I Used To Go Here is deeply personal for anybody who has struggled with defining and redefining their personal success
[Interview with director Kris Rey]
Director Kris Rey talks about her own life experiences that inspired the events of her most recent feature film, I Used To Go Here. Kris talks about how she wrangled the all-star cast of Gillian Jacobs and Jemaine Clement and what it’s like to promote a film during a pandemic.
You know when you watch a movie and you can just tell that the mind behind it, is super cool? I Used To Go Here is smart and funny and relatable, in sort of an unnerving way. We could tell right out of the gate that Kris Rey was going to be so much hipper than us. To level the playing field a bit, I took extensive notes titled “Carrie’s list of uncool things to not say.” I also wore a dress from my Grandma’s funeral last year to add balance my enthusiasm, that can sometimes be hard for me to contain.
All of these things seem silly now. Kris was just so pleasant and approachable, albeit still WAY out of our league on the cool-scale.
A bit about the movie:
Following the launch of her new novel, 35-year-old writer Kate (Gillian Jacobs, most known for her role in Life of the Party ) is invited to speak at her alma matter by her former professor David (played by Jemaine Clement). After accepting the invitation, Kate finds herself deeply engrained in the lives of a group of super fun college students. The film is about navigating the complexities of finding and embracing success.
It’s an empathy trip to be sure for anybody who is a bit (or a lot) removed from their wild college days. Beyond that, the movie explores how we seek adoration and the physical/emotional trap that can be. What we loved was the character arch, of finding empowerment in whatever way serves you best.
We hope you enjoy listening to Kris Rey as much as we did. I Used to Go Here is available August 7th on Amazon and iTunes.
Rob: How’s everybody doing?
Kris: Are you going to keep the cartoon?
Rob: Yes, this is my likeness. Let’s see which one you like better. Hey, how are you? Pretty good, right, Kris?
Carrie: Go back to the cartoon. I think I like that one better.
Rob: How are these been going? Do you need a break, Kris?
Kris: No, I’m good. Do I look like I do?
Rob: Not at all! I just can’t imagine trying to do as much as you do. Carrie and I, we moonlight as podcasters and running a movie review website. But we also have day job, so we know how like long WebEx sessions and Zoom meetings go.
Kris: Oh, you guys, a married couple?
Carrie: We are.
Kris: Yes, that’s so cute. Are you in your home with a little set?
Carrie: We are.
Kris: Made recording booths in your house?
Carrie: We did, in the basement. It’s supposed to probably be an office, but a few years ago, we were like our kids are little, well they’re not so little. But we were like well; we have to go to bed every night at like 7:30. Like they go to bed at 7:30, and then we’re like what’s something you do beyond just this like sitting here watching Netflix all day.
Rob: It also doubles nicely as a kill room in the event we need that.
Kris: Where are you guys located?
Rob: Well, we used to live in the Chicago area. Carrie grew up in Chicago, and I don’t know if I should be referring to you as Professor Rey or Kris because you are a professor now, adjunct professor at my alma mater of Northwestern.
Kris: Yes, just every once in a while, I do it. However, I am gearing up to teach something in the fall.
Rob: Oh, very nice. Yes, had I had you as my professor, it may have interested me enough to stay in RTVF, because yes I’m an RTVF dropout, I just ended up doing communications.
Kris: That’s cool.
Carrie: And what’s the place you live, CRC?
Rob: Chris probably doesn’t know CRC.
Kris: No. It’s funny a teacher at university that there’s no way I would have gotten into. I think about that all the time, I’m like god you guys are so much smarter and better at school than I was.
Carrie: I don’t think so; we have this conversation all the time. Because I’m like you know what, coming out of this like it’s the real-world practical experience like that’s why they want you back. Because you’re out there doing it.
Carrie: That’s what I say for my liberal arts education as well.
Rob: So, Kris, how are you able to be doing this? Because you’re a mom of two, is that right?
Rob: You’re gearing up for a professorship, I don’t know if that’s the proper term.
Kris: I don’t know how I’m going to do it because they just, Chicago public schools, just announced this morning that they’re going to do all remote. So I was going to. I had to tell Northwestern which day of the week I was going to do it. It’s going to be remote, but I’m going to be in class for three hours during the day, and I have a nine-year-old and a five-year-old.
Carrie: That’s the same, same here.
Kris: Oh, cool. Yes, so I don’t know, three hours is a long time. So I don’t know how I’m going to do that part of it.
Carrie: Well we are in the same boat, we’re like we’re kind of, that’s what we looked at everything that you’re doing simultaneously, and we feel like we’re a sinking, burning ship right now. So we’re inspired by the fact that you’re able to make an amazing movie.
