Ingrid Michaelson is making her film debut in Humor Me, directed by Sam Hoffman. The pair joined uInterview to speak about their time on set. “Humor Me was inspired a little bit by a project I did a couple years ago called Oh Just Telling Jokes, but it was essentially an original story about a struggling playwright named Nate, played by Jermaine Clement, who has to move in with his dad, Elliott Gould, in an old-age golf community in New Jersey when his wife leaves him and takes their kid,” Hoffman said.

“You know, that old story,” Michaelson joked.

“His wife is this art dealer who leaves him for a collector, and my wife is an art dealer, so there might be some fears that I’m working through,” Hoffman added to laughter.

“My character is a musician,” Michaelson says before adding that it makes sense why she was cast. “But she’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, which I am not,” she said. “And she’s going through her rehab and living with her mom in this retirement community, and so Alison, my character, and Jermaine’s character are the two young ones living among these older people, and so they’re thrown into this situation together and they bond. The connection grows as the movie goes on.”

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Hoffman jumped in to add that, “initially, I reached out to Ingrid because she is a musician, and I watched like every music video that she’d ever made, and I was like ‘wow, she’s kinda good on camera.’ And then I thought, she’ll know about life on the road and about drugs and alcohol, and I had this bad girl character I had written.” Michaelson later confessed that she never did drugs or drank alcohol.

“I had to learn how to ride a Vespa,” Michaelson said when Hoffman shared his vision of having his character on a motorcycle. “I don’t even ride a bicycle,” she laughed.

“But I’ll just say, all those surface things that I thought she might bring ended up not mattering,” Hoffman reflected, “because the movie is about family and about love and mothers and sons, and by extension mothers and daughters, and Ingrid connects to all of those things.”

“It’s like a big bursting heart on the screen. If you want to feel joy, see this movie,” Michaelson said.

“I went to school for musical theater, so I was in a bunch of shows, and after school I did a touring company of A Christmas Carol for little kids all around the Midwest… I was like, ‘this is not what I signed up for when I thought I was gonna be an actor,'” the singer described of her background and how she got interested in acting. “So I quickly started writing music and though, ‘oh I’m better at this, this is better for my soul,’ but I never lost the desire to act and to be on stage. And so when [Hoffman] approached me about being in a movie, I was like, ‘oh that would be fun and amazing,’ so it’s my first and only film role. I was on Broadway this summer and that was really fun.”

Michaelson appeared briefly in the hit show Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and said that acting on stage and for film are “completely different” experiences. “I remember the very first scene we shot – I realized I didn’t have to speak loudly, but not until I spoke loudly a few times, because I’m so used to projecting. So that was a quick learning curve,” she said. Michaelson described film as a “microcosm” of what she would normally do on stage. “It’s in a lot of ways, weirdly less intimate but also more intimate… because you’re not you but you’re being quieter and you’re close to people, and the camera’s right there, so there is this physical intimacy, but you’re protected because you’re not you.”

Hoffman, for his part, complimented Michaelson on her acting ability and called her a natural, saying she “never felt actor-y.” But the singer adds that  she struggled a lot at first mainly because of all her props and having to deal with the continuity of the scene. “That first scene taught me a lot really quickly,” she said.

“For me it was bliss because it’s not easy to get a movie up and going, so just to be there and have this movie happening was a dream for me,” Hoffman said. “That said, it was a little movie, we had to work really fast and late into the night, and there were some challenges but it was fun.”

“I think my favorite part was when it was freezing and we were in the sand trap. It was a really long day and we had to lay in a sand trap and sand it like a conduit for coldness, it just holds onto the cold,” Michaelson recalled. “I remember in between takes we were sitting in the van eating pizza and it was 1 a.m. and everyone was kinda salty and grumpy, but also kinda happy… it was that juxtaposition of, ‘I’m cold, I’m tired, I’m freezing, but I’m doing this amazing, fun thing,’ that almost makes it more fun, because you’re really working for this.”

