Molly Gordon Asks Julia Louis-Dreyfus If You Can Really Have It All
“Obviously, we’re mentally ill and crazy,” says the actor-director Molly Gordon of the theater community. She says this with affection, not derision, which is the same kind of sensibility that courses through her directorial debut Theater Camp, released this month after opening to rave reviews at Sundance Film Festival in January. A loving mockumentary set at an upstate drama camp (one that’s aptly, and cornily, called AdirondACTS), Theater Camp began as an 18-minute short Gordon uploaded to YouTube with her co-director, Nick Lieberman, and the actors Ben Platt and Noah Galvin. Gordon spent the ensuing half-decade trying to get a feature-length version off the ground, but Hollywood bureaucracy made matters difficult. “I don’t think people understand how fucking insane it is to get a movie financed,” Gordon told Julia Louis-Dreyfus over Zoom shortly before members of the Screen Actors Guild went on strike. But the stars eventually aligned; this has often been the case for Gordon over the past year, during which she’s appeared in The Bear, as the love interest of Jeremy Allen White’s Carmy, and You People, the Kenya Barris-directed rom-com starring Louis-Dreyfus and Eddie Murphy. As her co-star put it, Gordon is “having a massive moment.” So, just before the strike, the 27-year-old got on a call with Louis-Dreyfus to smell the roses—and talk improv, independent film, galettes, and their shared love of Olivia Colman.
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: Why is the light hitting me like this? Hello. Are you in New York? Are you in L.A.?
MOLLY GORDON: I’m in New York. Where are you?
GORDON: How is it?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, it’s never been better. It’s the most amazing city [Laughs].
GORDON: Hollywood, baby. Julia, this is so nice of you. I can’t believe that you’re doing this.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I’m so happy to do it with you. I don’t really know exactly what we’re doing.
GORDON: We can just have a conversation. I mean, I want to ask you questions. Remember when we ran into each other?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: How weird was that?
GORDON: I think I screamed when you said my name because I was like, frightened.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, because I probably said it too loud. That happens in New York a lot, don’t you find? It’s a city of how many millions of people, and yet you run into people you know. It’s weird.
GORDON: I also feel like there’s a weird spirit in New York where you only run into the people you want to see, whereas in L.A. it’s a hell fire of everyone you don’t want to see.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, I agree with that completely. I think when we ran into each other, the movie that we did together [You People] hadn’t come out yet, right?
GORDON: It hadn’t come out yet. Do you spend a lot of time here?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, more and more. We bought a place in New York, and then when I made the movie with Nicole Holofcener [You Hurt My Feelings], we shot it in the city, and it was so fun because I got to live in our apartment. I mean, I was born in Manhattan. I love New York City. I don’t know if I could live there full time, which I guess you want to do now, because why wouldn’t you want to do that? You’re in your 20s.
GORDON: I feel like you’re a nature girl. You’re always with your dog on a hike somewhere. New York, it can hurt you a lot. You can’t go and have a hike. You’re confronted with humanity in a beautiful way. But sometimes, when you’re in a sad mood, it’s a little too much.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It’s a little too much. You’re not going to get forest bathing opportunities in New York City, which you certainly can here. But anyway, congratulations on everything that’s happening. You’re having a massive moment, or whatever longer than a moment is. This is your time, shall we say?
GORDON: I feel grateful to be working, and to be working on things that I actually like and feel connected to. Sometimes, no one has even seen them or knows or cares, which is completely fine. But I feel really, really lucky. And I remember doing You People, and I was telling you that I was going to direct a movie, and I remember you telling me that I needed to get everything in a master and how important it was. You were yelling it at me in a very intense, important way, “Get it in a master, you need it.” And you were right.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, good. I’m so glad that that advice was actually of value. It’s like a fail-safe. It can cover a whole host of problems and errors. And also, it can be comedic to pull out wide, and then come back in, right?
