Sundance interview: Wendi McLendon-Covey and Debra Eisenstadt on Imaginary Order

Wendi McLendon-Covey is a very different mom in Imaginary Order. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The Goldbergs’ mom Wendi McLendon-Covey had a movie at Sundance. Imaginary Order is a comedy but not the same kind of TV comedy as The Goldbergs.

McLendon-Covey plays Cathy, a mom unraveling. She unravels even further when her friend’s teenage son (Max Burkholder) starts coming onto her. Add that to trying to mother her own daughter and mange her marriage.

Monsters and Critics spoke to McLendon-Covey and writer/director Debra Eisenstadt at the Sundance Film Festival. They filmed Imaginary Order in 15 days. There are 200 scenes in the film. Look for Imaginary Order later this year.

Monsters & Critics: Is 200 scenes in 15 days more intense than a Goldbergs episode in 8 days?

Wendi McLendon-Covey: Oh hell, yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, and The Goldbergs shoots in five. We’ll do one episode in five days. That’s 32 to 40 pages that we get through.

But that’s an intense shooting schedule and it allows for no rehearsal, so you just better hope that your actors are there to play and there to listen to the director. You hope that they’ve done their homework and everybody had.

The actors for this project were so much fun to work with and such just everyone took it to the mat and it was such a great experience. It really was.

M&C: Did you have a similar process creating Cathy as Beverly Goldberg?

WMC: The only thing I had for this were my e-mail conversations with Debra, a couple of table reads and just reading the script over and over and over and just meditating on it. Like, how would someone do this?

I don’t know how to tell you about my process except for that it was nothing like creating Beverly Goldberg because Beverly lives. She’s a real person. So there’s lots of source material there.

Debra Eisenstadt: But I kind of give subliminal messages to my actors and I do an implant.

Cathy tries to find time for her daughter Tara (Kate Alberts) in Imaginary Order. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

M&C: What were one or two subliminal messages?

DE: There was a short story I shared with you called Likes I think, that was in The New Yorker. That sort of felt like the tone of this. As far as little notes here and there or little suggestions, I can’t really pull them from my mind right now.

WMC: The script was solid. I felt like oh, I get what’s happening here. I understand. I understand where she wants to go with this. I don’t know if I can deliver. I hope I can.

We, again, shot 200 scenes in 15 days so I couldn’t imagine how it would all cut together because we shot everything out of sequence. So I was bandaging that hand and unbandaging the hand for three weeks.

When we finally finished and we had some time, I went back and watched her feature Before The Sun Explodes and I said oh, we’re in good hands. She knows what she’s doing. This is an amazing movie so yeah.

M&C: When did you film this in Wendi’s schedule?

DE: Wendi had 15 days in July. She was so busy. I couldn’t believe she did back to back to back projects after The Goldbergs. Then I was like, Wendi are you going to be okay?

I was actually thinking secretly it’s kind of good she’s coming into this after working on three projects back to back. She’s going to be so exhausted and raw. It’s so perfect for this role.

She tried to weasel out of it at one point. She was a little freaked out by the part and also she was really exhausted. But I was like the exhaustion’s exactly what we need. I wanted her to be worn out.

WMC: No, it wasn’t the part.

M&C: Were you freaked out by the scenes with Max?

WMC: That didn’t freak me out because her intent was never to seduce him.

M&C: Hers wasn’t!

WMC: It never was going to go that way so I wasn’t afraid of it. If it would have been, “Oh, come here, little boy. I got you an iPad.” Then I would’ve been like I don’t think I’m the person to do this.

DE: The way I thought about it as I was writing it was as a mother because when you’re dealing with a child, no matter what it is, that scene in the car, if you’re the mother you’re looking at him like a kid and you can empathize, sympathize with him in a way that you can’t an adult.

You’re thinking, “Oh, he’s just a kid.” No matter what he does, how off the rails he goes, he’s still just a child with f***ed up parents. She takes pity on him and she wants to help him. Her intentions are all good. She just sees how messed up and childish I think he is.

Xander (Max Burkholder) has risque intentions. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

M&C: Do you seek out movies every hiatus?

WMC: Oh yeah. I did four movies this past year. I’ve stayed pretty busy. It’s not just The Goldbergs. What Men Want, Goosebumps already came out, Papi Chulo debuted in Toronto and it’s having its U.K. debut. It’s an Irish film actually but they shot it in L.A.

M&C: Are roles like Cathy a blessing?

WMC: Oh yeah. I would take one Cathy over anything else. It was so much fun and the finished product is just so gratifying to see that. We were really pleased with the response last night.

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