Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lorene Scafaria Pays Tribute To Mother In 'The Meddler'


Mother-daughter relationships can be complicated. A mother's love is supposed unconditional. And you want it that way, but sometimes it can feel overwhelming. That's how it felt to Lorene Scafaria. The writer and director has a new film out called "The Meddler," starring Susan Sarandon as a mother who moves across the country to be with her daughter after her husband dies. The daughter, played by Rose Byrne is grieving her dad and going through a tough breakup.


ROSE BYRNE: (As Lori) I can't live here anymore. There's no safe place. And just when I want to hit the eject button, you move here.

SUSAN SARANDON: (As Marnie) What does that mean?

BYRNE: (As Lori) It means that I tried to book a session with my therapist to talk about my mother, and I couldn't because my mother was there.

SARANDON: (As Marnie) You told me to go talk to her after Daddy died, so...

BYRNE: (As Lori) Do you understand? Eighty percent of the time the phone rings, it's used. The phone rings, and I think it could a job or a guy or a friend. And it's my mother almost every single time. Do you understand how terrible that makes me feel?

MARTIN: Though it is fiction, the plot closely follows one chapter of Scafaria's own life.

LORENE SCAFARIA: That's exactly what my mother did after my father passed away. She sold the house in Jersey and, you know, there she was in Los Angeles (laughter). I like to say I've been raising her in Los Angeles ever since.

MARTIN: So I read that - that a lot of this was based on your own single-story. But I - obviously, you know, you wonder how much. So your mom really good that? She packed up and landed on your...

SCAFARIA: Yeah. And I thought it was obviously as wild as it was. And I thought it was just really brave and kind of impressive to me. And I started writing this script about a month after she fully landed. And she got a phone and started calling me and leaving lots of voicemails.


MARTIN: Does she say anyway? Like...

SCAFARIA: She does.

MARTIN: ...Susan Sarandon's character...

SCAFARIA: She really does.


...Is calling - all - incessantly. And every message she's saying anyway.

SCAFARIA: (Laughter) It's like a segue from nothing. And I guess what I do love about it, you know, in a way, too, is that anyway sort of feels like starting over from whatever it is you were just saying. You know, it's, like, kind of what you - it's the word you use when you're trying to just redo that.

MARTIN: Reset, yeah. Do over.

SCAFARIA: (Laughter) Do over.

MARTIN: So in the movie, it becomes clear really quick that Marnie, the mom, is getting all up in her daughter's business. The daughter is played by Rose Byrne. And the daughter is not so into it and feels like she's meddling too much. She's getting too close, and she's suffocating. Did it get to that point with you?

SCAFARIA: Yeah. I mean, we've always been close. And she was always calling a lot. And there wasn't as much pressure to constantly call back and feel as guilty about it because she had my father, too. So it was really more about our grieving process being so different and that, you know, she wanted to talk about him all the time and just - for me, she was somewhere - she was somehow in denial and acceptance at the exact same time (laughter). And I was in just anger and depression for most of it.

I mean, I really did feel that year of magical thinking the first year after he passed. I felt like he was still around. And, you know, every time I saw a hummingbird, I thought of him. And there were just so many things like that. But then from year one to two, it felt like all the magic was gone and just this person wasn't coming back. And it was just too much.

And so we were just in really different places. So yeah, the meddling was too much because the circumstances were too great. And her coming by unannounced or something that normally maybe would have driven me crazy or I could've even said - Mom, what are you - you know what I mean. Like, but instead I - you know, you revert to being 16. And you just sort of fall back into the roles you had when you were young and bratty and unappreciative of your mom (laughter).


SCAFARIA: Because I mean, honestly, it's also the reason that the character, I think, is so endearing and meant to be someone that we don't leave her side because I really wanted to just stay with her and sort of change what it means to be a meddler, kind of see how much of it comes from loneliness and how much of it comes from just having a lot of love to give and not really knowing what to do with it, especially now, you know.

MARTIN: Yeah. I kept waiting for the bad thing to happen to her because she - we're introduced to this idea pretty early on that she nosey, right? She wants to be involved in everyone's lives.


MARTIN: But she's also really generous. And so when her daughter goes off to New York for a few weeks for work, which sounds a little bit contrived, like, she's not too sad about leaving her mom.


MARTIN: She needs some space.


MARTIN: Her mom looks around. She's like all right. Well, I need other people in my life. And she finds strangers to connect with and get to. Right?


MARTIN: Like the guy at Apple Genius Bar. She starts volunteering to drive him to night classes. And this girl who is a friend of her daughter, but she doesn't even know the girl's last name - she volunteers to pay for the wedding that this young woman never had.

SCAFARIA: Right (laughter).

MARTIN: And so she meddles, but it comes from such a good place. I kept waiting to see the dark side of it. But she just seemed good.

SCAFARIA: Yeah, I - I mean, I didn't want the lesson to be don't be a generous person (laughter) the same way that I don't really want that to be the lesson for my mom, even though that's exactly what happens. You know, if you're a giving person, sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't.

MARTIN: So there is a romantic subplot to this movie. At its heart, it's a story about you and your mom. But in the movie anyway, Marnie starts to fall for a guy...


MARTIN: ...Yeah. Although you can tell it's hard for her because she's still grieving her husband who's passed away.

SCAFARIA: Yeah, the love interest is not real. She doesn't want it. And that's the reason that I like making a reluctant love story for her because I do think it's important to say to people who've been through this that it's OK for people on and why a scene like, you know, the mother and daughter talking about, like - oh, who are you taking a selfie for? - you know, like, things, like, being curious about Mom's romantic future - that it doesn't all have to be, like, you know, we're like these grown children who are so depressed about anything or that everybody's going to be upset if you move on and - or try to move on, you know.

And I wanted to, like, cut that cord for the character and also see what's that guy looks like. Writing a love interest for a woman who doesn't want one was really interesting. Obviously, not just for my, you know, my mom and thinking of, like who would that be.


SCAFARIA: It has to be J.K. Simmons with a mustache and a Harley. But you know, it had to be someone who was, like, nonthreatening in a way.


SCAFARIA: But also, like, still a man and still cool and still, like, interesting to her, you know. She still has to like his swagger and stuff. But he can't be exactly like her husband. It can't be, like, another Italian man. It can't be...

MARTIN: Did I read that you actually used photos of your dad in the film?

SCAFARIA: Yeah, he plays himself (laughter) in the film. Yeah, those are his pictures and, you know, his license. And I mean, his name is Joe. That didn't change. I mean, we had so much fun superimposing Susan's face, you know, on my mom's body. My mom...

MARTIN: Was your mom psyched? She's, like, thank you...

SCAFARIA: Oh, my God. Are you kidding?

MARTIN: ...For Susan Sarandon (laughter)

SCAFARIA: Of course. She was, like, we should all be so lucky. And she also thinks - she goes, like - oh, Daddy would have loved to be married to Susan Sarandon.


SCAFARIA: So yeah, even from beyond, we think everyone's getting a kick out it.

MARTIN: Lorene Scafaria - her new film is called "The Meddler." Lorene, thanks so much for talking with us.

SCAFARIA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.