It was a packed house at the Arclight Hollywood Cinerama dome this past Saturday night for a screening of the indie romantic-comedy “Sleeping with Other People.” Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie added to star power to the event, participating in a Q&A along with writer/director Leslye Headland, whose sharp, quick-wit saw her nimbly keeping pace with the actors.
During the discussion, Headland revealed the influences on the film’s two main characters played by Sudeikis and Brie, as well as the real-life origins of the “bottle scene” therein. She also explained the evolution of Adam Scott’s creepy character and touched upon the insecurities she felt after the release of her first film “Bachelorette," admitting that the “disgusting female characters” she writes come from a very real place.
Meanwhile, Brie and Sudeikis offered some insights on the current state of indie film distribution and they briefly talked about what it was that drew them to Headland’s script in the first place. You can read some transcribed excerpts of the Q&A below, or you can listen to the entire Q&A at the end of the piece.
The Inspiration Behind Writing These Flawed Characters
Leslye Headland: I like to think of characters in relation to other cinematic characters. [For Jake], I remember watching “Django Unchained” [and] I thought it’d be cool to have a character who can talk himself out of any situation, but instead of revenge and bounty hunting, it’d just be pussy. And then Lainey comes from if we told “Fatal Attraction” from Glenn Close’s POV and what kind of movie that would be.
So I started hanging out with these characters and doing what I like to call “montaging,” which could be anything from listening to music and walking —in a sort of sullen, artistic sort of way, pulling from my own personal experience. And then I asked the characters, "What movie do you guys wanna be in?” And they were like, “We wanna be in a romantic comedy because we’re really lonely and we wanna find love.”
And then once you get these guys [points to Sudeikis and Brie], it’s like all bets are off. You have this great idea of who these people are and you feel so connected to them as a writer and then they come and just completely make it their own. They do the brave thing of being the mediums through which these spirits can sort of pass and I’ll always be humble and grateful for the performances these guys gave for this movie, because when I was going around with the script, looking for financing, I’d always say, “This script is my heart.” The fact is that these two were so funny and so awesome and supported me so much throughout the whole way.
Origins of “The Bottle Scene”
LH: So we looked at a bunch of different jars and Snapple wasn’t having it —and I think they made a huge mistake. It was a little bit like the Reese’s Pieces/M&M tragedy of “E.T.,” and they [producers] were like, “Snapple’s a no-go” and I was like "this is the dumbest thing they ever done."
Jason Sudeikis: And you see how that affected M&M’s business… [laughs]
LH: There’s just a scene in every romantic comedy where the couple has sex, but doesn’t have sex. Like in “When Harry Met Sally,” she fakes the orgasm. In “Trouble in Paradise” they pick each other’s pockets.
JS: In "Breakfast at Tiffany’s," is it when they steal from the five and dime?
LH: Yes! When she sings “Moon River” though… that’s almost sex. So I decided to do this thing I used to do, it’s a funny trick. it’s called “Five Easy Ways to Finger a Woman” and I did it in high school and I’d always get really drunk at parties because I had a really severe drinking problem. And then these freshmen guys would come up to me and say like, “I heard that you have this thing you tell guys and it’s about the um…” And I’d be like "va-gi-na?" And they’re like “Yeah the va-vagina…” And so I put it in the script, thinking there’s no way we’ll ever keep this —someone will stop me. And I turned it into the financiers, [and] nobody stopped me. These guys read it, [and] no one said anything. We get on set —no one says anything. I didn’t think it was gonna be “the scene” from the movie, I didn’t really think that much of it. And then, there were some dudes at craft [services] —I don’t think they knew I was the director. Because I don’t really look like a director, if you think about it, because I have, like, tits and stuff [laughs].
JS: “…and stuff.” I love how we were talking about vagina so bluntly and yet you just referred to it as “stuff” [laughs].
LH: And the guy was like, “Did you see what scene they’re shooting in there? Did you hear about that?” And the other guy’s like, “No, what is it?” “The dude’s like fingering a bottle like it’s a pussy —it’s pretty hot.” And I was like [singing], “We’re gonna make so much money!”
Moderator: Have any of those people you taught that party trick to seen the movie?
LH: One of them came to the premiere! My friend Darryl. He was a freshman when I was a senior in high school. And he was like, “You taught me how to finger a woman, and now you’ll have taught America.” [laughs] It’s true!
How Does Distribution Factor Into Taking on Indie Projects?
