Jillian Bell and Anna Kerrigan spoke with Solzy at the Movies ahead of Cowboys releasing in virtual cinemas and VOD on February 12.
A bit about the film: Steve Zahn stars as Troy, a father who recently separated from wife Sally (Jillian Bell). Troy isn’t happy that Sally refuses to let their trans son Joe (Sasha Knight) live an authentic life so they run off into the wilderness. A police detective (Ann Dowd) tracks them down but her resolve is tested when she learns more about Joe’s family. Cowboys, written and directed by Anna Kerrigan, is a different type of Western than audiences are used to seeing but this film should win audiences over.
Anna, what was the genesis for the screenplay for Cowboys?
Anna Kerrigan: I spent a lot of time in Flathead County, Montana, as a kid. It’s always had a very special place in my heart. In a moment that was dark and sort of transitional for me, I just wanted to write something that was set in this place that I love. I just started—the first thing that came to me was this father and a son on horseback. I knew they were running away from something but I didn’t know what it was. That slowly evolved into a film about two modern outlaws: a father with mental health issues, who’s really well intentioned and loves his transgender son, just trying to find acceptance in the world.
What kind of dialogue did you have with Nick Adams at GLAAD while you were writing or finishing the screenplay?
Anna Kerrigan: I started talking to Nick Adams once this script was set. I think? Actually, I think that’s not true—maybe we didn’t have all of our financing. I think maybe around the time—I did a Film Independent Fast Track, which is where you go and you meet with a bunch of financiers. But yeah, Nick was involved early. He read the script and helped us with casting outreach. We’ve just been in conversation with him again about the release of the film. He and GLAAD have been very wonderful allies for the project.
Jillian, audiences know you from so many comedies so what made this the right film to sign on for a contemporary Western?
Jillian Bell: Oh, man, when is it the wrong time to sign on for a Western? No, I read the script and I just was like, This is so different for me. It’s such a departure. I mean, I’ve done a little bit more in the drama world with Brittany but I was looking to go further with it. This just felt like such a different role for me in a way that I was intimidated of it and also equally excited. I feel like that’s the right combination to push forward.
How did you prepare for the role?
Jillian Bell: I had a lot of conversations with Anna. I did a lot of work on back story. This was a difficult character for me. She’s kind of the opposite of who I am. I am a big supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. I’m not a parent myself so I asked a lot of people about their experience of being a parent. I sort of had to walk this fine line between playing someone who could easily become a villain and making them feel like a real person and a loving and caring parent. Someone who you don’t want to ultimately lose by the end of the film but has their own self realizations, self reflection, and comes to be in a better place about it. A more supportive and accepting place about it.
What do you typically look for in a character while reading a screenplay?
Jillian Bell: Just something different. Something I haven’t seen a million times or something that feels like a challenge to me. Sometimes, it’s a lot of the comedies I’ve been doing. They’re fun and it comes more naturally than something more dramatic but the second I dip my toe into this type of pool, I was surprised by how much I loved it and was scared of it but it was the good kind of scared that I wanted to do it more and more.
What was the most challenging part of the production?
Anna Kerrigan: We were shooting with a limited budget in a beautiful part of the world where we were able to get so much production value from just the way that it looks. But that also means that there’s not much of an infrastructure there. Every day in the wilderness was trekking and camping vibes. We had to be pretty scrappy and do what we could with very little.
How have the two of you managed to keep yourself busy during the pandemic?
Jillian Bell: Sometimes I don’t, sometimes I’m really boring. I’ve been writing a bunch. I’ve been going on really long walks with my mask and making these weird, healthy smoothies and drinking those to try to make my brain feel better. At the beginning, I was only doing the things everybody else was doing—baking so many treats. Now I need to do things for myself. Watching too much Dateline.
Anna Kerrigan: I’ve been writing a lot. I also take a dog walk every day and I’ve been trying to do yoga. I talk to my nearest and dearest pretty often on the phone or for a socially distanced walk for a select few. But it’s tricky. I don’t know about you, Jillian, because you’re also writing but it’s like, there can be these days where you’re just spending so much time on the computer between Zooms and typing and whatnot, and that makes me feel the most insane.
Jillian Bell: Yeah, my eyeballs go crazy.
Anna Kerrigan: Yeah, it’s worst. But we’re busy!
Jillian Bell: How have you been doing?
I’ve managed to start reading 28th book since the pandemic.
Jillian Bell: Whoa!
Anna Kerrigan: Novels or what kind of books?
I started out with Classic Hollywood studio mogul biographies—
Anna Kerrigan: Oh, wow.
Like William Fox, Warner Brothers, etc. and transitioned to directors. And of course, Rachel Bloom had a new book so I had to read that and then a Cary Grant biography. I’m really looking forward to the Seth Rogen book coming out in May.
Jillian Bell: Oh, right! That’s coming out. That looks fun.
Anna Kerrigan: Do you listen to Karina Longworth’s podcast?
I should have time for more podcasts but when you’re watching a lot of movies what feels like every day? If it’s not movies, it’s MSNBC. I’m familiar with it because someone mentioned it when I was reading book a few quarantine books ago.
(We get into a bit of small talk about one book I read during the pandemic before segueing back to You Must Remember This.)
Unknown Speaker 9:38
Anna Kerrigan: The Karina Longworth podcast—she’s a really amazing historian of Hollywood. You Must Remember This. And I mean, I don’t know. I can only—I agree with you. It’s so much consumption. I just listened to it when I’m like taking my dog for a walk.
There’s just way too much out there. I mean, I just finished Sundance—
Anna Kerrigan: Oh, G-d.
And had three films left to screen before the Critics Choice Awards deadline. At that point, I just wanted to close my eyes for the weekend. But yeah, three more films had to be watched.
Anna Kerrigan Well, if this was one of them, thank you.
I watched this during Outfest originally.
Jillian Bell: Okay, cool.
It had been on my radar when Tribeca announced their schedule and then of course, the festival got canceled. There were films in the library and then the publicist sent me a screener. But at that point out—this was early pandemic where I’m like, for the festival films, what’s the point of writing a review when no one’s going to see the films?
Anna Kerrigan: Right? Yeah, it’s a little tricky. Tribeca was cancelled but then it also wasn’t cancelled. We did officially premiere there but it is weird because no one watched it except for the three jurors.