Jennifer Westfeldt Becomes a Triple Threat With 'Friends With Kids'
Already an established actress and writer, she takes on the role of director for her latest indie comedy-drama about platonic friends who decide to have a baby together.
No time, the worst winter in 40 years and babies and toddlers everywhere.
Jennifer Westfeldt, who wrote and starred in the 2001 indie hit Kissing Jessica Stein, seemed to have everything working against her when it came to making her latest film, Friends With Kids. The comedy-drama about a pair of platonic friends (Wesdfeldt and Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott) who decide to have a baby together was not only written and produced by Westfeldt, but also directed.
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“A lot people told us this was impossible and we couldn't do it, that we would never be able to do this on this low budget and in this amount of time,” Westfeldt tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Westfeldt, who has been dating Mad Men’s Jon Hamm for more than a decade, began really working on the script about two years ago, and decided to have a table reading at her home with some friends in order to push herself to finish a draft.
“It had to be done so I did a few all-nighters and literally the copies of the script were printing as people were arriving,” she says. “I was like madly highlighting and Jon was trying to get everyone a drink and we ended up reading it around our dining room table just casual with like pasta and wine.”
Adam Scott read the part of Jason at that very first reading and Westfeldt says that she had him pegged for the part ever since.
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Later, they did a workshop at New York Stage and Film, which caught the eye of esteemed director Mike Nichols (Closer, The Graduate), who Westfeldt said “lent his name to the project.” Next, Westfeldt, Hamm and Scott took the reading to the Vassar College campus, and read it for a crowd of 250 people. At the end of the reading, the crowd was on its feet cheering.
“I do think it's really great to hear things out loud especially because my work is dialogue-driven,” she says.
All that time to prepare would end up being invaluable to Westfeldt because the project ended up only having four weeks to shoot due to the busy schedules of the stars including Hamm, Scott, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Edward Burns and Megan Fox.
“Normally on a regular budget you would shoot three times as many days we had and for ten times as much money,” she says.
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In addition to a tight shooting schedule, Westfeldt was taking on the challenge of directing this project. Westfeldt, who's been an actress for more than 10 years, admits that the technical aspects of helming a film were where she needed the help. She credited cinematographer William Rexer III with helping her through all the tricky parts.
Westfeldt says she’s not a visual person, so she spent plenty of time watching films with Rexer and pointing out what she liked. “I know what I like and what I don't like once I see it, but it's harder for me to imagine how to create that from scratch,” she says.
But alas, there’s not enough pre-production time in the world to prepare for the unexpected challenges that arise when you’re shooting a film with an all-star cast, unexpected weather and kids on set.
“It's just a craziness everyday that you have to manage, and you have to sort of get more comfortable with throwing away the game plan even though you endlessly prepared it,” she says.
All three of Westefeldt’s films have had a similar theme of taking an alternative view to commonly held traditions. Kissing Jessica Stein followed a straight woman who surprises herself when she falls in love with another woman. In 2006, Westfeldt’s Ira & Abby was about a woman who decides to marry a man she hardly knows.
Friends With Kids takes on the convention of marriage-then-babies by asking if life would be better if you had a baby, but protected your love life by dating someone else.
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The film, which is really about the relationships that exist onscreen, isn’t afraid to show some of the messier parts of parenting and marriage, from babies with diarrhea to screaming toddlers and stinging arguments between couples. “This was piece where we were trying to make comedy and darkness co-exist like it does in life. We, above all else, wanted it to be relatable and truthful,” says Westfeldt.
Westfedlt, who will next work on developing a TV series with Alan Ball, says she’s not even sure what genre of film she’s made. She says some people have called it “a drama, some people have called it a romantic comedy, and some people have called it an ensemble relationship movie.”
“I think that by design it's not trying to be something in particular,” she says. “I think that we all wanted to make something that films more painful moments in a truthful way so I think that we were all committed to that.”
In her own life, Westfeldt and Hamm are not married and have no children. “I think we have as committed a relationship as any married couple,” says Westfeldt. Similar to her film, marriage is something that she says can’t be defined by just one classification; It’s different for everyone.
“Mostly it's about being committed to someone and choosing to deal with them everyday, continuing to learn and grow together and listen to each other,” she says. “I think it's about commitment and love and looking at the big picture in life.”
Friends With Kids opens in theaters March 9.