In ‘Mack & Rita’ A Young Woman Finds Her Authentic Self With The Help Of Diane Keaton

In Mack & Rita, directed by Katie Aselton, a 30-year-old self-proclaimed homebody magically transforms into her 70-year-old self during a Bachelorette trip in Palm Springs. Mack Martin (Elizabeth Lail) struggles in every aspect of her life, pushing against who she is to try to fit in with her fun party girlfriends. She is secretly longing to be more like her late grandmother. When a magical tanning bed transforms her into her older self, who she refers to as Aunt Rita (Oscar winner Diane Keaton), she is freed from her self-consciousness, allowing her to express herself in ways that feel authentic. Soon, Aunt Rita is able to do what Mack never could, becoming an Instagram sensation and sparking a romance with Mack’s crush, Jack (Dustin Milligan).

I spoke with Aselton about her experience working with the iconic Diane Keaton. We also discussed the advantages of living an “older gal” lifestyle and her experience creating this film during the pandemic.

Risa Sarachan: This film is an absolute delight! How did you get involved with it?

Katie Aselton: Thank you! It’s kind of funny how it came together. I played Diane’s daughter in Book Club, and we really hit it off. That movie was produced by Alex Saks, who happened to go to the same pilates studio I went to (Paris Pilates, the same pilates studio you see in the movie.) One day she came in and said, “I think you need to direct again.” I said I was ready, and she gave me this script. I was like, “Alex! This is a big Diane Keaton rom-com! I make tiny indie movies about feelings!” But she really believed in me, and I met with Diane, and she really believed in me, and here we are! The truth is, this is a big body-switching rom-com, delivered to you on a small indie budget that is still ultimately about feelings, so it is very much in my wheelhouse.

Sarachan: What was it like directing the iconic Diane Keaton?

Aselton: I would say it was a dream come true, but the truth is I never dared to dream that big. I have admired and adored Diane my whole life. No one does what we do like she does. She is an icon on every level, and I just tried to absorb and learn as much as I could from her during our time together. She is truly one in a trillion. I’m still pinching myself.

Sarachan: The actors had great chemistry in this. How did you go about casting the film?

Aselton: We got incredibly lucky, honestly. Because of the pandemic, we had to cast entirely over zoom. We didn’t have chemistry reads. We were left to just trust our guts and pray it worked, and I am incredibly grateful that it did!

Sarachan: What was important for you to get right about this story?

Aselton: The theme and truly the heart of this story is authenticity. The challenge was to bring authenticity to every moment, which is tricky when you are talking about a 30-year-old woman lying down in a broken tanning bed and stepping out 40 years older! But every actor served up incredible, grounded performances in the absurdity of the circumstances, so it works. You fall into the believability of the premise and (hopefully) find yourself in lockstep with Mack on her journey.

Sarachan: This feels like a film that would have some memorable on-set stories. Do you have a good one to share?

Aselton: There were so many. One of my favorites was shooting that final scene at Barnes and Noble. We had practically the whole cast there, and we were shooting overnight while the store was closed. By 3:45 am or so, the young women were all getting really drowsy and (I say this with love) a little whiny, and I looked over at Lois Smith (91 years old, an icon in her own right, the woman who starred in East of Eden for god’s sake), and she’s just sitting there pleasantly. I walk over and apologize for the ungodly hour and say we’re doing our best to keep things moving, and she looks up at me sweetly and says, “Katie, where else would I be?” Ugh. I love her. And I loved that moment. Consummate pro.

Sarachan: I found it very relatable that Mack feels more herself living an “older gal” lifestyle. What do you think it is about that that many people might connect with?

Aselton: It’s funny how many people see this movie and relate to Mack in that way. I think the rise of “cottage core” and “coastal grandmother” is a reflection of our need for comfort and coziness. I genuinely hope these things are less of a bandwagon trend and more of a cultural sea change, because what is wrapped up in them is self-care, acceptance, relaxation, and recharging, which are all imperative to our health and well-being.

Sarachan: Was this filmed during the height of COVID? If so, what challenges did that present?

Aselton: It was! We shot this in the spring of 2021. The script was written for pre-pandemic times. When COVID hit, we lost a huge amount of our financing, so we had to scale down the scope of the movie overall. And then there were logistical things like Luka and his regression pod was at Coachella! Clearly, that all had to change when the festival got cancelled, and, honestly, having a large chunk of our already limited budget go to COVID protocols was tough, but no one got sick, so it was worth it!

Sarachan: What are you working on next?

Aselton: I’ve got a movie that my husband (Mark Duplass) wrote that I’m excited about. We’re putting that together now. I’m developing a television show. That is in the early stages. I just finished acting in Bill Burr’s directorial debut – there’s a bunch of things in the hopper!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mack & Rita is out in theatres August 12th.

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