By Hans Pedersen, Jan. 15, 2015.
The trio that brought you the black-and-white indie Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same are at it again.
This time, though, actresses Lisa Haas and Jackie Monahan have teamed up with director Madeleine Olnek to create The Foxy Merkins, “a female hustler movie.”
Echo Magazine caught up with the creative forces behind the film in Park City, Utah, – during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival – to discuss their new project.
Echo: How was making The Foxy Merkins different from your last film?
Olnek: Well, Jackie and I didn’t let Lisa push us around the way she did last time, right?
Haas: I learned my lesson.
Olnek: Seriously, I wanted to make this female hustler movie. But we actually made this movie together from day one, so that was the big difference, whereas Space Alien existed as a play that I’d done productions of independent of Jackie and Lisa.
Monahan: Wait, Lisa wasn’t in the play?
Olnek: She was in my plays, but she wasn’t in Space Alien [the play].
Monahan: Who played Lisa’s part?
Olnek: It was Florence Henderson, that’s how old the play was. [laughing]
Monahan: I was in the bald cap situation. That took a few hours each time … I thought that was a pain in the ass. But, actually having to get up and put my own makeup on – that was even worse. [laughing]
Echo: Where did you get the idea for the “female hustler movie”? I know it was sort of an homage.
Olnek: Yes, years ago I wanted to make a film called My Own Private Wisconsin and, actually, we started that and then … that all got left behind in an early incarnation.
I remember when Dustin Lance Black won the Academy Award and said the campfire scene [in My Own Private Idaho] gave him the courage to come out. I was also really moved by the movie, especially that scene. I thought about how that’s an iconic thing, and kind of a torch for a lot of gay men. And when you’re a woman, in the commercial world, the roles that women play aren’t as adventurous – even though women in real life are that adventurous – we don’t get to see those same roles. So, what happens when you go to those hustler movies? You just project yourself into those male characters.
Our friend was complaining about how angry she was when she came out and found out there were no prostitutes for lesbians. That was really funny to me, so I just imagined what this world would look like.
Echo: So, who’s gay here and who’s not? Is anyone out?
Olnek: Jackie’s the only one who’s gay. No, we’re all gay. [laughter all around]
Monahan: I prefer to be called queer. I don’t like labels.
Haas: I prefer [over-pronouncing] HOMO-sexual.
Olnek: The labels I prefer are “talented” and “beautiful.” No, we’re all out, and we’ve all paid a price. We can say very honestly in “The Judges’ Room”.
Monahan: I like to call myself Jackie-sexual.
Olnek: Jackie’s out in her comedy, Lisa’s out in her thing. And I’ve been called “gay Madeleine.”
Monahan: They call her “the lesbian Woody Allen.” That’s not cool; they don’t call him “the straight Woody Allen.”
Olnek: It’s totally cool.
Echo: What do you think about the state of LGBT cinema? Are we boxed in or is there freedom to do what you want?
Monahan: I’d say there’s freedom to do what you want. I feel like it’s different for every generation, but the younger generation is like “who cares, everybody’s just equal.”
Olnek: I feel when people feel depressed about the state of LGBT film it has to do with what’s only going on in commercial and big-budget film. And it’s like, no, in independent film, there’s all these different things going on. The bottom line is, things are only going to keep getting more interesting because as the world allows more freedom of expression, more interesting things are going to come out.
Echo: Can you talk about the collaborative writing process?
Olnek: I do this practice of automatic writing, which follows these certain rules. You read about it in Natalie Goldberg’s books. You have to keep your hand moving as quickly as possible, you can’t cross out, you can’t rewrite anything. The surrealists pioneered it in the ‘30s in Europe. So, I’ve done it for years. I taught them and drilled them with the rules.
Monahan: And she didn’t tell me right away, so after we did the first thing, she was like, then you have to read it to each other! It’s stream of consciousness, you had to write for 10 minutes straight and then read it to one another. That was hard. [nervous laughter all around]
Haas: But the rules help a group of people do something together, I think.
Olnek: So as we write and we do rounds of writing, ideas emerge. And then we feed them back into the writing, and that’s how we get into more layers.
Echo: Was there stuff you decided to leave out?
Olnek: We shot many scenes for this movie and a great deal of consideration went into the construction of the experience, not just what scenes were in the movie, but where they were placed and how that contributed to your journey.
Echo: What was it like seeing the movie in front of audience?
Haas: It was great!
Monahan: I just about had a heart attack.
This hysterical homage to male prostitution films such as My Own Private Idaho chronicles the intimacy that develops between two female prostitutes looking for rich lesbian customers.
The more experienced gal, Jo, (Jackie Monahan) takes the novice Margaret (Lisa Haas) under her wing, teaching her the ins and outs of the business. Spinning this fictional world is director Madeliene Olnek, who strikes a winning balance of humor and sensitivity.
From the Port Authority bus terminal to the front stoop outside Manhattan’s swanky East side Talbot’s, Jo and Margaret haunt locations where they’ll find housewives to sleep with for cash. While Margaret develops feelings for her new companion, Jo is ultimately looking for the right guy.
The Haas and Monahan collaborated with Olnek on the script. The three previously worked together on the LOL-funny Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (a must-add for your Netflix queue that’s already becoming an LGBT classic). And while you might miss Monahan’s gut-busting alien voice from that sci-fi comedy, here we see a more tender side to the comedian and actress.
And Haas is skilled at evoking empathy from the audience, or playing her endearing naïveté for laughs. Both she and Monahan seem willing to take any fall for a comic bit, in the tradition of comic greats like Gilda Radner.
Oddball moments keep roping in the laughs, culminating with a man at a cemetery selling merkins (if you haven’t Googled it, they’re toupees for a woman’s private parts). The guy’s credited as “Mumbling Erotic Accessory Salesman/CNN Executive” and the prevailing wisdom from the scene is that wearing a merkin will make you look thinner.
It’s an offbeat heap o’ fun that does falter here and there, losing only a little steam before hitting its final strides.
You might ultimately swear there really is a female prostitution ring operating in front of Talbot’s: it’s a sign that the scenario on which this offbeat adult comedy hinges is a perfectly believable one. With characters both relatable and outrageous, the film is packed with plenty of chuckles, giggles and guffaws.
– Hans Pedersen