The Netflix original film Girlfriend’s Day is a quirky, clever, funny and, at times, melancholy look at the life of Ray Wentworth (Bob Odenkirk, who also produced and co-wrote the film with Eric Hoffman & Phil Zlotorynski), who was once the king of writing the best and most romantic greeting cards. Now down-on-his-luck and unable to pull himself out of it, he gets entangled in a web of murder and deceit, as writers compete to create the perfect card for the newly crowned holiday, Girlfriend’s Day.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Bob Odenkirk and director Michael Paul Stephenson talked about how Girlfriend’s Day came about, having so many stand-out moments in the film, why this was such a fun shoot, and why Netflix is the perfect home. Odenkirk also talked about the upcoming third season of his TV series Better Call Saul, where Jimmy is emotionally, the big push towards becoming Saul, and being good at only focusing on the current moment.
Collider: Where does a character come from, that writes greeting cards for a living, but somehow ends up in a whole tangled web of murder and mystery?
BOB ODENKIRK: The original draft of the script that I got was written by Eric Hoffman and Phil Zlotorynski, and that was 18 years ago. Eric was a writer at Mr. Show, and this was something he wrote with Phil. He shared it with me, and I absolutely loved it. Over the years, there have been many, many, many rewrites, but the core tone and the character Ray Wentworth, who is this sour, angry, misanthropic guy who needs to write romance cards, but you can’t imagine, in a million years, him writing anything romantic, was there in the original draft. And so were many of the touchstones of noir film, in particular the movie Chinatown. There is a lot of homage in our little movie to Chinatown. Those things were laid out a little bit. Over the years, we tried to mine this mixture of the stakes and the darkness mixed with extremely silly scenarios and lines. We also thought about how there is a real world version of this, in some way, in every industry. Every industry has its conferences, and Michael learned that there are actually awards for greeting cards.
MICHAEL PAUL STEPHENSON: Yeah, and it’s as you would expect. I think it’s annual, and it probably happens in a conference center in a Hilton in Ohio. People in that industry give each other awards for their work. I would never have imagined it, until we started to look at this world and say, “Okay, what really exists and where are we gonna have fun with it?” The thing that was really fun, for me, when I first read the script, was to imagine trying to present real stakes in a world that could easily be written off as unimportant, silly or ridiculous, and it is. It was a fun challenge to say, “Okay, let’s treat this sincerely. Let’s treat this as though this honors where these guys get together and talk about everything that means something to them.” It was fun to imagine that.
There are so many great moments with such an interesting variety of actors in this, whether it’s Stacy Keach or Andy Richter, or any number of other actors, and they all get a moment to shine. What were your personal favorite moments, and was it difficult to get through any of them without laughing?
ODENKIRK: Oh, we laughed a lot! We had a blast playing out these moments. I really enjoyed Toby [Huss] and David [Sullivan] as the ex-racists, yelling at me about how they hate elitists now. And Stacy Keach is just a master in that scene, where he’s eating liver and beets. Amber [Tamblyn] was so great because she played it so honestly, in telling me to write a card for her. Steven Michael Quezada is hilarious at the door, asking for rent. And Rich Sommer is great, as my friend who helps me try to sort out what’s going on and the whole mystery. He was really funny and perfect in that role. We just had so many great comic actors, and there are so many funny moments for me. As you pointed out, everybody gets their moment. It’s like a Mr. Show episode. I just know it’s filled with presents for myself, from the future.
STEPHENSON: For me, it’s the same way. With this movie, you feel like, “I met all these characters, but here comes another one!” It’s so fun to meet new characters, 35 minutes into it.
And as a director, it must have been so great to have all of that material to work with.
STEPHENSON: It’s a gift! A movie at this scale, which is very small with a short schedule, presents challenges. But when you start with Bob and you start with this great script, and everything comes together, it never, ever felt like a chore. Having made documentaries, you’re always faced with this anxiety of, am I going to get anything that means anything to me? What am I going to find here that’s worth anything? And you’re constantly looking for that. With this, I was able to step into it and be like, “This is a gift!” There were amazing characters and a fun script that was unlike anything I’d ever read before. And not to get pretentious, but my favorite line is in the same scene with the two ex-racists, where Bob says, “Hating a whole race of folks is a lot of work.” That, to me, is so great because it’s something serious, but it’s in a way that’s very fun.
I really love the scene where they’re torturing Ray by trying to decide on the right place to give him a paper cut where it will hurt him the most.
STEPHENSON: That was so fun! On paper, that’s something that can go wrong, so fast. We knew that we had to play it all the way straight, as if this could be analogous to his life being threatened. It was a fun challenge, for sure.
Bob, Better Call Saul is such a great show, and Season 3 is premiering soon. What can you tease about where Jimmy is, emotionally, at the start of this season, especially in the wake of what happened with Chuck?
ODENKIRK: I literally finished shooting Season 3 yesterday (February 10th), and it comes out on April 10th. It’s an amazing season! My gut is that it’s got more variety of tone, character and everything in it, than any season before. From comedy to drama to danger, it’s going in every direction, all the time. It’s pretty cool. As far as where his head is at, he’s moving towards becoming Saul, a guy who basically abandons humanity. He’s getting pushed, and his brother betraying him is a big push. That’s all I can say.
Jimmy and Kim are great together, but since we know the future, we know that doesn’t work out, personally or professionally. Is it ever hard to put things like that out of your mind, when approaching the character in this, or does knowing what happens help to add an extra layer to your performance?