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Interview: Palm Springs’ Meredith Hagner

by Charles Trapunski

Meredith Hagner is making it happen. There is no way to understate it: Palm Springs is an incredible and timely film, and already feels like a cult classic. It’s a fresh, hipper take on Groundhog Day and a must-see. Front and centre in the film, do check out the performance from its MVP Meredith Hagner as Misty, the girlfriend of Andy Samberg’s Miles who…it doesn’t seem like true love is going to run its course with them.

Hagner’s skill at infusing a potentially unlikeable character with notes of humanity seems to be a speciality of hers (as fans of the show Search Party already know), and her memorable turns in Horse Girl and the Quibi series Dummy demonstrate the versatility of the talented comic performer. In our extended phone interview recently, she was a standout person as well, extremely kind and appreciative.

The following is a condensed and edited version of our conversation with the quirky and multi-talented Meredith Hagner of Palm Springs.

*This interview originally ran on July 6, 2020*

Brief Take: I was hearing about this movie after Sundance when it broke the record as the biggest sale ever. Did you know that this movie was going to be a game changer?

Meredith Hagner: Well, no, you never really know. For me, I read the script and it was incredible. Andy Siara’s an amazing writer and he writes this dystopian type of movie in such a humorous, of this moment kind of way. You always hope that the movie is executed as well as the script, and I think that they actually surpassed that. Because my character is in specific parts of the movie, I didn’t get to see any of the scenes with J.K. (Simmons), and Cristin (Milioti) and Andy (Samberg), and I think that they both give such incredible performances, so for me to get to watch it with everyone at Sundance, I was kind of having the same experience of just like: “Holy crap, this is an amazing film”, and I’m just glad it’s getting the recognition it deserves, you know?

BT: What was your feeling at Sundance when you were experiencing this movie for the first time?

MH: Sundance is so cool because you’re feeling the magic in the room, and I hadn’t seen it, I had only been on set, and you never know if something is going to piece together. And I was going: “This is going to be really special”, and then looking at the filmmaker with his parents and looking at everybody—Becky Sloviter, who is this brilliant producer, such a wonderful person, and when you watch good things happen to good people, knowing that they made a movie that I think is a positive contribution to the world and shows what can still happen when independent film is made. It’s hard enough, but to feel that energy at Sundance and other film festivals and get sucked up in it, it’s amazing.

BT: It must have been the most fun to film.

MH: It was so fun. I mean we did a lot of night shoots, at least during my stuff, and it’s a fun cast, really great people and we did, we had a total blast. There was a moment in which I was eating jelly beans with June Squibb in the middle of the night, it was outside and it was at night, a lot of the wedding stuff was at night and I was like: “This is the most fun camping trip that I have ever been on”, like out in a tent, waiting in the holding area, eating jelly beans with June Squibb.

BT: This movie has a real feeling of existential turmoil when I watched it and yet I kind of enjoyed that feeling. What did it feel like to you when you were watching it?

MH: When I got to see it, I had the same reaction. It was sad and funny and human and really does tackle those existential questions. I have the same feeling of: “Oh my God”, and in this moment, we’re all kind of living our own Groundhog Day and we’re all to varying degrees affected by this time and it just puts into perspective what matters most, and I definitely had that feeling watching the film for the first time as well.

BT: That’s it exactly. I feel like it must have only deepened in meaning from January…

MH: I feel the exact same thing. I know. It’s wild.

BT: What was it like to shoot in such an interesting place in Palm Springs? What was the vibe on set?

MH: The vibe on set was like: “Oh we’re just making this really fun indie movie”, and I love making indie film because we have a first-time director, a great script, I think that Cristin Milioti is an actress that I’ve just loved her work for years and years and years and watching her lead this, I was really happy that she was the leading lady, just because I’m a fan, and same with Andy. I just thought it was pretty inspired casting on their end as the two leads and you’re there and I’m thinking that while the pieces seem to be fitting together, you never know how it’s going to be executed. And a win like this for an indie movie, it’s like this is why we do it.

BT: What about building relationships and making friends on this film in particular, how has that been for you?

MH: Yeah, I just hope to keep making things with these guys. I loved watching the people, especially the people with whom I’m making movies now. I hope that the next five, ten years are going to continue to make cool things, like watching Camila Mendes be just such a great comedienne. I mean not all of it made it to the screen because movies have to be a certain amount of time, but watching her do comedy, and hoping that I get to do more things with Andy and Max and Cristin, yeah, it’s special making these movies with people like that that I want to keep collaborating with.

