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JOEY LAUREN ADAMS and ASHLEY JUDD
on 'COME EARLY MORNING'

Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

November 9, 2006


Joey Lauren Adams is often remembered by viewers as "the cute blonde with the squeaky voice in those movies," having appeared in films like Big Daddy, The Break-Up, and, most noticeably, Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy. But the actress takes on an altogether different role for Come Early Morning, an independent drama she wrote and directed, drawing upon her own experiences as an Arkansas native. The quasi-autobiographical script is the story of Lucy (Ashley Judd), a woman who finds herself in an empty, repetitive cycle of drinking, one-night stands, and failed relationships.

In this interview, Joey Lauren Adams and Ashley Judd talk about the movie, including the emotional and logistical struggles of bringing a small, personal story to the big screen.


The Interview

MEDIA: Joey, did you face a lot of opposition in getting this movie made because people might not have expected you in the role of writer/director?

JOEY: Yeah. When we first sent the script out, I think there were people who definitely took meetings with me just to see if I really wrote it. [laughs] I think I sort of was the last person they expected to come at them with a screenplay, and was the comedic, blonde actress with the funny voice. I just don't think they were expecting it. So it was an anomaly, I guess. But rightfully so. No one was jumping up saying, "Yeah, let me give you money [to make the film]." I had never held a camera in my hand--a home video camera, nothing. I had not directed, I didn't have a short, I didn't go to film school. There weren't a lot of people jumping up and down to back me.

Where did the urge to direct come from?

JOEY: It was really gradual, and looking back now, I understand it a lot clearer. But at the time, I was just unhappy for a lot of reasons. There were days that I literally had no reason to get out of bed, and it just was so destructive for me. And then just sitting and waiting for a script to be sent to me--it's not pro-active. I was really unhappy. And I think, ultimately, now, looking back, acting wasn't satisfying me 100%. Chasing Amy was an amazing role, but then after that, I went and did Big Daddy...But you're "the girlfriend," or you're "the best friend." I wasn't getting the Nicole Kidman roles. And there's not a lot of roles out there to get, and I wasn't reading scripts. And it's a weird place to be because everyone's constantly telling you how lucky you are that you're an actress. You go home to Arkansas and people treat you differently, and you should be so happy...So you're like, "Why aren't I happy? I should be so happy." It was just a lot of things. So it was really just to have something to get out of bed for and be excited about. And so I just started writing--and didn't have a lot of confidence, didn't know if anything would happen, but was just writing, like, "What would I [be] passionate about?"

How much of the story was autobiographical for you?

JOEY: It's more "emotionally autobiographical." I wrote the script seven years ago now, and it was things that I was dealing with at the time. But [as with Lucy], my relationship with my father is pretty non-existent. The film's kind of received some criticism, like "not enough happens." But my dad didn't molest me and I don't have a problem with heroin--my life isn't that dramatic. My dad really loves me, he just can't talk on the phone. He's too crippled and shy. And that's almost harder, do you know? Because it's there. He's there and he loves me, and I try and try and try. It's just impossible to have a relationship. So that's definitely affected my relationships with men. Because we don't talk, I never felt like a guy would be interested in anything I have to say. And so then once I hit puberty, it became...physical. And that was the only way I felt like I could really connect somehow. And it's taken work to sort of get past that. But I've had two-year relationships. I wasn't as extreme as Lucy.

Did you ever want to play the character of Lucy yourself?

JOEY: Yeah. That was the original idea, to act in it. I was never one of those people who thought, "What I really want to do is direct." It never occurred to me. It was just that once I finished the script, it had become so personal, and I had worked really hard...Some of the scenes I ended up taking out were very sort of cinematic and big and funny, but I really tried to stay honest and true to what my experience is, and do a portrayal of the South that isn't a spectacle, but is just honest. So once I finished it and we started talking directors, we obviously weren't going to get like Bruce Beresford or Michael Apted, or someone I would have wanted to come in and direct it, because it's just too small and personal. And so the directors they were talking, rightfully so, were people who had done a lot of music videos and were trying to break into film. And I guess I figured out I'm a control freak, but I couldn't stand the idea of someone else interpreting it. And I just kept having this image of being on set and the director saying to one of the actors, "Why don't you say one of those funny country sayings?" and thinking that would be really cute. And it would have just been hell. And the music became really important to me, the locations became important. I really wanted it to be filmed in Arkansas. I wanted to be involved [with the editing]. It was just kind of like, "That's what the director does." So once I decided to direct, for awhile I was going to do both. And then we had a meeting with the line producer, and she started talking to me about [the logistical responsibilities]. [laughs] And I thought, "You know what? I better pick one or the other." So I decided to direct.

