Apartment Troubles playing On Demand
Indie Star Jennifer Prediger on Applesauce and Apartment Troubles
(from Sag Harbor Express Online 6/20/15)
Indie Star Jennifer Prediger About “Applesauce” and “Apartment Troubles”
By Danny Peary
Recently, I had a great time chatting with one of my favorite indie actresses, Jennifer Prediger. If you are a fan of independent cinema but don’t recognize her name you may know her as that pretty, very funny, risk-taking actress in glasses in the films of Joe Swanberg, Alex Karpofsky, Karl Jacob, and, most frequently, Onur Tukel. A girl in glasses who probably gets a whole lot of passes. She wears her trademark spectacles in her movies and when she’s not on camera, including when we talked about her movies and career at Cosi in New York City.
I’d say her career is in a good place, with the film that she codirected and costarred in with Jess Wexler, Apartment Troubles, playing on VOD, and Tukel’smacabre comedy Applesauce, in which she is one of the leads, making a splash at the recent Tribeca Film Festival. You may have also spotted her of late in Tukel’s Abby Singer/Songwriter, and Uncle Kent 2. With numerous projects in the works, including at least one she is writing herself, perhaps Jennifer Prediger’s name will soon be as familiar as her image. I was thankful, however, that no autograph-seekers interrupted the following conversation.
Danny Peary: In your new film Apartment Troubles, your character Olivia and Jess Wexler’s character Nicole go back and forth between New York City and L.A. Is that like you?
Jennifer Prediger: I just don’t know where I want to be right now. I love being in New York and writing, but I work for a company based in L.A., StarStream Entertainment, that really wants me to be there. I was able to become a filmmaker in the New York indie scene, so I’d love to keep a foot here and not be all L.A. all the time. I like L.A. but something about the fault lines must affect my sanity because I always get a little anxious there. So I guess my goal is to be bi-coastal.
DP: Where do you fit in? Do people in both places know you?
JP: I think they pretend to know me. I thought I knew everyone, but there are so many people making films now that it’s hard to keep up. Every time I go to a festival, I learn about new people and new cliques. I know a lot of the New York filmmakers, but there are still tons here I don’t know. Occasionally someone will say, “I really appreciate your work, I haven’t met you but I know who you are,” and I’m thinking, “What are you talking about? That’s weird!” It is cool because it means I’m acting in films that people are actually seeing, even though many of the movies I’ve been in are hard to find. It does feel like such a small world and we all kind of know each other.
DP: Have ever been recognized on the street?
JP: I was once recognized by a girl in a coffee shop because of Richard’s Wedding. But how many people have seen Richard’s Wedding? That girl was a real independent film nerd. I get recognized sometimes at film festivals. People will meet me and say, “You look familiar!” Maybe I’m just a ubiquitous-looking person, or maybe they saw Red Flag and they can’t put it together.
DP: I started recognizing you as the indie actress who wears glasses.
JP: I have an astigmatism, and also I don’t like to put things on my eyeballs, so I wear glasses. People ask me all the time, “Are those real prescription glasses?” Yes, they are. Most people can not picture me without my glasses, and it can really freak them out when they’re not on. I can go to a party not wearing glasses and all my film friends won’t talk to me, because they don’t know it’s me. I wouldn’t think the glasses make me seem that different. I think I should probably mix it up a little bit more and keep people on their toes. I’ve been in only one movie without them, Pollywogs. My friend Karl Jacob [an actor inApplesauce] directed and he insisted that I not wear glasses. I feel like in every movie situation I’ve been in, there’s one moment where it’s glasses, or no glasses? And then they say, “Okay, wear the glasses.” I wonder if they’ve become sort of my trademark.
DP: I read that when growing up you were in the science and technology program at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland. Is that where you are from?
JP: I’m from College Park, but Greenbelt is right next to it.
DP: Tell me a little bit about your curious background, during which you had an education unlike that of any other filmmakers. Was there any indication that you were going to go into acting? Did you write from the beginning?
