You Can Choose Your Family Interview with Jim Gaffigan, Miranda Bailey, Logan Miller, and Samantha Mathis
One of my favorite films from SXSW this year was Miranda Bailey’s You Can Choose Your Family. In the film, Jim Gaffigan stars as Frank, a family man with a huge secret which is soon discovered by his son Philip (Logan Miller). Bailey’s directorial debut is such a delightful little dramedy that features two incredible performances by Jim Gaffigan and Logan Miller. These two talented actors share the majority of the film’s runtime and have terrific on-screen chemistry. It has been a very long time since I have watched an original comedy with a focus on building and shaping characters and their relationship with one another. You Can Choose Your Family is a pleasant reminder of the great films in the 80s and 90s. Films that weren’t all about gross-out gags or special effects but rather characters that are well-developed and are flawed yet lovable.
I had a chance to sit down with Jim Gaffigan, Miranda Bailey, Logan Miller, and Samantha Mathis at SXSW where we had a very in-depth talk about the film as well as a lot of other film-related topics such as the differences between making a studio films vs an Indie film as well as the importance of Film Festivals to filmmakers who want to make something that isn’t exactly the type of film that studios take a chance on nowadays.
Scott Menzel: How did you get to be part of it and what was it about the script that made you want to do it?
Miranda Bailey: Oddly enough, I was actually working on my own idea about a father-son relationship that a father brought his son along on his cheating escapades. But then, as most people who try to write scripts do, I could never quite get it done, or get it finished. I’d read this other script from Glen Lakin, we had the same manager, and he was a pretty good writer. I didn’t necessarily want to do that story, but I liked his writing, so I asked for a meeting with him. While we were in the meeting, I said: “what else do you have?” And he said “Oh, I have this script at the Imagine Writers Lab” that I think Neil LaBute is going to direct.
The script is about this 17-year-old boy who blackmails his father to go to NYU, or whatever. And I was like “Oh, that sounds really interesting. Send it to me.” So, he sent it to me and it was really different than what we ended up with, but the core characters were there. It was set in modern times, and actually, the part that takes place in the whole third act was actually just one scene. Like, one tiny little fishing scene in the original script.
So I talked to him and Imagine if I was to come on and do it, and what I would do. I would change this, I’d bring in the girl Allison and have her be more of a part of it and I guess they liked that idea. They had been trying hard with the other script to get it made and it wasn’t happening. And they let me do it.
Scott Menzel: That’s great.
Miranda Bailey: And then three years later, Jim signed on. And then I met Logan at Sundance cause I happened to be sitting next to him at his premiere and then he was on. And then we had a movie.
Scott Menzel: Okay, so for you, Logan and Sam, what made you guys want to do this film?
Logan Miller: Well, the script initially was really fun, and it started out where you read it and you’re like “okay, here’s a kind of conventional storyline of a deadbeat dad and a pissed off teenager”. You kind of think it’s going to go one way, and then it flips completely 180 and the whole dynamic is just so fun. It was quite a page-turner. I loved that, initially, and then meeting Miranda was awesome. We clicked really well, and then the opportunity to work with Jim Gaffigan … I said, “Hell yeah! Let’s do it!”.
Scott Menzel: Hot Pockets.
Logan Miller: Hot pockets, yeah. Yeah.
Logan Miller: I haven’t eaten a hot pocket with him yet, but I hope to one day.
Scott Menzel: Or donuts.
Logan Miller: Yeah, or any kind of food for that matter.
Scott Menzel: How about for you?
Samantha Mathis: Pretty much the same. I mean, I read the script and it was such a page-turner. And I was really pleased with where it went, and that it was not the expected sort of perfect Hollywood ending. I was just super engaged by the script and also the character was someone I hadn’t played before, I loved her eccentricities and her oddities. And the comedy. I mean, it’s a dramedy, right? It’s a sad story if you really think about it but there’s so much humor to what’s going on. And then the opportunity to work with Mr. Gaffigan. I’m a huge fan.
