Actor and first-time screenwriter, Sonja Bennett comes home with her new film Preggoland, which is set to screen as part of the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF).
Filmed in Vancouver, Preggoland centers around boozing 35-year-old Ruth, played by Bennett, whose life turns upside down when she is mistakenly thought to be pregnant. Suddenly earning the approval of her father (James Caan), she manges to nab the attention of her friends, and saves her job. Ultimately she finds the glorious perks of pregnancy too seductive to ignore.
Hot off the movie’s premiere, and some great press, at the Toronto International Film Festival, we caught up with Bennett by email as she prepares to bring the film to a hometown crowd on September 30 and October 2 at the VIFF. Visit http://viff.org for tickets and information.
1. Where did the idea of the movie come from?
As an adult, I have always had a hard time making friends. Especially female ones. I’ve always daydreamed about being part of a grown up all girls clique – a la Sex in the City – where we travel like a friend amoeba – meeting up for coffee every day and trying on bras together.Sometimes I would meet a woman at the gym or in an acting class and I would think “this is a cool chick, I think we have a real connection” so I say: “ We should totally hang sometime.” And in an instant the cool chick’s smile has dropped and I realize: shit, she thinks I’m a lesbian. Or a desperate weirdo. And our banter will never be the same again. Eventually I gave up on my proactive quest for friendship.
But then I got pregnant.
I remember when I first started showing in my pregnancy (with my son, Maxwell, now four), another pregnant women struck up conversation with me on the bus. When was I due? Had I thought about preschools? Did I live in this area? When we discovered that we lived only five blocks from each other she grabbed my phone and plugged her number in. We can have play dates after the babies are born!
And that was only the beginning. I was shocked at how women were now so friendly and open, how they would so readily serve up personal stories involving their bodily fluids – this was the intimacy I’d been craving! Or was it?
As a writer, I wanted to explore the artifice of the most giant clique in the world: motherhood. And our society’s pregnancy pedestal.
2. How much of Ruth is really you?
Not very much, really. I relate to Ruth’s desperation to fit in and be part of club. But I’m more like her mom friends. I have two children and compulsively talk about them. And I would never have the balls to commit to a lie that big!
3. Do you have friends with babies/children in real life?
Yes! In fact I have two children of my own. A 4 year-old and 1 year-old. At this point almost all of my friends have kids.
4. You’ve talked about writing the role of Ruth due to the lack of roles for women over 30. Do you see other female actors of a “certain age” following suit?
I sure hope so. In fact, I think maybe I am “following suit!” There is so much great female driven films and television shows out there right now. I wept with joy when I saw Bridesmaids. Creating your own work has been so empowering for me, I recommend to anyone whose feeling dissatisfied professionally or creatively.
5. You wrote with the thought of also starring in the film – after completing the script did you ever think about letting someone else play Ruth?
Briefly. We had some meetings in LA about the project. There was lots of excitement about the script and it seemed like having the movie made as a big Hollywood film was a real possibility. In my head, I was willing to go down this route if it was going to launch me as a writer and maybe I could play a smaller role in the film. But having these types of stipulations seemed unlikely. And although I may have received a hefty pay cheque I also knew the film could sit on a shelf for a decade. I never set out on this journey for money. So my (very loyal!) producers and I made the decision that me starring in the film was non-negotiable.
6. This is your first screenplay – what was the process like for you? Was it an easy process? Do you think your skills as an actor help?
The process was definitely not easy. But it was almost always joyous. And I didn’t do it alone-I received loads of help along the way. And yes, my skills as an actor definitely helped. I’ve read hundreds of scripts over the years which gave me a head start in the writing process.
7. When did you start writing the piece and how long did it take for it to get to production?
I came up with the idea when I was six months pregnant with my son. So four years ago and change!
8. In a recent interview you called James Caan, who stars as your father in the movie, as a “a royal pain in the ass”. Why?
He was pain in the ass because he made me do rewrites a week before we started shooting! He challenged me. Which was a great thing. And Walter ended up being a richer character for it. So I thank him for that.
9. What about your other famous co-star Danny Trejo? What was he like to work with?
Danny is the warmest man you’ll meet. He came up to me on the first day of shooting and thanked me for the role and I was like, “Umm… yeah, I think we both know that I should be thanking you for being here.” But he said it was just so nice to come to work and not have to murder someone. I’m really excited for people to be introduced to this lighter side of Danny Trejo. He is very funny in the film.
10. What is more important – the premiere in Toronto or the fact you’re screening the film in front of a hometown crowd at the VIFF?
Well TIFF is a huge platform to premiere a film so that was an amazing opportunity for us. But VIFF is where the entire Preggoland team gets to celebrate their work together- which I’m really looking forward to. Not to mention where I get to show all my friends and family what I’ve been preoccupied with for the last year.
11. The film has received some great press from its TIFF debut – that must feel good?
It feels amazing. And a relief! Committing to me starring in the film made my producer’s jobs a lot more challenging so it would have really sucked it people hated me in the role.
12. What’s next for Sonja?
I am developing a television series, nutting out another feature, and creating a show with a fabulous group of ladies called Motherload that premieres at the Cultch in February 2015. As well as catching up on park time with the kidlets!