From first-time feature writer/director Scott Foley (who also stars in the film), the black comedy Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife is a subversive look at what happens when one of your friends is married to the totally wrong person. Everyone hates Ward’s (Donald Faison) wife, Stacy (Dagmara Dominczyk), and wants her dead, including Ward. But when murderous fantasies turn into accidental reality, they have to figure out how to dispose of the body without getting caught. The film also stars Patrick Wilson, Marika Dominczyk, Amy Acker, James Carpinello and Greg Grunberg.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor/filmmaker Scott Foley talked about how this story evolved, making a film that’s Throw Momma From the Train meets Very Bad Things, getting this very tricky tone right, that a film really comes together during the post-production process, how his friends and family reacted to the final cut, and deciding which actor would play each role. He also talked about trying to find the time to direct his next project, having just sold an idea for a sitcom to ABC with Shonda Rhimes, and what it’s like to be a part of a show with as much fan frenzy as Scandal. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: When you got to that age where all of your friends were either getting married or were in serious relationships that were heading that way, and you started to see the way marriage changes a relationship and the friendships that a person has, did you ever have a friend whose spouse was just so intense that you didn’t want to have to be around them?
SCOTT FOLEY: Yeah. I’ve lost friends. There were a couple specific incidents, and this was more of a general idea that I had. For men, after a certain age, it gets hard to make new friends. I found myself with a wife and kids, and some of my friends weren’t around as much. They weren’t calling as much, and I didn’t quite know what it was. Someone said, “Yeah, I recently lost one of my closest friends. He got his finger stuck in a wedding ring.” And I thought, “Oh, that’s what’s happening! We’re all going off and making our own families.” But I have had a couple friends, in particular, who were just victimized by these women who had a specific idea of what their marriage was going to be and they were going to make sure that their husbands fit into that idea. It was very tough to watch.
Did you set out to write this specific movie, or did it evolve into this?
FOLEY: I sat down thinking, “What an interesting time of your life to write about, where everything is changing.” It’s such an interesting emotional moment, where you’re all splitting off and you’re making your own families, and what happens to friends through that journey. I sat down to write it, and two weeks later, I looked up and I had this fucked up, sometimes gruesome, horrific yet weirdly funny script. I thought, “Oh, god, what have I done?! This isn’t the kind of film I want to make!” I gave it to a couple people and their response was, “We like this. This is really funny. It’s fucked up, but it’s really funny.” And we ran with it from there. I like Ordinary People. That’s the kind of film I want to make. But somehow, this is Throw Momma From the Train meets Very Bad Things. This is hard to get right, tonally. You have to be very careful, especially with everything that’s going on now with the NFL and domestic violence. People who have seen the trailer on iTunes and who are commenting on it on YouTube are saying, “Fuck Scott Foley! He’s a domestic abuser.” But, they’re missing it. He was being abused and they’re protecting him, but you can’t know that unless you see the film. It was very difficult to get right, tonally. After every heavy, gruesome element, there had to be a sense of levity that followed, either before or after. I think we hit that, but I’m glad it’s done.
Was this a tone that you had to really get a handle on during the script-writing process, or did it continue to evolve during the shoot and through the editing process, as well?
FOLEY: It was definitely evolving the whole time. I knew what I wanted in the script. I knew what I wanted, tonally, on the screen, but I’m not a good enough writer to have everything in the script. And a lot of that is stuff you can’t write. You have to talk with your actors about it and have everybody understand what film they’re making. Some people’s sensibility isn’t wired that way, so it’s hard for them to find. They’re like, “What do you mean, I’m not horrified that she’s dead and that you strangled her?!” It was a really difficult thing, and it was something that I worked on, all the way through the final edit. We had to tweak some things that were still knocking, here and there, but I think we got it.
