Some people find comfort and assurance in the most surprising circumstances, from people they would never have expected to connect with. But after looking past their initial external differences, they come to realize that they’re suffering from the same insecurities. That’s certainly the case with the two main characters in the new comedy-drama ‘If I Were You.’ The movie follows a middle-aged woman who realizes that just like her husband’s young mistress, she needs the same type of love and attention as everyone else, and will go through extraordinary lengths to get it.
‘If I Were You’ follows Madelyn Reid (Marcia Gay Harden) as she accidentally learns of her husband’s infidelity after she saves his young mistress, Lucy (Leonor Watling) from a suicide attempt. When her unexpecting young rival suggest the two new friends take each other’s advice on everything, Madelyn sees an opportunity to seize the upper hand. But her plan backfires when Lucy, an aspiring actress, insists Madelyn to star as King Lear in a community production, with Lucy playing The Fool. Things really get out of control when Lucy gives Madelyn instructions on how to deal with a handsome stranger, Derek (Aidan Quinn).
Joan Carr-Wiggin, the writer-director of ‘If I Were You,’ generously took the time recently to talk about filming the comedy-drama. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed where she came up with the idea for the movie, and breaking stereotypes surrounding women in marriage; the casting of Harden and Watling as the two new surprising friends; and why she supports films like ‘If I Were You’ getting a VOD release.
ShockYa (SY): You wrote the screenplay for the new comedy-drama ‘If I Were You.’ Where did you come up with the idea for the story, and why did you decide to focus the movie on a wife befriending her husband’s mistress?
Joan Carr-Wiggin (JCW): Well, I tend to have a lot of ideas. The early draft was of a woman walking down the street, and seeing her husband with someone, and thinking, how do I take control of this situation? How do I not just be the victim here? The rest of it I had to come up with, but that’s not the hard part for me.
I wanted to write something about the two women in the movie, who talk about something other than men. I like the idea of them becoming friends. So many movies are about cooking and cleaning and finding a husband, and I wanted something that was different than that. I wanted to make something that said, we all make mistakes, but that’s okay.
SY: The film follows Madelyn Reid, who accidentally learns of her husband’s infidelity when she saves his young mistress Lucy, from a suicide attempt. Did you offer any research into how women psychologically react when they have problems in their marriages while you were writing the film?
JCW: No, I’m old (laughs), so I didn’t have to do any particular research. I have just done some observing around me, so I didn’t do any research.
SY: Besides writing ‘If I Were You,’ you also directed the film. Why did you decide to helm the comedy-drama as well?
JCW: I have written things that other people have directed. It’s a lot harder to watch someone else direct your writing. (laughs) You see them doing things differently than how you want them. It can kind of drive you crazy. So I always planned to direct it.
That’s one reason why I do comedy. I think it would be harder to direct a drama, because you live with it for so long, so I like to work on comedies, given that you’re going to work on it for a couple years of your life.
Q: Do you feel that penning the script helped you in your directorial duties once you began shooting?
JCW: Yes, I think it must be hard to direct something that you haven’t written. As a writer, you understand why every single line is there, and why things happen and why characters do things. So I always have answers for the actors when they come to me. I think it would be very difficult to direct something that I didn’t write.
Q: Marcia Gay Harden played Madelyn in the comedy-drama, while Leonor Watling portrayed Lucy. What was the casting process like for Marcia and Leonor-why did you decide to cast the two of them in the lead roles?
JCW: For Leonor, I didn’t know her at all. I was channel hopping, and I saw this movie, ‘My mother likes Women,’ a Spanish movie that’s absolutely delightful. She stayed in my mind, even though I didn’t know if she could speak English or not. She was there when I wrote the script, and I kept imagining her. Then we had to find out if she spoke English, which fortunately she did. At first, she was unavailable, but then she made herself available, so I was ecstatic.
With Madelyn, I wanted to write such a difficult character. I get tired of all those wife and girlfriend parts that are just so boring in so many movies. I wanted to write a part with bite and depth for a woman. I thought, no one’s going to agree to do this on our tight schedule!
But our casting director, Mark Paladini, right away said this fits for Marcia Gay Harden. She has a lot of guts for an actress, and she’ll do this. So he called her manager and asked her to read it right away. She came on really quickly, so I was really ecstatic.
Q: Speaking of the tight shooting schedule, did that hinder what you could include in the film, or did you film everything you wanted?
JCW: Everything’s there in the story. It was a little hard for our cinematographer, Bruce Worrall, but he’s a brilliant cinematographer. We didn’t have time for fancy shots. We focused on the performances, and it was an actors-first production. It was a little frustrating for him, because he didn’t get to do all that fancy stuff, as he didn’t have a chance to do it. He’s a great guy and wonderful to work with.
We didn’t cut the story at all, but we were really tired. That was the main problem. (laughs) At the end of shooting, I think we all slept for a long time. We got really exhausted from those hours.