GORDON: One-hundred percent. And I feel like you’re such a physical performer, and I’ve tried to be more physical. Especially in Theater Camp, I wanted to get everyone’s bodies and I wanted to pull out more often. Because with theater people, obviously we’re mentally ill and crazy. And you want to see it physically in the body.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Theater people can certainly be very over the top. And the further you pull the camera back from them, it’s better for them. I think it’s extraordinary that you did that. How did that all happen?
GORDON: We made a short film about six years ago and I was between projects and wasn’t getting any opportunities to be really funny. And I think, ultimately, it’s still tough to get really silly female roles. Obviously, you’re the one we all look to. And Ben [Platt], Noah [Galvin], and Nick [Lieberman] and I were all like, “Oh, let’s get to show ourselves in this new way on our own terms.” So we made a short and it wasn’t a disaster. We liked it, actually. We’ve been trying to make it into a feature for about six years. And every single person said no.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Who said yes and how did that happen? Not to get all wonky. They can edit this shit out.
GORDON: We sent it to [Jessica] Elbaum, who is Will Ferrell’s producer, and she was the first person to really take it seriously. I had done this movie called Booksmart with her, and she had seen that I would stay late and watch scenes that I wasn’t in and had pulled me aside and said, “I can tell that you want to be a part of this in a deeper way, and you can always come to me,” which was a real life-changing conversation. So, I brought it to her and she took it seriously. And then, this company Picturestart gave us money to make it as an independent film. Even two weeks before we were about to shoot, we lost some financing. I mean, I don’t think people understand how fucking insane it is to get a movie financed.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, it’s almost impossible. We had tremendous trouble getting You Hurt My Feelings made and financed. And Nicole Holofcener, this is her seventh film. She’s Oscar-nominated. Give me a break.
GORDON: But if it’s hard for her, then there’s no hope for any of us. It doesn’t make any sense. She’s brilliant. Can You Ever Forgive Me, the script… Enough Said is one of my favorite films ever. I still can’t believe that we got to be at a festival where Nicole’s film was playing.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: The room was shaking from your movie. People went cuckoo crazy for it. As they should, because it’s a really funny movie and it’s very touching, too.
GORDON: That was the first real time I saw the movie with an audience because we had been editing so quickly on this Sundance deadline. I was shaking in a way that was really scary for the people I was sitting next to. I was excited that people resonated with something that was joyful because our society is obviously in such a fucked time right now.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: This is completely off-topic. But I’m assuming you’ve watched Jury Duty, right?
GORDON: Yes, of course.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I mean, I think it’s so remarkable what those guys pulled off. I can’t get over it.
GORDON: I keep looking up how they did it because I don’t understand how they were able to pull it off. It’s crazy.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And it could have blown up in their faces.
GORDON: I know, I know.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: What about The Bear? I mean, incredible.
GORDON: I feel so lucky to get to be a part of something with creators that are so kind and thoughtful. And I think that bleeds through onto the screen and it feels homemade, like a homemade pasta. What you had with Seinfeld or Veep, I’d never been a part of a show where I really felt like I was a part of a community and a collective. I have a small role in the show, and I still have a seat at the table in such a beautiful way. So, I felt really lucky.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I love how the series ended, and the cliffhanger. I have a feeling it’s going to work out between you guys, though.
GORDON: It’s funny. He’s a very beloved character on television, so a lot of people have a lot of opinions on it, Julia.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Are you getting shit?
GORDON: I think I am.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Pay no attention. Talk about the improvisation in Theater Camp. Did you have a proper script and improvise on top of it? Or was it an improvisation based on story beats?
