Jordan Bridges and Marisa Coughlan wear a New Suit

New Suit

USA, 2002. Rated R. 94 minutes.

Cast: Jordan Bridges, Marisa Coughlan, Heather Donahue, Dan Hedaya, Mark Setlock, Benito Martinez, Charles Rocket, Paul McCrane, Dan Montgomery Jr.
Writer: Craig Sherman
Director: François Velle

Article and one-on-interviews by Carlo Cavagna.


Jordan Bridges and Marisa Coughlan are an odd leading duo. Born into a long line of big-time actors--father Beau, uncle Jeff, grandfather Lloyd--Bridges plays the naïve Hollywood outsider in François Velle's bright new comedy New Suit. His character, young screenwriter Kevin Taylor, has come to town with big ambitions but can't adjust to the schmooze-or-lose environment of plastic smiles and facile lies. Coughlan grew up a world apart from Tinsel Town in Minneapolis, far away from movie magic. However, her character Marianne Roxbury is a shrewd Hollywood operator who wraps film biz veterans around her finger.

In interviews, Bridges is serious and cerebral, speaking softly and deliberately, while Coughlan has a frequent, easy laugh, quick to pounce on any joke or absurdity--even if it's at her own expense. Coughlan is sharp; Bridges is contemplative. Asked about favorite Hollywood satires, Bridges ticks off several while Coughlan struggles to name any. Ask them to discuss one another, and it is Coughlan who conjures an image of an innocent, down-to-earth Jimmy Stewart, while all Bridges can come up to describe his co-star is "smart and adorable." They are a contrast, these two. You would never think to pair them in a movie.

Yet Bridges and Coughlan were cast together because their characters are similarly opposed. In a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's fable "The Emperor's New Clothes," New Suit follows Kevin as he winds up an embittered assistant to a has-been producer (Dan Hedaya) and his sycophantic executives (Heather Donahue and Mark Setlock). On a whim, he invents a script out of thin air and praises it to his friends, knowing they will pretend to have read it and loved it, because no one can admit he's not in the know and ahead of the curve. The gag snowballs, and soon he and Marianne, who quickly assumes control of the ruse, are fielding offers for rights to a screenplay that doesn't exist.

Bridges portrays Kevin with sensitivity and sincerity, taking a resentful failure off the pages of Craig Sherman's screenplay and shaping him into something of an everyman hero. New Suit may be a comedy, but the film's denunciation of art's commodification speaks to him intimately. However, just because Bridges comes across as the thoughtful one, it would be a mistake to conclude that Coughlan is any less serious about her own career, and comedy in particular. This is an actor who aspires not to be the next Julia Roberts or even the next Kate Hudson--an easy association to make because Coughlan and she have similar dazzling smiles--but the next Catherine O'Hara. Bridges probably never had to worry about getting a fair shot, but Coughlan came to Hollywood with nothing and knowing no one. Like her character, she adapted quickly and carved out a place for herself, often playing extreme characters in movies like Teaching Mrs. Tingle (with Katie Holmes and Helen Mirren) and Pumpkin (with Christina Ricci and Brenda Blethyn) though she says she's most often recognized for Super Troopers. In New Suit, she adopts a brightly comedic take on a potential bitch-on-wheels role.

Thus, in their radically different ways, Bridges and Coughlan consider each interview question with equal care and both give full responses, discussing their entire careers and lessons learned, and, of course, New Suit.

Read Carlo's review.

Jordan Bridges

Jordan Bridges

AboutFilm: I'll begin with the obvious question. How did you and this project come together?

Bridges: Pretty much through the standard channels. Got the script, and I instantly responded to the central conflict that this character has, which is this idea of, at what point do you stand up to all of the conformity and hypocrisy that you're surrounded with, and speak up for what you believe in? I also loved the journey that Kevin Taylor takes. He starts out as this wide-eyed innocent kid and eventually becomes a jaded and bitter player. To me that was a really interesting journey to tackle.

AboutFilm: It's interesting that it's not a standard lesson-learning, moral-at-the-end film. It's a little bit gray.

