Comical insight from Cheryl Hines, director of Serious Moonlight
From broken zippers to keeping Timothy Hutton’s pants pulled down to the same level around his ankles… at every turn something’s going on, as a director you are in the trenches reflects Cheryl Hines, who got behind the camera for Adrienne Shelly’s screenplay, Serious Moonlight about a high powered attorney (played by Meg Ryan) who gets caught in a love triangle and goes completely bonkers.
Cheryl dug deep into this directorial role, learning to embrace the challenges and see the comedy in everything, including the short amount of prep time between signing on and pre-production.
Funny to think about it now, Cheryl says. From the time I said yes to pre-production I had 2-3 months. I used all the resources I had. Asked friends questions about specific challenges for the film. Even texted from the set.
As a first time director, Cheryl felt honored to take on the project. I worked with Adrienne Shelly on Waitress and got an invite to direct Serious Moonlight. What are the odds on that? Like a bazillion to one? Cheryl laments. I wondered… Should I do it? Could I do it? Then I read the script and loved it so much I had to direct it. It was one of those moments in life I had to take a step back and look at the big picture. Two intelligent men were asking me to direct it. I figured it must be what’s supposed to happen.
In casting the roles I went for gold, Cheryl says. I sent the script to Tim and Meg to see if they liked it and they did. Tim is such a gifted actor. He gets comedy. You see a 180 in his monologue and you believe women would fall for him. And it was the first time I met Meg, on the phone, even though we have friends in common. I convinced her to do this film with me as a first time director.
As for Justin Long, Cheryl knows Justin personally and thought it would be an interesting change to see him as this young person whose adrenalin goes and you’re not sure what he’s going to do next.
Once on set, the biggest surprise in transitioning from actor to behind the camera came from all the unexpected challenges, Cheryl says. At the end of the day you hope nothing will go wrong tomorrow but by 6am everything does. The flowers don’t show up. People are late. Someone took home a prop that we need. I learned to embrace the challenges and not spend too much time worrying about what can go wrong because I got to the point that I would go home at night and worry… What if my appendix broke? What if Meg’s appendix broke? Does she still have her appendix? Maybe I should find out who still has their appendix.
One could burst an appendix laughing at Cheryl’s hilarious candor, a humor which she mastered at The Groundlings. Learning improv secured her a role on Curb Your Enthusiasm and her Groundlings background was very helpful on set as a director, to be able to go with what’s happening.
As a director you’ve got to go to plan A, move on. Plan B, move on. Embrace the next idea and know what ends up happening will be great, Cheryl says. And I learned that even though something is agreed on in pre-production you still have to check everything. There was a scene when Justin has to steal a TV. It’s in the script that Justin steals it, Cheryl shares, but we get to the set and the TV is too heavy for Justin to pick up. It was made of lead or something, No one person could pick it up. So we had to shoot it like he was just starting to pick it up and then cut away.
Apart from the comical challenges, Cheryl found many seriously rewarding moments in directing. She brought her comedic chops to the table, found all the funny moments in the lines and captured the comedy when shooting.
I am very proud of the timing in the film, Cheryl shares. I like the comedy and the drama and I like the suspense in the film. I felt very proud of the funny moments and when you’re sitting in a theatre and Justin takes the toilet cover over Tim’s head and you hear 1500 people gasping – it’s powerful, it’s exciting.
Cheryl’s enthusiasm helped her plunge into her first directorial role, wade through the unexpected moments, and emerge ready to direct again. Currently she’s looking for potential scripts while awaiting news on whether there will be another season of Curb – we hope so!
One thing is for sure, Cheryl will continue to moonlight as an every day, gifted comedian; a talent that rises out of being true to every moment. Here’s what I learned at the groundlings, Cheryl says. I learned to not try and be funny. A lot of times comedy comes from playing the reality of the moment. When you think of Will Ferrell who does it really well, Will Ferrell will get really angry even though he’s standing in his underwear in the middle of the street and it’s really funny because he really is angry. If he wasn’t committed 100% to what he’s doing it wouldn’t be funny, it would be someone trying to be funny. You have to be in the scene, in the moment, and play the reality of the scene.
To see what’s really happening in Cheryl Hines’s directorial debut, check out Serious Moonlight – staring Meg Ryan, Timothy Hutton, Kristin Bell, and Justin Long. Released by Magnolia Pictures. www.seriousmoonlightfilm.com