‘The Idea Of You’s Michael Showalter & Jordana Mollick Talk Post-Strike Observations, Rom-Com’s Theatrical Viability, Building Buzzy Semi-Formal Slate

With their newest film The Idea of You, a May-December romance based on the novel by Robinne Lee, filmmaker Michael Showalter and producer Jordana Mollick appear to have hit the zeitgeist yet again.

Garnering glowing reviews in its SXSW world premiere, the crowd-pleaser clocked 125M global views across social with its first trailer — the most for any Amazon original streaming movie to date — on the way to its launch today on Prime Video.

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Anne Hathaway stars as Solène, who meets cute with Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), the lead singer of internationally famous boy band August Moon, while at Coachella with her daughter. Thereafter, the pair set off on a globe-trotting romantic journey, complicated by what the world, and Solène’s own family, think of the situation.

A sucker for the rom-com, Showalter has previously mined the territory with projects like Hello, My Name Is Doris, a specialty breakout starring Sally Field that cemented his directing career following successes as an actor and comedian, and Amazon/Lionsgate’s The Big Sick, the cultural juggernaut co-written by and starring Kumail Nanjiani, which took his career behind the camera to an entirely new level.

It was after these successes that he came to partner with Mollick in Semi-Formal Productions, a production company focused on both heartfelt, edgy and unconventional narratives, which has made a name for itself with projects like The Eyes of Tammy Faye and The Dropout.

Six years in, the company is one of the most closely watched in the business, with such buzzy projects as the Paramount+ serial killer drama Happy Face, A24 true crime podcast adaptation The Girlfriends, and Amazon Freevee comedy The Pradeeps of Pittsburgh on the way.

On a break from prepping Oh. What. Fun, a holiday comedy starring Michelle Pfeiffer that’s keeping them in business with Amazon, Showalter and Mollick reflected on navigating the post-strike industry, the process of building their slate full of “hugs and murder,” the viability of the rom-com in the theatrical space, and the parts that could draw Showalter back to acting, even if he doesn’t identify as an actor, first and foremost, any longer.

DEADLINE: So far, The Idea of You has seemed to resonate, both at SXSW and online. How have you been feeling heading into the film’s release?

MICHAEL SHOWALTER: It’s been amazing to see the movie screened with an audience and to see the reaction and the amount of engagement that they seem to have with the characters as they go on there on their journey. They seem very invested, which is a big thrill for all of us.

DEADLINE: You came to the project after producer Cathy Schulman optioned the book and attached Anne Hathaway. What about it appealed to you?

SHOWALTER: I’m a huge fan of Anne’s, and as a fan of the romantic comedy, just loved the potential for this romantic equation. I, like other people, have a lot of interest in these two characters and what their lives are like, and what a relationship and a romance between the two of them would be. So, I was very excited about all of it.

JORDANA MOLLICK: We love romance and romantic comedies, and it was a big part of how we built this company. So when Mike told me about the project and his vision for it, I got so excited, as well.

DEADLINE: Hathaway’s co-star Nicholas Galitzine is in the midst of a breakout moment, having just recently made waves with Amazon’s Red, White & Royal Blue, a rom-com that the streamer last year revealed is among its three most-watched of all time. Did Amazon’s history with the actor factor into his casting?

SHOWALTER: They certainly knew who he was; he was someone they were already working with and excited about. I actually had seen him in Cinderella with Camila Cabello, Kay Cannon’s movie, and loved the movie and loved Nick in the movie. I have two young daughters and had watched it with them, so I was sort of familiar with him, and then obviously, he had had enormous success with Purple Hearts. We had an extensive audition process for the Hayes character, and Nick was one of a small group of guys that we were really looking at seriously, and he came in and blew us all away.

DEADLINE: Was the chemistry between him and Hathaway immediately apparent?

SHOWALTER: Kind of. In the best way possible, he’s confident, and I was really impressed by his walking into an intimidating situation. Because it was a long, in-person chemistry audition with Anne, myself, Cathy Schulman and our casting directors. He came in there and was ready to leave it all out on the field, and the chemistry was definitely instant between them. And it was exciting to witness it.

DEADLINE: Did you actually shoot at Coachella, immersing yourselves in a real environment à la A Star Is Born, or did you recreate the venue elsewhere?

SHOWALTER: We recreated the environment in Atlanta at a speedway, and we basically built our own Coachella — built all the booths, and the giant inflatable mushrooms, and neon whatevers, and built a giant stage, and put on our own little mini pop concert.

DEADLINE: That sounds like a tremendous undertaking, between the set build, the visual choreography of those scenes and their sound design…

SHOWALTER: Well, there’s only one stage, but we made it feel like there’s more than one. But we kind of created a campus just like you would a set. You turn a corner and you’re telling the audience there’s another stage around that corner, but there’s not. But yeah, a lot of sound work. There’s quite a bit of VFX in those sequences, crowd replacement, adding in the mountains and the palm trees to give the effect of being in the desert, and our production designer and VFX did incredible work.

DEADLINE: Currently, you’re prepping another film for Amazon, the holiday comedy Oh. What. Fun. What’s made the studio a good home for you?

MOLLICK: We just feel like they really get our sensibility. They want to do these fun, emotional, classic-feeling movies, and I think that’s the same like-mindedness that we have. Mike and I have always talked about wanting to do a holiday movie, and they really felt like the perfect home for it. It was exciting to be able to roll right into our next movie with them.