Bridges: It's ambiguous, yeah. That was the other thing that I loved about the character--you never really know if he's righteous. I think that we're fed so much black and white in this world. We're told what's right and what's wrong. It's always clear, and it's always definite. But that's what I like about this movie, is that it's more like what life actually is. We never really know. It's never that clear. I think that he, at the end of the day, he's motivated by right action, but I think sometimes the way he gets there is a little shaky.

AboutFilm: How like yourself is Kevin Taylor, and how is he different?

Bridges: I think he's like me in that everyone deals with these issues. We're barraged constantly with people telling us what to do, and what to think, and who to be, and what's cool, and what is righteous. I battle that every day. And so his quest was something that was very personal to me, and was a chance for me to speak out on these things that maybe I don't have the courage to. Maybe that's what separates him from me is that I don't think I could pull this off--I don't think I could ever shake the system as much as he does. What's interesting is that it starts out pretty innocently as a joke, but once it takes hold, he very willfully becomes a part of it. He makes it even bigger than it was before. I kind of admire that roguish quality in him, especially coming from this innocent background that he has.

AboutFilm: Is your perspective on the Hollywood system different, given that you come from a family of actors and have been in Hollywood awhile, with your father and uncle and grandfather, as opposed to what another young actor might have?

Bridges: I think maybe the only difference that I have is that I'm not very interested in fame or celebrity. I have no misconceptions about how mundane celebrity actually is. It's not very thrilling or exciting. By the same token, I acknowledge that it's very much a part of our business, and I'm happy to be a public persona in the sense that it can help a job that I'm working on. But I think sometimes people coming into Hollywood who are fresh to the experience, I think they have a tendency to maybe buy into the hype. I'm not so much in danger of doing that. In some ways, it hurts my career, because a lot of the trappings of fame can really launch you and make the public aware of you. I'm really into the work; that's why I do this; that's why I'm compelled to be an actor, because I love the process of acting; I love telling stories. So maybe that's the difference.

AboutFilm: Did you always want to be an actor?

Bridges: Well, I've always enjoyed acting, but I went through this whole process of wanting to try my hand at other things. That's really why I went to college.

AboutFilm: Where did you go?

Bridges: Bard College. Upstate New York. So, I didn't follow the traditional trajectory. I missed the whole teen market, in a way, because I really wanted to see what else was compelling to me. I was drawn to other things; I still have a lot of other interests. At different parts of my life, I want to invest in those.

AboutFilm: For example?

Bridges: Well, I'm kind of a closeted writer. I write music--I'm a songwriter as well.

AboutFilm: Do you play an instrument?

Bridges: Yeah, I play piano, I play guitar. Also I'm very interested in environmental causes and concerns--that's something that was instilled from a very young age by my grandfather and my family. As a young kid I always had a dream to do National Geographic journalism, environmental journalism. I studied environmental history in college--that was something I was interested in. I'll probably incorporate those things in my life. And then also, I have a big, grand dream of creating a place where people can come and make art that challenges the status quo.

AboutFilm: Creating a place? Do you mean creating a production company, or a studio?

Bridges: Yeah. It would be many things. It would be a production company; it would be also kind of a circus, because I want something that can be traveling. So much of this [business] is about bringing the public to the media, and I like the idea of taking the media to the public. Also it would be a home for artists to create without the pressures of having to make a product, because as artists, as creative people, we become kind of obsessed with the idea of making a product that is sellable. I'd like to maybe take away some of that commercial aspect and commodification of art so that art can be free from that, so that it's just about the process of making the art, and then providing a medium so that the public can see, so that you don't have to have a studio, or a gallery, or a label. You can go directly to the source. You know, take it to the people. That's my big crazy PT Barnum dream. Who knows if I'll ever get there, but that's the big pipe dream.

AboutFilm: So by addressing commercialism, the system, and the packaging instead of the package, this film was actually speaking to you directly on a personal level.

Bridges: Yeah. And it addresses this idea that you're only good if everyone else says you're good--that you have to wait for approval. There's been a lot of fear about this movie being too insular, because a lot of the humor comes out of the Hollywood machine, but I think it is actually a lot more universal than people realize. Everyone deals with this. The typical kid in high school deals with the same issues, I think, that Kevin Taylor has. It's a huge battle of will to express yourself uniquely. So I think it speaks to people across the board. The interesting thing is that a lot of the Hollywood feedback is that this will never play in Springfield or Nebraska. But strangely enough, we've played the best in the Midwest and in places that are maybe not so aware of Hollywood and what goes on here. In Hollywood, people either have huge belly laughter and are really with the film, or they get a little uncomfortable because it's maybe showing them a mirror a little bit too accurately.

