On paper, the life of sixtysomething Doris seems quite tragic. Her mom just died and she continues to live in their Staten Island house that’s full of crap with sentimental value. She has an unrequited crush on her thirtysomething co-worker. She’s out of place in her career, where her desk job is really a result of the current company keeping leftovers from the old regime. But despite these setbacks she remains as hopeful and delusional as possible. In Michael Showalter’s feature, Hello, My Name Is Doris, co-written with Laura Terruso and based on Terruso’s original short, Sally Field plays Doris. We witness her romantic fantasies about her newest co-worker John (Max Greenfield), her envy toward his girlfriend Brooklyn (Beth Behr), her infiltration into the world of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and her romantic ambitions to do whatever it takes to be closer to John.
I met with Michael Showalter, Max Greenfield, and Beth Behr to talk about the creation of Doris, filming with Sally Field, and what the films has to say about love and the generational divide.
The Evolution of Doris
Michael Showalter: In the short, essentially, she is kind of a kooky older woman who falls in love with a 19-year-old intern. She has some of the mischievous qualities, some of the contradictory behavior — she’s this old lady who does mischievous stuff and is sort of unpredictable. That’s what attracted me to her as a character to write a movie about.
Max Greenfield: As time progressed the movie really started changing shape and I think as [Showalter] got closer and closer to sending it to Sally the tone of the film really changed. I want to say the right word would be matured and a lot of the obvious written jokes had found their way out of the script. It became this really natural progression of this woman’s life and her relationship to [my character] John and her relationship to her family.
Showalter: We added the hoarding, we added the intense costumery, the fashionista quality of her, the brother-in-law, the mother dying, the whole hipster thing, the whole idea that she becomes this Emperor’s New Clothes figure within the hipster subculture. We took the tiny little seed of this archetypal character and what would happen to her if she fell in love with someone younger.
Greenfield: Michael’s tone is always so specific and wonderful and different. Then Sally came out and did what she did with it and you’re like, oh okay, this is cool, this is something I have not seen before that is different and it feels fresh in a way.
Showalter: I had always thought of [Doris] as some combination of the Edie character from Grey Gardens and Iris Apfel. Those were my two strongest images in my mind of how I imagined her. And I’d say the difference between those two characters is what you see in Doris. Edie is just wearing clothes, it’s like she’s wearing a Dior shirt and then some sweatpants. There’s no logic to it. Iris Apfel, it’s all curated fashion, it’s all very thought out. So Doris is in-between that.
Beth Behr: There is a little bit of parallel between [Iris Apfel] and Doris. [Apfel] said something that I thought was so refreshing, because she’s in the fashion industry, and they ask her the question, “Well what do you think of people who put on weird outfits?” and she was like, “If you’re happy and you feel beautiful I think every outfit is stunning no matter if I would wear it or not.” If you are who you are and you know who you are and you know what makes you happy then I don’t think age is an obstacle.
Showalter: I do think that Doris, in the movie, is very much how I hoped that she would look. It’s like cool but it’s old, it’s not granny but it’s antique feeling and yet wanting to feel chic in its own way.
The Magic of Sally Field
Greenfield: By the time it went to Sally I remember thinking, God, I love this movie so much. And you knew that all of this was there in the initial draft that I read but to see Michael find this new version of the movie on his own, it was a really incredible process to watch.
Showalter: She has this depth, this unbelievable charismatic depth, and you just love her. She has what movie stars have, this quality that makes you feel such strong, intense connection to her and identification to her. That is a rare gift.
Greenfield: The first day on set with one another we shot a lot of those fantasy sequences and I think the both of us realized, oh, this is going to be the most enjoyable experience possible. I think we both realized we were in it for the exact same reasons. I think we found the tone of it really quickly and because of that it allowed us to really find the relationship so quickly that the acting became just fun and easy.
Showalter: I get sucked in by her performance and I see something different every time. I’m just endlessly in awe of what she did. She’s funny, she’s sexy, she’s angry, she’s fierce, she’s sad, she’s elated, she’s heartbroken. It’s so many different things that she does.
Greenfield: Sally — who hasn’t been the lead of a movie for like 15 years, which is ridiculous — I bet she probably feels the same way, which is — and she talks about this too — that there are not that many roles out there, specifically leading roles out there, for women and women her age. But I’m sure the ones that exist are probably not exactly what she envisioned.
Showalter: This comic protagonist felt really original and fresh to me. This older woman who is doing things that are really comedic—stealing the pencil, having these fantasies. There’s an adventurousness to her that’s super comic. She’s inappropriate, she wears that jumpsuit to the dinner party, she speaks her mind in ways that are very surprising sometimes. And we really root for her, she’s an underdog. So for me it was all about that. It wasn’t about, I really want to write a role for a woman of a certain age because they don’t get enough of those roles. I’m so happy that I did that. I’m so happy that I get to be the person that Sally was able to be like, finally there’s a role that I could sink my teeth into. And it’s a huge shame that there aren’t more of them because Sally and other actresses of her generation are so talented and want to work. So it’s something that I don’t take lightly but as the writer director never thought of it as my duty or something like that. I just love the character.
