Toni Collette as Ellie on Charlie: "The fact that we are so opposite. The thing that I live for, you despise."
On the afternoon before the US Premiere of Megan Griffiths' spirited comedy Lucky Them at the Tribeca Film Festival, screenwriter/producer Emily Wachtel, stars Thomas Haden Church and Toni Collette and Ryan Eggold met the media at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue.
Wachtel spoke about transitioning over from Sam Shepard and what it's like to see a version of herself come to life. Tom and Toni talked drinks, Sam Raimi's favourite, Bryan Adams, Rufus Wainwright, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and the importance of limes, while I gave Ryan Eggold a T-shirt idea.
Lucky Them screenwriter/producer Emily Wachtel on seeing a version of herself portrayed: "Some things were literal, some more metaphorical, honestly." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Lucky Them is set in the world of Seattle music journalism and hankering for love stories past. Based in part on adventures in co-screenwriter Emily Wachtel's life.
Anne-Katrin Titze: You were also involved in Treva Wurmfeld's Shepard And Dark.
Emily Wachtel: That is true. The other producer, Amy Hobby, when I was working on this [Lucky Them], she said "do you want to help on this Sam Shepard documentary, we're having trouble with it?" I said yes. The first scene I ever did as an actress was from [Sam Shepard's play] Fool For Love.
AKT: So you worked on the documentary in the middle of this one?
EW: Lucky Them took so long. It was an 11 year project for me. I originated it.
AKT: It is loosely based on your life. How does it feel to finally see it on the screen?
EW: It's very interesting. Now it is a long time ago, the period that it came out of, so it's not that close anymore. Some things were literal, some more metaphorical, honestly. I've seen it many times in many iterations and I'm moved by it every time. I can separate the film and my life now. As all memories are, it's like music, the memory is always fonder when you think back on them than when they are actually happening.
AKT: Are there scenes that you enjoy particularly and others that make you cringe?
Thomas Haden Church on Charlie's taste in music: "And by the end, he begrudgingly admits that he likes this one dude." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
EW: I notice new stuff every time I see it. The scene where Nina Arianda, who plays Dana, comes home and gets Ellie [Toni Collette] out of her rut - like "this is obsessive, don't you think he would just call you?" I really like that scene. Obviously, the scene with Ellie and Matthew Smith is a very big scene for me on a lot of different levels. He was always my first choice.
AKT: As Toni Collette is playing a version of you, what did you think of her clothes?
EW: I love her and I love her clothes. I wanted them all.
AKT: Seeing you in person today, I thought you must have been happy with the costume designer [Rebecca Luke].
EW: I was very happy. I actually lent the costume designer something of mine from that period. The necklace Ellie wears at the beginning that's a horn. A lucky something.
AKT: A horn of plenty? Did the film start out as a detective story?
EW: No. It was her in search of herself. Somehow that became a search for someone else. It was her assignment. It's interesting the idea of somebody actually getting an assignment that you have to find this out about yourself. Why you do what you do. Most people go to therapy. She didn't want to but she had to.
Ryan Eggold on how Lucas sees Ellie: "She's this chick, she's older, she's cooler, she's rock n' roll, she's attractive, she's fun and he wants to hang out with her." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AKT: You used the pseudonym Ellie Klug yourself?
EW: I wrote several articles under that name. It's easier to write not being myself. I wrote about dating and a whole bunch of things.
AKT: Is the editor, played by Oliver Platt, based on any one in particular?
EW: No. I did a lot of notes and then the director Megan Griffiths and I had spoken to [Rolling Stone founder] Jann Wenner about the music landscape.
Talking drinks with Toni and Tom -
Anne-Katrin Titze: Tom, when we spoke last year about Whitewash, I mentioned your very particular relationship with food. In Lucky Them it is about drink. How, for both of you, does what you drink inform your role?
Ellie drowns her life in whisky, good days and bad, and gets away with it, which does not turn her into a tough role model or one of the boys. Her self-destruction is too comforting for words - which might exactly be the point.
