Wendie Malick, Dream On, and Meeting your Heroes
When I was a teenager my family had an illegal cable box, which meant we could watch cable television without paying for any of it. It was the best. During those years I couldn't get enough of it. One summer I watched Strictly Ballroom everyday, sometimes twice a day, because the pay-per-view would keep resetting and we never had to pay. I was in heaven! (And I can recite every line and do every dance step in that film to this day.)
One of my favourite shows became the HBO series "Dream On", starring Brian Ben Ben and Wendie Malick. The premise centred on a recently divorced man whose subconscious thoughts (sometimes mean, often salacious, usually comical) would appear to the audience in the form of old black and white TV/film clips; a result of him growing up in front of the television as a kid and retaining all of these in his memory.
I was obsessed with the cutaways to the clips of his inner thoughts. And I loved how racy the content was for 14-year-old me. I probably shouldn't have been watching it, and that made it even more exciting, naturally.
I also loved the performances, especially Wendie Malick. I would go on to love her work for decades to come, through Just Shoot Me, Frasier, Hot in Cleveland, Bojack Horeseman and movies like Scrooged and The American President. I was a Wendie fan! And honestly... who isn't? She's fantastic.
The concept of Mother of All Shows: a person getting sucked into a 70s variety show in her mind as a coping mechanism, came to me as a result of a lot of inspirations: The Wizard of Oz, Pleasantville, even parts of All That Jazz, and most certainly Dream On. Something about seeing someone's thoughts and feelings through nostalgic clips and moments resonated so deeply for me. When David James Brock and I began writing the script, we talked about Dream On a lot. It was a touchstone.
When we were looking for someone to play the mother character, Rosa, we discussed the actors we thought would be right for it, and it never occurred to me that we would ever get to work with Wendie. As a Canadian filmmaker making a lower-budget, independent feature film I know there's only so much clout and sway we have to attract talent that is used to working on bigger and more expensive films and series in Hollywood. So when one of our producers mentioned her and that he had chatted with her in the past for a different feature, my heart leapt a bit inside. Could this even be possible? Should we reach out?
We did. She loved the script. And then suddenly, in one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments, Wendie Malick was calling me and we were talking about Dream On and how much the show impacted her career, and I just couldn't believe it. I thought: even if something falls through here (and there are so many moving parts, so something can always fall through) and she can't do it for some reason, I got to have that call. I got to tell her what an impact she had on me.
And then... nothing fell through. And she was going to be in the film. Thrilling!
She came to the freezing cold small town in Ontario we were shooting, threw herself into the experience, bought everybody pizza for a movie night, enchanted us with her talent and skill, and knocked this role right out of the proverbial park. To direct her is to constantly be inspired and delighted, and to act opposite her is a masterclass in listening, and being present. She is so, so funny. Take after take. And also so moving. All that while being the loveliest person to everyone on set. The picture above is of us sitting on set talking about Carroll Burnett and Betty White to pass the time when the power went out once day on set.
There have been a lot of full circle moments on this project, and this is one of the biggest. When you get to work with the people who inspired you to be in this business at all, it's an enormous gift, and such a humbling experience. I still pinch myself that it happened!
And I really can't wait for you all to see her performance as Rosa. It'll knock your socks right off, I tell you.
What a gift. Dream on, indeed.