AboutFilm: But at a certain point you also need to find an audience and make a living. You want your art to be true; you want it to express something that's within you. How do you balance those concerns? How do you decide that something that's personal to you can speak to somebody else?

Bridges: Well, as an actor you don't have that much power in the entire picture, creatively. So it's about filling your little piece of the pie with that kind of integrity, and taking it as far as you can. That's how I can kind of justify those choices. I mean, you know, I had a stint on Dawson's Creek. Going into that experience, I had some conflict about that--this is just a job for the money--but then after I was on the job for awhile, the work got to be really interesting. Actually, I'm really impressed with all those people. I didn't know what to expect going in, and I wound up being very impressed with them. It's really about instilling the work with as much craft and artistry as you can. Right now, I don't have the luxury of waiting for that sweet job to come in. I'm really trying to just work as much as possible. That's another thing that my father and my grandfather instilled in me, was that work begets work. Activity begets activity. Only through experience can you really grow.

AboutFilm: And have the power to make bigger artistic choices.

Bridges: Yeah. Exactly. So it's a balance. Also, the other thing is that, whenever I make some money doing some of the more high-exposure stuff that pays a little bit better, I try to feed my inner artist's soul. I try to do--I made a little short film--I try to kind of get back to feeding that process whore that lives inside me. [laughs]

AboutFilm: What's the short film?

Bridges: The short film was called Lost and Found, and it screened at the New York Independent International Film and Video Festival two years ago. Small little fifteen minute short. That was our big public debut. And in some ways I probably should have gotten a little bit more commercial with it, and given it a shot to have a commercial life. But because it was such a personal thing, I sort of let it stay in the closet. The goal is to eventually get to a place where I can join those two aspects of my career. Right now they live autonomously. Fortunately, though, in [New Suit] I got a chance to address some of those things. Also, I got to work with really great people. We had a lot of fun making the movie.

AboutFilm: I'd like to ask you a little bit more about your father and your grandfather and your uncle. You mentioned that they instilled in you the idea that work begets work. What else did you learn from them?

Bridges: Well, generally I learned a really strong work ethic. You know, the idea that when you're there to work, you work. You're not messing around. You're there on time. You give everything your all, from the smallest part to the starring role. You treat them all the same. And respect for the people you're working with was a huge one that all three of them live by. On almost every job I do, I get wonderful feedback from people--from grips, to makeup artists, to producers--all who were really impressed with my family, to the extent that they respected everybody who they worked with and they were good to be around. So that's something that's really important to me, and something that they definitely instilled in me. And then, individually, as actors, I've learned different lessons from them. From my grandfather--he came from the theater. As a young actor, he had huge aspirations to the stage, and eventually found his success on television and film, but that was the core of his love of acting. So that's something that I share with him. Also, a big lesson from him was, say it like you're saying it for the first time.

AboutFilm: Hard to do?

Bridges: Yeah! I look at his work and I think one of the great things is that he's always so alive and vibrant. Some people would say almost extreme. So it's interesting that a big focus of what he was trying to do is saying it like he's saying it for the first time. And from Jeff, he's given me a great courage to experiment, and play around with intention. He likes to give himself little barriers with his character, so that sometimes he'll be playing a scene exactly opposite to the way you would think the character is going to be doing something. He likes to mix it up and give himself little challenges. That's something that I take from him. And then from my dad--he works his ass off. That's not the best way to put it. But my father puts everything in him into every role. He doesn't hold anything back, and he's very passionate about what he does. So I think I get that from him. He's really a proponent of the bird in the hand philosophy. Whenever I say I've passed on something, because sometimes I just can't bring myself to do it, he chides me for that, because he says I should really be chasing after every opportunity. So that's something that he instills in me.

AboutFilm: What's your favorite film by each of the three?

