Robert Cary & Judith Light Interview – IRA & ABBY

     September 10, 2007

Opening up in limited release this Friday is “Ira & Abby.” The film was written by Jennifer Westfeldt, who co-wrote, co-produced and played the title role in the indie hit “Kissing Jessica Stein.”

To help promote the film, I recently got the chance to participate in a roundtable interviews with Jennifer Westfeldt as well as Judith Light and Robert Cary -the director. Posted below is the interview with the latter two.

During our conversation we talk about how the project came together, how they got involved, what they have coming up, therapy, the great cast that was assembled and a lot more. And for you “Ugly Betty” fans, Judith touches on her character and what may be coming up towards the end of the interview.

And since many of you probably don’t know what the movie is about, you can click here to watch some movie clips that I previously posted or you can just read the synopsis below.

Ira Black, 33, is brilliant, neurotic, Jewish and has so many issues he can’t fit them into 12 years of analysis. He can’t finish his dissertation, he can’t commit to his longtime girlfriend, and he’s incapable of making a decision, even if it’s just what to order at the diner. Abby Willoughby, 30, is a free spirit who’s better at solving her friends’ problems at the gym than selling memberships. When the two meet, the impossible happens: they fall in love, meet each other’s parents and decide to get married, all in a few breathless hours.

And life is good, until Ira finds out that Abby is a divorcee…two times over. Despite even more therapy, Ira can’t help but feel that their marriage was built on a lie. They divorce quietly, while cracks grow wider in their parents’ marriages. Ira’s gorgeous analyst mother Arlene starts a secret liaison with Abby’s charming voiceover artist father Michael, while Abby’s mother Lynne wonders why she’s no longer attractive to her husband and Ira’s father Sy pretends not to notice.

Of course, Ira soon realizes he’s miserable without Abby. He asks her forgiveness and they marry again, this time making more realistic vows. But Ira’s jealousy issues and Abby’s free-floating tendencies lead him to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend. When Abby finds out about their parents’ infidelities, the three couples converge for a hilarious group therapy scene with the eight therapists we have met in the film. Ira and Abby ultimately realize that they were meant to be together. But divorced. Because marriage just isn’t for them…

As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the audio as an MP3 here. “Ira & Abby” opens this Friday.

Question: I remember we talked at the TCA’s and you told me about this movie and it was like you really do play that off-the-wall kind of character sort of unlike your character on Ugly Betty that is kind of neurotic kind of person.

Judith Light: I just play a lot of neurotic people. Yeah, she’s very, very different. Well, they’re two very different people and that’s fun for me and it’s great. I love to be able to do that, thank you.

Q: So can you guys give a little background as to how you came to the project, got involved?

Robert Cary: Sure, I’ve known Jennifer for many years. We went to Yale together and she actually we reconnected on a different project a few months before we started shooting Ira and Abby and she had written the script and she asked me to take a look at it and it just went from there very smoothly. We started to collaborate on the final draft of the screenplay and move towards casting and I think that I had the first conversation about the movie with her about 5 months before we were shooting. For me it was very fast. For her it was a longer journey as you know, then we shot it in 24 days, so it was great.

Judith Light: I went in to audition—I was doing a play in New York and I read the script and I went in to audition and I remember when I went in to audition Rob came up to me and he said oh, you remember me? I was at your house for an event and I said oh, my goodness yes but we hadn’t really connected. I went in for this audition and I knew I really wanted this part. When I read it I said this script is spectacular, funny and charming and really talking about something and he was so fantastic in the audition that I thought oh God now I really want to do this movie. I remember I was flying home after I finished the play and I flew back to California and I was checking my phone messages and there was a message from my manager Herb Hampshire who said to me you’re going to have to go right back to New York because you got Ira and Abby and I was just like screaming in the airport. I was so thrilled and delighted.

Robert Cary: And I remember my partner Jonathan Tollands read the screenplay early on and he said this character you know who you really have to see is Judith Light. He was absolutely right. It was be-shared.

Judith Light: That’s right.

Q: So what was it like having this on-screen love affair with Fred?

Judith Light: It was so delightful. He’s is such a delightful person and he is so funny and he’s so funny in his dryness that he’s just delicious to work with. When somebody’s as good as he is, it just makes your job really easy so it’s great. One of the things we were talking about the scene when Chris Messina’s character Ira sees us on the stairs at the wedding and I said to Rob I said I’m concerned how that’s going to come out. How is that going to be and is it going to be too much and…?

