Focus Features is releasing the very funny comedy “For A Good Time, Call…” in theaters this weekend and I had the good fortune to interview the two stars, Lauren Anne Miller (who also co-wrote the script) and Ari Graynor, along with co-writer, Katie Anne Nylon and Director Jamie Travis.
The film is about two college frenemies, Lauren (Lauren Anne Miller) and Katie (Ari Graynor) who through a mutual friend (played by Justin Long) are forced to become roommates due to financial circumstances. Lauren soon learns that the job she moved to New York City is gone and discovers that Katie makes ends meet by being a phone sex operator. Soon, the two girls team up to open their own sex chat line, but will success go to their head?
First off let me tell you that on the week I saw your film, I viewed 9 films and yours was the one that I talked about the most.
Lauren: Ah, thank you. Hold on was it in a good way?
In a good way, I loved the film, very inventive. So why don’t you guys tell us about your film?
Lauren: Well, Katie and I started writing the script three years ago. We did the writer’s trick of write what you know, which is female friendship. Katie and I are different people and just because we are different people doesn’t mean that we can’t be best friends. We wanted to explore that world of female friendship. Like sometimes girls hate each other for no reason but then they can become best friends. And we wanted to set it in a world that would really inspire the girls to come out of their shells and change; to really recognize their potential both as individuals and through their friendship which happened to be a world that Katie was familiar with, from her experience in college.
Katie: It so happens that I was a phone sex operator. It became so advantageous that I came up with my own number and marketed it; sometimes very poorly and other times very cleverly. I ran a phone sex line from my dorm room in college. It was all a blur. It was a hazy time. To be really honest, looking back on it I was super uncomfortable as a college freshman. I didn’t know where I fit in. I wasn’t at home anymore, everything was changing. Not only did I need the money, but I definitely had confidence on the phone and I hadn’t even had sex before. So it certainly made me feel confident in that way too. I sounded cool at parties and people loved hearing about it. It was a really exciting thing and in a weird way, it shaped a lot of who I became and who I was. I remember a few years ago I was sleeping with someone who said “You don’t have to talk the entire time.”
Ari: That was awesome, I love that story.
So when you guys decided to write this film, did you come up with this idea right away or did you kind of work around it?
Katie: I remember brainstorming, if that’s what we called it.
Lauren: I don’t remember that it took us a long time. After graduation, I moved to LA and Katie moved to New York. We tried writing long distance a few little things here and there, but it didn’t really work. So Katie moved out to LA and settled into her place. Then we sat down at the computer and said “Alright, what are we writing?” We just talked and started writing.
Katie: I had read an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that said “Write what you know,” so we wanted to write what we knew. Lauren and I were at odds at the beginning, so it just felt like starting that story we could see the arc because we knew where we were right then and we were happy. We were in a good place. It just seemed why not really heighten that divide and then bring the girls together because we understood that structurally, the romantic comedy format that everyone is used to, where they hate each other, they love each other…oh, no…there back. So we knew that and said why not do that with two girls, it just seemed like the odd couple with phone sex. Brilliant!!!! And then we just ran with it.
Lauren: And people will be knocking our door down to be making this movie. And we were wrong.
Katie: Just a huge mistake.
So you have a really good and amazing cast in this film. What was your favorite scene to watch in the film?
Jamie: The one I want to say is one that I don’t want to give away to the audience that hasn’t seen it, but the one I can talk about is the scene where Lauren and Katie first are set up to live together by Justin Long’s character. There’s that moment where Lauren walks to the door and they both open the door and the audience kind of anticipates that this is going to be the best place for Lauren to live and Ari says “You” and Lauren says “You.” To me it’s like a real moment, but at the same time there is a moment of camp because we see that Justin Long’s character has tricked them because he just wants his friends to be friends. But there is something in that moment that the tone of the film really picks up and gives a sense of fun, camp, color and excitement.
Ari: It’s like our own little reality that we created – a fantastical sort of world. Just that fact that they are doing phone sex off of a hot pink phone is probably not the most realistic way to run a phone sex line, but there’s something that we sort of wanted to suspend the belief just enough to inhabit this little bit of a fantasy world, yet that it still felt a little grounded in reality.
Ari, you do most of the phone sex in the film. So did you do any research?
Ari: I mean every time I was on the phone, basically it became dirty talk for the past year. No, I like to say that if you have to do phone sex, that you have to be open minded and non-judgmental, confident and creative. All things that I try to work on in my everyday life. Luckily, we weren’t making the documentary on phone sex. The goal was always to make it be funny over sexy. If anything, I would get messages from the production company, Focus, “that is sounding a little too sexy, it’s getting a little too sexual,” so I wanted to back away a little bit as to not over titillate.
How much of the phone sex dialogue was scripted and how much was improvised? Especially with all of the cameos of the guys that call the phone sex line?
Lauren: Everything was scripted at one point. All the calls were scripted out but obviously with the callers it was super important to make sure that those people, who were such talented comedians and improvisers, to really let them run free because why else would you have them? It’s funny, Seth (Rogan) was the only one that was around when we shot our side of the phone calls. So, for example, the very first thing we shot was Ari on the bed with the Kevin Smith call and Kevin was nowhere around. The crew was just meeting us for the first time and Ari’s like back-n-forth on the bed, jumping up and down being crazy. It was about leaving space for the guy callers with stuff like “that feels good” and “I like that.”