GORDON: We did a script situation like a Curb [Your Enthusiasm] does. And then, for the kids, we wrote out everything, just to make sure they felt comfortable. I feel like if you have a really intense structure, you can have freedom inside of that. Obviously, if we hadn’t had any preparation, it would’ve been a complete mess. The edit was extremely difficult, and I wish we had longer to do it because you just don’t have many takes of each thing. Have you ever done something that’s just fully improvised?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, I’ve done that on stage. And there were sometimes scenes in Veep that were fully improvised. But then, the improvisation was put to paper. I love it, particularly if you can get into a place where you feel comfortable failing, because that’s critical. When Armando [Iannucci] was running Veep, there would be times where he would just say, “Okay, chop the script completely and let’s just see what happens.” But we had to work hard to release ourselves from the pressure of being funny. And if it’s not funny, it’s not funny, and it doesn’t matter. Just be in the moment. That’s not great advice if you’re on an improv show and you have an audience. But it’s great advice for a rehearsal process.
GORDON: Julia, a lot of people keep asking me this and I’m interested in your take on this. You can be like, “I don’t want to answer this.” But because this season…
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don’t want to answer this.
GORDON: Okay, great.
GORDON: There we go. This season of The Bear is about a work and love-life and life balance. They keep asking me, “Can you have it all?” And I’m like, “I have absolutely no idea.” I struggle. Sometimes, when I’m in the most pain in my life, I do the best work. Do I think that’s healthy? No. I want to be happy and do good work. But I don’t really have the answer for it.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: The answer is to understand that you cannot have it all. There’s always something somewhat out of balance. As a working mother, that is a pretty critical, urgent thing to come to terms with. And it’s something that I didn’t really realize until later on. I get the feeling that we’re cut from the same cloth. That is to say, we want to do it all, do everything, work, work, work, which is really appealing. And by all means, that should be pursued. But that’s a lot of pressure. And you just have to find a way to be kind to yourself about it.
GORDON: Yeah, I know it’s easier to give that advice than to take it sometimes. But it’s beautiful to talk openly, to not do this fake thing like, “I’m in an amazing place, all my friends love me right now. And I’m not wearing a bathing suit as underwear.” You just cannot do everything.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, it’s just not possible. But you can still try.
GORDON: I heard you want to do another TV show. Is that true?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, yeah. If the right thing came around. And I don’t say that lightly. It would have to be just the right, little, yummy thing. I haven’t found it yet.
GORDON: I admire so much how you’ve been able to do so many different types of things. It’s very inspiring.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, that’s so nice of you to say, Molly. Wait a minute. So, you’re promoting all of this stuff right now and we might strike tonight.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: So, how’s that going to work?
GORDON: I feel really lucky that we got to have a premiere on Monday because the children who are in this movie, it’s their first movie. And if the strike happens, that’s all that we’ve got to do. But it’s such an interesting moment. Obviously, I believe that we need to do what we need to do.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, no doubt.
GORDON: I just also want people to see films this summer, especially smaller films like mine or my friend Emma [Seligman], who has a movie called Bottoms. Movies that aren’t Oppenheimer. Though I do really want to see that. And I just hope that we all show up. I saw You Hurt My Feelings again, I saw Past Lives, all these movies that aren’t in every theater with a $100 million promotional budget. How do you feel about all of it?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I share your point of view that I think there’s a lot on the line here for both the writers and the actors. And we need a more just system. The middle class of our union is getting squeezed in a way that is not cool. And there are some massive issues that have to be addressed. And I understand that it’s not necessarily an easy fix, but it’s a fix that has to happen. I’ve got a lot of friends who are working actors who make their living doing guest stars and guest appearances on shows and in films. And 10 years ago, if you were able to book three or four guest slots in a year, you could live on that. Nowadays, that ain’t the case. And you need your insurance. There’s so much on the line. I’m very hopeful that our union can get something done with the producers.
GORDON: I know. Fingers crossed as well. I know. And it’s not just in the entertainment industry—
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, yes, the disparity between the haves and the have-nots is quite wide. And if there’s any way to reconcile that in a meaningful way, that would be good for the universe. I was supposed to be shooting a Marvel movie right now. It’s called The Thunderbolts and I was lucky enough to recently wrap an A24 movie called Tuesday, it’s written and directed by a first-time feature director named Daina Oniunas-Pusić. She’s Croatian and a really cool woman.
