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Interview: 'But I'm a Cheerleader'director Jamie Babbit is back with 'Addicted to Fresno'

Originally published at SameSame on 23 March, 2016.


In Addicted to Fresno, Natasha Lyonne and Judy Greer play sisters attempting to cover up a death and robbing a bar mitzvah to pay for it. And, yes, it is a comedy.


This funny film reteams Lyonne – thankfully healthy again after years of substance abuse, and riding high on the success of her Emmy-nominated role as Nicky Nichols on Netflix comedy Orange is the New Black – with filmmaker Jamie Babbit sixteen years after they made the lesbian cult classic But I’m a Cheerleader together, which propelled each other to stardom.


Addicted to Fresno co-stars a host of well-known film and TV stars like Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza, and New Girl’s Malcolm Barrett. It will no doubt hit the funny bone of anybody who’s ever lived in a dead-end town where prospects are low.


The film plays this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival, so we spoke to Babbit about transitioning between film and TV, her queer work, what it’s like working alongside her wife, and (of course) dildos.

Since your breakthrough in 1999 with But I’m a Cheerleader, you have made a few more feature films but predominantly worked in television. How have you found that landscape compared to the movies?

TV right now is an exciting place to be in the States. So many amazing stories and cast are flocking there. I feel very lucky to have been able to work on Looking, The L Word, Girls, and Silicon Valley. The writing and acting is top level and an honour to direct these amazing actors!


You mentioned directing episodes of shows like Looking, The L Word, and Girls that have a strong LGBT influence – do you find it is easier to tell LGBT stories, or at least stories with LGBT characters, on television?

I obviously know personally so many GLBT people and I think having direct experience with anything helps inform better directing. I always find it easier to direct scenes if I have some intimate understanding of the subject matter.


I confess my personal favourite thing of yours is the episode of Smash featuring the breathtaking “Let’s Be Bad” number. What was that like, and would you ever consider making a full-blown movie musical?

I would love to direct a full-blown musical. Maybe sometime soon. They did a musical version of But I’m a Cheerleader in London with the Kinky Boots director. If they find investors I know they want to mount it as a musical on Broadway!


What is it like knowing you’re responsible for one of the most influential and revered queer films—But I’m a Cheerleader? It’s fan base continues to grow and its light-hearted and funny take on the material makes it a favourite of many. I’m happy it’s found a place in the queer canon. Movies are great because they live on after us!

What was it like getting to work with Natasha Lyonne again after 16 years? Had you wanted to work with her since Cheerleader? It was awesome to work with Natasha. She’s been pretty frank with the press about her struggles with drugs and alcohol in the years between so honestly I was very scared she might not make it. Her sobriety and career have made me so happy. I put it in the miracle category. Her talents and brains and charisma have always been off the charts so she’s any director’s dream. One of the most amusing scenes in the film is, not to give too much anything away, the one with all the dildos. What was it like having to source all of those dildos? I imagine whoever was in charge of that had a fun day! Yes it was our awesome production designer Theresa Guleserian who had a free dildo connection. They actually asked for them all back so they could melt them down and be born again!

Was filming the movie a fun experience? With all of those actors like Fred Armisen and Molly Shannon—and, yes, the dildos—I can’t help but picture it being a blast to make. The movie was very fun to make. We had very little money and time, but the laughs made it all easier. Dark comedies – sex addiction, murder, etc – can be tricky to pull off. Did you have to change much of Karey Dornetto’s screenplay, or was it all laid out for you? Karey and I are married so there was tons of back and forth. I love working with my spouse because the conversations keep going. It’s great to merge the intensity of work with your partner.

Is the relationship in the film between Lyonne and Aubrey Plaza something you feel familiarity towards? I think we’ve all known somebody whose infatuation with the unattainable gets in the way of their—and possibly our—happiness, yes? Yes, the Natasha and Aubrey relationship is something I’ve seen too many times in the lesbian and gay communities. We’ve all been frustrated by seeing our fabulous, amazing gay friends continue to fall in love with straight people that will never love them back. It’s a legacy of self-hatred and fear to actually face a real relationship. It’s scary to be open to available people, but something I hope the movie inspires people to do. Addicted to Fresno plays at Melbourne Queer Film Festival on Friday 1 April. Purchase tickets at their website.

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