Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Exclusive: Interview with Director of HYSTERIA, Tanya Wexler!!!
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking (in person) with Tanya Wexler, who is a filmmaker whose romantic sex comedy about the creation of the vibrator called HYSTERIA is releasing this month.
I met her at the Foshay Tower downtown Minneapolis, and sat down in some pretty comfy lounge chairs to chat with her. I must say, interviewing her didn't really feel like interviewing her. It felt like I was just hanging out with a friend, jibberjabbing about her latest accomplishment. It was very casual. She was very loud and boisterous and I mean that in the best way possible. An absolute pleasure to talk with!
TW (Tanya Wexler): Hi! I'm Tanya.
AK (Austin Kennedy): Austin. Austin Kennedy.
TW: How are you?
AK/TW (same time): Nice to met you.
TW: If you have a bunch of stuff (to ask)... I just basically kind of non-stop talk, so you should just "neeeeeer", cut me off and steer me around or...
TW: I won't take it personal.
AK: First of all, I saw the movie a few weeks ago and loved it.
TW: Aww, thank you. Thank you so much!
AK: What was funny was that I didn't know...
TW: You didn't know what was coming?
AK: Well you usually (at screenings) I don't know about what the movie is about. I just get invited and am like "Oh, cool". So I didn't know anything about it.
TW: (laughs) Were you like, "What the fuck?"
AK: Well about halfway through the movie I was like... "Wait a minute! Is this.... is this about... the vibrator?
AK: Cause I didn't know where it was going cause they finally talk about the vibrator about halfway through the movie.
TW: Yeah! It's late. Cause it's really about hysteria in many ways.
AK: But I was like, "wait a minute!" So I thought it was really cool and it surprised me
TW: (laughing and clapping) That's awesome. I've only met a few people who saw it kind of cold like that. Cause it's almost impossible to not hear what it's about...
AK: Well with so many mainstream popular movies it's hard to stay away from what it's about, so when there's an independent movie like this, I don't want to know anything about it.
TW: But also with this topic it's sort of hard to keep it (a secret). Cause most people are like, "Oh! The vibrator movie."
AK: If I would've heard something about that before seeing it, I would've had preconceived notions about it. So it was kind of nice going in cold like that. So I had a different perspective on it.
TW: Yeah yeah.
AK: So this is your third film?
TW: It is. I made 2 little teeny weeny small films.
AK: And that was awhile ago?
TW: Yeah. I had 4 kids.
AK: Oh! O.K.!
TW: So I was in my kidland for quite awhile. Then this took a long time to get going too, so I can't blame it all on the children. I can blame a lot on my children but not that.
AK: How did the script get to you?
TW: It was a two page treatment and I brought the writers on board.
AK: How did you find the treatment?
TW: A friend of mind said, "I know what your next movie is." And I was like "you do? " And she said "a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in Victorian England". And I was like, "YES!". ME! Done!
AK: So it was just a treatment?
TW: Just a treatment. Yeah. A treatment about the treatment. (laughs)
AK: Did she write it too?
TW: No. No. I knew the writers. I brought it to them. I was like, "we have no money". And they're like, "what's the idea? Okay we'll do it!". It was just like that. The people who GOT IT, got it right away and were passionate about it.
AK: Did you have a lot of input in the script?
TW: Oh yeah, I mean we worked together. So it's a husband and wife team, and the husband produced my first 2 movies. And they were moving away from producing cause every time we went into production he'd start smoking again. And I think he'd die if he produced another movie. And he was a good writer and both knew how to produce. And they started writing a lot, and they were figuring out what to write next, and something we wanted to do together. And I brought it to them, and they were like "Oh my God, it's the best idea I've heard in a year". They just wrote it on spec. It took a lot of time to get it right. Like a year and a half. two years just to get the script right.
AK: Was it just the tone or...
TW: Yeah, and there's a lot in it. There's a lot of different storylines and subplots and characters and we want them to be real and three dimensional. And to get all that in an hour and a half and follow ... what is it?.... six characters really. It's tricky cause you need enough for each one to feel like something, but you need to keep your main story going.
AK: And probably the balance of tone of broad humor or (is it) too raunchy...
