Carrie Preston is best known as the ditzy-and-frustrated waitress Arlene Fowler on “True Blood” (and lately, as the ditzy-but-brilliant lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni on “The Good Wife“), but this year at Sundance, she’ll be known as a film director for “That’s What She Said,” her sophomore feature effort behind the camera.
Based on a play by Kellie Overbey that Preston previously directed a production of in New York, “That’s What She Said” stars Anne Heche and Marcia De Bonis as best friends Dee Dee and Bebe, and Alia Shawkat as Clementine, a stranger who then joins them on a series of adventures throughout New York. (Heche actually recommended Shawkat for the role after their stint together in “Cedar Rapids,” — “…which surprised me, because we had no scenes together in that,” said Shawkat while doing promotion for the Ed Helms comedy.)
“BeBe is getting ready to go on a big date with a guy she really likes,” Preston explained when we caught up with her at the afterparty of the Broadway premiere of “Venus In Fur“. “And she needs her BFF by her side for a beauty day. Too bad that the BFF just had a horrible night, is having a horrible day, is hungover, is jaded, and is late.”
“I’m supposed to pick her up,” Heche added when we caught up with her at a party for “Rampart.” “And my character doesn’t have a good moral center, let’s say. So everything that could go wrong, does go wrong.”
Dee Dee is so late picking up her friend that BeBe meets Clementine while waiting at a coffee shop in the morning — and when Dee Dee finally shows up, she discovers that Clementine has invited herself along for the day’s activities. Needless to say, the two characters can’t stand each other.
“I say I’m a loser a lot in the movie,” Shawkat said. “I was just dumped by my boyfriend, and then you start discovering that I’m a really strange girl, and very damaged. Preston describes her as “a little bit of a nympho” who is obsessed by sex and her vagina. But at the end of the day, the themes are universal, but from a unique perspective that is deliberately framed.
“This is a movie about how women relate to each other by talking about men,” Preston said. “But men are so peripheral to the story.”
For instance, Preston didn’t shoot the faces of men, or reveal them even when they’re speaking — save for one 85-year-old in one of the film’s funny moments. All other men were shot in profile or obscured. “I specifically shot them that way because it’s more about the friendship,” she said. No men have dialogue in the film, either.
“Women are complicated,” Heche said, “and the choices we make are so vast, that’s what’s amazing about all these different women. This film would have been very different with a guy director, since this is really a love letter to female friendship.”
Unlike the recent slate of female friendship-focused movies, Preston said the film’s characters were not obsessed with weddings, becoming bridesmaids, throwing bachelorette parties, or being fashion templates. “If Woody Allen wore a yellow dress, he would make this film,” Preston laughed.
“That’s What She Said” premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, January 20th.