Taking the plunge and deciding to have a child is life changing enough; imagine having no plans for kids and all of a sudden having a little one running around the house. That’s what happens to Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel in Life as We Know It. They play Holly and Eric, two people who only tolerate each other for the sake of their mutual best friends and their beautiful baby girl, Sophie. When tragedy strikes and their friends pass away, Sophie is left in Holly and Eric’s care. Now not only do they have to put their differences aside and shack up together, but the former rivals have to completely rearrange their lives for Sophie, too.
Clearly Life as We Know It isn’t a straightforward comedy. It comes packed with hilarious poop-filled moments, but there’s also an underlying sadness due to the event that brings Holly, Eric and Sophie together and director Greg Berlanti knows it. He and his producers, Paul Brooks and Barry Josephson, as well as the writers, Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, were all well aware of the challenge the mix of genre would pose when it came to getting a studio’s green light. Clearly their dedication and passion for the story paid off because come October 8th, Life as We Know It will hit theaters nationwide.
To promote the project the gang all came out for a press conference to talk about everything from working with the Clagett triplets playing Sophie to handling the film’s atypical romantic comedy nature down to the parallel between this story and Heigl’s real life experience adopting a child. Even with some very serious topics circulating the panel, laughs were abound from beginning to end. Check it all out in the interview below.
To the writers, why set the story in Atlanta, for Greg, how was it shooting there and for the actors, what were your impressions of the city?
Ian Deitchman: Well, we didn’t actually set it originally in Atlanta. [Laughs]
Greg Berlanti: I think the draft was in Cleveland, right?
Deitchman: Yeah, it was definitely in Cleveland.
Berlanti: That’s right. And then the studio told us there’s rebates in Atlanta and …
Berlanti: Anyway, it was really wonderful to shoot and it just feels different by virtue of the fact that a lot of other Hollywood films are shot in more traditional places or places they shot a lot before. We shot in Buckhead and it plays for the community that the family lives in and it’s also where I was staying while I was there. I grew up back east and it reminded me of home and a small community. It was a terrific place to shoot. We shot the stadium as well. Barry, do you want to chime in about that?
Barry Josephson: The Atlanta Hawks were great to us and the city really came out for us. We were able to shoot the Atlanta Hawks, the NBA games, we were able to shoot inside the building. Everybody really jumped in and really was helpful to us, so it was a great association and it enabled us to really allow Josh’s character, a sport director, to really see that inside and out.
Josh Duhamel: I got to go to the WNBA game, actually for research on a part. Barry was able to set up a tour of the directing booth at the WNBA basketball game.
This movie starts off with a nightmare of a date. What are some of your own worst fix-ups?
Heigl: I’ve never been fixed-up. Have you ever been fixed-up?
Duhamel: No. I’ve had plenty of awkward moments.
Heigl: Yes, lots of those.
Duhamel: I was always in relationships for long times. Dating always scared the crap out of me, for this reason. This is a good example of why I couldn’t date.
Heigl: So then how’d you end up in the relationship?
Duhamel: [Laughs] Well, I had to make very sure that I wanted to date this person.
Heigl: So you’d just stalk her for a while and then …
Duhamel: Yes, I would do a complete recon. I made sure that I wanted to be with them before.
Heigl: Interesting and weird. [Laughs]
Duhamel: You know when you really have feelings for someone, you don’t just want to, ‘Oh, I might like her, I guess I’ll go …’
Heigl: So you’ve never met anybody in a bar and went out on a dinner date the next night and had a terrible time? That never happened to you?
Duhamel: Well, I’m sure it did. I just don’t …
Duhamel: I was so drunk before, I don’t remember. [Laughs]
Heigl: I have a couple, but the worst was a trainer. I was like 18, 20 lbs heavier and trying real hard to work it off at the gym and my trainer asked me out and he shaved his legs and not that there’s anything wrong with that, if anyone here does …
Josh Lucas: Greg … [Laughs]
Berlanti: It was for cycling!
