'Bachelorette' Writer-Director Leslye Headland on Differences Between Movie and Play and Possibility of a Film Sequel
Not many small Brooklyn-based theater companies can put on a production of Leslye Headland's Bachelorette, the play version of her movie of the same name, in a small theater next to a church and get Headland to attend the show and participate in a Q&A afterward. But that's exactly what happened Saturday night in Bay Ridge.
Headland was on hand for BrooklynONE Productions' performance of Bachelorette, which is in the middle of a six-show run at St. John's Parish Hall in Bay Ridge.
Director Nik Aliye, who'd been a fan of the play since she worked at a theater in Washington, D.C., that mounted one of the first regional productions, was able to secure the rights by asking Headland for them. Aliye said the rights were restricted in New York, and BrooklynONE had been unable to secure them.
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Aliye and the play's stage manager, Carly Erickson, attended a reading of another of Headland's plays, where the writer was in attendance.
"I mostly sat in a corner drinking a beer and freaking out," Aliye said. But she ultimately went up to Headland, introduced herself, asked for the rights to Bachelorette. Headland said yes.
"It was the right time at the right place, dumb stupid luck that we got the rights to this," Aliye told The Hollywood Reporter. "We got so lucky that they would give us this production. I think it's only the second production in New York, and we did it in Bay Ridge, which is pretty insanely cool."
In terms of getting Headland to show up, Aliye just asked -- again.
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"We asked; we followed up. She came. It's her baby. She loves it, and I think she just wants to support it in any way she can," Aliye told THR.
Headland seemed quite impressed by the production, repeatedly telling the cast individually and as a group what a great job they did, at one point referring to it as "f---ing incredible." But she also joked that she cringed listening to some of the dialogue she wrote more than seven years ago.
"I was a little bit like, 'Ugh, God, who wrote this shit?' " she said during the post-show Q&A.
She also admitted during a one-on-one chat with THR that she wasn't really prepared for how intense the play is. Indeed, the play is very different from the movie. While the latter is a raunchy comedy about a group of friends on the eve of the wedding of one of them, the play is much more an exploration of addiction that's often scary and sad, with lots of elements of truth mixed in with comedic moments.
Even though the main characters are women, Headland said that that's more due to its subject of addiction or gluttony than any desire to make a statement about women.
"Why is it about women? Because we live in a society where that particular sin, that particular mentality, is marketed and thrust at them at that particular genre of life: single white females with disposable income," she explained. " 'You're never going to get everything you need, you just need to take, take, take…. You don't have money for this, you can buy it anyway. You're hungry, stop eating.' It really was less about trying to say something about the particular state of women or the way that women interact with each other and more that it just seemed like an obvious place to set the story."
But Headland pointed out during the Q&A that the two were intended to be completely different works that she wrote at the same time. For the movie, she said, she thought she'd just write a film that the characters from the play would want to be in.
"It was basically the same characters and putting them in a John Hughes nightmare," she said.
The writer-director also told THR that now that there are two versions of Bachelorette, she finds that people who've seen both the film and the play tend to like one more than the other.
"I think the play really takes people into…a real web of addiction…so I think people can either have a very overwhelmingly positive reaction to that, in that they really like that, and some people might prefer the film because the film is sort of about different stuff. It's more of a comedy about addiction as opposed to a real exploration of it, if that makes sense -- if you can make a funny movie about people who are insatiable," she said. "It's been mixed. Some people prefer the play and some people prefer the movie."
Headland, who's since written other screenplays and for TV, said during the Q&A that she prefers writing for theater. She also talked about how she finds writing for television to be a "little problematic, because it's very hard to find a setup and a world that will last for a long time."
"To extend that [experience of watching a play] for like 365 hours of viewing something, I don't know how to do that," she added. "But I'd be interested to know."
Headland told THR that she doubts she'll turn any of the other plays in her "Seven Deadly Sins" series -- which Bachelorette and Assistance, which she adapted into a TV pilot, are part of -- into movies or TV shows.
"I wouldn't be opposed to it, but I think Bachelorette and Assistance, just in their log lines, lent themselves to other mediums really well," she said. "I think the other ones in the series don't quite lend themselves to that."
She explained that the other plays, as the series went on, became much more theatrical, with the envy one being two plays happening at the same time, the sloth play being a one-woman monologue and the pride play being a "very meta" exploration of a writer and the personality of the writer.
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But Headland said she would be up for a sequel to the Bachelorette movie.
"I would love to," she said. "When I saw [Bachelorette stars] Isla [Fisher] and Kirsten [Dunst] towards the end of last year, they were sort of like 'What's the angle? What's the pitch?' I was like, 'Oh, shit, I haven't thought of it yet.' But yeah, I'd be down for that."
What would happen in a Bachelorette sequel? THR suggested that maybe Becky, the woman getting married in the film, could be having a baby, and Headland agreed that having one of the characters be pregnant would be a logical way to go. But she also joked about a darker possibility.
"What if one of them died and they had to go to the funeral?" she suggested. " 'We can still have fun.' Too dark. Too dark."
Headland said she'd also be up for doing another production with the same cast in different roles, sort like what Paul Thomas Anderson did with Boogie Nights and Magnolia.
Headland added that she'd be open to doing another film that's released on demand ahead of its theatrical run, the way Bachelorette was.
"I think for a film like Bachelorette it was perfect, because doing that early VOD release and the early iTunes release really allowed it to, because it's sort of a very specific movie…it could already build that audience before it had like a theatrical outing. So you don't have to wait 15 years to be Heathers anymore, you can be Heathers now," she said. "And I think it's a great platform for filmmakers like myself, who are young and don't really know what they're doing and just sort of figuring it out, figuring out what their place is, in the same way that limited release used to be for the '90s directors…I don't know if we're going to end up doing that for the next film, because that's kind of like a dealer's choice kind of thing. I mean, I'll have some say, but it's up to the distributor and what they want to do with it. But I'm a big fan."
As for the film version of Bachelorette, Headland explained that Bridesmaids, which Bachelorette is often (somewhat erroneously) compared to, helped the movie get made.
"Bachelorette had been around for four years, and nobody wanted to touch it," she said. "I just honestly lucked out, because Bridesmaids was tracking [really well], like it hadn't even come out and people were like, 'We gotta get another one; we gotta get another one'…And I got to slip in my f---ed up, nightmare sequence [movie] and just slide it in there while no one was looking and make that…I was like, 'Don't worry, it'll be exactly like Bridesmaids,' and then they were like, 'What the f--- was that?' [When we premiered Bachelorette] at Sundance, people were like 'What was that?' I was like, 'You should see the play!' "
The BrooklynONE production of Bachelorette is playing at St. John's Parish Hall in Bay Ridge next Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. More information is available here. BrooklynONE also tweeted the following photo of Headland during Saturday night's Q&A.