JP: I always wrote. I was constantly writing poetry as a kid and filled up tons of notebooks. I also knew I wanted to act, but I didn’t know how to do that. I was like nine years old, and it wasn’t the kind of thing I could tell my parents and have them do anything about it. I got to be in some school plays. I played a tooth in a dental hygiene play in the third grade. It was a wonderful play, but I don’t think Neil Simon wrote it. I did play the titular character. I also got to play Snow White in a play, I had some really ancillary roles in high school musicals. But I went to a science high school, which was the best public school in our system, so I had to focus on that. Even though I wanted to focus on theater. Acting is just one of those compulsions, when you feel you can’t do anything else. As they say.If you can do something else, do it, because this is a crazy road to take.
DP: You didn’t take it right away.
JP: I didn’t know what the road was, and I didn’t feel justified in taking it. My parents were both bureaucrats–my mom worked for a congressman, my dad worked for the county as a tax assessor–so I think my compulsion to be a creative person didn’t make a whole lot of sense to them. They are conservative fiscally, and it was just not something that they knew or understood, and they wanted me to have a viable living. So while I went down the strange beautiful path I did try to stay within the lines so that they would be supportive of what I was doing.
DP: Were you always looking to escape, though?
JP: Probably. Going to the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor was one of the greatest escapes from inside the Beltway. It was this other, beautiful world, and it taught me so much about nature and spirituality and myself. I found like people there, other vegetarians and do-gooders who wanted to fight for environmental causes. So that place was a real homecoming for me. I spent three years there.
DP: In getting your BA from the College of the Atlantic, what was your major?
JP: There’s only one major there called Human Ecology. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing, and I often describe it as a holistic approach to understanding people and their interactions with the environment. So you can be a biologist or a marine researcher or a poet. It allowed for a wonderful, sprawling way of being. I’d come from such a scientific, structured high school, so to be able to be part of something that was so unstructured was really great for me. I got to do a lot of creative writing, and to study psychology, and be in some plays.
DP: Were you seeking out chances to act?
JP: I was a little bit, although I never felt fully justified doing it, I felt like I needed to be invited. I did get to play a deer, the king’s stag, and I got shot and lay dead on the stage with this huge deer mask on, for hours, and that was great. And also I was Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was a college production, the Bar Harbor Players, and a dear friend of mine produced and directed.
DP: So did your dear friend say, hey, you’re pretty good?
JP: Yes, she did. She really encouraged me and she still does. Molly grew up in New York City and lives here now. She grew up acting, so she was the person I could look at and say, “Okay, here’s what I need to do to be just like Molly.”
DP: My guess is that you didn’t meet many film people at College of the Atlantic.
JP: There was one guy who was making films, I think he made one feature and stopped.
DP: You got your BA from the College of Atlantic in Human Ecology and an MA from the California School of Professional Psychology, which may be the most unlikely path to being a movie actor and filmmaker anyone has taken.
JP: Yeah, it’s been a road less traveled, paving my own way.
DP: How did you end up in California?
JP: I was dating the only person I knew who was interested in movies, and he got into the American Film Institute, so when I was about 21, I took off for L.A., too. My parents didn’t want me to move to L.A. so I went against their wishes and we didn’t speak to each other for a while. I moved to Los Feliz and hung out with all these filmmaking students.
DP: And your boyfriend?
JP: That lasted maybe a year, a flash in the pan. I wish him the best, good riddance.
DP: So when you arrived in California, were you thinking you wanted another degree?
JP: I wanted to make movies and be an actor but I didn’t know how to get there. So I started doing improv at The Groundlings.
DP: Why did you think of trying improv? Were you recognizing something in yourself?
JP: I probably was. I always did public speaking things but I don’t really know where I got the nerve to do what I was doing. Pee-Wee Herman had always been an icon to me, so knowing he had studied at The Groundlings, as did so many actors that I loved on SNL and MadTV, I was like, “What the hell is this, I gotta do it.” I loved it but didn’t do it for that long. I think I took just four classes there. But I got excited by improv and then I was doing it at the Improv Olympic on Hollywood Boulevard, and everywhere else. Then I did stand-up comedy, more than I would do in New York.
DP: What was your stand-up routine like?
JP: I did a lot of material about my family, much to their chagrin. I showed them tapes of it.
DP: Do you talk about your childhood or your current relationship to them?
