"Like Father" writer/director Lauren Miller Rogen: "We heard no after no after no"

On an episode of "Salon Talks," Miller Rogen also spoke about the #MeToo movement and the complexities of family

Published August 10, 2018 4:00PM (EDT)

Lauren Miller Rogen (Matt Smith)
Lauren Miller Rogen (Matt Smith)

Actress, screenwriter and director Lauren Miller Rogen is the creative force behind Netflix's latest original film, "Like Father." This film, which Miller Rogen wrote, produced and directed, that finds an estranged father (Kelsey Grammer) and daughter (Kristen Bell), who reconnect after 26 years apart.

Bell, who plays a workaholic executive named Rachel, is left at the altar, and after a drunken night with her father, Harry, the two wind up on Rachel's planned Honeymoon cruise. The comedy feature film, or rather "dramedy," as Miller Rogen describes it, follows their complicated and funny journey of forgiveness.

On "Salon Talks," the filmmaker discusses how her own family's trauma and hardship grounded the film's arc, what it was like to collaborate with her husband, Seth Rogen and using comedy as a medium to raise money for Alzheimer's disease.

"Like Father" director Lauren Miller Rogen asks Netflix for a new official category: "dramedy"

For her, telling an authentic human story outweighs telling a purely comedic one.

Tell me about the film's story and why it was important to you?

The idea was pitched to me by Anders Bard, who's one of the producers of the movie. Luckily, I was not left at the altar and I have a fantastic dad.

So this isn't autobiographical.

It’s not 'The Lauren Story.' Thank goodness. The idea sparked me to create a character who was going to go through this journey, to create a woman who would feel the type of emotions that would come from this situation, which I thought would be such an interesting story to sort of navigate. The lows of being left at the altar, seeing your dad after 26 years. But also, the highs of a world like a cruise ship and just sort of the fun that can ensue there. That's what really drew me into it.

Now, one thing that I really appreciated about the film is there's some really big questions and ideas about family. That family can look many different ways, every different way, perhaps. You have Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer, who are Rachel and Harry, father and daughter. But you also have Harry and Gabe, who's Harry's best friend, who became the only and most important family in his life after he left his own family. That's pretty significant, that type of friendship being portrayed in film, the strength of that relationship. I was wondering if you can talk about the way that family informed this film.

Yes, family is a huge part of my life for sure. My family was very traditionally close. We had dinner together every night. My parents really respected each other and were very supportive of both me and my brother growing up. It was an interesting idea to explore a character who didn't have that and to put myself in her place, which I tried to do to the best of my ability. I spoke to a few friends who had sort of grown up with similar-ish stories and created a world that felt true of — sure, I haven't lived a life without my father, but I have experienced sadness and anger, which Rachel feels towards her dad. I've felt those things while I was writing the script. My mom, who has Alzheimer's disease, was becoming much more advanced in the disease and I was in this dark, angry place. I had to, myself, work past and work through the things that were sort of my holdups in my anger at my own situation and work through that.

That ended up being woven into Rachel's emotional story of looking at your world, your relationships. The things that have scarred us. The things that have made us angry or sad or funny or smart or happy and how do we work through all those things to get to the other side. I infused my own personal journey into the fictional one that we created.

It's interesting when you talk about these universal emotions or feelings that we all experience, though it's not necessarily anger or trauma towards the same thing. But we know what that feels like in some capacity in our lives. In that, for "Like Father," it's a comedy, but there's some really dark moments.

Yes, it’s a dramedy. I wish that that Netflix had a category called dramedy because let's be honest, that's what they're making so many of these days. They're fantastic. Please just create the dramedy category.

No, it is a comedy. Certainly, we've cast these people that are considered comedians. I think they give these amazingly emotional, beautiful performances, which I think makes the comedy stand out and thus I think the comedy makes the emotional performances and the emotional scenes makes you feel them even more because you've just been laughing, now you're crying. To me, that's my life. My life is sad one day and it's happy the next. Honestly, sad one hour and happy the next hour. I don't know your life, but I would guess you have some mix of that. That's being a human and I just wanted to reflect a human journey. How we accurately respond to these outrageous things that we all go through every day.

You see this in "Like Father," stretching the idea of what comedy means and blurring these genre lines. One thing you touched on a little bit, but I wonder if you can go deeper into is the trauma that family can produce. It's not always this place of love and home. It can produce real trauma that people deal with throughout their lives.

Again, I can only speak for myself, but like I really had a very normal, traditional, wonderful childhood with amazing parents, who not only supported each other but supported me, and I still have parent issues. I have friends with outrageous parental stories and they have issues. I think it's impossible to be a child who grows up and becomes a person without having some issue. At least for me, we want our parents to be superheroes, right? We don't want them to be people. As we get older, no matter what version we had during our childhoods, our parents eventually do become people. They eventually do get sick. They make mistakes. They are human beings who weren't perfect. Even though we thought they were and we wanted them to be. I would still love for my parents to be perfect, but they're not. They're humans and they're flawed. I think that in this movie, Rachel had sort of come to a place with her mom, who she talks about, that she brought her up normally. She did the best that she could and her scars are somewhat healed. But they’re deep in there, and that doesn't mean that they've gone away.

