Interview with Patricia Resnick

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In 1979, a 26-year-old lesbian screenwriter named Patricia Resnick began

working on a story about three pink-collar office workers who kidnap their

"sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss, and secretly

take over running their department.

The result was the feature film comedy, Nine

to Five
­– starring Lily Tomlin,

Jane Fonda, and in her film debut, Dolly Parton – which went on to earn over

103 million dollars in the US alone, making it the second top-grossing film of

1980. Not bad for a film starring three women.

The movie has since become a beloved, iconic example of female solidarity

and workplace injustice, with a huge lesbian fan base.

Now, it’s making its way to Broadway, as the play, 9 to 5: The Musical, starring Allison Janney, Megan Hilty, and

Stephanie Block.

Resnick talked to AfterEllen about writing the film Nine to Five, bringing it to the stage, working with Dolly Parton –

and how slow-dancing with Nancy Reagan changed her life.

AfterEllen: What was the inspiration

for the film?

Patricia Resnick:
I read in the trades that Jane Fonda wanted to make a

movie about secretaries with Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. Lily had given me my

first writing job, and I had done a piece for Dolly on a Cher

special. I decided it was right up my alley and called up my agent. I found out

they didn’t have a writer attached, so, I sent in my stuff and went in and met [with

Fonda].

She had a lot of statistics about clerical workers and things that she

wanted to say politically, and she wanted it to be couched in terms of a

comedy. She felt that would make it more palatable. So I went off to try and

come up with a story and we just proceeded from there.

AE: Did you have office job

experiences of your own to draw from?

PR:
I never worked in an office. I was a waitress for quite a long time.

But no, I never worked in an office. Fox [Studios] got me into their insurance

company, which is a huge, downtown LA company with offices and secretarial

pools, and all of that. I went in every day for two weeks and had everybody

tell me their secrets. I also applied to get a job as a secretary, just to see

what that was like. But my typing skills weren’t good enough.

AE: Being a writer doesn’t guarantee

any kind of decent typing skills.

PR:
I know. I type with four fingers and I’m not that fast. I make a lot of

mistakes.

AE: Me, too. I’m working off of one

seventh grade typing class.

PR:
That’s more than I ever got!

AE: Did you want to be a screenwriter

right out of college?

PR:
Yeah. I went to USC film school. I had to do a paper on an American

director and I decided it would be more helpful if it were a living American director,

because I thought maybe I could parlay that into something.

I happened to be driving down

Wilshire

Boulevard
and I saw they were shooting and I got

out to see what it was. It was a Robert Altman movie called California Split.

I waited around until he came out, told him I was going to write a paper on

him, and he let me come interview him. [Later] when I was done, I dropped it

off and he called me and said he wanted to hire me.

AE: You got your break into the movie

business by doing a drive-by?

PR:
Yeah, I did! I don’t know what I would have done if that hadn’t

happened.

AE: How long was it between that

fateful day and starting the script for Nine

to Five
?

PR:
Well, let’s see. I went to work for Altman right after I graduated, so

I was 22. And when I started working on Nine

to Five
, I was 26.

AE: Twenty-six year old screenwriters

– any writers for that matter – don’t always have a lot of creative control

with big studios. Did the film turn out the way you wanted it to?

PR:
It’s funny; it didn’t turn out the way I wanted to, although at some

point, you have to stop arguing with success. So, I let go of that.

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