JP: Some of both, growing up with divorced parents. I’m actually writing a feature about that very subject, and it’s interesting tapping into that because it’s real painful stuff for me. But there’s something very funny about it, too, so I’m walking that line.
DP: Was your stand-up monologue true comedy or exaggeration?
JP: Again, a little of both. But the greatest comedy does come from the truth.
DP: Did you admire other female standup comedians?
JP: Growing up I really admired Rita Rudner. I love Sarah Silverman. She’s always been my spirit animal. It wasn’t standup, but I loved the women on The Golden Girls.
DP: In L.A., you made inroads with improv and stand-up, so why did you go back to school?
JP: I didn’t feel like I could justify doing comedy for a living. I thought, “I’ll become a psychologist,” so I got a master’s degree in organizational and systems psychology, with the idea of working with companies or non-profits. Then I moved back to D.C. and did a fellowship, which led me to work in the USDA Motion Picture Service office. That’s the US Department of Agriculture [which has been producing movies for over 100 years].
DP: When you moved back to the East Coast, did you feel you were giving up an opportunity to be in movies?
JP: No, because I didn’t know how to infiltrate Los Angeles. I did some voiceover work for The Man Show on Comedy Central, but I didn’t have an agent and I kept getting in these predicaments that, as a young woman, were a little unsavory and very demeaning in a certain way. There were these auditions like you’ve read about, where it’s some weird casting couch thing and they want you to be wear a bikini and high heels. didn’t know how to protect myself in a world that was a little predatory.
DP: It’s amazing you got auditions without an agent.
JP: Yeah. They were terrible auditions for awful things. Well, one of them wasThe Extreme Gong Show, and this is literally what I heard in my head: “Your story is not happening LA, so go back to D.C.” So I went back home to my roots.
DP: And you became an environmental journalist?
JP: I worked for two environmental websites. Sprig.com was run by the Washington Post Company. For grist.org, I played this environmental advice columnist on a web video series called Ask Umbra.
DP: And was that a serious thing?
JP: Partly. It was advice like a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. It was silly and meant to be entertaining, but it also was about real issues and what people should do. Tthere’s an archive of my work that I wrote and directed and put myself in as Umbra, five or six years ago.
DP: Did you feel there was a progression going on with your career?
JP: For sure. Because within a couple of months after I started working in television at the Department of Agriculture, they had me producing in Africa, Hawaii, and Alaska, and it was amazing adventure, I got very comfortable behind the camera, telling stories and writing scripts and interviewing people. Then I got offered an unpaid internship at The Onion in New York City, and I decided I should take a shot and come up here. Because it’s hard to find a way “into” this city when you’re not physically in it. So I came up to New York on a wing and a prayer. I worked at The Onion and then at nerve.com for a while, which is where I met Lena Dunham and Joe Swanberg. Meeting those two and hanging out with and interviewing them–and working with them some–was a real game changer for me.
DP: What was Lena Dunham doing then?
JP: She was still in college. She produced her first web series, Tight Shots, at nerve.com, and technically I was a producer of it though I didn’t do much. I did act in one episode, which was fun. It was really cool to watch Lena cut her teeth, and my God, to see where she’s gone, from zero to sixty, makes me really want to watch it again.
DP: What about Joe Swanberg?
JP: I kept bumping into Joe over the course of a few years, at Sundance and just walking down the street in Williamsburg. Then out of the blue. he emailed me, asking, “Do you feel, spiritually and psychologically, that you are ready and comfortable enough to make a movie with me?” I was like, “I think so, but let me think about it.” Because Joe’s movies are a bit risqué, and I had to really think about if I wanted to participate in that way. He sent me his film Alexander the Great to try to convince me to do Uncle Kent. And I loved it.
DP: There’s some nudity with your future directing and acting partner, Jess Wexler, in that movie. Did he tell you there’d be nudity in Uncle Kent, too?
JP: A flash. He did mention it, and I just said to him that as long as the nudity was in service of the character and wasn’t gratuitous, then I was okay with it. But really it had to make sense with the story and what was going on with the characters. I think it’s important for actors not to judge those things, because if we do, we’re not doing our job. Our job is to imitate life–and people get naked!