FOLEY: For me, that’s where a film really comes together. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of that process, having directed some episodic television. I know that, as long as you shoot a bunch of stuff, you should be able to cull the right pieces from here and there, and I knew that going in. The editing process, for me, is both the most fun and the most frustrating. It’s the most fun because you get to see it actually piece together. But if one thing is off, it can be frustrating trying to figure out exactly what it is that’s bumping you, so you try a hundred different things. It’s ultimately very satisfying, but getting there can just drive you insane. And I don’t have the personal knowledge of Final Cut or Avid to be able to sit down and do it myself, so I’m going through a third party. I have my fantastic editor who I’m saying, “No, try this. No, try that. Now try this,” instead of just doing it myself. As an actor, I know immediately if I’m saying a word that doesn’t feel right coming out of my mouth, and I know how to change it. But as a director watching something, or even as a writer reading a script, sometimes it’s not always clear what needs to be fixed. You don’t know if it’s a structural problem or a dialogue problem or if something with character is not quite right. So, to find and fix all of those issues and questions is very time-consuming. And because it’s time-consuming, it’s very expensive.
How did your friends and family react when they saw the final cut of this film?
FOLEY: Everyone was pleasantly surprised. People that weren’t involved in the film – friends of mine that knew about it and who I told about it – weren’t quite sure what the fuck to expect. But people who have seen it were like, “Oh, you did it!” I think they were more proud of me than they are of the film. In saying that, it is a big confidence booster that it resonated with them and that they got it. Overall, almost everybody has been happy with it. There have been a couple of people who were like, “I can’t do it! He pees on her?! I can’t do it!” You either get it or you don’t.
Each of the characters has that moment of, “I’m so horrified that he did this,” and then, “I’m so glad that he did this.” Was that intentional?
FOLEY: Yeah, I thought that was important. Ultimately, when you’re watching this, you’re going to relate to some characters more than others, like with anything. One of the most important things was to have the Ronnie (James Carpinello) character be the one who is horrified about it. I think there are going to be those people watching the film who feel that way about it, and I needed to give them a voice, as well. It’s the voice of reason and the voice of the audience. It’s not normal or natural to be like, “Oh, she’s dead, let’s cut her up!” But to have someone who’s like, “No, what are you doing?!,” it allows for the other ones to have a legitimate voice. If someone can say no, then someone has to say yes, and it works out perfectly. It makes me feel like a better writer and like, “Oh, he’s not all that sick. He knows there’s another way to do it.”
The casting of this film is very interesting, in that your wife is in the film, but couple with one of the other actors, and Amy Acker is with you while her husband is not with her. How did you end up deciding which actor would play each of these roles?
FOLEY: It’s funny, my wife (Marika Dominczyk) plays Patrick Wilson’s wife. Patrick is my brother-in-law, and his wife (Dagmara Dominczyk) plays Stacy, who I kill. Amy Acker played my wife in the pilot of The Unit, though she was recast, and she plays my wife in this. It was a horribly incestuous set. We just had a couple of table reads and we were like, “Why don’t you try reading that part? I’ll try this.” When we found the right fit, we stuck with it. You’d think there was drama here or there, but there wasn’t. Everybody was very professional, and we had a really good time with it. I don’t necessarily recommend directing your husband or wife in a film, but if you have to do it, you have to do it.
It’s the only line of work where you can loan your wife out to someone else for a little bit, and borrow somebody else’s for awhile, and have it all be okay, at the end of the day.
FOLEY: It really is, isn’t it?! “Are you cool?” “Yeah, you just made out with my wife. I’m totally cool.” For the sex scene between Amy Acker and myself in the bed, James Carpinello was the one at the monitor ‘cause I couldn’t be there, and he was calling, “Action!” That was a little weird.
While you were writing this movie, did you worry want might happen, if a stranger ever looked into your internet search history and found all of your research about the disposal of a dead body?
FOLEY: I was so surprised that no one from the NSA knocked on my door and was like, “Hey, what are you doing? Why are you searching how to get away with murder? Why are you searching how to dispose a body? What’s going on?” I spent probably two full days, just on that one scene where Patrick [Wilson] talks about different ways to dispose of a body, going to the deepest, darkest corners of the internet. I went to websites that maybe two people had ever been on before, learning that if you put a body in a bag of kitty litter, it will turn to jelly in 30 days. There were some really fucked up things, but you’ve gotta be accurate. You’ve gotta tell the truth and be honest with the story. The internet is a dark, dark place. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere, someone has this file that says, “Scott Foley, on March 13, 2012, was searching for how to dispose of a body for 48 hours.”
This movie is very different from anything you’ve done before, as an actor. Once you decided you were going to be in it and do this role, did you ever go back and write crazier things for yourself to do?
