Brooklyn-based actress-playwright Halley Feiffer is probably best known for her work in heavy films like You Can Count on Me, The Squid and the Whale, and Margot at the Wedding. But recently she’s been transitioning into lighter, comedic fare. Feiffer, who appeared in season two of Flight of the Conchords, reteams this weekend with Jemaine Clement in the new Jared Hess film, Gentlemen Broncos (out today), in which she plays Tabatha, a budding romance writer who befriends aspiring fantasy writer Benjamin Purvis (played by Michael Angarano). She’s also currently wrapping up the Off Broadway play Still Life, co-starring with Dominic Chianese and Sarah Paulson at the MCC Theater. Vulture spoke with Feiffer over hot chocolate in Brooklyn.
You play a budding romance writer in Gentlemen Broncos. Do you have a trashy-romance-novel habit, yourself?
A little. I have to tell you two books I love, not that they’re trashy. They are very sexy: Judy Blume’s Wifey and Summer Sisters, which are full of inappropriate sex. I spent two consecutive summers devouring these books.
That could’ve helped with your character.
I didn’t even think about that until now. But she writes horse-fantasy-romance mysteries, which in my mind, creates her own genre. The kids in this movie are a little more chaste. Jared and Jerusha [Hess], who made the movie, they’re Mormon, so there is no cursing, no sex. But a lot of poop and testicle jokes.
Those still work these days.
I think they’re hilarious. My favorite kind of jokes. Her books are romantic, but not sexy.
You’ve worked now with Noah Baumbach and Jared Hess, directors with two distinctly warped views. Who’s more twisted?
I’d say Baumbach is darker. Jared’s world is … I used to think it was dark, but after seeing the movie a couple of times, it has some sad moments but I found it very uplifting. I think the movie can be very moving, in addition to all the testicle jokes. Baumbach is more cynical — In Noah’s world, it’s not weird for a 12-year-old to be drinking beer and masturbating in the library. Or curse at his mom on the tennis court. And in Jared’s world, it’s not that weird for everyone to wear high-waisted mom jeans and talk like Napoleon Dynamite. And I think they’re both geniuses at creating these heightened versions of their own realities.
What drew you to the script?
I think it’s genuinely funny, and I’m not just saying that. One of my character’s first lines is “Can I borrow some money to buy some tampons?” It’s the first time she meets Benjamin and that’s her way of hitting on him, and I think by making a reference to her vagina — even though she’s talking about her period and putting a tampon in it, she thinks it’s sexy.
You were in Flight of the Conchords — have you noticed that women either fall madly in love with Bret or madly in love with Jemaine?
Yes! That really exists. Whichever one they like, often they can’t understand how you would like the other. They’re like “Bret?!” “Jemaine?!” It’s very staunch, very fervent.
So, which camp did you fall into?
Oh, wow, now that I’ve dug myself in a hole, I can’t say both. I worked with Jemaine and I knew he had a wife and a baby, so I guess that was off-limits. I don’t know. I like them both and I think they’re both pretty darn cute.
That’s a pretty diplomatic answer. Was shooting in Utah fun?
So fun. We were in Salt Lake City and we all stayed at the Residence Inn. It was like college. We would have hotel parties, but they weren’t raucous, drug-fueled ones. We would watch these films of a friend of Jared’s who went to BYU. He made these Sci-Fi videos and has made over a hundred on VHS and shot with really low resources. We’d spend hours every night watching these movies and bonding over this project we were very passionate about.
On set, was there a rule about how much you could quote Napoleon Dynamite?
No, because if you meet Jared, he is Napoleon Dynamite.
So, it wouldn’t make sense to quote it.
Exactly. That’s really how he talks and it’s amazing how he got his performance out of his friend Jon Heder. Again, they’re Mormons, and there’s no cursing. And I think that’s why his world is so creative, because you have to find ways around these things that dominate our culture: cursing, sex, and that’s why they’re like ‘gosh’ and ‘dang it.’ We found ourselves saying “What the dump?” which is a favorite of Jared’s.