Miranda Bailey: Hopefully, Samantha will do more comedies because I feel like, in that scene with the air cookies, it’s just like you can’t stop laughing. You are so bizarre but very grounded in your weirdness. So it’s great to see you do that. I loved your enthusiasm.
Samantha Mathis: I haven’t had the opportunity to do that, no. Yeah, so I’m just thrilled to have that chance.
Scott Menzel: Jim Gaffigan seems to be the big draw for everyone here. I mean, just in general, everyone loves his brand of comedy. He’s one of the cleanest comedians, but easily one of the funniest comedians because he just tackles things that are familiar to everyone. Can you all talk a little bit about what it was like working with him in a comedy, but one that also had some dramatic elements to it.
Miranda Bailey: Well, one is that he really does have a range and soul. He has five kids and his wife Jeannie was going through a very hard time, so I don’t think it was hard for him to understand the anger moments or any kind of emotional moments or thinking about his family during the fishing monologue. Jim has a lot of range, so I think people are going to look at him differently now, hopefully, if they see this movie which I am assuming that people will see this movie. But then also one of the things is that we laughed way too much while filming this. Even on takes that were not his, he would sit there and crack everyone up. And I would be like “Jim, the camera’s not on you right now and you’re breaking them”.
Logan Miller: She’d have to get us in line a little bit, you know? She would yell “inappropriate! Inappropriate!” All the time.
Miranda Bailey: Goddammit, Jim!
Logan Miller: Yeah, yeah. Because we’re all just laughing so much and having such a great time, but it’s great when you can have those moments but then also have another dynamic of these dramatic scenes that actually work too. I mean, in some of my shows, comedians are only one note and it’s good when you can have somebody who has a range, such as Jim, to kind of work within that.
Samantha Mathis: I think it was also a brave choice on Jim’s part and it speaks to his artistry, the desire to do something beyond what he is. I’m sure someone would say “you don’t really want to mess with that, you’re so Mister Family Man. Here you are, playing this man who’s duplicitous and has two families.” And yet, it just speaks to him as a creative being and wanting to do something beyond that. It’s a risk that pays off.
Miranda Bailey: I think he plays a murderer in one of his other movies. Or maybe he wants to play, I don’t know. Something like that
Samantha Mathis: Who doesn’t want to play murderer?
Scott Menzel: There’s a lot of food for thought in this movie. The most interesting aspect of this movie for me is this idea of when you have kids, is it because you love the person or is it to save a marriage. And what was so fascinating to me is that the Anna Gunn side of the story, I almost felt like he was staying with her for the kids. And then when you see him with Samantha’s character, his personality completely changed. There was love in his eyes, and he really cared a lot. How did you balance that?
Miranda Bailey: That was the intention because otherwise, you’re not going to like him, you know what I mean? If he’s telling both people that he loves them so much. You’re not going to like him, and we had to be very delicate. Originally, Anna’s character (Laura) was a working lawyer mom who was very tough, and Bonnie (Samantha Mathis) was the sweet stay-at-home mom, and I was like “No way am I having the one that he’s in love with the person who doesn’t work”, you know?
Scott Menzel: Right, right.
Miranda Bailey: So, we got to change that. Thank you. I’m really glad that that’s what you got from it because that’s what we carved into it.
Scott Menzel: Back to you.
Logan Miller: All right.
Scott Menzel: What was your hardest scene with Jim?
Logan Miller: Hardest scene, hmm…Let me think. I don’t know. Going back to it. I think the hardest one to keep it straight and to keep it together, was when Laura (Anna Gunn) and Lib had left, and they’re going to the lake, and I’m talking to him. I’m like, dad what’s the plan? and he blows up on me. Every time without a doubt, it would just crack me up. Just having him yelling in my face like that.
