KISSING JESSICA STEIN - Q&A with Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen
Movie Interview by Kris Griffiths
PHASE9 attends a Q&A at London's Screen on the Hill with the duo that wrote, produced and acted in KISSING JESSICA STEIN - Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
What was the reaction to the film in the gay community?
JENNIFER WESTFELDT: Generally the reaction has been pretty good. We've had a lot of responses basically thanking us for making a film about gay people that actually has a lot of humour in it and doesn't end up with the women dead, on heroin or in jail. Then there is a small but very vocal minority that voice their opinions over us raising some tricky issues, which we do raise, namely the gender and sexuality issues, but all we are trying to say is that we should be living in a world where whatever you feel about your sexuality you should be able to express it without a problem.
HEATHER JUERGENSEN: A few gay women have come up to us after screenings and said the ending was exactly right and did it all justice. We just really wanted to explore the complexities of your sexuality. Most of the response in the gay community has been positive while there are some who felt that certain political issues weren't dealt with appropriately.
JENNIFER WESTFELDT: There are always people with strong opinions that are going to be disappointed, but ultimately the film is just a story about two individuals, flawed like the rest of us and with similar issues. We've heard a lot of unique and utterly different stories from lots of gay people. While on a press tour of America we met a reporter who told us she was a lesbian but had been married to a man for twenty-five years and was so miserable and everything. Likewise our story is just about two different and unique experiences.
How long did the whole thing take to shoot?
HEATHER JUERGENSEN: We shot it in only twenty-three days. It was a crazy shoot. It was actually a kind of silver lining for us after we'd had such a lengthy development in terms of writing and looking for money, because the one thing we never suffered from was our script.
JENNIFER WESTFELDT: It was weird when finishing a take so quickly for a scene, only one short take after three years of writing. Our takes would have been done a lot more differently than in your average Hollywood movies. When you have limited resources you have to tackle scenes in different ways and at certain points things were looking a little threadbare. We had to do our best to make sure that things stayed cheap somehow.
HEATHER JUERGENSEN: Most of the time spent on the film after writing it was actually the editing stage. We spent about six months editing it afterwards and even that was done quickly because we wanted to get the thing out to the world so quickly. Things are done a lot differently on a small budget.
What about the costumes?
JENNIFER WESTFELDT: About eighty per cent of the costumes in the film were our own clothes and a lot of it was loaned to the cause.
When Hollywood starts calling, asking you to be in the next MISSION IMPOSSIBLE or some other mega role. What are you going to do? Are you going to go for it or stick to your indie roots?
HEATHER JUERGENSEN: We'd like that to start happening right now. There are only about four or five big actresses that mean anything in Hollywood today and we certainly don't mean anything yet. We did well in America though, not Hollywood standard yet but for a tiny film we did exceptionally well. It doesn't mean that much by that standard unless you've been in SPIDERMAN or something, so it doesn't really change that much for us.
JENNIFER WESTFELDT: There's the whole movie thing in Hollywood where it's 'one for you, one for them' where the one for them is obviously the big one that makes them a lot of money and the one for you is usually the earlier, more artistically satisfying one. We're just waiting to be asked to do the one for them.
Do you have plans to write any more film scripts together?
HEATHER JUERGENSEN: At the moment we're both writing scripts independently because we both need a break from the whole Jessica dynamic.
JENNIFER WESTFELDT: We have a particular dynamic together, but as actresses we really want to start spreading our wings now and try out some other roles so I think it would be unwise to write something else together right now. That's not to say we won't be doing anything together in the future.
Was there a reason why we didn't get to see any of Jessica's paintings in the film?
HEATHER JUERGENSEN: One painting couldn't mean the same thing to everyone who saw it, so it just seemed more interesting to us that whatever Josh's reaction was to the picture would be more important. So whatever it was we decided to leave it up to the audiences' imaginations.
JENNIFER WESTFELDT: Just like leaving the sex up to the imagination, which we thought would be more powerful because like the painting not everyone is going to agree with what they see.
Is it impossible to base a film in New York without having a Jewish setting?
JENNIFER WESTFELDT: As New Yorkers we all feel that we are part Jewish, Italian and Puerto Rican and everything else. I was raised in Brooklyn and all my friends were black, Italian and Jewish and I was actually in the minority.
Do you think the film would have worked as well if it was set in England?
HEATHER JUERGENSEN: Well there are Jews in England. Just like in London, the culture of every big city has its own balance. You'd have to tell us.
JENNIFER WESTFELDT: I think the Indian population over here is very comparable to the black and Afro-American population in the States. But whatever the race or culture, the film is just about expressive people saying exactly what's on their minds and not worrying about decorum or anything else. New Yorkers generally say exactly what they mean.