The Problem With People Director Chris Cottam and Writer / Star Paul Reiser discuss the inspiration behind the new film, the incredible cast, and more, in this exclusive interview.
This film was granted an Interim Agreement by SAG.
The Problem With People Synopsis: Two distant cousins who’ve never met – one in NYC, the other in the smallest town there is in Ireland – come together to finally put an end to a generations-long family feud. It doesn’t go well. The Problem With People, set in beautifully lush Irish countryside, is a heartwarming comedy about family, world peace … and sheep.
We caught up with the director of The Problem With People, Chris Cottam, as well as writer and star Paul Reiser. The two discuss the incredible cast that includes Jane Levy and Colm Meaney. Paul reveals the inspiration behind the film, and Chris admits what it is that drew him to the story.
Paul Reiser and Chris Cottam Talk The Problem With People
Mama’s Geeky: Paul, what was the inspiration behind The Problem With People?
Paul Reiser: It’s so self serving. I wanted to go to Ireland. Nobody was sending me. So I said, I guess I should write it. You know, because it’s so easy to make a movie. But no, it literally started seeing Local Hero in 1983. I love that movie. It remains one of my favorite movies. I love small movies. And that was such a beautiful location, such a beautifully made movie that I had it in the back of my head that I want to make a movie like that. I want to go to Ireland. It was just loose in the back of my head.
Then, in the last couple of years, I said I should probably sit down and write it because it’s not going to happen otherwise. And given that I had not really ever done it on my own, I put out a feeler. I should probably write with somebody and somebody suggested my writing partner Wally Marzano-Lesnevich, whom I’d never met. We met and I said, What do you think of this idea? And he started playing.
Literally all I had was New York guy goes to Ireland – I don’t know why. Funny Stuff ensues. And that was all it was. And sometimes that’s enough. But we kind of dug in and said, what if their related? What if it’s a friction between two sides of the family? Well, what if it’s about the world’s conflicts? And this is a small scale example of what the problem is with people. And then we stumbled into this structure that really resonated with us.
And I met Chris, who responded to the script, and I said, maybe you’re the guy to do this. We started this before COVID so we had plenty of time to chat about it. We didn’t make it until recently.
Mama’s Geeky: Chris, was it like for you coming onto this project, and what was it that made you want to be a part of it?
Chris Cottam: It’s quite simple. If I get a script, and I really laugh, I’m like, Oh, this is gonna be good. If it’s a comedy, and I’m laughing. Because it’s not often things leap off the page. You have to put a bit of work into how you could visualize it, or how you can make it better, or what you can bring to it. Whereas this I just found very funny. I read it twice, and the first time I read it, it’s just super funny. And the second time I read it, I’m like, Oh, actually, this has tons of heart as well.
I think, hopefully, one of my styles in my work is that I make stuff that’s funny, but also that does have heart. So when I got a chance to meet Paul, and tell him that I loved it, tell him that if I was given the opportunity, I’ll do it like this, it was a bit of a dream come true. The first time I met him, I went up to his house, and we had coffee looking out over L.A. and chatting and thinking, this would be great if we could just get on a plane and go to Ireland and make this. And then we had to persevere, because it’s never that easy making the movie. But we did persevere and we eventually got around to doing it. It was a bit of a fairy tale without sounding too cheesy.
Paul Reiser: As a writer, when you meet somebody who not only responds to the script, but what is it about it that they get, and with Chris, he got all the obvious things you can get with the story. But sometimes he would comment on something that was in the sidebar of the script, in the stage direction, or when we talked about the famous curtain scene, then Chris had an idea about the sound effects and I went, I love that you’re already thinking of the sound effects. And that was the most laborious editing thing that we spent hours on. You know, what’s the funniest sound effect and how many, and when, and where.
Chris Cottam: There were about fifty different elements that go into that sound. I think it’s a cat screaming in there somewhere.
Mama’s Geeky: I love that scene. Sometimes when a joke keeps going, it’s not funny anymore, but that scene I was dying the whole way through.
Paul Reiser: What’s funny is, as a comic and as a writer, I think of this all the time. Sometimes a joke goes on too long. It’s like, well, now it’s not funny. But if you go just a little bit longer, now it’s funny again. That is a very slippery patch of terrain, like, do I double down and keep going?