Bridges: My dad--it's hard, but if I had to say favorite I would go with The Incident. My grandfather--a film he did called The Goddess with Kim Novak. Jeff--it's a tossup, but I gotta go with Starman, [though] we all love Lebowski just because it was pretty much him up there. And all of them--my dad, I loved Norma Rae. I loved High Noon, too. Lots to choose from. I like some of the ones that maybe not everyone knows about. Jeff has a couple that are really hard to find from early in his career that I want to check out. Some crazy weird Sixties stuff.

AboutFilm: Going back to New Suit, you had a twenty-day shoot--

Bridges: If that!

AboutFilm: What does that mean to you as an actor, having to shoot that fast? I've heard some people say that it's actually easier when you work that fast.

Bridges: In some ways, because the pressure to get it done encourages you to get it right on the first go. Also, it creates this sense of teamwork and everybody stretching their abilities and really gunning for it. It was great. It made it really fun. But because we were shooting on high definition digital video, it meant that it was very efficient because we could just roll on a take and get several different versions in one roll, whereas traditionally you have to have one take, stop, reload the camera, maybe re-light. We were working with M. David Mullen, who I think is one of the best young cinematographers around. Working with what he had to work with, he did some amazing work on this film. I'm really impressed. When I saw the film, that was the thing that blew me away the most, the quality of the image. Really, I think production was eighteen days. And the first day and the last day of shooting it was pretty much me and the director and the cameraman. There's a couple scenes without sound or dialogue, where I'm in the desert or different places. We did those very guerilla style.

AboutFilm: Tell me a little bit about your director and your co-stars--Marisa Coughlan, Heather Donohue, Dan Hedaya, and the others.

Bridges: The director, François Velle, I think was wonderful. He was a lot of fun to work with. What impressed me most about him was that, while he speaks English, it's his second language or maybe even third language, and he communicated a lot better than most English-speaking directors that I've worked with. Marisa Coughlan is a joy to work with. She's really smart, she's adorable, and we had a lot of fun working together. I think Heather Donohue is great--I think everyone brings a real intelligence to the work in this--she's really smart. I think she shows a real sexy side to her that we maybe haven't seen.

AboutFilm: Blair Witch was certainly totally opposite--

Bridges: Yeah, I know. I think that it's a completely different take for her, and also the comedy. I think she's hilarious in this movie. We've seen [comedy] from her before, but I think this is a unique turn for her. And then, Hedaya was great just because I've had a lot of training, and I'm very interested in the process of acting. He was very method and very in the character the whole time, which was an interesting thing to work off of. His facility with improvisation and riffing was great. A lot of people in that atmosphere get excited and a little heavy-handed. He's just very relaxed and lets it come. He was great. Also Paul McCrane gives a great cameo. He's an actor I've worked with before, so it was great working with him again. Mark Setlock was another great find in this movie. He's had a lot of success on the New York stage. I think this is his first film, and he does a really great job. He's hilarious. Across the board, it was a wonderful cast to be a part of.

AboutFilm: What, as an actor, are you most comfortable with, and what do you feel is your weakest area, perhaps something that you'd like to work on?

Bridges: Hm, that's interesting, what am I comfortable with? I don't know. I have a hard time watching myself, watching my work. I'm most comfortable with the process of acting, of getting in there, breaking down the role, working with other actors, working with the writers, working with the directors. The work itself to me is compelling. Maybe what I'm not so comfortable with is some of the glitz and glam that comes with the business, and that's something I have to make amends with, and figure out, because it's part of the business. That's the part of the job that maybe I'm less comfortable with. I think that, as an actor, I'm always evolving and growing. I hope I never get to a place where I feel good about everything I do, because then you're creatively dead. I think I have a lot to learn and lot to achieve as an actor. I could write a novel about it, but we don't have the time.

AboutFilm: Before we go, tell me your favorite Hollywood comedy or satire other than this one.

Bridges: The Big Picture. I think it's Christopher Guest's first film. There's so many. Sunset Boulevard is not quite a comedy--maybe a satire. But that's a great one. There's this great tradition of Hollywood on Hollywood. But I think the one thing that's nice about our film is that it's a little lighter and more fun than a lot of the other Hollywood movies. They tend to emphasize the dark side. We expose the dark side, but then we allow you to enjoy yourself and have a good time. It's more, kill them with smiles.

AboutFilm: Thank you.

