Marta Kauffman co-created and executive produce “Friends,” one of the longest running, most successful comedies of all time. So it’s somewhat surprising that her current project is a Lifetime movie about breast cancer. Kauffman executive produced and supervised the writing for “Five,” a series of interconnected vignettes about women’s experiences with the disease, which premieres Monday, October 10th. Kaufmann explained why she wanted to move from sitcoms to drama, how her parents’ experiences inspired her unsentimental take on the subject, and why she wants men to watch “Five.”
After creating “Friends” you can do whatever you want professionally. Why this project?
It’s funny that you put it that way. One of the things that happened after “Friends” was that I thought, All right. I need to reinvent myself. But in addition to that, I thought, You know, I want to go deeper. I want to tell stories that have bigger emotional impact. I’ve done the comedy thing. It’s a blast. It’s the most fun you can have working. But I wanted to go deeper. And this was exactly the kind of thing I was looking to do next, where I could still do some comedy but it isn’t about the joke. Truthfully, when they called and asked me if I would be interested, I don’t think I let them finish the sentence before I said yes.
See The Personal Connection “Five” Stars Share With The Film:
How did you select the writers for this project?
I read a couple hundred scripts and looked for people that had the right tone I was looking for, but also a mixture of people so that some people came from comedy and some knew how to do big drama with comedic moments. Then I met with them and thought, Do I want to work with this person? And how do they respond to the idea is the other thing. What’s their take on it? The five writers were like the cream floating on the top. They just surfaced through the hundreds that I read and they were the ones who felt absolutely right and I don’t feel like I made a single mistake with the writing team. They had so much fun in the room. I came in with a concept of the way these five would work, how they’re linked, and that the first one takes place in 1969 and the little girl in the first one grows up to be the oncologist and there would be one about a stripper and a highly sexualized relationship and what happens after a mastectomy and seeing the scars all the way through to when that little girl from the first one gets diagnosed and when she heals the relationship with her father. As a group, we broke each story and we came up with the scenes and how they would work. Then they went off and wrote magnificent drafts.
Lifetime has marketed this as a showcase for women directors. Some of the writers are male. Was that a concern for the network?
I was never asked to do only women writers. I knew I wanted at least one man in the room, partly because one story was from the point-of-view of the man. But it’s different. Writers are different than directors in that female writers are given a better opportunity than female directors are. Female directors, there aren’t any many out there, they aren’t given the chance, and I think part of it is to give women an opportunity to direct. There are a lot of women writers out there.
How did the casting come together?
The stars were aligned and things happened as they should and the right people were available and wanted to do it and we were so fortunate that people like Patricia Clarkson and Jeanne Tripplehorn and on and on and on, said yes to this project.
Which film is your favorite?
That’s like saying who is your favorite child? Each one I have affection for in its own way. The first one is just so sweet and moody. Mia is such a wonderful film. Lily’s so funny. The stripper has probably one of my favorite moments when he touches her mastectomy scars. Each one has something in it that we wanted to say so all hold a very warm place in my heart.
When people think of your writing style, they don’t think Lifetime. Were you encouraged to make the stories heartwarming, or were you given free reign?
We were given free reign. They wanted us to do the film that we wanted to do. They were amazing. I was always afraid of the notes, “We need more tears.” We never got those notes. Never. They just wanted us to make the films and they allowed us to do the kind of work we wanted to do that I don’t think is certainly in its reputation is common on Lifetime. They really let us push their boundaries. They’re redefining. It’s not your mother’s Lifetime.
How did you find the humor is such a serious subject?
Both of my parents died of cancer and there were many, many moments from their diagnosis through to their deaths that were funny. It’s not just a serious subject. We all use humor to deal with things and I also think it’s a better way to tell stories. It’s a great way in for people to be able to laugh about things that make them uncomfortable.
What do you hope viewers will take away from this movie?
I have two things to say about that. One of them is I want to stress that this film is not just for women. This film is for the husbands and sons and fathers as well, of male friends, female friends, you name it. It’s for everyone. It can create discussion where there was none. Number two, my smallest hope, and it’s not that small, is that people will have raised awareness and say, “Maybe I will be genetically tested. My mother had the disease and I hadn’t really thought about it before.” I know a few people have mentioned that to me. They haven’t thought about the genetic aspect. Or, “I’m going to go get a mammogram.” We all put them off. Don’t put them off because the earlier you find it, the better it is. The greater hope is that it inspires people to give money to organizations that will look for a vaccine, like they have for the HPV virus, more research, find a cure, get money to women who don’t have access to mammograms… It’s way more fun to make people cry than laugh.
Why do you say that?
It’s a very exciting thing to do, to be able to move people. I guess because I have done many things to make people laugh for so long, it’s a whole new arena.