Jennifer Prediger co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in Apartment Troubles with Jess Weixler. Prediger plays Olivia to Wexler’s Nicole, two roommates who aren’t making their rent payments. Their latest scheme is to go to L.A. for a TV talent show audition, and along the way they meet kooky characters played by cameo celebrities like Will Forte and Megan Mullally.
I spoke to Prediger by phone about her triple hyphenate role in Apartment Troubles. If you missed the film in theaters, it’s still on VOD. Prediger also previewed a few upcoming movies with even higher concept premises like Living Room Coffin (exactly what it sounds like) and a yet untitled Parent Trap riff where all parties are full grown adults.
Nuke the Fridge: Did you make Apartment Troubles because these are the kinds of roles you and Jess always wanted to play?
Jennifer Prediger: That’s a funny question. I think it evolved in a more organic way. I don’t know that I had a desire to play Olivia since I was a child, but there is a childlike part of me that I think is very much a part of that character. I was a sort off developmentally arrested 20-something-year-old artist in New York City who wears kind of womanchild clothes. So I definitely feel like there’s a part of who I’ve always been in that character. The fourth grader in me definitely came out in Olivia, but the whole idea evolved when Jess and I actually both sublet an illegal apartment. I actually subletted it first illegally. The apartment’s not illegal but the subletting was. And then I double illegally sublet it to Jess when I went to go work on a movie called Life of Crime directed by Dan Schechter. Jess was in New York working on The Good Wife and needed a place to stay. Over the course of me being away working on this movie, Jess had many apartment trouble that we then bonded over over the phone, one of which was that she thought the stove was going to explode one day because it wouldn’t stop ticking. Another was that she came home one day to an eviction notice on the door. Thankfully we weren’t actually evicted, but that’s kind of where the parallels to our real lives, with the exception of the loss of a cat which actually happened to me during the writing process of the movie. The movie in some ways became my ode to my beloved cat.
Nuke: Did you film in your actual apartment?
Jennifer Prediger: We found that as a location about a half a block away from the apartment where we were. We were on 10th Street in East Village in his incredible old, wonderfully dilapidated bohemian apartment. There was only one sink and it was in the kitchen, so if you had to brush your teeth, which one should do every day, that would happen in the kitchen. The bathroom was held together with duct tape so taking a shower was always very interesting. You never knew what you were going to get. But we couldn’t film there unfortunately, so we found something that was built around the same the same time that had a similar feeling to it that we were actually allowed to shoot in. We painted it the same color and it’s funny, when I watch the movie now, it looks like the apartment that we both lived in.
Nuke: As an actor, are there ways you like to be shot or lit that you could control as the director of Apartment Troubles?
Jennifer Prediger: That is a really smart question. I feel like I could have paid more attention to those things but it was kind of a juggling act when you’re actually on camera. Some of the vanity one might have as an actor goes out the window when you’re also focused on directing at the same time. You care about performance but can’t go, “Ooh, let’s have a gauzy filter and soft angel lighting.” The one thing that I have always been told about women is to never film them from below the chin because apparently it’s not flattering. That was always something we would keep an eye out for. Make sure the camera is at eye level or above.
Nuke: Low angle is bad for everyone. It annoys the hell out of me when I ask someone to take a picture and they hold the camera at their chest and point up. How do you think that looks good?
Jennifer Prediger: Oh, I know, it’s the worst. It makes everyone look like a monster. That’s the one area of control I guess I took advantage of.
Nuke: Has composting been a recurring theme for you? You played a composter in Foxy Merkins too.
Jennifer Prediger: Haha, oh, that’s amazing. Well, thank you for seeing all those movies and making that connection. One of my most wonderful jobs was being an environmental advice columnist for a website called Grist.org. It’s a news and humor website. I played this character, Ask Umbra and she’s an advice columnist. People write into her and ask for the most ecologically friendly way to wash dishes or what the most environmentally safe shampoos are or how to make healthier Twinkies with organic supplies. That was a really, really great job and a great education and I feel like it’s something that comes up for me, wanting to somehow convey some of the incredible things I got to learn. Little adjustments to make life a little better, and composting is one of the great things that all people can do in the comfort of their own home. Though, unfortunately, I feel like I didn’t make it look like the best thing to do in one film, because not to spoil anyone’s experience of the movie, as you recall there’s an issue with worm composting. We have the worms getting out of control in the movie, climbing up the walls which supposedly doesn’t really happen in real life. So I may have given composting a bad name but I really didn’t mean to.
Nuke: When you wrote the heart to heart talk that Megan Mullally tells you, did you know it would be her playing that character?
Jennifer Prediger: I did have a sixth sense that it was going to be her. We were in the process of writing it and thinking about who would be great for it. Thankfully, Jess had worked with Megan Mullally on Bob Byington’s movie Somebody Up There Likes Me. Megan and Jess hit it off and Megan I guess said to her at some point, “If you ever do anything and you want me involved, let me know.” So we took her up on that. She really seemed to respond to the character and really went for it. She’s so funny and willing to take crazy risks and play outlandish characters. It was really cool also to see her do something also dramatic as well. I felt like the character is clearly very funny, but there’s a sadness to her that is really palpable. I think Megan, who is such an incredible comedian, did a really wonderful job of also being a dramatic actor too.
Nuke: Was Will Forte’s scene improvised?
Jennifer Prediger: It was all scripted and then he is such and incredible improviser and comedian that you can’t not allow someone as talented as that to bring their own stuff to it. So we have so much footage of him in that car. We were in a process trailer so we couldn’t actually get out and stop the camera from rolling, so we just had these long takes that go on for 19 minutes of him just cutting up. It’s so funny and I really hope we can use that footage on a DVD extra. The world should not miss out on how funny that guy is.
Nuke: What is coming up next for you?
Jennifer Prediger: Thank you for asking. I just wrapped a movie in L.A., a comedy about a woman who receives a coffin in the mail called Living Room Coffin. I have two movies playing at SXSW. One is called 7 Chinese Brothers and the other is called Uncle Kent 2. A movie that was written and directed by Onur Tukel called Applesauce is premiering at Tribeca this year and I had a really fun time playing a nutty character in that. Then I’m writing my own geriatric Parent Trap movie, trying to get your parents back together in their golden years, even though it’s a terrible idea. Not the movie, but getting your parents back together.
Nuke: A coffin in the mail is a pretty big package. Do you have to sign for it?
Jennifer Prediger: You know what, she didn’t sign for it but she accepted it nonetheless. She really has an existential crisis with this coffin in her home. She spends a little time inside the coffin which meant I had to spend some time inside a coffin which was, for me, a frightening thing to do but oddly, after a few minutes in there with the lid closed and I stopped hyperventilating, it was a very comfortable place to be. I get why they call it the final resting place. It’s very restful in there. They need a little memory foam or something added to it for comfort. I didn’t know this, but they are quite stiff as a board in there. There’s really no padding for the dead unfortunately.