Directing your first feature film is a nerve-wracking experience on its own, but directing your first feature film on a working cruise ship? That only complicates things more. But Lauren Miller Rogen did just that with her directorial debut, Like Father, which premiered on Netflix on Friday. The film, which was also written by Rogen, focuses on Rachel, played by Kristen Bell, a workaholic who is left at the altar and decides to take her intended honeymoon cruise with her long-estranged father, played by Kelsey Grammar. “It’s not that I’ve been left at the altar, and I have a really great dad,” Rogen explained. “But I just needed to write it.” Here, she talks about what went into getting the film off the ground, her experience shooting mostly on a cruise ship with husband Seth Rogen, and the cult of the 2012 film she wrote and starred in, For a Good Time, Call….
How was this film conceived?
The idea was pitched to me by Anders Bard, who is one of the producers. Right away, I could envision this moment of when they see each other from across the room at the wedding for the first time. That was it. I had this feeling. And it’s not that I’ve been left at the altar, and I have a really great dad. But I just needed to write it. I begged Anders for a few months, and finally he let me start writing it. Now, in retrospect, I think what it was is that I was going through a somewhat emotional time in my life, because my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease is becoming a bit more advanced, and it just sparked the idea of really diving in on a woman’s emotional journey through a really dark time in her life. It took me close to two years to write it. To arrive at the place that I did, I have something like 17 drafts of the first 20 pages.
When Anders came to you with the idea, what was the story at that point?
Literally just the premise: a woman gets left at the altar, and her dad, who she has not seen since she was a little girl, shows up and they go on her honeymoon cruise.
At what point did you know that you’d be directing it, as well?
When we talked about [the script], we hadn’t gotten that far. We did go to a few women directors right when I finished it, and two of them immediately said, “Why are you sending me this? You should direct it.” And then Anders was like, “What do you think? Do you want to direct it?” And I was like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” None of this would have happened without him being so supportive and willing to take a chance on me directing this as my first feature.
How long had you been considering directing a feature?
I went to film school 16 years ago, so I guess for 16 years I’ve been thinking about it. Or more than that. A very long time. A lot of my life.
Did the experience live up to 16 years of expectations?
Oh, gosh. I mean, that’s a lot of buildup, right? It was amazing, and I truly had such an extraordinary experience. Even the crazy moments. We shot on a cruise ship, and were supposed to leave on the Saturday when Hurricane Irma hit Miami. We were evacuated in the middle of the shoot. I should’ve been completely freaking out, but it just felt so natural and exactly what I should be doing. I was so fortunate to have an amazing cast and crew, of course, but I felt very ready. It both matched and exceeded expectations.
How did you cast Kristen Bell in the lead?
We had met a few times super casually. We have a mutual friend who we are both close with, but hadn’t really spent much time together before. But when we sent the script over to her, I also e-mailed my friend and was like, “Can you tell her I’m normal?” Then we met, and when she said she wanted to do it, I was like, “I can’t believe this is happening.” She really is just everything you want her to be and more. She’s nice and kind and insanely smart, and really approached playing this character in a way that was so authentic and real. She and I spent a lot of time talking about real female emotion, and how we could create a character that was reacting in a way that actual women would react in these insane circumstances. It was such an honor to work with her on my first feature. And I could honestly say the same about Kelsey. I don’t want to make a thing about it, but he trusted me and is a really experienced, distinguished male actor. And he was so willing to open up. One time on set, we were about to shoot an emotional scene and he started to well up, and I was like, “Save it!” And he goes, “I have so many wells.” And he was so willing to dive into those wells.
Was it always the plan to have your husband also star in it?
He wasn’t going to be in it at all. It was like two months before shooting and we were in Canada brushing our teeth, and Jeff was written as a character from Missouri, and I look over at him and said, “What if Jeff was Canadian?” And he goes, “I’m not going on the cruise ship.” Over the next few days, we talked about it, and he’s never played a Canadian in a movie before, and it got to the point where he thought of too many Canadian jokes and he was like, “All right, I’m in.”
How was he at taking direction?
Oh, he’s amazing. Seth is the most hard-working, talented human being I’ve ever come across. When he was first on set and suggested something, my first instinct was to be defensive and like, “No, this is my movie.” Then I was like, “I don’t trust anyone more than I trust him, and I think he is the most talented filmmaker ever.” So it was really amazing to have him around. He’s used to working in a super collaborative world, so it was like I had a trusted companion when he was around.
And how was shooting on a cruise ship?
Crazy. Royal Caribbean came on super early as partners. They were amazing from the beginning. It’s a very cruise positive movie, if you will. I spent 24 days on a cruise ship over the past year. It’s a wild place. I had never been on a cruise before writing this movie, and wrote it completely from the Internet and my in-laws, who are big cruisers. It was wild, but a lot like shooting in New York City, because it was a working cruise ship and there were real cruisers on it. Some of the people were like, “You’re making a movie, can I be in it?” And other people were like, “Get out of my way, you’re ruining my life.” Just like New York.
How do you feel ahead of this release compared to when For a Good Time, Call… was released?
It’s funny because it’s so different. The way Netflix releases movies, which is so cool, is all about instant gratification. There’s not a lot of long-lead press and awareness. They want people to hear about a movie and then be able to see it. Whereas For a Good Time Call…, that was a piece of my soul in a different way and was such a long time between when we shot it and when we sold at Sundance and then when it came out in theaters. That was like six months of releasing a movie, and because it was so small, we kept promoting it for like two months after it was out. It was such a tiny movie that could, and just kept going. We never expected it to even be in theaters.
It’s really lived on as a cult favorite.
Even someone recently tagged me of a tattoo they got of the pink phone. That’s crazy! Please don’t tattoo a cruise ship on your body after this movie.