Former The Big Gay Sketch Show member Nicol Paone is thankful for good friends… and breakups. When she and a straight, married BFF with a child were both dumped by their respective exes a few years back, they decided to spend Thanksgiving together and make an affirming party of it, which sowed the seeds for Paone’s debut feature as writer-director, Friendsgiving.
Paone’s comedic celebration of chosen families stars Kat Dennings (Two Broke Girls, Marvel’s upcoming Disney+ series WandaVision) as her unhappily single alter-ego Abby and Malin Akerman (also a producer) as straight bestie Molly.
The pair come together for a Thanksgiving gone awry when they’re joined by the latter’s horny new boyfriend (Jack Donnelly, Akerman’s real life British hubby), flamboyant mother (Jane Seymour), and many surprise—and not always welcome—guests. Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, and Fortune Feimster make cameos as Abby’s fantastical “fairy gay mothers.”
Also appearing in next month’s Chick Fight with Alec Baldwin, Akerman, and Feimster, Paone—who previously identified as bisexual but now says she’s a full-on gay woman, and has a girlfriend—dished about the film, kissing her TBGSS co-star Kate McKinnon, and herd immunity with NewNowNext.
This movie sprung from your breakup with “a Hollywood power lesbian,” according to the director’s statement. I did a little Googling about your dating history but could only come up with Erin Foley. Was it her?
Definitely not Erin. She was my first girlfriend, she was amazing. But it’s also based on a few girlfriends. I did have one girlfriend say to me, “I love you to the moon and back,” and she broke up with me two weeks later. I was like, I guess the distance between the moon and back is two weeks. You figure it would be longer but I guess not, and I’m not a scientist.
What made Thanksgiving the ideal holiday to set this during instead of Christmas? We love us a gay Christmas movie.
For a lot of people, especially LGBTQ people, we gather with our friends around Thanksgiving, and I was having a “Friendsgiving” and life created the art. It was transformative when I helped my friend get through her divorce, and then a group of women came in and helped her raise her baby after her husband left her. They say it takes a village and it does, especially to raise a kid.
You have an amazing cast, which also includes Aisha Tyler, Ryan Hansen, Deon Cole, and of course Jane Seymour. Did you consider casting yourself as well?
I did, and thank God I didn’t because the schedule was so grueling. I had three weeks to prep the movie, and when you write, direct, and act you lose somebody to collaborate with and I love collaborating. I grew up playing team sports like the good little gay woman I am, and I think there’s something so magical and powerful when people come together for a common goal of making something funny, beautiful, and good. Also, by the time we got to the first day on set, I had an eye infection and ear infection, and they got a doctor to shoot me in the butt with antibiotics. I looked like death on set. There are only one or two behind the scenes pictures when I had hair and makeup give me a little boost. Will I cast myself in things in the future? Absolutely. But for the first one I’m thankful to watch Kat do her thing.
Have you actually had a hallucination involving lesbian “gay mothers” in real life, like with Lily Tomlin or Eleanor Roosevelt?
Absolutely. In my case it was Elaine Stritch and Bea Arthur, and they were in the form of my aunts-slash-fairy gay mothers yelling at me because I didn’t do something right.
Ben Stiller is a producer on the film. Did he need to go to bat for you at any point?
Yeah, he jumped on a few conference calls when we talked about casting, and it was an honor to hear Ben say, “Whatever Nicol wants,” because nobody has ever said that to me. One day we had a lovely chat about following your voice and gut. I listened to that maybe 98% of the time. The times I didn’t I can see it on screen and think, “Ben was right.” But I don’t know any director who is 100% satisfied with their movie.
Has there been any discussion of a Big Gay Sketch Show reunion?
There has been discussion over some drinks between Colman Domingo and I, and how we kind of missed out on an incredible opportunity to do something really special. Back in 2010 when the show ended, gay marriage wasn’t yet legal. Look at what’s happened in the past decade for the gay community—there’s a lot of laughs we could have mined from politics, from our advancement. It was fun to do the show. Sometimes it felt like a high school theater production, and other times it felt like we really hit the nail on the head.
You famously impersonated Elaine Stritch on the show. Did you ever get to actually meet her, and how did that go?
Yes. I remember going to the Carlyle and meeting Elaine Stritch. She was wearing a white shirt and we were sitting on a couch together, and our producers were across the coffee table from us and their faces were really stoic. They’re usually quite animated. It was a great meeting, and when we left I asked what’s going on and they said Elaine wasn’t wearing any underwear! So they got quite a visual and not something they wanted to look at, I guess, so they were in shock!
Did you consider asking Kate McKinnon to appear in Friendsgiving as a sort of TBGSS reunion?
I didn’t! I guess she could have played me, but that would have been odd because Kate and I are so different. But I should have.
Do you have a favorite anecdote about working with Kate?
Oh yeah. She was playing Cristal Carrington and I was playing Alexis from Dynasty, and we had this big kiss. It was our first kiss onscreen and she bit my lip and I was bleeding and had to be taken care of. Kate went for it!
Were her kisses more delicate after that?
I don’t think so. [Laughs] She certainly didn’t bite me anymore.
Tell me about your role as Betty in next month’s Chick Fight.
She’s a real bruiser. Let’s just say she’s the mom of a kid who’s selling drugs and mad the police arrested her son for selling drugs. She’s a bit of a villain. The trashy villain. It was fun to play that and be a real jerk.
How will you celebrate, or not celebrate, Thanksgiving during the pandemic?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure yet. I’m driving across the country on a little Friendsgiving tour with my girlfriend, and we aren’t sure. We’re throwing caution to the wind and see where we end up.
Friendsgiving premieres in theaters and on VOD October 23.
Main image: Nicol Paone on the set of Friendsgiving.