Adrienne Shelly’s movie Waitress was a popular and critical success when it opened in 2007. Unfortunately, the producer/writer/actress never lived to see the premiere, as she was murdered in her New York apartment in November 2006.

Her husband, Andy Ostroy, considered her screenplay Serious Moonlight as an appropriate follow-up project, and approached actress Cheryl Hines, who co-starred in Waitress to director the movie.

The comedy revolves around Louise (Meg Ryan), a high-powered Manhattan lawyer who discovers her husband of 13 years, Ian (Timothy Hutton) is leaving her for a younger woman named Sara (Kristen Bell).

In desperation Louise takes Ian captive, refusing to release him until he commits to working on their marriage together. But when Ian’s mistress turns up, plus an opportunistic gardener, things get very complicated.

What spoke to you about this movie, what was in the script that made you want to direct it?

Timothy Hutton and Cheryl Hines © Magnolia Pictures
Timothy Hutton and Cheryl Hines © Magnolia Pictures

I love that Serious Moonlight is both funny and dramatic and a little suspenseful. I love that aspect of Adrienne Shelly’s writing. She could capture it all in one fell swoop. It’s an interesting tone that you don’t get to see very often. It really struck me.

You became friends with her on Waitress, of course.

That’s right

Is that how you got to direct this?

Well, yes, I worked with Adrienne on Waitress and her husband, Andy Ostroy, and Michael Roy who produced Waitress and worked very closely with Adrienne, contacted me and asked me if I was interested in directing Adrienne’s film, Serious Moonlight. I was a little surprised by the question. I thought about it and I read it again and again, and I felt like I had to direct it.

Tell us about talk about your reaction the moment you heard Adrienne had died, and what it might mean to you to do this movie in her memory?

I was very confused when I heard that Adrienne had died.  I didn’t understand how she died. It was a bit of a mysterious call; all I knew was that she had died. I was so sad. It didn’t seem real. Then as the story unfolded and more facts came out, it was so heartbreaking. I still have a hard time believing it.

I didn’t know Adrienne that well. I just had met her working on Waitress, but we connected in a way, both in a professional way and she has a daughter the same age as my daughter, so we connected as working moms, women on the set that have kids running around. It’s just a tragic story.

When I was approached to direct this film I didn’t accept the offer lightly because I know how much it means to Andy Ostroy to see her film come to life. And I know how much it means to her family and of course anybody that knew her, loved her. So I’m sure this project came with an extra layer of emotion that probably most films don’t come with.

This is your directorial debut. What do you think served you best, being able to do the job?

Meg Ryan and Kristen Bell © Magnolia Pictures
Meg Ryan and Kristen Bell © Magnolia Pictures

I think my disposition. I’m good at working with what I have and moving on so I think that was really helpful to me. And what was helpful too is I’m an actress and I’ve worked with other directors and I’ve worked with a lot of actors, so that aspect of directing wasn’t intimidating for me, to have to approach actors and talk about characters or the scene.

I found in film-making that it’s such an unpredictable process. If you are the type of person that’s trying to control everything all the time I think your head would explode. Although I thought my head would explode a few times

In much of the story it’s a two-hander, two people in a small room. How do you keep it dynamic? What was the challenge of making sure we didn’t feel like a stage play?

Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton © Magnolia Pictures
Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton © Magnolia Pictures

The timing of the dialogue and the moments that are created between Meg and Tim is the glue that keeps it all together, keeps the story moving, and keeps it interesting and exciting. With Adrienne’s writing there’s an element of the story where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. You know that something is going to happen because he says ‘it would take a miracle for me to change my mind,’ and you’re watching it thinking, well then, a miracle has to happen. So even though they’re stuck together during a lot of the film, you also know that something’s going to happen. I think that’s the fun of the film.

I also wanted to know about the title and did you try to get the David Bowie song?

You know what? It’s funny, we didn’t try to get the David Bowie song, but I’m sure we couldn’t have afforded it, but Andy says that it didn’t have anything to do with that song, that Adrienne probably heard that phrase in the song and liked it. But I don’t know, because she’s not here. I don’t think it had anything specifically to do with the song.

How did Curb your Enthusiasm fit in with doing this? Also the season finale is coming up, are you looking forward to the next season?

Well, we were on hiatus when we shot Serious Moonlight, so that was nice. I have a great schedule on Curb Your Enthusiasm, although I never know when we’re shooting, but I often know when we’re not shooting, so that’s helpful. I hope we do another season. I haven’t heard anything definite one way or the other, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed it’s not a no.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.