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Lizzy Caplan and Leslye Headland on Bachelorette, Mrs. Robinson, and Empathizing With Assholes

Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

The League of Badly Behaved Women gets several new film recruits this week with Bachelorette, the Sundance breakout starring Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fischer, and several boatloads of cocaine. It is not a family movie; it is the kind of movie that requires its actresses to explain teabagging on morning television. But before Bachelorette was scandalizing audiences with its copious drug use and female cruelty, it was an off-Broadway play written by Leslye Headland. Vulture caught up with Headland (who also directed the film) and Caplan to discuss the aforementioned mean girls, the reaction to Bachelorette, and why Mrs. Robinson should get her own movie.

There’s a quote near the end of the movie, when one of the guys says, “That woman is fucked in the head.” And then Lizzy’s character interrupts: “But she’s a good friend anyway.” It’s obviously the theme of the movie, but I wanted to discuss your definition of the word “friend.”
Lizzy Caplan: [to Leslye Headland] Before we get into that, nice work making me ADR that line. Apparently [sing-song voice] it’s the theme of the movie. [laughs]
Leslye Headland: You like how I didn’t make a big deal about it? Can you imagine like right before you ADR if I was like, “This is the theme. No pressure. No pressure.”
Caplan: I think for these girls, a friend is somebody that they have a lot of history with, regardless of common interests in the present day. It’s more: They grew up together, they went through some shit together back in the day, and so they’re family as much as they’re friends.
Headland: And something that’s important to me with this film: They’re obviously very flawed people, these women. But what was important to me in that last act was that they actually did the right thing. I’ve seen so many comedies where at the end somebody is like, “I’m sorry I’ve been an asshole; I love you.” It’s like … how is that … fuck you. Kirsten’s character, [Lizzy’s] character — you guys do a lot of stuff you probably shouldn’t have done. But the difference is that in the last 30 minutes, you fix it. Or you do your best to.
Caplan: And even before that, from the moment the dress gets ripped — which is an accident; it’s a cruel, horrible thing that we’re doing, but it is an accident — we spend the whole rest of the movie trying to fix it. If we were real sociopaths,we’d be like, “Fuuuckk you! Hahah!” But we’re not. We’re trying to make it better.

There’s like a sense of duty between them. An obligation. Which I think is sort of true for a lot of female friendships, especially the ones that start in high school.
Headland: But also: Who else do they have? I mean, women who are that self-involved and self-loathing and have so many problems, who else are they going to talk to? Their family? I wouldn’t able to tell my dad that I had an eating disorder. You know what I mean? Like I couldn’t tell —
Caplan [leaning into the recorder]: Hi, Daddy!
Headland: But they do depend on each other that way.
Caplan: I’m not sure how many friends these girls are making now, at 30 years old, because they still act like their 16 years old. Which to other 30-year-olds is probably very off-putting. But makes sense when they’re together.

I know you’ve gotten a lot of “Mean Girls grown up” comparison, and Heathers too, but the thing about those groups is, they don’t stay together. They self-destruct.
Headland: That’s the other thing that was really important to me. When [Lizzy’s] and Kirsten’s characters reconnect in the second act, there wasn’t a moment of, “Hey, I’m sorry I said that thing.” Do you know what I mean? A lot times with my girlfriends you just don’t talk about it. You’re just like, “Okay that was cunty. I’m gonna go.”
Caplan: Yeah, well, there’s something really amazing about being able to be as cruel as you’d be to your sister, to your friend.
Headland: That dynamic of three girls comes a lot more from me and my sisters than any girls I knew in high school. It is more than a clique that needs to be destroyed. You know, these girls that really don’t have anybody else.

So this script was on the Black List back in 2008, it’s been around for a while. What do you do when you learn that Kristen Wiig is also developing a female comedy about a wedding?
Headland: I thought, “It’s so different,” you know? My film is trying to say something you can’t say in a studio movie because they wouldn’t let you. Like they wouldn’t let them do coke. Once it opened though, there were conversations: Should we change the title of the film because its so dissimilar? Do we want to separate it from that film? I just decided around the time we were prepping not to make any creative decisions based on Bridesmaids, because 25 years from now I want to look at the movie and say, “That’s the film I wanted to make.” Even like casting Rebel [Wilson], who was also in that film. She was perfect for this part. I think I would be a bad artist and a bad director if I would have said, “Well, she was in Bridesmaids, so … “

Was there anything too mean that you had to cut from the film?
Headland: Nooo. If anything they went even further. Like that scene with the stripper.
Caplan: Where she’s like cleaning her vagina with the wedding dress. Comedic gold.
Headland: But I was like [lowers voice], “That’s disgusting … I’m not … we’re not going to keep … ” And then as we were editing it my editor said, “You have to keep it. This is gold.”
Caplan: She also did a few takes where she put hand sanitizer in her butthole. Amazing.
Headland: But no, it was never toned down. That’s the great thing about making it for no money: that no one is paying attention.

Was there anything in the script that made you nervous, Lizzy? The blow-job monologue?
Caplan: When I read it I wasn’t like [society-lady voice], “Oh! My word!” Which I guess makes me wonder if I should have been more offended? [laughs]

What are people most offended about?
Caplan: The cocaine use people don’t … love. They like it for the film but that’s what comes up the most: “But you’re doing cocaine! And you’re girls!” 
Headland: I was really shocked the first time I had a Q&A for the play.
Caplan: I remember that.
Headland: It just never occurred to me [the characters] were unlikable, it never occurred to me. I mean, I got that they were assholes. But see I empathize with the assholes. Like, I watch The Graduate and I wonder why the whole movie isn’t about Mrs. Robinson. Who the fuck cares about these stupid assholes? Once she’s out of the movie, I turn it off.
Caplan [in Dustin Hoffman voice]: “Elaine.”
Headland: Who cares? I don’t. What happens to her? Her life is so compelling to me. I wanna watch her. So, the first Q&A I had for that play … I … whoa … I got so lectured by people. I had people freaking out. “I don’t understand what you’re doing!” “What are you trying to say?” And just in my experience being with the script for five or six years: It’s because they’re women. I’m sorry. It is. If it were all men, no one would care.
Caplan: No way!
Headland: Like, you don’t watch Taxi Driver and hear people object: “I’m sorry, all taxi drivers aren’t like that.”
Caplan: Exactly!
Headland: No, but you put three beautiful girls who really should be happy and have no reason to be upset — [leans into recorder] I’m doing quotation marks, ironically — you put them up there and show them with a lot of self-loathing and anxiety and it pisses people off.
Caplan: We were just talking about how there are some other similar-vein movies coming out, girl-themed comedies. And a lot of them are like, “Oh yeah, that was well-received and it’s a really cute movie and it was really well-done and the performances were great, yay yay yay!” Our movie is either making you really happy or pissing you off. And to me, it’s the only kind of movie I ever want to make.

Lizzy Caplan and Leslye Headland on Bachelorette