Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler are the modern indie Odd Couple. In their feature filmmaking debut, which they also star in, Apartment Troubles, they serve up the chemistry of a classic buddy comedy with a dash of Diane Keaton charm and Tina Fey heightened humor. Two co-dependent roommates Olivia (Prediger) and Nicole (Weixler), who can’t pay their NYC rent, flee to L.A. to stay with Nicole’s bubbly, rich aunt Kimberley (Megan Mullally). The film then evolves into an exploration of success, good art, bad art and that elusive line between best friends and lovers.
Paste had a chance to chat with both Prediger and Weixler about putting together their first feature. They both come from strong independent film backgrounds, which not only influenced their decisions, but also provided an opportunity for great collaboration. (Let’s just say Will Forte and Megan Mullally are amazing co-stars.)
We sat down with Prediger in Columbus Circle in New York while Weixler phoned in later from L.A. Prediger admits that she walked (and ran some) 20 blocks to the interview, elated that the sunshine was finally out again in the city. Over coffee, she opened up about her beginnings in film and journalism.
“I met Joe Swanberg and Lena Dunham both when I worked at Nerve.”
Prediger got to help produce Lena’s web series and then kept running into Swanberg. Eventually, he offered her a role in Uncle Kent in 2010, which they went on to make in six days for four thousand dollars. It encouraged Prediger to transition out of journalism and into the indie film realm where she soon worked with Alex Karpovsky (Girls) and Onur Tukel (Richard’s Wedding) on their film Red Flag. Since, she’s been in A Teacher, The Foxy Merkins and has two films at SXSW this year, 7 Chinese Brotherswith Jason Schwartzman and Uncle Kent 2.
Weixler also got her start in the NYC indie scene after graduating from Julliard, acting in the thriller we all can’t forget, Teeth. She admits that she was hesitant to take the lead role.
“It was my first big leap into indie film, and at first I was like ‘Jess don’t do this. You don’t want to be the vagina girl for the rest of your life!’”
“Then I said, ‘Girl grow a pair.’” The film went on to win a Sundance Special Jury Prize for “A juicy and jaw-dropping performance” by Weixler, and was nominated for the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize. “It was interesting to take my classic training and bring it to this world with ultra naturalism,” she says. Weixler has since become a regular, playing Robyn Burdine on The Good Wife and acted in some other indie favorites like Listen Up Phillip and Somebody Up There Likes Me.
After being entrenched as actresses in the scene for a while, the idea to write and direct their own work came organically. Weixler and Prediger had been living together in New York after meeting through mutual friends.
“We just kind of got on like hotcakes.”
Meanwhile, the producers of a film Prediger had worked on, Life of Crime, offered to help her make a low-budget movie. “Jess and I started writing right away, and they were just totally supportive,” Weixler explains. “We wrote Trouble Dolls [the original title of the film] in 2 months, and they were like, ‘Let’s make this next summer.’” It just happened so fast. I knew friends who had made movies in 14 days, but it was more mumblecore.” Apartment Troubles, though, was in fact shot in those 2 weeks with multiple set ups and locations like an LA mansion and a super dope jet. The time crunch was kinetic to both Weixler and Prediger, the former laughing, “It felt like doing a reality TV talent show! The energy was actually really fun.”
Prediger also discusses that although she’d worked in a run-and-gun fashion with Swanberg and Karpovsky, she wanted Apartment Troubles to have a more classic structure. “I wanted to burn more calories and have more jokes per minute. I wanted to create something entertaining in a faster paced kind of way. We wanted a strong structure in the script and go from there.” She confesses she though beforehand, “If we’re working with Megan Mullally I want this to feel super legit for her!”
Working as first-time directors and starring in the film wasn’t an easy feat, but Prediger and Weixler appreciated the challenge. “We found a way to work as actors and directors and compartmentalize a little bit.” They would block, figure out the shots and once the logistical aspects were discussed, they would enter the brains of the character.
“In a weird way, you’re always directing as an actor because you can help guide someone’s performance by acting a certain way.”
That tool was more internal for Prediger, something maybe not noticeable from an outside perspective. She does reveal that sometimes you miss things when you’re not behind the camera. In one scene, Olivia sneaks food during the girl’s cleanse diet. “I must have eaten 30 jelly beans thinking it was caught on camera.” When she went back and saw the footage, she realized she wasn’t in the frame and the sugar, and comedic choice, was for naught. But Prediger stresses that if you do choose to act in your own film, “Make sure you’re tracking your character and know the emotional arc” as both a director and actor.
A stellar supporting cast also rounded out Weixler and Prediger’s performances and work as directors. Like Prediger’s Life of Crime producers, a number of collaborators were excited to jump on board the film. Megan Mullally had worked with Weixler previously on Somebody Up There Likes Me. Although the project was scripted, Weixler recalls a certain scene with Mullally and Prediger in Apartment Troubles that was particularly hilarious and organic. “We were in overtime when we were shooting their pool scene.” They didn’t have enough light to get the shot and had already filmed part of the scene with the two actresses on the lawn. “We needed to get them closer to the pool to reflect the light off the pool. We were like how? They [both] just started rolling!” The whole moment seems planned to the audience, but Weixler laughs at one of Megan’s improvised lines, “We feel like children!”
Will Forte also has an unforgettable role as a weirdo who picks up the girls after they fly into L.A. on a jet. Prediger had worked with Forte and reveals, “I wrote it for his voice and things I experienced with him in an interpersonal way.” Forte calls people “turkey,” which is a quirk incorporated in his dialogue. “We’re hoping that we get approval to use parts of the scene we didn’t actually put in the scene because it’s just gold. We were crying while we were editing. He is just off-the-charts funny.”
Prediger admits there are parts of the footage they couldn’t even use because “we were so enamored by him!” Weixler agrees, “We were both staring at him, googly-eyed, with trying-to-not-smile faces.”
But Prediger and Weixler’s film is more than just comedy. It unfolds into a relatable exploration of friendship and responsibility. Nicole and Olivia’s dependence upon each other becomes more and more problematic. Prediger wanted the line between love and reliance to be elusive.
“When your life gets so intertwined with another person’s, the boundaries get really blurry.”
“We kind of wanted it to have a confusing quality,” Weixler explains. “There is this great love and friendship and is it more? Who wants more than the other person?” Weixler says that although the relationship isn’t pulled from a direct experience in her own life, the themes are inspired by the film Withnail and I. “It’s this amazing British cult film, and you’ll definitely see the ties. They seem to have kind of an ambiguous relationship.” She feels that sure, Olivia maybe would’ve tipped over into romantic territory if Nicole was for it, but they still needed each other like a romantic couple might. “I also think girls have a tendency to be very close! We do have slumber parties and share the bed!”
Prediger also identifies their inspiration. “There’s a Dumb and Dumber influence and an Odd Couple kind of thing. [Nicole and Olivia’s] trip to L.A. solidifies the ways things aren’t working. That trip gives Olivia some insight into herself and helps her realize she can stand on her own two feet.” Prediger recalls one of Forte’s lines from the film: “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can stand back up.”
Meredith Alloway is a Texas native and a freelance contributor for Paste, Flaunt, Complex, Nylon, CraveOnline, Press Play on Indiewire and The Script Lab. She writes for both TV and film and will always be an unabashed Shakespeare nerd. You can follow her on Twitter.