|novelro·mancen.by Emily Skopov|
love·less (luv´lĭs) adj.
1. without any love. 2. slang pathetic; a big stupid loser.
Q: What motivated you to make Novel Romance?
A: I wish I could say something lofty and profound about my motivation for making this particular film, but in reality, the short answer is: Because I already had the script in my file cabinet. Now that I’ve put my heart, soul and all of my savings, (plus much of my family’s) into this project, it frequently feels ridiculous to have invested so much time, effort and passion into a romantic comedy that wasn’t “the story I had to tell before I die!” like so many of the deeply personal smaller indie films I find myself in company with.
The truth is, the one thing I really did need to do before I died was make a film. But it needed to be smart. Something that didn’t condescend to its audience or assume a lowest-common-denominator perspective. And it needed to be filled with interesting, memorable and realistic characters.
Q: And you just happened to have this film in your file cabinet…?
A: Well, actually on my hard-drive. I’d written an early draft of it during one of my hiatuses between television seasons.
Q: So how did the story evolve?
A: I was surrounded by people who were either pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or had missed the biological window to become pregnant and were now contemplating adoption. I also knew several women nearing the end of that biological window but were still single and contemplating artificial insemination. With all this baby-fever around, I just started thinking about the significance of children and what that biological imperative is all about. How does it relate to love? What does it mean to want to have a child in the first place? And what does it mean to want to have one with someone particular?
Also, as I talked to some of my writer friends, I stumbled onto the notion of a woman falling in love with a man by reading his writing, although not realizing it at the time, and instead taking the backwards path by having his baby first. I think I was also just trying to say something about the nature of writing and the way it can reveal the essence of someone, sometimes without them even intending this. Oftentimes, a person’s artistic output is the thing that finally reveals them, even to themselves, and frequently these revelations can be surprising to the artist.
I’d also been dealing with getting notes from other people on various projects, and was somewhat intrigued by both the good and the bad that can come from someone editing your work, and how that’s in some ways a metaphor for reproduction—two people coming together with very different skills to create a new entity, something neither could have created on their own.
Q: And you became pregnant with your first child while writing the script?
A: Yep. Although, I stress to add, this movie is NOT autobiographical! I didn’t proposition my husband Todd in quite the same way Max propositions Jake. We were already very much a couple when our daughter Austen was conceived.
Q: And you were in your ninth month of pregnancy with your son, Wyatt, when you shot it?
A: And I have some very unflattering pictures to prove it! Believe me, this was not how I planned it. But things started really coming together as far as the cast’s availability and financing, etc, right after I learned I was pregnant. What could I do?
Q: You once mentioned that the role of Isabelle was supposed to go to an older actress.?
A: My friend Ed has always had a thing for older women, which I love about him, and he inspired me to try and show how incredibly sexy and attractive older women can be, especially intelligent and successful ones. Plus, I thought it would say a lot about Jake, redeem him, if he came back from Europe with some knockout older woman. I felt it would show incredible growth for him. However, then in walks Jacqueline Piñol at the audition, and we all just fell in love with her. She had such soul and depth. Frankly, she just gave the best performance of all the actresses who auditioned, and we felt that although being younger than Max’s character, she still would reflect well on Jake.
Q: And did I imagine it, or was there a sub-text of sexuality between Jake and his mentor, Marty McCall?
A: Absolutely! In that way, we got our cake and ate it too. Because even though Isabelle turned out to be younger, we had Mariette Hartley, who is so vibrant and sexy herself. She had great chemistry with Paul. And I think it showed something about Jake’s character that he was not only attracted to his mentor, but that they managed to keep that chemistry as just an interesting shade to their friendship, and he also respected this woman enough both as a writer and as a person, to be more influenced by her opinion than anyone else’s. Jake is a man who truly loves women in every way and for everything that they have to offer.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of casting Traci Lords as your lead?
