah, it was different, and I never had to, well this is intimate, but I've never had to do most all the things that Mamie did or went through. I did give birth to a son, but I kept him. But nothing in my life has anything to do with anything about Mamie.
What was the chemistry like on the set with everyone?
Lisa Kudrow: Well, there's that one scene at the end, that party at Frank's house, and we were all together for that, and that was really fun, because that was very early on for us. I think Tom Arnold and Jason Ritter and Maggie had pretty much finished their whole story, so it was sort of the end for them and the beginning for us, and we were all there and got to meet everybody and that was great.
Jesse Bradford: And I don't really remember that day very well, because it was five days after I'd got hit by a car, so I was hopped up on Vicodin in that shot?
Jesse Bradford: I got hit by a car on my bicycle, and I ended up underneath the car, dragged by it for about 6 to 8 feet. It was pretty ugly, it was really ugly. That was five days into shooting.
Lisa Kudrow: He was all ripped up.
You were riding a bicycle during the shoot?
Jesse Bradford: It was a bicycle!
I know it was scale, but couldn't they afford to give you a car or something?
Jesse Bradford: Oh, I don't know, I really liked the danger aspect, ‘You're under contract, don't get on that bicycle, young man.'
You're shooting a movie – wouldn't they cover your entire life. Give you a car, house. Was that in Los Angeles?
Jesse Bradford: That was, yeah, in Los Angeles.
Lisa Kudrow: He was pretty ripped up, in his face too.
Jesse Bradford: Everything. They had to hide it.
So you shot the fight scene directly after that.
Jesse Bradford: Yeah, it worked.
So how did they alter your appearance if your appearance was affected by it?
Jesse Bradford: The bulk of the damage was up my side and out onto my arm, it was this big road rash, which you actually see in one shot in the movie, which I thought was really appropriate. We talked the whole time about whether or not we were going to try to cover it and hide it, and I really liked the idea that we could just pass it off as this unfortunate birthmark that Nicky's had his whole life, that kind of starts him right off at the outset as being this marked, black sheep, with a physical problem on him, so that's how it ended up playing, and it was perfect. I mean, would I choose to get hit by the car again, no, but we made it work. But we were covering up a big thing on the side of my face for a lot of the movie, and it was hectic. I actually had a removable cast, because I had dislocated my thumb, which is lucky that that's really the only thing that was bad that happened in a way, so I put it on at night and I'd get up and work all day with it off.
Did you base your characters on anyone that you knew?
Lisa Kudrow: I didn't.
Jesse Bradford: I did. I based it on a lot of kids that I knew in film school who just that sort of vibe of being where you see yourself as such a struggling artist, no matter what everybody else might think about you; and also on a specific friend of mine who I have not told. It's like, he's really not like that but there's just something about him that I think I tried to grab onto and bring to the guy. And I don't want to tell him, so I haven't yet.
He's probably so self-absorbed that he won't recognize himself.
Jesse Bradford: Well, he's not, and that's where the lack of it being like him comes in. He's a great, great guy. His energy is very weird. The vibe he puts out to the world is strange, and I was just thinking of him a lot.
Lisa Kudrow: You nailed him. (laughter)
Jesse Bradford: (to Lisa) You're going to meet him in New York. I'm bringing him to the premiere. I can't say his name, but I'll tell you his name so when you meet him you can go, ‘Oh my God.'
Did you guys get to see how the stories interacted, or did you only know your stories?
Lisa Kudrow: We got the entire script. We knew. But the thing is, it's so layered, and for me, and Jesse is a little smarter than I am, he got it almost entirely from the first reading, all I know is that I read anything Don has written; first time through it's, ‘Oh, there's so much in here, I can't wait to discover all of it,' because it's not all the readily available to me in the first reading.
For someone who does so much with a part, how is it for you when you do a big movie where they are not giving you anything to stick you teeth into?
Lisa Kudrow: When's the last time I did one?
Was this the first major production you did following Friends?
Lisa: Yeah, we finished in January and we started shooting in March or April.
You have a different appearance in this film, and it was more dramatic than a sitcom – were you pressured to break out of the sitcom mode?
Lisa Kudrow: No, I didn't feel any pressure at all. No pressure at all. But this felt like a gift from Don to me, like a graduation present, not really but you're done with the biggest thing you've ever done, or will probably ever do, and it just felt like a – I was just grateful. To be able to concentrate and think about something else entirely, because in the middle of shooting this it was May and we did our finale on Jay Leno. It was really emotional, it was a very emotional time. And this movie was emotional for us because – for us, like Don and I did it together – but I was with him as he came to Friends every Friday to watch tapings, and we hung out and were very close friends, and I knew he was writing it, and it fell apart four times, so it was about two years before we got to finally shoot it, so it was a very big time. It was just momentous, Friends was done, this was finally happening for Don and for me.
Were you working on The Comeback at the same time?
Lisa Kudrow: No, but in the middle of shooting, after Friends was done and finishing shooting this is when I met Michael Patrick King, and then after we were done with this we pitched it to HBO and that was off and running.
Has it been picked up for next year?
Lisa Kudrow: Not yet.
Is there anyone you'd especially like to have on the series?
Lisa Kudrow: No –
Jesse Bradford: (coughing, under his breath) Jesse Bradford.
Lisa Kudrow: Jesse Bradford, that would be great. But he'd have to be dating one of the kids, Valerie would have absolutely nothing to do with him. And he'd have to actually watch the show.
Did you have a lot of time to rehearse this film? It seemed like you all knew your character very well.
Lisa Kudrow: Zero. We'd come to the set with the sides and run it, and he'd say, ‘Okay, now we'll figure out what we'll do,' come back, but, I mean, ten minutes later and go. The script had been done for two years, it was done, he's inspired, I don't know how else to put it. He sits down, he writes, something works through him, he doesn't believe in any of this stuff, he would just make fun of me right now. But that's my only explanation for it, because even if you talk to Don about what we're shooting and someone would say, ‘Wow, look how this part happens and then that part happens, and this matches that and it weaves in here,' and he's say, ‘Oh, alright, yeah.' ‘Didn't you intend for that?' ‘No.' He's smart, and he knows what he's doing. He's just a savant.
Can you explain what Nicky sees in Maime?
Lisa Kudrow [to Jesse]: What does Nicky see in Mamie, this older woman?
Jesse Bradford: I think Nicky is hopelessly attracted to her on multiple levels and I don't think he knows he's going to be at first, I think it starts off as just an idea and he doesn't know what to expect, but then he's not only attracted to her generally, he's also I think realizes somewhere along the line that he actively wants to help her. He believes that her life would improve along with his were they to team up, and maybe immediately gets frustrated that he can tell that she did not necessarily see that too, although I think she comes to see that at some level as well, and so it becomes part of his mission to try to illuminate that to her.
What does Mamie sees in Nicky?
Lisa Kudrow: What Mamie sees in Nicky? There are a lot of things going on. I think she's attracted to – one of her main attractions moments happens when he scares her, and he's got something over her, and I think for her also it's a fine line between love and hate, it's emotion, it's just big emotion, and it's attractive. I don't know how else to put it. It's not pure love, it just draws her in because it needs attention, it merits attention, and I think that's what it is.
Happy Endings is a sarcastic look at a dysfunctional family. The film is star-studded with Tom Arnold and Jason Ritter as father and son; Laura Dern, Sarah Clarke (of '24' fame), Steve Coogan, and David Sutcliffe as a group of friends with some kid problems of their own. And, the gem of this film is Maggie Gyllenhaal; she steals every scene she's in. Happy Endings opens July 15th; it's rated 'R' for some language and some obvious sexual references.