Friends with Benefits has a great supporting cast of characters, and from everything the actors said, it’s apparent that Will Gluck is fun to work with. We got a chance to sit down with two of those supporting players, Patricia Clarkson, who plays Mila Kunis’s mom and Jenna Elfman, who plays Justin Timberlake’s sister, to talk about the film and their careers. Check it out.
Patricia, you came back to work with Will Gluck for this one. What is it about working with him that made you want to come back?
Patricia Clarkson: I did, against my better judgment. (laughs). He said – and I think he’s serious – that I’ll be in every movie he ever makes. We had so much fun doing Easy A, and it’s not just fun – I am an actress, I’m not just there to have a good time, but there is something creative and alive about working with Will. I’ve worked with a lot of directors at this point, from Martin Scorsese to Woody Allen, to Clint Eastwood, but with Will it’s comedic, which is rare for me, especially as we get older. And it’s hard for older women to have a truly funny role. Will is sensitive to that, not just letting me be the mother, or the lady who does something. Clearly we got on, and Stanley (Tucci) and I had so much. And so he called me not long after with his next movie to play Mila’s (Kunis) mother. And I said “I can’t do another mother” and he said “No, this is like the woman from Easy A on drugs.” (laughs) On a tour bus, a groupie lady.
The mom is usually a thankless role.
Patricia Clarkson: But you look at all the supporting characters in this film, they’re so defined. Look at Richard Jenkins, or Jenna’s character, or Woody Harleson. They’re very specific, very moving. The way he works is fabulous for actors if you can swing. He’s a bit like Woody Allen in that you have to think on your feet – he’ll sometimes start to change things in the room. The first scene whne I come in was quite different on the page. He’ll literally start throwing things as the camera’s rolling. It’s really a work in progress, nothing’s set.
Some actors don’t like that.
Patricia Clarkson: Some do, but some don’t like a loose environment. I like both, I’ve worked with tight dialogue with the writer hovering. And I get that, all my best friends are writers, and I respect the written word. But then there’s someone who can mix it up and isn’t precious with their words, and I like that. I like that I never know what’s going to happen on the set, but I also like that I’ve worked with such a diverse range of directors that keep me guessing.
Did you have any hesitations about doing this after Easy A?
Patricia Clarkson: No, Easy A was a cool mom, but wasn’t a bad mother. She’s like the bad sister – you know how Barbara Eden used to play the good sister and the bad sister? That’s how I think of them.
How did you define your relationship as the mother?
Patricia Clarkson: What I think is sad is that Lorna – I love that her name is Lorna, I always wanted to play a lady named Lorna – I think with her, she’s not very gifted at being a mother. She’s good at being a groupie, at men, at booze. She’s good at herself. But at the base she loves her daughter, but she never had the tools to be good at it.
Did you have a role model in mind?
Patricia Clarkson: Not my mother, she’s antithetical to Lorna. She’s the president of the city council of the city of New Orleans, she’s a powerhouse at 75. My mother is my biggest fan, and she knows I have to stay relevant- she knows it more than anyone. She’s astonishing. Very responsible and not cool. She’s not conservative, but she’s not cool.
I don’t know if parents are ever cool to their children.
Patricia Clarkson: That’s true, my mother has a lot of young people who work for her and think that’s she cool.
Will Gluck has defined himself with his great supporting casts, how do feel walking into that for a second time? It must be nice.
Patricia Clarkson: For as far out as Will can go, he’s not as broad as we might be. There has to be a certain amount of reality involved. I think that’s why he hires us, because we – hopefully – won’t fall of the limb. He just has a beautiful combination in him, because he has truth, and he has a sharp wit. He makes a great combination of that, he knows how to not push something too far.
Did the SNL “Mother Lover” sketch with Justin Timberlake happen because you were working together on this?
Patricia Clarkson: No, I did that long before I did this, it was two years, and I shot this a year ago. Mother Lover aired that Mother’s day two years ago. And when that aired I thought my phone would explode, I never got so many texts in my life.
Gave you street cred?
Patricia Clarkson: I have ten nieces and nephews, and they range from thirty to eighteen, and I’m the coolest person alive now. And I have only one person to thank and that’s Justin Timberlake. The fact that I now actually know him? My nephew’s going to be my date to the premiere and he’s just beside himself. Between Justin and Mila Kunis, he doesn’t know what to do.