Heigl: He took me to Sizzler, gave me his headshot and asked I could get him into my agency.
How do you introduce yourself to baby actors and make them comfortable?
Duhamel: Barry, Paul and Greg, before we ever started shooting, they had me go to Atlanta a little early just to acclimate myself with the kids and get them to be comfortable with me. That was huge for us in the movie because they really responded to me. [Katherine] was in the middle of adopting her own child at the time, so she couldn’t come early, but I went out there and I got to know these kids really well before we ever started shooting and it was helpful because you didn’t really have to take them off the set all the time. They could stay there and they could play and they could live on the set while we were shooting and it made them feel comfortable.
But could it also be because all girls like you?
Heigl: Could be. And so do little boys! All children like Josh.
Duhamel: I have an affinity for kids and I think it’s because we can understand each other on the same …
Heigl: Emotional level. [Laughs]
Katherine, what did you do to get comfortable with them?
Heigl: Took control! It’s an alpha thing. They just need to know who’s in charge. It’s like animals. No, I’m just kidding. [Laughs] Thankfully I had just gotten familiar with the holding and the comforting of a child, so I could kind of do that mother instinct thing a little bit, but it was still so new to me. There’s a lot of letting go. If they’re cranky or they’re tired or they’re uncomfortable or they’re crying, the more uptight you get, the more uptight you’re going to make them, so we had to do a lot of breathing exercises and just stay calm and be patient and not obviously take it personally. I mean I just can’t take it personally, but [Josh] was fantastic with working hard to get to know those babies and I kind of had to do it cold and they did not like me as much.
Duhamel: That’s not true.
Heigl: At least I had one in my trailer who did!
Katherine, can you talk a little about the parallels relating to your character since you were a new mother yourself while filming this?
Heigl: Yeah, it was all parallels. I was living on camera what I was living in my life down to the tiniest little things like the outfits that they put the triplets in for a scene, my daughter might have come to work in that day. I watched the movie recently and thought it’s sort of a living journal because it reminds me of those first few months with this nine-month-old baby who was so new to me and I was so new to her and all the little things that go along with that, what kind of diapers you use and what kind of wipes and what kind of Pack n’ Play. We have the same Pack n’ Play as the one in the movie and it all just forever reminds me of that time and it was really intense and really glorious and certainly very overwhelming, but Holly was me and I was her and that’s that because I didn’t even have to act. I was scared.
Writing babies in a script has to be different than what happens on the set, right?
Kristin Rusk Robinson: Yeah, you can write that the baby looks vulnerable in this moment, says ‘Mama’ in this moment, but it’s such another thing when you saw it in film and the dailies, these beautiful little triplets who play her was so emotional.
Josephson: Greg had a remarkable instinct about which of the triplets would do what in any given moment. No matter what baby wranglers there were, Greg just had this amazing instinct for, ‘Bring Brynn, bring Brooke, this is the reason why I know this moment,’ and the wranglers would report directly to Greg saying, ‘Okay, this baby’s rested, this baby’s slept,’ and to make a performance out of it was remarkable and Greg was always right about that.
Berlanti: Well, I’m more cynical about babies I think than most people. They’re really fully formed people by the time they’re 15 months. [Laughs] They did try and pretend they’re babies and they don’t know what’s going. [Laughs] They each did have personality, so you’d go into the back room and the shy baby was the baby that would emerge on the set and was all happy and giggly and the baby that was the happiest where we kept them in the baby holding area, we brought her on the set and every time she’d burst into tears, did not want anything to have to do with any of us. It becomes a logistical thing of planning so that you cannot waste any time, but actually still be there and get, hopefully, the most original and really genuine moments on film.
Can you tell us about your amazing supporting cast?