DP: Your character is introduced as being “beautiful.”
JP: I remember seeing that in the trailer. I’m not a stereotypically beautiful person, so it was nice to hear things like that. Because you don’t necessarily think them about yourself. I think we all have a certain beauty that we don’t allow ourselves to acknowledge.
DP: So you’re the female lead in one of Joe Swanberg’s rapidly-made, microbudget mumblecore movies. Were you comfortable from the start?
JP: Totally comfortable. I really enjoyed being around and acting with Kent Osborne, who came up with the story with Joe. I felt like we had a really nice rapport. I feel that once I have a role in a movie, it’s so easy to play the part. It’s different auditioning, because you’re worrying, “Oh, God, will I get this part?” But once I get a part and know I’m in a movie, I just dive into it, as I did when playing Kate in Uncle Kent.
DP: Of course, you can’t really compare other movies to Joe Swanberg’s movies.
JP: That’s true, because his are very conversational and naturalistic. Joe has a really wonderful way of teasing out conversation and interesting details from his actors. He sets up everything so that something comes out about the characters or the story that guides his scenes. What the actors say may be slightly inspired by a true story or is just completely improvised.
DP: Did he tell you that he wanted the scene you’d be doing to be about this or that and ask you to get a particular point across?
JP: Yes, he would often say, this is what needs to happen in this scene–she needs to reject him over whatever. There would be an action that needed to happen, and we could get there however we wanted to, which felt natural, easy, and conversational. What was so inspiring about working with Joe is that he didn’t suffer. He just made it happen. I think there’s so much hemming and hawing that people do, should I do this, should I do that?, oh God, it’s so hard to write this script, blah blah blah. He’s just like, “Here’s an outline, here’s a camera, here’s a tripod, and here’s a microphone. Just set it all up, press record, and go.” He never did more than three takes. And then he would edit every single night. So by four in the morning, he’d have part of the movie cut already. And when we were done filming in six days, he already had a 62- or 63-minute cut of the movie, which we watched before we all went home. It was an incredible way to work—he was quick, he got stuff done. And that made me realize that I shouldn’t treat things so preciously all the time. I definitely wanted to make my first feature in a different way, and I did want it to be a scripted film, but it was great to watch him make it happen the way he did. We made that movie for $4,000, and it got into Sundance, so it was a pretty great return on investment.
DP: Were you interviewed at Sundance for Uncle Kent?
JP: Yes, and what’s interesting is that I’d gone to Sundance as an interviewer when I was working for the Washington Post Company. I interviewed Tom Hanks and a bunch of awesome people, and I decided then and there that I didn’t want to come back to Sundance unless I could be on the other side of the carpet, having made a movie. So three years later I got to be at Sundance again, on the other side of the carpet. It was just one of those awesome moments, where I’m thinking, “Dreams can come true and you can really do what you set your mind to do.”
DP: After Uncle Kent, both you and Onur Tukel, your director of and costar inRichard’s Wedding and later Applesauce, were in Alex Karpovsky’s Red Flag.
JP: Onur, Alex, and I all met at Sundance in 2011. Alex had seen me in Uncle Kent and a week later called me and Onur and said, “Hey, would you guys want to make a movie?” He felt like there would be a good synergy, which there was. So two weeks after that we were on this crazy road trip from Birmingham, Alabama, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
DP: Talk about working with Alex Karpovsky.
JP: Alex is a wonderful human being and a genius, and it was so delightful to be around him. He has such a sharp mind, and can be very engaging and charming. And Alex was very democratic about how we worked; every day he was like, “What do you think we should do?” He had a 32-page outline for the movie, but still there was a lot of room for us to figure out where we were going to shoot and what was going to happen in scenes.
DP: So you felt part of the process?
