Interview: Rachel Getting Married's Jenny Lumet

Jenny Lumet is cool as hell. Being the daughter of much lauded director Sidney might have given her a complex about artistic endeavors, but no. She’s as proud of being the director of the 8th grade play as she is of writing Rachel Getting Married, a wonderful new film about a dysfunctional family in Connecticut. Maybe prouder. Sitting for an interview, Lumet was grounded, refreshing, and funny. Just check out the story about her Dad's encounter with a dishwashing Bob Fosse. Next time Jenny comes to town, I’d like to have a glass of wine with her.

What’s the reaction when you find out Jonathan Demme is going to make your movie?

I can show you. I’m in my house, holding a juice box with nuggets in the toaster and my son is watching Sponge Bob. Then I get the phone call: “Hi, it’s Jonathan Demme.” At first I’m like, “[mimics mumbling]”. In the first five minutes I say something like, “I really like your work.” Everything bad, everything completely wrong. I think perhaps we had a bad connection because he missed the really horrible parts. He didn’t immediately call Child Protective Services. That’s pretty much what it was like.

Do you have siblings yourself?

Yes. I have a sister.

Did that influence the dynamic you put into your script?

I think that sister stuff is really cool and powerful and weird. It’s not nearly explored as much as it should be. There’s something really romantic about, you know, “My brother, my bro”. But sister stuff is really vital and crazy.

Are you the older sister? Did you take any experiences from your life and put them into the script?

No I’m the younger sister. Certain sister stuff I pilfered completely and totally from all my friends and family. They knew I was writer so they shouldn’t have said anything!

The dishwasher loading contest scene in the film is taken from a dishwasher loading contest your dad (Sidney Lumet) had with Bob Fosse, is that correct?

Yes! How weird is that?

What instigated that? A: Directors are fucking weird. I had a very particular life, but it was not a life where Elizabeth Taylor was under sink. It wasn’t like that. I lived in New York City and my dad was home at 6 every night. However, sometimes there were artists and famous people in the house.

I was 11 or so and we’re at dinner with Bob Fosse, in all his Bob Fosse-ness: this is a long and languid human being. The whole being ends in the cigarette. He was in all black, with his black cashmere sweater, and his goatee. He was just gorgeous. Next to him is my Pop, who was smoking hot, but completely circular in every aspect. My dad’s loading the dishwasher and Bob Fosse is next to him with a cigarette and he says, “You know, Sidney, if you put the salad bowl and the containers in the top level, you’ll have 10% more space in the dishwasher.” And my Dad says, “Bobby, go fuck yourself.”

You’d think these titans would have something better to talk about or do! My Dad says the forks go up and Bob tells him that it’s so amateur. I can’t say that at 11 I knew I should use this in art, but it stuck with me because it was psychotic behavior.

Was there any particular event that inspired you to start writing the movie?

No. I can say that I started writing the movie at the dissolution of my first marriage. Anyone can read into that what you want. I didn’t sit there and think, I’m a divorced woman; I have to write a screenplay. Or get a real estate license. That was just the timing of it.

Are you still teaching?

I had a baby four months ago so it’s been a demented year. Next trimester I hope to go back. It depends on some stuff.

Are you still working on your black belt? December is my black belt test. I have my Tae Kwon Do black belt. Even though they don’t have belts in Muay Thai, I take Muay Thai. I like to break things with my feet. I also like people kicking me in the head.

So are you writing a lot more now thanks to the movie?

This was kind of a dream experience and not in a hokey way. I got to work with a high caliber of people my first time at bat. Apparently it’s not always like this. This was a nurturing bunch of folk and I’m lucky like that. There’s a lot more writing stuff going on. It’s not going to be this ideal. Call me wacky but my feeling is that it’s going to be rougher. But that’s ok.

Do you have any aspirations to get behind the camera and do some directing?

I think it’s a pain in the ass to be a director. However, the best creative experience of my life was being in charge of the 8th grade play. I loved the 8th grade play. Two or three years ago we did A Midsummer’s Night Dream and everyone got pissed at me. They thought it was lame and it was impossible, but at the end of the run, the kids were fluent. It was badass. In terms of direction, been there, done that.

You mention that you’re teaching. Do you think this will help you with the students?

Maybe not. They might they just take the piss out of me more than they already do. They may think I’m cool for maybe 8 seconds. I used to have to say things like, “Hey I met the Clash!” But that doesn’t work anymore.

Do you think that the mistakes you make as a teen stay with you all your life?

I think its ripples in the pond. Yeah, you will always have them forever. I genuinely believe that you can be doing fine and then you remember the time you farted at lunch and you want to fall into a puddle.

In the end, when you saw the final product, did it match your expectations?

It was different because I thought I had written something pretty straightforward. But the whole music as character thing, that was totally Jonathan. He also decided to shoot a feature as a documentary. I didn’t write that. I don’t have that kind of imagination. He does, that’s why he does what he does. It was scary for the first 45 seconds and then I got it. It was liberating. As a writer, it’s liberating. It was a smart bunch of people.