Spinning Platters Interview: Ari Graynor, Lauren Anne Miller, Katie Anne Naylon & Jamie Travis on “For A Good Time, Call…”

by Jason LeRoy on August 30, 2012

Lauren Anne Miller and Ari Graynor in FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…

In For A Good Time, Call…, Ari Graynor and Lauren Anne Miller star as Katie and Lauren, sworn enemies forced to become roommates out of financial necessity. Fun-time Katie has been occupying her grandmother’s gorgeous rent-controlled Gramercy Park apartment since she semi-recently passed away, but the rent control is about to expire and her handful of odd jobs (including working for a phone sex line) won’t cover the new rent. Meanwhile, conservative Lauren finds herself unexpectedly homeless and in desperate need of housing. Their mutual gay best friend, Jesse (Justin Long), suggests they get over their long-standing feud and move into Katie’s apartment together, and the two begrudgingly agree. But when Lauren discovers that Katie has been doing freelance phone sex work, she has a business-minded brainstorm: wouldn’t it be much more profitable if they just started their own phone sex company?

In addition to starring in the film, Miller also co-wrote the screenplay with Katie Anne Naylon, her former college roommate. Yes, Lauren and Katie wrote a movie about characters named Lauren and Katie, which are loosely based on their own dynamic — and also on Naylon’s experiences working as a phone sex operator in college. This is their first produced screenplay, and Miller’s largest screen role to date (she was previously best-known as the wife of Seth Rogen, who has a cameo in the film; the two have been together since 2004). The film was made independently, with a budget of just over $1 million and a 16-day shooting schedule. It also marks the feature-length directorial debut of Jamie Travis, a commercial director who’d previously helmed several acclaimed shorts. (Click here to read a post I wrote for Queerty about Justin Long’s “shadowing” of Travis to help guide his character.)

Co-starring Nia Vardalos, Mimi Rogers, and a standout Mark Webber as a customer of Katie’s who becomes an unlikely love interest, For A Good Time, Call… is one of the hippest, freshest, funniest comedies of the year. Smart and self-aware, loaded with vibrant colors and loads of antic screwball charm, it is another exciting step forward for the honest depictions of women in comedy we’ve been fortunate enough to witness since Bridesmaids opened the drawbridge; it finds a sharp, resonant balance between the heartfelt slapstick of that film and the observational, confessional, sexually frank qualities of Lena Dunham’s Girls. Much of the dialogue is giddily explicit, girlishly delivered with thoroughly winning glee and gusto; and yet, it is also a very warm and sweet-natured film about two girls finding an empowering and transformational new friendship.

And while Miller and Webber are both flawless in their roles, the film is utterly owned by the frequently jumpsuit-clad Graynor. Her ebulliently riotous energy infuses every frame she is in, and it is now abundantly clear that she needs to be cast as a young Bette Midler in a film about her years at the Continental Baths. It will be the Cabaret of this generation, mark my words. Point being, this deserves to be the performance that officially propels Graynor to stardom. Spinning Platters recently sat down with Graynor, Miller, Naylon, and Travis to discuss jumpsuits, Shelley Long, Yiddish words for penis, and the meaning of “phanal.”

How has it been touring around the country and talking about this thing you all created?

Lauren Anne Miller: It has been awesome. The four of us have a really great time together, which I hope comes through in the movie. We all worked so hard on making it. We shot it so quickly in sixteen days and since it’s been done, it’s been such a whirlwind between Sundance and Focus Features picking us up. You sort of make it in a bubble where you just make what you love. We had so much invested in this, and it was so personal to all of us in different ways. Then we showed it to people for the first time at Sundance, and that was just incredible. But then you start to wonder, Well, maybe that was a fluke? Who knows? So to be going across the country and sharing it in every city and hearing what people have to say and seeing the reactions and hearing them laugh — it’s an out-of-body experience.

Katie Anne Naylon: It really has accrued some sort of momentum. The people we’re meeting now have already heard what other people think. They’re so excited about it and so excited for us, which is great. It’s actually really humbling. Like, I can’t believe it’s really a thing.

As you mentioned, you were picked up by the prestigious Focus Features. Have they ever released a sex comedy before?

Ari Graynor: Just Brokeback Mountain.

[laughs] Oh, that laugh riot.

Graynor: I mean, if I have to watch him spit in his hand one more time… [laughs] No, but this was like so far beyond–

Miller: We used to joke about it before Sundance, like, “Oh, the movie will go to Sundance and then obviously Focus Features will buy our movie.” It got to the point where I was like, “Guys, we shouldn’t even joke about that. Why would they buy our movie?”