TW: Yeah! We didn't want to make a sex farce. We thought the movie about the vibrator was just a 15 minute sketch. So we had to figure out what it was about. They had to find a plot.
AK: About Hysteria.
TW: Yeah! They ultimately found it in the screwball comedies of the 30's and 40's.
AK: I love those.
TW: Yeah, so it's kind of like that Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn vibe. So once they got that done we needed to bring on some producers. We teamed up with a British producer whose done 12 amazing period pieces. MRS. BROWN, ENGLISHMEN WHO WENT UP A HILL BUT CAME DOWN A MOUNTAIN....
AK: I love that movie.
TW: Just tons of stuff. RUN FATBOY RUN with Simon Pegg! She's just great. And the producer of CRAZY HEART, Judy Cairo came aboard too.
AK: That wasn't the hard part?
TW: It was very hard.
AK: Was it hard to get it funded?
TW: It was really hard. Hard to get it cast and funded. A lot of that is getting around and through to certain people.
AK: How was it hard casting?
TW: The volumes of material actors get sent is tremendous. The volume of material I get now is tremendous, and I'm still not anybody anyone's ever heard of. But there's so many people trying to make so many scripts. The way things kind of get through that kind of noise is because someone knows someone. You know, if a famous director is attached, then another famous actor is attached. Or if the producer has a big reputation. So it was helpful we had a producer who had made these 12 films, and Judy who had just made CRAZY HEART. When we first started, we didn't have Judy and CRAZY HEART was still a twinkle in her eye. But for a director that was not known in my case, I mean I made 2 little films that proved that I knew how to but a camera somewhere and work with actors but I wasn't known. So there's an education. And first you get someone to read the script, then you have to do the education. You have to build the pieces so that someone starts paying attention. But to get those first pieces was hard. So we ended up casting Jonathan (Pryce) first. And then Rupert... and then building an ensemble.
AK: Jonathan came first, huh? How was it working with him? I love Jonathan Pryce. BRAZIL's one of my favorite movies.
TW: Me too! And I got to meet to Terry (Gilliam)!
AK: Oh really?
TW:Which was the coolest thing in my entire life!
AK: Super cool!
TW: Jonathan's great! We've become family friends. He's only friends with me because I have a guest room in New York. (laughs). But he's great and tremendous.
AK: Was he helpful on the set?
TW: I mean they're all helpful. And they want the movie to be good. And they want to seem good in it. So people worked very hard and they cared a lot. And they were passionate. It can make you crazy sometimes cause it is the stuff of art and emotions that you're playing with and working with and I don't mean it to be high-minded but lot of it's intangible. And a lot of it's subjective. So people get their feelings hurt. But our actors... our group got along really well. It was a good ensemble. Our team got along really well. It was as harmonious as it gets.
AK: So how did you get to Maggie? What did she think of the script when she finally read it?
TW: That's what convinced her to do it. She got it from her manager (through Judy who worked with her on CRAZY HEART), and Maggie just laughed and said "I can play this!! I know how to play this part". She said in a lot of interviews: "You get a lot of scripts that are good, but you know there is going to be a rewrite or a polish. But this one was done!"
AK: Cause you worked on it for so long.
TW: Cause I knew that the education was going to be about me as a director and if I was going to stay on, I had to tell them why things in the script needed to be the way they were, even though I wasn't the writer. We should only have writer/directors. But, we basically said we won't send it out until it's perfect. And that's the difference when you don't walk in with a studio or a bunch of money or known director. You have to walk in with something that you can't get anywhere else.
AK: I have to talk about the first scene when Hugh Dancy is servicing (the old lady). Who is that actress? The first one.
TW: The first one, when Jonathan and Hugh are together?
AK: Yes yes!
