Struggling to maintain a true sense of identity while also exploring unfamiliar territory and managing unexpected relationships can be a challenge for almost anyone. But the characters in filmmaker Andrew Fleming’s new comedy-drama, ‘Ideal Home,’ enthralling embrace that journey, much like many of the writer-director’s previous movies, including ‘The Craft’ and ‘Dick.’ The scribe-helmer’s latest film, which is set to be released tomorrow in theaters and on VOD by Brainstorm Media, features his signature style of having the protagonists slowly, but surely, appreciate the characteristics and connections that powerfully define them.
‘Ideal Home’ follows Erasmus Brumble (Steve Coogan), the pompous star of a Santa Fe-based cable television food show that’s directed by his longtime partner, Paul (Paul Rudd). The professional and personal relationships between the couple, who has been together for many years, has become strained, and the two men struggle to keep their careers and love for each other alive. But the duo still lead an affluent life in an expansive ranch house in the New Mexico city.
The couple’s seemingly serene and perfect life is unexpectedly interrupted, however, one night when Erasmus’ 10-year-old grandson, Angel (Jack Gore), who prefers to be called Bill, arrives on their doorstep. Erasmus didn’t know the pre-teen existed, as the celebrity chef is estranged from Bill’s widowed father, Beau (Jake McDorman), who’s the result of an experiment with a woman that Erasmus had over three decades earlier. After Beau is arrested for drug dealing, Bill must either stay with his grandfather or enter foster care.
Erasmus, Paul and Bill all struggle to adjust to the new living arrangement. As the two men and the newly arrived boy initially clash as they try to contend with the surprising life changes that arise from the new custody arrangement, they eventually begin to realize how important family really is, and what they all mean to each other.
Fleming generously took the time recently to talk about writing and directing ‘Ideal Home’ during an exclusive interview at the Marlton Hotel in New York City. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that once he began writing the script, the characters of Paul and Erasmus began to reflect certain aspects of his own personality and life. Fleming also revealed that he didn’t initially consider Coogan, Rudd and Gore for their respective roles while he was developing the screenplay, but now appreciates their dedication to, and portrayals of, such complicated characters.
The conversation with Fleming began with the filmmaker explaining why he was driven to write the script for ‘Ideal Home,’ and what the scribing process was like while he was working on the screenplay. “The story comes out of my life. I was in a 23-year relationship with a man, and he had a son from his marriage to a woman, and we all lived together. So the idea for the film came out of that” living arrangement, Fleming shared.
“The characters of Paul and Erasmus were an invention of mine for another story, but they eventually migrated into the story of my life. So I used them for mouthpieces for certain aspects of my own personality. Paul is me on a bad day, and Erasmus is me on a good day,” the writer revealed. “I used this script as therapy to work things out. I also embroidered aspects of my life into the story.”
Fleming then delved into the fact that in addition to writing the screenplay, he also directed ‘Ideal Home,’ and what his overall helming style was like on the set. He admitted that filmmaking “can be a complicated process. I’ve been directing for 30 years, and I still haven’t figured it out!,” he noted with a laugh. But directing this comedy-drama “was easy, because I knew these characters so well. It’s always easier to direct your own material, because if you have questions, you just ask yourself.”
Serving as the writer-director on the movie was also easy because of the acting abilities of “Steve and Paul. They’re so good at their jobs. I already knew Steve really well before we started making on this film, as we have previously worked together on another project. I’ve also gotten to know Paul really well since production on this movie began. We were all on the same wavelength, so working with them was a very creative and uncomplicated process. It was a also a lot of fun to work with them.”
While Fleming now feels like Coogan and Rudd are the perfect choices to have played Erasmus and Paul in ‘Ideal Home,’ he didn’t immediately consider either of the two actors for their respective roles while he was initially working on the script. “I hadn’t thought about either of them at first, which is strange, since I already knew and worked with Steve. It wasn’t until a couple of years after I had written the script that I began to consider him and Paul. The script was sitting on the shelf for awhile, and I would occasionally return to it. So it wasn’t until a few years after I initially wrote the script that I thought they would be good for their parts,” the writer-director revealed.
Once the actors, particularly Coogan and Rudd, were cast, they collaborated together, in order to build their characters’ emotions and relationships. “We had a lot of conversations. I spoke to Steve a number of times, both here in New York and in London. He’s a great writer, and is very smart, and would often offer suggestions. That would make me question things, like if there were better punchlines that we could use, and if things felt real,” Fleming divulged. “The same thing happened with Paul, because he’s also a great writer.
“So we just talked over a period of about two years. We were just waiting for a window in which we were all free. But that process was very creative and positive,” the filmmaker further shared.
While the story in the movie is driven by dramatic events, there are also numerous moments that work because of their comedic elements. So the actors, particularly Coogan and Rudd, “had input on the script along the way. Whenever you’re doing something funny, you have to be prepared to come up with another punchline. Sometimes you don’t know what it will be until you’re right there on the set, as someone can say something in the moment that works better. So the writing’s never done; even in post (production), you’re never done writing!,” Fleming admitted with a laugh.
While Erasmus and Paul are seemingly comfortable in their long-term relationship, their bond is truly tested with Bill’s arrival at their home. So the casting of Erasmus’ grandson was extremely important to the story. The director eventually decided to hire Gore after he first “cast a wide net for the role. But I eventually decided on Jack, because I had previously worked with him on two other occasions; I had worked on episodes of a television show (‘The Michael J. Fox Show’) with him, and then worked on a pilot with him for another series, on which he was the lead.”