JP: Very much. We were all simultaneously producing, recording sound, writing, doing location scouts. So it was great. National Lampoon’s Filmmaking Road Trip. That group of people was so much fun to be around. We fought like family, and it was terrific. It sure is nice working with smart people. because you are interested in how they perceive the world, and that really helps. And it’s fun to have adventures like that. They’re few and far between. I always say that on my deathbed, when my life flashes before my eyes, there’s going to be a nice little chunk of making Red Flag, being in Louisiana, lying down next to the Mississippi River, and seeing beads get thrown into Alex’s face during the Mardi Gras parade. That was such a special time. And it was filmmaking at its best for me. The only street theater I’ve done was when acting in Red Flag with Alex Karpovsky, when we were literally at a Mardi Gras parade having beads thrown at us and performing scenes in the midst of the parade. That’s something I always want to do, when there’s a captive audience. Especially when I was an environmental journalist and writing about sustainable seafood or whatever the topic of the week was, I would be learning so much that I knew everyone around me didn’t know and I’d want to get up on the subway or on airplanes and start talking to people. My last name is Prediger, which means Preacher in German, so I think I have a soapbox tendency. I have never done it except in character in that movie.
DP: After Red Flag, you were in a few films, including Pollywogs and Life of Crime by Daniel Schechter, with whom you began a relationship.
JP: Alex and I were on the road doing Red Flag and Alex kept taking calls from this guy Dan Schechter, and they were talking about the next movie Alex was going to do. And apparently, Alex suggested me to play the female lead that Sophia Takal ended up playing. She had been in Dan’s movie Supporting Characters with Alex. That role was a representation of an ex-girlfriend of Dan’s, so I’m really glad that I didn’t play that role. That would have been weird. I’m barely in Life of Crime, just for a split second, but I helped make that movie as an associate producer.
DP: I’m not sure if it was before or after acting with you in Red Flag that Onur asked you to be in his own film, Richard’s Wedding.
JP: Actually, Alex Karpovsky was supposed to play the role that I played, Alex, and he couldn’t do it, and it was really cool getting to play a part that was written for a guy. Obviously some things were adjusted, but I really liked that my character and Onur’s character were a man and a woman who are good,platonic friends. The first twenty minutes or so are just me and Onur walking down the street, which some people really like, and some people are like, “Come on!” But it’s fun for me to watch because I know that 99% of that scene is exactly the way it was scripted. We did little flourishes, but Onur had done such a good job of writing conversation that when we said the lines back and forth to each other, it sounded like real friends talking unscripted.
DP: The trailer contains a hilarious moment when you two are on a street corner and he puts his hand on the top of your head in a super annoying way and holds you at arm’s length so you can’t get away or reach him with your flailing arms.
JP: It’s so disrespectful, and yet so funny. And actually a little painful for me. It’s fun to do that kind of inappropriate physical comedy. I don’t remember if that bit is part of the walking scene, but I do remember that Onur and I encountered a group of kids during the walking scene and they improvised with us. After they said something to us, we asked, “Hey, can you say that again?” We backed it up, shot it, and they were great. It’s pretty exciting that can happen anywhere you are in New York. All these happy accidents are waiting to happen.
DP: Your next film with Onur was Applesauce, a black comedy that may have been my favorite narrative at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.
JP: It was sold out at every screening, and it was really cute how people responded to Onur. They would see him in the theater, and be like, “Oh, my god, it’s him!” It was fun to see my friend get exulted in that way.
DP: I know you saw the review where an online critic or blogger gave the film only a 7.5 rating but wrote that it proved “the theory that…anything involving Jennifer Prediger…will result in nothing less than an enjoyable time.”
JP: Yes, that was great to read! People seemed to really enjoy the movie. I was getting texts from people who were saying, “This is the best thing I’ve seen at the festival,” and “This is great!” So many nice compliments, I felt really uplifted by it all.
DP: Did you ever ask Onur what the title, Applesauce, means?
JP: Sure, but I didn’t get a satisfactory answer. But I like the title, and the letter A gets the movie higher up on the on-demand list. Onur was asked to explain the title at every Q&A at the festival. And I guess we learned that the word applesauce was a swear word in the 1920s, and if something bad happened people would say, “Applesauce!” Onur also likes non-sequitur titles, like Duck Soup and Animal Crackers. It just leaves an absurd, poetic impression.
DP: Did you know he was writing a movie about two couples falling apart after everyone reveals their darkest secrets?
JP: I did know about it. He said, “I’m writing a role for you,” and I was very flattered, but thinking, “I’ll believe that when I see it!” But Onur is true to his word–for the most part–and he wrote it and I read it and I was just delighted.