Robert Cary: She was asking like it was a nude scene. Like how are you going to do this artistically?

Judith Light: It was so funny. And he said to me I have this really clever way I think of the way I want to shoot the two of you. And it was absolutely perfect because you can barely see us on the stairs; you just hear our voices and stuff like that so it was delightful. It was great and being in bed with him was lovely too.

Q: Judith, with all the comedic veterans in this great ensemble that they put together, did you have a particularly favorite scene either to watch as a viewer or to shoot yourself?

Judith Light: Oh, absolutely. That’s such a good question. Oh my God there’s so many. Well certainly the scene where everybody’s in the room together. All the therapists, Ira and Abby I just think that’s a real genius and brilliantly funny scene.

Robert Cary: And Ira coming in to meet you guys just to tell you he’s getting married.

Judith Light: That’s the scene that I first thought of. The scene when Ira comes in to say I’ve met this girl and I’m going to marry her and we think it’s this other girl. The way that he shot it was so genius. It was all one take, right?

Robert Cary: It was all one take. There’s coverage and there’s one what we call reverse in the final cut but it was shot for 8 takes I think as one take and that’s a dream for me to be able to stage a scene where all the actors get to do 4-1/2 pages without a break. I mean, Woody Allen does that all the time but most directors don’t. It’s really a joy to let these people who are so good with language play that long without making them stop.

Q: Did you guys go to any therapists to do some research and…

Judith Light: Are you asking me if we needed therapy for this?

Robert Cary: I didn’t need to by the time I did this movie.

Judith Light: Me either.

Robert Cary: I’ve only had 5 therapists in my life.

Q: So there’s no familiarity with therapy and analysts.

Robert Cary: None whatsoever.

Judith Light: No, no, no, for none of us.

Robert Cary: No, I’ve been in therapy plenty and I think many people in the cast probably had. I didn’t ask them. It wasn’t a prerequisite. You know we’re all in show business, we’re familiar with therapy.

Judith Light: Oh yeah.

Q: Are you more therapy or more analysts?

Robert Cary: Oh, I’ve never been in analysis so…

Judith Light: Me either.

Robert Cary: I wouldn’t have the patience. I had a friend who was in analysis. He had to get up at 5:30 every morning so he could go to analysis before he went to work 3 days a week.

Judith Light: Well, that would put you in analysis alone.

Robert Cary: Right and in debt.

Q: Judith this is a strong, sexy character. Do you come across these roles very often—movie roles like this?

Judith Light: You know, I was going to say no. I come across them but there not written often as well as this. I think Jennifer is just a master with language and I think her layers of character within the body of this particular woman and these particular characters in this movie I think is just really kind of genius. You don’t find it quite as good as this. It’s good like this and good like Ugly Betty. I’ve had the good fortune of having some very interesting and complex people but I’d have to say Jen is at the top of list.

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Q: When you have someone like that who’s not only the actor but the writer on-set with you do you go to her for anything for you or as the director do you go to her and to say what do you think?

Judith Light: I did not and I think purposefully that was really the way it was supposed to be. She was an actor on the set. If I had a question I went to Rob and that was the way that it was. That was the chain of command and that was the way everybody wanted it and everybody understood it.

Robert Cary: Yeah, this set wasn’t run any differently than a set where the screenwriter was you know back in L.A. or in his apartment somewhere. It was a conventional director driven set but of course it’s a great convenience to be able to have the writer that handy. As you all probably know the writer’s not usually within 500 miles of a movie set and it’s probably the last person to be thought of on a movie set as everybody speaks his or her words all day long. This one is so script driven that it was a convenience.

Judith Light: Oh yeah.

Q: You mentioned being a classmate of Jennifer’s at Yale. Did you guys make film projects together or work back then or was it more of…?

Robert Cary: We did musicals back then. We were both in the chorus of Guys & Dolls together and that’s how it started. And I directed her in probably in half a dozen musicals and plays including some that I wrote. We did this musical theater review on Tuesday nights I remember. We would do Sondheim and Jerry Herman numbers. She grew up in Connecticut and I grew up out here but we really had a similar sort of sensibility and a love for music. I think that shows actually in her writing. I think Jen’s background, you know she did Wonderful Town obviously on Broadway and she’s a musical performer too, but her rhythm and her musicality even her sense of melody is about ….shows in her writing. I respond to that. The things I guess we had in common then when we were working together are the same things that made Ira and Abby an easy job in that respect.

Q: I could be wrong but don’t you guys have another project together?