Fleming then admitted that he didn’t initially think that Gore was the right fit for the part of Bill in ‘Ideal Home,’ “because I had a different idea in my head of who the character was. But I kept seeing different kids, and after he read for the part, I realized that he was the best one. I know him and his family well, and he really wanted to play this role, and I’m glad I changed my mind. He’s a terrific actor.”
After Bill arrives at Erasmus and Paul’s home in Santa Fe, Paul begins to fully express his dissatisfaction with his romantic relationship. He’s pushed to the limit so much that he continuously threatens to move to New York City and take a job on the crew at ‘The Rachael Ray Show,’ which he has been asked to do by the series several times before. “But Paul’s ultimately committed his life to this man in this remote town, and not be alpha-male with his career in the big city,” the filmmaker explained. But a bigger production career “was always tempting him, so maybe he should be living somewhere else.”
The estranged relationship between Beau and his father was also a connection that Fleming felt that he could relate to on a personal level. “There are a lot of my own family dynamics in this movie,” he revealed.
The director then delved into the fact that the story “was always set in Santa Fe. There was a spark there that made it clear in my head that Erasmus and Paul both come from other parts of the world, and land in Santa Fe to create this curated cowboy existence.
“That’s what Santa Fe is like; it’s a place that not a lot of people are from, but instead is a place that people move to, because it’s beautiful. So you feel like you’re in a separate universe there, and like you’re stepping into the past. You’re kind of isolated from the rest of the world while you’re there,” Fleming explained.
The filmmaker also revealed that he set the comedy-drama’s story in New Mexico’s capital “because I selfishly wanted to go back there. I love it there, and I saw this as a great opportunity to spend five months there, and see every part of the city…This movie serves as a love letter to the city…Being up in the altitude, and seeing the bright blue sky, is great. I also love the old buildings. It’s a really magical place…Steve and Paul also fell in love with Santa Fe.”
Fleming added that he does shoot a lot of his projects in New York City, “as there’s nothing like filming on the streets here. But there have also been a lot of projects over the years that I filmed” in one location, but the story is set in another city. He has shot movies “in Toronto, but the story was set in D.C., or we shot in Vancouver, and the story was set in New York. It’s really hard to do that, because you spend a lot of time making a location look like another place…So it was really nice to be able to actually shoot this movie in Santa Fe, where the story’s set.”
In addition to being shot in Santa Fe, ‘Ideal Home’ was made independently, which both posed challenges, and enhanced the creativity, on the set. “It really was a challenge, but also a labor of love, because we made it on a shoestring budget. But I don’t think the movie suffered in any way because of it. I think if we had another few million dollars, the production would have been less stressful, but I don’t think it would have made the movie any better. I’m really happy with the way the finished film turned out,” Fleming divulged.
The helmer also admitted that the comedy-drama was shot in two different houses, and the scenes that take place in Erasmus and Paul’s home are edited together to make it appear as though it’s one larger space. “Both houses were beautiful. One of the properties is called Rancho Alegre, and when I first saw the house, I feel in love with it. There was no question that we’d shoot anywhere else,” Fleming shared.
“But since so much of the movie takes place at the house, we didn’t have all of the rooms that we needed” at Rancho Alegre, the filmmaker noted. “So we used the living room of another house as Erasmus and Paul’s master bedroom. But both homes were set up in the same style. The idea was that the house was constantly revealing itself throughout the story, and we showed that there’s another bedroom, kitchen and hallway. I didn’t want to use the same hallway over and over again, because Iwanted to show that there’s always somewhere new to go in this house.”
The outfits that the cast wore throughout the story was also a vital element of the movie. “I live on a ranch in Santa Barbara, and I raise and compete horses. I also collect furniture, so the characters’ lives reflect mine in that sense, but they live on a grander scale,” Fleming shared.
“So the costume designer (Judith R. Gellman) was taking the things that I was wearing, and put them on the actors. She also acquired things for the actors, and I’d say, ‘I want that.’ It was the one film that I’ve made that I felt a real kinship to what the characters were wearing. I recognized Paul wearing a few visual elements of mine, and he even copied my haircut and chain wallet,” the director revealed with a laugh.
Once the principal photography on ‘Ideal Home’ was completed, the editing “was a long, drawn out process, as it always is. But in the end, I think the best version of the movie was created, and I’m happy with the way it’s playing,” Fleming noted.
“We’ve played the final version of the film at a few small screenings for friends and family. Those screenings were helpful in honing the pacing. That experience was fine, but it’s more work than fun,” the filmmaker admitted. “After the movie was done for awhile, we started screening at film festivals,” including the Mardi Gras Film Festival, where the comedy-drama had its world premiere, the Gold Coast Film Festival and the Melbourne Queer Film Festival. “It’s been the funnest project to show to an audience in a big room.”
With ‘Ideal Home’ opening in theaters and VOD tomorrow, Fleming thinks having the dual theatrical and digital distribution can be beneficial for independent films like this one. “Over time, more people find these smaller movies on direct access formats, like On Demand. Even when I first started making movies, only a certain number of people would see them in the theater. But the majority of people discover films over time. So it’s important to release these types of movies on both mediums.”