Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael are two comedians/writers/actresses who have gained recognition on nearly every platform a comedian can take advantage of these days. College buddies at NYU, they studied improv comedy at New York’s UCB theater where they performed their long running show, “Rode Hard and Put Away Wet,” before Hollywood scooped them up to write the Kate Hudson/Anne Hathaway vehicle “Bride Wars.” Since then, Wilson has put in stints on TV as an SNL cast member and on the kooky (and sadly cancelled) ABC sitcom “Happy Endings.” Raphael appeared in “Year One,” starred in the “Bachelorette“-parody web series “Burning Love” (coming soon to E!), and is a co-host of the addictive and hilarious bad movie podcast “How Did This Get Made?”
Not content to leave a single media avenue unexplored, Wilson and Raphael’s co-written, co-starring indie flick “Ass Backwards,” directed by Chris Nelson, made its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Sporting a supporting cast of Alicia Silverstone, Paul Scheer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Cryer, Brian Geraghty, and Bob Odenkirk, “Ass Backwards” follows the mishap-laden road trip of Kate (Raphael) and Chloe (Wilson), two completely delusional and co-dependent best friends on their journey to reclaim lost glory in a “Toddlers & Tiaras“-style child beauty pageant.
We recently caught up with Wilson and Raphael in Los Angeles to talk road trip goggles, writing complicated female characters, and the particular challenges of indie filmmaking.
What was the inspiration for this story? Did the child pageants or the road movie idea come first?
June: I think what came first was more the state of our lives at a certain period of time, post-college, when we were living in New York together and were just really delusional about where we were in our lives. I think that kind of delusion and these characters that are just building each other up in all of the wrong ways and have this really weird co-dependent friendship was the beginning of the kernel.
Casey: The beginning of the end. And then we went on a road trip, a horrible road trip, to South Carolina and about seven other states. June mapped it out and it was a pretty straight shot I thought, New York to South Carolina, but just getting into other states, dipping in and out of them, and June’s planning was so poor, we had cell phones, hers had been shut off, mine was low on battery, so I remember being in the phone booth asking my dad to look up bus routes for us. I was like, “Is there a flight I could get on?”
June: What happened on the road trip was that our friendship was really tested, we were in this car together for so long.
Casey: At one point we were, what was that restaurant? “Restaurant” is the liberal term for that. It’s Ruby Tuesdays or something, we were drinking cosmos at a Ruby Tuesdays, weird things were happening.
June: Do you remember we ran into that guy? … She’s giving me the abort sign.
Casey: (whispers) The man with one arm?
June: Yeah. He had a hook for a hand. The Brian character [Brian Geraghty] who’s on “Intervention” and gets called back, is loosely based on this character who we met along the way, who worked in this restaurant, not the Ruby Tuesdays, a mom and pop type place. They were selling thongs there with the name of the restaurant on it, and he handed us the thong with the hook.
Casey: I remember, at the time, we were like “Oh that guy’s kind of cute.” When you’re on a road trip, anything goes.
June: We had Road Trip Goggles on.
Casey: I think we just loved the idea that the road trip can lend itself to so many different things. The pageant element sort of came later because we were obsessed with “Toddlers & Tiaras” and just that weird, fucked up world of pageants and we just thought that would be fun and would say something if that was their end game.
June: Yeah, and I think we also love this idea of arrested development. We really love these characters’ view on the world, the way that they see things is so positive, their so upbeat and enthusiastic about everything and then once this trip starts, things start to come into sight more.
I feel like you’re sending up “Toddlers & Tiaras” and this “Sex and the City” type of person, but you’re also empathetic, you’re not condemning it, you’re embracing it, it’s real, was that something you saw in the culture that you wanted to talk about?
Casey: I appreciate you saying that, I think we never wanted anyone to think we’re just making fun of this. We love “Toddlers & Tiaras,” we also see that it’s kind of depraved. Similarly, with the lesbian communists, that’s a funny concept, but it’s also kind of cool, they’re the straight men to our craziness. We liked showing the dualities.
