A lot of people know who Illeana Douglas is. Her film and TV credits (Cape Fear, Ghost World, Six Feet Under…) are extensive and fittingly, she’s also no stranger to the web, with her Illeanarama – Supermarket Of The Stars becoming a hit on YouTube and racking up three TV Guide Awards by the end of 2007. As we mentioned a few weeks back, Douglas is coming back to the world of web television this September with the launch of her new IKEA-sponsored show, Easy To Assemble. We sat down with Illeana for a chat about the show, working with IKEA, playing with Swedish meatballs and the future of web television. She had so much great stuff to share that we decided not to cut it down for length so be sure to click on “read more” to read the whole thing. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did.
Tubefilter News: What was it like working with IKEA? Did you have a fair amount of creative freedom? How involved was IKEA’s marketing department in the production?
Illeana Douglas: When Tom Bannister [SXM] came to me and said, “You know I think I found a sponsor for the show,” it was so exciting, and everyone from Illeanarama wanted to do it. It’s like we’re putting together our own little ensemble. Chris Bradlee and and Kyle LaBrache directed Pittsburgh, and then we did Illeanarama because we worked so well together. When I went in to meet Magnus, the head of IKEA marketing, it was one of the funniest meetings I’ve ever had. I pitched the show, and all he kept saying was, “Yah, yah,” and I was like, of course this is how they hook you in and then change everything later. Well, I sent him the script and it came back with only a single note, saying that they loved it. Everyone from IKEA was great, and they all have little cameos in the series. We even cast the real life manager of the store as the manager in the show, he was that perfect. A lot of people from IKEA were in the series, it was crazy. I’ve never had an experience like that.
By the end of the shoot we had trashed the place. We had all these jokes about Swedish meatballs, culminating with a dance number, and since we didn’t have a huge budget we had to use actual meatballs, and lacquer them and glue them—needless to say by the end the week it was a mess. There’s Magnus from marketing, sitting, texting, talking on the phone, and I’d say to Tom Bannister, “Do you think everything is alright?” And Magnus would just look up, and say, “Spazzy Sheraton—very funny yoke.” It was almost like being a dog who’s been kicked too many times. We kept waiting for someone to suddenly stop us like, “What are you doing?”
The show kind of renewed everybody’s faith in everything. The whole show is about how art is where you make it. You don’t have be in a movie, and no one can say “no” to you. If you decide you’re going to do it, if you put two sticks together, and somebody enjoys it, you’re creating art.
TF News: What was it like filming in the middle of a working store?
Douglas: We had a lot of customers in scenes with me or with Robert Patrick. We incorporated people wandering onto the set. To be able to use the whole store—you know, I’d be doing a scene with Tom Arnold—people were incredibly nice and patient and didn’t seem to mind; it didn’t interfere with anybody’s shopping.
The whole thing is about how I’m desperately trying to get out of show business, but whatever I do it’s following me. The show picks up where Supermarket of the Stars ends, and I’ve come to IKEA to get away. But pretty soon Justine Bateman is coming by, telling shoppers about her new internet chat show called I’m 40 and I’m Bitter, and Jeff Goldblum, and it’s all starting up again.
TF News: For Easy to Assemble, did they run a writers room, or was it all written by you?
Douglas: I wrote all of it. I think of Illeanarama an alter ego of myself. I’m trying to incorporate things I think about and feel: being a woman and living in Hollywood, fame, the whole celebrity angle, relationships with fans. I find that to be very funny. It gives me an ability to comment on things going on. Like in the show I have a relationship with my stalker, when he doesn’t come around for awhile, I start to ask around about him. A character says to me, “Is this a reality show?” and I go, “No, it’s just reality.” Everyone is famous now. Everyone has their own blog, we’re all famous.
Oftentimes, when you’re writing for bosses, the biggest note you get is that “people aren’t going to get that.” And it’s frustrating because you’re fighting for the audience. And there are no real bosses in independent films. And I sort of see this as an extension of independent film. The reward is when people do it, they say they have such a great time. That says to me that it’s working on some level. I feel like I’m able to capture a certain intimacy that maybe other people wouldn’t be able to capture. It’s sort of like my own Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The other thing that bothers me about women’s comedy sometimes is how narrow the girl’s part is. I think there can be a broader voice than, you know, “She’s the tramp, she’s got a potty mouth.” There’s got to be something where someone can have a real point of view.