That was one of the more complicated scenes. The one that I really enjoyed doing, was with Richie, played by Alex Karpovsky who is playing my fake father, and we’re sitting there, and I’m having to tell Alex Karpofsky’s character that I hate him when I’m really talking to Jim’s character. That whole scene at the dinner table was a lot of fun to do.
Samantha Mathis: Alex is so funny.
Miranda Bailey: Oh my God. I texted him last night.
Samantha Mathis: Oh, Good.
Miranda Bailey: … and just said you’re fantastic!
Samantha Mathis: Yeah. I wish he was here.
Logan Miller: He really shined in the film.
Miranda Bailey: He really did.
Logan Miller: That was such a good thing, yeah. I was very happy with what we got to see on the screen. We got to see a lot of him.
Miranda Bailey: More than I realized we’d be seeing.
Samantha Mathis: I’m really glad he let me give him a little side boob.
Logan Miller: Yeah. A little side ball, if you will.
Scott Menzel: For you, Samantha, Bonnie like Miranda was saying earlier was a strong female character that held her own. From Bonnie’s perspective when it’s revealed at the end what happens, how did you as a person relate to that moment? Do you have any life experience that was similar to that? I’m just wondering.
Samantha Mathis: Sure, yeah, everyone’s had a moment of betrayal in a relationship. Without going into too many specifics, I’ve gone through one not too long before we had shot the movie so I had a lot to draw on but who doesn’t? We’ve all had moments of feeling disappointed in a life partner or in someone. I have a face to draw upon. There was one scene that I was really bummed didn’t make it into to the movie…
Miranda Bailey: All of them
Samantha Mathis: … well, so many for you that’s for sure. For you, it’s like killing all of your babies. But there was a scene between Anna and my character in the hospital afterwards where we got to kind of size each other up.
Miranda Bailey: And you guys kind of knew all along
Samantha Mathis: We knew something was off. Then be okay with each other because it’s not about us. It’s about him. Anyway, I’m sure you had to kill a lot of scenes.
Miranda Bailey: Well, we’ll have good extras, because they are fully edited.
Scott Menzel: Are they really?
Miranda Bailey: Yeah. There are lots of scenes.
Scott Menzel: Miranda, the set-up of the story is fantastic. In the beginning, you go the standard route. Philip is at the pool hanging out on spring break, and then he sees his dad come in and he goes over to the hot young thing and the audience is lead to believe that the father is cheating on his wife with a younger woman but then it just becomes so much worse than that. He follows his father and is like what the hell when he discovers there’s this whole other family. I just thought that the transition from the typical setup and the twist was fantastic.
Miranda Bailey: Oh. Good.
Scott Menzel: How did you create that? That kind of tension? I guess the better question is, how did you know, which family to give what qualities too. Which family was so loving, and which one wasn’t? How did you pick the actors or the specific actors for those roles?
Samantha Mathis: Those are a lot of questions.
Miranda Bailey: I’ll start with the last question. When I was working on the script, Anna was actually my first choice. I think probably because I was watching Breaking Bad at the same time, and I was like, oh my God, or I saw Equity or something like that. I think I told you, ideally, we’d get Anna. But I didn’t necessarily think that she’d say yes because it wasn’t the giant role in the movie. I wanted her for that role not necessarily the Bonnie role, which I think is a bigger and definitely has more presence in the movie, and whatnot. She said yes. It was shocking. Then we got her. She just has kind of like that quality of strength, but wounded. Do you know what I mean?
Scott Menzel: Yes. I feel like she had to in Breaking Bad. That was pretty much her character in that show.
Miranda Bailey: Yeah. She really wanted to make sure she wasn’t Skyler. We had a lot of discussions about how this is not Skyler, and I think that that comes through. There are a lot of scenes back at the house with her and Emerson, that didn’t make it in the movie as well that show her struggle a little bit more with the position that she’s in, being a stay at home mom and being kind of taken advantage of by her children and her husband. The problem was when you’re watching the movie and once you get to Jim and Logan together, you don’t want to leave them. I had to make the decision to keep the momentum going because as soon as we would go back to the other house, it suddenly dropped. It was kind of an editing choice to stay on the track. Then bring her in suddenly on the patio.