BT: Filming it probably created a sense of doing the same thing over and over again. How many times did you moisturize your own leg, for example? 

MH: I know, you know what’s funny? Because people have been asking me that, but normally on film sets, you do the same thing over and over anyway. Even though you’re doing the same thing, you’re just trying to create that newness. A scene in a normal film set can feel like Groundhog Day, then you have to try to make it new every time, but yeah, you’re right. It’s funny because she’s a girl that’s living in a time loop but doesn’t know that she’s in a time loop.

BT: Of course I watched Palm Springs, I’m most of the way through Search Party, I saw Horse Girl earlier this year…

MH: Oh my gosh, you’re going to be sick of me.

BT: You have a show for Quibi as well. How do you have so many great projects converging at this time?

MH: You know it’s so funny because I’ve been doing this for such a long time, but I’ve just had the good fortune of getting to work with really interesting filmmakers this past year, and it’s funny, I worked pretty back-to-back on stuff and it’s all coming out at the same time. I would have to say, I’ve received some good projects and each of those directors for me just blew my mind as filmmakers, so I feel tremendously lucky. Thanks for watching all that stuff!

BT: What do you lean into when you’re doing a role? There are a lot of comedic films with a touch of seriousness. When do you know that you want to be attached to a project?

MH: For me, even if I have one line in something, if I feel like the team is just…I really want to work with this director, like the director of Horse Girl, Jeff Baena, he’s such a cool guy, and same with Max (Barbakow), and I just look at the creative team and it’s just a group of people of which I want to be a part. Quite often, those directors give you freedom to bring what you want to these characters, and Cody Heller created Dummy, she’s such a brilliant mind, and I just look at the people and I’m very happy that I get to be helping illuminate their stories. The things that I’ve been doing are tonally, there are comedic elements to them, but they’re still grounded at the same time, so I like finding the sad humour in all of it.

BT: If you had a single day to live out over and over again, with whom would you spend it and what would you do?

MH: Oh my gosh, that’s such a tough one! I am living my days with my husband (Wyatt Russell) and it sounds so cheesy, but he is my person that I love spending every day with. We’re about to go in our van and go camping and we have a van that has a little bed in it. We’re about to go for about three weeks and [laughs] I like hanging with him and my dog (Bowie) and that is what I’m doing, but I’m going to have to think of something else because it is getting slightly old. [laughs]

BT: On that note, your own wedding looked like a pretty wonderful time as well, and weddings tend to play into a number of your recent projects.

MH: Oh yeah, it’s so funny. Well I was doing this movie as I was planning my wedding and my wedding possessed a really chill, backyard BBQ vibe, it wasn’t an over-the-top crazy wedding, but yeah, it is, there’s very much humour in weddings, there’s an innate cast of characters and the stakes feel high and there’s a lot of comedy in those circumstances. It’s fun to even draw from my own experiences and be able to laugh at what it is.

BT: You mentioned the idea of a couple watching this movie together while questioning where their relationship stands is a good one.

MH: I think that Misty and Niles’ relationship,  my character’s and Andy’s, there’s definitely a lot of couples like that, in which they’re just like: “Why are we even together at this point?”. It may be confrontational for some people, who knows?

BT: A lot of people have theories about your film Horse Girl, although I’d like to ask about Palm Springs and your thoughts about it. Do you have any theories as to the ultimate meaning of this particular film?

MH: I think that you can read a lot into it and that’s partly because of the complexity of the script and the complexity of what it is the filmmakers are saying. It kind of resembles a choose your own adventure existential question conjured up within all of us, right? For me, personally, Niles (Andy Samberg) has a line that I’m probably butchering, something like I’d rather spend every day over and over with you than I would without you out there. I’m definitely not quoting that correctly. Also, their performances are heartfelt, that’s what it sums up for me. It is finding the things and the people who you love and cherishing them even in the inane moments, because life without them would be horrible. I don’t know, for me, I could probably get deep with you over what is here in terms of the existential aspect. But for me, this time involves remembering simply what matters and holding on to it.

BT: What do you do when you’re playing complex and not exactly the most forgiving characters such as Misty. Do you have to like them? 

MH: Well it’s interesting because I always have empathy for them, and I have played some—not unlikable—but complex and on the page: very, very unlikable women. I find exploring what makes them that way and, also, I think of every character I play as me but having gone down a different path in life. There’s much that I draw from, even in Horse Girl—she’s nothing like the other characters I’ve played. She’s a disabled woman who fell off a horse and had a concussion. It’s like in imagining characters, I make it extremely personal. And look, I think Misty is someone who values her Instagram and she’s kind of an amalgamation of some people at whom I can probably look and laugh. But on closer inspection I would see that they’re actually good people. They just haven’t yet gotten the opportunity to see why their behaviours are the way that they are. But I like playing these messy, kind of unlikable on the page women and hopefully I add something to them.