DP: Do you think he writes for you, or writes parts that you could play?
JP: Hmm. A good question that I don’t know the answer to. I think he would say that he wrote this for me, but I don’t know.
DP: Did you read the script while he was writing, or did you wait?
JP: He gave me a draft and then another draft. He may have sent me three drafts before I got a chance to read it, all within a couple of days. He just tirelessly cranks out material.
DP: He seems to have a bit of a stock company, which includes you.
JP: He has a loyalty to his actors and wants them in what he’s making. Only certain types of actors can work with him because he’s a bit of a wild card and you never know what he’s going to do. He’s very funny, but he can be a megalomaniac, and so I think his actors have to know what they’re getting into when he casts them. I mean that in the best way. Onur’s a jewel. He’s one of my best friends in the world, and I think our friendship comes through in our work together, which I really love. We have a shorthand with each other. I know him and I know his process, I’ve seen him evolve as we’ve made three feature films together now, among other little projects, and it’s fun to see how he’s growing as an artist and as a human being.
DP: Working on Applesauce, was it hard or fun most of the time?
JP: Both. It was really stressful when we were shooting in my apartment for three or four days. Onur was staying there while we shot and it was kind of chaotic. I would make him breakfast, and then everybody else would show up, so it was nonstop filming and that got a little intense and a little crazy. They commandeered the apartment of a neighbor who had gone out of town, and Onur sort of went a little crazy with the apartment and it was kind of a disaster, I was totally mortified that the neighbors offered it and Onur was given an inch and took a mile. It was humiliating, but kind of funny after the fact. We made amends, it’s all good now.
DP: Onur plays the lead character, Ron, with Trieste Kelly Dunn is his wife Nickki. And you and Max Casella play their married best friends, Kate and Les. Talk about the first scene in the restaurant, when the four main characters are all friendly and there’s a lot of really good, natural dialogue.
JP: I don’t remember how many times we shot that scene. What was great was that we were in this nice Italian restaurant that served us wonderful food. Our two cinematographers were shooting at all times, and they were really incredible at capturing what’s going on in a verité sort of way. They were shooting from both sides, simultaneously, so Onur didn’t need them to shoot quite as many times. We’d get through a big chunk of the scene and then they’d focus on just little parts of it, and do close-ups, and Onur later synched it up. When there was speech, that was probably the most complex part of that scene.
DP: Everyone is in rhythm and it really seems like the four of you were friends.
JP: We didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse anything really, so the first few takes we did served as the rehearsal, and then hopefully we hit our stride. We all had a lot of comfort around each other, so I think we got to where we needed to be early. People think we were improvising, because it sounds so natural.
DP: Applesauce is set up so we believe we are watching two really strong marriages, each with people you’d like for friends, and there is great camaraderie between everyone. And then Ron, inspired by a radio host’s challenge, reveals to the other three the greatest secret from his past–I won’t say what it is!–and right away you see that nothing was as strong as it appeared. And by the time they all reveal their secrets, there is no hope that things will be remain the same between any of them.
JP: It is amazing how the fabric of people’s lives can unravel over something so small–“the width of a finger!”–and happens in an instant.
DP: Were there surprises for you when reading the script, as Onur caused havoc among these four people?
JP: I was delighted by the twists and turns in the relationships, and what they all do to get back at each other. People get hurt, and then defensive, then hurt and defensive, and it becomes a house of cards. Everything comes tumbling down. I think Onur is working out a lot of his fears in his movies.
DP: Here’s something Onur has said: “I’m 42 years old now and my biggest fears right now are commitment and marriage, so I thought I would make a film about these things.” Oddly, that wasn’t him talking about Applesauce but last year’s horror movie…
JP: Summer of Blood. I think it’s interesting that he has evolved from Summer of Blood, because in that movie he was really fearful of commitment, and then in Applesauce his character has a wife. It was very interesting for me as his friend to watch him take on that role, even if it was just fictionally. I think he may be opening himself up to the possibility of commitment because I heard him say at a Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival that the next stage in life is to get married and have children. I think he oscillates between thinking that he wants that and that he could never do it. I have a feeling we’re going to tame him. That’s why I’d like to make with him a family kind of movie. You’d see further his evolution as an artist and a person. I should say that I’d also like to make with Onur a War of the Roses or our own version of Force Majeure.
