Interview: Jennifer Westfeldt

BATD ON Jun 13, 2012 AT 9:24 am

Jennifer Westfeldt

I met Jennifer Westfeldt in the Soho Hotel in a black fitted cocktail dress, she had just been on breakfast TV that morning and looked immaculate, dressed in her Kate Spade dress and nude patent Jimmy Choo shoes. The shoes were borrowed but the dress was hers, she says of Spade’s latest collections, “she makes the cutest coats and dresses and I’ve just been loving everything she does. I like to wear dresses. I don’t have much of a waist but I have good legs and not a good waist and so I always need a dress that kind of works out”

Whenever I’ve seen her at events she has great taste and looks so well put together  - you also can’t help but notice her hair, thick blonde with perfect blow dry, her hair is even referenced in the film. I don’t get the feeling this is because she is Jon Hamm’s girlfriend, when you talk to her it feels like she is very much her own woman. She’s smart, funny, warm , friendly and stylish, he could be Jennifer Westfeldt’s boyfriend.

So we are here to talk about her latest movie, the third one she has made in ten years, Friends with Kids. I had actually seen it at the Toronto Film Festival last year and met her with Jon Hamm at a party, they were lovely and very un-starry at a party that was packed full of George Clooney with minders, Ryan Gosling, Ewan McGregor etc. As a couple they seemed very natural with each other, I even high-fived her, of course she didn’t remember but I did.

BATD: I actually saw the movie in Toronto last year for the first time,
JW: It’s changed since then, that wasn’t the final cut

BATD: How did you find Toronto, to show Friends With Kids for its debut?
JW: We had been there for The Town for John the year before, but I hadn’t been there for a movie since my first film. I love Toronto, the audiences are real film lovers and you don’t always find that at festivals, and they all seem genuinely interested in movies. At the same time they’re also so kind that you wonder, “is it really working?” You get this big reaction and you have no idea if that’s real or not. I didn’t even know if we would make that film festival, we had all kinds of problems with our sound, mix and our post production and I didn’t know that the movie would be in sync. It was so down to the wire.

BATD: Are things always a bit like that when you are making a movie?
JW- I think they are, I mean, especially with an indie film when you have no money. It’s such a busy time of year for films trying to get into festivals, we had no free time and just had pulled so many all nighters. It was scary.

BATD: Your movie is very funny, what gave you the idea to make it, was it a night out with friends with kids and the kids overreacted, anything particular?
JW: You know, honestly, it was over time watching one by one all our friends take the plunge and become parents. Observing how different everybody handles this epic transition in their lives, how their identity shifts and how your friendships change and how they short of drift away for a while, and I think everybody sort of manages it differently. It was interesting for me and for John as we don’t have kids to be sort of out of sync with our peer group, just watching them…

BATD: You don’t any want kids?
JW: Well, it’s not that we don’t want them, we haven’t so far, and we’ll see what happens. Never say never, I don’t know. It’s a funny thing to be in a different place than the rest of your peers and not really be a part of it, but at a good distance to observe.

BATD: I feel like I’ve lost all my friends since they’ve had kids.
JW: I know what you mean, that first year or two right? And then they kind of reemerge

BATD: But only on their time, never on yours because they’ve got the kids.
JW: Exactly, they tell you, “I’ve got twenty minutes between the nap, and the school, and the thing.” Or “come with me to mommy and me” or whatever

BATD: Or I can walk the dog and push the buggy if you want to join me in the park.
JW: And you want to say, “I was thinking a bottle of wine and talking like we used to.” But that was sort of the inspiration. Wanting to explore throughout these different characters, like the different ways in which the friendship dynamic changes and the romantic relationship changes. But then it changes back, and that was the sort of jumping off point.

