Richard’s Wedding: Speaking with Jennifer Prediger

Onur Tukel’s Richard’s Wedding is a hilarious look at a group of thritysomethings attending a wedding in Central Park for their mutual friend Richard. It’s a dialogue heavy film and the witty banter between the cast is very reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Manhattan or Annie Hall. While Onur, who also stars as the neurotic Tuna, has proven he’s a filmmaker to watch with the film, the true standout is actress Jennifer Prediger. She plays the charming Alex, and for the first 20 minutes the film relies solely on her and Onur walking and talking as they make their way across town to the wedding. She plays the scene wonderfully and never misses a beat and is equally adorable as she is crude.

After I screened the film as part of the ReFocus screening series at Double Double Land, I immediately looked Prediger up to see what else she’s done. Turns out she’s a multitalented “everywoman” and is not only an actress (she’s also appeared in Joe Swanberg’s Uncle Kent), but also a writer, director, producer, boxer, and video journalist. Since she also answers her own email I was able to speak with Prediger about the film and her work. Read our Q&A below.

What attracted you to the part of Alex?

Jennifer Prediger: Originally the role of “Alex” was written for winsome filmmaker and actor on the HBO series Girls, Alex Karpovsky. At a reading of the script, someone suggested “Alex” should be played by a woman. It turned out Karpovsky was already booked and Onur liked the idea. I liked the idea a lot too, because these two characters really relate to each other in a post-gender kind of way.

The bromance that can exist between a guy and a girl isn’t portrayed much in film. I was drawn to Alex and Tuna’s friendship because they’re like two guys, which feels like a new kind of feminism – though Tuna takes us a step back and dabbles in misogyny, like Onur, the director. Despite his occasional bigotry and off-kilter ideas, he is someone I’m good friends with. There’s no romance there whatsoever. It’s definitely a friends without benefits kind of relationship, like the characters we play.

Alex’s vulnerability and anger were also things I was interested in. These are dark qualities that many of us spend a lot of time trying to hide. There’s something cathartic for me as an actor showing this kind of vulnerability and heartbreak on the surface.

There’s a lot of funny banter between your character and Onur’s at the beginning. How much of the film was improvised and how much of it was scripted?

JP: Onur likes to say it was 85% scripted. I think it may be more like 95%.

One part at the beginning that was improvised is about his pants and the security tag. He bought those pants a few days before we started shooting at Filene’s Basement, I think. So on a few too-funny-to-pass-up occasions like that, we improvised using things happening around us and to our pants.

Onur won a screenplay award at the Sarasota Film Festival and it was well earned. That guy wrote and rewrote a very lengthy script. I think it was 125 pages. I’m proud of what we did as actors too, because we filmed all of those pages in 7 intense days.

What was the most challenging aspect of the filming for you?

JP: The most challenging aspect of filming, besides working with Onur and apart from accidentally dropping a microphone receiver into a toilet (freshly cleaned!), which I never lived down, was definitely the fight scene.

During the ceremony, which takes place in Central Park, it had gotten cold and ominous. My character goes through this whole romantic pear-shaped mess right before the nuptials take place, only to be insulted by the minister who is also her cousin. She comes undone and allows her rage to be unleashed through her fists. It was really hard and awful hitting Randy Gambill, who plays Louis and is such a sweetheart. It felt terrible, like a tear in reality. At the moment this happened, the skies opened up and it started raining. It was as if the act was cleansed by the heavens and all was forgiven. It makes me really happy the rain made it into the movie after the fight scene. It’s like a water purification from above.

Having worked with talented filmmakers such as Onur, Joe Swanberg, and Alex Karpovsky, do you feel the urge to direct your own feature film at all?

JP: Yes, very much. I’m writing a script that I hope to direct later this year.

Joe Swanberg is an incredibly inspiring person to work with. He really gets things done and doesn’t suffer the way I do writing a script. He makes you want to make stuff.

Karpovsky is loose and graceful in my experience of his directing. One of the most fun days I had as an actor was at a Mardis Gras parade where we were acting amidst the bead throwing and floats. He’s very spontaneous and listens to everyone he’s working with in a way that’s endearing. And Onur is a mad man. It’s great to see a frothy, cartoon Tasmanian devil at work. Makes you wish you had rabies too.

How do you balance acting with being a video journalist and writer?

JP: There’s some nice interplay between acting and being a journalist. Journalists and actors are both storytellers aiming to convey the truth to the world. They just use slightly different tools.

I’m always seeking balance. And because I’m a freelancer, I’m always seeking work. The gaps in my work schedule of late have made it possible time-wise for me to work on microbudget films as an actor.

Do you find you get something different out of acting that you don’t get as a journalist and vice versa?

JP: When I’m writing, I go a bit mental chained to a laptop. As a video journalist, being out in the world field producing and filming is a great dance. It’s visual fishing and the sensation of being open to chance is very alive. A similar thing happens with acting for me. There’s a shared experience and immediacy working with other actors. When everyone is in the moment responding to each other in truthful ways, it’s one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever been a part of.

Is there a dream project or role you’d like to do one day?

JP: Ok, these are big dreams but I’ll put them out there, in case this is how things work. I’d love to work with directors who are actor’s directors and tell stories from the heart. These include, but are not limited to, Kenneth Lonergan, Lisa Cholodenko, and Eric Mendelsohn. Anything directed by Todd Rohal, Lena Dunham, Linas Phillips, Dustin Guy Defas, Sophia Takal, and Lawrence Levine would thrill me. I won’t say no to Woody Allen either.

I’ve been told before I look like Patti Smith. I would love to play her.

As Richard’s Wedding joins the ranks of great New York City films, what are some of your favourite films about the city?

JP: Well, that’s very kind of you to say even if a wee bit much. For me, favorites are a tie between Woody Allen’s Annie HallAlice, and Bullets Over Broadway. My other favorite New York films are Spike Lee’s Do The Right ThingGhostbustersThe Pleasure of Being Robbed, and The Gods of Times Square, directed by the incredible Richard Sandler.

What do you hope the audience gets out of Richard’s Wedding?

JP: I hope the audience gets a few good, sweat or tear-inducing laughs from this movie. And maybe they’ll feel a little more connected in their own lives or strive to be after seeing all of these characters and their disconnectedness.

What’s next for you?

JP: I’m going to walk a dog and eat a sandwich. And next week I’m going to Los Angeles. The other movie Onur and I made together, Red Flag, directed by Alex Karpovsky, premiers at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Red Flag premieres the day after Flag Day. As Jung would say, “Synchronicity!”

Check out the trailer for Richard’s Wedding below. For more info on the Toronto premiere, visit refocusfilm.blogspot.ca.

RICHARD’S WEDDING – trailer from onur tukel on Vimeo.

Top image: Jennifer Prediger and Onur Tukel in a scene from Richard’s Wedding.

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