Interview with Marja Lewis Ryan


AE: Did you have any weird Q and A sessions? Did anybody ask you anything bizarre?

MLR: In a public setting, nobody asked anything beyond “What was it like” and that sort of thing. But in a private setting, you know, we have to market a film here — and people would come up to us all the time and ask us “Are you gay?”’ and “Is Emily a good kisser?” and “Are you really girlfriends?” and we were just like, laughing all the time and saying “I don’t even know if we’re supposed to answer any of these questions!” Stuff like that, I feel, was the silly part. Emily and I are actually best friends, so the question of “Is Emily a good kisser” actually came up more than once, and that always makes me laugh.

AE: That’s got to be a very funny experience.

MLR: It definitely is! Especially because the running joke is that Emily is the longest relationship I’ve ever had. We did the play three years ago; so basically, we’ve been playing girlfriends for three and a half years now! But no, we truly are best friends, so it’s awkward to answer any other question beyond that! [laughs].

Ryan and her Four-Faced Liar cast at the Sundance Film Festival

AE: What was it like sitting in the audience at your big premiere?

MLR: It totally went well, the other thing was — none of us went to the second one, we only went to the Q and A afterward! That was definitely a smarter choice — I will definitely do that for the rest of my life! I shook the entire screening — I was like “Why am I torturing myself?” It was really nerve-wracking, it was like, “I know every joke that’s coming, oh my God, please laugh!” and you know when a serious moment is coming, and you’re like “Please be quiet and listen, oh God!” The anxiety of that screening was a lot for us. Everyone was really nice to us, please don’t get me wrong, such kind people came up to us, and we got great feedback.

Like I said, our next screening was sold out. It was amazing, but I wasn’t there. [laughs] I purposely was not there!

AE: So, about the film, I understand you originally wrote it as a play and adapted it later on. Where did the inspiration for it come from?

MLR: The root of the story goes back to — the four of us went to college together, and David Mamet founded the acting program that we were all a part of. The last year in the studio, he taught us a master class. In the Q and A afterwards, a girl in the front row asked him “Why don’t you write more roles for women?” and he said “Why don’t you?” it was a kind of dismissive, but really honest answer. He was like “I write what I know, and I know how men see the world.” I listened to that, and I was like “You know, we’ve been complaining for the last three years about how there are no scenes for us to do in scene study classes.”

So, I wrote a four-scene, one-act play about the two women. I produced it myself in New York for a night, and got a ton of feedback, including from someone at the writing program at NYU, who said “You should turn this into a short film.” So, he showed me how to format a screenplay, I sent that to a screenplay competition called the Fusion Film Festival in New York, and it got accepted. So I was like “Oh, maybe this isn’t the worst thing in the world!” [laughs]

The whole journey was rooted in that one thing. I wanted to create work for women that I felt was completely fleshed out, and something we can all stand behind as actors. So then we moved out here, and the two guys, Dan and Todd, are our really good friends, I got to work them into the script. I think the guys do “pop”, but that’s more a tribute to them as actors. So yeah, that’s what it was rooted in — making these two female characters as strong as possible, and everything kind of fell around that.

AE: So how was the actual shoot? Was it tough, fun, crazy?

MLR: We had so much fun! I mean, you can kind of well imagine — you saw us, we’re kind of goofballs anyway! [laughs] But, we are all really good friends, and Jacob and Danny — the director and the DP [director of photography], absolutely clicked with us immediately, and we’re all really different people, but it was a blast. The first time we went to New York, it was perfect weather, it was October, and it was all sunshine and rainbows. We went back to shoot our winter exteriors in March, and it was a total blizzard and 17 degrees the entire time — it was really brutal. It was still fun, just, you know, a different kind of fun!

I mean there was hard stuff — Todd always remembers, because we were producers on the project, we were the ones getting those late night phone calls, then we would get, like, screamed at when we’d walk onto the set with bags under our eyes, and red eyes, when we looked like hell and still had to be in front of the camera all day. That’s the part that was the hardest, but I don’t know, it’s hard to remember all those times when it’s so good right now!

AE: That’s great to hear – I’ve always heard people say “make movies with your friends” — or at least people you like.

MLR: [laughs], yeah, people warned us from the beginning, saying “You guys should be careful, you don’t want to ruin friendships.” I can confidently tell you — I’m not lying when I say it was the best experience we could’ve had. It’s because of that — that level of comfort. It’s different when your best friend comes up to you and says “You’re not doing really well, can you try something else?” You feel differently, because you always feel supported. I would recommend it to a friend! [laughs]

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