Berlanti: We cast a lot of really fresh faces. Katie was always really supportive of that as a producer on the movie, bringing fresh and original faces to the film so it didn’t feel like other films. We cast a lot of people out of [Upright Citizen’s Brigade] and Groundlings and real comedians. Andrew Daly, Kumail Nanjiani, Melissa McCarthy, Will Sasso, Jessica St. Clair, they’re known on the improv circuit, but their not known totally to America.
Have you ever tried to hook up any of your friends?
Q: How’d it turn out?
Heigl: It’s still unclear because it happened recently. Chris Jacobs is really good friends with my husband and we set him up with my best friend, Cheyenne Ellis, who is also my stunt double, and we did it in a mixed crowd, everybody’s at the house so it wasn’t awkward. Well, they kind of did [know about it], but we asked each one to play off like they didn’t. It was handled so poorly and I blame Josh Kelley for that completely. But they actually did connect and have a nice time and I think Chris wanted to see her again, but everybody’s been traveling so much. I told Josh Kelley, ‘Don’t tell Chris that this is happening. Just invite him to come out for dinner. Cheyenne will just be there. Let’s let them figure it out for themselves.’ Of course [Josh Duhamel] goes and tells him, immediately, ‘This girl’s going to be here; you’ve got to meet her,’ and we already told her, I said, ‘No, you’ve got to only tell one person.’ [Laughs] I won’t do it again.
Duhamel: I would never try to set anybody up with my friends.
Heigl: Guys don’t want to do that.
Lucas: I just try and set up one-night stands. [Laughs]
The film almost brings a television-like experience to the theater. What were your thoughts on that?
Berlanti: It is in a way, a more human-interest story and a smaller story and so we were always very cognizant [of that]. 50% of the film takes place in one house and I was certainly coming out of working a lot in television. We were very cognizant from the start of how do we make this a movie, but not a TV show and separate that. We shot on Super 35 to give a much more wide screen experience when typically you wouldn’t do that with a baby because you can’t always frame the baby in, but we really wanted the scope and size of film and not a television show. Also, obviously everything from the actors and the emotions and the moments and the way that you scope the emotional experience and the surprises, we tried to get we got really risqué with some of the humor. We knew that when we first brought the movie in we got an R-rating, had to cut some stuff out and get back into a PG-13, which we got, so we knew that things like the pot brownies was important and things like that that take the audience out and go, ‘Wow, this is more than just that.’
The great thing about going to see it at the movies is you get to go on that whole emotional experience with other people. Having worked in television for so many years, you’re deprived of watching the audience react unless you break into somebody’s living room; you don’t get to enjoy it with them. Having seen this now on the big screen with the audience, I think it’s time for a film like this that really is emotional and smart and funny and incredibly well acted, incredibly well told to just bring people on a journey and I think that that’s what the audience craves now more than anything, both at home and in the theaters.
Q: But did you think about making it in 3D?
Berlanti: [Laughs] Only the scenes with the baby poop.
Josh, a lot of Messer’s charm comes from his overgrown kid-like persona. Do you see yourself as a big kid? Also, what was your reaction when you saw the poster?
Duhamel: I think people would probably agree that I’ve got a lot of kid in me, but that’s all right. If you ask any of my friends or my wife, I think they would probably agree with that. And the movie poster itself [laughs], I don’t think it’s sexy. If you look closely it looks like they superimposed a 65-year-old man’s legs on me. I think I need to get a little more exercise. Greg and I actually talked a lot about this. I didn’t want to do a lot of shirtless things or things that are just for gratuity. If I was going to do it, I wanted it to be funny. [Greg] actually pitched this moment in the movie. He said, ‘I know you don’t want to do a lot of the shirtless stuff in this movie, but listen. We’ll have the baby walk past in a diaper and her little pink Converse and her baby bottle. Do you mind walking past in your high-tops, your underwear and a beer bottle?’ I said, ‘That’s funny; I’ll do it.’ And here it is on the movie poster.