Marisa Coughlan and Jordan Bridges in NEW SUIT
Marisa Coughlan pretends nothing is wrong while Jordan Bridges looks on in disbelief in New Suit.  

Marisa Coughlan

Marisa Coughlan

AboutFilm: Okay. I'm going to hit with something hopefully a little different, although you've probably heard all the questions imaginable.

Coughlan: Let's put you to the test. Let's see.

AboutFilm: Okay. You're Marianne Roxbury [Coughlan's shark of an agent in New Suit]. You represent Marisa Coughlan--

Coughlan: Uh-oh.

AboutFilm: --and I've never heard of her. What do you--

Coughlan: [laughing] Brilliant! Will certainly win several Oscars someday! A chameleon!

AboutFilm: What do you tell me about her?

Coughlan: That's a good one. Gosh. If I were Marianne Roxbury, then I would say that I, Marisa Coughlan--I would say that I was a chameleon, and that I could easily do many different character roles that were on many extremes, but I could also play your leading lady, if you would prefer that. I would say that I was having an affair with Tom Cruise--and Colin Farrell. In fact, we were having threeways. [laughing] And then you wouldn't care about all the stuff about my acting, you would only care about the threeways. And then I'd become a big movie star based on the threeway alone.

AboutFilm: Well, that would work. So, what of yourself is in Marianne Roxbury, and what in her is totally different from yourself?

Coughlan: Well, I guess when I read the script, I felt that Marianne on the page could go either way. You could make her into a villain who had such an agenda of her own that she was willing to step all over anyone, or you could make her someone who's a lot more likeable, who has her moments where she's certainly playing by the rules according to Hollywood, but [is] genuinely a decent person, kind of rolling up her sleeves a little bit, and getting in there and trying to make things happen. So I opted to go for more likeable, try to make her at least somewhat likeable, someone who's juggling who she is versus what this industry calls for you to be or do. She arrives to town, assesses the situation, sees what it demands of her, and goes for it instantly, whereas Jordan's character is a little bit more reticent about that. Maybe he doesn't observe as much as she does, is a little bit more wide eyed about it. Clearly my character's more savvy about the whole thing. Once she figures it out, she definitely dives in headfirst. Which is, in answer to your question, close to what I'm like. I definitely dive in headfirst. And I'm very likeable! [laughs]

AboutFilm: Did you dive headfirst into this role? Is this something that as soon as you heard about, you had to grab?

Coughlan: I really liked the script, and then I saw François's first movie, which was a French language film and was thematically very much in line with what we were doing. It was so well done, so well executed, and very charming. And that's the thing about this movie. We didn't want it to be a mean-spirited, let's-reveal-the-dark-underbelly-of-Hollywood movie. We wanted it to be light. Granted, we're pointing out some of the funnier aspects of this business, but it's not dark, it's funny. It's a comedy. It should be hopefully charming. Obviously it parallels "The Emperor's New Clothes," which is a funny, cute fable. [François] clearly knew how to do that. After having seen his first film I knew that he was great at depicting the charm, and the irony, and the fun behind a ruse.

AboutFilm: How did he direct you? What kind of director is he?

Coughlan: Well, he has a very clear idea of what he wants, which I prefer. You know, directors run the gamut. Sometimes they're very much like, "I hired you, and that was my job, and now you're the creative one, you do your thing." I like a real interactive director, and he was that. Sometimes he would be stubborn and hold his own about a certain thing, but he's a great, great guy, and it was mostly a really fun set. We had a very fun time.

AboutFilm: You shot in only 20 days. That was never stressful?

Coughlan: That was stressful, but you know, I've done movies for six million dollars that felt like we had less money than I felt like we had on this movie. Part of that was it was a digital movie, which affords a lot more latitude--you're not under as much pressure time-wise. Financially, also it's a lot cheaper. It gives you room to have a great wardrobe, which was important. [laughs]

AboutFilm: Other actors say they start with the wardrobe when they design the character. Do you?

Coughlan: I do. I'm pretty obsessed with the wardrobe. And the hair. I change my hair color almost every role I do. But the wardrobe, it's amazing how much it contributes to everything. If I'm wearing my own clothes, I feel like it's very hard for me to make the leap. But as soon as you put on someone else's getup, especially if it's a big departure for you, it does half the work.