Hoffman concurred: “I think that’s what indie filmmaking is. It’s hard and fun and nobody’s making any money, so everybody’s there because they want to be there. And I’ve been making movies my whole life so I was very comfortable on the set and I was trying to make it fun for everybody as much as I could. And so I think we had a good time for the most part.”

“Yeah, there were no divas,” Michaelson said. “Except me,” Hoffman joked.

Humor Me hit theaters on January 12.

Full interview transcript below:

Q: What’s the premise of Humor Me?

Sam: Well, Humor Me was inspired by a project I did a little while ago called Just Telling Jokes, but it was essentially a story about a guy struggling, played by Jermaine Clement, named Nate, who has to move in with his dad Elliot Gould at an old-aged golf community in New Jersey when his wife leaves him and takes their kid.

Ingrid: You know that old story.

Sam: Yeah, it’s kinda like his wife is this art dealer who leaves him for a collector and my wife is an art dealer and there might be some fears that I’m working through in the process of writing this. I will admit that I’ve talked to my therapist about it.

Q:Who do you play in ‘Humor Me?’

Ingrid: Yeah my character is a musician, which I think I know why you reached out to me, because I am on; but she’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict which I am not, luckily. She’s going through rehab and living with her mom in this retirement community so my character and Jermaines character are the two young ones living amongst all these older people, more mature people, and they are thrown into this situation together, so the bond at first over the fact that they are relatively the same age and then the connection kinda grows more as the movie goes on. Do you wanna add to that?

Sam: Yeah, I do want to add to that because it’s kinda finally because initially I reached out to Ingrid because she is a musician and I didnt know her, I just knew her music and loved her music and I’d watched every music video that she’d ever made and I was like “wow she’s kinda good on camera,” and then I thought, “plus she’ll know a lot about life on the road and about drugs and alcohol and I had this bad girl character that I had written, and so I was like “you’ve done drugs, you’ve been on the road,” and she was like “noo,” and I was like “what about alcohol,” and she was like “not really,” and I was like “well this character rides a Harley, you know how to do that, right?” and she was like “I have actually never been on a bicycle.”

Ingrid: Yeah, I don’t even ride a bike. So I had to learn how to ride a Vespa, which I was like “those seem so easy, you just get on them and then you go.” I didn’t think there was like balance involved, so like picture me, I had to ride with Jermaine on the back seat, a frosty March morning in the IKEA parking lot in Brooklyn just going around in circles, and I remember the next day my body ached so much because it was just so tense holding on, for, might I add, a scene where you could’ve totally put a stunt double. I almost drove into a tree with Jermaine on the back, and you told me, you were like “We could have just had a stunt double do that one.” It was the wide shot, it was terrifying. Then the second time I had to act while on and I never want to get on a Vespa ever again.

Sam: But can I just say that all those things, all those surface things, I thought that she might bring ended up not mattering. The fact of the matter is that the movie is about family, love, about fathers and sons, by extension, mothers and daughters, and Ingrid is all of those things and connect to all of those things and she was the first person who read the script and was like “Wow that’s got so much heart,” and it was very very encouraging because she was the first person that I even sent the script to, I mean the very first actor.

Ingrid: I love it, I mean it’s like a big bursting heart on the screen and if you wanna feel joy, see the movie.

Sam: Yeah, I like that. And when you liked it, it meant so much to me.

Q: Is this your first time acting in a film? 

Ingrid: I went to school for musical theater so I was in a bunch of shows and afterschool I did a touring company for The Christmas Carol for little kids all around the midwest and it was not a gender fluid production. It was the early 2000’s, we had not reached that yet, we weren’t ready for that yet, and I was his mother Ellie Cratchet and we would sing songs about Christmas time and all the kids would clap and my song was like a slow ballad about Tiny Tim dying basically and the kids would be like *clap clap.* I was 21, I was like “this is not what I signed up for when I thought I was going to be an actor, so I quickly started writing music and I was like “Oh I’m better at this, I like this, this is better for my soul.” But I never lost the desire to act, and be on stage and so when he approached me about being in a movie, I was like “Oh that would be fun and amazing” and yeah that was my first and only film role. I got to be on Broadway last summer and that was really fun.

