Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life at the New York Film Festival

Writer and director Tamara Jenkins re-teamed with producer Anthony Bregman for PRIVATE LIFE about a middle-aged Upper West Side couple navigating the choice to become parents thanks to their IVF egg donor niece.

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image credit: Jojo Whilden

About Private Life

Writer and director Tamara Jenkins (The Savages, Slums of Beverly Hills) re-teamed with producer Anthony Bregman for this film about a middle-aged Upper West Side couple navigating the choice to become parents thanks to their IVF egg donor niece.

At the New York Film Festival press conference, Tamara Jenkins, and actors Kathryn Hahn, Kayli Carter, and Molly Shannon, talked about their experiences making the film.

Jenkins spoke in depth about her writing process, including that she rented an office for the first time to write, and stated, “As Virginia Woolf once wrote, the importance of having a room of one’s own.”

JENKINS: The script took a long time. It usually takes me two years to write an original script. The first draft of Private Life was 200 pages, and then I had to chip away at it. I feel like I have to write something that is almost novelistic and then I have to adapt my own novelistic thing, so it can fit inside a narrative film.

KOUGUELL: Was there any script input from the actors? How much did the project change from being on the page to the screen?

JENKINS: It did not change. I remember speaking with Paul Giamatti and he said, ‘Is this one of those movies where we improvise?’ and I said, (she laughs) ‘‘No, there will be no improvising because I wrote this f-ing thing and I wrote those words.’ Of course, there’s improvised behavior, but not much in the language department.

HAHN: (addressing Jenkins) There was a huge sigh of relief when you said that to us in our first meeting.

JENKINS: Yes, because Kathryn’s an improviser and so is Molly (Shannon).

HAHN: All we had to worry about was doing justice to this beautiful piece of writing. There was so much freedom in that, and relief about just worrying about what was in front of us; that’s all we needed.

CARTER: If anything, I felt I had to get out of my own way with it. There was a day when I was working on a really long chunk of text, and Tamara’s words are so specific, and I wanted it to be right. Tamara and I walked around while they were setting up cameras for about 20 minutes, and I just said that piece of text over and over again to you (Tamara) until there was no inflection at all, until it was in my bone marrow. It was incredible. It was really freeing as an actor to have a piece of writing that was so good where you don’t have to do anything with it to sing.

SHANNON: Tamara’s so creative. I’ve never worked with a writer / director before who’s done this, but when Kathryn and I were standing around talking, and Tamara saw us near a piano, she said, ‘Bring the camera over to them—it was my dream when I was in drama school of how people would make movies.

HAHN: There’s something about this movie that isn’t even about a baby. It’s so much more—it’s an existential movie. Even when I read the script for the first time, I couldn’t even picture a baby. We see that there’s this quest that they’re on together, but it’s really about this marriage. Paul Giamatti said to Tamara, ‘This isn’t about a baby, this is ‘Waiting for Godot.’ It’s so true. As you described it, Tamara, it’s about this couple having a co-midlife crisis. There are all the frozen and amber dreams they had in their 20s and 30s, and all of a sudden they’re looking at them, waking up and they’re in their 40s, and then what do you do?! What happens with this next chapter? As Tamara said, it’s about this marriage.

Jenkins (l) Hahn (r)

Private Life, which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, opens Oct. 5 in select theaters and on Netflix.