What are the coolest things you’ve done for your nieces and nephews?
Patricia Clarkson: They’ve come to events with me, and they’ve come to see me on set, and one nephew got to come to the Golden Globes with me, and he got to ride in an elevator with Uma Thurman, and think he almost had to be hospitalized. (laughs)
Do you give advice to the younger actors you work with, or do they come to you?
Patricia Clarkson: Sure, that I have a vibrant career at 51, that I’m still doing a lot of movies, I think they realize that maybe I’ve made very good choices. I haven’t done anything I didn’t want to publicize (laughs)
I talked to a character actor who compared it to be a session musician, would that’s about right?
Patricia Clarkson: It depends. If it’s Cairo Time, that’s my movie. It depends, but yes you have to come in and not make a mountain out of a molehill. You have to give your all, but you have to realize your place in the film. With Easy A and Will Gluck, you always feel that what you’re doing is crucial – not that being a session player isn’t crucial, but yeah, sometimes you have to come in and be whatever that is, and then sometimes you get to dine out.
Having played that spectrum, do you see a through line to all great artists you’ve worked with?
Patricia Clarkson: Definitely, when you work with great directors they have an unshakeable vision and truth about the project that isn’t malleable. Within the framework, it’s very malleable, but what they want is pure. It’s very specific, and they know it.
Jenna, what was your reaction to the script?
Jenna Elfman: I was invited by the casting director to help with the table read to help with the studio, and with Justin (Timberlake) and Mila (Kunis). “Can you come read the sister role?” Sure, why not, and I got the role from that. But a lot was created on set, the script was a framework. They were filming a month before I got there, and you wonder “what’s the tone?” From the script to the table read, Will (Gluck) is writing on set all the time, you don’t what it will become. Will is great director, but the rhythm and banter and speed, was like “oh wow” which you can’t tell from reading the script. That’s completely Will Gluck.
How much had changed since the table read?
Jenna Elfman: It had just expanded, grown dimensions organically, through how he directs. And he’s a television writer so he’s (snaps fingers). It had just become more of what it was, I thought it became funnier and sexier. Like it took steroids.
Richard Jenkins character has Alzheimer’s, so that must be a thin line to play both the comedy and drama.
Jenna Elfman: What I think helped segue all the fast moving sex romp stuff to the family story is that the family unit in the film has a sense of humor with each other. And that gives the sadness some buoyancy, and the comedic rest of the film. So it’s not like a comedy/drama.
Can you talk about the getting the role and the family dynamic that you created.
Jenna Elfman: Well, I had just had my second son, so getting out of the house? On the Beach? Great, I mean I’d be in my trailer pumping. What I love about Richard Jenkins – and I love my father, and I went through something where I was taking care of him through something, he’s totally fine now – but you don’t know when you get into a scene and you don’t know or haven’t met the person, and you open your heart, and they say “action” and you give everything. And we didn’t rehearse where I was going to touch him, and he was totally receptive, and I was welling up because I was loving him. And having receptive actors made that genuine. And Will would come in there, and tell me to lift Justin. And he would give actable direction – sometimes directors will give you theoretical nothingness. But I love it when I’m directed into behavior. And it’s so easy to do. And Richard Jenkins is a marvel.
Does that make you reconsider your craft?
Jenna Elfman: I was totally inspired, I try to learn every moment of my life. It was similar to a moment I had with Edward Norton, where we had to do a taxi cab scene where I totally forgot we were even acting, I was just completely in the conversation. And we were filming in New York, and our rehearsal was walking in New York with each other. We would just walk through Soho. So we were just building this camaraderie. And that’s what happened with Justin (Timberlake), we’re doing this dinner scene, and I’m all our alone here, and my son, and watching his grandpa fall, there’s all these emotional things. It was similar to working with Edward.
You obviously liked working with Will, how would you describe how he works?
Jenna Elfman: I would say it’s astute directing, and really knowing the story he’s telling. He is unbelievably smart. He goes at a million miles an hour, but he’s very focused.
Friends with Benefits opens July 22.