She's got that photo of her dad still in her memory box. They're still there. Once the Band-Aid gets ripped off, she's got to dive into there to explore that and come to the realization that her dad was a human who made a mistake and it’s sad. That's something I think all of us have at one point or another had to learn and maybe accept or still trying to accept. It's a crazy thing to see your parents as people.

You’ve worked with your husband Seth Rogen before. What was it like directing him?

It's just like everyday life, yes — kidding.

No, it was great. The first minute that he was on set, we were shooting something and he wasn't in it. He was just hanging out and he would like came up with a suggestion and my first instinct was to be like, 'I don't need his help. I can do this on my own.' Was a real two-year-old about it. Then, it literally took me like another 30 seconds to be like, 'Hello, what am I doing?' There's no one else I trust more than him. I don't think anyone is more talented than he is. He's my best friend, who does what I do. I'm so lucky to have him around, so it was great. He was around, his parents came on the cruise with us. I just felt I had my best friend there.

Do you think there's more in the future for you two as co-creators?

I hope so for sure, we're working on something now. We'll see what happens.

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That's exciting. As we all know, women are extremely underrepresented in Hollywood when it comes to writing and directing and even more so when it comes to comedy feature films. Can you talk about your journey to this point?

Yes, it's interesting. I myself have been really fortunate, I think, and haven't necessarily felt like an overt sexism, and [have] felt very fortunate because I know many women who have. However, it's interesting, I didn't have the confidence to say I wanted to direct this movie while I was writing it. I don't want to make up reasons as to why I didn't feel that confidence, but perhaps had there been more female directors — not to say there weren't, I had many people that I admired growing up, the Barbara Streisand's, Penny Marshall, Nora Ephron, etc., and women who are working today who I truly admire as well. But the statistics were not in our favor, and getting this movie made was not easy. We heard no after no after no from studios and production companies and financiers because they didn't want to take a chance on me.

Do I think that if I was a dude, they would have maybe been more willing to take a chance on someone who had already made a successful movie as the writer and producer? Maybe, but they didn't. But Netflix luckily is willing to take that chance. I do firmly believe that the tides are changing. I think that women are really starting to become leaders behind the camera in writing, directing, producing. I think that women are directing big comedies.

I'm hoping that the numbers this year are much better than last year's.

They were pretty bad last year.

I think this year's going to be different, because, I got to say even just in the last few months, just in hearing about things and getting to this point in my career, it's like, 'Oh, they're looking for a female director. They're looking for a female director. They're looking for a female director.' I'm really like, 'Please look for the best person for the job.' However, pretty excited people are looking for female directors because the thing is sometimes we are the best people for the job. You wouldn’t even consider us before. I'm glad that we're getting to come to the table. I feel optimistic.

Do you see the #MeToo movement, aside from its attention on sexual harassment, as opening people up to the inequities in Hollywood?

I do. Whether in one way or another, I think it's just giving women a voice. It's just saying, we're going to listen to your stories whether they're about your horrendous-not-OK situations that have happened or your scripts or your documentaries or whatever type of film you're trying to make or TV show. I have felt a shift, just in meetings that I've had. Just people wanting to listen in a way that they didn't before. I think the whole industry, and honestly even women as well, are paying attention to women who are rising up, coming up, more than they ever have.

I think that the #MeToo movement is something that unfortunately needed to happen and is rough and it’s all these horrible stories, but I'm so glad that women have felt strong enough to share those stories. I think it's changing and has already changed a lot.

Can you talk a little bit about Hilarity for Charity and the work you're doing?

Yes, we started Hilarity for Charity after my mom, Adele was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease when she was 55. I was 25 at the time, much younger than I ever thought I would be when I was losing a parent or losing a parent to that disease specifically. I spent the first number of years feeling very sad, and angry and depressed. We touched on that and then my friend came to me and was like, 'What if we do a variety show. We raise money for Alzheimer's with comedy and music.' I was like, 'Whoa.' Then we did it and it went well. More than that, other young people had reached out to us and said, 'Thank you for sharing your story. I'm young too.' Being a total narcissist I thought 'I'm the only one.'

Obviously that's so not true. It just became clear that young people needed and wanted a voice in this disease which, is traditionally considered to affect old people. Really one: had a unique opportunity to get attention, luckily, because my husband was willing to use his voice, which is awesome. Then when we started raising money, we were like, 'How are we going to raise money?' We're not raising the kind of money that's going to cure the disease. That's the government's job. They should be funding it more, which they're doing a little bit more these days, not enough.

It's getting better, but how do we help people today, which is what we do. We have a grant program where we provide in-home care to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it. We are just restarting, we needed to take a break for a little while, but support groups for young people that are online so they're easy to attend in our busy lives. We have a college program for college students to plan their own events and raise money and take action. The whole thing is just about changing the course of this shitty, awful disease.

By Rachel Leah

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