Interview With Andrew Fleming, Writer & Director Of IDEAL HOME
We spoke with Andrew Fleming, writer/director of IDEAL HOME, about reuniting with Coogan, the current state of the film and TV industries, and more!
Writer and director Andrew Fleming has been making films for three decades. A graduate of NYU Film School, the filmmaker is responsible for such films as the cult classic The Craft, Dick, The In-Laws, Hamlet 2, and Barefoot. Fleming has also effortlessly made the leap from film to television and back again, having directed episodes of Arrested Development, New Girl, Lady Dynamite, and Younger. The versatile director’s latest film, Ideal Home, is a passion project nearly ten years in the making. Based on parts of his own life, Ideal Home, a gay romantic comedy, was a film that Fleming had wanted to see as an audience member for a long time.
Ideal Home tells the story of Erasmus (Steve Coogan) and Paul (Paul Rudd), a wealthy, arguing, and drinking Santa Fe gay couple who receive the surprising news that they must raise Erasmus’s ten-year-old grandchild. One of his funniest films, it is also one of Fleming‘s most personal. Recently, Ideal Home screened at Frameline42, the annual LGBTQ film festival in San Francisco, with Fleming in attendance to present the film.
I had the opportunity to speak with Fleming about the inspiration behind Ideal Home, reuniting with Coogan, the collaborative relationship that he, Coogan, and Rudd had on set, the eternal appeal of Santa Fe, the current state of the film and television industries, and more!
Alex Arabian for Film Inquiry: Congratulations on the early success of Ideal Home. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Andrew Fleming: Oh, thank you.
I understand this is a personal film for you. What inspired you to write this film, and can you speak a bit about the ensuing journey to get it made?
Andrew Fleming: It came about mostly because I was living with a man and his son, and I used a lot of our life in it. And it was a very difficult movie to get made. Essentially, a gay, romantic comedy between two men who are drinking and arguing isn’t necessarily the most commercial venture ever. And, in truth, in the end, it only got made because Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd agreed to do it. But there were a lot of obstacles along the way. But he more I worked on it, the more I felt determined to do it just because I felt like, “There is nothing like this out there. There’s no fun, romantic comedy about a gay couple. And I wanna see this movie as an audience member. So I’m gonna make it.” And it took a long, long, long time, but I’m very happy with it.
As you should be. Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd do such a fantastic job together with your script. At which point did they become involved in this project, and were they your first choice for your leads?
Andrew Fleming: I wrote it without any particular actor in mind, and I feel kind of stupid that I didn’t think of Steve sooner. But I had written it, it was sitting around, and I was working on it, improving it, and then I suddenly realized, “Oh, I know somebody who is English and funny.” Because this character was written as English, and [I] gave it to him.” And then, he and I came up with bringing in Paul Rudd. And Steve and Paul had done one project where I think they just had one scene together, and they were just great mutual fans.
And so I think their desire to work with each other was really kind of the thing that really sealed the deal; they both really liked the idea of playing opposite each other. And they had the best time working together. In between setups, they would not retreat to their trailers and text their assistants or whatever, like actors normally do, they would just sit off to the side of the set and talk and make each other laugh. If they weren’t the two straightest guys I know, I would’ve thought they were having an affair or something [laughter].
That’s awesome. It’s always great to have that sort of chemistry on and off the screen.
Andrew Fleming: I think you can see that they enjoyed working with each other. I feel like it comes through some sort of molecular level.
How much did Coogan and Rudd contribute to the script or their respective characters?
Andrew Fleming: Paul had a lot to say about his character. His suggestions really improved it. It really did. It gave it more depth. And they’re both two of the funniest people in the world, and if there’s a joke on the page, they say, “Well, that’s fine. Is there a better punchline out there?” You’re an idiot not to either take their suggestion, or come up with another suggestion that finally makes them laugh. They’re two just eminently funny people. I’d be an idiot not to pay attention to what they had to say about the script. And they really had a lot of effect on it, positive effect.