BATD- To me it’s a real sweet love story with the relationship between you and Adam Scott’s character. Do you think they would have got together if they hadn’t had the baby? Did you think they were meant to be more than just friends, was the baby thing almost a different way of them getting together?
JW: I mean for me, the idea of their characters is sort of, they’re on equal footing at the top of the movie. They have never been interested in each other in that way. I have friends like this where you’ve known them from college and you just have never, if you’ve both been dating other people you never think of them that way. You think of them as a brother. And so, when they have the child together, when they embark upon it, they really think this is gonna be great. We’re gonna find great loves and great romance and we’ll do this as friends.

But I think women have a much harder time compartmentalizing things then men do. And so I think, for my character, once they have the intimacy of this she sees him in an entirely different way. But in his head he’s thinking “this is working, this is awesome, this is exactly what we discussed.”

BATD: As a guy, it just goes to the back of his mind.
JW: Yeah, and I see this a lot. I see men who really are able to that. You know, I always wonder, you see the trophy wife, or the people we see in Los Angeles where the woman is 28 and the guy is 63 or whatever it is, “How’s that working?” Somehow men seem to be able to compartmentalize and think I’ll just talk about business on the golf course with my friends. I don’t think women are built that way, I really don’t. And so, that was part of what I wanted to explore. That they start completely equally with equal non-interest except for as friends, then everything changes with her but he’s a lot slower on the uptake, like men are.

BATD: Do you find guys have to have their professional life complete before they can think ok I’m ready for kids then marriage? I have my own business and I do feel like it’s hard to do everything.
JW: It is hard.

BATD: My friends wonder why I haven’t you got kids or a boyfriend, but I don’t feel it’s my choice. It’s more like the men that decide if they’re ready for kids and a wife.
JW: Well, it’s also, I think that we’re all career driven and we start later and later. Getting married later and later, having kids later and later. At that point you know yourself really well and you know what you want and it’s harder to find what you want. Whereas when people used to get married at 21, you don’t know anything. I don’t know, it’s an interesting thing to see, the other side of that. I’ve had so many friends hit 36, 37, 38 and be like, “I can’t believe I’m in this position, I never thought I’d be alone. In my life, I have a million women I would marry in a heartbeat and no great guys out there. There’s none!

BATD: There’s not many, or they are taken maybe, I don’t know.
JW: Taken or then you wait for their divorce… it’s so confusing isn’t it?

BATD: Do you feel like, now you’ve been ambushed with so many questions about having kids and why haven’t you got kids?
JW: Yeah. (laughs)

BATD: Do you think you noticed if you have a biological clock, Or what happens now if one suddenly kicks in?
JW: We love kids and we’re very much honorary aunts and uncles and godparents to our friend’s kids. But our lives are so odd. We’re always traveling and we’re never in the same place. It’s such a gypsy life to be an actor. It doesn’t feel very proper or stable for a child. If that changes or if we’re suddenly clear that that’s what we want, we’d have to make a million changes. Obviously, who knows if it would be possible biologically? Who knows what method we would use if we decided that was what we wanted? And we haven’t yet, so we’ll see.

BATD: How was it like to direct your boyfriend?
JW: It was a breeze. We were producing this together, so it felt much more like a collaboration on this film than it did like telling someone what to do, it wasn’t like that. And also, this cast is such a dream

BATD: Such a brilliant, funny cast.
JW: they’re so wonderful and so talented. For me it was very much about trying to capture all the variations in the performance. You never quite know until you’re in the editing room how you want to shape it and arc it, especially with a big ensemble like this. You never quite know if this will be too high, too low, too subtle, not subtle enough, as you construct the whole story. So for me, it was always about wanting to make sure they tried it the opposite way or a little less or a little more. A little more emotional a little less emotional, more covered. You know, all of the different kind of nuances so that then I had as much to work with in the editing room, to show everyone’s best. And have everyone have a proper arc.

BATD: And acting at the same time, must be exhausting wasn’t it? Maybe this is why you left it so long before doing another one, because you did so much.

JW: I know, well, I’ve done 3 now in 10 years. They’ve been like every 5 years in perfect intervals and that’s probably all I can handle doing (laughing) all of these crazy hats.