Kris: Thank you. I did have a couple of interviews where the journalists had like kids that were just like running around in the background. And I think everyone is just like yes. So if I’m teaching a class and my kids come up and interrupt me, I’m just going to have to be like sorry guys.
Rob: You know, prior to this, I think there was some anxiety around that. Carrie and I work remotely. But generally, now there’s a little bit more grace and forgiveness and understanding and it’s totally fine. By the way, if your cute kids want to zoom bomb this interview, we would totally love it.
Kris: They’re with your dad right now.
Carrie: Oh, nice. Ours are floating around upstairs somewhere, so they might actually pop in or out. But yes, so you’re in Chicago, Rob had told me, and the first thing that came to mind was the most important. Which was what’s your favorite restaurant there?
Kris: Oh, my favorite restaurant is this place called Cellar Door provisions, that’s in Logan square. And then probably my second favorite is the very classic Lula cafe.
Kris: Which is always good.
Rob: So a lot of curbside happening right now too.
Kris: And now I’ll tell you they have the best curbside takeout right now that I’ve had and I’ve had quite a lot from all of the good restaurants. And Lula’s is by far like the best.
Carrie: Good to know. We’ve been there, and I miss it every day.
Rob: We should also mention our film critic, who wasn’t able to join. Actually, he tries to remain like objective, so he doesn’t do interviews. He wants to remain on like he just wants to remain pure. But also northwestern grad and you were touching on like not knowing the different building names. But I bet if we were to reference something in Carbondale like you’d be all about.
Kris: I know the Carbondale buildings, yes.
Rob: Which is where I Used To Go Here takes place. So congratulations on your film, and we actually brought some champagne to pop in honor of its release this week. So we’ll be drinking on your behalf.
Kris: That is so nice, thank you.
Rob: No, we had a chance to catch it a couple of nights ago and really enjoyed it. Really appreciated the little bits, all the little details that you threw in there because it just seems like such a personal story, and it shows in the in those little details. The Jimmy John’s references that any Midwesterner will like love. There’s just like so many little things that you threw in there.
Kris: That was a funny moment because Zoey Chow, who plays the lead character’s best friend in the movie. Zoey had not ever heard of Jimmy John’s. And the way that she kept saying it when we did our first couple takes, is that she was like I don’t remember, she kept putting an emphasis on like the John’s, like Jimmy John’s and I was like no, it’s Jimmy John’s, and I don’t know.
And I had to like send her; she was like I don’t know what this is. And I was like I just sent her like pictures of it, of like what; I was like you don’t know what Jimmy John is? But yes. It’s my favorite thing as a viewer when I watch other movies are the details. So I do try to kind of infuse those details in the screenplay.
Rob: Yes. There was a bed in breakfast with the key around the neck, and Carrie and I are actually going to be celebrating our ten years and we had planned to do because there’s very little you can do. And we were thinking BnB, and have been several BnB. So like yes, the little touch with the wearing like don’t lose the key, don’t come in after like there was just so many fun little treats like that in the screenplay.
Carrie: It felt very personal, I think, as we were watching it, like a lot of things that we could empathize with. It was a little bit of an empathy trip for me, at least going through it. Is like what was your inspiration for a lot of this. Like partial like friends experience, your experience. What was some of the inspiration?
Kris: You know it was originally inspired by the series of trips that I took after my last feature came out. I was invited to a lot of, a handful of universities to show my film and to speak to students. And I just thought it was such a strange dynamic to be in my mid-30s and to feel definitely not like an old professor, and much more like a young college student. But definitely not being a young college student.
And sort of not know where to go. Like that age range is not represented so much in universities. And I also felt like all this adoration coming from these students for a place and time in my life where I had objectively achieved; my film had just played at Sundance, which is a big achievement. But it didn’t like catapult me into like Hollywood stardom or anything. So mostly, my life felt the same as it always had.
But to them, I had just like, I had epitomized like a successful career, and it was honestly very nice to feel that from them and to see myself through that lens. And I imagined that someone who wasn’t doing particularly well in their life might, it could be intoxicating, and it could sort of make someone feel as though they want to stay in that bubble for as long as they could.
Rob: And that’s certainly reflected with Kate played by Gillian Jacobs. As you mentioned, you overemphasize she’s hasn’t had a great launch to her debut novel and then goes back to her old stomping grounds, and is torn it seems by that mystique.
