On a hot afternoon during a heat wave, the theater for Otherhood in the IFC Center was entirely full. Screening at 51/Fest, a new festival by and about women, Angela Bassett, Patricia Arquette, and Felicity Huffman star as the three mothers who drive to New York City to move in with their sons after they don’t call on Mother’s Day.
Read our review from FF2 contributor, Beatrice Viri, here.
First, Cathy and Cindy discussed the roots of the film.
Mario Cantone: How did you find the book, Whatever Makes You Happy?
Cathy Schulman: The book was actually discovered 11 years ago by a book scout at the Frankfurt Book Fair. She called me and said I just read the most remarkable book about women in their 50’s. So you won’t get it made, but you should read it.
Originally Fox Searchlight bought the book for me, but it went through 3 studios until it finally landed at Netflix. Along the way, Cindy came on board as a writer and ultimately the director.
Mario: It took 11 years?
Cindy Chupack: I have joked that I was the girl who cried movies; there were so many almosts that by the time it actually did happen nobody believed me that it was happening. I was hired to rewrite the original, just to do a polish on the original draft. But, Cathy convinced me to try to direct.
They continued to talk about casting.
Mario: Did you go through a large casting process? How did you pick the sons?
Cindy: Well we had the mothers first, Angela then Patricia then Felicity. I had been working on I’m Dying Up Here, which Jake Lacy is in. He was so good on that and he came in and read with Felicity and they were great. And then Jake Hoffman.
Mario: I had no idea he was Dustin Hoffman’s son.
Cindy: It was so funny because I kept thinking his role needed to be a young Dustin Hoffman, and then he auditioned in New York. I just saw the tape and thought ‘Oh he’s so good’.
And then Sinqua Walls.
Cindy: I didn’t realize, I mean I know Power is a phenomenon, but when we were filming in the Village, there were some women that recognized Sinqua. It was like The Beatles; people were so excited.
Mario: So, the three women. Did you send them the script? Did you have to convince them?
Cindy: I felt intimidated for my directing debut. The second day on set, all three of them were in a scene together. I thought just do your thing and I’ll stand over here. I felt like I was entrusted with some American treasures.
Cathy highlighted some of the difficulties in making the film and how the industry impacts women. Cindy spoke about what it was like to work with Netflix, especially after the film had bounced around 3 studios before finally being made.
Cathy: We were feeling like one of the reasons we were having trouble getting the film on its feet was that its a number of different genres. In Hollywood, everyone’s trying to put it into one. I had just done Bad Moms and really had a good experience with a stage-of-life comedy.
So I said to Cindy maybe we should think of what this is. We had been talking and talking about this stage of life, that’s sort of between 49 and 69. Why is it so unmapped out? People think were supposed to be grandparents at 49; We’re still working into our 70’s. Things are weird.
I was like, ‘Maybe we just need a word that captures the whole thing and Cindy said well it’s not Motherhood its…
Cathy: She said it! Just like that. We changed it and within a minute of that everything started to come together. Especially Angela. She said I’m in Otherhood; I’m living it.
Cindy: Patricia and Angela both were saying thank you for trusting them with comedy. I felt like they took a flyer on me, I didn’t need to take a flyer on them.
Mario: I mean it’s three women in their 50’s. Where do you see a film like that?
Cathy: I mean making the film really mirrored the women’s gender movement in media. It was really interesting to see from where we were when we began this to where we are now.
The first movie I worked on was Kathryn Bigelow’s second film, Blue Steel, in 1989. From that very moment I was thinking I’m gonna work with women and its going to be incredible. There was only one other woman a year and a half ago, besides Cindy. So it took years and years to even make a movie with a female writer/director, let alone cast women in their 50’s.
Cindy: Working with Netflix was a breath of fresh air. They’re just more open and of course we ended up with an amazing cast, but it wasn’t like you have to have this or that to get the movie made.
Cindy: It’s nice to do a film that is about this universal thing that no matter who you are, everyone has experiences as mothers and empty nesters. A universal, relatable story.
Cathy: It’s all about family.
This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.
© Katharine Cutler (7/31/19) FF2 Media
Middle Photo: Mario Cantone, Cindy Chupack, and Cathy Schulman at 51/Fest.
Photo Credits: Jan Lisa Huttner
Featured Photo: Patricia Arquette as 'Gillian', Angela Bassett as 'Carol', and Felicity Huffman as 'Helen'.
Top Photo: Otherhood Poster
Bottom Photo: Patricia Arquette as 'Gillian', Angela Bassett as 'Carol', and Felicity Huffman as 'Helen'
Photo Credits: Netflix