At least every other day when I’m walking around Los Angeles I overhear someone on their phone saying, “I got an audition tomorrow,” “I don’t think the audition went very well,” and plenty of other audition-related conversations. Most of the time their tone isn’t exactly upbeat. After facing rejection and after rejection, it makes sense for aspiring actors — or anyone else trying to make it in the industry, for that matter — to be a little down on themselves. Plus, sometimes Los Angeles feels like a city constantly poking you in the eye with stick.
And yet, there’s plenty to love about this city, especially when the right people manage to break into the industry. Writer/Director Lorene Scafaria is one of those people, but, like most aspiring filmmakers without connections, it wasn’t an easy journey. Although the co-star of a new sci-fi drama, Coherence, makes her living off screenwriting, she’s had past acting experiences that have been inspiring, or, in the worst cases, draining.
Scafaria recently discussed these experiences with us, in addition to her disappointment with modern comedies, how she became involved with Coherence, and America’s desire to see beautiful people on film.
Here’s what the writer/director behind Seeking a Friend for the End of the World had to say in part two of our interview with her (read part one here):
Do you enjoy acting?
I like it. I couldn’t call myself an actor, though. I don’t audition or hit the pavement. I feel like I would insult actors if I called myself an actor. This was such a great opportunity, though. I met [director] Jim [Byrkit] because I did this roundtable for Rango with [director] Gore Verbinski. We basically sat around a table for a week with Jim and all these Simpsons writers. I was the only girl there, which is usually the case for a lot of roundtables. It was the most fun I’ve had doing something like that. You wanted to impress Gore Verbinski so bad. There was a bell in the middle of the table, which he’d ding if he particularly loved a joke. I just wanted that bell to ring so bad [Laughs].
[Laughs] He’s a quiet guy, so you know if you got a big reaction out of him, it must’ve been a good joke.
Totally. I kept calling Jim the wrong name at the roundtable, because I thought he was the screenwriter. Anyway, he did so much story writing on it and did some character voices on it. He was really Gore’s righthand man. I was impressed with how his mind worked. We stayed in touch, but it was at least a year after that when he asked if I wanted to be in this film. It sounded more like an experimental thing than anything else. He had shot a shorter version of it with the same seven people, but his wife played the part that I played. She was nine months pregnant by the time he was about to shoot the film, so he asked if I would play the the part.
Everyone had met, except for me. When he told me I was going to play Nicholas Brendon‘s wife I was in. I was the biggest Buffy fan ever. I used to have a Xander trading card. All I needed to hear is I’d be Xander’s wife. That guy’s a riot. He did not disappoint. I wish I could tell 16-year-old me, “Listen, you’re going to get to play his wife in a low-budget sci-fi drama!”
I showed up at this house and they shot it on these little cameras. All I remember is we had to take our shoes off, because there’s no shoes allowed in the house. We were all in our socks, making it feel like it wasn’t really happening [Laughs]. I really didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t really let us know many details as the film was going. We just knew we were having a casual conversation and what we’d have to mention. It was so fun to keep everything natural and loose. I certainly preferred filming those first two days best, before the mania of the film takes over and then I’m saying, “Oh my God.” [Laughs]
I read another acting experience of yours was playing an extra on Stuart Little 2. Is that correct?
I really was. I was a struggling actor in New York. I wanted my SAG card so badly and was doing extra work for the money. Weirdly all the movies I was in have numbers in the title. Did you see 15 Minutes with Robert De Niro?
It sounds familiar.
I had a really weird time there. I was an extra on The Sopranos and had the time of my life. James Gandolfini was the nicest person I had ever come across. He was actually responsible for getting me my SAG card. I forget how, but he got me an audition. With Stuart Little 2 I remember they said we had to wear Fall colors. It’s a scene where in Central Park Stuart is chased by a hawk. Basically a tennis ball was moving through central park and we all had to move out of the way and go, “Whoa!” [Laughs]
[Laughs] That’s a very convincing “whoa.”
[Laughs] Pretty good, right? It was hysterical. I did 10 or 15 extra work jobs in New York before I moved to Los Angeles. It’s interesting, because at that time it felt like everybody wanted to be an actor. There’s so much competition, so you feel like it’ll never work out. Truly being an extra made me feel terrible about myself, but it made me look around and say, “Is this the competition? Because I feel like 20% of these people are homeless and here for the food.” I was there for the food too, but doing Stuart Little 2 made me feel I could get ahead.
My worst and last experience was on 13 Going on 30. I had a meeting with the director six months before about a script I wrote. Gary Winik, who passed away, was very nice to me and passed on my script. Six months later I was on the set and I turn around and see him and two producer women. They were looking at my ass, deciding if it was good enough for me to be upgraded to “thong girl.” The answer was: no [Laughs].
[Laughs] That’s terrible. Were they speaking loudly enough for you to hear them?
They were speaking loudly enough for me to know what was happening. Now when I watch the movie that scene starts with the girl wearing the thong practically over her ribs. I remember that day when it happened I thought, “This is my last day of extra work.” I didn’t go back the next day, even though it was a big dance number. I thought I was all set. It put some hair on my chest. It was pretty bad [Laughs].
[Laughs] I hope you treat your extras better.
