Monday, April 28, 2014

‘Just Before I Go:’ Roundtable with Courteney Cox & cast

The actress makes her feature-film directorial debut with the “inappropriate” dramedy.

Courteney Cox’s character on "Friends," Monica Geller, is The Organized One. She is Type A, right-brained, the glue to her best friend Rachel Green’s (Jennifer Aniston) shiny glitter. Her need to control the situation is a running joke that endures the length of the beloved sitcom’s 10-season run. And while Cox herself seems much more relaxed in person, the Monica Geller parallels are unavoidable: Both women place a premium on organization, both are very funny, and both appear to leave lasting impressions on their Friends.

Cox’s feature directorial debut Just Before I Go premiered towards the end of the Tribeca Film Festival this past Thursday. Starring Seann William Scott, Olivia Thirlby, and Garret Dillahunt, Go is
Courteney Cox
a dramedy that follows the most vanilla of nondescript everymans, Ted Morgan, as he confronts the friends and family he holds responsible for his perceived failure of a life. The title makes reference to the urgency of Morgan’s bitter bucket list: At the end of his visit to his hometown, he intends to kill himself.

It’s a dark subject treated with a light directorial touch Cox’s cast describes as more than competent. William Scott gushes, “but honestly, funniest person I’d ever met. .. I just always knew I was taken care of. It was fun.” Addressing the director herself, “Your confidence with the camera” was “awesome.”

Mackenzie Marsh seconds William Scott’s enthusiasm. Just Before I Go signaled a first for the musical theatre actress as well: The role of Morgan’s former middle-school crush, Vickie, was her first film gig. “She took a huge chance on me,” she says of Cox.  “She really let me do my thing, and when she did come to give us any direction it was so intimate.”

At one point in the often ribald comedy – throughout the interview, the word “inappropriate” is frequently tossed about  in reference to lines, scenes, ideas, undisclosed on-set bribes –  Dillahunt’s character Lucky, Ted Morgan’s brother, refers to Marsh’s character as “fatty.” The line was not in the original script.

Remembers Marsh, “Courteney was so great and sensitive, but I was like, ‘No, whatever!’ You know, [she] just pulled me aside and said, ‘Is this OK if we add the word fatty?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s do that. Take that moment.’ But I just thought that was so respectful. So unnecessary, but so wonderful from the producer-director.”

The producer-director was equally laudatory of her cast, saying of William Scott upon entering the room, “Isn’t he handsome?” Describing Marsh as “amazing… so gorgeous, so talented, and so beautiful,” praising the comedic timing of actress Cleo King, calling the absent Evan Ross, who plays King’s son Romeo, “so perfect” for his role.

Though her evident humor has a caustic streak, manifested in dry understatement, sarcasm, and a well-timed jab, there’s little that is acidic about Cox. Take her relationship with ex-husband David Arquette, who makes a brief cameo as Marsh’s husband.

“I love directing him,” Cox says. “I think David is an amazing actor. He’s just so interesting. There’s so much going on in that brain at all times…And he just broke my heart,” during an emotional scene with William Scott. “It was so natural. I thought they were good together.” Cox reflects, “We have a weird relationship. He’s my bud.”

The family affair also extended to the former couple’s nine-year-old daughter, who lends her vocals to the titular song that opens and closes the film. The decision to include Coco was made “probably a week ago. Maybe two weeks ago.” It was a choice born of pragmatics as much as parental love. “I had an original thought of what I wanted” for the music, “but I couldn’t afford one song that I wanted. Not one.”

Luckily, Cox had a pair of men, each prominent in his field, to lend her some sound advice. Director Gus Van Sant suggested she add the theme from the "Odd Couple" when a scene that included an (naturally) inappropriate word failed to generate laughs during a test screening. His suggestion worked – viewers at a recent press showing chuckled right on cue.  Then there was Cox’s new beau Johnny McDaid, he of Snow Patrol fame, willing and ready to have his band record an original song or two for the soundtrack. “It really elevated the movie,” she says of McDaid’s contribution.
But the on-set experience wasn’t without its challenges.

Seann William Scott

“Oh my God, it was awful,” says William Scott when asked how he enjoyed filming the movie’s opening underwater scene. The sight of a “massive tank” full of water caused the actor to balk. “I was like, 'Dude, I can’t do this.' So we did a little bit of practicing and then I panicked. I really panicked. I was like, ‘I’m so sorry, I don’t know what we’re going to do.’ ”

He did, eventually, hop in the tank and shoot the scene – but not without a little prompting from his director.

“There was some torture going on. Sean was like, ‘I think we’re going to have to do this in more than one day.’ I was like, ‘I think not. Pull it together.’ [Laughs.] But it worked out the way we did it.”
William Scott agrees. “It looks great.”

So, what’s next on the horizon for the newly minted feature-film director?

“I have really nothing going on,” Cox says bluntly. “But I’m on the bubble. A show called 'Cougar Town.' I have no directing jobs.” She turns to the members of her cast seated beside her, and deadpans, “So thank you. I hope you guys feel great.”

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