Emmy winner makes directorial debut with ‘Otherhood’

Kurt Anthony Krug
Special to The Detroit News
Otherhood - Patricia Arquette, Felicity Huffman, Angela Bassett - Photo Credit: Netflix / Linda Kallerus

Making the movie “Otherhood,” the feature film directorial debut of Cindy Chupack, was a decade-long marathon.

“I used to wonder how a movie can take 10 years to make, and now I feel like ‘How did you make it in 10 years?’” said Chupack (pronounced “shoe-pack”) with a laugh during an interview at The Townsend in Birmingham on July 23, where the Northwestern University alumna was promoting “Otherhood.” The film — which debuts Friday on Netflix — was screened later that night at the Emagine Royal Oak, where about 250 people attended.

Initially, Chupack — a Los Angeles-based writer/producer who won two Emmys and three Golden Globes for her work on “Sex in the City” and “Modern Family” — was on the fence about directing “Otherhood,” starring Oscar nominee Angela Bassett (“What’s Love Got to Do with It”), Oscar winner Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”) and Emmy winner Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”).

In it, long-time friends Carol (Bassett), Gillian (Arquette) and Helen (Huffman) are three empty-nesters who take an impromptu road trip to visit their respective sons Matt (Sinqua Walls, “Teen Wolf”), Daniel (Jake Hoffman, “The Wolf of Wall Street”) and Paul (Jake Lacy, “Rampage”) in New York City, and soon thereafter realize their sons aren’t the only ones who need to change.

“I did not have this itch to direct. It’s funny, I’ve loved collaborating with directors. In television, I worked with a lot of directors; they were mostly male, so there weren’t a lot of female role models. I really loved my career as a writer and I didn’t feel like (directing)… I wasn’t a director, but I fell in love with this movie,” she explained, laughing.

Chupack originally came aboard to rewrite “Otherhood,” an adaptation of William Sutcliffe’s novel “Whatever Makes You Happy.” Oscar nominee Mark Andrus (“As Good As It Gets”) had already written a draft, which Chupack didn’t want to change.

“I took the job defensively because I didn’t want anyone to make it into a big, broad comedy or a really dark, quirky indie. I loved the tone of it,” said Chupack. “I couldn’t wait to see who would be directing it and make a great movie out of it. Then it went into turnaround. About five years in, (producer) Cathy Schulman encouraged me to think about directing it, which I thought would help get it made because there at least would be a director onboard.”

Chupack learned firsthand how complicated directing is in terms of financing, scheduling, people’s availability and being a first-time female director. Despite it being such a baptism of fire, she enjoyed the experience and working with Bassett, Arquette and Huffman.

“Angela had always been on my radar,” said Chupack. “When we got (the script) to Angela, she just fell in love with it. That gave us some weight. Then Patricia was just miraculously open and she really loved the script too. The script finally found the right people. I had met with Felicity… and she was interested, so we finally had the perfect cast.”

According to Chupack, women of a certain age in Hollywood don’t get to work together very often, which makes “Otherhood” unique. Hollywood has ignored this demographic of women in their 50s and 60s, who are in this otherhood stage where they’re not old yet not young either. These three actresses all fit into that category.

“Patricia is almost always playing opposite men, so she was excited to do a movie opposite Angela, whom she always admired. The same for Felicity. They were excited to be in a movie about women and about female friendship. They all admired each other and knew each other in passing but hadn’t gotten to spend time together. They really did enjoy working together and you could see that in the film,” she explained.

“They ad-libbed (during the table-read) and I have that somewhere on my iPhone. I was just watching them in awe. I couldn’t believe I got to work with these three actresses. Just seeing them reading their lines was astounding. They definitely laughed a lot together.”

Chupack said Netflix is the best platform for “Otherhood.”

“The thing that happened before Netflix came along is the big studios can only make a certain number of films a year. Some of those spots are taken by the tentpole movies or the Oscar contenders or a big comedy like ‘Bridesmaids.’ This was in-between. There wasn’t really a place for it in that small line of movies,” she explained.

“Netflix has room and is interested in different voices, different stories. Even though we ended up with a great all-star cast, I think it helped that we didn’t have to have an all-star cast… It was just finally the right time and the right place with Netflix and it was the right cast.”



Available Friday