Scott Menzel: I think you nailed it.
Miranda Bailey: Thank you.
Scott Menzel: All right, Jim, I’m so happy you’re here. We very rarely see you in a lead role. This film, as we were talking about it earlier, kind of goes against your comedy background and the image you have created as the family man who also happens to be a comedian.
Jim Gaffigan: I’m even more of a family man.
Scott Menzel: Yeah. You’re a double family man. Did you feel any risk-taking on this project?
Jim Gaffigan: No. I’ve always loved acting and it’s just the opportunities and when they present themselves. This role was amazing. When I read it I remember thinking that I identify with every moment. I got five kids so, you’ve got to play that tough dad role. Frank can be a bit of a dick to Laura (Anna Gunn), but I also know in storytelling it’s great to have someone like that. If you watch three episodes of Games of Thrones, the person you despise in one episode, you know you are going to be rooting for them. I want to do things that present interesting questions and also point out human failings and stuff like that but I loved Frank. I’ve never had a second family or anything like that.
Miranda Bailey: We’re your second family.
Jim Gaffigan: He’s well intended, but that doesn’t make his crime any less of a crime. That’s what I really enjoyed about Miranda’s storytelling is that it wasn’t solved cleanly, and it wasn’t solved. It was great in the end, he ended up with nobody. I don’t know if I should give that away. Things are complicated. I mean, I loved my parents but it was very complicated. I love my kids. I know they will eventually hate me. It’s just parenting is a thankless impossible task with different variables. I’ll just keep talking until it makes sense.
Scott Menzel: I think it’s so interesting this movie, and thank you for not going the traditional route with this. It’s funny because, throughout the movie, it’s like you don’t want to lose either family, it is the whole conundrum for the entire movie. It’s like, you have these two different families, but you have feelings for everyone. You’re tough on Philip, but deep down you really love him. You have the other side where it’s kind of like the dream family, which you really want, and what every father would kind of want. You can see that. The love for Bonnie is spot on, it’s right there. With Laura, it feels like you are there because you want to be there for the kids rather than her.
Jim Gaffigan: You know. I think there’s different types of relationships; romantic relationships. It’s interesting how the film was cut together. I played it like he loved both of these women in an authentic way, and you couldn’t look at my character with Laura and go, that marriage is over, and she makes that point of it’s been over for a long time, but I played it like this is just how this works. This is how I parent him. This is how I parent her. This is the relationship I have. I really believe in every romantic relationship, we all have, it’s not identical. If anything, it’s very different. If it is identical, that means you have a problem. Anyway, Anna is such an amazing actor and so is Samantha, and unfortunately Morgan, I mean, Logan is not.
Samantha Mathis: Morgan, Logan…
Jim Gaffigan: Some trendy name…
Logan Miller: You know my name.
Jim Gaffigan: Some trendy name from the 90s.
Scott Menzel: He said such nice things about you like how he wanted to eat hot pockets with you.
Logan Miller: Then he shits all over me.
Jim Gaffigan: Right. Because I want you to be better. See I am Frank.
Logan Miller: It’s tough love.
Jim Gaffigan: I would say that if there wasn’t that second family, that Frank and Laura’s relationship was completely salvageable. It’s like that relationship is where they’ve drifted apart. It’s complicated. He’s not listening. Men are dumb. We have to be trained. Do you know what I mean?
Miranda Bailey: Yep.
Scott Menzel: My wife has to tell me things a lot of times before I remember or listen to her.