TW: I know! Everyone loves her. Georgy Glen. Really tall and skinny. And that horse bit? She's brilliant. She's been in the UK in every BBC thing. She was in MRS. BROWN and was in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. She had a smaller part as lady in waiting. But she's brilliant. And she came into the audition, and I wasn't even going to go do that bit in the first round of auditions because I was going to see a lot of people. So just do the dialogue bits and the people I'm calling back, if they want to try the orgasm bit, then we'll do that. And she said (in a proper British accent), " Oh, do you mind if we read this one too?". And we were like, sure! She said, "Do you mind if I get on the floor?". It seems fun to them and most of these actresses got it and were passionate. Actors are very game to try stuff if they feel safe. I've got a lot of questions about if it's different cause I'm a woman director. And I just say that I have no clue. But, the 2 things that might be different are that maybe the actresses felt more comfortable that I was there. Not that a guy couldn't have done it. But they just knew that I wasn't going to be exploitative, not that I think most guys would either. The only other person who really had the experience of going into it cold, was a producer who was looking at me for another film. She didn't know what my film was about. And the first treatment scene is like 15-20 minutes into it. She said she turned around to her husband and was like "They're not. Oh my God! What?" But since she knew it was a female director that she just sat and relaxed. Cause she knew it wasn't going to go somewhere that was going to make her uncomfortable. And I never thought about it that way.
AK: So how did you get the actresses comfortable during those scenes?
TW: (laughs) Like I said, they kind of came into the audition fairly comfortable.
AK: And the actors too.
TW: Yeah, We had a sandbag. That's what the actors were actually manipulating. So they had a privacy sandbag. You know it's funny we got an R rating. Let's see... there's no nudity, there's no language. I mean the chicks are wearing hats for God's sake.
AK:I was thinking of that too because... you've seen PLEASANTVILLE....the scene when Joan Allen services herself, and it's PG-13.
TW: But I guess it's not "about" (masturbating)...
AK: It wasn't about that but it was pretty...
AK: And she's in the bathtub. and the tree goes on fire and everything.
TW: Yeah yeah yeah.
AK: And then you get something like this which is more clinical.
TW: And you have a movie about 12 year olds murdering each other and that's PG13.
AK: But I never really pay attention to the MPAA.
TW: It's fine. I don't think we're expecting 13 year olds to come out to this movie anyways. But it's fascinating to know what exactly is the most disturbing thing here, if you really think about it. But that's kind of the big joke. Right?
TW: The denial.
AK: I really liked watching Rupert Everett again.
TW: Yeah, he's great.
AK: I mean, he was huge for awhile, like in the late 90's with MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING and AN IDEAL HUSBAND. And then he kinda disappeared for awhile.
TW: He says it's cause he came out of the closet.
AK: Oh really?
TW: He says when he came out the roles dried up, cause they were kind of touting him to be the next big leading man. And then he wasn't. You don't know if it's true or not, and it was a different time then. I don't think there's a big "out" leading man, but you know there is, um, what's his name from HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER... Neil Patrick Harris. And he's playing a straight guy and everyone knows he's out. So it's probably a little better now. But I think the good thing for Rupert is that he's such a comedic genius that there's a whole other chapter in his career, and he's amazing. He's irrepressible. And he just does all sorts of crazy stuff on the set, and gives you so many choices. It's like shoot! He did this funny bit on take 2 and this funny bit on take 3, and they're at the same moment, and I have to choose! And that's the hardest thing with him.
(At this time the publicist has informed me that I need to wrap it up. I acknowledge her and ask if I can ask Tanya one more, and she said yes)
TW: Wow. Everyone here is polite. You're nice (talking to the publicist) and he actually listens to you. You go to L.A. and they're like "yeah yeah yeah, I'm going to keep asking questions. (laughs)
AK: What's next?
TW: That is the question. What's next? I'm developing something with Paula Patton. Kind of this Woody Allen-ish adult style romantic comedy. I have a bio-pic I'm working on that I can talk about in a couple weeks.
AK: So you got a couple things coming up.
TW: Yeah. And then I have a kind of dramedy I'm co-writing.
AK: So you're definitely not taking a long break like you did before.
TW: No, I had the children...
AK: And now it's time to play?
TW: And now the children can take care of themselves. I want to crank out a lot of movies.
AK: That's good. That's good. I'm excited to see what you're doing next.
AK & TW: Thank you so much.
TW: Great to meet you!
AK: Great to meet you.
TW: Take it easy.
AK: Yeah, you too.
As you can see. She was a blast to talk to. And definitely check out HYSTERIA, out in theaters now.