Are you hooked on directing now?

JOEY: I am, absolutely. I loved it. I don't know if I could do something I didn't write because it's really hard. I'm hoping like next time, it will be easier. I've worked with people like Rick Linklater and Kevin Smith, and you kind of get your posse. And I feel like I've almost got my posse. I've got my cinematographer. I had an amazing editor. The crew was great...

ASHLEY: "And the acting was great! I got my star!"

JOEY: The acting was great. [laughs] I did get lucky with the actors. There's scenes that are cut, but [Ashley] got in so many swamps and stuff, and we didn't have netting. I was just like, "There's no snakes, Ashley, I promise!" [laughs] Yeah, I really got lucky. So my experience was pretty good. The finding the money part was hell. The five years of that was awful, awful, awful, awful. But I'm comfortable on a set, so it was a language I understand. So walking on the set was actually a relief for me. It was pre-production [that] was a nightmare.

Did you ever think about giving up?

JOEY: Yeah, I almost gave up four years into trying to get the money, but I had a friend who convinced me not to. And the script had become immature to me because it was old by now, so I did a rewrite on it and then got new producers, and had really let go of wanting to do the role. I mean, it's one of those things in life, like when you're going through it, I had so many people telling me, "It's just not meant to be." And you just want to take their head and shove it into a concrete curb until they bleed a lot. [laughs] But it's true. It wasn't meant to be. Once I did the rewrite, decided not to act, got [producers] Julie Yorn and Holly Wiersma on board...It just all came together so easily, and that was the right pieces. There was a point we had a big actor attached and I went to some "Get Your Movie Made, Producer Seminar" thing, and the first person that spoke said, "Look, if you can get an actor, say like blah blah blah"--which was the actor I had attached--"you can get your movie made." And I was just like, "I have that actor, I can't get my movie made!" [laughs] So I left.

Did you have specific friends in the business who were particularly supportive?

JOEY: One of the co-producers, Dan Etheridge, was the first person that read every word, every draft, and also really encouraged me to go deeper. Like the first draft was very shallow. It was very superficial. And he knows me so well, and he's seen me in some of my drunken moments, so he [knew] that there's more there. And then my agent was actually really [supportive]. I wrote 75 pages and sent it to him. And it was so hard to get those 75 pages. It probably took me nine months. And I sent it to him and he just had the most positive feedback, and then I was able to finish it like that.



Ashley, at one point, your character is in the water spearing frogs for dinner. What was it like filming that scene?

ASHLEY: That scene was fun because it was a beautiful location on the Arkansas River, but I didn't really enjoy spearing the frog. Karmically, I was very troubled by that. If I see an animal on the side of the road that's been hit, I stop and I take care of the animal's remains in a way, to me, that feels very respectful. And to then repeatedly spear an already dead animal really was challenging to my value system, and I partially dislocated my shoulder, as a result. [laughs] I think my body had some trauma around it. It was just partially [dislocated], so it's not like I didn't have movement, but I knew something was wrong. In Arkansas, there is an incredible Ayurvedic chiropractor, and she was kind enough to come over to my house before I went to set, and she's like, "How did you partially dislocate your shoulder?" [laughs] "I know exactly how I did that. Sorry, frog!"

So the frog was already dead?

ASHLEY: Yeah. I mean, I'll do anything for my director, do anything to tell the story, [but] it was a defilement. But the plastic ones that were proposed were not even suggestive of a frog. They were these plastic objects that had sort of vaguely froglike features painted onto them, so there really wasn't a choice. [laughs]

Did you actually eat the frog legs in the dinner scene?

ASHLEY: I did not. I was really grateful that Lucy's pretty pissed off that whole scene, because I thought it was a very in-character choice to reject the frog legs..."Because I'm mad!" I didn't have to eat them.

