The JFP Interview with Joey Lauren Adams | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The JFP Interview with Joey Lauren Adams

Filmmaker Joey Lauren Adams, 39, is a fan of drinking Budweiser and driving along flat Arkansas highways looking at cypress trees, not necessarily at the same time. The first time I interviewed her, for a hoity-toity celebrity magazine in New York City in the summer of 2001, she was home in North Little Rock from her adopted city of Los Angeles, hankering to live in the South again. But as a successful and respected actress—she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her starring role in "Chasing Amy"' and is a charter member of director Kevin Smith's hipster actor posse—her life and business were far from Arkansas.

By the time I interviewed her again, later in 2001, then for Oxford American, Adams was even more serious about living and working in her native land. She had written a script—then called "Lovin' Up a Storm," after a Jerry Lee Lewis song—and was shopping it around for backing. At the time, she planned to star in the film—about a confused Arkansas girl who loved old country music and beer drinking, and who wedged her love life into meaningless one-night stands. Adams admitted then, and does now, that the film was autobiographical in many ways—especially the part about growing up in a hard-drinking, emotionally wounded family. She drove me around North Little Rock in a rented red, big-ass F150 truck, listening to vintage Johnny Cash, while she explained her vision of the film, pointing out locations that had to be in the film, like The Forge (a "real" bar we visited both times) and the cypress trees.

Adams since has made many changes in her life—including moving full-time to Oxford, Miss.—and she made her film in 2006, using much of the old music and the locations she'd coveted. The film ended up called "Come Early Morning," and it starred a non-glamorous-yet-sexy Ashley Judd as Lucy, instead of Adams. Adams says she learned many lessons about transitioning from her old life of hot actress to being the director of a film that was nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and won her a Women in Film Crystal Award for directing—yet tanked at the box office. Could it be that, even by 2006, the general film-going public was uncomfortable watching a woman tossing her panties in a trash can after every one-night stand?

"Come Early Morning" is the featured film Saturday night at the Crossroads Film Festival. That afternoon, Adams and I will continue the conversation we started in 2001 in an "Actor's Studio"-esque setting at Millsaps College. We spoke last Saturday by phone.

How is it living in the South again?
It's amazing. I thought I was depressed when I was in L.A. Now that I've moved back here, I realized I was unhappy. I'm sure after 19 years of being unhappy, a certain malaise will come over you. I think about my friends there, and some them are so unhappy. … Now that I've come back, it's like, oh right, this is what life is. This is what people are like. As far as my own personal taste, it's southern, I guess.

What do you mean by "what life is like"?
Hollywood is so business oriented, the movie business. Everyone there seems to either be in it or wanting to be in it. ... You lose touch with reality, and what is important in life. You tend to hang out with people that do what you do. Here in Oxford, you meet all kinds of people who do all kinds of things. I'm just not cut out for L.A. I'm older now, I guess, and want different things. Life is so much easier here. I can get in my car here and go somewhere, and it takes me two minutes. I actually like the lack of choice.

What do you mean?
There's a little stationery store here that I go to. They don't have like everything, not 18 rows of sh*t, where you go in and need one thing, and it takes you 30 minutes to find it. They don't have as many options, but they can order it, and it'll be in the next day. And they're not open on Saturdays. There's something nice about that. … No, you can't have your three-hole punch paper right this second. I like that. It takes a sense of urgency off things that aren't important like three-hole punch paper.

How often do you get back to L.A.?
I went back in November for the release of the film. I'll go back in mid-April for a couple weeks. I have an apartment there still. That'll be the big day, when I get rid of that. I've got to have a little safety net, I guess. I've moved into writing, and I'm not real sure if that's really going to work. I can't act here.

Are you happy about that?
Yeah. I would like to act—with Kevin Smith or Rick Linklater, someone I liked or someone with a really good script. I don't really have a desire to go play the girlfriend. I do feel differently about it now that I have more options. When acting was all I had, there was a desperation with that. Now I've opened up, and I can direct again, and I'm writing now. I don't feel like that (acting) is my only source of income and creative outlet. I think I would enjoy it more now.

It must be freeing to not worry about your age now that you're a writer and director.
It is. Aging in Hollywood sucks. You can't avoid it; all around you are people who aren't dealing with it well. Not that there aren't some people here not dealing with it well, either. There's not near as much plastic surgery going on here. At least they're waiting for an appropriate age and not doing it at like 22.

Why did you pick Oxford?
I guess I felt like if I move here, I'd be moving amongst my own. A lot of small southern towns I don't feel like I belong in. With the university being here, over the years, it's just attracted an interesting, very diverse crowd. It's close to Memphis. There's a lot of stuff going on. Writers constantly come to town and read. I feel in touch still with whatever creative flow that's going on in the world. Someone said if you stay in Oxford long enough, everyone will come here. … I got a house where I can walk everywhere. You can't really do that in Little Rock or North Little Rock. It's close enough to home, but not exactly going home.