Q: Is acting on stage different than on film? 

Ingrid: It’s completely different especially film. I remember the very first scene we shot, I realized I didn’t have to speak loudly, but not until I spoke loudly a few times, I remember because I’m so used to like projecting.

Sam: Right , did the sound guys like come over and they’re like…

Ingrid: No, Jermaine was like whispering, like his line was so quiet and I was like “oohhh I have a mic on, like literally taped to my boobs. I don’t have to scream talk, so that was a quick learning curve. It’s much more, I mean that’s more of a microcause, it’s like everything is just a smaller version of being on stage and when I’m on stage for my shows, I’m myself. I’m telling stories about my life and my songs that I’ve written and when you’re a totally different character, you move differently, you talk differently, you think differently. You embody this other person and it’s in a lot of ways weirdly less intimate, but then more intimate if that makes any sense. It’s like physically more intimate but emotionally less intimate because you’re not you, but you’re being quieter and your close to people and the camera is right there and so there is this sort of physical intimacy but you’re sort of protected because you’re not you.

Sam: But you were always so natural, from the time we started, you never felt actory. Like you always felt very comfortable and natural.

Ingrid: That first scene though, I had so many props. Props are horrific, I had a purse a cup of coffee. It was when we were in the cafe and i’m talking to the barista. But I had to keep my purse on one side for continuity and I had to have a cup filled with coffee.

Sam: Well there’s a technical, theres a technical aspect to acting. You have to do it the same and you have to remember in what line to put the purse down and when you push the cart. And some scripts writer will come up to you and say “nono.”

Ingrid: Yeah, like I would say “A” instead of “uh” and they’d be like “It’s actually ‘A’” and I’d be like “Oh okay oh.” That first scene taught me a lot very quickly.

Sam: But the funny this is you did like a little adlib in that first scene that’s in the movie.
Ingrid: I feel like thats where I’m my most comfortable when I’m being silly.

Sam: It’s always good to be the writer and director because then if they come up with something that’s better, you’re like “yeah I wrote that”

Q: What was your favorite memory from the set?”

Sam: Well for me it was bliss, because it’s not easy to get a movie up and running. So just to be there and have the movie happening was just a dream for me and so every moment was great. That said, it was a little movie and we had to do it really fast and we had to do it really late into the night , and there were some challenges but i always thought it was fun.

Ingrid: I think my favorite part was when we were like freezing in the sand trap and it was a really long day and whatever was happening was really cold and we had to lay in a sand trap and i didnt realize it until then that it was a conduit for coldness? It just hold on to the coldness and we were wearing these warming jackets in between takes and they are propping you up with sandbags and your necks sticking out and it doesn’t look good on camera and I remember in between takes we were sitting in the van eating pizza and it was like 1am and everyone was kinda like salty and like kinda grumpy but also kinda happy. Is that weird? I mean, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m freezing, but like then in between while you’re filming, you’re like “this is amazing. I’m getting to do this amazing thing,” and that was when Jermaine was being really silly and saying funny things and I was saying funny things and we were just like it’s that juxtaposition where it’s “I’m cold, I’m tired, I’m freezing, but i’m doing this amazing, fun thing,” that almost makes it more fun because you’re working. You feel like you’re really working for this and you’re just shoving pizza in your face and checking your teeth. They had to keep redoing my makeup because my nose just kept pouring out snot because it was cold. But that was I think , that was my favorite moment because it was hard and fun.

Sam: Right, I would agree because I think that it was hard and fun. I mean that’s what I think indie filmmaking is, it’s hard and fun and nobodys making any money so everyone kinda there because they wanna be there and I’ve been making movies my whole life. I was already comfortable on the set and I was just trying to make it fun for everybody as much as I could and so I think we all had a good time for the most part and also Jermaine is like amazing, Jermaine is so fun and so sweet and Elliot is as well.

Ingrid: Everybody was so easy going, like there were no divas.

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