Toni Collette: I drank a lot of whisky. I mean, my character did. I had a lot of on-screen hangovers. Not real, not mine. She is a functioning alcoholic. She was shooting a lot of whisky straight which I had never done and it wasn't until we shot that scene with the Matthew Smith character. On the way back from that location we went to this little bar that looked so cute and I asked some of the guys what's the best whisky? I think they said "you should have Maker's Mark," which isn't…
Thomas Haden Church: That's Sam Raimi's bourbon of choice.
Toni: I had one shot and it was disgusting. But it was a very relaxing drive home.
AKT: And the whole lime? You order water and a lime.
Thomas Haden Church as Charlie on Ellie: "She helps me loosen some of my scar tissue and my armor."
Tom: Yeah - just clean water and a lime. Which is there to disinfect the water even further through the citric acid. The old tradition in Mexico of squeezing a lime in a beer is to kill the bacteria in the beer and also around the mouth of the bottle. Whenever we discussed it, whenever I talked to Emily about it, that was my rationale, to kill off whatever residual bacteria which was left. She [Emily Wachtel] had a friend that was just obsessive about drinking water in public places.
She didn't completely understand the purpose of the lime and I explained the lime to her. I grew up at the Mexican border and I knew that's the origin of that tradition. It also tastes good …This has been NOVA [US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) science series].
AKT: Your character hates music, all music. How do you feel about that?
Charlie accompanies Ellie into her grungy past, which isn't easy for him.
Tom: Until I hear Bryan Adams. He [Charlie] is such a f…ed up guy professionally and personally. It's one of the slightest tendrils of the story that she [Ellie] helps me loosen some of my scar tissue and my armor. And by the end, he begrudgingly admits that he likes this one dude.
Toni: The fact that we are so opposite. The thing that I live for, you despise.
Tom: That scene where she is running - she's like "Rufus Wainwright? - No. "Neil Young? Leonard Cohen?" No, no, no, no!
Toni: We're both afraid of commitment. We're both avoiding it really.
Tom: I'm willing to give someone a dead animal to end a relationship.
Lucky Them poster Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Ryan Eggold, who plays street musician Lucas, joined the conversation earlier. He was wearing a Nirvana T-shirt.
Anne-Katrin Titze: You are a very mysterious personality in the film. I wrote down "Homme Fatal" in my notebook.
Ryan Eggold: Oh wow. I'll get a tattoo.
AKT: Maybe start with a T-shirt?
RE: They'd spell it wrong. Homie fatal. That's perfect.
AKT: Give me some percentage of selling the T-shirts. Who is Lucas, though? You wonder if he is a good guy or a bad guy. What does he want from Ellie? How do you see him?
When Ellie hears Lucas playing his music on the street, he looks just right to be her next conquest and she throws her business card in his hat.
RE: Here's what I like about this question and this aspect of the story line. There are people on both sides of the fence. I have one opinion, that he genuinely was digging this girl and there's a sort of naiveté to Lucas and an innocence. I don't think he was ever preying on her. You can easily see the story that way. He was going along for the ride. She's this chick, she's older, she's cooler, she's rock n' roll, she's attractive, she's fun and he wants to hang out with her.
And the money thing - he was sort of going to return it - he was thinking 'I'm going to spend it on making this great record, she's going to be proud of me, I'm going to make all this money and I'm going to buy her a beach house in Malibu with that". That was his plan.
AKT: Has making this film changed the way you look at street musicians?
RE: Yeah, yeah. I certainly have respect for them. I always did, but more so now because it would be really hard to do that night after night, to get people to listen to you and make a few bucks. I've always been fascinated by street musicians. My friend and I always wanted to get an Airstream [camper] and go across the country, recording different street musicians in every state and do this great record of 25 songs across the USA. Now someone else will read this and do it.
Tribeca Film Festival remaining public screening: Saturday, April 26, 12:00pm – Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 7