Another thing from that Ebert interview. You described going on a talk show at the same time as John Huston. You said, “Huston has such a presence…His voice is so deep and he’s so legendary and fascinating that instead of sitting there like a movie director, I sat there like a little girl.” You were irritated with yourself because you failed to assert your professionalism. Often when I should be professional and feel anxious, I start talking in high-pitched voice. Why do we do that?
It’s hard to take hundreds of years of cultural conditioning and just change internally. I hope young women today are somewhat further along than we were. In some ways it’s different and in some ways it just isn’t, is it?
No. Richard Brody wrote in the New Yorker that your film “reflected a time when professional assertiveness and romantic fulfillment were more openly in conflict.” They’re still in conflict. But maybe not openly?
Maybe we think we’re too cool for school when we think they’re not in conflict. But I don’t know. I guess it would be more strange for a guy not to accept a woman’s career than it would’ve been in my time. So it’s different, but some of the underpinnings are just still at work. Guys are still intimidated by women who earn more, or are stronger or more famous.
Somebody once said, “Women relate to men the way men relate to work.” Lots of women relate to work in their life the same way men do. But for some who do in any way desire to create a family life of some kind, there is that other side-you do relate to that side the way men relate to work. It becomes the primary thing. It certainly did for me at a certain point. By the time I hit my late thirties, I realized I really wanted a family. I was lucky enough to meet the man I love and have two sons. But that didn’t happen to me until I was 39. The first 40 years were like full-on work, really.
You made your second feature, It’s My Turn, before that?
Yes. I started directing theater in New York, and I met my husband in 1985 and had my sons in ’85 and ’88. Once I had kids I went into television and started directing episodes and pilots and cable movies, stuff like that because it was a much shorter commitment, much easier than thinking about doing a feature forever and ever.
I’ve never understood how they find people to direct television episodes. How does that work?
I’m not sure. They just have lists of people I guess. I think in my case Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz were familiar with Girlfriends, and Melanie’s role in thirtysomething of the single photographer was kind of based on her character in Girlfriends. So they hired me to start directing the show.
Melanie Mayron is so striking. She goes through these physical transformations throughout the film. In one scene she’ll be dressed up and have on a bunch of makeup and in the next scene she’ll be in her pajamas at home. Usually in movies the women look the same all the time because they always have full makeup and clean hair, but in real life women look totally different depending on the activity. I really liked that about her character.
Right. I like that too. It was also shot out of sequence.
How did you cast Girlfriends?
Melanie auditioned. As did Chris Guest and Bob Balaban. I met Anita at the Williamstown Theater Festival. I was there directing for a summer. I had met Eli Wallach at a party and asked him if he’d be in my movie. He said, “Sure, I haven’t had played a romantic lead in years!”
Charles Grodin starred in It’s My Turn. You have great taste in actors.
Yeah, I like people with a sense of humor. That’s important to me. That was really lucky.
There’s this blonde/brunette thing in Girlfriends. I was thinking about Last Days of Disco and Ghost World and all these movies where you see this dynamic. Of course there’s Betty and Veronica and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes…
Well, you do have to be able to tell them apart. But, being Jewish, I certainly grew up very aware of the WASP stereotype. I grew up at the time of phrases like “Blondes have more fun.” The idea of being blonde was the opposite of being an angst-ridden, curly-haired dark-haired Jew. The film is also about cultural differences. [Anne is a WASP and Susan is Jewish.] I guess it’s probably a stereotype I fell into.
But it’s a real thing about female friendships. No matter what the hair color, there’s always an element of mutual envy about the other girl’s appearance.
I know. It’s kind of related to what I was just saying earlier, about two girls, each suspecting the other of being more passionate. And that WASP/Jew stereotype is old stuff. It’s really old stuff.