Do you typically eat meat yourself?

ASHLEY: I do. I was a vegetarian for a long time, and to my surprise, one night, I came home from the pub New Year's Eve and started throwing down a bunch of fried chicken. So there you go. [laughs]

Lucy is emotionally distraught through much of the movie. Were you in character between scenes, or did you turn it on and off?

ASHLEY: I think I can really turn it on and off, but there is a level of my consciousness that stays pretty open to the character, and I can tap into it easily. I found on Bug, for example, which I shot after this movie, there was a certain piece of music--and the movie is very extreme and whacked out and paranoid schizophrenic, extremely bizarre behaviors on the part of the character--and if I started to listen to it, I was just blown wide open. It was like the portal to the character. And I can no longer listen to that music. I listened to it on a plane recently and I thought, "This isn't good for me." Because it took me way, way, way down. I like working that way, and it worked really well on Come Early Morning because the shoot was short and my character was pretty much working on consecutive days, so I could just be in a flow, but still go home at night and take care of myself...You know, enjoy life, but never be very far away from what I needed to access for Lucy.

What was your trick for handling the intimate scenes?

ASHLEY: Willingness. Just willingness. And thinking, "I did sign a contract, so I'll get fired if I don't." [laughs]

What do you think is the overall message that viewers can take from this story?

ASHLEY: No one is going to fill you up. It's an inside job. No person, place, or thing can possibly take care of that lonely place inside. And you can't really borrow someone else's god, either. You have to find a god of your own understanding.

What is your take on Lucy's alcohol abuse?

ASHLEY: I think that alcohol is just an outer symptom of an inner problem. And it's alcohol and cigarettes and disconnecting and men. It's all just trying to fill up that hole inside and find some kind of an answer that, for the majority of the film, is really eluding me.

Joey, because this film is about a woman, was written and directed by a woman, and stars a woman, some people might assume it is one-sided, with bad, one-dimensional male characters...

ASHLEY: You mean the way it is when men write the script and direct the script? [laughs]

Eeexactly! But this movie isn't like that at all. Was that a result of you wanting to stick with a truthful portrayal, or did you intentionally rewrite the script to balance things out?

JOEY: No, it was always like that. I think it's just honest. I don't think all mean are sh*ts, and I think Lucy's pretty awful to [the male lead] Cal. And I think he understands it. But again, even though she meets Cal and she wants to have something intimate with him, she just doesn't know how and flips out. I've never had a man come into my life and lived happily ever after. You have to do the work. But I like that the [other] guy doesn't sleep with her when she's drunk. It's almost more humiliating. But I think it's more humiliating because it is more real.

Are you working on another screenplay?

JOEY: [Yes.] I have a script that I wrote for Peter O'Toole. He doesn't know it. [laughs] It's about two old people in an old folks home in Arkansas. And I know I'll get 50 cents to make the movie, and I can't afford to do that right now. So I got my first paid writing job. So I'm going to go to Mississippi and write that. It's a woman's story, but it's an amazing story based on a real woman.

Ashley, do you have any writing aspirations?

ASHLEY: I love to write, and I'm adapting a book into a screenplay. Or, endeavoring to. And I may fail spectacularly, or succeed modestly. I don't know. But I'm certainly looking forward to sitting down and taking a try at it.

What is the name of the book?

ASHLEY: It's a book called The Burning Time by Robin Morgan, and it's historical fiction. It's about Lady Alyce Kyteler, who was a 14th century Irish noblewoman. An ambitious emissary of the Pope's was sent to bring her, and the whole of pagan Ireland, to heel, and she was really a match for him that he did not expect. And her protege was the first person burned at the stake for practicing the Old Religion.

What made you want to adapt the story?

ASHLEY: I saw the whole movie in my head as I was reading the book, and then when I finished it, I realized that not only could I act in it and it would be an incredible role to play, [but] I could write it, and I didn't sleep for three days. [laughs]

JOEY: [jokes] And what's going to happen is I'm going to end up playing the role and Ashley's going to direct. [laughs]

Thank you both for your time.

ASHLEY: Thank you, all!

JOEY: Thank you!

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