I usually see Wendi McLendon-Covey on the set of The Goldbergs (TCA visits a lot) in full Beverly Goldberg costume. This time I saw McLendon-Covey on the cold streets of Park City, UT where her Sundance film Imaginary Order premiered.
McLendon-Covey plays Cathy, a mom trying to manage her own family when she has an affair with her friend (Christine Woods)’s husband. Their son Xander (Max Burkholder) walks in on them, thus complicating Cathy’s coverup.
Writer/director Debra Eisenstadt joined McLendon-Covey for an interview about the unique tone of Imaginary Order. Read our Sundance review here.
WLE: Did you have lots of conversations about tone?
DE: I’ve made three other features. They’re all kind of this tone, so I think Wendi saw one of my films before she was in this.
WMC: I saw it after but we talked about it and we have kind of the same sensibilities. Our favorite movie, both of us love the movie All That Jazz by Bob Fosse. So she said “That’s kind of my tone. That’s kind of what I’m hoping for for this movie.” There’s an opening montage, every morning, and it gets a little worse and a little worse and a little worse. He pops his pills, brushes his teeth, does all these things and goes, “It’s showtime.” So that’s Cathy’s kind of showtime moment every morning when she gets on the scale, puts on her makeup, dries her hair, blah blah blah. So some things remain the same during her eventual breakdown and that’s her morning ritual.
DE: I don’t want anyone to think I think that I think this is All That Jazz at all, but my inspiration was writing about a mom. I was like, I haven’t seen a film about a mom that captures the feeling and experience. What is that feeling and experience? I was like, it’s like All That Jazz. I want to write a mom version of All That Jazz. So that was a kickoff point for the script. However, in my handwriting, it’s completely different and there’s other inspirations too. I could name a zillion films that were also huge inspirations for this.
WLE: Is All That Jazz the reason there’s a musical stinger for all those montages?
DE: I mean, I didn’t go back and watch All That Jazz. I didn’t go back and watch any of the films that inspired this film because it’s in my memory. In my memory, it’s completely inaccurate to the actual film. So it’s my memory of those films that are inspiring me and yes. So yes, whatever was lodged in my memory influenced this. I think is how I get to the tone, which is that I overwrite the script. The script to me is just a map. I work as an editor as well and I’m continuously writing. So when I’m editing, I’m still writing the script. I just have the material that I’m going to have to keep writing, which is the footage. I purposely overwrite because I feel like the beginnings of scenes can be launching pads for the actors, especially if you don’t have rehearsals. It gets them to the meat of the scene which is what I want to cut into. So I overwrite and my scripts are very long, only to get to cut away the fat to get to the meat. By the time they get to the meat, they’ve had a running start.
WLE: Are there lots of women like Cathy going through life who were real-life inspirations?
DE: Yeah, when I had my first child I joined a parenting group and we started out as a very benign, innocent, happy little group of parents with their new babies and we bonded over the years and basically the kids grew up and we stayed together. Over the years, I watched these people who were very close to me, who we created this group therapy unauthorized, I watched a lot of my good friends’ marriages and lives fall apart. They would come to this group and reveal all their baggage and all their secrets that most people in midlife don’t do, like teenagers do. So I had a window into a lot of tragic situations that were almost unbelievable. Like, how things deteriorated in ways that you would never expect. That was a big inspiration for this too.
WLE: Were there any comedic elements in the true stories?
DE: Yeah, when someone does something so outrageously bad to their spouse that you can’t even believe, it’s just absurd. Real life, you wouldn’t believe it if you filmed it. It’s the truth, a lot of it. So a lot of the stuff that was happening, that people were saying out loud and admitting to and sharing in this group were things that were funny only because they were so outrageous.
WLE: Will any of those people in the group recognize their story?
DE: No, because it was a leaping off point. The story is actually really a sublimation of my own fear. When I moved from New York to Los Angeles, it was like going from urban to suburban and I’ve always had a fear of the suburbs. I’ve always thought it was really creepy how everyone had such manicured hedges and lawns. It creeped me out. So I moved to L.A. which is one sprawling suburb with my kids. I was like I’m going to become a Stepford Wife. In order to purge myself, I wrote this script putting all my fear and my midlife crisis I guess into this story which I made up but the moments are real. It’s just the story became wove together as I was writing and just trying to make a story that worked on screen.
WLE: Wendi, I loved the Freddy Krueger episode of The Goldbergs and when she called him Fredward Kroger. Was that in the script?
WMC: That was in the script.
M&C: Is that something Beverly actually said?
WMC: I don’t know. She was always messing up his names of things, like “Oh, is that a Nintardo?” So I don’t know.