Robert Cary: We do. We made a movie right after Ira and Abby and it was because of Ira and Abby that I got the opportunity to direct Save Me which Judith’s manager Herb Hampshire called me about. That was a drama that we shot in New Mexico and we shot that about 4 months after I finished cutting Ira and Abby.

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your character and the experience of working on that?

Judith Light: Yeah, it was a very different experience than doing Ira and Abby and it was certainly a very different topic. It’s the story of this woman and her husband who run one of I don’t know if you guys know about these ex-gay ministries? You probably have read about them where they make gay people straight. Often a religiously affiliated organization a Christian reparative therapy is what they term them and this woman has lost a son. He was gay. He had killed himself and she really believed—she went to her religion to give her the comfort and solace that she needed and decided that she wasn’t going to have anyone else suffer that experience and so she was going to help make these young gay men straight. It is this story of these 2 young men who fall in love at one of these places. And it started out to be a comedy but we really felt the subject matter was so sensitive and so timely that we really wanted to turn it into a drama so we’ve been working on it for many years. I was one of the producers of it as well and my husband wrote the final draft of it. We were at Sundance last year and we really felt we needed this kind of special eye and sensitivity and someone that could bring the depth and substance from this story to the fore and that’s why Herb ended up calling Rob to do the film.

Q: When can we expect for this to be…?

Robert Cary: I think probably in the spring or late winter is what I’ve heard. That would be the beginning couple few months of ’08 to be released.

Q: So is there like a trilogy like a 3rd film for you two together?

Judith Light: Yes, hopefully.

Robert Cary: An Edwardian social drama.

Judith Light: Ooh, let’s do that.

Robert Cary: Yeah, she wants to do something where she has ruffles. I can just see it. I talked about in those terms. So what’s the 3rd one in the trilogy. We don’t know yet but I’d certainly do anything with Judith. I’d be thrilled to work with her.

Q: I’m seeing Sci-fi or fantasy.

Robert Cary: A sci-fi musical I think.

Judith Light: Oh, there you go. We’ll consider that. Thank you so much.

Robert Cary: Starmights—the movie.

Q: Is there a genre that you prefer or is it just good to get into the different little comedy, drama and …?

Robert Cary: You’re so good you have to enjoy everything because it’s all a chance to inhabit different worlds. You can answer your own question.

Judith Light: No, no I don’t want to. I couldn’t make up my mind what table we were going to be at at lunch. They said to me where do you want to be inside or out, I said my director’s not here I don’t make decisions.

Robert Cary: Then I came and I moved her from outside to inside. You know, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed working at MGM in 1950 in the sense that I would have had no say in my own life, but I would have enjoyed the chance to do so many different assignments in different genres like people did often in the studio system in that time as opposed to being perceived as having what it took to deliver a certain kind of movie and therefore being given that same movie again and again and again and having to work so hard to get out of it. I really love doing both comedy and drama, but I’m a huge optimist. So obviously comedy and especially romantic comedy has a special place in my heart cause I really do feel there’s somebody out there for everyone. At the end of Ira and Abby, which I don’t want to spoil for anybody reading this but it obviously speaks to my own sense of how the world should be if it’s not the way the world is. So certainly for me romantic comedy is the hardest to do ironically.

Q: So how difficult is it to keep a marriage lasting long and successful for so long?

Judith Light: You have to work at it. How difficult is it? Do you personally my own marriage?

Q: But also in the course of the movie as well because a woman is infidel for a different reason than the man is in general when they’re alone. A woman must be neglected –it’s just the small things. A man usually just goes for the instinct you know and the success of a marriage is long but could you say what could be the…?

Judith Light: To me what is the success of any relationship whether it’s a marriage or any long term relationship is really communication. It’s making sure you are talking to the person that you love and making sure that…it’s like cleaning a house. You don’t just let the house go to seed, you sweep the floor. So to me communication is about sweeping the floor and keeping the space completely clean between the two of you and talking about the things that often are very uncomfortable to talk about and being safe enough to have that within yourself and hopefully the safety within the relationship and your partner as well.

Robert Cary: There is no benign neglect in a marriage.

Judith Light: That’s a great title for play or movie.

Q: And humor?

Judith Light: Humor, humor is essential. I think it’s very important to have the same sense of humor. That’s a really good point.

Robert Cary: Unless you’re both utterly humorless which works too. I’ve met a lot of couples like that.