Is it harder to make things happen in the film world from Mississippi?
So far, no. I'm sure if I was (in L.A.), I would be way more involved with it, taking more meetings, probably having more options. It's just the price you pay. If I need to go to L.A. for a month and take meetings, I can do that. I'm not the kind of person that wants 18 things going at once. I have a lot of friends in the business who are directing this, producing that, working on this script with that person, with all this sh*t going on. I'm not like that. I want one thing to focus on.

Does it make it easier to do projects about the South because you're in the South?
I don't think it matters either way, with the Internet and phones. I don't network, I guess. … I don't think about it in that way, that I want to do southern stuff, and I'm a southern filmmaker. That's probably what I'll tend to do more of; I do love it, and it's what I know. When I was living in L.A., and hanging out with a group that called themselves the Mississippi Mafia, they were all from Mississippi. I found when I first moved to L.A., I got way more southern. Everyone is trying so hard to have some sort of identity in a huge town. That became my identity. Now that I'm living in the South, I feel less southern somehow.

Do you work with the Mississippi Mafia?
No. But when I moved to Oxford, I had a friend who lived here who had a friend who knew Craig Brewer (director of "Hustle and Flow") who is based out of Memphis, and he hooked us up. I guess that's networking that's been done down South. Because we're both southern and making southern films, these people thought we should meet. Now we're working together on this other project (her next project; see below). There is some of that going on. But the thing I'm writing right now all happened in L.A.

What are you writing now?
I'm adapting a Texas Monthly article into a screenplay called the "Last Ride of Cowboy Bob." It's a drama about a woman who at 46 had an existential breakdown. She was living in an apartment and taking care of her sick mom, working a minimum-wage job, and decided this is not what I thought life would be. So she dressed up like a cowboy and robbed a bank.

Why did you change the name of your film since the early script?
I did a pretty serious rewrite on the script about six months before we went into production. I changed the whole opening; it no longer opened upbeat. I added the whole jukebox scene with her playing the song at the end of the movie with the jukebox. I was trying to find a song that would work in that moment, and I came across "Come Early Morning" by Don Williams. The (Jerry Lee Lewis) song ended up not working at the end of the movie.

Why did you make the script changes?
It'd been five years since I'd written the script. Because it is sort of personal, the script felt immature to me. I felt like I had grown, and I guess I wanted the script to reflect that.

Having read the early script, I found that the film seemed to say deeper things.
It definitely got deeper. In the original one, [spoiler deleted]. That sucks. I got bored with it. After five years, it's like ugh. I decided, I'm going to try one rewrite, and if no one bites, I'm giving up.

I like the empowerment of the new ending.
Yeah, it was a much clearer version of what I was trying to say originally.

I also love the jukebox. I know you love old country music. What else did it symbolize?
For me, I did want to show here's her bar (The Forge) she goes to where she feels safe. Changing out the old jukebox and putting a new jukebox in sort of symbolized that things were changing in her world as well, changing where she feels comfortable. Then it symbolized the fond memories she had of her father and the music he played for her. Some people have asked, why didn't she throw it off a cliff or something because of that, but for me it's like no one's all good or all bad. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. …

Why did you decide not to act in it?
We had a meeting with the line producer, and it was the first time that I met with someone who was seriously talking about the film. … She started talking about condors. I thought, what's the difference between a condor and a crane? It started becoming real how much I didn't know as a director. I thought, I'm crazy, I either have to act in it or direct it. I can't do both. … I knew I would be miserable letting somebody else direct it.

It must not have been so bad watching Ashley do the part.
It was amazing; I can't tell you. The smartest decision I've ever made in life was not to act in it. I would have hated the experience. I really enjoyed just waking up, rolling out of bed and going to set, not having to go to the makeup set, not having to sit in wardrobe all day, in my trailer. I loved being in the thick of it and not having to pull myself out of it. I would have sucked as a director and an actress. …

It's a different side of Ashley.
People compare it to her first film, "Ruby in Paradise."

She was de-glammed. Her look was very real.
Honestly, we met in February to talk about her doing the film. We barely talked about the film. It was just meant to be. … When I met with her, we just knew. I knew she got it, and she knew I got it. The only thing we ever talked about as far as her character was, she said to me, "I have some gray hairs; I'd like to leave them." I said, "Yeah, that's fine." She showed up the weight that she was. It was just jeans and t-shirts. …

Lucy felt like a real woman that we don't see in film every day. Why do you think that is?
I don't know if it's because there are not enough women writing films. One of the biggest reasons for writing was I wasn't reading scripts where I felt like I relate to this, that I would kill to play this part. I wasn't seeing women on film I related to. There are areas in my area in which I'm very responsible, I excel, I'm on time. Then there are areas in my life where I'm a complete f*ck-up. And you just don't see that (on film). Unless the film is about a woman, which is rare, as a writer you're limited to the woman being the girlfriend. When we sent the script out to some actors, some said they didn't want to play the boyfriend role. I thought, "My God. I've written a boyfriend role."

