"It's interesting, I mean, people are going to take away different ideas from this film, which is one of the reasons I loved the script," Cheryl Hines told indieWIRE of her directorial debut, "Serious Moonlight," which premieres at Tribeca tonight. "A lot of people will just be entertained by it and have a good time watching it. Then, other people will really be asking the question, 'If you manipulate someone, and get them to be true to themselves, was it a bad thing that you did?' That's the question. Was it bad? Or were you just showing somebody something they already knew?"
That question comes care of a script by Adrienne Shelly, who had directed Hines in "Waitress" before she was tragically murdered in November 2006. Shelly's husband, Andy Ostroy, and his producing partner Michael Roiff, asked Hines if she would consider taking on the project while she was doing press for "Waitress."
"I was only aware that the script has been written when I was approached to direct it," Hines said in an interview Friday in New York's meatpacking district. "I was promoting 'Waitress' at the time and Andy Ostroy and Michael Roiff asked me if I would read the script and if I was interested in directing it. So, that was the first I'd heard of it. And then I read it and I really loved it, and the rest is history."
What Hines loved was the story of Louise (played by Meg Ryan), who holds her husband of 13 years, Ian (Timothy Hutton), hostage when he tells her he's leaving her for a younger woman (Kristen Bell). Louise refuses to release Ian until he commits to working on their marriage, which is complicated by the arrival of a young gardener (Justin Long) and Ian's mistress.
Hines - perhaps best known for her work playing Larry David's (now estranged) wife on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - was understandably wary of the challenges in taking control of a project that would serve as a footnote to Shelly's legacy, but Ostroy and Roiff convinced her. "There was a lot to consider taking this project on," she said. "But because I knew Michael and Andy, I had a trust with them. I trusted that it wouldn't be trying to make a film that Adrienne would have made, because I think that would be impossible. You wouldn't be able to approach a project that way because there's no way of knowing what that would be. Then you get yourself in trouble and you can't make any decisions. But I trusted them to allow me to make a film in the way I thought the story should be told."
But the influence Shelly had on Hines when they worked on "Waitress" remained evident in her approach to "Moonlight." "Adrienne was a lot of fun on set," Hines reflected. "Now looking back, I have no idea how she did it. I don't know how she directed a film and starred in it at the same time. But she always seemed to be having a very good time and really liked the actors and appreciated what was happening. Any time I had any experience with her on 'Waitress' she just seemed to be having a good time. And I wanted to bring that to 'Serious Moonlight.'"
The film was shot over a very short period of time ("I'm not at liberty to say," Hines said when asked exactly how short we're talking here), and Shelly's script was not altered from the form she left it. "That was a challenge," Hines said. "I was going into a project knowing I wasn't going to be able to make changes in the script. Because Andy Ostroy really wanted to keep the script as is. And that can be hard."
She also admits it was a challenge balancing motherhood and taking on her first time behind the camera. "You're really consumed by your project," she said. "But, as I said, at least it was a relatively short shoot so my daughter didn't forget who I was."
But that hasn't stopped Hines - who is currently shooting the seventh season of "Curb" - from considering a second directorial effort. "I think it would be fun to do another project," she said. "It would just have to be the right project, though. It's very challenging and it's very demanding but it's nice knowing what I know going forward. So perhaps, if it was just the right thing."
For now, Hines can enjoy the completion of her first project, which premieres this evening at the BMCC Tribeca PAC, and screens again tomorrow and Thursday.