Ari: But most of what we said was on script. At that point we didn’t know what they were going to say and we had spent a month sitting at Lauren’s dining room table, the four of us, getting the script as lean, tight and specific as we could. When the guys came in, it was say whatever you want.
Lauren: And we will make it work.
Katie: I remember for Martha MacIsaac, whose our friend, who plays the inmate; that she had the script and I had some alternate lines that I was delivering to her trailer. She opened the door with cornrows through her hair. So I gave her the alternate lines, but I told her to feel free to say whatever she thought would work.
Lauren: And she had Googled sex practices in prison. And she watches “Lockup.”
When you were shooting the phone scenes, was that a difficult thing to shoot because a lot of this film are phone scenes between two people that probably aren’t in the same room?
Jamie: It had it’s complications. When I first came on board and read the script, I thought wouldn’t it be great if this film had a bunch of split screens in it. I had used split screens in previous films and thought it would be so great. But at the same time, to give the actors the flexibility of saying whatever they wanted, the timing of the scenes with two sides of the image at the same time was going to be really limiting to us. So, to shoot a lot and to cut it to what works the best and funniest, we decided against the split screen.
My favorite phone caller is the accountant, because I loved the ending of that scene.
Lauren: Where he goes “Becky, Becky!” That was an amazing scene. It’s one of those places where he goes “Ok, thank you good-bye.” It was one of those things when we shot that scene we got over an hour’s worth of footage from him. Where he’s at his desk, it was in a giant room. It was so awkward where Ari and I were on the set being quiet and he’s just going on and on.
Ari: What have we asked him to do? What kind of movie are we making? Because he was the first caller we shot and he just went on and on. There was so much that we could have used.
Lauren: And the same with Seth’s caller. We had over an hour of material to choose from with him in that bathroom stall. We let those guys run and they delivered some amazing stuff. Same with Justin Long, who was just amazing.
I could tell there were a couple of scenes with Justin Long that let his personality come through on the screen, especially the scenes he had with the dog. The whole scenes with the dog were very funny.
Lauren: Justin would have stolen every scene if you let him because he loved to go on and on. He really brought an electricity to the scene; girls had great chemistry with him. But we did have to pull him back a bit because everything that came out of his mouth is so unexpected. With me as the screenwriter saying “Wait a minute. Did I write that?”
Jamie: He just was really smart and always surprised you. You never knew where he is going to go next, always getting funnier and funnier. But so many times we had to move on because it was just too much great comedy after great comedy.
Ari: It was coming from such a smart place, like none of it was not funny. You know, our shooting schedule was so short and some people would come in and just work for a few days and then leave. Justin was just coming at that role from a very smart, intellectual and emotional place. We joked, but we literally did a character study with Jamie and based his sort of look, voice and walk on Jamie. It was very funny to us, but actually was really smart method-y piece of acting.
Well, he’s the glue to the whole film because everyone else is a little nuts and he’s the guy that has a little bit of sanity to him. Though he also is a little strange also, especially with the dog. So, Lauren, you’re married to Seth Rogen, how hard was it to get him to be in the film? Did you have to twist his arm?
Lauren: Well, I slept with him. It was pretty easy.
Ari: She’s that good. And she withheld, how long did you hold out?
Lauren: Seven years! We just got married in October and we dated for seven years. Obviously, he was super supportive throughout the entire process.
Katie: Remember, we gave him the script and we wanted feedback. He would write in big letters on the script “NO.”
Lauren: He would write on the script “Not Funny!” and we would be like, but that takes out page seventeen in its entirety. That’s when we joked that he’s the meanest note giver. When we had the idea to make the cameos for the phone callers with these comedians, I didn’t think of him right away. I came up with the idea when we were driving and said to him “Wouldn’t this be a good idea?” and he said “Sure.” Then like three days later we were brushing our teeth and I looked over and said “Wait a minute.” So I asked him and he said “Okay, I’ll do it.” He’s cute like that.
I know this is early…
Ari: We don’t know what we are going to say at the Oscars. We haven’t discussed it yet.
Lauren: We just know we are going to be in the moment.
Katie: I know I am going to go last because they think I am a talker.
Ari: Wait, they don’t want four people to go up all at once for Best Actress!
Katie: Oh, I thought you meant for Best Screenplay.
So, let me try to get this out. Have you thought about doing another project together?
Ari: Sure, we think about it every day.
Lauren: I am always thinking about writing. We have some stuff coming up that we can’t talk about yet, but I would work again with these guys in a heartbeat.
Katie: Yeah, we don’t have any plan at the moment but if we do a sequel, I want to call it “Redial.”
Lauren: We thought it would be funny if it took place when we are in our sixties and we would be like “Remember that guy Sean? Whatever happened to Sean? He went out for a sandwich and never came back.”
“For a Good Time, Call” opens up on Friday, Sept. 7th in Atlanta. For a Good Time Call… website