Jennifer Westfeldt’s latest baby is a film about friends who
have a child together. It’s a lot
like life, she tells Alice Wyllie
Jennifer Westfeldt is talking milestones. The 42-year-old actor, writer, producer and director seems to find herself working on projects with a focus on significant life developments right around key birthdays of her own. Furthermore, the three films for which she is best known all examine adult rites of passage – dating, marriage, children – in a less than traditional way.
“I shot all three in five-year intervals over ten years, and they were all written as milestone birthdays were approaching and shot on the milestone birthdays,” she says. “It’s funny that it’s been my creative sorting out of these life chapters, in a way.”
When it comes to her body of work, first came love, second came marriage. In 2002 there was Kissing Jessica Stein, in which her character decides to give lesbianism a go after becoming increasingly fed up with the murky dating pool. Five years later, in Ira & Abby, she played a divorcee who decides to get hitched to a stranger after her first two marriages failed so miserably.
Now there’s the baby in the baby carriage via Friends With Kids, a smart, dark romcom which follows two best friends who decide to have a child together after watching their social circle tackle parenthood, some more successfully than others.
As well as writing and directing the film, Westfeldt was a producer and stars in it alongside Maya Rudolph, Adam Scott, Chris O’Dowd, Kristin Wiig and Jon Hamm, he of Mad Men fame and her partner of 14 years.
The couple have just arrived in London after a holiday on Italy’s Amalfi coast, and in a suite in the Soho Hotel, Westfeldt is all shiny hair, designer heels and American polish as she explains that she likes to buck the trend, in life and in art.
“I have a bit of a renegade, rebel spirit,” she says. “I never understand why the status quo has to be the status quo.” That there are pitifully few good roles for women in Hollywood irks her, but rather than waiting around for her chance at one, she writes one for herself. That the celebrity press are clutching their pearls because she and Hamm are unmarried and child-free is of no relevance to her. After all, she doesn’t concern herself with the status quo.
Born in Connecticut, Westfeldt’s career started on the stage before she moved to LA and landed some television work. There, she also attended a writers’’ boot camp course where she met Heather Juergensen, with whom she went on to write Kissing Jessica Stein, creating for herself the kind of role she saw herself playing.
In short, she knew what she wanted, and she went after it: “My dad left when I was four. My mom had to raise us and go to work. She had to take care of two kids and also finish her college degree, so I grew up with that example that if life doesn’t turn out the way that you thought it would, you have to do it yourself and figure it out.”
In Friends With Kids, Westfeldt plays Julie, who throws herself into motherhood with her platonic friend Jason – played by Adam Scott – without thinking through the consequences of such an unusual arrangement. The duo think they can have it all, beat the system, and not get muddy and messy like everyone else in life - but they do, with hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking consequences.
Starring four cast members from Bridesmaids, and with a similarly sassy, grown-up tone to last year’s runaway hit comedy, Friends With Kids is about the people who find themselves left behind when all their friends start having families, an experience with which Westfeldt and Hamm are not unfamiliar. “There were just so many friends of ours who were taking the plunge and becoming parents,” she explains. “You feel out of sync with your peer group as you watch them take on this incredibly different, new and profound identity.”
Her work, she says, has its roots “in my world, the people in my realm, looking around at what we’re all grappling with”. It’s no surprise then, that when father-of-two Adam Scott – an old friend of Westfeldt – first read the script he wondered whether in parts it might be about him. In all three of her film projects, Westfeldt has very much looked to her own life and the lives of her nearest and dearest for inspiration.
“ With [Kissing Jessica Stein] I was single for the first time in my life, and dating, and I remember thinking ‘this is terrible, how do people do this?’ ” she says. “And that’s how that began. With Ira & Abby I think we went to 12 weddings the year that I started writing it. Some of them were second weddings and I was just sitting there thinking, ‘everyone says ’til death do us part, forsaking all others, for better or worse’ but, like, did they say the same thing the last time?’ ”
It was never her intention to take on the role of director on Friends With Kids, but she stepped up after Jake Kasdan, who was due to helm the film, suddenly got stuck on another project. “With any independent film, [it’s about] getting all your ducks in a row, getting the cast and crew available, the right time, the right everything, the money…” she sighs. “ When the cast was available for that precious month but Kasdan was still tied up, if we didn’t want to lose the movie and lose the cast I had to jump in.”
The prospect of taking on her first directing job in such a rushed manner made Westfeldt nervous, but she received plenty of support from the cast, many of whom are old friends who brought built-in chemistry to the set. “It wasn’t easy filming during New York’s worst winter in 45 years,” she says. She got through it, she says cheerfully, by “treating every day like you were going to war”.
The result is a film that thirty and fortysomethings in particular will relate to, one that examines how having children can change people and relationships forever and how sometimes the status quo should be challenged and sometimes it’s not so bad after all.
Our time is up and we say goodbye. Until the next milestone, that is.
• Friends With Kids is in cinemas from 29 June.
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