Writers and neurosis, it’s like peanut butter and jelly. Oh sure, they can be separate, but chances are they are going to come together. That’s the wonderfully cracked world that = writer/director Josh Boone’s covers in his debut feature Writers. It’s about a family of writers, a successful father (Greg Kinnear) with a literary legacy, and his two children: Lily Collins’ a uber-cynical college student who just published her first novel about her sexual misadventures, and Nat Wolf’s struggling high schooler obsessed with Stephen King. Kinnear pays his children to keep diaries, which is ripe for reading and embarrassment and the absent mother (Jennifer Connolly) recently left the family in a painful divorce that scarred them all.
In Boone’s hands the loosely autobiographical material became a comedy of sadness, a tone helped in no small part by star Greg Kinnear. A former talk show host turned actor with a string of interesting work in films like As Good As It Gets, Auto Focus, Little Miss Sunshine, and Ghost Town, Kinnear has carved out a place for himself as a charmingly befuddled leading man equally capable of loosening his audience’s tear ducts and tickling their funny bones. Collider participated in a group interview with both the director and star shortly after the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, delving subjects like awkward autobiography, playing with big screen personas, and the difficulties associated with landing a Stephen King cameo. Hit the jump for all the details.
Question: How long did it take for you to get this first film off the ground?
JOSH BOONE: I always wanted to make movies. I watch the JJ Abrams movie Super 8 with tears in my eyes because that was me and my friends growing up. I think writers write about writing because that’s what we know best. If you look at Stephen King books a writer is often the main character, so I think that’s common. It took ten years to get this made though. I had other projects with great actors attached, this just ended up being the one that I finally got to roll down the mountain. I wrote the first scene in the classroom in high school. That first page I had for a very long time. And then I wrote Lilly’s first monologue in college and I had that for a long time. Then eventually I just started writing notes for about 8 months after looking back on both of those scenes. Then I sat down and wrote it as fast as I could. I blazed through it. I’d thought about it for years before hand, but when it’s time to write, it’s time to write and I sit down for 6-8 hours a day and get it done.
How did you get involved with the film Greg, and are you apprehensive at all about working with first time filmmakers?
GREG KINNEAR: Well, I’ve done it a few times, not a lot. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris were the last ones on Little Miss Sunshine and that obviously worked out. They were great, very organized. I thought Josh was very organized. He had written a script that was very personal. In fact, I sat down with him the first I met with him and he told me that the relationship between myself and Jennifer Connolly’s character was born out of his wishlist for his parents. His parents had a divorce and it was always devastating to him, which he talked about quite openly and said, “you know, if they could have found away back this movie was always the dream.” They didn’t, but I just thought that was a sweet sentiment and interesting starting place. The “what if” of that. There’s something kind of romantic about it, so I read the script with that in mind. And then it’s obviously a multi-generational story. All these multigenerational storylines, high school, college, first love and all that. All of the plotlines had something that resonated with me or felt honest anyways. So that’s how I came on.
And you didn’t have to shave either, which was probably nice.
KINNEAR: Yep, I didn’t have to shave, which is great for the first week and then you start scratching and thinking, “goddamn to I want to shave right now. I’d give anything for a nice hot shave.” I won’t be in a beard anytime soon. My hat’s off to Jeff Daniels for that Noah Baumbach movie now.
That was a serious beard.
KINNEAR: Oh yeah, I didn’t give him enough respect before. He deserves it.
Josh, was it difficult for you to be directing actors in such a personal and autobiographical story?
BOONE: Yeah, It’s really personal and there were definitely moments on set when I was very uncomfortable and had a hard time shooting. I feel a little better about it now, but it’s still very personal. Greg was great about it though.
KINNEAR: That’s right, keep it up Josh.
Have your parents seen the movie yet?
BOONE: They’ve seen it and they are very emotional about it. My mom read the script and has been a big supporter. They aren’t very much like Bill and Eric. They are very different characters. I just based some of the things about the divorce on my parents divorce and fictionalized it a little bit. It’s more about the kids and how they felt about the divorce that made it very personal for me. It was wish fulfillment to get my parents back together, but it’s not completely clear if that happens in the end. I’m an optimist though. I think it worked out.
Greg, how did you find playing such an odd father compared to what I’m assuming is a much more sane home in your own life?
KINNEAR: Well, my guy doesn’t have a lot of relaxed time because he’s so neurotic. I have three daughters and that’s a lot of responsibility right now. It’s was interesting and a little jarring when I read the script looking at how my character spoke to his children, because it’s just so straight forward and such an adult approach. Ultimately I found it refreshing because its just such am untypical father/daughter dialogue where there’s normally a generation separating their communication. It was very straightforward and very honest. Not the kind of conversation that I have with my own children, but I thought there was something refreshing about that. Obviously it’s a double-edged sword because if you treat your children as an equal, then they’ll treat you as an equal and start talking about you having sex and stuff. It was a little uncomfortable at times to have Lily addressing some of the things that she was addressing with me, but I did enjoy it. He’s the cool Dad. I’m not sure I’m a cool dad.
I enjoyed how damaged and neurotic the character was. Do you like to play characters like that to play on the image people have of you?
KINNEAR: Well, I don’t know what image people have of me.
You’re a nice guy.
KINNEAR: Oh damnit. I need to swear more. I need to smoke more. I need to get hooked on pills. I do have Bob Crane, I guess. I’m not sure. I think I responded to this in another way. Someone said yesterday, is this a drama or a comedy and I’m like, “yes, yes.” I do like movies that delve in both. It’s not easy to tell a story about writers and make that feel like a complete story and an interesting story. But I thought there was something interesting happening with these characters. They were pushing and pulling each other in their own storylines that ultimately resolves itself in a great way. They’ve all changed and moved each other, ending in a great place. And that aspect of the show did appeal to me.
Was it difficult to get Stephen King for his cameo and did you have any other options?
BOONE: I still remember when [producer] Judy Cairo called me. We were about to shoot and still didn’t know, which is pretty terrifying because it’s such a big part of the story. But she called me and said, “I’m going to be your favorite person in the world, I got you Stephen King,” I started jumping up and down. I don’t know what we would have done otherwise. I told them, “if we can’t get Stephen King, I’m not going to do this movie.” It was that serious. I actually wrote him a letter when I was twelve. My parents were very Christian so I wasn’t around to read them. I used to tear the covers off and hide them in Christian books and keep them in the boxspring under my bed. My parents found It and The Stand and threw them in the fireplace. I actually sent him some of my writing when I was a kid. I came home from school a couple weeks later and there was a big box from Stephen King, he sent me a beautiful letter about being a writer and that I should keep going. My parents were so moved by the fact that he took the time to do that, that my parents let me read his books finally.
Do you miss your talk show at all Greg?
KINNEAR: There are times when I do. I enjoyed doing that show a lot. I took over from Bob Costas and he didn’t have an audience, but when I came in the network wanted an audience. I’m not really sure that was right for that show. When an audience comes in there are certain demands on the interview. I do like talking to people and I wouldn’t bring in an audience if I ever did it again, but I do miss it at times.