June: More than the actual pageant world, what we were mining it for was the idea that there’s this trauma that they haven’t dealt with. It was less about pageants, though when we thought of that it seemed the perfect backdrop. It was more about, as a child, not being able to, and this is going to sound so psychoanalytical, but really express their feelings. Instead, they were like, it’s okay, you’re great and I’m great.
Casey: Just accepting that they’re losers and that they lost. They’re friends that have spent their entire lives building each other up and trying to avoid the central fact that they are losers. So it’s just kind of funny that they have one final showdown and chance to be okay with being losers.
You have both done so many different types of media: TV, film, web, podcasts. What has it been like to do the indie film/Sundance thing?
Casey: It’s been hell. (laughs)
June: There are challenges, most of them have been financial. We’ve definitely had the indie experience of just the battle to raise the money and then we lost money and had to shut down, and then came back and raised money again, and we’re still raising money. We started at UCB doing a show called “Rode Hard and Put Away Wet,” and we were pretty much involved in every aspect of that production, so similarly, I think when do an indie film, you’re like, “Oh I’m everything to this movie.” I wear all hats. I think it was challenging but it’s also been the most fulfilling because we’re so involved in everything. It’s cool because the only real creative roadblocks we ran into were just financial. That, to me unlike anything else I’ve ever done, was so amazing. To not get notes, to really just be like, okay, we can do exactly what we want. Save for money issues and having to change things because of that.
How important do you think it is for young performers or female performers to create their own material?
Casey: I think it’s very important. For us, we really wanted to write something that we had to say and then get to act in it too. We had written “Bride Wars” in the more commercial realm for Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway, and that was its own great experience, but I think nowadays, especially in this business, to just be an actor, to me would feel very, not stifling, but you’re just so at the mercy of everyone else. And you’re at the mercy of everyone else in independent film, but you have so many more choices and agency over your own career.
June: I think that, especially starting out, we really started writing roles so that we could act in them, that was always the idea. I just think there’s a lack of really complex female characters out there, something we were reacting to, from writing in the studio world for awhile was just the note, over and over again about making women likable and there’s just this real need to see women behaving well.
Casey: With everything I love, like Nicole Holofcener’s work or Mike White’s stuff with women, they’re not likable, like “The Comeback” and Valerie Cherish, but I think they’re so much more interesting and fun and so I also think we’re giving ourselves an opportunity that maybe other people weren’t ready to give us. But then you sort of have to tell people what you’re ready for, in a way.
June: And, I think there’s a certain style of comedy that we’re doing in this that’s bigger.
Casey: It is broad.
June: It’s physical, it’s bigger characters that are heightened, that we haven’t seen in awhile and that we really wanted to do. We don’t think of them as sketch characters, like that, but we do see them as a little but larger than life, and that type of comedy I think really appeals to us.
How much input did you have on the costumes?
Casey: That was kind of all of our director Chris Nelson, he really wanted the characters to have this iconic different looks, he wanted me to go blonde, June was brunette at the time, and then he wanted these distinctive looks and there’s something funny about these girls who are delusional who are wearing fashions and clothes that are so heightened. And I think that is kind of a nod to “Sex and the City,” a girl who’s watched that and thought “I’m Samantha.”
June: We love this idea of Kate and Chloe kind of in a larger sense, they are performing ideas of themselves all the time. Performing being a star, being a businesswoman, which I do think speaks to our generation a bit. You can call yourself something before you really are. When people, especially with Facebook and everything there’s this performance of your identity. We just love the idea of Kate and Chloe in costumes, truly and literally in costumes. We thought that was really right, and that was totally our director, it was all him.
Casey: He’s really influenced by Pedro Almodovar and I can see that in there too, with the bright colors.
What’s next for you two?
Casey: June and I are writing two pilots, and I’m going to shoot a part in “Gone Girl,” and just seeing what’s next.
June: Writing those pilots as well. I did a role in “Anchorman 2” which is coming out which I’m excited about, and “Burning Love,” which is a Yahoo web series is going to E!
“Ass Backwards” is on now on VOD and opens in theaters on November 8th.