By Chaz Lipp
Kristen Ruhlin stars opposite Josh Gad (The Rocker
) in She Wants Me
, a new romantic comedy from writer-director Rob Margolies. The film explores an interesting set of circumstances that tests the limits of Sam (Gad) and Sammy’s (Ruhlin) relationship. Filmmaker Sam wants to help boost Sammy’s faltering acting career, so he offers her the lead role in his next film. She is, after all, his first serious girlfriend and he feels he owes her this opportunity. But unbeknownst to Sammy, mega-popular starlet Kim Powers (Hilary Duff) has expressed interest in the same role, leaving Sam in a real pickle.
Before you feel too sorry for Sammy, consider what she’s putting her boyfriend through at home. She remains unusually close with her ex-husband, John (Johnny Messner), and even invites him to live with her and Sam since he’s willing to help pay the rent. Naturally, this leads to some prickly moments as Sam has to swallow his pride and accept that John remains a strong presence in his beloved girlfriend’s life. It’s a funny film with strong performances, sure to start conversations (or more likely debates) between couples who ponder whether their own bond could survive a similar situation.
I recently had a chance to talk with Kristen Ruhlin about She Wants Me, including working with executive producer Charlie Sheen and co-star Hilary Duff.
How did you first become involved with She Wants Me?
I’d auditioned for Rob [Margolies] a long time ago in New York for a movie called Wherever You Are. That’s when we first met. Later, he directed Life-ers, which is something that I wrote and produced, and we worked really well together. He was gracious enough to bring me on board to this one. At the beginning, I thought it was going to be super indie with a bunch of up and coming indie actors. So the fact that we got some of the names that we did was serendipitous and totally great.
Charlie Sheen as executive producer and cast member – how did that happen?
Funny enough, it was actually written in the script that Jeff Goldblum was that character, and we were trying to get a cameo from Jeff Goldblum. One of the producers, Mark Holder, is best friends with Charlie Sheen and has been for a long time. Basically, the film was packaged for a lot of the main supporting characters, and Josh and I, with our managers. My managers and Josh’s managers basically cast a lot of the film. So Mark was like, “I’m really close with Charlie Sheen, I can see if he’d be down to do it for a day if you’d rather have him than Jeff Goldblum.” And we were like, “Yes please, of course. Make that happen.” So Charlie read the script. He was totally on board from day one and was literally doing it for nothing. The lowest paid actor on the whole shoot.
How was it working with him?
The way he was portrayed in the media at that time [was different than] the person that I saw, which was basically someone following through on a commitment for their best friend and working for nothing, happy to be there, and really a total professional. That, to me, spoke way more volumes than anything I’ve ever read or seen in any interview. It was such a fun day.
Was he personable and approachable?
He didn’t go to his trailer one time. He was hanging out with everybody equally, eating with the crew members at lunch. He was such a great guy. He wanted to do more stuff, like shoot two or three more days. We were desperately trying to figure how we could do all these random scenes. And we were actually setting them up and getting them all scheduled. But in the end, Rob knew it wouldn’t naturally fit into the storyline.
How did Hilary Duff end up as part of the cast?
Hilary came on while we were already filming. We had a couple other people attached to the role before her. I believe when I started it was Kate Bosworth, and then her scheduling [didn’t work out]. One of our PAs had a roommate or something that was one of Hilary’s roommates or something, and she was like, “Hilary Duff would be good for it.” And we’re like, “Um yeah, of course she would but she’d never do it in a million years.” Again, it was just through a random connection it worked it out. That was when we were desperately trying to find someone because Kate was falling out as we were already shooting.
What was she like?
She was super sweet. This was the second time I’d worked with Hilary. She was such a doll, such a sweet person.
What was the first time?
The first time, I actually had one line on Gossip Girl. It was literally like carrying a tray, and like, “Right this way to your table.” I was seating her and Blake Lively. I just worked with them for one day. Of course [Hilary] had no recollection of me whatsoever. [laughs]
Josh Gad is great as Sam. Did you enjoy working with him?
I love Josh. I think he’s the sweetest, most charming guy I can think of. Our trailer had a shared wall, and he’s a singer. We would sing these crazy rock opera songs and stuff. We had a lot fun just hanging out. I think he’s like a funny, comedic Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He definitely has a bright future.