Miranda Bailey: Also, in his relationship with Laura, we touched on the idea that as a man she didn’t understand what work was like. I watched my mom kind of go through that. It was kind of fun to have Lib, Laura’s daughter, be the one who knows her mom is not standing up for herself, it’s very subtle now because we cut out a lot of scenes. There’s a hint of that in there.
Scott Menzel: How long was the original cut?
Miranda Bailey: The assembly?
Logan Miller: Six hours.
Miranda Bailey: Two hours and 47 minutes was the assembly but that’s with everything. Then we got down to two hours and 15 minutes with basically all the scenes.
Our editor was fantastic. Jeff Warner is incredible. He did The Kids are All Right. It’s funny because the way that we got him I said to my producer, Amanda, I need a great editor. It’s my first movie and I need someone like the person who did The Kids are All Right. Someone like that. And she’s like, I know that guy. I was like, really? She was like, yeah I’ll call him. That’s how it happened. So with all these things that happened, I feel like I had a guardian angel with me.
Scott Menzel: You really lucked out.
Miranda Bailey: I did. Yeah.
Scott Menzel: Everyone sitting at this table is so talented.
Scott Menzel: In terms of film festivals since we are at a film festival right now…
Logan Miller: Is that what this is?
Scott Menzel: Yeah. I think so.
Logan Miller: You don’t say.
Scott Menzel: It’s hard to tell anymore.
Miranda Bailey: It’s definitely a festival of sorts.
Scott Menzel: It is a cluster fuck of something. Anyway, all of you have been in films or have been part of a film that has been at a film festival. How important do you think film festivals are to filmmakers and supporting a creative voice?
Miranda Bailey: I think they are really important. Without film festivals, we’d all be just sitting there watching stuff that the studios churn out, which is sometimes good, and sometimes is not.
Jim Gaffigan: It’s mostly bad.
Miranda Bailey: I mean there are some movies that are great.
Jim Gaffigan: Yeah. No, I’m joking.
Miranda Bailey: I really like small movies. It’s not that I don’t want to get paid and do a studio movie and do Wonder Woman 7 because, of course, I do. I think this is the kind of movie that studios used to make. I like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I like 16 Candles, those movies that were funny and had a heart.
Scott Menzel: I’m with you, I miss films like that.
Miranda Bailey: I feel like studios should be making this kind of movie.
Scott Menzel: They don’t know how to anymore. It has literally gotten to the point with the state of comedy where it’s not about the characters or stories anymore. Which is why I love Jim as a standup comedian. He speaks from the heart and it is just truthful. The reason why it’s so funny is that it’s true. It’s how you feel about stuff. The way you talk about food is the way I feel about food. That is the sort of honesty missing nowadays in studio comedies. Everything is about how extreme can we push this situation. What’s the grossest thing we can come up with? Nothing is about the characters anymore or falling in love with the characters on-screen. There are no John Candy movies.
Jim Gaffigan: What’s interesting about hearing you guys talk about this is that this is very much a John Hughes film.
Scott Menzel: Yes it is.
Jim Gaffigan: And you bring up John Candy. It’s like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles has comedic elements but they’re real characters. There is real heart to the story, and I never thought about it like that. There’s something where these people are all real, you know. Steve Martin in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is the worst of ourselves. But in the end, he does the right thing. That ending is very sweet, but it’s like you said, I agree with you guys, we don’t see these types of movies anymore.
Miranda Bailey: I miss those movies. That’s what I wanted to do. This stuff I’m developing to direct is like that. It’s funny, but also touching, which makes me realize I have a lot more work to do on one of them.
Scott Menzel: Which again the modern movies, they force these moments into them right? Like where everything just feels like all right, we have to do something to make this situation better.
Miranda Bailey: I think Bad Moms is a good example.
Scott Menzel: Oh, my God yeah.
Miranda Bailey: How bad a successful movie can be. That is the most unrelatable movie to women all across the board and it made so much money.
Scott Menzel: Oh my God, the ending of that movie, where Christina Applegate is forgiven for all the shit she does, what the hell?