GORDON: Ayo [Edibiri] texted me about it when she got it, about how meaningful it was to work with you. She’s one of my closest friends.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: What? I didn’t know that.
GORDON: Yeah. She was like, “Mama, it’s happening to me. I get to work with her.”
LOUIS-DREYFUS: No way! What a small fucking world! Were you guys in Chicago shooting The Bear?
GORDON: We were in Chicago, and Ayo has learned from the show how to cook. She makes pasta for the actors, so you’ll get to be a part of that.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: She makes fresh pasta?
GORDON: Fresh pasta, yeah.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, I have to show you something I made. That is incredible that she got to learn how to cook properly. There are a couple of things in the show that…I just wanted to eat that fucking meat that they kept searing. I was like, “I need that so badly.” But I have to show you what I just made. Sorry to pause this for a second.
GORDON: No, show me.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Check it out.
GORDON: A galette.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: First of all, how much of a rockstar are you that you said “galette”?
GORDON: Fuck off, you made that?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I did. Isn’t that pretty fabulous?
GORDON: Peach? Plum? What is it?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: White and yellow nectarine. I can tell you though, to be quite honest, that it didn’t taste that great.
GORDON: Are you a cook?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I’m a baker. I love a good dessert. What about you?
GORDON: I love to eat. If I was with you, I would be eating the galette. I’ve started trying to become a better cook, but it’s hard with our job because I feel like I can never get in a full rhythm with something because of the lack of consistency.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes, there is that. Is it boiling in New York right now?
GORDON: It’s a humbling time in New York right now. I sweat a lot as a person, and I’m sweating so much.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: There’s a lot of heat waves going on everywhere. It’s such a bummer.
GORDON: I know. And the storm… There’s too much. Yeah…
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, let’s just forget it. Let’s not zero in on it.
GORDON: We’re like, “Don’t go into climate.”
LOUIS-DREYFUS: We don’t want to go there.
GORDON: Do you have an actor, Julia, that you’re like, “Before I die, I wish to work with this person?”
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I would like to work with Gene Hackman.
GORDON: That’s amazing.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: But I don’t know that Gene Hackman is working anymore, so that’s the first problem. Anyway, I think he’s one of the most amazing actors. And another person I’d love to work with is Olivia Colman. I hope that our paths cross.
GORDON: Yes. That’s going to happen.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And by the way, you do know that Olivia Colman really got her start in comedy.
GORDON: Yeah, I did know this. I don’t think a lot of people know that about her. But she brings humor and humanity to even her darker roles. That’s what bleeds through.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And so often, that work translates so beautifully to drama.
GORDON: I think it’s what you said earlier about being able to fail publicly. That lack of self-consciousness in comedy comes into your dramatic work in such a great way, where I think some actors are so self-serious and are so frightened of failure. I think improv just strips you of that in a great way.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: But I would also add that with comedy, you can’t fake it. It’s either funny or it’s not. It’s like a piano. It’s either in tune or it’s out of tune. And, not to be a snob about this, but I do think you can fake your way through drama.
GORDON: I agree. I think there’s this whole epidemic of just people whispering on camera. I’m like, “That’s not acting.” But you in a Yorgos Lanthimos movie with Olivia Colman is the thing I want to see.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It’s interesting you say that because I just signed that contract, too.
GORDON: God, it’s interesting you’re signing so many contracts with a strike looming.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: [Laughs] You brought up how I can do so many things at once. This is another example of that. In the middle of a conversation, I’m negotiating and signing contracts.
GORDON: You’re making a galette. There’s so much happening.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I’m tired. I need to take a nap.
GORDON: Julia, this is so sweet of you. I can’t believe it.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Why are you laughing?
GORDON: I’m laughing because this is so nice of you. I’ll see you soon.
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