Living In A Millennial World
Behr: I think it was a genius idea to set it in this world of young Brooklyn, everyone trying to make something of themselves. Our generation, we’re kind of all celebrated for being who we are and being different. And Doris obviously comes from a generation where that wasn’t always the case. There were rules into what she was supposed to do and she never got to because she didn’t end up marrying her love, she took care of her mother.
Showalter: In a sense she is the authentic thing that they’re all trying to represent. They’re trying to curate something that for her is totally real. So I don’t know if I’m being critical of that, I just think that’s truth, I just think that’s what being young is. You’re trying to write yourself, you’re trying to figure it out, you’re trying to put forward a version of yourself. This is who I am, this is who I’m going to be, and defining yourself. And in Doris they meet the real article, they meet someone who dresses like that because that’s just how she dresses. There’s no thought to it, there’s no sense of irony to it. It’s a totally genuine thing where she doesn’t even know what she looks like.
Greenfield: In general I feel like hipsters get a bad rap because every time I go into Silverlake, or these hip areas, I think, they’ve got the coolest shit out there. This is unbelievable. And the coffee tastes better, everything. I’m like, this is where I want to live, but I can’t. I think it was a fun comment on all that stuff and I think those cultures exist — they existed back then, they exist now, they’ll exist 10 years from now, they existed 10 years ago. So I think in this moment, the portrayal of the hipsters in this movie seems realistic to a degree and somewhat of a comedic representation.
Behr: I think it’s cool that’s it’s showing the generation right now that’s all about, This is who I am and it’s celebrated and I want to make coconut milk soap in a flea market in Brooklyn. I found that super exciting and truthful because I think they respond to the fact that Doris is who she is and that she has her own authenticity as well.
Showalter: There’s a quality I see in millennials that maybe isn’t what people say about them. But I think millennials, unlike my generation, which was Gen X, aren’t jaded in the way that we were. There’s an actual enthusiasm and sincerity and a kind of can-do-ness quality that we did not have. My generation, we’re the slackers, we’re the dark brooding navel-gazing generation. And I feel like young people that I encounter today, there’s a kind of can-do-ness, there’s a fastidiousness, there’s a maturity and a sweetness to them that strikes me. It wasn’t cool to be nice when I was 20. It was cool to be aloof and it was cool to be dark and brooding and snarky and all these things. I really like that the hipsters, to Doris, are nice. They’re really nice and they mean well and so I wanted to show that too.
Behr: I think for Doris, anybody in their early 30s can relate to that feeling of finding yourself, and who am I? She has such an authenticity to her, obviously because she is who she is, but she’s also so lost, like most of the Williamsburg hipster scene. Everyone is trying to be as authentic as possible but really a lot of people are lost in that authenticity. I related, I think we all relate to Doris and love her for that reason. We’ve all tried to fit in and have been uncomfortable in our own skin. And wanting to find love is a very common thing. It’s very relatable.
Showalter: I identify so much with Doris. I think I’ve always felt a little bit like an outsider, a little bit like the Molly Ringwald character. But also the hoarding, I have a little bit of that, just the unhealthy attachments and that kind of thing. But I think having shown the movie a lot, most people seem to identify with — men, women, old, young — seem to really identify with aspects of the Doris character. There’s a little bit of Doris in everybody.
Love For All Ages
Greenfield: They’re both looking for a connection in the movie and I think there’s a part of both of them that feels alone. And I feel like I’ve felt that way on and off throughout my entire life so I think it’s a very easy thing for anyone to relate to. And I think what becomes so sweet about the movie is that they find that connection with each other.
Behr: Doris and John together are at the same spot in their lives in terms of being lost. Doris is lonely and now that her mom’s gone, everything she was dealing with, that was her whole life, and now where does she fit? And she still wants to find love.
Greenfield: Sally and I had a really incredible, fun, flirty, exciting relationship during this movie. I think it became very clear to both of us that we were on the same page in terms of what we wanted out of the experience of going to do this movie.
Showalter: I’m mostly a believer in the sort of Woody Allen thing of whatever works. Love is complicated and hard to find so whatever works, if you can find somebody that it works with. And I predominantly feel that way. I think that it’s like, Who am I to judge someone else? But I definitely think if it’s okay for men to date much younger women than it should definitely be okay for women to date much younger men. As a society we should not condemn one over the other. But I don’t have any particular theories or philosophies about any of that stuff, I’m a whatever works guy.
Greenfield: I think [Doris] really found a sense of self-worth and a place and realized there was more to her life and that she has a lot of life left to live and a lot to live for. What I love so much about the movie is that these two people find this connection. And what I love so much about the character John is I think he really doesn’t see her as an older woman, that’s just a side note to the whole thing. When he meets her he sees who she is and sees a spirit within her and a kindness and a quirkiness that I think he really is attracted to on a personal level and wants to explore that.
Behr: Age is always personal to what you make of it, they always say, “You’re as young as you feel,” and I know that’s like an old-school kind of thing but I really feel like that’s true. It doesn’t have to be an obstacle if you are who you are and you know what makes you happy and you are able to find some happiness living everyday and no matter if you’re 10 years old or you’re 80.
Greenfield: As the movie progresses it breaks those things down to some degree and it allows you to question, Well they are kind of nice together and I like them together and fucking why can’t this work? I feel like you reach a point in your life where if you’re comfortable enough with yourself, you can throw all that other shit out the window and really just see a person for who they are and be attracted to that.