The interactions were so naturalistic. Were there any dialogue or situations that were improvised?
Andrew Fleming: It’s the sort of thing where certainly, they would throw in lines here and there. And they’re very, very good at doing that. But inevitably, it’s the sort of thing where the day before or that morning we’re saying, “Is there another way of saying this just a way that’s shorter or brighter or funnier or faster or, more interesting?” Everything’s in play until you’ve shot it, you know? So, it’s all evolving. And they would come up with bits and then come in to show me, and I don’t know, it was a very creative atmosphere, I will say. The three of us really were on the same page, and it was a joy to work with them.
You and Coogan have had a great professional relationship since Hamlet 2. What is it that clicks so well between you two?
Andrew Fleming: Well, I don’t know from his end, but I’m just such a fan. I mean, the guy makes me laugh just no end, is just eminently hilarious. I mean, what can I say, I think the guy’s a genius [laughter]. I really do. And he is a lovely person. We’re good friends, and I know him very well. And I feel like I know what he likes. I feel like I know what makes him tick.
The home in Ideal Home is something that would not have even been able to exist legally five or ten years ago in this country in some places. How do you see the progress of of LGBTQ rights in the current sociopolitical landscape?
Andrew Fleming: Well, just the changes happening so rapidly and, almost all for the better. There’s, of course, a reaction against it, because so much has changed so quickly. The truth is I was living in this configuration essentially, oh, 20 years ago…23, 24, 25 years ago. I was living with a man and his son, and we weren’t married, and I wasn’t technically his father, but it’s existed for a while. It’s just now people don’t have to pretend otherwise. I’ve been going to a lot of film festivals, and people want to come up and share their stories. People say, “I was raised by my gay uncle and his partner,” or a woman who said that she and her lesbian partner had children 30 years ago now, and that was so long ago, it might not have been easy. But some people have come forward with stories. It’s really kind of amazing.
One thing I also noticed is the beauty of the landscape obviously in Santa Fe. New Mexico in general has become such a film-friendly place in recent years. What stood out to you with the city of Santa Fe that made it so appealing to film there and want to come back to it?
Andrew Fleming: Well, have you ever been to Santa Fe?
I have not.
Andrew Fleming: It’s hard to describe, but it really is a magical place. I had visited there many times over many decades and then shot Hamlet 2 in Albuquerque nearby. So, I would go visit it on weekends. And it was during that period I decided to set Ideal Home there. I mean, I liked, in the literal sense, this idea that these men came from other parts of the world and decided to create an existence there, because there were a lot of people like that there who come from England or the East Coast or California. But there is something truly magical about Santa Fe it’s. It’s that elevation that’s at about 6,000 feet.
So, the sky is this dark, dark blue, and there are thundershowers over there every afternoon. And the light just feels different there, and it’s also the most ancient city in the country and has the oldest house in the country. It feels like you could be in South America or something. It’s called the Land of Enchantment for a reason. So, it was partially selfish desire to just be able to go back there to shoot.
It sounds like I definitely need to go. With films such as The Craft, Dick, The In-Laws, Hamlet 2, and Barefoot, you have displayed a sizable amount of range as a filmmaker. What are some of your artistic inspirations?
Andrew Fleming: Oh, I mean, it just comes from everywhere. But this movie isn’t really composed of parts of any other movies. It really comes from my life, you know? I like to use primary source of material, things that I know have happened, and not make movies composed of pieces of other movies. I mean, I may have started off making films that way that had a lot of references to other films. But, I really try to use the world as inspiration. That said, I try to see every movie, and I’m constantly going to the theater. But this movie, more than anything else, it’s composed of pieces of my life.
You’re quite the underrated actor. Did you receive any formal training as a filmmaker or actor?
