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Regional Interests

Iliza Shlesinger Takes Us Through The Ups And Downs Of Dating In New Movie

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Dating horror stories - we all have them, and we love to hear about them. But I'm not sure if there's one quite like Iliza Shlesinger's. In her new movie "Good On Paper," which is out on Netflix, Iliza takes us through her true story of dating someone who lied about everything. The twists, the turns, the red flags, the question of, am I crazy - yeah, this story has it all. Comedian, actress, executive producer and writer Iliza Shlesinger joins us now. Welcome.

ILIZA SHLESINGER: Thank you for saying my name right. It was - it's so relaxing to hear.

FADEL: That's awesome. I'm so glad I did 'cause everybody mispronounces my last name, so (laughter).

SHLESINGER: So I feel your pain, for sure.

FADEL: Yeah, yeah. First of all, when I was watching this, all I could think was, how do you not see all these red flags, and also, this totally could happen to me. So your character, Andrea Singer, is a stand-up comedian, like you, and this is based on something that happened to you in your real life, right?

SHLESINGER: We're calling it a mostly true story based on a lie. This did happen. I don't think I could make up this level of insanity. And, you know, the red flag question, it's so easy to judge that kind of thing 'cause I've definitely heard stories about cults and things like that where you're like, come on; what's wrong with you?

FADEL: Right.

SHLESINGER: And to that, I would say, if I told you that this morning I went to the dry cleaners and then I had cornflakes for breakfast, you would say, OK, because it's such an innocuous thing that someone would lie about. So...

FADEL: Right.

SHLESINGER: ...When you meet someone casually on a plane, and you're, you know, 29, 30, it's normal to talk about where you went to college and what do you do for a living. You wouldn't expect someone to lie about that. But somebody giving you basic information, you never think to question because these are not sexy things to lie about.

FADEL: Yeah. Well, tell me a little bit about what makes Dennis, the character that's the boyfriend in the movie, so disastrous compared to other relationships, because it starts out in this really meet-cute way. You meet on a plane.

SHLESINGER: What's disastrous, of course, is unearthing all these lies and finding out the person that you were friends with for a year, that you shared meals with, that you shared your friends with and your family with - to find out everything about them has been a lie since the day you met them, and you were so close to them, of course, is unnerving. And I think what's so crazy about it is Andrea is the type of girl - and, you know, she's modeled after myself, but she's not a woman who was unlucky in love or...

FADEL: Yeah.

SHLESINGER: ...A hot mess or couldn't get it together or needed to learn a lesson, you know? She is a woman we don't see represented as much in romantic comedies. And I kind of call BS on that because I think she's much more relatable. And so this lesson that she got wasn't a deserved one. She didn't come out a better person for having dealt with him. I very much wanted to make sure in this movie, the lesson she learned was in relation to herself and another woman. I didn't want her to learn anything from him because he had nothing to teach.

FADEL: On that note, I do want to talk to you about the way that you wrote that main friendship between Andrea and her best friend, Margot. Could you talk about the intention there?

SHLESINGER: Absolutely. You know, I'm really a stickler when it comes to authenticity and dialogue...

FADEL: Yeah.

SHLESINGER: ...And female friendship. Our conversations - I wanted to keep them steeped in reality, and I modeled them - there's a sort of aggressive give-and-take, but there's so much love there. And I modeled them after the way my best friend and I speak to each other. And I think a lot of women, just from my comedy and what I've observed, they're like, yeah, this is actually how we speak to each other. We're not always talking about sex. We're always looking - we do love each other. My best friend in real life is queer, and so I always write her into scripts. To me, your best friend is always gay because mine is. And it was very important to me...

FADEL: Yeah.

SHLESINGER: ...That it not be the centerpiece, but it be just as natural as a heterosexual relationship.

FADEL: Now, this movie was entertaining and funny, but also, this must've been a terrible thing to go through, to slowly see somebody...

SHLESINGER: It was horrible (laughter).

FADEL: ...Somebody be - everything unravel. So what was it like to write this? Was it cathartic? Like, what was it like to write these moments that must've been terrible?

SHLESINGER: Oh, that's exactly right. It was cathartic. And it was a way - if you are a writer, you know, you do this to get things out. Just like as a stand-up, you talk things out on stage, and it helps to heal that. And I wanted to write this because there was a little bit of a revenge fantasy in writing it, but it was a quiet revenge. I didn't care if this person ever saw this movie. And the farther I got from writing it, the less it became about a catharsis and the more it became about writing a good screenplay with great throughlines and characters. And now when I think about it, I don't even think about the original Dennis Kelly. I think about Ryan Hansen and Kimmy Gatewood and Margaret. And I worked on it so much that it just became about art.

FADEL: But, I mean, how quiet of a revenge is it if it's on Netflix? And I'm sure this person will recognize themselves (laughter).

SHLESINGER: It's silent but deadly.

FADEL: So what's it like to finally have it out in the world?

SHLESINGER: Of course, when you're vulnerable in your story - you know, once you create art and you put it out in the world, that's no longer yours. It is up for interpretation. It belongs to people. It's validating for reasons that have nothing to do with heartbreak. This took a long time to make, and people dedicated huge chunks of their lives. And it is incredibly validating that a director wanted to spend time on this, that these actors came along for this ride, that the producers financially were like, we'll take a risk on you. And this is a career where you don't get validated as often as you would like. And that's what's so difficult about it. So just getting these yeses, I think it speaks to the heart that we all put into this and the honesty. And I tried to keep everything authentic and honest...

FADEL: Yeah.

SHLESINGER: ...And as true to what happened, minus the part where we sort of kidnap him. That is not true.

FADEL: I was going to ask. I was assuming that you probably didn't kidnap him in real life...

SHLESINGER: Tell you what.

FADEL: ...But you never know.

SHLESINGER: If I did, I wouldn't be admitting it on public radio.

FADEL: So I'm going to pivot for a second...

SHLESINGER: Yeah.

FADEL: ...'Cause we're speaking as the country is coming out of the pandemic, and comedy clubs are open again. What does it look like? What does the future look like for you?

SHLESINGER: It looks great.

(LAUGHTER)

SHLESINGER: It looks great. You know, during the pandemic, I did a comedy tailgate tour. So people - you know, we'd put up a stage in a field, and people could come and tailgate. But we're about done with the outdoor shows and the limited capacity. And I cannot wait to get back to full audiences and to grow my following. You know, we're getting into 3,000-seat theaters, things like that. And this is what you work for your whole life, to do that in arenas and take it bigger. So I'm happy to be back on track.

FADEL: That's Iliza Shlesinger. Her new movie is "Good On Paper," out on Netflix now. Thank you so much.

SHLESINGER: Thank you so much. I'm excited for this interview to come out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.