BT: That was a good reference to Instagram. I think back to your 2017 film Ingrid Goes West, which was distributed by Neon. How do you feel that this film will be distributed by Hulu and Neon?

MH: You know it’s funny because for us—as actors—it’s like we do our job on the set, and then kind of, we go. We leave, and then we get talk to people like you about it and it’s so much fun. I’m simply glad that the movie’s going to get seen. I think that they’re great distributors, Hulu’s awesome and it’s such a win for Max, the director, and Andy and everyone involved. It’s hard not to cheer a movie like this on and hope that people will actually appreciate it. I think that they will and it’s simply nice that they’re going to get to see it.

To your question of Ingrid Goes West, Matt Spicer, he was also a first-time director that blew it of the water with that film. Along with—I think that Aubrey Plaza’s performance was absolutely incredible in that movie—under appreciated, even. Because she was brilliant in it.

BT: What have you been watching lately that you’ve really liked? 

MH: What have I been watching? God! I wish that I could say that I’m diving into Fellini or something right now and getting really deep into Scandinavian film or something, but it’s more like I’m watching Tiger King and Downton Abbey. [laughs] But I’m really burning through Downton Abbey right now, except then, when I watch it, I can’t stop speaking in an English accent, which I’m sure is really annoying for my husband.

BT: Music plays a really important role in this project and many of your others. Do you have a go-to karaoke song?

MH: I write folk songs and play guitar, which is the thing that I kind of love to do. I’m not a big karaoke person. I get kind of uncomfortable doing karaoke, which is funny, because a lot of the characters I play would thrive doing karaoke, but I get really self-conscious! I’m not the best person at karaoke! Perhaps less so when I’m singing as Portia (in Search Party), but I get very uncomfortable doing karaoke in certain situations, whereas it’s fun to play people that don’t have any of the same insecurities that I possess.

BT: Going back to all of your projects, you work with awesome people. But you come into the ring and you bring it, big time. What do you enjoy most about collaborating, such as have you had people that you hadn’t known prior to shooting and as you work together, you become the best of friends?

MH: You’re so sweet for saying that. I mean, pretty much everybody. I feel like I—without sounding super cheesy, I do pinch myself. Because I’ve been doing this for a long time and I feel like I got an opportunity when I did a movie called Hits with David Cross, I really kind of—Charles Rogers, who is one of the creators of Search Party, saw me in that and gave me the opportunity to play Portia, which has really changed my life. That experience has the spirit of indie filmmaking because we’ve all become such great friends and there’s a major element of collaboration there. I’m starting to see a pattern because all the best projects of which I’m a part have major collaborative components. A big part of being an actor for me is like: “Look, I’m here to tell your story”. And if I sign on to do your project, I’m going to do the best that I can to help bring your vision to life and hopefully add something with what I bring. But the collaborative aspect of it and similarly with quarantine, I seem to really miss making movies and being on set. Because it took me a while to start really picking up speed and working with the kinds of filmmakers with whom I’m working. I just have such tremendous gratitude for getting to do these things and tell these stories. At this moment, I do feel like a big ball of gratitude and luck.

BT: If it’s going to get a laugh and if it’s the right way to play a scene, how far will you go for comedy?

MH: Oh, I never believe in ‘too far’. I’m doing a movie with John Cena and Lil Rey Howery and Yvonni Orji now called Vacation Friends in which we’re in the middle—we stopped production because of the quarantine and this is kind of one of the more physical comedies. There’s more physical comedy in that, which I’m really enjoying doing. And I feel like it’s all about commitment to the stakes, and I don’t know how far—I think that I’d go pretty far to commit to doing something that my character might do that may be funny. [laughs]

BT: Search Party was released recently and that’s also really exciting. How do you feel that these projects in a way sort of intersect?

MH: Yeah, Search Party is sort of its own kind of comment on the moment. I think that they sort of brilliantly satirize the media in their show and I think that Palm Springs is somehow almost—we made it a year ago, but it was almost kind of prophetic and it brings out a lot for a lot of people. I think that through these funny things, there is kind of greater meaning at this moment. It is interesting timing with both of these projects coming out at the same time. Although my work is done, I get to sit back and enjoy that people are finally getting to see it.

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