Forget Netflix and chill — this August is the time to Netflix and cruise.
Kristen Bell, Kelsey Grammer, and Seth Rogen hit the Caribbean in Netflix’s latest original movie, Like Father, which debuts on the streaming platform Aug. 3. Bell stars as Rachel, a workaholic young woman who gets left at the altar and is reunited with her estranged father, Harry (Grammer), in the same day. After a night of drinking away their sorrows, the mismatched duo depart on her honeymoon cruise together, where they bond over karaoke and Rachel meets a dorky Canadian (Rogen).
Writer and actress Lauren Miller Rogen (For a Good Time, Call…) makes her directorial debut with the dramedy, which she also wrote. Ahead of the film’s release, EW caught up with the first-time filmmaker about making the leap to directing, getting stranded at Disney World, and the undeniable hilarity of Canada.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long had you been wanting to direct a feature?
LAUREN MILLER ROGEN: Well, you know, I went to film school and the plan was to always direct a feature, but I think I just didn’t have the confidence when I was younger to say that I wanted to direct a feature. And even once I’d finished writing this script, [producer] Anders Bard and I sent it to other people, because I feel like I just didn’t have the confidence to say, “I want to direct this movie.” And a few of the women we sent it to were like, “Why are you sending this to me? You should direct it.” And then Anders was like, “Well, do you want to direct it?” And I was like, “Yeah. Yeah, I do.” From that moment on, I was just like, “I’m the director,” and couldn’t have felt better or more comfortable, and honestly, so ready to do it.
So before you decided to direct it, you were sending it out only to women?
Yeah. It was really important to me. I had worked hard, when I was writing the script, to create what I hoped was an authentic female character, a three-dimensional character who felt like a real woman. And it was really important to me that a woman be at the helm telling this story and bringing it to life, and I think there are so many talented female filmmakers out there, so we just tried to send it to people. Luckily they all said no, and gave me the opportunity to do it.
Netflix is an exciting place to be right now!
It really is! We sold [the script] to them close to two years ago at this point, and it was a different landscape then, their movies. Of course it was exciting, don’t get me wrong, but it was like, “Who knows?” But now it’s just like, oh, yeah, Netflix is making kickass movies, and I’m so excited to be a part of it.
Why do you think it’s the right platform for this film?
You know, I think that it’s the kind of movie — I hope that it’s the kind of movie — that you can watch over and over again. Because I think the performances are so amazing, and the characters are [people] you want to be friends with, and it’s a beautiful world. Netflix gives viewers the opportunity to, on Friday night, just turn their TV on, plop down on their couch, be like, “What am I going to watch? Oh, let me watch this good movie, and if I want I can watch it over and over again.” And hopefully they will!
What was the inspiration for the story?
The idea was actually originally pitched to me by Anders Bard, who’s one of the producers on the movie, just as sort of the kernel of the idea — a woman who gets left at the altar, and her estranged dad shows up, and they go on her honeymoon cruise. Which, of course, none of that has ever happened to me in real life. Thank God! But what has happened to me is that I’ve gone through s—, and I’ve experienced emotional periods in my life that are full of needing to take a step back and deal with some really dark, hard s—. And immediately I sort of sparked to the idea of creating a female character who is put in this situation, which seemed so rich for emotion, and goes through this journey.
It is very emotional, but it’s also really funny. Was that sort of balancing of tone tricky to navigate?
It was — however, I should say that when I wrote this movie, my mom was about six or seven years into her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease, and I was in a really dark place in my life, to be honest, and I was really angry and depressed. However, I’m also married to a comedian, and I sometimes go to wild events, and I have amazing friends who are very funny, and I have a very full life and I travel and I move around and I do a lot, and sort of have this balance, myself, of these high highs and low lows. And I think that I, without really meaning to, made that movie that has these high highs and low lows, and sort of worked out my own journey through writing it, and created a world that I think — I hope — that most people would relate to. Because I think that everyone probably has high moments and low moments, and that’s what life is, really, right? The highs and the lows together, and I think that’s what a dramedy is — it’s the balance between the funny and the sad. It feels more sad because we were just laughing, and it feels funny because we need the release from how sad it just was. I love balancing the two because it feels real to who I am.
[POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT] Alzheimer’s does come up in the film. Was it important to you to include that?
Absolutely. I really believe that diseases like cancer and HIV and heart disease have become part of the, I’ll say in quotes, “mainstream,” if you will, because of how they’ve been portrayed in TV and movies and media in general. Alzheimer’s just doesn’t get that airtime. It’s often, in my opinion, been portrayed in movies and TV very inaccurately — not that there haven’t been real portrayals, because of course there have been, Still Alice being one of them. But it’s important to me to incorporate that into storytelling, because it’s important to me to make it part of the national conversation, because it’s such an epidemic and, honestly, a crisis in our country. So I think the way to change that is making it part of our media, so it normalizes and it becomes something that we always talk about.
[END POTENTIAL SPOILERS]
Can you tell me about casting Kelsey and Kristen?
Kelsey has a small part in Neighbors 2; he plays Chloë Moretz’s dad. I actually was on set when he shot that part, and he was so funny in it that I was like, “Oh, wait, is he Harry?” And [at] our first meeting, he was talking about one of the scenes and he teared up, and I just was like, “Oh my God, he’s so brave, and so willing to bare his soul, and [he] does it so beautifully.” I felt like it was such a gift to have him in the movie.
Then, [with] Kristen, she and I sat down together, and I was just so blown away. It was really important to me, on the page, to create a three-dimensional character, and [Kristen and I] instantly clicked on that. And every time we were on set, our whole conversation before a scene just revolved around, “Let’s make sure that this is real to a woman, how a woman would really react in this situation, and make sure that we are creating someone who women can see themselves in.” She was just so willing to go there and try things, and I’m so proud of the Rachel that we created together.
Were they always going to sing, or did you decide to have them sing when you cast two people who could?
They were always going to sing, and in fact, I always had to remind them, “Look, I know that Kristen and Kelsey are Broadway-caliber singers. Rachel and Harry, however, work in marketing.” [Laughs] So I always had to sort of remind them that it’s about the fun, not about the singing. It just so worked out that they have beautiful voices, but it’s honestly something that I was like, “Okay, hold back a little.”
Seth’s role was really funny, too. Did you write that with him in mind? [The two are married in real life.]
Not at all, actually. Jeff originally was a guy from the Midwest, and early on Seth was going to play [Rachel’s ex-fiancé] Owen. And then, about two months before shooting, we were in Canada, and when I’m there I’m very aware of Canadian things. So we were brushing our teeth, actually, and I was like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if Jeff was Canadian? And all the jokes were, like, a little bit Canadian?” And he responded, “I’m not going on the ship.” And then over the next few days, I kept coming up with funny little things, and then he was just like, “Oh, man, it would be too funny to play a Canadian.” He had never played a Canadian before, and just thought it would be so funny. And then he just couldn’t say no.
I also heard you encountered some weather difficulties?
Oh, just a little. [Laughs] We were supposed to get on the cruise ship on a Saturday, out of Miami, when Hurricane Irma hit on Sunday. So the cruise obviously was delayed, and we went to Orlando — thank God we had Princess Anna on our side, who got us a hotel at Disney World. And we hung out there for six days before we could get back down to Miami to get on the ship. It was crazy.
Was that actually kind of fun, though? It sounds like camping!
Spend six days in a hotel with people — two of which we were literally not allowed to go outside — [that’s] like, super-bonding. Very summer camp. And it was amazing. We shot a short film; we had a short-film contest where we let the PAs submit scripts. I was the DP of the film, and the DP was the director. There were 1,300 senior citizens there, because their nursing homes had been evacuated to the same hotel, and we hung out with them and helped them. I have this great video of Kristen calling bingo numbers for seniors. [Bell documented their efforts to “make lemonade outta Irma” on social media.] It was a wild ride.
Is that going to be the basis for your next movie?
Maybe. Not a bad idea.