AboutFilm: Did you do anything special to prepare for this role?

Coughlan: I went and observed my agent for a day. In one interview they said that and made everything seem like I literally molding Marianne Roxbury after my agent, which is not going to make her very happy once she sees the movie. [laughs] So that's not what I was doing. I was definitely just sitting--I mean, I'm represented by a really big corporate company that's hustle and bustle and kind of insane, so I just went and sat there for the day and observed the phones and the this and the that. The office where I'm supposedly working in the movie is very similar to the company where I went and spent the day. So I just observed it all.

AboutFilm: Marianne Roxbury was originally a smaller role; she originally came in halfway through the script. Was that redesigned before you came on, or was that redesigned as part of the process of you taking the role and working on it?

Coughlan: I'd like to say that they cast me and then realized how brilliant I was and then made my role much larger, but I think it was the other way around. I think that once they--Craig Sherman who wrote the script, [producer] Laurent [Zilber] and Francois--decided to make it, they realized it would be stronger to have the love interest be a more significant aspect of it. By the time I read it, it was in the form you see.

[Editor's note: The next question and answer contain spoilers. If you have not seen the movie, you may wish to skip ahead.]

AboutFilm: At the very end, Marianne won't admit that she came over to Kevin's house because she had heard of the script. Why do you think she couldn't bring herself to do that?

Coughlan: Right. I think in a way she's justified it in her head. I think she did love him. She was attracted to him, and I don't know that she set out to go sleep with him just to get information. I think she was like, "Hm, that's curious. I'll swing by and see what I find out," and the next thing you know, they're in bed. Like I said, I made the choice to make her a little more respectable.

[End spoilers]

AboutFilm: Tell me a little bit about your co-stars… Jordan?

Coughlan: Jordan is just a great, great guy. You've seen how talented he is. Ironically, coming from such a long line of Hollywood heavy hitters, he's a very down-to-earth great guy, which is I guess a tribute to their family. I think they're all kind of like that, kind of salt-of-the-earth Hollywood people, if you can do that. And he kind of has this Jimmy Stewart thing going, where he's got this innocent, sweet, looking for the best in the world thing about him. He was the perfect guy for this role, I think, because he's also a smart guy. He's juggling, "Is this the right thing or the wrong thing, what am I doing?" and you can go along the ride with him. I worked with Jordan the most, and then I worked with Dan Hedaya a little bit, who is comedically so talented. I grew up watching him on Cheers, so it was fun to work with him on this, although I didn't get to enough.

AboutFilm: I talked with Jordan about how he's playing an innocent Hollywood outsider, but of course he comes from a long line of actors, and I was asking him about his perspective on Hollywood. What about you? You really were a Hollywood outsider, right?

Coughlan: Certainly. I grew up in Minneapolis. My parents were lawyers. I grew up in a big Midwestern family of people with real normal jobs. The concept of not only watching movies but thinking you can be in them was very foreign. So, yeah, I did not know a soul when I moved out here. I certainly didn't know anyone in the business.

AboutFilm: How did you make that leap? How did you decide, this is what I want to do?

Coughlan: I did it the old-fashioned way. I arrived here, started sending out head shots with letters to different really low-level agents--many, many of them--finally got called back by one of them. It was these two crazy old ladies. [laughs]

AboutFilm: Like the crazy old lady in the movie?

Coughlan: Yeah, yeah! Kind of. They were really crazy! They would call and leave messages on my machine where they were just arguing with each other. They weren't saying anything else. They were just bickering, yelling at each other. Oh god. I did a couple of commercials with them, and then met someone else who said, "You should really meet with my agent," and just did it the old fashioned way. I just moved up in the ranks. The old-fashioned way, actually, is probably sleeping with people to get there. [laughs] That's the old Hollywood way.

AboutFilm: Coming here had to be a really frightening thing. There's a lot of people who do that and fail. How did you come to terms with that?

Coughlan: Yeah. I was in a lot of denial about that, I think. Had I actually processed the numbers of people who come out here and make it versus people that don't, I probably would have been much more intimidated. But I was not as cognizant of that as I am now. So I perceive that as a huge blessing, because, I think, in that instance, ignorance was bliss. But you know, it doesn't take long once you're here to look around and be like, "Wow!" You go to castings, and there are thirty-five girls who look just like you in the room--it's pretty daunting. But I just forged ahead. I was very resilient too.