Not having any bosses gives you the ability to not edit yourself, and to put things out there that you feel really confident about. Because usually, in TV you have a lot of people telling you what to do, and how to cut it. Working in television can be kind of like making a comedy in a prisoner of war camp; you’ve got people telling you what they think is funny, and you’re like, “Really?” What they always say is to work within the system, and find a way still to express your own voice. With the web you have creative freedom, but the flip side of this is of course that nobody’s making any money.
TF News:‘Illenarama: Supermarket of the Stars’ was never picked up for network TV, but found success on the web. What do you see as the future of episodic web shows?
Douglas: I think it is the future. It is the future. This is the new independent film. I haven’t had this kind of experience since I did my first short film of Supermarket, back in 2003 or 4. I’m working with the directors I want to work with, the actors I want to work with, incorporating music and dance, which is something I always wanted to do. “Too far out” was always the note I was given. One of the great things about the web is that no one is standing over your shoulder, no one is saying “I don’t like that.” It’s a lot like standup.”I kind of think this is funny, and I’m going to go out on a limb.” It’s kind of a similar thing. We see web video as the new thing. It’s the horizon.
TF News: Do you watch any other shows on the web? If so, what are you watching?
Douglas: Craig Bierko, the bathtub show, if friends are in them I check them out. I looked at the Chad Vader because it was also in a supermarket, so it had a kind of similarity to mine. (I was there first – check the dates, 2003.) You kind of want to see what other people are doing, some of it for the technique, since a web show is different from a movie, and also just to see if you can up the bar a bit—cinematically, to make it a little more sophisticated. I like You Suck at Photoshop. Dr. Horrible has really raised the bar though. They had a lot of money of course. This is more like an indy labor of love.
TF News: Do you have any IKEA furniture in your house?
Douglas: I have the plates, mugs and glasses, and platters. It’s sort of the perfect place to go for that. Now I know everything. I could work at an IKEA. Thing is, it is a pretty great place to work, almost slightly socialist. They give free health insurance, you get a full meal for $3, for salmon and potatoes. They have a board called “Taks” where everyone has to post a “thank you” each day, like, “Thanks Bob for taking over my shift.” We really became friends with the two managers. Their only concern was that we were going to get everything, and how the show was boosting morale.
We totally got into the IKEA aesthetic. I was so inspired I created these IKEA training videos, teaching you about Sweden. All the people that were in the show did one. I was so inspired by the whole seriousness with which you make a piece of furniture. We had meatballs in almost every shot, as a kind of running joke. I tweaked my outfit to make it a little fun, so all the girls said they wanted to tweak theirs the same way. We had something about vegetarian meatballs in the shoot, and now they are going to have vegetarian meatballs. I was like, “I love this place!”
TF News: Is the show going to be dubbed in Swedish?
Douglas: I hope so, there’s a huge Swedish component to the show, just cause I personally thought it was funny and interesting. We have this one character that speaks entirely in Swedish throughout the show. We’re creating Facebook pages for some of the characters. My dream would be to go to Sweden, for it to become a huge Swedish hit. And Sweden isn’t exactly known for its comedy, if you think of Igmar Bergman and Greta Garbo. The show has a kind of sixties Laugh-In vibe that I think is going to translate well for other countries.
TF News: What’s the weirdest thing you ever seen on the Internet?
Douglas: I pretty much stay at the panda level, cute little pandas, drunken squirrels, the animal stuff. I think message boards are the weirdest things. They’ll say something like, “I saw Illeana Douglas at the theater last night, but its weird because in the movies she looks tall but in real life she was 5’1” and someone will be like, “Do you think she looks like Justine Bateman?” and it takes off on this whole chain of messages. I find message boards the weirdest. They’re always weird and they’re never true.
TF News: What comes next for the series?
Douglas: Hopefully IKEA will continue to sponsor us, so that we can keep it up, but that’ll kind of depend on the fans. If some of these web shows loosen control—I’m hoping that web video broadens television in the way that independent film broadened movies. Loosen the control a bit. That’s the huge question mark. This is like a huge experiment for me and for everyone involved. Our movie Pittsburgh is very similar in a lot of ways, and people love it. And so many people would stop me and would be like, “I know I sound like your fan on that show, but are you ever going to keep doing it?” I do feel that we’re onto something. That if we create a following, that people will give us an opportunity to go on with it to the next step. Hopefully the canvas will just keep getting bigger.