Graynor: It was just the craziest sarcastic joke, because they’re the most amazing studio and their movies are phenomenal. Then [it happened and] we were speechless.

Miller: Truly, truly speechless.

Graynor: Oh. My. God.

As you said, you filmed this in sixteen days. All independent filmmakers like to talk about how short their shoots are, but wow, that’s a short shoot.

Miller: Most comedies are shot in 40-45 days. But when you’re making an independent movie, you do what you need to do to get it done. This was just such a passion project for all of us, and if sixteen days was what our money could buy us, that’s what we were gonna do. We were losing Ari to do a play–

Graynor: And I think in filmmaking it’s the happy accidents that come along and end up making it a better movie. Of course if we had all the time and money in the world it would have been great, but I don’t think it necessarily assures you a better movie. In this process, me, Lauren, Katie, and Jamie spent a month around Lauren’s dining room table before we shot, and we leaned out that script and worked on stuff like cutting locations we couldn’t afford because we got our dream apartment location. And all that stuff ended up making it a better movie, I think. It made the movie we ended up with, which we’re really proud of.

Speaking of the budget, I’m guessing at least half of it went to Ari’s many jumpsuits?

Jamie Travis: [laughs] I don’t know what the jumpsuit budget was. I know the wardrobe budget in general was much lower than it should be. I think there was a lot of begging, borrowing, and stealing. But I don’t know, how much does a jumpsuit cost today? There’s probably, what, six great jumpsuits? But I love it when people talk about the fashion in this movie, because I would love for it to be considered a fashion movie. We worked with this amazing costume designer, Maya Lieberman in LA, and in combination with the girls’ very good taste — and, I have to say, mine! — I watch this film and it’s just like a fashion show for me.

Naylon: The movies that I really like, like Troop Beverly Hills, you’re like, “Oh my god, look at her outfits!” Same thing in Clueless, where she’s like, “Lucy! Where’s my white collarless shirt from Fred Segal?”

“This dress is an Alaia!”

Naylon: Exactly! So I don’t want this to be like Sex and the City where the clothes become another character or anything, but they really do bring the girls’ characters to life. And in real life, Lauren’s clothes are so much a part of who she is. Like, she said the worst thing that could happen to her is she could go out in a bad outfit. That’s Lauren’s nightmare! That’s the Elm Street she’s worried about. [laughs] And I’m a bit of a fashion plate myself, so it’s interesting how it really helps the girls become who they are. As they become good friends, you watch as their clothes start to transfer bodies. They’re sharing, and it’s very feminine to do that. They are actually the same size, and they’re not a size zero. They’re very happy to talk about that too, which is great, because they’re very real girls.

Speaking of Shelley Duvall–

Travis: Um, you mean Shelly Long?

[gasp] Oh my god! I can’t believe I just did that!

Travis: Like a slap in my face.

I am so embarrassed.

Travis: But I am also a big fan of Shelley Duvall.

Oh, good. Why have they never worked together?

Travis: Oh my god, yes. That would be a lot of eyes for one movie. That could be the name! Shelley Long and Shelley Duvall in The Eyes.

I’d totally watch that. So you’ve talked about being a big Shelley Long fan.

Travis: I’ve talked about that a lot. I’m starting to feel like the president of her fan club. But I mean come on, she is so underrated! In the ’80s, when I was a small child [laughs], I was obsessed with her movies. Outrageous Fortune in particular is, to me, a perfect American commercial movie. Where I think that film is in line with ours is it has two strong female leads who aren’t there to be funny for the men in their lives, they’re funny as a duo. This is very much a female duo film. I think people are going to go in thinking “raunchy phone sex movie,” and it is raunchy and hilarious, but I think they’re going to be surprised that it’s a beautiful female friendship story, as with Outrageous Fortune and other great movies from the ’80s.

Ari and Lauren, was there anyone in your lives you were especially nervous about hearing you say such filthy things?

Miller: Well, I mean, certainly every male member of my family.

Graynor: Tough to sit next to your dad during that one.

Miller: But they’re so supportive. During the writing process, we sent my dad the script, and his only note was that we needed to be more creative with our words for “penis.” And he threw some names out there, which was one of the most horrifying experiences of my entire life.

Graynor: He came up with a good word, though.

Miller: Shvantz. He really wanted that one in there.

Graynor: I don’t think it made it.

Miller: Sorry, dad!

Graynor: “Is the shvantz in there?”

Miller: There are probably shvantzes in something somewhere.

Graynor: I don’t have a shvantz in me.