Judith Light: But we don’t spend a lot of time around them do we? No. But it’s really interesting because I was talking to somebody and he said that these very dear friends of his were getting a divorce and he had lunch…he was just as close a friend with her as he was with the fellow and he said to her, oh come on now you can make this work. You’ve been in a relationship for such a long time and she just looked at him and he said he knew this was the moment he knew it was actually over. She looked at him and she said to him he doesn’t make me laugh anymore. I know.

Robert Cary: It’s sad.

Judith Light: Yeah, I know. So, humor, yeah very important.

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Q: So on a completely separate….do you believe in love at first sight? I guess Ira and Abby kind of met and fell in love kind of at first sight.

Robert Cary: Right.

Judith Light: I don’t know if I’d call that love at first sight. I would call that connection at first sight.

Robert Cary: Yes.

Judith Light: You know? I think love develops as time goes on and I think that’s what you see in the process of the movie which is what I think is so smart about it which is what I think makes it so interesting.

Robert Cary: The chances of winning the lottery go up if you buy 20 tickets but if they’re all in a pile you don’t know which one you bought first. It’s like it might be the first one you bought, but it might not. I think that love at first sight works out when it happens to be a person you would have fallen in love with over time as well. It’s just that kind of finding the right person.

Q: Connection person. See that’s good. They should just change the whole phrase.

Judith Light: It’s like my uncle said to my aunt when they first got married. He said we think we love each other today, he said we don’t really love each other now, he said 20 years, 40 years, 60 years then we’ll….it’s just time, the experiences together. It’s process.

Robert Cary: And it’s about and this movie is about how the community around you reacts to your marriage and what they expect of you because you’re married as opposed to just dating or living together. This movie specifically says that when you’re married all of a sudden people hold you to a standard of scrutiny which is wholly different than when you’re not. It can be destructive and it can make people question whether it’s worth being married in the first place. I do think that’s true and despite the divorce rate and despite 15 years of Oprah and Dr. Phil people still do have this myth of what marriage is and as soon as a couple is married they expect them at some level to conform to that myth. It doesn’t really occur to people—it occurs to people about their own marriage but I don’t think it often occurs to them that somebody else’s marriage is as untidy and complicated and ambivalent as their own might be.

Q: So Judith, you’re not as cynical as this movie seems to be?

Judith Light: Oh not at all.

Robert Cary: Do you think the movie’s cynical?

Q: I think it’s a very cynical movie.

Robert Cary: Really? That’s interesting. I don’t.

Q: About the institution but maybe for the right reasons.

Judith Light: I understand that and I think that’s sort of coming off what Rob was saying in a way is that you are called to scrutiny and I wouldn’t call it a cynical movie and I don’t actually think that the character is really cynical. I would have to say I really am much like Rob. I’m very much of an optimist and I’m very much an optimist about life and about relationships and that things can and do work out well. I think they work out well in this movie. I also think that one of the things that you see in this movie talking about marriage and relationships is the relationship between Robert Klein and myself is this very—there’s a bond there that you simply cannot break no matter what either one of them does to each other or no matter what happens. And I think it’s said so beautifully by Robert in that scene that he has with Chris Messina. He’s had an affair and I’ve had an affair but we still believe at the end of the day at the bottom of their hearts that they are to be together. It works to be together and that they actually find out—I mean I think they’re about to go on a trajectory that is going to be very interesting for the two of them.

Q: Judith, I’m sure you touched on this at the TCA’s but for those of us who weren’t there, could you tell us maybe a little about the direction that Ugly Betty’s heading in for the new season maybe in regards to your character especially?

Judith Light: The only thing that I really can tell you is I really don’t know a lot. The only thing I can tell you is that I’m still on the lam. But I am no longer in a prison uniform with a do-rag on my head. Those are the things I can tell you. I think the producers and ABC said oh my God get that girl out of that outfit, please give her some makeup, so that’s what I know. That’s really all that I know and we’re in the process—everybody’s story is sort of expanding and we’re sort of—and perhaps Bradford and Wilhelmina will get married but I don’t even know that. I hate answering these questions because I know everybody looks at me and says oh, you’re being coy. I’m really not. I really don’t know. And you know, they sit in that room and they see something happening. I came on as a guest last year and they made me a regular this year. They saw something within the dynamics of what could be used and so they started changing things. So I could tell you something today and then it could be very well that they change it tomorrow.

Q: I guess here’s my question for you. What episode are you up to in regards to filming?

Judith Light: We’re on 5. We started at the beginning of July and we’re in 5 right now.

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