AboutFilm: I'd like to talk about some of your other films, what you remember most about them, what you learned, whatever sticks out. Let's start with Pumpkin.

Coughlan: One of the things I've learned is that--how do I phrase this? It's been very rewarding for me. When I moved out here, I never would have perceived myself as someone who would be more adept at comedy than anything else, or certainly hired more frequently for comedies. I also wouldn't have guessed that I would end up doing more character work. But I've learned basically by default that it's where my interests lie. Like Pumpkin, I played this crazy, nervous-breakdown, very controlling, small-minded woman, and I found that it was really a pleasure to be--even though it's a smaller role--to be the eccentric, to choose something that's very extreme in some capacity. I like it a lot. I like that more than playing the middle of the road stuff.

AboutFilm: Do you fear that you'll get pigeonholed in comedy and not have the opportunity to do other things?

Coughlan: Yeah, I definitely try to balance it out. I just finished a movie, I Love Your Work, which is definitely more serious, and in the end it's very dark. It's definitely showing a different side of myself, crying and being attacked and all sorts of craziness. So [comedy] is definitely not the only thing I'd like to do. But ideally, I'd like to be in the position someone like Catherine O'Hara is in. If someone wants to pigeonhole me and put me in great comedies over and over and over, fine by me, which is what she has the pleasure of doing. I'm sure she's not sitting around crying because she doesn't get to be in Schindler's List. Although, who knows, maybe she is.

AboutFilm: Was Teaching Mrs. Tingle a fun film to make?

Coughlan: Yeah. It was great. That was my first experience doing a little bit more character-y stuff. I'm sort of the quirky, kind of actressy character. I do all sorts of stuff in that movie, because of the Exorcist thing. I did impersonations of people--Marilyn Monroe--and I was very intimidated at first because I was used to playing the normal girlfriend, or the romance dream thing. I was like, "Why are they putting me in this role? Are they sure? Maybe they should audition me one more time and make sure I can do it." I found that it was good for me to be challenged and a little bit scared, because I think that I tend to rise to the occasion, whereas if it's a, "This is boring, I'm just the girlfriend, I can just phone this in--"

AboutFilm: Then you do so.

Coughlan: That's how it seems. I'm much more excited by going to all sorts of different extremes. And that movie, like I said, was the first time I did it, but also it wasn't just one extreme, it was all over the map within the parameters of the one character. That was fun. And obviously working with Helen Mirren and some heavy hitters, that was fun as well.

AboutFilm: Gossip?

Coughlan: What I learned from that was: if there's not really a role there, you probably shouldn't take it. [laughs] I had auditioned for the lead, and the director kept saying, "I love her. As an actress I think she's great. I don't think she's quite right. I don't think she's dark enough, or edgy enough," or something. So they gave the role to this actress Lena Headey, who did a great job with it, and they gave Kate Hudson the other role, and there was really no role left. So they assembled my role out of six or seven small couple-lines-here-and-there roles. What they didn't fully process was that they were taking people who were on opposite sides of a giant rift and forging them into one character. I became this schizophrenic person who was all over the map. So I learned when I watched that movie that it really made no sense that I was even in this.

AboutFilm: But they did that to keep you in the project? That's quite a compliment.

Coughlan: It was very flattering, very nice of them. However, I don't think it made much sense in the end. You can only do so much with what you're given. You learn that the hard way, I guess.

AboutFilm: Super Troopers?

Coughlan: Super Troopers was the best! Those guys are the funniest people ever. It's so weird to see you can be a part of a huge twenty million dollar movie that doesn't make a dime and everyone hates, and this little movie Super Troopers I literally did just because I read the script and thought it was so funny. We were staying in some EconoLodge in upstate New York; we were doing it just for the love of it. Who knew? Now I walk down the street and people yell out, "Charlie's Angel! Hey, Charlie's Angel!" I get recognized more for that than anything I've ever done. I never would have guessed.

AboutFilm: And Fredddy Got Fingered? Would that be an example of a bigger budget movie that maybe didn't make as much?

