Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael are two comedians/writers/actresses who have gained recognition on nearly every platform a comedian can take advantage of these days. College buddies at NYU, they studied improv comedy at New York’s UCB theater where they performed their long running show, "Rode Hard and Put Away Wet," before Hollywood scooped them up to write the Kate Hudson/Anne Hathaway vehicle “Bride Wars.” Since then, Wilson has put in stints on TV as an SNL cast member and on the kooky (and sadly cancelled) ABC sitcom “Happy Endings.” Raphael appeared in “Year One,” starred in the "Bachelorette"-parody web series “Burning Love” (coming soon to E!), and is a co-host of the addictive and hilarious bad movie podcast “How Did This Get Made?”
Not content to leave a single media avenue unexplored, Wilson and Raphael’s co-written, co-starring indie flick “Ass Backwards,” directed by Chris Nelson, made its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Sporting a supporting cast of Alicia Silverstone, Paul Scheer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Cryer, Brian Geraghty, and Bob Odenkirk, “Ass Backwards” follows the mishap-laden road trip of Kate (Raphael) and Chloe (Wilson), two completely delusional and co-dependent best friends on their journey to reclaim lost glory in a "Toddlers & Tiaras"-style child beauty pageant.
We recently caught up with Wilson and Raphael in Los Angeles to talk road trip goggles, writing complicated female characters, and the particular challenges of indie filmmaking.
What was the inspiration for this story? Did the child pageants or the road movie idea come first?
June: I think what came first was more the state of our lives at a certain period of time, post-college, when we were living in New York together and were just really delusional about where we were in our lives. I think that kind of delusion and these characters that are just building each other up in all of the wrong ways and have this really weird co-dependent friendship was the beginning of the kernel.
Casey: The beginning of the end. And then we went on a road trip, a horrible road trip, to South Carolina and about seven other states. June mapped it out and it was a pretty straight shot I thought, New York to South Carolina, but just getting into other states, dipping in and out of them, and June’s planning was so poor, we had cell phones, hers had been shut off, mine was low on battery, so I remember being in the phone booth asking my dad to look up bus routes for us. I was like, "Is there a flight I could get on?"
June: What happened on the road trip was that our friendship was really tested, we were in this car together for so long.
Casey: At one point we were, what was that restaurant? “Restaurant” is the liberal term for that. It’s Ruby Tuesdays or something, we were drinking cosmos at a Ruby Tuesdays, weird things were happening.
June: Do you remember we ran into that guy? ... She’s giving me the abort sign.
Casey: (whispers) The man with one arm?
June: Yeah. He had a hook for a hand. The Brian character [Brian Geraghty] who’s on “Intervention” and gets called back, is loosely based on this character who we met along the way, who worked in this restaurant, not the Ruby Tuesdays, a mom and pop type place. They were selling thongs there with the name of the restaurant on it, and he handed us the thong with the hook.
Casey: I remember, at the time, we were like “Oh that guy’s kind of cute.” When you’re on a road trip, anything goes.
June: We had Road Trip Goggles on.
Casey: I think we just loved the idea that the road trip can lend itself to so many different things. The pageant element sort of came later because we were obsessed with “Toddlers & Tiaras” and just that weird, fucked up world of pageants and we just thought that would be fun and would say something if that was their end game.
June: Yeah, and I think we also love this idea of arrested development. We really love these characters’ view on the world, the way that they see things is so positive, their so upbeat and enthusiastic about everything and then once this trip starts, things start to come into sight more.
I feel like you’re sending up "Toddlers & Tiaras" and this "Sex and the City" type of person, but you’re also empathetic, you’re not condemning it, you’re embracing it, it’s real, was that something you saw in the culture that you wanted to talk about?
Casey: I appreciate you saying that, I think we never wanted anyone to think we’re just making fun of this. We love "Toddlers & Tiaras," we also see that it’s kind of depraved. Similarly, with the lesbian communists, that’s a funny concept, but it’s also kind of cool, they’re the straight men to our craziness. We liked showing the dualities.
June: More than the actual pageant world, what we were mining it for was the idea that there’s this trauma that they haven’t dealt with. It was less about pageants, though when we thought of that it seemed the perfect backdrop. It was more about, as a child, not being able to, and this is going to sound so psychoanalytical, but really express their feelings. Instead, they were like, it’s okay, you’re great and I’m great.
Casey: Just accepting that they’re losers and that they lost. They’re friends that have spent their entire lives building each other up and trying to avoid the central fact that they are losers. So it’s just kind of funny that they have one final showdown and chance to be okay with being losers.
You have both done so many different types of media: TV, film, web, podcasts. What has it been like to do the indie film/Sundance thing?
Casey: It’s been hell. (laughs)
June: There are challenges, most of them have been financial. We’ve definitely had the indie experience of just the battle to raise the money and then we lost money and had to shut down, and then came back and raised money again, and we’re still raising money. We started at UCB doing a show called "Rode Hard and Put Away Wet," and we were pretty much involved in every aspect of that production, so similarly, I think when do an indie film, you’re like, "Oh I’m everything to this movie." I wear all hats. I think it was challenging but it’s also been the most fulfilling because we’re so involved in everything. It’s cool because the only real creative roadblocks we ran into were just financial. That, to me unlike anything else I’ve ever done, was so amazing. To not get notes, to really just be like, okay, we can do exactly what we want. Save for money issues and having to change things because of that.