Casey Wilson talks directing a short about her eccentric father, and the future of Bitch Sesh
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Actress and writer Casey Wilson has added another hyphen to her ever-expanding career, as a first time director of a short accepted into this year’s Toronto International Film Festival titled Daddio. Written with Laura Kindred, Wilson stars opposite Michael McKean as a father and daughter still figuring out a year later how to come to terms with the death of her mom.
Fans of Wilson’s podcast Bitch Sesh, hosted with writer Danielle Schneider, will be familiar with the story given how Wilson’s eccentric dad Paul is a recurring guest on the Real Housewives breakdown show. After getting a People’s Choice Awards nomination for the podcast this week, Wilson joked “I just want people to treat me with the respect I deserve as a People’s Choice nominee. . . you would think Danielle and I have won an Oscar, and not that we were nominated for a podcast category the way we’re acting.”
EW spoke to Wilson about directing Daddio, dealing with grief, and the future of Bitch Sesh.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is a very personal project for you. Fans of your podcast will know parts of this story, but why did you want to tell it now in this way, as a short?
CASEY WILSON: My girlfriend Laura Kindred, who co-wrote it with me, [and I] had written about my dad because he’s such an eccentric lovable character, and then we were thinking about it and it is just so hard to get anything made. We thought what if, because I wanted to try directing, we just tried it as a short film to see, and finance it ourselves as a way to test out directing and test out the story. Then, when we wrote it as a short, it felt like its own complete little piece and so we decided to do it. We found an amazing [Director of Photography] Adam Silver who could help me, just because I was going to act in it as well, and we just thought it was a sweet story, and kind of comedy-based, based in love. That it is kind of a love story between a father and daughter was interesting to us. It’s not the normal father and daughter who hate each other, or that kind of thing.
You’ve been so open about your grieving process before, and it’s a process that doesn’t necessarily end. Was there a cathartic element to making the short?
Yes 100 percent. We wanted the short to take place a year after the passing of the mom just because I think so many things [show] grief right after someone died, and to your point I don’t think it ever really ends, the grieving process. If anything, in my dad’s in my case, things got even weirder at the one year mark in terms of shock has settled and you’re just now immersed back in your life, but walking alongside grief. The things he was doing were so manic and funny, but embarrassing and upsetting at the same time. I mean, I didn’t even put his arrest in there. A lot that went on that was troublesome.
Why Michael McKean as your father, and does Paul approve? Did he have a say in casting at all?
Of course Paul wanted to play Paul, so once it was made clear to him that he would not be portraying himself—which was a blow—he immediately approved of Michael McKean. He was our first choice, and actually, I just was at a diner in Toronto with my dad and Michael just now, they’d never met, and it was very funny. My dad said Michael was “finally delivered at a character worthy of his talents,” and the role of a lifetime.
Michael had played my stepdad on Happy Endings and I was in For Your Consideration and had met him briefly, and he just has the right energy. My friends June Diane Raphael, who’s in the movie, said he’s just more Paul than Paul. He has such a buoyant, positive kind of upbeat energy. Michael is nowhere near as unhinged as dad in a fun way, but he accessed it beautifully and of course my dad made him a very, very long video [of] what it is to be Paul.
When you were developing it, how did you find the right tone, to where it still has humor, but remains pretty gentle?
One thing me and Laura Kindred were talking about is with grief there’s often such moments of hilarity that are actually some of the funniest moments I’ve ever had. It sounds strange, but in the 48 hours after someone’s passed, just because the things that happen are so out-of-body and you’re kind of plunged into these lows and then you feel these euphoric highs, which are certainly not because of anything to do with how you feel about what happened, but it’s almost like you’re just not even touched down on reality, and really funny things happen—things that I think are obviously funnier when you look back on them.
So I wanted to kind of include that aspect of it, but of course underneath it is just pain. I think there’s so much pain that comes from just loving someone, and the more you love them the more painful it is that they’re gone, or to watch your loved ones go through life, or watch my dad go through life without my mom is just one of the most painful things I’ve ever seen. But my dad went kind of manic and I went depressive so together we’re a nice bipolar.
In the big centerpiece scene of the short you have your friends and frequent collaborators June Diane Raphael and Adam Pally there. Was it special to have them there? What was the idea behind casting them?
It was so special, it really was. They’re both truly my two best friends, and also have experienced similar pains in life, and I think they also really know my dad and just how he means well but he’ll like really slam someone in a well-meaning way. My dad genuinely does not have a passive-aggressive bone in his body, but he’ll just say things to you like that is so shocking. Like “Aw, I heard so-and-so was cheating on you,” and it’s just like anything you tell him in confidence he will just say to someone right outright. It was fun to have the two of them because they’re so funny, and I thought they just played it so well when you’re trying to be friendly to a friend’s dad who is saying things that are so crazy. It was great to have them there for the first thing I directed and we shot that scene on the first day.
Were they there when everything happened in real life too?