And it always seems like there’s a grasses greener mentality because you mentioned the students are looking at her as a success. But I think. Likewise, I think she’s getting something out of that exchange as well too. And it’s really captured well in that balance in the film as well.
Kris: Cool, thank you.
Carrie: Yes. So I would have to know too, I wouldn’t have to know. But the domain comment, so the teacher in here that she goes back to and she had admired when she was in school. Like so was that an experience that you had as well where somebody that you really looked up to maybe wasn’t as engaged as you thought they would be in your film? Or was that a little bit different?
Kris: That is not the experience that I had in school luckily. I have not had that personal experience with a professor. But I have had that experience in my life. And I think almost all women have. I think that there have been many times where I have thought oh this person’s like a mentor to me, and then realized that there was like a sexual dynamic.
And it’s so confusing, I think like what people maybe don’t talk about enough is how when you have someone of that stature that’s like attracted to you and makes it known, how that is uncomfortable. But also, sexy too and confusing to sort of navigate that in your own kind of like. How you make decisions based on that is like very tricky. And I do think like that’s part of like the subtlety and the nuance that I was trying to represent in the movie.
Rob: And you capture it well in the writing, in the direction. But also having Jemaine doesn’t hurt too, because he’s so charming and you want to not like him and what he’s doing. But also very charming on camera.
Kris: Well, that was my intention. I really could have cast someone that seemed more like a villain. There’s a lot of creepy looking people out there.
Carrie: Right, totally.
Kris: And Jemaine is so adorable, and you just want to like him, and you do like him. And even at the very end of the movie when they have that confrontation, I mean he’s so funny and charming. And his behavior, even with him, I tried to make his reasons complex. But the real thing that I was trying to show is that what she was resisting or what she was gravitating toward this idea of like hanging out with these young people and how much energy she felt from it and how good it made her feel, that their adoration was something that ultimately she moved on from, but something that he didn’t.
So it was really like what they were doing really was not that different, it’s just that he stayed in it. And he makes his behavior; I think I guess it’s definitely sort of like pathetic and still predatory in a way. But also understandable. So not understandable where you’re like, oh, I get it. But more like oh, I understand why he is making these choices.
So yes, I don’t know. It was all that stuff was like a little difficult to navigate, because I started writing the script actually before the #Metoo movement. And then when all that went down, I really took another look at it to make sure I was saying what I wanted to say and I was.
Rob: That arc does come through for Kate certainly. What I loved about, and we’ll carve this out as a spoiler territory. The message I think we both got was that it’s okay to start over; it’s okay to take risks and have a failure. Oftentimes, it’s tough for an artist to put yourself out there fully, and it’s easier to just kind of dip your toe as it seems Kate did.
Not really like expressing herself to her fullest ability. And sometimes people look at that as failure, but then hopefully from this experience, she’s able to go back, and I look forward to. In my mind, I play out like her next success that she takes away from this experience as well.
Kris: Yes, cool. Yes, that’s definitely the kind of stuff that I’m still grappling with in my life as well.
Carrie: I think we are too. And that’s where this was so successful for us to watch this like it was this moment of the anxiety that you feel when you step back onto campus and you’re like is this going to be the same? Am I the same person? Yet, so much time has passed. And yet you get those butterflies when you go back because somehow you’re expecting like all your old friends to jump out, your long-lost people that you haven’t seen.
Expecting to see a keg on the ground, and jump to a party. And then you’re like oh wait, I’ve got kids, and I’ve got a job like I’ve got all these things and responsibilities and that was the fun part for us to feel the energy of that though. And I loved that, I do love, it’s really interesting what you said about regrounding it with the #Metoo movement. Because I do think the way that you resolved the movie and the way that it closed, it did exactly that. Like Rob said, I won’t go into what that is, but I really do think that it did that for her and showed her empowerment and her control and all of those things, and I think that worked really well.
Kris: Thank you for saying that, that was a tough one for me to know, yes.
Rob: Chris, we touched on the cast a little bit. Gillian Jacobs, you have Hannah Marks, Jermaine Clement, Kate Machuchi, Zoey Chow, how did you wrangle all of this talent? I mean, the list goes on and on. There are so many great little moments in the movie from all of the cast, tall Daniel.
Carrie: Yes, tall Daniel. Oh, tall Daniel.
Rob: So how did you manage to get this group together? And then quick follow-up, did they all come to Carbondale with you is what I really want to know?
Kris: Yes, I wish. It was different ways of finding all of these actors. But Gillian, of course, I was already a fan of. We sent the script to her, and when Gilly and I met, we just really connected and hit it off and have since become friends. I think Gilly and I really have very similar sensibilities, to like how we view the world, I think and also what we think is funny. So it was really fun to, and she’s obviously in every frame of the film.
