Zoe Lister-Jones wore a lot of hats when filming the indie comedy “How it Ends” — co-writing, producing and directing the film with Daryl Wein and co-starring with Cailee Spaeny. But for the movie’s L.A. premiere on the rooftop of Neuehouse in Hollywood, Lister-Jones wore Chanel.
“We get to have a fashion moment,” Lister-Jones quipped after stomping the black carpet like it was a runway alongside Spaeny, who was outfitted in Saint Laurent.
Talking fashion might seem trivial, but when “How It Ends” was filmed — at the height of the pandemic — it was unclear to all involved how, when and if this type of Hollywood celebration would happen again.
“It’s been such a wild journey, obviously, for the world at large,” Lister-Jones told Variety. “But to make a movie that we conceived of in quarantine, and then shot in quarantine, edited in quarantine, we did virtual Sundance and now to actually be here in the flesh, to get to celebrate with all of our friends who showed up and agreed to play with us at a very scary time in the world, is just so meaningful.”
It was only Lister-Jones’ second time seeing the movie on a big screen (and owning the red carpet), after the movie’s Tribeca screening last month, but she added that there was something extra special about seeing “How It Ends” on the backdrop. Representing the movie’s ensemble cast were Whitney Cummings, Rob Huebel, Bobby Lee, Tawny Newsome and Bradley Whitford.
“How It Ends” follows a woman named Liza (Lister-Jones) who walks the streets of Los Angeles on the last day on Earth, working to make amends before a comet strikes, accompanied by her inner child (Spaeny). In some ways, the project served as a metaphor for the uncertainty the world was experiencing during quarantine; in other ways, it served as a time capsule; and in still others, it served as a lifeline for the creatives making it.
“The impetus for this movie was selfish in some ways, because I think it was our way to really process the overwhelming onslaught of emotions that that we were facing, as the rest of the world was,” Lister-Jones said. But she and Wein didn’t want to make a movie about the pandemic, crafting the apocalyptic narrative in an adjacent timeline instead.
“My character’s navigating the same sort of existential crisis that I think a lot of us were facing in such an unprecedented time,” she continued. “I hope that people watching it can feel seen. And that we wanted to make a comedy that allowed for levity, but didn’t deny the impact of what we’ve all been through.”
Cummings — who plays Liza’s friend Mandy, who is planning an epic party to send the world out with a bang — explained that improvising dialogue while positioned eight-feet away from her scene partner presented its own sort of challenges, but the uncertainties of lockdown made the process feel more urgent and spontaneous.
“There was a vibe that was like, ‘What if this is the last movie we all ever get to make? What if this is the last time I ever get to act?’” Cummings recalled. “There’s this level of ‘Go for it,’ like, ‘I just don’t know if we’re gonna be able to do this again.’ I’m a standup, I was like, ‘I’m never able to tour again.’ [At the time of filming, COVID-19] was that bad.”
For Whitford, the decision to appear in the film was a “no brainer” — and not only because he was able to film his scenes at home.
“Hollywood is filled with people with lots of ideas, and they never actually execute them,” he explained. “Zoe is one of the rare human beings who has an idea and will finish the script or will finish the movie. And she’s done it her whole life. And she called and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, absolutely.’”
Wein and Lister-Jones accomplished the project with just a crew of four, which brought Lister-Jones back to those “guerrilla roots of indie filmmaking”: “It’s always so exciting to see how nimble we can be on our feet, with such a skeleton crew and how much we can actually achieve when you cut the fat off the general production.” But most importantly, they made the movie with friends.
Spaeny and Lister-Jones had just finished “The Craft: Legacy,” and were part of each others’ quarantine pod, when the idea for the indie comedy came together.
“It’s a dream — at least for me, and I think for a lot of people as artists — it’s the goal to find collaborators and like-minded artists that you can make things from your heart that feel like it’s straight from [your heart],” Spaeny said. “It’s just a complete joy, and that’s what this was, and I feel really lucky to be a part of it.”
Lister-Jones often refers to Spaeny as “my twin flame,” and introduced her as such as she brought the cast on stage ahead of the screening. When asked how they might complete their cinematic trilogy, Spaeny said, “I feel like we got to get a musical in there. I mean, musicals are back,” noting that she played Princess Fiona in “Shrek the Musical” back in her musical theater days.
Spaeny and Whitford were also riding high off this week’s Emmy nominations announcement — where HBO’s ”Mare of Easttown” earned 16 nominations (Spaeny played Erin McMenamin, who was at the center of the HBO limited series’ central mystery) and Whitford earned his eighth individual Emmy nod for playing Commander Joseph Lawrence in Hulu’s ”The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“It’s so exciting. I have never been a part of anything like that before. It’s pretty overwhelming,” Spaeny said. “The moment I knew that it was success is when I found out that ‘Mare of Easttown’ had a cheesesteak named after the show at Wawa. I was like, ‘Oh, we made it.’ Like, even more than the Emmys!”
For Spaeny, the love for “Mare” was also special because the limited series finished production amid the pandemic, thanks to perseverance from the crew and cast, led by Oscar-winner Kate Winslet.
“I think it serves as a bigger inspiration that we can all collectively get over this hump,” she added. “And with a crew that big, it’s a big ask to have everyone come back and, everyone has families, and there’s a lot on the line. But to be able to have that camaraderie and teamwork to put something together and to put our hearts into something, I think is really special.”
With three Emmy trophies to his name, Whitford agreed that this year’s Emmy love felt particularly meaningful given the fact that he was recognized alongside nine of his co-stars, the most individual nods the show has received to date.
“You never take it for granted. I’m a very lucky actor. This morning was really terrific,” he explained. “I was watching the show and screaming over to Amy, ‘Everybody is so good this year. Everybody’s blood is flowing.’”
He continued: “All shows that work, are a product of alchemy. And the alchemy is a product of all of the people in front of the camera and behind the camera. When I realized that there was this slough of nominations for people who I love, it made me really happy. For a show four years in to get a big kiss on the mouth like that is wonderful.”
There were a few less kisses on the mouth during the rooftop screening of “How It Ends” due to COVID-safety protocols — which came just as L.A. County announced plans to reinstate an indoor mask mandate “regardless of vaccination status” beginning July 17 due to a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalization — but there was no shortage of love between the crew who came to support the MGM movie, including Seth Rogen, Ben Schwartz, Rhea Seehorn and Amy Landecker.
“How It Ends” debuts in select theaters on July 20.