JS: It doesn’t for me. I know it’s very important for you [points to Headland], but it doesn’t matter for me in the least. It’s the opportunity to do it. It’s the journey, not the destination. I truly believe that. I don’t know where I’m gonna be two weeks at a time, much less the thing I’m making. I’m just flattered to get the opportunity to do it and to get asked to do it. So if it shows up somewhere, or if it doesn’t, you prefer it to be seen like this. But I could care less as long as people see it.
Alison Brie: I think most of the time with independent films, you don’t know where it’s gonna end up. I’ve done a number of films that may never see the light of day, so it ends up being exclusively about the content, material, the characters and the story. Things that you maybe wouldn’t get an opportunity to do otherwise. So, as an actor, obviously it’s so different.
LH: I just really wanted a theatrical release with this movie. I think it’s nice to watch those sex scenes with people. I think it works. [laughs]
Giving an Equal Amount of Flaws to Both Female and Male Characters
AB: Something that I thought was very awesome about this movie was the equality in storylines and interesting-ness of the characters. I don’t think being flawed is a bad thing for a character… nor do I think it’s a bad thing for a person in life, because that’s how we all are. So I found that’s really the great thing about the script, because it services the male and female characters equally. They’re both interesting, deep characters, and the way they have sex is very different —but there’s no slut shaming happening or any of that stuff.
JS: One of the things I loved when I read the script was that it was taking care of both the male and female perspective within both characters. Because I know when I read it, I empathized with Alison’s character as I did with Jake. And that’s what made it more interesting to say yes [to], outside of [producer] Jessica Elbaum and Leslye being in charge of it. I don’t know if turning the dial from M to F over and over and only making movies that are only specifically for one of the two sexes is totally beneficial. It seems like there’s a middle ground there, and I think this movie does a really nice, responsible job of doing that, and I think that’s what makes it feel like a romantic comedy we haven’t seen or felt in awhile. “When Harry Met Sally” —you dealt with them both. “Sleepless in Seattle” —you dealt with them both. I think that’s a good thing to aim for.
LH: I totally agree with that. Also, all of that happened to me. When people are like, “What’s it like writing despicable characters?” I did all of that stuff so… I mean, I’ve slept with men that are unavailable, I’ve fallen in love with people I don’t know. I’ve been Jake. I’ve really carelessly gotten out of relationships that were incredibly destructive instead of being honest. I’ve been in love with my best friend and not been able to tell that person. I guess I only think of it when I’m at my most vulnerable, like when the movie’s opening or when I show the script to somebody. Of course I think, “Oh gosh, am I gonna be publicly shamed for saying this stuff?” I definitely experienced that with “Bachelorette.”
I’m very excited about the positivity this film is having, but with “Bachelorette,” so much of that psychosis or pathos the characters were going through I could totally relate with. Maybe not their actions, but I definitely relate with their feelings. And for [people] to be like “So what it’s like dealing with female characters who are completely disgusting?” I don’t think they are —does that make me weird? I made a very intentional choice to not care about that stuff, and go like “I don’t care about it, I’m just gonna tell my truth and see what happens.”
I can’t be the only girl who’s fucked a guy who looks like a foot. And then he’s like with the hottest chick ever and you can’t understand it. I can’t be the only person that’s like, “Why am I in love with this guy just because he makes me feel bad?” I can’t be the only person in the world who’s had that feeling. So that’s why I wrote the story.
The Creepiness Behind Adam Scott’s Character
LH: The mustache is all Adam. I had a couple visual references for the character. The main spine for Sovochek was what would a male Mrs. Robinson look like and be like. In this day and age, [he’d look like] sort of a moneyed bored narcissist, but also sort of tragic in his own way. Adam really came up with that stuff and came on set the first day in his costume and it was like the evil spirit. Literally that whole week, we shot him out first, so there’s a whole week where Ali and I were just making a sexual thriller with Adam Scott.
And really, my main contribution was those glasses —those were very important to me, because I wanted him to have the same glasses as Jack Nicholson in “King of Marvin Gardens.” For some reason, the idea of this put-upon guy who at any moment could just totally beat the shit out somebody and then gets the shit beaten out of him and he’s just like, “How dare you, world?” But on the page, Sovochek is really boring. You have to have someone who’s really brilliant to come up with an entire world that guy lives in, and that’s what Adam Scott did. And it was my experience working with him on “Bachelorette” as well. He’s an incredible dramatic actor. I wouldn’t say he’s quite “method” —he’s not a Daniel Day-Lewis type, but he’s incredibly immersive in what he does whether he’s being funny or being the creepiest motherfucker that’s ever graced a romantic comedy. But he really embraced it, and I was glad that he did.
"Sleeping With Other People" is now playing in limited release.