DP: Could you tell you were making a good movie when you were doing it?
JP: It felt good, I felt proud of what we were doing. There were some things that I wish were in the movie that didn’t make the cut. For instance, the four of us have a fight at the kitchen table, where Karen actually hits Nickki with a napkin. That was inspired by a bit on Your Shows of Shows, where one character hits the other with a napkin—”you brute!” So there are things that I wish were in the movie that we had a lot of fun doing, but less is more sometimes.
DP: How was it reading the script and seeing what happens to Karen from the beginning to the end of the movie?
JP: When I first read the script I didn’t know who I’d be playing, Nickki or Karen. I was excited because there was the possibility I’d have the opportunity to die in a movie for the first time!
DP: Are Karen and Nickki interchangeable? Because, and I won’t give anything away, they get exchanged basically.
JP: Yeah, they get exchanged, and then you see one of them in the same places–the kitchen, the bed–where you had seen the other one earlier in the movie. A new person, same life. It’s heart-breaking actually to think about that. Even though the movie’s very funny, the reality of that is very sad.
DP: You ended up playing Kate, Les’s wife. Did you choose the name?
JP: I’ve always said that I never met a Kate I didn’t like, and that’s why I’m named Kate in Uncle Kent, but this time it was a coincidence!
DP: The language throughout the movie is funny and really raunchy. I burst out laughing at the line Karen delivers snippily to Nickki just when everyone thinks she’s forgiven her for her dalliance with Les: “You’re so beautiful–I can see why Les wanted to put his dick in your mouth.”
JP: Onur is great with the one-liners, the jokes. That was a line he wrote that was very fun to deliver deadpan. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m actually just staring at Trieste the entire scene from a foot away. I didn’t take my eyes off her. I think it was making her uncomfortable, which was kind of fun, but I had never been so laser-focused on another person.
DP: When the disguised Karen does some damage on the street with some paint, you’re not wearing glasses, right?
JP: That’s true. I had taken them off under the burqa. That made it a little hard for me to see while I was walking down the streets of Brooklyn in a black burqa while carrying a bucket of paint. Gosh, that was a really questionable thing to be doing, People were looking at me, I felt like I was going to cause some kind of religious uprising.
DP: Was the camera in sight?
JP: Yeah, but I could feel people staring me down, like, “What is she doing?”
DP: Was that your decision not to wear the glasses?
JP: It was hard to put the hijab on while wearing the glasses. Also, I knew I was going to be running, so I didn’t want to stomp on my glasses.
DP: It’s jarring you’re not wearing them because in Apartment Troubles, you’re even wearing your glasses when you’re underwater in the Pacific Ocean!
JP: Yeah, we actually taped my glasses to my face, and put string around the back of my head so I wouldn’t lose those. We just thought it would be really funny for me to be underwater and getting hit by waves and have the glasses totally stay on.
DP: How do you know Jess Wexler, your partner-in-crime in front of and behind the cameras in Apartment Troubles? Through Joe Swanberg?
JP: Indirectly, yes, because I really enjoyed her in his Alexander the Last. But we hadn’t met. Maybe five years ago, I saw her walking down the street when we both lived in Caroll Gardens. I was like, “Oh my god, there’s Jess, I should say hello.” But I realized she didn’t know me at all. I was thinking, “She’ll be your friend in the future, it’s okay, you don’t have to say hi to her now.” I had this weird moment where I felt like she was going to be my friend but I didn’t want to freak her out by running up to her, although she would have been totally nice. She and I did meet years later, So Jess was coming to New York City because she needed a place to stay while she was shooting The Good Wife, and I was going to work on Dan Schechter’s movie in Connecticut, so she came and sublet my apartment. I was illegally subletting it from another filmmaker who had gone out of town. So she lived there for two months, and then I came back and we overlapped for a month.
DP: Were you instant friends?
