A MATTER OF SISTERHOOD: In Sue Kramers first feature, “Gray Matters,” Heather Graham plays Gray Baldwin, a successful ad executive who happily shares a loft and a lot of her free time with her brother (Thomas Cavanagh)– until they fall in love with the same women.
“For your first feature, you want to write something very personal and this movie is very personal to me. I wrote it to honor my sister, who felt thered never been a film depicting a gay girl character or lesbian in a very positive light, showing that she was clever and intelligent and funny and attractive,” says Kramer. “In Hollywood history since the 1930s, thereve been iconic gay guy characters– whether its the gay butler or Peter Lorre in the “Maltese Falcon”– but there were no movies about women that are equivalent to “In and Out,” for example, where Kevin Kline played that great role. But lesbians havent been portrayed very positively, or much at all for that matter. I wanted to make a movie that my sister would be proud of, that she could go to with our parents, her friends and their children, our grandparents and have them be entertained and learn something at the same time. So I decided to write the script. The brother and sister character were similar to me and my sister– in terms of being incredibly close– but theyre brother and sister because its more interesting to have a brother and sister fall in love with the same women. Otherwise the story wouldnt make the same sense.
MERIN: How did the story evolve?
KRAMER: The seed for the idea came along time ago, when my sister had crushes on some of my friends in college, and I realized that we liked the same things, so why not the same people– I thought, wow, thats a great idea for a movie. That was the seed. Then came the characters, then the structure. My sister, Carolyn, had a friend, Gray Baldwin– whos not gay but had such a great name, Gray, for a person whos not black or white, whos struggling to be herself, and struggling with her sexuality. The name Gray made perfect sense and was there even before I started writing the screenplay. It was always entitled “Gray Matters.” Gray was my lead character and I put the notion of gray into everything she did.
MERIN: How long did it take to write the script?
KRAMER: Just over a year. I outline to death. Im ridiculous about it. I do character biographies, making up all their character traits, even if they never make it into the script. I write where they came from, their idiosyncrasies, what makes them who they are, their parents, their relatives, what they do– and I write this whole very complicated biography book for each character. Then I do a very complicated outline, mapping out the entire script, which is the hardest thing and imy biggest struggle as a screenwriter– because I actually hate doing it. Every time I finish a screenplay, I think shit, now I have to so start another outline. I cant believe I have to go through all that again because it takes so long .
MERIN: Oh, thats funny .do you work with 3 by 5 cards, moving them around on a board?
KRAMER: I dont do that. I know many screenwriters who do, but I dont. I have my own outline form. I just switch scenes around, add to them. The outline is incredibly detailed. Its about 30 pages of single spaced paragraphs of all the scenes. Then I start the fun work– which is the actual dialog. I love writing dialog.
MERIN: Are you in the characters heads when you write dialog?
KRAMER: I definitely become the characters. Theyre all part of me. This is all so personal. Theres so many different aspects of my personality in these characters in different ways. Carrie (Molly Shannon) is defiantly my alter ego– Im always looking at womens magazines, always questioning why they say to boost your buttocks and have breast reductions, and Im so annoyed by the way society makes women look at themselves. I have a two year old daughter and I just dont want her to grow up looking at models as though theyre the way you have to look and be. Like Molly, I love Oprah– Im completely obsessed with her and would probably surrogate a child for her, if she asked me. So, Molly is me speaking in many ways. Gray is a combination of me and my sister. And then theres pieces of my personality in all the other characters, but I definitely get in each characters head when theyre speaking.
MERIN: Did you write parts for Alan Cummings (a taxi driver) and Sissy Spacek (a psychotherapist) specifically?
KRAMER: Yes, I know Alan and hes such a sprite– I wanted to give him opportunity to play a role more like himself– because hes constantly playing superheroes– and wanted to hear his true Scottish accent.
And I knew Sissy, too, and wanted to give her something shed never done before. I read an article about a New York therapist who walks patients on the West Side Highway for their sessions. I thought thats hilarious, and took it to the next level– Chelsea piers. Sissys very athletic, so I wanted to give her something to show that off. She did her own stunts
MERIN: Even falling off the rock climbing wall?
KRAMER: Yes, thats her! We had a stunt women, but Sissy wanted to do it. And we didnt fake that with an extreme camera angle. Its real. Sissy did it. So did Heather.
MERIN: Heathers a gas, and wonderful in your film. Its sort of a coming out for her .
KRAMER: Yes, its true– in terms of her coming out as an actress. “Drugstore Cowboy” was her ingénue moment and you knew this girl deserves major attention. And “Boogie Nights,” too. But shes played some roles that made people lose confidence in her range.
MERIN: Did you see many other actresses?
Kramer. Yes, many– some with much bigger names. But when I met Heather, there was really no looking further. I had no problems casting this movie. But it was a seven year struggle to get financing.
MERIN: Even with Sissy and Alan on board?
KRAMER: They were huge calling cards. Especially for casting, because actors want to work with them. This is an ensemble movie– even though its Heathers– and putting the cast together was like solving a big puzzle. Wed gotten it completely cast, but the financer pulled out.
MERIN: What happened? Did he get scared
KRAMER: Of the subject matter. When we got financing again, our cast werent available. So we started from scratch again.
MERIN: Then, what finally got you financed? Have things changed?
KRAMER: I think so. Theres more awareness of gay rights and the gay community– and although Im a straight girl myself, I definitely consider myself part of the community– is more a part of pop culture. Theres a long way to go, but theres more in consciousness. Before it was about “those people” who have nothing to do with me. Now, you dont have that choice– whether your for or against gay marriage, you have to know about it. Then theres “Brokeback Mountain” and “Will and Grace,” that are part of our culture. So, yes things have changed since I wrote the script.