That one foreplay scene with Cal seemed so woman-done, in a good way.
Yeah, but the movie tanked. That's probably why you don't see those scenes. "Sherry Baby" was a great female film with a great female character, and it tanked. I don't know what it is, if it's that women don't want to see it, they can't get their boyfriends to go to it. It was a smaller budget film without enough money to do TV ads. But investors aren't going to look at my film, and say let's go make another movie like that.

It's so sad.
It is. It's just depressing. Right now I'm writing this script about this woman who robs banks, and in writing it, I'm picturing Jack Nicholson (in her role). I was watching "Blood Diamond" the other night, and I looked at Leo's (DiCaprio's) role and Jennifer Connolly's role, and I want to play Leo's role. I thought, you know what, I'm going to picture Jack Nicholson. (Laughs.)

Can you talk about the next project?
I shouldn't probably because it's so new, and there's not much to talk about. It's a memoir of a southern journalist who lives in New York. I'm trying to get it set up.

Is writing sheer hell to you?
There are good days and bad days. Today, I came up with two lines at the end of the movie, and it made the whole week worthwhile. Last week was hell. Sometimes I look at people who punch a clock and have weekends off. It'll be Saturday, it's beautiful, and I'm writing, and I'm envious of people who have a weekend off. But I wouldn't trade what I do. There are times when I'm not writing, and I do have time off. I can go home if I want, or travel. Writing's great because it forces you to deal with all your insecurities. That's the most amazing thing about it. I have a scene in my head. I have to write basically what the scene is about. What I write is absolute crap. That's when lots of people give up. You read it, you're embarrassed, and you die. ...

Annie Lamott calls it the "sh*tty first draft." Most people never get past that stage.
Right, they get so horrified at what they've done. Someone told me the other day that you can't be creative and edit at same time. You have to get in the creative thing when the scenes are coming. You map it out, and it's crap. Then you go back and edit. But it's hard not to keep going back over those first 30 pages, over and over and over and over.

What was the biggest lesson you learned?
Lucy's character in the end stands up for herself, and says I believe I can handle it. I did the same thing. I decided I could do more than act; I wanted to direct. I was banging my head on the door (trying to get the film made); it's so amazing I was doing it when the whole script was about that.

This conversation continues Saturday afternoon, March 31, at 3 p.m. at Millsaps College.

Previous Comments

ID
81055
Comment

Love her. Have you asked her to come to the Chick Ball? Tell her she can bunk with Mary Frances and I. We'll drink beer and shoot at squirrels with AirSoft guns and maybe prank call my neighbor or something. Can't wait for Saturday.

Author
emilyb
Date
2007-03-28T17:20:19-06:00
ID
81056
Comment

Tell her we'll talk about the male gaze! I love that she wrote a boyfriend role. It's also refreshing for a writer to be honest about the hell. Because sometimes, it's hell.

Author
emilyb
Date
2007-03-28T17:29:47-06:00
ID
81057
Comment

I haven't, yet, but I have it in mind. We'll butter her up on this trip. We've been trying to get her butt down her for a while; we need to make her want to come back. ;-D We'll drink beer and shoot at squirrels with AirSoft guns and maybe prank call my neighbor or something. That just might work. ;-) I didn't mention the part about going to the VFW and partying in the cherrypicker on her aunt's farm. Or the blonde 'fro wig. Let's just say that Joey lives out loud.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-03-28T17:30:44-06:00
ID
81058
Comment

(BTW, if you haven't seen "Chasing Amy," all, go rent it. She's amazing in it. *That* wasn't a girlfriend role. And you can see Ben Affleck before he became annoying.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-03-28T17:34:32-06:00
ID
81059
Comment

Also, Em, definitely come to our "conversation" at Millsaps Saturday. Joey is a *great* interview. She's honest and funny, and you haven't heard her famous voice until you hear her cackle, which she does a lot. She has the loudest tiny voice I've ever heard. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-03-28T17:36:23-06:00
ID
81060
Comment

I can so do suck up gifts. Does she eat chocolate? I volunteer to create the goody bag. MF has nipples. Plastic ones of course, but every girl needs some fake, plastic nipples. Hmmmm....southern journalist in NYC memoir. Sounds delicious.

