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Elizabeth Reaser, Gretchen Mol and Justin Kirk Sing About ‘Puccini For Beginners’

Elizabeth Reaser and Gretchen Mol get down and dirty in the new indie film Puccini For Beginners, playing lesbian lovers involved in a twisted and rather complicated love affair.

In the film, Allegra’s (Reaser) lack of commitment causes her girlfriend Samantha to leave her and get back together with her old boyfriend. Shortly after, Allegra meets Phillip (Justin Kirk) who is in a dead end relationship with his girlfriend Grace (Mol) and she finds herself strangely attracted to him. Phillip decides to leave Grace for Allegra. However, when Allegra coincidentally meets Grace, she also finds herself attracted to her and the two start dating as well.

The three of them have no idea that they are about to unknowingly be involved in a very twisted love triangle, which is loosely based on the writer/director’s Maria Maggenti’s personal experiences.

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Hollywood.com: Is this based on Maria’s life in anyway? Are you playing Maria?
Elizabeth Reaser:
I think I’m playing a version of Maria. Obviously it’s not her, but it is. I mean definitely I think she would describe herself as a hasbien?

HW: What’s that?
ER:
I think she said this is the press notes so I feel comfortable repeating it.

Justin Kirk: I can’t believe you’re doing it.

ER: Justin, you know how paranoid I am. She’s a hasbien so I guess that means she was a quote unquote lesbian. Now she’s with men or one man or I don’t know. I don’t know what she’s doing.

JK: She’s with a very nice man named Mark.

ER: Yeah, very sweet.

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HW: You got the part right before you started filming. This is kind of a complicated role. Can you talk a little about that?
ER:
I tend to get roles at the last minute because someone will fall out and I get a call or something. It’s an independent film too so I think everything kind of happens at the last second. Although you guys were already cast. So maybe not. I think hanging out with Maria helped a lot because she’s so energized and effervescent and all that. I mean I would of course liked to have had more time and she had me watch, what was that great movie that we watched?

JK: My Man Godfrey

ER: She’s so inspired by and all those screwball comedies. I think a lot of it was just very specific writing and she has this style. Obviously I would have liked to have had more time.

HW: Have you ever know someone to be in this kind of love triangle before?
Gretchen Mol:
With the boy and the girl? I’ve never witnessed that.

JK: You wouldn’t actually let it come out at a party where you all see each other.

ER: I haven’t. At least not where there were two exes involved. Triangles I think are fairly common.

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GM: Same sex

ER: But yeah same sex with two people who are exes, not so much.

JK: Probably it happens.

ER: Oh I’m sure it happens all over the place. I just have no life.

HW: What was your reaction when you first read the script?
GM:
I was just sort of looking for something fun to do. It was the middle of the summer and I just thought it would be a ball. Then I met Maria and she’s so full of life, excited and it just sort of rubs off on you. I think the dialogue was really punchy and it just seemed like the thing kind of carried itself. You just sort of show up and do it. I thought it would be a fun job, not one of those pulling yourself apart all over the place.

JK: And also when you read it with the knowledge of tone underneath it and what she wanted us to think about in terms of like watching those movies and stuff put a certain spin on it and gave us something to do.

HW: So you weren’t freaked out that you would have to play a lesbian?
ER:
No, not at all. I was excited.

GM: I thought it would be fun for a change. I mean usually there is a kiss in a movie.

HW: Was doing the love scenes between you two hard?
GM:
The whole thing was us, there was always a comedy element to it in every scene like that. I felt the pressure of getting that moment or making it that sort of quality.

ER: I was more uncomfortable doing my scene with Justin than with Gretchen and Julianne [Nicholson].

JK: And for good reason.

HW: Tell us about that.
ER:
Oh it was wonderful. It was great.

HW: Was there the challenge of anything really deep and heart wrenching in this film for you?
GM:
Of course. There are moments in the script where I think it’s there, the emotion and everything. Because it was this independent movie and we shot it in 18 days in all of these fantastic locations in the west village and all these kind of iconic locations , it was like ready, set, go. You’re just on this ride and I think that was what was for me about it. There wasn’t time to stop and think about the panic that you get when you have a little time in your trailer. It had a summer camp aspect to it for me anyway. You had a lot more stuff to do, too.

JK: Maria has escaped out of the country during this time, but if she were here you would see her persona sets the tone for a really good time at work. Particularly something like this that has a light heartedness to it. A lot of times, especially in a movie like this where it’s an independent film and you try to raise money and it’s been your baby for many years. As soon as we were on to work, it was just joy everyday.

GM: Just positive reinforcement which is so sort of fun. At the end you’re kind of like really, but she did. She did that so well.

JK: You mean like her telling you that you did a good job.

GM: Yeah.

JK: I never heard that.

HW: Justin, you did Angels in America with an almost all male cast and a male director so what was it like working on this film with an all female cast and a female director?
JK:
Well I need a lot of attention so I much prefer it. It takes me a couple of days to nullify their presence on set. So this time I didn’t have to worry about it. I could have everyone fight over me.

HW: Is it helpful to do a movie in 18 days?
JK:
We had one rehearsal at Maria’s apartment.

GM: [Justin] and I had a little rehearsal. And we talked to her a lot; she wanted to talk to all of us before; she gave us material and films to watch, so there was a little prep time for it. But there’s a freedom; you don’t want it all the time, but it depends on the role. But I think there is a freedom to know there’s only going to be ‘this amount of time’ and you’re just going to do it. And it kind of takes a little bit of the heat of–and I don’t know why. Ultimately, it’s still a movie that comes out and people are going to see, but it’s easier some how.

JK: The other thing with Indigent, which alas no longer exists, is that they shot their movies always with two cameras. So you would get to do your coverage at the same time, which is a real treat because you can act and do good instead of thinking, ‘Oh, f*ck, I’m doing all my best acting on the close-up.’

HW: Elizabeth, was this a challenge to be in almost every scene?
ER:
Yeah, I would have liked to have had more time, but I agree with Gretchen, I’ve done a couple independent films where it’s sort of athletic in that way. Especially, I’ve done two lead parts in independent films and you never sit, you never go back to your trailer, you’re just on. And I remember, I had to keep eating because it took so much; you have to keep it in your head.

GM: You stay in it more; when you’re waiting around a lot, you have to monitor your energy. With this, you’re there, you’re on; you know when it’s going to end.

ER: Yeah, and I like that about it; when you work with someone like Maria, it is her baby. It’s been seven years coming for her, and that makes someone especially passionate and it’s exciting.

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