Eliza Coupe has left a strong impression on audiences on the TV shows “Happy Endings” and “Scrubs,” and now she makes her jump to the silver screen in the comedy-drama, “The Last Time You Had Fun.” In it, she plays Ida, a woman who is going through a lot of problems and is estranged from her crazy husband Jake (Jimmi Simpson). She ends up going out with her sister Alison (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), and in the process they meet the recently divorced Clark (Kyle Bornheimer) and his lawyer friend Will (Demetri Martin). From there, they jump into a limo and drive around Los Angeles with the hope of rediscovering the fun they once had in life before becoming adults.
I spoke with Eliza about “The Last Time You Had Fun,” and we both agreed it deals honestly with the struggles and disappointments of adulthood. She explained about how being divorced herself inspired her to play Ida, what it was like to work on a film with a very short shooting schedule, and of filming a scene in the Los Angeles ocean which did not look the least bit warm.
Ben Kenber: This is a good movie in how it deals with the responsibilities and frustrations of adulthood where you find yourself wondering if happiness is even a reality at some point. What parts of the script spoke the strongest to you when you read it?
Eliza Coupe: Well, I was actually going through a divorce when I decided to take this part. Part of me was like I don’t even want to go near this part because of that, and the other part of me was like well, maybe this would be like in therapy where people act things out with puppets, so maybe I should go to do this. This was live-action stuff so I was like, I’ll do it. Actually, I could relate so much to the character. My ex-husband and I are on great terms and he is not like Jimmy’s character. It was the whole thing of she knows that it needs to end but it can’t, and when do you know that it’s over. When you’re going through a divorce it’s like you have those thoughts all the time of I guess this is really it, and you just keep going back and forth. Because it’s a marriage you’re like, I’ve got to make a decision. So, I could really relate to the kind of indecisiveness and denial that she was in.
BK: it’s nice to know that you and your ex-husband are on good terms.
EC: Yeah, I just sent him a birthday card actually (laughs).
BK: What would you say that challenges or difficulties were for you in playing a character who appears to be emotionally unstable?
EC: What’s funny was that I welcomed it because I have done so much comedy. My characters are broken but they hide it really well. Obviously, anybody who’s that uptight or an A-type or alpha, they’re hiding some serious hurt, but she wore it on her sleeve. Part of the scene where my character calls her estranged husband outside of the limo, that was actually a much bigger scene. They cut it down and chopped it up a little bit, but when I did that one I had to get really emotional and I was actually, when we shot it, really sobbing. I haven’t had to do that on TV so it was difficult to get to that place, but it was also cool and I was excited to do it. It’s tough to pull that off.
BK: I imagine the shooting schedule for this movie was really, really short.
EC: Um yeah, and it was all nights. It was so brutal and I am such a morning person and I go to bed around 8 PM on a normal day when I’m not working. I changed my clock around.
BK: Did working that fast or at night help you in playing Ida?
EC: I think for sure. When you shoot so quickly and you have to get it all in, I think your adrenaline takes over and I’m pretty sure that every actor goes into flight or fright because it’s like look let’s get this done. You forget to eat, you forget to do anything, you’re not sleeping and you’re just doing it and you have to live in it. Honestly for this character, I was glad to not have to live in that for so long and I was happy that it was such a concentrated amount of time. When you’re tired and you’re kind of strung out and sleep deprived and all that stuff, it only adds to your acting. Even if you’re very sane and very mentally healthy you will fall apart if you don’t get sleep or if you’re on a weird sleep schedule, so it played a great role in my character.
BK: Director Mo Perkins said directing four people in one scene was a lot harder than directing just two. Did being in the scene with that many people present any challenges for you as well?
EC: I don’t think so. I guess I was kind of used to it because I come from ensemble comedies and that’s how it always was. Also, those three other actors were so fun and we had so much fun on camera and off-camera to where it felt like camp. It was the shortest summer camp where we had so much fun. At the end of the shoot we got each other these presents that were these inside jokes, and how we developed inside jokes in a matter of what felt like 15 days (it was longer than that, but it felt like that), it was just amazing. To be able to play off them in a scene, it just added to it because they were all kind of just going through the shit together.
BK: I have to ask you about the scene where the four of you jump into the ocean. I imagine the ocean was colder than it looked.
EC: Oh my God. It was 3 A.M., it was down by LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) and it was so fucking cold. Seriously, I think Dimitri and I both were like, we’re not doing it. There were moments where I’m like okay, I guess I’m going have to ruin this entire movie because I’m not going in there. Of course, we knew we were going in there, but your brain takes over in a way where you’re like, I’m not doing this. Actually, it was 48 degrees. I’m from New Hampshire and I was a total pussy. I was like this is insane, and getting in that water was the most guerrilla style filmmaking because we had a camera guy out there and there was a bag around the camera so that it wouldn’t get wet. The waves were crazy and he had to go out past the break of it. We would go running into the water and I’m topless, and I’m thinking they’re going to cut around this because in my contract they can’t show anything. But I was full on just boobs everywhere and they all saw every bit of me, but I didn’t care because I was so cold. It was the craziest experience, and then there was a stingray in the water and Mary Elizabeth ended up having a nice dance with the stingray. She was just like, “I just danced with a stingray in the water. I was just swimming around with it,” and I was like that’s great. My nipples are freezing and I’m going to die. We all went back into this crazy warming hut that had 20 heaters in it, and none of us cared about how the others were. It was like get me warm now! I can’t even go into the ocean in Maine because it’s so cold. I’m not an ocean person, but that’s a whole other issue.
BK: I read that the lifeguards on the set gave you a strong warning about the stingrays in the jellyfish that were out there in the ocean, so the fact you all still went in there speaks a lot to your bravery.
EC: Yeah, we were all making jokes afterwards. To this day we still all text each other that Mary Elizabeth got pregnant from Ray the stingray, so it’s just an ongoing joke and that now I’m dating him. Ray needs to take up a special thanks, but I guess he didn’t make it into the credits.
BK: I understand Ray the stingray actually appears in this movie.
EC: Mary Elizabeth says that it did. She said, “Did you see?” Crazy.
BK: According to your bio you studied at The Groundlings as well as Improv Olympic…
EC: Which is hilarious because I did not (laughs). Here’s why that says: I took one class at The Groundlings and actually that’s where I became friends with Nasim Pedrad, Mikey Day and Taran Killam. We all took the same classes together, and then I didn’t get moved forward because I wasn’t funny enough. I needed more work so I said fuck you (laughs) and moved back to New York. Before I did that, I paid to put up a one person show at Improv Olympic. After I moved to New York I rewrote the whole thing, and that’s where everything started. I put it up at UCB (Upright Citizen’s Brigade), but I actually never took classes there either. This is why in the comedy world everybody hates me because I’ve actually performed at all these theaters, but I’ve never taken any classes at any of them.
A big thanks to Eliza Coupe for taking the time to talk with me. “The Last Time You Had Fun” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.
Above photo courtesy of Getty Images.