So it was very important to me to find someone that I vibed with, and she definitely was great and was such a joy to work with. And I’m very lucky to have her; she’s so good in the movie. Jermaine is a little harder to wrangle; he’s sort of notorious for like kind of falling off the face of the earth in terms of text messages and then popping back up. And he lives in New Zealand and is incredibly busy. He’s got all kinds of cool projects and shows, and he’s just like massively loved.
And I think he’s being asked to do a lot of things. But we got the script to him, and he read it and liked it, and luckily agreed to do it. And so he did come to Chicago, and he brought so much to the movie, I can’t even tell you. Like I am so grateful, and once I got the idea that I wanted to cast Jemaine, it was a hard road to make it work schedule-wise. But I couldn’t imagine a substitute. He’s such a unique person and unique actor in the industry, and there’s really no one quite like him.
So thinking of other people that it could be, I just like couldn’t. So I’m so glad it worked out which Jemaine. Everyone else came to me in different ways. Some people their names, Hannah Mark’s my agent sent me her name, and then I looked her up and was like whoa, this girl is incredible. She’s like a filmmaker in her own right, making really cool work.
And super ambitious, really talented, and we had a conversation, she really liked the role and connected with the character. For Danielle I know in real life who lives in Chicago, and he’s sort of on the periphery of our my social circle. And so I wrote a character named after him without really even like ever having a real conversation with him. I just thought he was kind of like a funny guy.
He’s like younger than me, and he would just like show up at parties that I would throw, and I would be like who is that? I mean he’s 6’7. He’s really noticeable, and also looks like he’s 12 years old. And he just reminded me of one of our first interactions, where he came up to me, he said he ended like we were at a party at a film festival. He’s also a filmmaker in his own right. We were at a party at a film festival, and he came, he said he like had to drink a lot to get the courage to come up to me.
And he said he had heard that I was writing a character named after him in my movie, and I was like yes. And he said, can I play the part? And I was like, this is what he just told me that I said. I said to him I don’t know; I think I can find someone taller. And then I made him audition for it because he’s not really, he’s not like an actor. But he just steals the show he’s so good in the movie and so funny, and there are so many good moments. And several people have told me I should do a sequel.
Rob: Sure, just a spin-off.
Carrie: Just him, I totally can get behind that. I needed more, and then it wrapped up too quickly for me, and I needed more.
Rob: Well, the film’s doing well, and you have a great history at not only Sundance but South by Southwest. Unfortunately, South by Southwest was cut short and moved online. But do you miss a little bit of the pomp and circumstance that festivals bring? Or are you kind of relieved a little bit but also sad? What’s your thing?
Kris: I don’t know, I’m definitely not relieved, I’m just only sad. I miss it a lot; it’s the funnest part because it takes so long to get a film together and shot and edited. And the whole time you’re thinking about an audience watching it. And I have still not gotten the chance to see the film in a theater with an audience.
And I do really miss all that popping circumstance. But mostly, I miss the kind of like communal feeling of watching it with a crowd. Though I will say, one of the silver linings is that the film premiered in Chicago at a drive-in theater last week. So there were, and we sold out like two screenings. There were over like 300 cars that came in to watch the movie, and it was really a special experience. It wasn’t anything that I could have possibly anticipated. But it was cool.
Carrie: That is fantastic. I imagine too, like as somebody who has pulled this whole thing together, like to feel the energy of a room. Like if you hear people laughing if you hear people clapping when it’s over. Like when you hear the enthusiasm.
Rob: Laughing at the beats that you intended, like yes, we just went did our first trip to Sundance this past year and definitely had at least a little bit of that experience that you’re describing.
Rob: But don’t fret. While unconventional, I think this movie will certainly find a large a large audience because I think it’s so relatable for so many reasons. And you’ve got great talent behind you as well too, and it shows in everything that you do. So yes, we’re really excited to talk about this with our audience and share it with our folks as well too.
Kris: Well, thank you so much for talking about it. I mean, that has been such a nice like part of that really getting a lot of support. And I do appreciate you guys taking the time to talk to people about it.
Carrie: Of course.
Rob: Of course. And worst case, I’ve already got my enrollment form up to go back to Northwestern and see if I can audit some classes.
Carrie: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for catching up with us and talking a little bit about the movie.
Kris: Thank you.
Carrie: We loved it, and we’re looking forward to see it take off here when it comes out, releases on Friday.
Kris: Cool. All right, thanks so much, you guys.