Andrew Fleming: I went to NYU Film School. And then I directed a film when I was very young, and then kind of felt like a little adrift after it. I felt a little lost because I wasn’t terribly happy with the movie, and decided to take some time off. And I studied acting. I studied the Meisner Technique with this two-year program to learn how to act. Not with an eye towards being an actor, just because I wanted to understand how it works, um, and inadvertently we learned how to write using the Meisner Technique, [which] is based on this thing called the Repetition Exercise, which is like, “You talking to me? I’m talking to you.” Like that same way, you repeat a line out with different selections.
And it’s what David Mamet learned, along with many other actors, mostly. But it taught me how to rethink how to write, and it kind of gave me a fresh perspective. And then the next script, Threesome, grew out of an exercise I had done in that acting class.
You’ve worked significantly both in film and in television. Which medium do you prefer to create for?
Well, the movie business is in perilous shape. It’s very hard to get people to go see movies. And the TV business is kind of wide open. It’s kind of like the Wild West. There’s a lot of creativity going on there. So, I feel really lucky that I can do both. I’ve been going back and forth on them for a while. And, they are similar, obviously, the initial storytelling, but they’re very different, and they’re two separate disciplines. But I have a series on Netflix coming out later this summer called Insatiable. I was an Executive Producer on it, and directed half of the episodes. So, I’m excited about that.
I look forward to seeing that. As far as securing production and then distribution, you mentioned that this film wouldn’t have been made without Coogan and Rudd attached to it. However, on a film or television pilot that you’ve created that doesn’t have a top-billed cast attached to it, how hard is it, and what’s the typical process to find funding, in your experience?
Andrew Fleming: Well, this was just a script. And I attached Steve and Paul, and then it became an entity. Generally speaking, with a television show, there’s some kind of backing from the beginning. And with television – I mean, it depends on the circumstances – lot of times, if they’re looking for actors that you don’t know, you kind of want to create something from scratch, and it isn’t as name-based.
But what’s happened in television is that there are so many different kinds of business models, even within companies like Netflix, which is the company that’s distributing Insatiable, they like shows with fresh faces, and then they like shows that have recognizable stars in them. There are all different kinds of ways you could make television now. It used to be kind of just one model, and now it’s just wide open.
You spoke a little about Insatiable, but are there any other exciting projects that you’re currently working on now that Ideal Home has finally finished?
Andrew Fleming: There’s a couple things coming down the pike, but they’re still embryonic. So, I’m very superstitious about saying, “Oh, I’m gonna do this thing,” when it isn’t 100% happening yet. I’ve always been very superstitious about that.
I totally understand. With this project, I believe it took ten years, right, from the inception of it to the final product?
Andrew Fleming: Well, until now. But yeah, it was a very slow process. But this is not unheard of for films. I mean, Dick took seven years to make, and The Craft was many, many years. It’s a slow process, making a movie. Well, sometimes they come together in just a few years. But it’s a slow process.
How long does your typical writing process usually take?
Andrew Fleming: They can vary greatly. I wrote Threesome over a weekend. But this is something that I did the draft [of], and then I put it away. And I did another draft. And it evolved. Dick started off being a movie about the children in the middle of an ugly divorce. It was contemporary, and ended up becoming [laughter] a movie about Watergate. And it was just that the characters in the original script migrated into different stories, and ended up being a movie about Watergate. Similarly, Paul and Erasmus [from Ideal Home] are characters with a different story with entirely different movies, which I outlined but I didn’t write, and I put the index cards in the drawer, took them out of there, “I like these characters. Let’s do something with them.”
Andrew, I appreciate your time and your insight. I look forward to seeing the film on the big screen at the Festival.
Andrew Fleming: That’s at the Castro. Yeah, that should be a fun screening. One of the weirdest nights of my life was seeing a live drag production of The Craft at the Castro Theater one weekend.
No kidding [laughter].
Andrew Fleming: Starring Peaches Christ.
Film Inquiry thanks Andrew Fleming for taking the time to talk with us.
Ideal Home screened at Frameline42 on June 23, 2018. It opens in the U.S. to limited theatrical release on June 29, 2018. For more information about its release, click here.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.