I enter the lobby of Dupont’s Hotel Rouge with a bit of trepidation. The red walls, leopard carpeting and Alice in Wonderland -style chairs of this chic new hotel are somewhat intimidating. As I sit in wait for my interviewees, I wonder whose quirky personality is responsible for this lodging decision.
The stars then arrive all sunshine and happiness, clad in the sort of trendy but elegant duds that make them seem at home in their chosen hotel. They apologize for their lateness (they aren’t late) and quickly enter their eccentrically styled suite. Much to my delight, the lovely and eloquent ladies of Kissing Jessica Stein (Fox Searchlight), Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen, have taken a few minutes to speak with The Hatchet.
These go-getting women discuss the theater lab in the Catskill Mountains of New York, where they met in summer 1996. It was here that the two soon realized that the premise of their pieces were uncannily similar. Both wrote about the “Mars/Venus dating hell,” and, thus, their reunion one year later was simply destiny.
Westfeldt and Juergensen wrote and produced a group of short vignettes about the New York professionals dating scene. Ultimately, the culmination of this six-week writing stint resulted in an off-Broadway production called “Lipschtick.” While the show only ran for a brief six nights, the word-of-mouth on the play caused quite a stir in Hollywood, and the two women promptly began work on the screenplay that became Kissing Jessica Stein.
Westfeldt and Juergensen began this exciting endeavor by interviewing a plethora of women – gay and straight – about their past relationships.
“Women would really come forward to us and tell us all their stories,” Westfeldt said. “We heard enough stories to feel that what we were doing was out there. We got so interested in the story, getting to the truth of it. We wanted to break down stereotypes.”
But writing the script wasn’t all that was in the job description, and a studio quickly tried to snap up the rights to the script. After 18 months of laboring on their brain-child, they warily came to an important conclusion: In order to ensure the integrity of their film, they had to go “indie” style. So they did.
Westfeldt and Juergensen said going indie requires a tremendous amount of additional work and devotion.
Without the backing of big studio bank accounts “everything becomes a headache and a risk and a huge amount of money,” Juergensen said.
Westfeldt said that in Hollywood “ideas are the premium, ideas are your commodity.”
These resourceful ladies wanted to do things their way, and so they were forced to ask friends, family and neighbors for capital. They are not opposed to big studio productions, they say, but wanted the artistic freedom that going solo allowed them.
“To be able to do interesting, complicated parts when the money is already in the bank is a dream,” Juergensen said.
But neither is overly optimistic about finding the perfect role.
The film also leaves audiences wondering: what was it like for two straight women to portray a lesbian relationship on screen?
“At first you feel the same sort of things that you feel when you kiss anyone for the first time, but eventually you get used to it,” Juergensen said. “It’s becomes like kissing a family member, your boyfriend.”
“Yeah, boring!” Westfeldt jokingly interjected.
“(Westfeldt’s) a very good kisser!” Juergensen assured.
So when push comes to shove, what is the film about, ladies?
“We live in a world of a lot of labels and we find that very convenient. (The film shows) so many people following no particular rules,” Westfeldt said.
Juergensen added, “It causes a lot of heated debate, which really excites us.”
“Questioning everything is a really good thing to do in life. Don’t they teach you that in college?” Westfeldt joked.