It’s true that the Scandal fans may seem like the obvious audience for Scott Foley’s directorial debut, Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife. Just spend thirty seconds on Twitter with the #FoleyFanGirls, who are impatiently awaiting its release, and you’ll see a commitment to the cause of Scott Foley that is more intense than any Jake Ballard/Olivia Pope scene d’amour. However, Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife (starring Donald Faison, Patrick Wilson, Dagmara Dominczyk and Foley himself) is a welcome digression from soapy, political thrillers and romantic talks of walking in the sun. It’s dark. It’s weird. And it’s more reminiscent of films like I Give It a Year and even Gone Girl, which boldly critique marriage conventions and the dangerous, mythological notion of “Happily Ever After.” But Foley—a married man himself (sorry, Team Jake)—manages to balance out such a critique with a seemingly contradictory embrace of commitment and partnership, all while telling a fun and funky murder mystery. That he pulls off such a feat is proof that his work behind the camera is just as compelling as his performances have been on shows like Scandal, True Blood and Felicity. Paste caught up with Foley to talk married life, working with spouses and friends, and the upcoming winter premiere of Scandal.
Paste Magazine: I have to start off by being a little unprofessional, because I promised by niece Jazzy that I would tell you “hi.” She’s very much obsessed with Jake Ballard.
Scott Foley: Jazzy! Tell her I said “hi” back. So, she’s a Scandal fan?
Paste: Huge, crazy Scandal fan.
Foley: They’re out there.
Paste: Yes, we are out here. I got hooked early on, so I’m part of the madness, too. We’re all in this together.
Foley: (laughs) Yes, we are all in this together. I’m glad you know that.
Paste: So, after graduating from high school, you bought a one-way plane ticket to Los Angeles—is that right?
Foley: That’s right. It’s not necessarily smart, but it’s right.
Paste: Can you still remember that plane ride over, and what you were thinking?
Foley: I remember there was a television on in the airport, and all that was playing on the news were stories about the riots that had broken out in Los Angeles.
Foley: This was 1992. Literally the day that I was getting on the plane, the riots had started. I landed in L.A., and there were riots. So I was thinking, “Holy shit. What am I doing?” I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t have anybody to pick me up from the airport. So, you know, you’re 19 years-old. And you just do it. I had one bag of clothes, and a pack of cigarettes, and that’s all I needed that day.
Paste: (laughs) That’s amazing. Now I also read that you and one of your younger brothers used to make these stop-motion movies. Were your parents encouraging when they saw you doing things like that?
Foley: I don’t know if they were encouraging, I think they were just happy that we weren’t bothering them. I have three kids now, so I understand.
Paste: Absolutely. You grew up with two brothers, and I have three sons. So I can imagine what your household was like back then.
Foley: Oh my gosh, it was cra-zy. But I’ll tell you the best investment you can make in a house with three boys. My mom had these pillows she would sew. They were these thin, stackable pillows. And we would throw these on the floor, and we’d just wrestle and wrestle. It was the best thing ever.
Paste: That’s brilliant, I love it! Now, there were so many great moments in the movie. As a Scandal fan, of course I saw a bit of Jake when you were in the kitchen with Ward’s wife, and you suddenly snapped. Can you talk a little about your early writing process with this? At what point did you start to figure out the narrative?
Foley: I’d written a couple of things for television—some pilots that never came to fruition. So I wanted to write something that I knew was going to get made, or that I hoped would get made. And I was at that time in my life where I was married, and my friends were getting married and having kids. Friendships were starting to fracture a bit. We weren’t seeing each other as often, and we were disagreeing over certain things, like political or social things. I couldn’t figure out why that was, and then someone said to me that he’d recently lost his closest friend, because “his finger had gotten stuck in a ring.” And I realized that’s what was happening. We’re sort of splitting off because we’re starting our own families, and other things become more important. But I thought it was a great idea to base a script on—that emotional story. For men, you get to a certain age and it’s difficult to make new friends.