Author
emilyb
Date
2007-03-28T17:36:44-06:00
ID
81061
Comment

Oh, do the suck-up bag. Great idea. Don't detail it here, though. I'm sure she'll read this online. Yep, the "next project" is delicious, but I can't tell you about it, yet. Allow your imagination to roam. I also really need to share something. The phrase "big-ass" in the intro up above is a little gift to Oxford American. They wouldn't let me call her F150 a "big-ass" truck in that piece. That was back before Jill put the phrase in her book title, of course. I couldn't resist. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-03-28T17:41:24-06:00
ID
81062
Comment

(Of course, the blog sensor doesn't want to use "big-a$$," either, it seems. It's a conspiracy.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-03-28T17:42:06-06:00
ID
81063
Comment

I'm in charge of the suck up bag. Joey, if you read this, do NOT count on nipples. I was totally kidding. And the cake too. Because everyone knows I can't cook worth a damn and the line at Primo's is too long on Saturday. So there.

Author
emilyb
Date
2007-03-28T17:46:05-06:00
ID
81064
Comment

drive that biga** truck down to the Swinging Bridge (if it's still there) sit on that sucker, get drunk and make that bridge sway to the rhythm of a mournful Hank Sr. song ! scratch the nipples, Em...get that girl some crotchless underwear ! Sandy

Author
Sandy Smith
Date
2007-03-28T19:10:15-06:00
ID
81065
Comment

My, look what Miss Joey is bringing out! Love it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-03-28T19:58:13-06:00
ID
81066
Comment

Always read the JFP online since I live in TX. It's how I find out what really happening in my native state. The lady that Joey describes in "The Last Ride of Cowboy Bob" was a lady that I knew from fishing. Was real nice and I was shocked/saddened at how she met her end. Now that I have dipped my toes in the water, I plan on jumping in on more of the conversations that take place here. Keep up the great work, JFP!

Author
BcoolJazz
Date
2007-03-28T20:01:18-06:00
ID
81067
Comment

Welcome Bcool. Love the name :)

Author
emilyb
Date
2007-03-28T20:14:23-06:00
ID
81068
Comment

Indeed, Chasing Amy is a totally awesome movie. I've made other commitments otherwise I'd see Come Early Morning.

Author
Ex
Date
2007-03-28T21:26:20-06:00
ID
81069
Comment

I LOVE Chasing Amy. I'm excited to know that Joey is living in O-town!! It would be sooo fun to have her at Chick Ball. Oh, and Em, you can sign me up for the beer drinking and BB Gun shooting as well. Donna, I didn't know you wrote for the Oxford American? My cousin worked for them back in the good ol' days. I still have all the music issues stashed away. :)

Author
andi
Date
2007-03-29T08:38:51-06:00
ID
81070
Comment

Just once, Andi. That was enough. ;-) Ditto on the welcome, Bcool.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-03-29T08:53:09-06:00
ID
81071
Comment

It’s a memoir of a southern journalist who lives in New York. North Toward Home?

Author
Droite
Date
2007-03-29T13:09:51-06:00
ID
81072
Comment

good book. Got it after reading a column on it by Paul Greenberg. very fun reading.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-03-29T13:34:12-06:00
ID
81073
Comment

Come Early Morning was one of the best movies I've seen in a very long time! If you didn't go watch it, you really missed out! I was going to ask when it would be out on DVD, but as I cruised the new releases at the Madison Wal-Mart I found that it was already out! Don't rent this one - buy it! It is worth every dime!

Author
ellis
Date
2007-04-01T13:11:17-06:00
ID
81074
Comment

Be sure to read "New York Days," too, 'Fish to get a fuller picture of Willie's move north and return home. (And these comments in no way imply that Joey is doing her next picture about these books, by the way. Just commenting on your comment.) Ellis, yes, it is a good film. It just came out on DVD, and is available in local videostores (or at least Blockbuster. I think they were involved with its release.) Great crowd last night, all. Hurry out to some Crossroads films this afternoon! Morgan Freeman's film is at 5 p.m.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-04-01T13:14:13-06:00
ID
81075
Comment

Morgan Freeman in "10 Items or Less" is also a must-buy. It's Morgan just the way we love him. Sighhhhh.....

Author
emilyb
Date
2007-04-02T07:55:07-06:00
ID
81076
Comment

Well I tried to download 10 Items or Less from this Clickstar company that allows you to legally download DVDs to your comp for $14-$20 each. Well after being charged twice, I still have no movie! Anyone know where I can find it around here?

Author
ellis
Date
2007-04-02T08:37:52-06:00
ID
81077
Comment

Watched "Come Early Morning" last night. I loved watching a southern woman portrayed as dysfunctional/smart, hurt/strong, abandoned/with friends, promiscuous/lonely, big heart/guarded, humble/angry, seeking answers/questioning religion, drunk/playful, strong/fragile, making money/spending money, working/promoted....and maybe above all, resilient! (and I could go on!) How much more real can it get? And Ashley Judd was absolutely perfect for this part!

Author
BKS
Date
2007-04-17T18:55:07-06:00

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