So June and I have been best friends since we were 17, and so she was with me through the entire experience. I met Adam after, but he’s been through similar things and we really kind of understand each other in this walk, and so he wasn’t there but he’s known my dad for many years now, because my mom died about 14 years ago. But June was along for all of it and witnessed my dad just do such strange things, like he just started sending all my friends large checks, and in the memo line he was writing “follow your dreams,” and he would send them to June and she just so nicely wouldn’t tell me because it was just embarrassing to basically say your father is manic and doing really weird things. And they had both witnessed, this was only three years ago, when he gave a seven-foot portrait of himself to my husband and I, that he took of himself posing kind of looked like a T.J. Maxx president, just posing in a gold leaf frame that he gave me for Christmas. Seven feet tall, because we had so many photos of my mom around the house that he didn’t feel he was represented enough. Just genuinely wanted to commission a portrait of himself.
Your two young sons are a part of the Thank You’s at the end of the film. Do you find this project to be something you can share with your kids as a way for them to kind of meet your mom, or have a better understanding of you and your father?
I think obviously my kids will never know my mom. One time a baby psychic told me, when I was pregnant with my older son, that my mom and him did know each other, they were in a middle world together, but that they didn’t have much in common. So I thought that was very strange, not everybody likes everybody I guess, but I think pretty much everything I’ve done in my work is in some ways a tribute to my family and people I love, and I think this short is truly a way to honor my dad above all else.
He’s such a character, and like I said before, when people are so down after someone dies it’s sort of a testament to how much you love that person, and I think it’s a very little slice of life, and hopefully a little gem for my children to see what life was like so far before they were born, and before the kind of healing took place. Just a window into Papa Paul, as they call him, and who he is. It’s so hard to talk about someone no one’s met because I feel a lot of pressure and stress around wanting to keep my mom’s memory alive, which is obviously harder to do when someone’s never met her, but I’m writing a book right now, and a lot of stories from my childhood just keep them alive for me in my life, and keep a dialogue going with the past, and I think that the short is that and hopefully is a funny way to do that.
Also in the Thanks Yous is a shoutout to your Bitch Sesh Army, with the names of all the fans of your podcast who showed up to be extras. What was that like having dozens of people jump at the chance to help out?
It was so wild, I can’t even tell you. The way the podcast community has shown up I mean from the larger where we asked for people to send money to the Comfort Campaign to send to kids who were separated from their families at the border, and we truly raised $32,000 in a week, and most people were giving $25, $50, $5, $10. I’ve never been so astounded by generosity from a group of people in my life and it was so heartwarming and amazing that people want to help. This is a podcast about The Real Housewives so it’s certainly not as though we’ve all gathered together for a political justice group, and yet it’s the most generous group of people. And then of course, I had to call upon them once more to be extras for my short film, and I thought you know what, even if we get 10 people that’ll be great, and it was like 50 people came out and stayed all day. We did play some Housewives trivia games and tried to have fun as well, but I was so blown away to have them there, because the podcast is such a huge part of my life, and such a strong community in my life, that it was so beautiful and amazing and unexpected.
Yes that, and the People’s Choice nom.
With the people’s choice nomination, let’s see if they come through one more time. If we don’t win, f— them all. We’ll turn on every single one of them if we don’t win. [Laughs]
Does it make you want to keep the podcast going? It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with all the Housewives cities.
You know, that’s my fear. I’m trying to understand if people are still wanting it. I think we’re going to boldly add Below Deck, which we’re remiss on not adding sooner, but I think it’s so funny, there’s just so much TV right now. I actually don’t want to sound too lofty, again it’s a podcast about Bravo shows, but I think in some ways the podcast is kind of not even about the Housewives shows. It is and it isn’t. It’s just about all the garbage that we consume and finding commonality in how much we hate/love people. But I know, I’m always like “gosh do people watch Housewives anymore?”
Finally, after directing this short, what’s next for you in terms of directing? Are you leaning toward directing some TV, or a feature-length film?
I’m writing a movie now I’d love to direct, but also open to anything I think. I just felt it was the time, especially after I had kids, that I really felt actually more creative than I’ve ever felt. I just finally felt like I think I’m ready to take a step into a different direction, and I loved it. I’ve been bossing people around since I was four, so it didn’t feel unnatural to tell people what to do (I’m kidding), but yeah I’d love to keep directing. It felt great to be involved in the creative process at every single level. Where writing and acting are very kind of segmented portions, and then someone else puts the whole thing together, I finally thought why can’t I be the person that’s put everything together. So I gave it a whirl.
And does it feel like you’ve found a community of filmmakers supporting each other. For example, you thank Nicole Holofcener at the end of the short, and have worked with her on the upcoming HBO show Mrs. Fletcher.
Yeah, I do feel like I have such a community of people behind me that I feel want to see me succeed, and I want to see them succeed, and I think right now we need to hear from so many different types of filmmakers than we’re used to hearing from, and we need so many different stories, that this is the time if you have a story to tell, to do everything you can tell it, and rely and lean on the creative people and communities around you to help tell it because we want to hear these stories.