P.J. Castellaneta Says, "Relax. . . It's Just Sex"
By Aaron Krach
With the release of his second feature, “Relax. . . It’s Just Sex,”
writer/director P.J. Castellaneta is a long way from his first film,
“Together Alone,” which was shot in black and white during evenings and
weekends in his own apartment. While “Relax” is a romantic comedy,
“Together” was a tightly written, character drama about two lives
crossing in Los Angeles. “Relax” extends Castellaneta’s focus on
20-something, Los Angelenos, but broadens the spectrum to include a
divorcing lesbian couple, an unhappy heterosexual pair and several
single gay men. And while he prefers to use unknown actors, the film is
a relatively star-studded affair with Jennifer Tilly, Mitchell Anderson
and Lori Petty. During 1998, “Relax” played at numerous festivals,
including Sundance, Berlin and L.A.’s Outfest. While Castellaneta may
now call Los Angeles home, indieWIRE caught up with the director while
he was visiting family in New York. “Relax. . . It’s Just Sex” is being
released by Jour De Fete Films on March 5, in New York, Los Angeles and
indieWIRE: You spent several years working on “Together Alone,” while
holding down another job. When did you start working on “Relax”?
P.J. Castellaneta: I was working as a librarian at Warner Brothers, in
the script department. I started in 1992, when I was on my way home from
the Turin Gay and Lesbian fest where “Together Alone” was playing. I
finished the first draft in ’94. We shot in August, ’97.
iW: In addition to a larger cast, “Relax” is a relatively bigger budget
than your first film.
Castellaneta: It’s is a no-budget movie. I was holding the boom!
iW: But you had some pretty big stars like Jennifer Tilly and Mitchell Anderson?
Castellaneta: I’m actually worried about having stars. I think that when
people see the subject matter with these people, they don’t know what to
do with it in their brain. They’ll think, ‘What are they doing in this
film? There’s butt-fucking.’ It’s so different from anything they’ve
seen them do.
iW: What tricks did you use to keep the budget so low?
Castellaneta: We shot in three weeks. I begged for four, but it was only
19 days. Those extra days would have been amazing, but we just didn’t
have the money. For example the scene where Jennifer says, ‘I’m fertile
now!’ That’s one take. But originally it was to be eight shots. That’s a
case where I’m happy, but there are others where I could have used
another take. Basically, I had to know what I wanted.
iW: Viewers expecting a light, romantic, sex-comedy may be surprised by how integral HIV is to the story.
Castellaneta: I think AIDS is a huge subtext. AIDS is a big wall that
went up between people. It’s totally shaped who we are. I had some
pre-AIDS experiences and it was just different, because we are not talking
about it. I think any problem that is so overwhelming, like nuclear war,
you don’t know how to talk about it, because you’re so powerless.
iW: The character Buzz, (an African-American, gay man who believes that AIDS is a conspiracy) is a truly unique character to see on screen.
Castellaneta: I think we need more discussion, not less. If the ideas
are so ridiculous bring it to the light and it will die in the light.
The medical community was definitely wrong with AZT. They freely admit
that now. But what about the thousands of people who died? It’s sort of
like Vietnam. We say, ‘Oops.’
iW: Did the subject matter hinder you during development or casting?
Castellaneta: Yes. Everyone was ‘love it, love it, love it… but.’
Everybody loved the script, but the homosexuals aren’t clowns or
stalkers. The one person who does something bad, doesn’t really pay for
it in any sort of justice way. No one is a drug addict. There is no
heterosexual plot to attach to. And yes, the sex is very graphic.
Even Jennifer Tilly got a little nervous. I convinced her by sending her
this fax saying everybody says they love the movie, but were afraid. And
if you do it, it would be like the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy throws the
water on the bad witch and she thinks it’s a bad thing. Then one guard
says, ‘Hail Dorothy,’ and so everybody starts saying, ‘Hail Dorothy,’
cause they are really happy. I told her she could be like that guard who
says ‘Hail Dorothy’ first.
iW: What’s next for you?
Castellaneta: This past year I’ve been rewriting something for Warner
Brothers, to direct. It’s something of theirs and I opened my big fat
mouth saying, ‘Oh, I’ll do the rewrite.’ But I don’t think it’s going to
get made, so I’ve continued on something of my own. And again, I’ve been
working on it for years.
I’m also writing a musical with a friend of mine. I have a very funny
friend, and another friend who can write music. We’ll probably put it on
in L.A. All we have to do is get a theater, so it’s more do-able. It’s
a feeling of power, cause it’s something we can do, because it’s