BATD: Are we going to have to wait another 5 years?
JW: I don’t know, we’ll see. Every independent film is so hard to get off the ground, it’s sort of spinning all these plates. Trying to find the money, trying to find the cast, trying to find the right time of year where everybody is available when the right crew is available, and the deals have to close. There’s just so much. Especially in this economy, movies fall apart, both at the studio level and independently all the time. There were four other indy films shooting in New York when we were shooting and two of them shut down production twice. It’s just so chaotic, the money falls out or an actor falls out or something. It almost feels like a miracle when cameras roll, you think to yourself, is everyone really here, are people gonna show up, it’s crazy.

BATD: You must feel pleased with the reception of this movie so far. Would it inspire you to make another one?
JW: Maybe. Right now I’m actually developing a series with HBO and Alan Ball

BATD: I was going to ask you if you’d considered doing TV.
JW: Yes that’s sort of next on the plate. I don’t know if they’ll pick it up or not. But that’s what we’ve been working on

BATD: With Alan Ball, from American Beauty?
JW: Yes he is executive producing it and his company is producing it with HBO, but we’ll see, we’re still in the development stages so I hope it works out.

BATD: Is it a comedy?
JW: It’s mixed tone I guess, like everything I seem to do. It’s sort of a ‘dramady’, we’ll see what happens.

BATD-What do you like to watch on TV with Jon at home?
JW: Well, we’ve just been watching the new HBO shows, have you seen Girls yet, Lena Dunham’s new show ?

BATD: We haven’t got that in the UK yet.

JW: She’s like a wonderwoman, I’m in love with her. She’s amazing, just 23 years old. She’s written directed and starred in both a film and now this series. She’s such an original, with an original voice, it’s really exciting to see. Mostly we watch John Stewart and Steven Colbert, that’s our sort of ‘go to’ every day. But other than that, we’ve gotten into Game of Thrones

BATD: I’m the only person who hasn’t I think.
JW: Breaking Bad is the best, and 30 Rock, we watch Parks and Recs for our friends. That’s about it I guess, and obviously Mad Men.

BATD: How do you feel about Don Draper changing with Megan and Betty?
JW: I think it’s kind of interesting, its’ such a different take on the character. I think everyone is kind of who’s this character this season? We’re behind actually because we’ve been travelling so don’t tell me, I’m behind about two or three weeks.

BATD: I’m a couple out. It must be so interesting to you to see your boyfriend in that character?
JW: Well he’s not anything like my boyfriend!

BATD: No, but he looks like him. That’s as far as it gets then?
JW: Thankfully. Boy that would be a mess if he was anything like that character

BATD: How has life changed for you as a couple, from Jon working for a long time as an earnest actor and now he’s an international superstar. How does that make life change for you?
JW: Mostly we have the same life, the same friends within our circle. The main thing is a lack of privacy. I think that’s the down side. There’s so much upside obviously so that kind of goes with the territory. But it’s weird to have the privacy go, people camp outside your house and photograph you walking your dog.

BATD: Do you feel like you’re constantly going out in sunglasses?
JW: You just try to avoid it as much as you can and your head down. But it’s just an odd part of our world now, with the internet and everyone’s got a camera on their phone, everyone’s got a video on their phone. So everywhere you go people can blog or tweet about you and we don’t do any of that stuff.

BATD: Neither of you are on any of the social networking sites
JW: We’re not on anything, we’re not on Facebook or Twitter, we’re not doing what the kids are doing these days. We kind of avoid the internet at all costs

BATD: Jon is very modest in interviews, he says he’s not handsome, and he’s not the new George Clooney.
JW: That’s just silly, He’s not handsome!? She laughs and jokes….. yeah, he’s really hard to look at! I think it’s actually refreshing. Jon flogged it out for so many years, getting rejected and not getting anything great and I think the fact that fame has come later, it means he has a better perspective on it and takes it with a grain of salt.

