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
It takes a lot of work to curate that kind of atmosphere – and a lot of preparation to create that fairy tale.
There’s something that happens when you watch one of producer Nancy Meyers movies. You’re overcome with the sensation of never wanting to leave that white-marble-countered world she’s created for you. It’s a magical place that instantly sucks viewers in with its warm sensibilities, gorgeous scenery and dynamic characters. Her progeny, Hallie Meyers-Schyer is making her feature film debut taking those same winning fundamentals, spinning them into a totally refreshing take on the romcom genre with HOME AGAIN.
In the film, Pico Alexander plays aspiring director “Harry,” one of three on-the-rise filmmakers living in single mom Alice’s (Reese Witherspoon) impeccable guesthouse. He’s handsome! He’s suave! He’s young – or at least younger than her. He romances Alice and helps renew her sense of emotional strength during a crucial crossroads in her life.
So how easy was it to fall in love with Reese?
[laughs] Very easy to do.
What was it about Harry that clicked with you?
The thing I identify with the most is the young filmmaker. We’re pretty much the same age and we want the same things. What I admire about Harry is his moxie. He’s the go-getter. He’s fearless in that way, making the phone calls and doing what he can to wrangle the creativity that George and Teddy possess to make something concrete.
Harry certainly has a what one of my colleagues and I call the “Damn, He’s Smooth Factor.” Are you as smooth a talker in real life?
Definitely not. Harry is the me on my best day and then some. Harry is the guy we all wish we could be which was pleasant to lean into, but also difficult because you never want to create somebody that isn’t real. Harry does have his flaws and shortcomings. He gets self-conscious about things. I think it’s important to show that.
One of my favorite scenes in this is with you and Reese and she’s making up the guest bed and you’re apologizing. You’re so vulnerable in that state. Tell me about how Hallie created this atmosphere where you felt like you could feel safe being so raw.
We were probably about three weeks into shooting so we had done the other stuff and were able to have a good idea of who Harry and Alice were at that point. I think all of us when we read the scene, didn’t fully grasp the weight or damage that it would cause Harry. I was surprised on some of the first few takes that it hurts.
We were comfortable already. The crew was fantastic – everybody on the set was fantastic. Reese really helped me feel comfortable with her. Hallie, Nancy and I had already been through talking everything out and all we really cared about at that point was making the best version of the film we could. Luckily, I didn’t have to get mixed up in, ‘Oh, how are Nancy and Reese liking what I’m doing here?’ I didn’t have to get caught up in that train of thought because all I was thinking about was just focusing on the character and what he wanted.
When you’d wrap, did you even want to leave the set and go back to reality? As an audience member, I don’t necessarily, but what’s it like as an actor in that world?
It takes a lot of hard work to curate that kind of atmosphere – and a lot of preparation to create that fairy tale. I think the journey the characters take was much similar to my own, where I felt so many things half way through. When it came to an end, it was bittersweet. It was sad that we had finished this thing and I’d have to part ways with these people that I felt like I cared so much about. It was sad to leave but totally what everybody needed to do. It felt good to say goodbye to that project and move onto the next thing.
You and Nat Wolff lived together during the filming, right?
About day three or four, Nat and I got to talking. He told me his house was probably haunted and asked if I wanted to move in. We were playing brothers so I moved in.
And was it haunted?!
We had some weird little things happen. It was just doors opening, creepy lights getting turned on sort of stuff. Ultimately, not scary in any way and got super close with Nat. We lived together for a month. We were really doing our best to create that dynamic that actually exists in the film. We did that one scene where the three boys are on the beach and I jump into the Pacific, followed by Teddy – that’s what happened. Nat and I jumped into the Pacific and Jon didn’t feel like doing it.
You come from a lineage of industry folk; your dad does amazing second unit work. Your grandfather was an actor too. Hallie’s family is also industry people. Was this something that was ever discussed?
I feel like my family isn’t really from the industry because they came from Poland – like we’re on the fringe in a way. What is interesting is that my dad did some extra days of work on THE INTERN with Nancy and they knew one another. I have always been somebody who’s wanted to secure employment for myself with full knowledge that it was me that got the work for myself. So I did not bring that up at all.
I think they found out through somebody after I ended up getting the job. I remember them both being, ‘What the heck?! You didn’t tell us?! I know your Dad!’ She sent him a really nice email. If your family works in the business or loves film and that’s what you’re exposed to as a child and that’s why you end up doing what you’re doing. Because of that, we’re inspired at that crucial point in our life and decided early on this is what we wanted to do. That connects people 100%.
I know you write too. Writing – and I’m sure acting too – entails finding the note behind the note. Much like Harry trying to field terrible suggestions from a producer, have you had to take notes from people which you didn’t creatively connect?
That’s a great way of putting it – the note behind the note. Yeah, I’ve gotten some notes that I don’t really know what they mean and I try to do my best to read between the lines and get at it, but it happens. I try to stay away from people I don’t get along with creatively because it winds up being a waste of everybody’s time. I went to acting school for four years and that helped – teachers constantly berating you and telling you what you’re doing wrong. It’s hard to hear, but important. The ones that stick out are not the negative ones but the positive ones. It’s the director or the producer who sees what you’re doing, sits on it, and then they find that gem of a positive suggestion – an idea that allows you to focus on and leads to an opening up of a performance in a way that you could not have anticipation. That’s the beauty of collaboration, right? A little conflict can go a long way.
In Hallie’s, and also in Nancy’s movies, there’s very much a SoCal flavor of your family not necessarily being your blood relatives. More like you finding your friends. Tell me about when you found your tribe. I assume you’ve found your friends you consider to be family.
I appreciate that you say tribe because that’s absolutely what this film is about. Hallie has this lovely grasp on redefining traditional conventions. The family ends up being something much more stronger and it is like a tribe. I wish we could raise children with a whole tribe of folk.
Most of my tribe are people from high school – people through which you’ve gone through thick and thin. People who saw you at your worst and people who you’ve seen at their worst and still ride with. I feel like the tribe is always in flux. There’s certain people leaving the village for a while where they need time apart and they come back – and then someone else leaves and comes back. I’m so grateful for them. That’s the most important thing in my life is my tribe – my family, my close friends from high school and college and people I’ve met along the way.
HOME AGAIN opens on September 8.