Written and directed by Heather Graham, the comedy Half Magic is a story of female empowerment, in which three women turn their frustration over male dominance into a sisterhood, where they can lean on each other as they learn to love themselves without defining their own worth through the men in their lives. At the center of the story is Honey (Graham), an aspiring writer who just isn’t having her voice heard at work, and her personal life is also reflecting that. With the help of friendship and a female sexual empowerment class, Honey, Eva (Angela Kinsey) and Candy (Stephanie Beatriz) learn that you don’t have to give up your identity to achieve your personal and professional goals.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress and filmmaker Heather Graham talked about wanting to make a movie celebrating women and friendship, the biggest challenges in getting this film going, having her voice heard, as a female filmmaker, what she most enjoyed about playing Honey, putting together this cast, funny moments on set, what she enjoyed about the experience of directing, her hope to do it again, juggling three different writing projects, and doing the British TV series Bliss, from David Cross.
Collider: Congrats on this movie! Half Magic is just so much fun!
HEATHER GRAHAM: Good, I’m so glad you felt that way. That’s awesome! I get sick of watching movies where it’s about some woman being treated horribly and some guy has to save her. I just wanted to make it about the women as the heroes. It’s celebrating their friendship and there’s a happy ending. It’s cool!
You wrote and directed Half Magic, along with starring in it. What made this the right first feature for you to step behind the camera on?
GRAHAM: I’ve been watching a lot of stand-up comedy, and the stand-up comedy that I really love is when people tell personal stories. Maybe they exaggerate sometimes for humor, but there’s something about it that has a grain of truth from that person’s personal experience. So, I wanted to tell a story about how I grew up religious and how I had a fear and shame around my sexuality, and how I got over that and came to see my sexuality as a spiritual, beautiful thing and accepted myself. I also wanted to deal with sexism in the world and in the workplace. I wrote about this sexist boss and sexual harassment in Hollywood, and all of these stories happened before the movie came out. In the past, when women would complain about stuff like this, it would be like, “Oh, my god, she’s such a complainer! I don’t want to hear this!” Now, I feel like people are listening to it and taking it more seriously.
I spoke to Greta Gerwig about making her writing and directing debut with Lady Bird and she told me that she’d never wanted to act in it because she didn’t want to direct herself. Had you always wanted to take on one of the roles in Half Magic? Did you write the film knowing that you’d play this character?
GRAHAM: I think I wrote it thinking, “Oh, I could act in this, and maybe I’ll get a director.” And then, my best friend, whose name is Michael Nichols, read the script and said, “Why don’t you direct it ‘cause this is a personal story and you could tell it the best?” I was nervous about it ‘cause I’ve never done it before and I didn’t actually grow up thinking, “I want to be a director,” but this is a story that’s not being told. I don’t see men writing scripts about this subject matter. So, I just decided that I was going to do it. It is scary when you are acting in your own movie, and my friend helped me, but it’s really actually fun to watch the other actors. I would totally, in the future, direct and not act in it. It’s fun to tell a personal story that’s real to me. Someone told me, “When they turn the camera on you, just tell the truth,” you can’t get more truthful than just telling your own personal story. It’s something that I believe in. It’s scary because you’re like, “Okay, I’m not just an actress in this.” It’s not like every single thing in this story happened to me in real life, but some of it did. The themes are all things that I really care about, so you feel more vulnerable putting it out there.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, in getting this film going?
GRAHAM: The biggest challenge was getting the financing. It was so hard to get the financing. People say things like, “Oh, nobody cares about this woman’s story.” They put these numbers through a grid and there’s certain movies that make money. They’re like, “Oh, there’s there female leads. Unless you have the three top movie stars in Hollywood, you’re not gonna get money to make this.” It was very, very hard to get the money. We got some financing a few years ago, and then it fell through. And then, we got this financier named Bill Sheinberg and, thank god, he gave us the money. It took years to find the financing.