Mama’s Geeky: Can we talk about the rest of the cast, too? Because everyone is so great. I love Jane Levy so I was excited to see her be a part of this.
Paul Reiser: I’ll talk about Jane. I did a show that I wrote and produced five years ago, called There’s Johnny on Peacock. It’s about the Johnny Carson Show behind the scenes in 1972. And she’s the star of it. The crazy thing is, I never met her until then, but I grew up with her dad. Her dad and I were we had a very, very popular rock band in my neighborhood, when we were 12. It was popular within a very small apartment building. But anyway, I had lost touch with him. Jane Levy was on the scene, and somebody said, you know, that’s what’s his name is daughter went no. So I had heard about her and she was great. Then we met, and she just kills me. She’s so smart and emotional, and she just breaks my heart. So the idea that she’s playing my daughter, and I go, would you believe her as my daughter? Yeah, because her dad is my friend and she’s his daughter. That would work. Then we did all these Zooms. I wanted her from the beginning. Then Chris went about finding everybody in Ireland. Jane is the only American besides me.
Chris Cottam: I mean, I just looked under Irish legend, and then asked them all to come in the film. No, I was gonna say in addition to, of course, Colm, are all in their own way slight Irish legends. They may not be that well known in America, although Sheila Flitton was in The Banshees of Inisherin, and did a very good job in it, they are three kind of legends of Ireland and to get those in the film. And you can tell from their performances, they’re sharp cookies, even though the average age between them is, without exaggerating, about 88. So it’s great to get those guys on board. Then just the rest of the locals, as well. Very strong, solid actors. That’s a strong solid cast that we’re very lucky to get, but again, not that lucky because they all responded to the script. If they like the script, they’re gonna jump in. It wasn’t really that tricky to get them.
Paul Reiser: I didn’t mean to skip over Colm Meaney. Colm Meaney in Ireland is like DeNiro here. You walk around Dublin with Colm Meaney and you don’t get far. And he stops for everybody. He’s such a solid actor, and smart. But what’s funny about him, and this is really his character, too, there’s a sweetness inside him that he does a lot of work to conceal, but it’s there. He’s a really sweet guy, but he comes off as gruff, and you don’t want to mess with him. You’re doing an Irish movie, yeah, Colm Meaney is who you want to get. And our styles and our rhythms are not at all alike, but comparable and compatible and complimentary. So in the beginning of the movie, where the premise is we both have senses of humor, but we just keep missing each other. Like, they should get along, but they keep misstepping, but they’ll find it. I love watching his pauses in those scenes, while I’ll be talking and he just looks at me like I’m not sure what you’re saying. Then I started trying apologize. It was a great joy, playing with him. The rhythm and the music of his performance is so fun to watch.
Mama’s Geeky: I think this is a movie too, where people are going to like want to call up, maybe people they’re holding grudges against a little bit, you know, and kind of make up. I really do.
Paul Reiser: If that becomes a thing, we will be very happy campers. Like, oh, I gotta call my father after I saw Field of Dreams. If everybody calls whoever they want to make amends with after this movie, then I think we will have done something, Chris.
Chris Cottam: I was just thinking that the other day. When I hear of family feuds, we kind of do get to the bottom and think, and it’s a line in the film, what is it that you want? Colm says that to Paul’s character. Literally, it was yesterday, I thought, there must be an easier way to solve problems. And I think it is just talking, or communicating, or letting ego go, or whatever it might be. But it’s lovely that you say that because I’d love to think that was true.
About The Problem With People
Two distant cousins who’ve never met – one in NYC, the other in the smallest town there is in Ireland – come together to finally put an end to a generations-long family feud. It doesn’t go well. The Problem With People, set in beautifully lush Irish countryside, is a heartwarming comedy about family, world peace … and sheep.
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Tessa Smith is a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved Film and TV Critic. She is also a Freelance Writer. Tessa has been in the Entertainment writing business for almost ten years and is a member of several Critics Associations including the Critics Choice Association, Hollywood Critics Association, and the Greater Western New York Film Critics Association.