Miranda Bailey: Also, it’s like the idea of Bad Moms based on two guys who wrote its idea of what bad moms are. The thing that’s a bummer is that that’s such a great concept, and I think if they had sculpted those characters a little bit deeper and made them a little bit more relatable.
Jim Gaffigan: Those are good actors, you know.
Miranda Bailey: I know, Kathryn Hahn is a genius.
Jim Gaffigan: Christina Applegate is really funny. Kathryn Hahn is really funny. We’ve seen them have depth in other things. I didn’t see the movie, but yeah.
Miranda Bailey: It’s like there’s such an opportunity there to do something really good. I think they could have. I just think that those specific guys. They know how to do the straight comedy … The gags, as you would call that. But then I don’t think they could get through past that. I think that lessens the gag.
Logan Miller: It’s just nice too, having a voice in independent cinema where you’re working with producers and stuff that isn’t just trying to cut your film to make it PG-13. I’ve dealt with a couple of films such as that. You feel stifled, and they’re trying to pump the brakes on something when you’re trying to make something natural, and relatable, and by trying to be heard through a giant studio sphere, such as that, it kind of diminishes the product. When you are trying to make something PG-13 or you know, whatever the test audiences are saying, it’s like just try it and see if it works. That’s the great thing about film festivals. We get to try it you know. I think hopefully the power structure will kind of change in a way that we can hopefully bring movies like these to massive audiences and I feel like the community is getting bigger and bigger.
Scott Menzel: Of course. I think more and more people are getting tired of seeing Fast and Furious 27.
Logan Miller: I really liked that one though.
Jim Gaffigan: It wasn’t as good at 26.
Scott Menzel: One final question, what does everyone at this table want people to take away from this movie?
Jim Gaffigan: Gosh.
Miranda Bailey: That Jim Gaffigan is a movie star.
Jim Gaffigan: No. No. I think that-
Scott Menzel: He is like John Candy.
Jim Gaffigan: I’m not that thin.
Miranda Bailey: Will Ferrell…I feel he is like Will Ferrell with heart.
Scott Menzel: Yes. That’s true.
Jim Gaffigan: I know I just discussed it, but this is ushering a new wave of John Hughes films. It’s a comedy with substance, and there have been comedies with substance recently but I think there’s something here. I’ve been in this business for a long time and I was constantly shocked, whether I was working on a film or a show at the laziness that I see in the entertainment industry. Not everywhere but just moments of it. I’m like really, you’re really not going to rewrite this scene even though it doesn’t work? I saw that on a TV show, we’d have a table read then we’d start shooting it, and nothing would change, and I have to be a good soldier and show up. Are you kidding? This is an opportunity that the teenage me would have like all right let’s fix this and so I think that’s a compliment to Miranda.
Miranda Bailey: We got to play a lot.
Jim Gaffigan: It’s a compliment to her. There was not a single moment during filming, if I had a question for Miranda, that she didn’t have an opinion on or hadn’t thought about. I’ve been in a lot of situations where it’s kind of like that idea in four camera setup of let’s just churn it out has infected other aspects of the entertainment industry. Maybe it’s not laziness, but it’s just like some of the passion is gone. That’s why I think Indie films are really important I mean I know I’m hitting the nail on the head but it’s like everyone’s there for the right reason. Nobody’s sitting here going well my trailer’s not as long as person’s trailer.
Miranda Bailey: Did we even have trailers for this movie?
Jim Gaffigan: You’re doing it for the right reason. I think it’s good that it trims the purposes to a very narrow point. Is it like do you like the script? That’s the reason you should do it. Do you like the project that’s the only reason, yeah, if you get paid, that’s great.
Logan Miller: I only do it for the money.
Miranda Bailey: These guys worked for essentially for very little. I don’t think I’m allowed to say what but whatever. It was an independent film. So no one got paid. Hopefully, we’ll sell it and we will get paid.