'People Places Things' Writer-Director on What's Next for Jemaine Clement's Character, His Relationship with Regina Hall's Diane

Courtesy of The Film Arcade
Regina Hall and Jemaine Clement in 'People Places Things'

Jim Strouse talks about casting 'The Daily Show's' Jessica Williams and the twin girls who play the daughters of Clement's professor/graphic novelist.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead for People Places Things.]

Where is Will Henry (Jemaine Clement) going with the flowers he's holding at the end of People Places Things?

The professor/graphic novelist has spent the film getting over his ex, Charlie (Stephanie Allynne), whom he caught cheating on him during their daughters' birthday party. As he tries to move on, he starts seeing the mother of one of his students, but breaks it off after he kisses Charlie. By the end of the movie, it seems Will is at peace with his and Charlie's separate lives. And while Diane (Regina Hall) seems like a catalyst for this change, writer-director Jim Strouse concedes Will could see her again. In fact, he could be taking those flowers to her.

"I like the idea that maybe at some point later down the road, they might run into each other when they both are ready," Strouse tells The Hollywood Reporter.

But he confirms that Will's journey in People Places Things is to get to a place where he can be by himself.

"I didn't want to ever imply that love is the path to redemption or salvation," Strouse says. "The story is about him figuring out how to be alone and move on from the past while still respecting it. From my point of view, that's not through falling in love with another person, it's through learning how to be alone."

Strouse, who also teaches at the School of Visual Arts like Clement's character, says that he was inspired by his own life including breaking up with his kids' mom. He also talks more about Will's relationship with Diane and the struggles he faces in moving on as well as about casting The Daily Show's Jessica Williams as one of Will's students and the adorable girls who play Will and Charlie's twin daughters.

Where did the idea for this film come from? I guess a lot of things I've written in the past sort of pulled from personal experiences and situations that I identified and/or have gone through or have witnessed in my life. I guess it came from there. I have two kids, and, to be totally honest, the idea sprang from breaking up with the kids' mom.

Was your situation similar to the one Jemaine Clement's character's in? You know, I live in Brooklyn and I teach at the School of Visual Arts. But I'd say it probably ends there as far as what's represented in the film is very much a story but what I brought to it personally is an authentic sadness and confusion that I experienced myself and that I think a lot of people probably experience when they go through a breakup.

At one point, Diane mentions that Will's daughters don't have a lot of structure in their lives. They sort of shuffle between Will's place and staying with their mother. Why do you think he's not aware of the need for them to have structure in their lives until that's pointed out to him? I think that when you're raising kids in a couple, … there's a yin and yang effect that just naturally happens where one parent sort of provides one thing and the other parent provides the other. I think when a couple splits, there's a really awkward, confusing time where you figure out how to bring the yin when you've lost it or vice versa. And I think that's where we find Will's character and the story, having lost his partner, co-conspirator in raising these kids. He's a little bit adrift. In my opinion, when you're suddenly a single parent, it forces an awareness of things that you may have taken for granted. That's where he's a little more moment-to-moment: What are the kids' needs at any given moment? He doesn't quite have the long view that's necessary [to create] the stable, healthy life for these kids.

In the scene in which Will and Diane get together, what do you think causes them to act on those feelings? Do you think they were interested in each other after and during their dinner and then got caught up in the moment? Because it seems like at the end of dinner that they might not be that interested in each other. But when they reconnect, it seems like there might have been more of a connection there. What I was thinking in writing that and directing the moment between Jemaine and Regina is that there is a chemistry that is felt. They both get under each other's skin to some degree and they make a strong impression. Maybe not fireworks and applause but something sticks in that first interaction that is built upon when they see each other again. There's a sort of fruitful antagonism or conflict between them. They're smart people and they have interesting takes on life and they're not ashamed to share their points of view. There's a mutual respect there. I think even though things don't go well in that first interaction, there's something there that lingers. 

At the end of the movie, we see Will with those flowers after Charlie has gotten married. What do you think happens after that? What happens with Will? Where's he going with those flowers? To me those flowers represent that he's the same person he was when the film started and he's going to keep fumbling his way through life. But I feel like depending on the way I feel on any given day, he might be taking those flowers to put in a soda bottle on his desk or he might be planning to give them to Diane. They signify moving on.

The girls who play the twins (Gia and Aundrea Gadsby) were really adorable. This was their first movie, right? I think they might have done some commercials. But yeah, they haven't acted a lot.

How did you find them? What made you think they were right to play the girls? They came in to audition. I wasn't there for their first audition but I asked the casting director to run a scene with them and then ask them some questions about their lives. When they started talking about their lives, they really were just so fun and natural and had shyness about the camera. They started dancing while talking to the casting director. Not only did they look really great on camera — they have tremendous charisma — but they're not shy in front of the camera. It was kind of a no-brainer once they came in; I thought well these two will be perfect. And then Jemaine was just so caring with them. He's a dad himself. He just had this fatherly instinct right away when they met. He took care of them. He was really sweet and patient and kind with them, so the chemistry was just there from minute one.

What about with Jessica Williams? We're used to seeing her on The Daily Show but here she's playing a character. Why did you think she would be right for that part? I, along with many people, are huge Jessica Williams fans. I'm a huge Daily Show fan. I like to watch The Daily Show not only because it's a great show but because of the talent that they find in the correspondents. I've worked with Rob Corddry, too. … They're really interesting, distinct voices and a lot of them go on to be really great actors. I'm a huge fan of hers and I just thought it would be fun to work with her. … I guess I learned that if you have an instinct you should listen to it, and I had this instinct that she'd be really fun to work with and it turned out to be the case.

People Places Things is in theaters and on demand, Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

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