DEADLINE: I know you’re currently under a deal with Max for television. Do you have any kind of formal deal with Amazon?

SHOWALTER: Nothing formal, but we have something Semi-Formal.

DEADLINE: Amidst today’s shifting entertainment landscape, what is the value to you, or lack thereof, of these kinds of deals?

MOLLICK: Since starting the company almost seven years ago, we’ve been in two different deals. Both have been first-looks in TV, and I think for us, we just really enjoy partnerships. It’s so much work to get a TV show or movie made, especially right now in this marketplace, that the more people that believe in something as we’re pushing it up the mountain, the better.

DEADLINE: Bearing in mind that The Idea of You is going straight to streaming following screenings at festivals around the country, do you believe there’s a future for rom-coms in the theatrical space?

SHOWALTER: The honest truth is I don’t know anything about that. As far as the shifting trends of the business, I’ve never been able to read those tea leaves, and genuinely, I’m just very happy to be able to be still making films. Amazon, as creative partners, have been incredibly great in getting behind the movie… so I put all my faith in the people for whom that’s what they do.

DEADLINE: You’ve been on a hot streak since launching Semi-Formal. What do you feel has set the company apart and led to the success you’ve seen?

MOLLICK: I mean, I think right now, we both feel so lucky to be working, and a lot of what we do is put our head down and do the work so that we can keep going in a marketplace that’s tricky. But I think we built the company on a shared philosophy and tone of the types of things that we like to make. We made a movie together called, Hello, My Name Is Doris, and it was a teeny, tiny movie and such an amazing experience, and I think we found that we liked to make things that had heart and humor and commercial viability, and unconventional leads, and a specific tone that feels that it can be elevated, but also fun and commercial. So we continued to build off of that in both TV and in movies, and it’s been lucky that it’s working out.

DEADLINE: There’s a scene in The Idea of You when Hayes Campbell reflects on his stardom and the different paths his life could’ve just as easily taken. Have there been similarly pivotal moments for you both, in your careers?

SHOWALTER: When I made Doris, I had just moved to L.A. to be a mid-level writer on a sitcom, and had spent a lot of years as a semi-famous alternative comedian living in Brooklyn. But you get older and start a family, and you start to need new things, so I had moved to L.A. to hopefully work my way through that ladder to be a showrunner. Truthfully, it’s not because that’s what I wanted to do. I did want to direct films, but it was that there were no opportunities for me to direct films.

So in the summer after the first season of this show that I had done, Super Fun Night with Rebel Wilson, there was a tiny, little window for us to make Hello, My Name Is Doris for a tiny budget. We had Max Greenfield attached, and he was on New Girl, so [he was] like, “You’ve got to get me out by July.” Sally Field agrees to do the movie, and suddenly, we get a little bit more money — still tiny, low budget — and it really changed the course of my career.

So for me anyway, just like what Hayes says in the movie, I have no idea what I would’ve done if I hadn’t made Doris. I don’t know where I’d be right now.

MOLLICK: Mike and I talk about our career paths all the time, just because I think we’re constantly amazed that we’re working and that it’s becoming sustainable. Similarly [for me], it’s been 20 years of being a development executive, being a manager, doing whatever I could to be in this business and keep working with artists that I’m fans of.

DEADLINE: You’ve hinted at the strange place the industry is at — can you elaborate on what you’ve seen and experienced on the heels of last year’s strikes?

MOLLICK: I definitely feel like you can feel the reduction of things. There’s not as much quantity; it’s harder to sell things and harder to set things up, and just like Mike said, I’m not an official authority on any of these trends. But I’m also a very glass-half-full person. So I’m hopeful that once we get through the aftermath of the strikes and the pandemic, which we’re still healing from, that we’re going to find a new normal that we can exist and create TV and movies inside of.

DEADLINE: Do you know what your next project will be after Oh. What. Fun?

SHOWALTER: We have a TV show called Happy Face that’s in production now, which is Annaleigh Ashford and Dennis Quaid, which is very going to be amazing, and a show that we produced last year called The Pradeeps of Pittsburgh, which I believe is going to be coming out in the fall, and then a bunch of things that we’re developing that we’re excited about. But nothing on the feature side.

DEADLINE: Happy Face is one of a number of true crime shows you have coming — you certainly gravitate to dark subject matter, as well as the light…

SHOWALTER: It’s basically hugs and murder.

DEADLINE: What draws you to the darker side of things?

SHOWALTER: I think, why are people bad? A lot of the things are about what’s good about people, and then also [we’re] interested in what’s bad about people — what makes people do bad things, and what’s underneath that, to try to understand some of psychology behind people who transgress.

DEADLINE: Michael, you’ve said you don’t really see yourself as an actor anymore, though you’re not opposed to taking on the occasional role. What kind of part would draw you back in?

SHOWALTER: If Greta Gerwig were to offer me a role, if Jordan Peele were to offer me a role, I would take it. If Scorsese wants to put me in his next movie, I’m open to it. I would do a musical; I can’t sing, but if Lin-Manuel Miranda got a new show and he wants me to sing and dance, I’m in.

Honestly, I’m joking, but that’s kind of what it is. It’s like, I would do it if the creator of it felt like, “You have to do this. I have a vision for this, and it has to be you.” But trying to beat out 10 other guys who want it more and have more talent than me, I hope never to be in that situation again.

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