Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
“This is my first movie. This is my first interview,” actor/ writer/ comedian Jon Rudnitsky nervously announces to me as we begin our brief chat during the promotional tour for writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s insanely feel-good romantic comedy, HOME AGAIN. Yes. I’m as surprised as you to learn I’m the journalist about to pop his proverbial interview cherry. “The pressure is on,” we say to each other almost simultaneously, sharing a laugh, but secretly both knowing no truer words have been spoken within the walls of that Beverly Hills Four Seasons hotel room.
Produced by Nancy Meyers (THE HOLIDAY, SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE), this Pinterest-fueled dream of a film has the affable actor co-starring as screenwriter “George Applebaum,” one of three aspiring filmmakers living in single mom Alice’s (Reese Witherspoon) impossibly gorgeous, roomy Los Angeles guesthouse. His character frets about his career all whilst mentoring Alice’s tween daughter Isabel (Lola Flanery).
After a short stint on SNL (who can forget his Patrick Swayze impression?!) left Rudnitsky searching what to do next, and a few promising pilots went nowhere, the comedian was caught in a transitional moment in his career. That’s when writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer rang.
HOME AGAIN was the chapter after that show. I’m very grateful. When I left, when I didn’t get my contract renewed for the show, moving back to L.A., I wanted to get out of New York. I moved to New York for that show so to still be there and not be on the show would’ve felt really depressing. I was understandably worried as there is no security in this business. I was in a bit of a panic. And then I auditioned for this movie. The week I got back to L.A. was my chemistry read with Reese and everybody and that’s when I got the job. Thanks to Nancy and Hallie, I landed on a bed of marshmallows. So I went quickly from that huge chapter in my life to this huge chapter, getting to be in my first movie opposite an Academy Award-winner – it’s a big friggin’ deal.
Listen, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to live in a “Nancy Meyers movie.”
Totally! And I got to live in it. I grew up watching it so to be able to be in one of those movies is wild. I’m really proud of it.
I think you nailed a pragmatic screenwriter’s internal struggle. But what was it about George that you connected with?
I’m a kid from the East Coast who came out to L.A., just like George, hoping to make it in this business as a writer – I am a writer –and as an actor. It wasn’t that different from who I am.
Your wardrobe was spot-on as well. I know a screenwriter who dresses exactly like that – specifically the sweater with the leather patches on the elbows. Did you have any input?
Kate Brien [Kitz] is the costume designer and she picked it out. I agree. It is spot-on. That is what a writer would wear – and has the same outfit every day. George is very pragmatic. It would make sense that his outfits were all kind of similar.
There’s a scene in the film where the guys have a frustrating pitch session with a producer. Have you had to take bad notes or deal with people you didn’t creatively vibe with?
Oh yeah. I have a writing partner and we’ve written a lot of pilots together. We’ve gotten a ton of notes we weren’t thrilled about. It’s called “killing your babies,” when you have to get rid of jokes you’re attached to. That happens all the time. Working on SNL even, there’s certain things you can’t say or do. At that job in particular, you’re lucky if you get a sketch on the air. So you’re always getting things taken away from you. More often than not, you’re having to say goodbye to things you creatively love.
I can’t imagine there every being a bad day on set. It seems like it’s so genuine and warm.
Between the guys, your chemistry seems real. Was there time to bond?
Nat [Wolff]’s parents have a house in Studio City – and they mainly live in New York City. I had just moved to L.A. from New York and didn’t have a place yet. Pico [Alexander] and Nat are both from New York. So all three of us wound up living at Nat’s parent’s house. It kind of…
…Resembles the movie?!
Resembles the movie quite a bit. We had all the bonding time in the world. It was pretty instantaneous. The three of us fell in love right away. One of the first rehearsal days, we had an hour and a half break. Instead of us going to get lunch, we said, ‘Let’s go to the beach.’ We went on the roller coasters on Santa Monica Pier. And there’s the scene in the movie on the beach where the guys strip down into their underwear and they did that. We just started living the movie. Unintentionally method.
Were there any overzealous extras hooting and hollering when you shot that scene? ‘Take it all off?!’
You know, only me in my head. When Pico’s shirt comes off it’s hard to hold it together and stay in character.
Tell me a little about how Hallie runs her set. It seems very collaborative.
It is very collaborative! She knows exactly what she wants. For a first time director there is no hesitation about anything. She’s seen this movie in her head for a long time and so there’s a comfort in that. There’s a sense of security knowing that she’s going to carry this through and you can let her steer the ship. No tension on set. It was so enjoyable. It certainly didn’t feel like work.
There’s a scene where Alice asks George if he knows how to drive stick and he bullsh*ts her a little bit. It struck me as a very actor-y answer. Like, ‘Oh sure, I can ride a horse and do karate!’
Do you have things like that on your resume?
When I first came out to L.A., there’s this website if you don’t have an agent where you put a headshot and you list all your skillsets. I checked them all off, of course! So I can get a part in a USC student film with no dialogue, riding a horse, because I wanna act. I need something. I’ve definitely lied about that stuff, but it hasn’t gotten to a point where I’ve gotten a job and suddenly had to do that thing.
As for the stick-shift, I really was not good at all. They taught me. There’s the scene with Reese where I pick her up and I had to hit my mark. It was the last shot on a Friday night before everyone could just go home and relax. The crew guys had been working hours and hours. I would get there right before and gun it right past. I could not hit it. Everyone was keeled over laughing. I’m laughing too, but I’m also sweating. Driving stick, the hardest part is starting the car and stopping. And to act! And not make a face like I’m trying to drive.
So basically, this is your audition for the next FAST AND FURIOUS movie because you can do car acting.
Absolutely! I really think me and Vin Diesel will be paired well.
George becomes a mentor to Alice’s daughter. Did you have anyone in your life in that same role?
Yeah. I have a lot of people who I look up to and who’ve given me advice over the years. My parents and grandparents. In high school, my first mentor was John Hazeleen. He directed all the plays in high school. He introduced me to the Marx Brothers and Sid Caesar and taught me about the origins of the comedy I now try to emulate. Actually inspired a lot of my standup. So I still think about him. He was just texting me, seeing the trailers on TV and it’s pretty cool.
Growing up, for me, I had a lot of teachers who hated me because I couldn’t sit still and was terrible at school, and like a handful of teachers, who saw that I was this rambunctious person who wanted to entertain. Mrs. Allen, who I also still keep in touch with, because I really do value mentors when you’re young. If it wasn’t for them, I probably would’ve thought I just had a problem. She would say, ‘If you can be quiet all class, I’ll give you five minutes at the end of class to entertain everyone.’ I still think of that.
As the publicist enters the room to signal our time’s end, Rudnitsky graciously returns my thanks, adding, “It was totally painless.” Phew!
HOME AGAIN opens on September 8.