So when I started to write, I just had this crazy, dark, honest, somewhat gruesome story. I sat with it for a little while, not sure if it was something I really wanted to show to anyone. (laughs) I was scared and a little embarrassed by it. But when I finally did, the response I got was overwhelmingly positive. And that was a good feeling.
Paste: It’s coming along at a great time. We’re starting to see more of these funny, but kind of dark takes on marriage. And although there are all of these silly moments, Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife raises some big questions about what happens when a bad person dies, and what the natural response is to that. I also like that although most of the couples are struggling, this murder very romantically brings them back together.
Foley: That’s right.
Paste: But all of the cast members are also married, and their spouses are in the movie. So we’re watching this married cast on their own sort of movie-making adventure, and you’re all playing these married couples on another adventure. What was it like pulling everyone together, and how did they initially respond to the material?
Foley: My wife’s sister Dagmara is the woman who plays Ward’s wife. I’d actually met Dag before I met my wife. We did a play together on Broadway about 12 years ago called, The Violet Hour. She’s now married to Patrick Wilson, so he’s my brother-in-law. Patrick and I have this same sense of irony and comedy. I was really trepidatious as to what the response would be, but they really liked it. Although I also heard, “This is really funny, but I think people are gonna hate you” (laughs).
I’m blessed for a lot of reasons—not just to be surrounded by a lot of really talented people, but also because of the demands that a production like this would put on a cast and crew. There was no budget, no trailers. No one’s really getting paid more than the Screen Actor’s Guild minimum, and we only had 12 days —it would be a difficult shoot. So, our family and friends were the perfect people to have in this. And I couldn’t be happier with the final product.
Paste: I noticed that every time there was a dramatic moment, it was almost immediately tempered with some comedy. Did you find it difficult to create balance between those two spaces?
Foley: It was difficult, and it was intentional on my part—to not let things get too heavy. So I’m glad you said that. When you’re dealing with a subject like this, it really can get heavy. There’s been a lot of talk in press, especially with everything going on in the NFL, about domestic abuse and domestic violence. And usually it’s the woman who is the abused. But in this case, it’s the woman who is the abuser. [Because of what happens to her,] this could be a heavy subject. I wanted it to resonate, but I also wanted to be comfortable watching it resonate. So to do that, I had to temper each heavy moment with a bit of levity.
Paste: I’ve gotten to interview a few of your co-stars on Scandal, and they all told me that with Shonda Rhimes there’s very little room for improvisation, because everything is there in the script. Did you find yourself drawing on your time with her when you worked on this?
Foley: They’re right. Shonda has these very precise ways of saying things, and we all made an agreement with her at the very beginning of the show, that we would say every word she wrote. We could say it however we wanted, but we would say the lines.
Now, I am not that guy. (laughs) There were times when we needed to get certain information across from the script, so we worked on ways to do that, whether it was with my words or improvised words. There were times where their lines were substantially better than the words I’d written for them. But there were also times when the improv didn’t work, and I’d ask them to stay with the script, because I liked the rhythm, or I was just kinda proud of that line. For the most part, we were really collaborative.
Paste: I already know you’re not going to tell me anything, but I still have to ask about Scandal.
Foley: You gotta do it.
Paste: You’ve started shooting, and in that one shot you shared on Instagram, it looked like you were in a church, maybe.
Foley: Well, the last time we saw Jake and Olivia they were in the house, about to have sex on the piano. And then he comes out of the room, and she’s gone. So I think we should be prepared, first, for anything to happen to Olivia. And also, for Jake—and Fitz, and anybody involved in Olivia’s life—to do anything they can to make sure that nothing happens to Olivia. That might mean Jake and Fitz working together, and going back to relying on that friendship that was there in the beginning. I think that there’s going to be an effort on everyone’s part to make sure nothing happens to Olivia.
Paste: I’m excited! And thank you so much for this. I enjoyed the movie, so I hope you get back into the director’s chair again.
Foley: Thank you.
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.