A: My casting director gave me lists from several agencies, with various available actresses who were being suggested. As soon as my eye fell on Traci’s name, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I’d seen some of her work, and found her incredibly compelling and intriguing as a person—just from what I’d read and seen on interviews. I felt she had great name recognition, which is important for a small film, but more importantly, I imagined that she must be an incredibly strong woman to have lived the life she had and to achieve all that she’s achieved. Her tenacity and persistence are humbling. But she also struck me as someone very vulnerable. And to have this fantastic combination of strength and self-assertiveness along with extreme vulnerability was crucial in portraying Max. Then, when I met Traci, I just thought she was an incredible person. She was so down to earth, and yet so gracious and graceful and sophisticated. And she has a wicked sense of humor. I loved what she had to say about the script and her insights into Max. She was perfect. I never even auditioned her. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. She’s become a real friend, and I would work with her again in a heartbeat. The funny thing is, I sometimes have a hard time dealing with her as Traci, because to me, she’ll always be Max, and it’s always a little unsettling to me when we haven’t spoken for awhile, to talk and be reminded she really ISN’T Max. She was just playing the role, she was “acting.”
Q: And you’d met Paul Johansson earlier in your career?
A: This is so embarrassing. When I was an assistant to an executive producer on a tv series several years ago, Paul came in to meet with my boss. The outer office where I had my assistant area was tiny. And Paul is a very big guy, tall and broad shouldered, especially by Hollywood standards. I’d seen him on “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” and some other shows, and I thought he was just amazingly good-looking. Then he walks into my tiny office and practically fills up all the available space, towering over me and smiling his megawatt smile. Seriously, I think my jaw fell open and I couldn’t speak for a few seconds. Thank god he doesn’t remember this. I was such a dork. The other thing that struck me was just how cool he was to me, he didn’t condescend or patronize, like so many others did during my brief tenure as an assistant. So it was very amusing to me when, years later, his manager approached me about Paul playing Jake. But at that time I hadn’t seen him do anything nearly as adult and complex as Jake’s character. I was hesitant. But when I met him (again!), I was sold. Paul is incredibly intelligent, articulate and creative and sensitive and extremely funny. And a very talented writer himself.
Q: You really seemed to have lucked out with your cast.
That’s an understatement. I mean seriously—Sherilyn Fenn? I’ve been watching her for a long time, and just been in awe of her beauty and raw performances. And she is so incredibly present and in the moment as an actor. I couldn’t believe she would even consider being in my film. And Pia Artesona, who plays Rita, just knocked it out of the park the minute she opened her mouth in the audition. She was a total find. She got the character immediately. I wish I’d been able to have her in more scenes, she was so great to work with. And in one more twist of fate, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that Marty McCall was originally supposed to be played by another actress, who had to drop out due to a family emergency. But it really did work out for the best for us—Mariette came in with virtually no time to prepare and saved my ass. She walked in and literally became Marty. And the chemistry she had with Paul and Traci on screen was magic. I had nothing to do with that. Now I can’t imagine Marty ever having been played by anyone else.
Q: Any plans to go back to television?
A: If the right opportunity presented itself, either as a writer or director, I’d be totally up for it. I really did enjoy working in tv. But that had never been my dream. Making a film was the thing that brought me out here. And having my daughter made me realize two things—time was passing me by, and also that I wouldn’t know how to look my kids in the eye and say “Pursue your dream, never give up” if I hadn’t lived by those words myself. The best parents teach by example, and I wanted to teach my kids that you can do whatever you want in this life, as long as you don’t let fear stop you and you’re willing to work hard enough for it.
Q: Anything else to add?
A: Yeah—I had the most amazing cast and crew ever. And not only regarding their talent and professionalism, but as people. Especially as a first-time feature director, I couldn’t have asked for better. We worked long hours for virtually no money, but we still had a great time (or at least I did!). My real dream now is to be able to thank all these incredible people by hiring them on another film with a bigger budget, so I can finally pay them what they deserve!