Molly Shannon, who got her start on Saturday Night Live, and is the face of so many iconic comedic roles in film and television, takes a stab at a raw, suffering character with Other People and completely nails it. The film’s writer-director Chris Kelly gives audiences a gritty, real look at a mother suffering and slowly dying from cancer, inspired by his real-life experience. At the premiere of the film in Los Angeles, Shannon tells Bustle why she feels so moved watching herself play a complete 180 from any character thus far in her career. “I feel just grateful that I got such a juicy part,” she explains with unmatched enthusiasm. Not only did this experience impact her on-and-off screen, but the film (and Shannon’s role) heavily influenced producer Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) and co-star Maude Apatow (This Is 40) as well.
Shannon says playing a strong-willed woman — who’s also a wife, mother, and teacher — facing a painful, untimely death led her to reflect on her own life. “I think you really have to treasure the time that you have and never take that for granted,” she explains. Like Kelly, the story hits close to home for her on a significantly-emotional level.
“Like Chris, my mom’s life was cut short, too,” the 51-year-old explains. “Losing a parent at a young age, you value the time you do have with them. I think about it that way.” Beyond having her late mother to relate to in this process, she was able to put herself in her character Joanne’s shoes because she, too, is a mom.
“It was such a good part to play, the children were everything to her,” Shannon says with empathy. “She would go to the end of the world and do anything for her children, fighting for more time to live to see the wedding or a comedy, she would’ve gone to the end of the earth for them and fought so hard.”
I tell Shannon that I love how the film depicts Joanne as the family's matriarch, the glue, the foundation, as my family also lost its female rock to illness. The actress, who has two kids — Stella (12) and Nolan (11) — agrees. “I love that,” she says. “It’s just so touching and I relate to it as a mother.”
Scott tells me that he also unfortunately experienced the loss of the female matriarch figure in his family. “I went through an experience with my grandmother that was very similar to what happens in the movie… It was a very similar feeling to the couple of weeks we were around [her]. It was a very intense, intimate feeling you only get with family. Someone coming into the world or leaving,” the 43-year-old says.
In addition to the film’s ability to “capture the intimacy of death” and of course, the fallen matriarch, Scott explains how scenarios with such high-running emotions also made him think about birth, particularly that of his first son with his wife Naomi. “It’s funny, I remember when we had our first kid and we were home two weeks without leaving the house, just taking care of this new kid,” he says. “Family was around and we were getting as much help as we could, feeling really close with everyone around us.”
Maude Apatow, who takes part in her first film not directed by her famous dad Judd Apatow, says she couldn’t have asked for a better, more enriching experience. “It was probably the best possible first acting experience outside of working with my family that I could’ve had,” says the 18-year-old. Even throughout all of the difficult scenes, she says, “It only made me more excited to act.”
And of course, both Apatow and Scott applaud Shannon for not only her riveting performance, but her strong presence when the cameras weren’t rolling. “Molly was the easiest person to act with because she’s like the sweetest woman in the world,” says Apatow. “The first time I talked to her, I already loved her so much. She’s just a great person. It’s amazing watching her because she’s incredible in this. She’s like Master Class.”
Scott also praises Shannon’s performance, saying it moved Kelly to tears “day one, scene one.” “Molly stepped in and was incredible,” says the producer. “It’s a very autobiographical movie, loosely inspired by Chris’s story. Getting the character right that Molly was playing was really important… [He] was thrilled beyond belief that Molly was doing this incredible job.”
I hope that when audiences see the film, they’ll immediately understand why Shannon’s performance, led by such deep emotion and apparent empathy, is receiving such praise.
Other People will be in theaters September 9.
Images: Vertical Entertainment (6)