Interview With Gillian Robespierre, Director of ‘Obvious Child’

Becca Damante '17

Arts Editor

Last month, the Student Events Committee screened “Obvious Child,” a romantic comedy about abortion that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014. Thanks to Professor Hauser, our ENG 135 class was able to interview the director, Gillian Robespierre, about her experience writing and directing the film.

Lilly Altreuter ’15: What drew you to the song “Obvious Child?”

GR: “Obvious Child,” the Paul Simon song, came about from the beginning in 2009... first we decided to put this song in the film to a striptease scene because...I listened to it a lot in my youth, and then you know you get sick of it...but when I revisited my twenties, I just fell in love with the song all over again, and I heard it in a different way. It was a lot more melancholic than I remembered. You know, as I kid I was just like “drums, yay, clapping,” but when I listened to it as an adult, it made me feel adult feelings, and so we put it in the movie.

How did you come up with the title for the film?

GR: When we were trying to name the [short] film in 2009...it wasn’t the original title...[In the end], we went with “Obvious Child” because it felt like it had an open ending. People can take away what they will. Some people say Donna’s obviously a child, and she’s not ready to be a parent. Some people just think, “Oh it’s the song in the film.” But it was open to interpretation, and that’s what I liked about the title, and luckily, Paul Simon Music let us use it.

Nicole De La Torre ’18: We all kind of noticed the characters are really relatable and real, and so when we look at it, it seems like a conversation that people are naturally having. It doesn’t seem very scripted. Did you allow the characters to improvise some of the lines?

GR: I let them cut things all the time and add things. We would do one take that was the page, but usually when they forgot a line, great accidents happened. So it was a true collaboration. And I’m not a stand up comedian. So I wrote stand-up for Jenny, and she was very kind and said that it was funny, but that I had written like a 45- minute monologue, that I did not write stand-up at all. So we used it as a blueprint and just bullet points really....She had to get from point to point, but how she got there was totally just on her own. It was really nice. Some lines that I wrote got into the movie, but a lot of stuff was just Jenny acting like Donna.

Kayal Swaminathan ’18: I know you had worked with Jenny before, but was it a conscious choice to cast people that were sort of less well-known in the public eye?

GR: I think so. Also we were a small, small movie, so it’s not like we can get Nicole Kidman to be in it. But I think what we were going for is using people who you don’t expect to see in this type of role....What we like the most is taking actors and pushing them out of their comfort zones, giving them something to do that isn’t typical in their career. [But], it has to feel right....Casting is the most difficult part of making a movie. It’s the most important part, second to the story, and sometimes you don’t know if you’re f—ing up. Sometimes you think that this might have been a terrible mistake, but I think you just have to surround yourself with very helpful and smart people, a casting director....who is about getting the right person for the role.

Becca Damante ’17: While you were making “Obvious Child,” were you consciously thinking about conventions of romantic comedy, and if so, were you modeling the film after certain romantic comedies you were watching for comparison?

GR: Definitely. We weren’t really modeling [it] after certain romantic comedies. I can say that I love all of Nora Ephron’s catalogue, a couple of Woody Allen films, a lot of Nicole Holofcener movies, just very New York stories with realistic characters who are funny. But mostly the genre is what we were looking at and dissecting ... I grew up on romantic comedies. I loved them. I’m a fan. I’m not embarrassed to say it ... but [the genre] felt stale and saccharine and boring...so we decided to stay true to the genre that we know and love, but try to f— it up a little bit ... We really wanted to follow that structure and weave our own modern story within it and have it be entertaining.

Professor Hauser: Do you want to tell the class a bit about what you’re working on now?

GR: My writing partner who produced “Obvious Child,” Elizabeth Holm, is on her way over, and we’re trying to wreak havoc in television. And we’re going to work with Jenny for as long as we live. And then we’re also writing a feature film about divorce. But it’s also going to be a comedy ’cause divorce is hilarious ... I’m a product of divorce. My parents did it when I was 16, so I have vivid memories of the whole thing going down. And I think we’re still okay as a family. It doesn’t have to define us, and it actually, in a weird way, brought us closer together than when we were all living under one roof. So I think those are the kind of stories we like to tell; stay away from clichés if we can and just show humans doing human things.