I don’t treat the extras that way. I look at them and think, “This isn’t easy.” Out here everyone is dead serious. People are trying. I can’t say the most trained actors in the world are out here in L.A., but they’re people with dreams. I couldn’t possibly feel more for extras and bit players and all of that. Also, I would be nervous. When there’s that moment where they have one line to get right, it’s just, “Oh man, get it right…” I’m rooting for everybody. I feel bad for people in every role.
The greatest thing about a movie set is it’s 100 people with different sets of skills. For me, that’s what made it less scary: I could look around and see there was all kinds of specialists in everything I don’t know about.
[Laughs] It’s funny hearing that 13 Going on 30 story, because in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Norah has that line about not wanting to go into the music business, because she’s worried she’ll stop loving music. Is it the same for film?
Yeah. I think it’s come back around for me, but for a while it was hard not to watch a movie without pulling it apart, knowing what’s suppose to happen or rewriting it yourself. At first, I was losing my love for storytelling. Seeing what gets rewarded is hard. Sometimes I feel ambition is something that gets squashed. Even with the movies that get praise I think, “Oh, that was so down the middle! It’s so easy!”
When you’re making a film stars have to align. Then after marketing, which is where I think dreams go to die, and it’s released into the wild, I think, “Is this of the moment?” I have gotten that love back, though. I love movies so much. After Seeking a Friend I was so sad thinking the kind of movies I like weren’t getting made anymore. I dream of the 1990s.
I saw Pulp Fiction six times in the theater. My mind was blown by David Fincher and Sam Mendes. Now I think it’s coming back. Like, with Steve McQueen, I can’t fucking wait to see what he does next. I’m too excited about different filmmakers and getting surprised. With actors we’ve imported a lot of great ones, which is also inspiring.
It’s not always about what wins or does the best, for sure. I get excited to see movies like Locke or Under the Skin that inspire you, and the same goes for television. I just watched Breaking Bad in all of two weeks. In one day we watched 12 episodes. When it was over, I thought, “I don’t know who I’m going to be anymore! I’m like Hank with his minerals!” [Laughs] There’s too much good stuff to be put off by shit being pushed to the top.
It’s sad what’s happened to some of those ’90s filmmakers. I mean, now Nick Cassavetes has to make The Other Woman.
Was that good? I love Leslie Mann.
It’s so bizarrely bad, you gotta see it. It’s really mean-spirited and misogynistic.
That’s what I guessed it’d be like. Obviously I want woman stories and woman comedies to come out, but I mean…what are we saying [with those kind of films]? Everything is so mean-spirited. I’ve never enjoyed that so much. I think I was the one person who didn’t like Ted. Of course it crushed Seeking a Friend six days after it came out, so maybe that had something to do with it [Laughs].
There has to be another way to make people laugh. I think of all genres comedy is what’s lacking most. I’m proud and impressed by people like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who help us keep comedy alive. It may not even be the kind of comedy I would be doing, but it’s good for human beings, young parents, and the manchilds of the world [Laughs].
[Laughs] I really miss Albert Brooks’ tone for comedies. When you mentioned the script about your mother, the first thing I thought of was Albert Brooks’ Mother.
He’s the one. I meant to say his name before. That’s the person whose movies I miss the most. I couldn’t watch Broadcast News more often. It’s really bizarre how much I watch that movie. I feel like all the movies I love would never get made today, and that’s hard for me. I do think romantic comedies have been ruined by: let’s put two giant stars in this 40 million dollar high-concept movie about newspaper against newspaper. At the same time, what happened to talking about relationships? I miss romantic films and comedies, so there has to be a way to bring that genre back, without dumbing down or saying the wrong things. I think what a movie says isn’t something we think about too often [Laughs]. I think about… not necessarily the themes of what I’m writing, but the whole of whatever it’s trying to say.
It’s funny you say that, because when I interviewed Rob Corddry for Seeking a Friend he tore the ending of Grease apart. The moral of that movie is basically: if you dress a certain way, everybody will love you. It’s weird to be shown that as a kid.
Exactly. You’re not really thinking about what that means as a kid. She puts on those tight leather pants and everything works out.
[Laughs] I think that is the most valuable lesson.
Especially in Hollywood.
Well, not even Hollywood. Hollywood is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. I saw this article recently that was blaming casting directors for casting exclusively beautiful women. First of all, the casting directors have very little to do with that. They certainly make suggestions and have input, but they are not responsible for how beautiful an actress in your film is. That’s certainly from studio heads, but, to me, that’s America. America wants to see beautiful people. Sometimes you hear people say how the images of beauty in Hollywood are corrupting America, but I think it might be the other way around.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles long enough to know insecurity is running rampant here [Laughs]. I think Hollywood is trying to keep up with America’s demands for beauty. I don’t know how much you can blame Hollywood. It seems like a worldwide epidemic, that women are valued for their beauty and male actors are paid more. That’s just how it is, but obviously it deserves to be fought. I think Hollywood being used as a curse word is pretty funny, because I think it may just be the representation of a larger problem.
This is a sad note to end this interview on.
[Laughs] Totally depressing! Women will never get ahead! No, women just have to fight twice as hard. That’s all…
Coherence opens in limited release on June 20th.