Your character Sammy is very tight with her ex-husband. What was your interpretation of that relationship and how it affected Sam?
If you love someone, I’m a firm believer that you always have a place in your heart for that person, no matter what happens. The fact that she and John maintained such a strong relationship, and you see it comes from a place of love and respect, really proves that Sammy is a caring person. It looks like her putting Josh in that situation maybe puts Sammy in a bad light. But they’re all adults and, because all relationships are not equal, we have to look at the situation from every angle. Sometimes you can love someone but you can’t live with them. It doesn’t work out for some reason – it doesn’t mean you have to sever ties with them. I think Sam was a great trooper in that whole situation.
But he’s a bit of a pushover though, right?
He is. Sam was a total pushover and completely opposite of John’s character. I think that also throws back to women in general that sometimes, as you grow up, you’re discovering that your need s and your wants change. Maybe what she was looking for, and needed out of, her relationship with John changed over time and Sam was able to fulfill that in a different way. He was so willing to bend over backwards for this girl, because he loved her so much. Maybe John had to put career first and that’s why she was with Sam.
Sam is willing to put up with a lot more than the average person might, probably because he’s afraid of losing something that he believes is good for him.
Well, what did you think about it? Did you think Sammy was in the wrong or in the right?
Well, you know, personally I thought that, uh…
Oh, be honest – you wanted to slap me.
Yeah, I would’ve never put it up with it. I couldn’t sit by and have my girlfriend’s ex-husband living with us, paying the rent, walking around in a speedo.
It’s definitely something we’d never know unless we were in that situation. I had to find these redeeming points for myself while playing Sammy. That was my biggest challenge actually for the role. I worked with this amazing coach, Deborah Acquila, and she and I would sit down and look at the script and we’d be like, “We have to somehow find redeeming qualities.” How do I get to that place of justifying certain things that she’s doing in certain situations. How do I allow her to be understood with the limited dialogue that I have to share? Because it’s not Sammy’s story, it’s Sam. It was hard.
To your credit, you didn’t come across as unlikeable – even though your character could’ve been totally unlikeable. I thought there was a sympathetic side to both lead characters. Switching gears, your college degree is in fiber properties – what is that?
Fiber properties is the classification of cellular properties underneath a microscope. So I would take fibers from fabric and then, underneath a microscope, classify it by different elements, like its wick, tenacity, whether it was natural or synthetic. Basically it would lead to working for huge corporations like Under Armour or Kevlar. That’s what I intended to do.
I saw the word “fiber” and assumed it was some kind of nutritional thing.
It’s so weird, nobody knows what it is. It’s super, super specific. And I fell into it in college, trying to find a degree other than theatre.
Were you already into acting at that point?
I grew up around it because my mom managed a theatre company. So I was acting when I was literally one year old. I did my first national commercial, it was a diabetes thing. My mom was casting it. And I did other little commercials and I did all of her plays. She works for the official state theatre of West Virginia. So I did all the theatre plays for West Virginia growing up. And then I went through that angst, teenage years, where I was, “Acting is so stupid, I hate people that don’t use their brains. I’m so smart in science, this is what I’m going to do that’s totally not my mom.” Then in college I got a minor in theatre and then I got an agent in Columbus. That’s when I got my first lead role in an indie film. I got a super lucky break with that. After I shot that and graduated from college, and I had that under my belt, I went to New York. I didn’t realize how difficult it was to get a lead role in any type of indie film until I got to New York.
And you were a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade for a while?
Yeah, I was looking for a place to take classes in New York. I knew of the Upright Citizens Brigade and loved the comedy of it, so I started classes there. I was there for a few years while I was in New York. I worked with an improv troupe called Star Trekkin’, which makes fun of Star Trek. We performed every week and I did that for two years. I had really great opportunities that came from performing like that.
What’s next for you?
This summer has been really busy. I finished a hilarious film with another funny comedian guy, much like Josh Gad, called Tyler Labine. He’s on Animal Practice. The film also has Ed Helms, Lucy Punch, Damon Wayans Jr. – super funny cast. It’s almost like She Wants Me, but I play one of Tyler’s nightmare girlfriends this go-around, not his dream girl. This extreme gothic, awful girl. So that was really fun to play the total opposite of Sammy.