JP: Pretty much, yeah. and within the first week we decided that we wanted to make something together, and after knowing each other for only about two months we starting writing Trouble Dolls. I should say that is what the movie was called before our distributor changed the name. That is what we called it for two years as we were making it. So it will always be Trouble Dolls to me. It was sort of inspired by the apartment, because we had gotten an eviction notice on the door. There were a lot of issues with the apartment, it was a very bohemian, dilapidated, wonderful, inspiring place. The stove was going to blow up at one point and the bathroom was held together by duct tape.
DP: So you and Jess wrote these two women characters, Olivia and Nicole, who aren’t much alike but live together and are, maybe by default, best friends. I know they aren’t interchangeable.
JP: That’s funny. We wanted them to be sort of like the odd couple. We were really interested in buddy comedies and stories where the two people are closely intertwined but are very different and are not the best influences on each other. So Jess’s character is the narcissist and my character is the needy worshipful one. People always say that we have great chemistry. I don’t exactly know what that means, but it’s wonderful to hear that.
DP: From watching the movie it seems like you completely trust each other.
JP: We get a kick out of each other. I know it helps when you enjoy the people you’re working with. But you hear great stories of people who hated each other and made these incredible, iconic characters.
DP: I know it must be rare for two actors in a movie to also be the codirectors. Maybe it’s a first. How did you co-direct when you were both in front of the camera?
JP: It was a bit of a free-for-all, but we tried to create a method so we could do what we each needed to do. Because I needed to be in director mode, and then I needed to go into actor mode. When you’re in a scene, especially if you’re in a very emotional scene of some kind, you really need to put the director side away, so we would usually do blocking before the scene and make sure we liked the shots. We’d go through what was going to happen, and then descend into our characters. One thing we would also do with each other, which was really cool, was directing each other through acting. So if I knew I wanted Jess to give a certain kind of emotional response, I would act in a way trying to evoke that response. I think she did the same thing. So we could really push each other. It’s actually a great tool for a director to be physically able to evoke emotion or response. DP: I would think the hardest part would be that you liked each other so maybe deferred to each other rather than cause waves.
JP: We’re both very opinionated, and nine times out of ten we had the same opinion about things, which was great. But that one time out of ten was often difficult, because we had very different ideas of what needed to happen. Luckily, we weren’t indecisive; that was never our problem. We were almost too decisive on that one time out of ten, and then we’d have to figure it out.
DP: Did you work better as the shooting went on?
JP: It came and went. I feel that we had our most tense moments during post-production. I forget who said it but every day it’s like hand-to-hand combat in there. It really does feel that way when you’re fighting for your vision and want to use whatever was shot but realizing how much isn’t there that you wish was there–and wishing you could do it all over again and then trying to hold true to the big picture. It’s really brutal. You’re like leaning forward the whole time, ready to pounce because you have to fight to express your opinion before a decision is made. For me, it was very important that I got to edit the underwater sequence, because I felt no one understood it the way I did. Other things I saw people do infuriated me, so it came down to me being like, “I need to do this, everyone back away.”
DP: Did you ever say let’s agree so we don’t kill each other?
JP: Oh sure, that’s probably the only reason we’re still alive. It worked out in the end. We had three different people who were editing with us, and our main editor Arturo Sosa really acted as a diplomat between the two of us and listened to what we were each thinking. It was a difficult job, like being the father of twins, and he really had to try to get both of our needs met.
DP: So finally your movie was made, the directorial debut for both you and Jess.
JP: This is cool: When Apartment Troubles came out on the 27th of March, we were in L.A., and the movie opened at the Los Feliz Street Cinema. I got out of the car, and there were these huge signs on this beautiful art deco purple theater that had out faces and the name of the movie. And I looked out across the street, and I could see the apartment I moved to when I was 21. So I had one of those bawling moments. The Uber driver could tell that I was so excited that I got so emotional. It was funny. It was a full-circle moment. Making a movie is what I set out to do.
DP: Tell me the movie you’re writing.
JP:, I’m calling it a geriatric Parent Trap. It’s just about trapping your parents and forcing them to go through some of the things you think didn’t go right the first time and trying to make it come out better on the other side. My parents have been divorced since I was one, and they feuded bitterly. And I’m still working through those issues, in a hopefully healing, comedic way. That’s what the world needs!