Hopefully we’ll see some shvantz on the DVD. So what’s the oddest job you’ve ever had to take to make ends meet?

Graynor: I started acting really early, so I pretty much lucked out. I started making an itsy-bitsy amount of money doing that pretty young, but my dad was a contractor, so I did some construction for him. And perfectly enough, he actually gave me a hot-pink hardhat when I went to work that was almost the exact same color as our phone in the movie! And you better believe I wore that while I was hammering on the construction site. But I only lasted a few days. [laughs]

Miller: I don’t feel like I’ve had odd jobs. I’ve had a couple cool jobs. Before I went to film school, I studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute in New York and I got to work for the museum photographer, which was really neat.

Graynor: Ooh!

Miller: Yeah, I don’t know if you ever knew that.

Graynor: No!

Miller: So it wasn’t really an odd job, it was a lovely job. I got to be around the most incredible clothes and costumes of all time that are in the archives there and help take photos of them, and then I’d get to attend some of the opening parties there. I went to a Bob Mackie show, and I mean, it was just a dream come true.

On the subject of the pink phone, how did you settle on Katie using the old-school corded phone while Lauren uses a headset?

Graynor: I think it was a character delineation thing. Also, it started off with Lauren being so businessy in the beginning — she’s running the cards, she’s billing. But then the pink phone is that sort of metaphorical piece, the sexual liberation, so to speak. And then of course I give Lauren one later in the film. But the headset is all business. It’s like the front of a mullet.

And I guess the pink phone would be the party in the back.

Graynor: That’s the party!

This is such a refreshingly sex-positive comedy, where the girls aren’t punished for running a phone sex line or exploring their own sexualities.

Miller: We feel like sex is something that everyone at some point in their lives, if they’re lucky, they do it. We didn’t need to use sex as a message in a positive or negative way, because it just sort of is.

Travis: I think it’s a sex-positive movie because of the classic model in filmmaking. I look at the horror movie as an example: the virgin is the girl who lives to the end, but the slut or the girl who has sex just once or even just has a beer in her hand gets killed at the beginning. But in our film, the girls become richer characters and better versions of themselves as they explore their sexuality, even if it is through the phone. Female sexuality is something you don’t see explored, especially in commercial American movies. I think it’s something that scares people a bit. I remember when I read the script, I was so happy to see something that really embraced female sexuality in a way that was very empowering.

Naylon: I second that notion. I think talking about masturbation and bringing up those kinds of things — it sounds silly, but even having all those dildos in the movie, you’d be surprised the comments we get from fans that we even broach those topics of conversation. But it’s really interesting to see the girls come to life that way and claim their own voice through the buffer of the telephone.

And as progressive and sex-positive as it is, it’s also very pro-capitalist and business-positive. There’s something to enjoy for both sides of the aisle.

Travis: The right and the center.

Exactly.

Naylon: Yeah, I think it’s a well-timed release in the sense that we’ve all been in this economic downturn. But we just had dinner last night with someone who took people’s driving school classes online for cash over Craigslist. I wrote other people’s papers in college for money. I did phone sex for money. I had lemonade stands as a kid. I was always that sort of business-minded person. It’s really nice to take your future by the reins and make your own way, and I think the girls do that in the movie and we did that in the making of the film. And if we inspire anybody — some people have literally said, “I wish I had thought of that! How do I do it?” And we’re like, “Well, we pretty much laid it out in the movie, so watch it again and then you’ll know.”

Ari, how was it different filming your stranger phone sex calls versus your calls with Mark Webber’s character? I have to say, it’s probably the sweetest romance I’ve seen all year.

Graynor: Aw, thank you! Mark Webber is deeply, deeply talented. He had a big year at Sundance this year, he wrote/produced/directed a film called The End of Love, he was in another film called… Labor Pains?

That’s a Lindsay Lohan movie.

Graynor: Oh right. Oh, Save the Date! But he’s so talented, and it was really important with that character that he be shy and sweet and not icky and weird, and that you understood why he was calling the phone sex line. And when we shot those scenes, I will say we had really great chemistry–

Miller: They had the most intense chemistry! Everyone on set whenever Jamie would yell “Cut!”, we’d be like, “Whoa…”

Graynor: But you know, the irony was that we could be saying the craziest stuff on the phone and no one would bat an eye, we would all laugh and no one felt uncomfortable. But it was more the intimate stuff with him, whether it was on the phone or later in the film, that made all of us blush and feel a little bit more uncomfortable. Intimacy is a little bit harder to deal with, in life and on film. We had to find that line of what worked in the film, as well as keep it tonally in the right place. But he is just a phenomenal actor and person, and really fun to make out with.