Coughlan: Maybe not. [laughs] Yeah. I learned from that movie to go with my gut instincts, which is to do things that I am drawn to, and not do things just because everyone thinks it's going to be a hit, because that movie was certainly not something I was creatively drawn to. And it certainly was not a hit. Even had it done anything, I think I would still feel the same way. It was just not really up my alley. Next time around I'll probably take a different route, and sit that one out. Not that Freddy Got Fingered 2 is ever going to happen.

AboutFilm: Is Criminology 101 [a CBS Fall drama pilot directed by Miguel Arteta] going to be a hit?

Coughlan: Yes. Yes it is. By all means.

AboutFilm: Not your first experience with television--you've been on television before.

Coughlan: I did a show called Wasteland a few years, which was a great experience. And this, we've just shot the pilot. So far, so good. I had a great time on the pilot. Wasteland, there were seven of us in the cast. And this show, there are basically three of us. We get along really well. I feel good things about that one.

AboutFilm: Can you tell me a little more about I Love Your Work?

Coughlan: Yeah, I Love Your Work is basically another somewhat Hollywood-oriented movie. Giovanni Ribisi plays a movie star who's kind of losing it--losing his grasp on reality.

AboutFilm: He gets those roles.

Coughlan: He does. He really excels in that department. And he basically becomes fixated on myself and on Josh Jackson. We play a couple who are outside of the industry, and just living our lives, and he sees us and envies our simple--quote-unquote, I guess--simple life and our simple relationship, and how in love and happy we are. He starts to become obsessed with us and follow us, and he's convinced that we're stalking him the whole time. That's how he justifies stalking us. So there's a downward spiral. It's a really well executed movie, though. Adam Goldberg directed it, and I think partially because of his background as an actor, he had a very clear vision of what he wanted. I think it'll be really good.

AboutFilm: Other than New Suit, what is your favorite satire or comedy about Hollywood?

Coughlan: [pause] Which ones are there? I've seen The Player, but I haven't seen Swimming with Sharks. I haven't seen a lot of them. I don't know. I don't have a very good answer.

AboutFilm: What thing depicted in New Suit have you particularly encountered in real life and had to struggle with, or had a problem with?

Coughlan: Well, Craig, who wrote the script, was very smart in looking at "The Emperor's New Clothes" and knowing that attitude is something that's very present in our industry. A lot of times I get scripts delivered to me that are supposedly the hot project, the next big thing. They're unreadable. I read fifteen pages and throw it across the room because it's embarrassingly bad. But then everyone in town is saying that it's brilliant, and it sold in a bidding war, and one of my two boyfriends I was talking about earlier is starring in it. [laughs] You read it and you're like, "Am I? Am I the one who's crazy?" But that's just the way it is. In this movie [New Suit], it turns out everyone knows it's not real, but no one wants to admit to it, because they're all going to make their commission off this thing that's not real. I think that's what happens in the real industry. The agents don't want to say it's bad because they want their clients to be in it, and the clients don't want to say it's bad because they want to be in a studio movie, and the studio head won't say it's bad because they paid so much money for it in the bidding war. It's an endless cycle.

AboutFilm: It's left up to the moviegoers to say it's bad.

Coughlan: Yeah, and that happens, unfortunately.

AboutFilm: Well then, last question. Other than making a living, and having a long career, etcetera, what is your greatest ambition as an actor? What do you most crave or want to achieve?

Coughlan: Oh gosh, that's a hard question. What do I most want to achieve? I think I have yet to be in a movie that I would qualify as one of my favorite movies. To be in a movie that I would literally rush out to go see if I weren't in it, to be in a movie that is on the top of my list of all time--I think that would be a personal goal. I have certainly been in a lot of movies that I love and enjoy, but I think you also do what's out there as you move along. It would be fun to be in a movie that would be on my top ten list. On my top three list.

AboutFilm: So what are they?

Coughlan: Oh, I just said this the other day. I'm forgetting the movies. One of my favorites is Office Space. Gary Cole is the guy in the pilot [Criminology 101]--all day I could just joke with him about that. I really love, like I said, Catherine O'Hara, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show. I want Christopher Guest to hire me someday. But my tastes are sort of all over the place.

AboutFilm: Thank you.


Article and interviews © May 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2003 Trillion Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

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