by Jessica Mosby
Charlie Barker is a guy who has it all – almost. He has a beautiful successful wife, a large New York City apartment, a loyal best friend, and a once-promising acting career that he is hoping to restart. The current lull in his professional life seems temporary; he is just waiting to be cast in the next big thing.
But the next big thing turns out to be a young woman freshly arrived in the Big Apple. Clea (played by Heather Gordon) sets her sights on Charlie (Stephen Barker Turner), and soon the two are involved in an affair. Charlie’s wife Stella (Daphne Zuniga) inevitably discovers the affair, and Charlie then finds himself alone and broke.
I was particularly interested in seeing Seducing Charlie Barker and interviewing Glazer about a film that captures women’s financial and professional successes changing the dynamics of romantic relationships and conventional ideas about marriage. Gloria Steinem famously predicted in the 1970’s that, “We’re becoming the men we wanted to marry.” This statement is notable when discussing Seducing Charlie Barker as the demise of Charlie and Stella’s marriage is the consequence of Charlie’s inability to keep pace with his wife. Charlie punishes Stella for her successes, even though she is enabling his artistic endeavors.
When I met Glazer, a professor at California State University San Jose and accomplished theater director, at a café near her home, I was excited to discuss with the director this female-authored script starring two strong female leads.
What specifically, about the play The Scene, appealed to you and made you think it would make a good movie?
To be perfectly honest, a patron came to see the play and fell in love with it. [They] said, “This writing is terrific, this dialogue is terrific, it should be a film, and I’ll produce it.”
What attracted me to the play originally is what attracted me to making it into a film. It’s a story about women, by a woman, interpreted by a woman… Theresa Rebeck is a strong, sharp, terrific, important writer. She’s really an amazing woman. Luckily, because I had directed her play and because she trusted my work, she was willing to hand it over to me and say, “I trust that when you turn it into a film, you will do right by me.” I certainly have. It’s completely true to the impulse of the characters – the story, the writing, and the dialogue. It is very much her; it’s just been adapted for film.
Was it difficult to balance making the film with your other professional responsibilities?
Absolutely. It really was. During that time, I had colleagues who covered classes for me. Also, so many of my students were working on the film, I never felt like I was moonlighting because I was servicing a good number of students behind the scenes and in front of the scenes. I would say 60 students from preproduction all the way through. They were amazing. Most of them have gone on to have professional careers. Some of them had professional careers and came back to work on the film with me.
John Cassavetes was the image I was going for in terms of both the way I was shooting, the kind of work I was trying to create, and a kind of a cinéma vérité – a sense that is authentic even if the tone is satirical. But also in the way he worked with his friends, people who he trusted, and people who trusted him. So many people in the theater community gathered around me; every actor in this film is from a theater tradition.
Can you speak to the gender dynamics and new economics of marriage in the film, and if that attracted you to the script?
It attracted me tremendously because I was living it. One of the reasons I picked this play is that my husband, who for many, many years had been a big time publisher, had just lost his job. My husband and I were living through the same dynamics. For the first time, I was the one supporting the family. The pressure was on me to keep my day job and to get other directing jobs…The irony is that he was available to help us with the producing of this film because he was around, and he was so smart and capable. So whenever we needed any kind of publishing type materials, he was our go-to guy. It actually made it possible for this to all come together. Now all is well that ends well. The film is getting its release, my husband is back working, and I no longer have to identify so closely to the story I was telling.
I did identify. At that moment in particular, I remember working on it in both the play and in the film, it was a hard moment. Even though we hear it at so many film festivals and it’s won so many awards at film festivals, at that moment [when Stella cuts Charlie off] we hear an audience vocalize their surprise. If a man said it to a wife, “No more clothes. I pay the bills around here,” we wouldn’t even notice it. But when the woman said it, it is so dangerously cruel. Yet I felt empathy for her, like “Get any job!” There is a point you get to when the stress in your life becomes oppressive and you feel like, “I’m working so hard and we’re not making ends meet. Do something.”
I really identified with Stella. I really understood. Charlie’s lack of empathy for what she had to go through so he could be an artist, so he could get the job that had meaning to him – it still resonates with me. It’s so easy for us to vilify the woman that is now in that position. I really didn’t want to do that. I wanted Stella to be sympathetic. I didn’t want her to be wimpy. She is idiosyncratic. She is definitely a control freak – and guess what, so am I.
Casting Daphne Zuniga helped, as she is very likeable.
Yes, it’s really true. She is incredibly likeable. It’s also helpful, particularly with new works, because it’s all about narrative. It’s all about crafting a strong narrative. When I work with a new writer on a world premiere, that’s what we’re looking at. When we have previews, we’re watching an audience [to gauge their reactions]. I used what I know as a theater director in that regard, to arrange the pieces in a narrative that I thought would be successful.
What’s next for you?
We have four plays in development at different stages. What’s next is the same thing. I really love the indie paradigm. I love being able to make movies my way, to control the material from beginning to end, and to be part of the producing...Definitely, for me, being able to do both [theater and films] is the way to go. I love being a hybrid.
About the Author:
Jessica Mosby is a writer and critic living in Oakland, California. In the rare moments when she's not traveling across the United States for work, Jessica enjoys listening to public radio, buying organic food at local farmers markets, trolling junk stores, and collecting owl-themed tchotchke.