I also love that the film isn’t about making sure Lauren gets coupled off at the end.

Miller: That was definitely super-important to us, that this movie was not about girls getting the guy. Because we have those — and don’t get me wrong, I love those movies — but that just wasn’t the story we wanted to tell. We really wanted it to highlight the intense friendship-love that a girl can have for her girlfriend.

Graynor: They do end up coupled off, but with each other!

Miller: It’s about each of them discovering who they are with each other. I think it would’ve been great if Lauren could have worked things out with a guy, but she needed to have a relationship with the jerky guy to realize what she needed. And it was her relationship with her best friend that helped her realize she was worth so much more than how she was being treated in that earlier relationship.

This movie is one of several breakthroughs over the last year for honest depictions of women in comedy. What do you think needs to happen to keep up the momentum and get more movies like this made?

Graynor: Keep going to see them! I think the biggest part is this movie business works on the last success. That’s why there’s this nice spirit after Bridesmaids because it did well, so people are feeling a little bit more open. But there’s still caution. That’s why there are so many big action movies that are very similar to each other, because that’s what does well. So hopefully people will go see our movie and these voices will keep getting recognized, so [the movie business] will realize there is a place for it out there.

Miller: I remember before Bridesmaids came out, there was a forward that went around — do you remember who wrote it?

Graynor: It think it was Kiwi — Kristen Smith, who wrote Legally Blonde and The House Bunny and 10 Things I Hate About You.

Miller: It was a letter addressing female moviegoers, and it was a call to action about supporting these movies, because if you wanna see them, you gotta go see them. Otherwise, if you don’t see them, they’re not going to exist. It was really amazing. We need someone to write a letter like that for us!

Graynor: We should have Kiwi do another one. It was all about how it behooves all of us, as filmmakers, as the audience, that this is how you get the content out there that you want — you go support it.

Have you had a lot of people asking you about Girls?

Graynor: We get a lot more Bridesmaids than Girls.

Miller: But we are obsessed with that show.

Good, because you are such a Marnie in this movie.

Miller: Oh my god, thank you. I want to be a Marnie! I mean, she’s so beautiful. But we are beyond obsessed with that show.

Graynor: We love Lena Dunham.

Miller: And we definitely brought that up with Jamie. Lena is amazing; such a vision that girl has. And the whole team: Jenni Konner, who runs the show, is a good friend of mine and so smart, and Judd Apatow… They’ve really done it, they’ve created it for a new generation. It’s so exciting that we have that on TV, and hopefully movies will continue to do the same.

Have you considered that some audiences might find these characters and their posh Manhattan apartment to be a bit privileged and unsympathetic? Lena and her cast got so many criticisms about their perceived privilege.

Miller: Well, the whole point of the story is that the apartment has to be worth living with your enemy for. If Katie was living in a shithole in Brooklyn, Lauren would have found another roommate. I don’t know if Katie would have stayed in the apartment had it been a shithole in Brooklyn.

Graynor: And that’s what I really loved when they first sent me the script. Katie works like a a gajillion jobs! No one is paying her bills. She’s really on her own and trying to survive. And she got handed down a rent-controlled apartment from her grandmother, which often happens, but that’s no longer the case for her. And the character of Lauren comes from a more typical background of being a very hard worker, getting some support from her parents, but trying to gain her independence. I think both of those dynamics are really honest and timely.

Miller: They exist in New York.

Graynor: And certainly there are harder situations out there in the world, I don’t mean to paint that–

Miller: In New York there’s all types, and these are just two of those many, many types. And it’s sort of funny that it’s these two girl who get popped into this gigantic insane apartment, but it’s the only reason why they’d live with their enemy.

Finally, is there anything else you want people to know about the movie?

Miller: I think the one thing that’s really important is that people are calling it a “discovery” movie, meaning that they go in thinking it’s one thing — that it is this raunchy, dirty, disgusting, filthy phone sex movie — and no doubt there are moments of raunchiness, moments that are… what’s our new favorite “dirty” word?

Graynor: Phanal? [a made-up combo word in the film meaning “phone anal”]

Miller: No… bawdy!

Graynor: Oh, right, bawdy. [laughs] “Phanal.” Favorite word? Phanal!

Miller: We say phanal as much as humanly possible these days. But no, it is this bawdy movie, but it’s wrapped up in this pretty pink bow of friendship and heart.

Graynor: It’s surprisingly sweet and it’s very feel-good, and hopefully people will know that and be excited about that piece of it too.

For A Good Time, Call… opens in the Bay Area on August 31.

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