In the dramedy “Lucky Them,” Toni Collette plays veteran rock journalist Ellie Klug, who is more interested in partying and flirting with young musicians than working. Her boss/magazine editor Gilles (played by Oliver Platt) gives her one last chance to prove her value: by doing an investigative article finding out whatever happened to a long-lost rock star name Matthew Smith, who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend.
Ellie recruits her longtime friend Charlie (played by Thomas Haden Church) to fund her road trip, and he tags along as an amateur documentary filmmaker. Along the way, Ellie and Charlie discover sometimes painful truths about themselves and the dysfunctional relationships in their lives. “Lucky Them” had its U.S. premiere at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where I caught up with Collette and Church for this interview before the film's premiere at the festival.
A lot of people who see “Lucky Them” would say that the real love story is between Ellie and Charlie, in terms of their friendship. Can you talk about the fact that through all of the different romances that come and go in each of their lives, the friendship between Ellie and Charlie remains constant? How did that shape how your portrayed these characters?
Collette: I would agree. Ultimately, it’s about this very unusual friendship that becomes quite important and necessary for both of them. They’re very similar. They’ve both ostracized themselves in a particular way. I think Ellie has experienced a certain amount of pain through loss and has shut down and has been treading water for many years. She’s become an alcoholic. She’s bad at her job. She’s sleeping around with young guys, because they will never be a threat to her, they will never be anything real in her life. We talked about the fact that [Ellie and Charlie] dated a couple of times.
Collette: Her job is being threatened, and she’s really resistant initially. And he ends up being one of the greatest friends she’ll ever have. And I love that it’s a platonic relationship. I love that that there’s a sense of ambiguity about it at the end. It makes it more than a romantic comedy. It is romantic and it is funny, but it’s also quite deep and challenging and meaningful.
Church: I think it would be an exploration of something that they just get to finish line of the movie, having gone through so much. It’s just nice to have a woman friend that he can now confide in and rely upon to get great emotional advice as he continues his journey. That’s enough. It’s very emotionally gratifying at the end of the movie that it’s somebody to spend time with, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be as obvious as romance or romantic chemistry. It’s just, “It’s great to have a woman friend that I can rely on.” I like that ambiguity as well.
Do you think there’s a message in “Lucky Them” about single women in their 40s who are still hung up on an ex-boyfriend they had when they were younger?
Church: They’re all destined to end up metro[sexual] man who’s around 50.
Collette: How about the message about a woman dealing with all of her emotional crap in a really head-on way, and coming out of it with a really good friend and feeling strong in herself and responsible for herself. That’s something also. You don’t need a guy.
We all become a product of our experience, for better or for worse — and some people beholden to it. I think it’s quite common for people to feel frustrated with their lot [in life]. And also, it’s quite common to not really know how to deal with it, or know how to deal with it and you’re too scared to actually face it. And I think that’s Ellie’s story. And it probably took [Charlie] pushing her a little bit to look into the crap that’s holding her back.
I think there are times when you do take stock and re-evaluate what where you’re at and what’s going on. You’re only on planet Earth for a short period of time. And you’ve got to be happy with what you’re doing and make some decisions.
It’s very easy to coast along. And once in a while, something wakes a person up for whatever reason, and you look at things and perhaps get a little bit of clarity. And then, perhaps you’re able to change things. And I suppose this film does entertain all those thoughts.
Ryan Eggold, who plays Ellie’s love interest (a musician named Lucas Stone) in “Lucky Them,” had a guest role in “United States of Tara” in 2009. He says it was a coincidence that he was cast in “Lucky Them.” What’s your perspective?
Collette: I had no idea that he had done an episode of “Tara.” What kind of person am I? I had a lot of work to do on “Tara.” He was there for one day. I remember him being lovely in retrospect, but I didn’t put two and two together, like, “Oh, he’s that guy that I did one days’ work with.”
Toward the end of “Lucky Them,” Ellie has emotional breakdown when she confronts her past. Can you tell us what went into preparing for that scene?
Collette: [Ellie and Charlie] ostracize themselves in a certain way. There are certain walls that have been built, and they’re very firmly in place. And throughout the film, and in looking back in her life experience and looking at her relationship with Matthew and her expectations and how they weren’t met, she slowly becomes undone or slowly lets go. That was a really interesting thing to me.
I don’t know whether it’s breaking down or opening up, but just that amount of change. And all of that change, all of that history that she’s talked about Matthew comes to a head in that one scene. It’s kind of assumed that perhaps he committed suicide. Ellie doesn’t believe that that’s possible, even though the world at large keeps saying that it is … It’s a big scene. There was a bit of pressure in that scene. [She says to Church] Do you want to talk about it?
Church: I was there as an observer, but it was incredibly powerful to witness, because [A-list actor who has a surprise cameo in “Lucky Them”], to be a part of the movie was this dream that was held out for so long by Emily Wachtel, our writer/producer. She had talked to me way, way back. I became attached to the movie. She had talked about [this A-list actor] as far back then to play this character.
I had known him a little bit throughout my career. One of my first jobs was on [a TV show he starred in early in his career]. And I had the good fortune of flying back with him from Vancouver to L.A. and really talking and sort of getting to know each other a bit. And I’d just run into him here and there over the years in L.A.
But for him to be there, at this point, to be the dude that he is and so stripped down — as soon as he turned around [in that scene], Toni was next to me, and I felt it ignite: the sadness and the pathos and the love and the tragedy of the romance. It’s gone forever, but there’s a little residual hope that maybe just for a moment, for a fleeting moment, you could go back. It was something that you don’t get to see that much in a moment on set. He just really connected completely to Toni.
Toni breaking down, especially in a few takes, it was hard to not become really emotional myself. Because Toni was so completely enveloped in the character, so when she was becoming that distraught and that fragmented by seeing him, it was just as painfully real as anything you could ever hope that somebody would commit to in a performance.
Thomas, how do you feel about Charlie hating music?
Church: Until he hears Bryan Adams. He's such a buttoned-up guy, professionally and personally. It's one of the slightest tendrils of the story that she helped me let loose in some of [Charlie's] scar tissue and armor. And in the end, he begrudgingly admits he likes this one dude.
Collette: The story works so well because the thing that [Ellie] lives for, [Charlie] despises.
Ellie and Charlie are different in a lot of ways, but they’re both similar in how they deal with romantic relationships, don’t you think?
Collette: Well, we’re both afraid of commitment. We’re both avoiding it, really, trying to make an attempt.
Church: [Charlie] gives someone a dead animal to end the relationship.
For more info: "Lucky Them" website