Ever since becoming a household name as Monica on the hit sitcom "Friends," Courteney Cox has been a persistent screen presence, most notably in film for her recurring role as the feisty survivor Gale Weathers in the "Scream" franchise. She currently enjoys a devoted fan base for starring in the TV comedy "Cougar Town," for which she also produces and often directs. It is no surprise, then, that Cox has now turned to filmmaking, with first the Lifetime movie "TalhotBlond" and most recently her theatrical feature debut, "Just Before I Go," which premiered last week at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
The film follows Ted (Seann William Scott) as he returns to his hometown to settle some unfinished business before committing suicide. Comedy ensues, as he develops new relationships and becomes more involved in the lives of his family -- particularly his unfiltered policeman older brother (Garret Dillahunt) and teenage nephew (Kyle Gallner), a closet homosexual with a knack for drawing penises. It's a family comedy that few, if any, families will sit down to watch together, but Cox would not have it any other way, smiling as she told audiences at the premiere that it would "for sure" be given an R rating.
Cox sat down with Indiewire to discuss the surprising ease of shooting her directorial debut, working with the writers on "Friends" and "Cougar Town," and the changing face of television over the past twenty years.
What made you nervous at last night’s premiere?
Going up there and seeing people watch the movie at a festival where they’re expecting something. I don’t know; I just got really nervous. I just introduced it again and got nervous again. I meant to say that Coco [my daughter] sang the opening song, but I forgot!
What made this the script with which to make your directorial debut?
It kind of shows that when you think that something is going on with you, you realize, as you look out, that everyone is struggling and we have all have our issues. I was also drawn to the hilarity and subversive humor. Between the heartfelt stuff and the crazy obscure humor -- it was perfect for my personality. It's grounded yet outrageous.
Did you add anything?
No. Yes -- we worked on it. The script was written, but we had many different meetings with David Flebotte. We continued to work on it until we shot it, and even afterwards, trying to find the tone for people to understand that it's okay to follow Seann William Scott's life as he wants to end it. To have sympathy for him but know it's okay to laugh. Usually suicide and cunt jokes don’t really go together. When you know that something is funny, and you’re okay with telling that kind of offensive humor, then you push the envelope. There were few times when we thought to cover it a different way. The Garret line about the "retard"-- it's terrible, but it fits with this character that doesn't really realize the place he's in and how he comes across until other people let him know. He learns; at the end of the movie, he comes full circle, but he's still going to say it how it is in his mind without realizing that it's offensive.
He’s very funny in the film.
He's great. I love him. Garret Dillahunt. I worked with him on "TalhotBlond." [Until then,] I don't think he's ever had a part where he's in every scene in the movie. He plays a character Thomas Montgomery, and to see him transform himself was crazy. There are very few actors where you can say, with surprise, "That guy was that guy?" He was the guy on "Dead Wood" who played two different characters. You just get lost. I will always work with him.
How did you meet?
My manager said I should check him out. He was in "The Assassination of Jesse James." It was a very small part, but when he came on screen, he nailed it.
What most surprised you about directing?
What surprised me was that it didn't make me nervous. I was more nervous the first time directing "Cougar Town" thinking about how I was going to bring something different and be as fast as possible. Nobody wants to be there longer than you have to. You just want to do your job. It becomes not necessarily a nine to five job, but something you're used to doing. No one is looking to reinvent the wheel; you just try to be funny and go home.
[With "Just Before"] I feel like there's so much freedom with telling your own story. I didn't have anyone to answer to. I knew what I wanted to do and just did it, and it came naturally to me.
You had mentioned in an earlier interview that you received notes from David Fincher. Can you share some?
I sent him the movie. First of all, he helped me a lot with "TalhotBlond," with getting me to focus on what I wanted it to look like. He puts things simply so you go in with a really strong vision. That was the first time I had directed, so that was really an important four hour dinner that he had with me. I sent him this movie, and he was very encouraging, but it was about tone. So I ended up doing some reshoots -- just one day, in my backyard, just to try to condense it and not give so much background. It was too dramatic, and there wasn't as much humor at the beginning of the movie. So I tried to condense it and tell the story as fast as possible but still giving you a sense of his living in the middle, without passion or aspirations. [Fincher] was very helpful with asking me, "What do you want the audience to feel right now, at this moment?"