BATD: He just knows how to deal with it.
JW: Well we both had really high highs and really low lows and very lean times, prosperous times, and everything in between. I think it’s healthy actually, not to make too much of it because it could all go away tomorrow. You could get the greatest job in the world and have a great run and suddenly not work for a year. That’s just what you’re used to as an actor. So, I think it’s kind of great to not take it all too seriously

BATD: Do you think you’ll work together again on a project, did you enjoy it?
JW: We did enjoy it. We have worked together before, he’s been in all three of my films and we’ve done a couple of plays together. We may, we don’t want to make a habit of it, but we’d love to, when it’s appropriate, if it’s something that really makes sense for both of us, if the roles that really work for both of us.

BATD: Would you let him direct something you’ve written?
JW: Oh, definitely, he did a wonderful job directing, I thought, on Mad Men this season, and that was his first time at it. I think he was really taken with it, I think he had a great time. Obviously it’s easier than an independent film because he’s so comfortable with that crew, the sets and the look is already established. With the characters already established you can really play and have fun and sort of put your stamp on it a little, it’s not like creating something from scratch.

BATD: Are you saying it was easier for him?
JW: Well, I think it is easier to have your first outing in a place you feel confident and comfortable. I think he enjoyed it so much maybe he’ll do something more ambitious after that. I know he wants to do another episode, so we’ll see what happens.

BATD: What are your references in humour and comedies in general?
JW: In terms of romantic comedies, I feel like I love all romantic comedies that sort of have a mixed tone so some of Woody Allen’s work obviously and Jim Brooks and some of the earl Billy Wilder films like The Apartment. I loved Rushmore, I loved some of Wes Anderson’s movies. Anything that sort of mixes real humor and real pathos is what interests me. I feel like those are the movies that I respond to the most.

BATD: With more realistic relationships represented?
JW: Yes. I know there’s a lot of studio romantic comedies that are a little bit more gimmicky or ‘the big idea’ rather than sort of just about character. And I’m much more interested in comedy and pain that comes from the character.

BATD: I feel like we’re being given far to many of these at the moment from the Judd Apatow camp. Knocked-Up was fun but if feels like it’s a formula that keeps going. Its nice to see a woman’s perspective from the relationship side of things. They are dysfunctional

JW: Yeah exactly, I think it’s changing for women. So many more women are writing their own work and the great success that Kristen and Annie had with Bridesmaids has been amazing. Sundance this year had something like 6 movies that actresses wrote and directed themselves, which was amazing. There was the first female director to win at Sundance. There’s been so many exciting advancements. Julie Delpy and Miranda July and Vera Farmiga has just directed her own project that she also stared in. There’s been so many more women saying, I can do that. Let’s do it on a small budget and get our voices out there, I think it’s exciting to see that growing. Because we’ve always had the age old complaint about how there’s no women’s roles, there’s nothing interesting for women. And we’re the only ones who can change that. So it’s nice to see more and more people trying to do that.

BATD: What qualities are needed to be a good director?
JW: I’ve only done this once, and I did not intend to direct this. It sort of fell to me and I wasn’t gung-ho about it at all. I think that on an independent film it’s like waging a war like every day because you have no money and no time and you have to change it up and constantly be flexible. You have to be very prepared and then you have to abandon the plan often because sometimes a crisis arrives So, I think it’s a combination of preparation and flexibility.

I think Jennifer has the qualities to do all these things, and I’m looking forward to seeing her HBO series with Alan Ball, I have no doubt she will make a success of it. She’s a bit of a wonderwoman herself, maybe one day we’ll start seeing Jon Hamm referred to as Jennifer Westfeldt’s boyfriend instead.

Friends with Kids is out June 29th in the UK, it’s very funny, with practically the cast of Bridesmaids in it, plus the very funny Adam Scott, I’ve seen it twice and could watch it again. Great script, excellent cast and funny.

Watch the Trailer for Friends With Kids here.

Read our interview with Jon Hamm here.

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