Q: Madelyn befriends her husband’s mistress in the midst of her trouble relationship with her husband. Were you aiming to change any pre-conceived stereotypes of how women react to infidelity with the film?
JCW: Yeah, I think women are often portrayed as being enemies in films, even now with the whole Jennifer Lawrence-Anne Hathaway thing. You can only like one or the other, but you can’t like both of them, which is crazy. I adore both of them. When women work together, they say, oh, there must have been catfights.
But on our movie, Marcia took Leonor under her wing, and they were really like mother-daughter. It was great, and showed that women work together really well, and can work together better than men do. So I wanted to show that, rather than the two women being enemies. I didn’t want to make a movie that was anything like ‘Fatal Attraction.’
SY: One area in life where Lucy starts giving Madelyn instructions is how to deal with a handsome stranger, Derek, played by Aidan Quinn. Were you trying to show that a person may have the inclination to look outside of their marriage after they learned of their spouse’s infidelity?
JCW: Well, I like the fact that even though Lucy makes so many mistakes in her life, in many ways she’s very wise about men. That was an element where she could teach Madelyn a great deal. Even though Madelyn has had more of a life, and has more experiences and is more grounded, Lucy none-the-less knows quite a bit about men. That’s part of the back-and-forth of it. It makes the relationship more even-handed.
SY: ‘If I Were You’ has played at several film festivals, including the Palm Springs Film Festival. What was your reaction when you found out the film would be playing at the festivals?
JCW: It was great. We went to Palm Spring partly because our budget was so low, and Marcia and Leonor and Aiden were in L.A., so they could come quite easily. So we weren’t expecting too much, but we had an amazing reception with a standing ovation. They put on extra screenings, so we were ecstatic. The first time you take a movie out to an audience, you’re really, really scared. But we could not have had a better premiere, and it was wonderful.
Kino Lorber has picked up the movie, and it will be shown in cinemas across the country. It also picked up digital rights, and it will be available in over 100 million homes, which is mind-boggling. For a tiny little movie about a woman in her 50s, we’ve felt very luck with the response we’ve had. The industry is not waiting for a movie about a woman in her 50s.
SY: Like you mentioned, ‘If I Were You’ is already available on VOD via cable video on demand, iTunes, Amazon Video on Demand and VUDU. Why did you decide to release the movie on VOD before releasing it in theaters?
JCW: Well, every director wants people to come and see their movie, and when you’re making it, getting it into theaters is ideal. But at the same time, I like VOD personally, and I watch films On Demand. Going out to a cinema is expensive, and you often have to sit through 20 minutes of ads and trailers. You can get quite irritated, and everything costs a lot of money. I think it’s great for women, particularly with children, to be able to watch films at home.
VOD is the future, and that’s the way it’s going. You want your movie to be as available as possible, so that everyone can see it in the way that’s best for them.
SY: Like you also mentioned, ‘If I Were You’ had a limited budget. If you were given extra money, would you want to go back and add anything to the film, or are you happy with the overall result?
JCW: I’m really happy with the final movie. But I may go back to get more sleep, because we were exhausted. But I’m proud of the movie. If you do it in a rush, there are some benefits from that. There’s an energy that isn’t there in bigger budget films that shoot and shoot one scene. I think they can get kind of dry.
SY: ‘If I Were You’ was the runner-up for the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Palm Springs Film Festival. What was the feeling like, knowing that audiences voted for the film?
JCW: Obviously, that was really, really nice. But at the same time, I’m not so thrilled at the arts being competitive. We’re getting into a time where everything’s a competition. I think there’s room for all kinds of things, and I don’t want movies (to be overlooked). There can be movies that you love that aren’t even seen, because it has become so oriented to big box office or prizes. I would definitely like to see the arts become less competitive.
SY: How have audiences who have already ‘If I Were You,’ both at the festivals and On Demand, been responding to the film?
JCW: They have been really supportive, surprisingly. We’ve had an amazingly positive response. I thought everyone would love Marcia’s performance, because it’s brilliant from beginning to end. We’ve had many kind words about the movie, which are very much appreciated.
SY: Before working on ‘If I Were You,’ you wrote and directed ‘A Previous Engagement’ and ‘Honeymoon,’ as well as wrote ‘Sleeping with Strangers.’ Do you prefer writing and directing the films you work on?
JCW: I really like writing and directing, and that’s all I’m really interested in now. We have another movie coming this summer, called ‘Happily Ever After,’ which I wrote the script for, and will obviously be directing. That’s something where you feel a more personal connection with the work. You take it from the original idea to the finished product.
SY: Besides ‘Happily Ever After,’ do you have any other projects lined up that you can discuss?
JCW: I think just ‘Happily Ever After’ right now, and after that, I think we’re going to do one in England called ‘Love of my Life.’ The financing isn’t final on that one, but the financing is final on ‘Happily Ever After.’ So that’s the one I’m focusing on right now, and am really excited about.
Written by: Karen Benardello