FOLEY: No, I didn’t. I could only imagine that conversation when I showed up on set. It would be like, “Dude, how come you’ve got all the good lines now?” I wasn’t even planning on being in the film, but there’s a lot that goes into the casting of something like this. You want the right person, and someone who’s going to be good on set around everyone else, which maybe I was and maybe I wasn’t. But, you’ve also got to look at the business side. When we were thinking about actors who could help this movie get made and get distributed, and who had a large social media presence to help promote it, it was my name that kept coming up, so I just stepped in. It might have done me in ‘cause I was just wrecked after doing this, but I think I was the right person for the part, ultimately. Because of the rapport that I have with Patrick, James, Amy, Marika, Donald [Faison] and Greg [Grunberg], it worked out. I’m happy that I did it.
Do you already know what you’re going to direct next, and is there anything that you’ve already written that you’re hoping to get into production?
FOLEY: I have a couple ideas that I’m banging on for a film. It’s strange, you make a movie and, all of a sudden, your agents are calling you and saying, “Hey, I know these guys with some money who are looking to finance something.” You’re like, “Oh, god, now I’ve gotta come up with something really amazing.” I just sold an idea to ABC with Shonda Rhimes, so I’m in the process of writing that right now. We’ll see. I definitely want to do another one, but it’s about finding time. I had a third kid, and I can’t breathe. I didn’t sleep last night. I don’t know what the hell is happening. I want to get this one out there and have people watch it. If people will watch this and go see it, I think it will be much easier for me to get another film made. If people relate to my point of view or my perspective, maybe they’ll see if I can do another one.
What tone is the thing you’re doing with Shonda Rhimes?
FOLEY: It’s a comedy, as well. It’s a sitcom for ABC, so obviously, we’re not killing people. It’s an interesting idea that I came up with, with Greg Grunberg, who’s in Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife. About 15 years ago, we were on Felicity and we said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a show that took place at a wedding, and each episode is a toast from someone in the wedding to the bride and groom. And it has a flashback, so that we learn about that couple.” We pitched it to ABC this year and they really liked it, so I’m in the outline process right now, which is killing me because I don’t outline. So, we’ll see what happens. I think it’s got a shot, so fingers crossed.
What’s it like to be a part of a show like Scandal, and see the fan frenzy for each episode? Is it just a totally surreal experience to be in the middle of something like that?
FOLEY: It is awesome! It is surreal, but it’s what you hope for. You hope to get on a show and you hope to do a film that people watch and respond to. I was on Felicity, where we had the same kind of reaction, although it was before social media so it wasn’t as immediate. And then, I was on The Unit, which was a show that people watched in the middle of America. A lot of people watched it, but it didn’t have the same frenzy as Scandal does. To be on a show like that now is so rewarding. There’s a lot of pressure to deliver every week, and I have to constantly defend my character. I’m lambasted, on a daily basis, but it means that people are watching and people are looking, and that’s what you want. You want that attention because, if you don’t have that attention, you’re not making a film and you’re not making a TV show. No one cares. You need people to be writing about it and talking about it. It’s exciting. Now is the best time, ever, for television. I watch so much television. My DVR is full. I love putting my kids to bed, so I can sit on the couch with my wife and we can dissect The Affair, The Americans, House of Cards, or whatever it is. I’m so lucky.
When you signed on for that show, it must have felt like insurmountable odds, to be the character in between Olivia and Fitz. Do you feel like you ever overcame those odds?
FOLEY: Yeah. I still feel like the underdog, which is a good place to be, for me. But in the beginning, when I turned Twitter on, there was this couple that’s supposedly, according to the fans, fated to be together and who are that one true love, so to get in between them and mix things up, and to disappoint, let down and anger millions of people is so daunting. They’re not just nameless, faceless millions of people. These are people who follow me on Twitter and tell me how much they don’t like me, how much they don’t want me on the show, and that they hope I die. And it’s not just about the character. They tell me how they’ve never liked Scott Foley, and that he’s a stupid, white, plain-bread looking fool. I read this thing on Jimmy Kimmel’s mean Tweets that was like, “Who the fuck cast Scott Foley? He’s got raper face.” That doesn’t even mean anything. It’s insane! But it means they’re looking, and as long as they’re looking, it’s a good thing.
Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife is available on VOD, and in theaters on January 9th.