Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews

Round Table Discussion with Cheryl Hines, director of Serious Moonlight




picture - Cheryl Hinesreported by William Gooch

published December 6, 2009


[Editor’s note – Adrienne Shelly, who wrote the screenply for Serious Moonlight is referenced throughout this discussion, is a writer/director who was murdered before the release of her film Waitress.]


How did you become associated with this film?


Cheryl Hines: I worked with Adrienne [Shelly] in Waitress and we became friends. The producer of Waitress and Adrienne’s husband asked me if I would be interested in directing this film. The call was a total shock to me because I had never directed a movie; in fact, I really thought they were asking me to be in the film. Before I gave an answer I asked to see the script first because I was not sure if I could do it. Anyway, I read the script and absolutely loved it. The twists and turns were so great that I felt that I had to direct this film. Adrienne’s husband really wanted someone who understood the tone of her writing and the balance between comedy and serious dialogue.


Being that Serious Moonlight is your directorial debut, did you make any special preparations for this project?


Cheryl Hines: Interestingly enough, from the time I said yes to preproduction for Serious Moonlight, I did as much as I could to prepare. I talked to my director friends for specific advice on this particular film; even on the set I would text out questions. I have directed a few television episodes, and any movies and series I worked on as an actress I always tried to learn from directors.


Could you talk about the casting process?


Cheryl Hines: Well, I figured since I had been given this golden opportunity, why not go for top-tier actors. We sent the script to Tim Hutton and Meg Ryan to see if there was any interest. The thing I like about Tim Hutton in this role is that his character has to make this 180 degree transformation. I felt that Tim was the right actor to pull this character off. He also knows how to do comedy in a way that was perfect for this film.


Meg responded well to the script. Though we travel in the same circles, we had never met. We talked a lot on the phone and I convinced her to take a chance on me as a first- time director.


How much of your background in improvisation with The Groundlings did you bring to directing and prepping the actors?


Cheryl Hines: I found it very helpful as a director to go with whatever is happening on the set. You cannot plan out every moment that your are shooting, because something always goes wrong. So my improvisation background came in handy because when you are doing improve, you go with the moment and work things out as they’re presented to you.


picture - Serious MoonlihtHow true did you stay to the original script?


Cheryl Hines: I stayed very close to the original script. Going into this project one of the concerns of her husband, Andy, was to stay close to the original concept and tone. We did change a few things, but change didn’t come easily. We talked out and worked through all the changes.


One of the changes we did make was changing Justin Long’s character from wearing a ski mask when he comes to rob the house to showing his full face the whole time. Remember, he was mowing the lawn and then went in to rob the house. We thought it looked more authentic to have him mow the grass without the ski mask. I mean, who mows grass in a ski mask. [Laughter] So we talked it out and decided to give him a bandana that he could put over his face when he commits the robbery. We got Justin to grow his hair out so that he looked scruffier.


Do you consider this a feminist film?


Cheryl Hines: I wouldn’t call it a feminist film. It is a story about a couple and the woman (Meg Ryan) happens to be a strong, independent character. But there are no big feminist themes or male and female motivations in Serious Moonlight.


What was one of the biggest surprises in going from in front of the camera to behind the camera?


Cheryl Hines: The biggest surprise was all the unexpected challenges. We shot the film so quickly and so everyday before we started shooting I would say, “Nothing can go wrong today or we won’t meet our deadline and we won’t be able to complete the film.” And something unexpected would go wrong on the set every single day that would hold up production. Eventually, I learned to go with the challenges and I stopped worrying about what would go wrong. It was a hard lesson to learn because as an actor you don’t always see all the things that can go wrong. Actors sit in a trailer, go over the script and wait for someone to work out the problems and call you to the set. As a director you are in the trenches all the time.


There is quite a lot of physicality in this movie; was that in the script or did you bring that to the film?


Cheryl Hines: The fighting and rolling around is actually in Adrienne’s script. Meg Ryan and Kristin Bell actually brought those scenes to life. They are two brilliant comediennes so I let them do their thing.


picture - Serious MoonlightSo much of this movie takes place in the bathroom; how much did you develop that, or was it detailed in the script?


Cheryl Hines: It is all in the script, Adrienne wrote it that way. The story is about these two people who have come to a crossroad in their lives, and their lives are changed in 24 hours in their own house.  How often is someone’s life drastically changed in 24 hours? I thought that was a very interesting aspect to this film.


Audiences don’t usually think about Justin Long in the role of a criminal or a tough guy. Could you talk about casting Justin Long against type?


Cheryl Hines: I knew Justin personally so I thought it would be an interesting switch to cast him as this unpredictable guy with a dangerous edge. I wanted someone who looked to be young enough and not his full personality set, someone who could flip at any moment. In the beginning he seems like a good guy and then he morphs into this bad character.


What’s next for you?


Cheryl Hines: Honestly, I don’t know. I am not sure if there is going to be another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I am looking for interesting scripts to direct.


williamgooch @


read William Gooch's review of Serious Moonlight


see Stage and Cinema's photos of the NYC red carpet premiere


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