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They’re scripting a true-life love story

Times Staff Writer

Josh Goldsmith finished his pain au chocolat, then looked to his left, where wife Cathy Yuspa was seated.

“That was delicious, now give me some of your oatmeal,” Goldsmith said, his spoon already in the air. Yuspa nudged her half-full bowl, topped with strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, to her left.

The couple -- who co-wrote “13 Going On 30,” about a 13-year-old who flashes into her future as a 30-year-old -- spend a lot of time side by side, sharing. But apparently not oatmeal.

“We might do some things alone -- like have a meal,” Goldsmith joked.

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The guy from Philly and the girl from D.C. met through mutual friends while out at what Goldsmith described as a “crazy ultra-hip downtown Manhattan club with women dancing in cages.” No joke.

They started informally teaming up on projects while attending the USC School of Cinema-Television in the late 1990s. Since then, the thirtysomething pair wrote “What Women Want” (2000) and have risen from writers to executive producers on the Wednesday night CBS series “The King of Queens.”

Gina Matthews, who produced both of the couple’s movies, said she has known them about nine years -- since they wrote their first script and before they connected romantically.

They would insist, “No, we’re just writing partners,” Matthews said, “and you could see it a million miles away.... They were destined to be together.”

Yuspa and Goldsmith have been married two years and are expecting their first child.

“The teasing is mostly like, ‘Oy vey. If I had to spend every five seconds with my wife ... ' " Goldsmith said, laughing.

Friends and co-workers can’t resist the needling, said Michael J. Weithorn, the executive producer and co-creator of “The King of Queens,” who hired Yuspa and Goldsmith for the show.

“We just kind of hold ourselves and rock and go, ‘It’s going to be a good Christmas,’ ” Weithorn joked about the pair’s spats over plot lines.

People are used to seeing them as a unit. “It’s never Josh without Cathy or Cathy without Josh. They bounce ideas off of each other,” Matthews said. “They finish each other’s sentences and each other’s creative thoughts.”

On the recent Tuesday they sat side by side for an 8 a.m. interview. Goldsmith said “I feel like this is reminiscent of junior high” as they finished breakfast at a hotel on Beverly Boulevard. “Being up this early is rare.”

Their ideal schedule, according to the Santa Monica couple, would be to get up around 8 and be done with writing by dinner. In reality, they said, they get up around 10 a.m., “putz around until 5,” and start writing about an hour later. They usually tag-team their computer, trading off the actual writing.

“We go through phases of needing to be in control,” Goldsmith said. Yuspa agreed: “We alternate between needing to be in charge and begging the other to be at the keyboard.”

If there is a difference of opinion, Yuspa said, “the one who argues the loudest wins.”

“The good thing is that I feel like -- and I don’t know how else a partnership would work -- but whatever Cathy’s arguing for would make a good script,” Goldsmith said.

They attribute success to their ability to expand on little moments in real life: Like the time Goldsmith wrote an episode for “The King of Queens” that played off of a hair fad Yuspa fell for.

“Cathy went through a phase where she wore her hair in a bun,” Goldsmith said. “And I had to write an episode about it just to get her to stop wearing it.”

The couple does this all the time, Weithorn said.

“So much of what enriched the series from the very beginning was them coming in with anecdotes about their life as a couple,” Weithorn said. They once went back East for a wedding and returned with at least two episode ideas.

Matthews wasn’t surprised. Something equally mundane led to “What Women Want.”

“They had a hiatus from their TV show, and we were sort of all sitting around at Junior’s Deli,” Matthews said, “and Josh said, ‘Hey if you could hear your lover’s every word, would you really want to?’ ”

She said Goldsmith found the query in a book of questions he had been reading at the table.

“Of course everyone had different answers,” Matthews said. “And that was the start of ‘What Women Want,’ ” in which Mel Gibson plays a guy who wakes up after an accident hearing what all women are thinking.

For “13 Going On 30,” the couple said their teenage cousins were a prime inspiration.

Yuspa said: “Thirteen-year-old girls are just so.... “

“They’re just hilarious,” Goldsmith finished, demonstrating one of their casual quirks. “They’re just smart and so innocent at the same time; so knowing and so unaware.”

“But we wanted to write an adult character,” Yuspa said, so they backed into the time-tripping of 13-year-old Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) flashing forward to adulthood. “It’s really about her looking back on her life and the decisions she’s made.”

“We didn’t take this too far from reality” while exploring how profound little things become, Yuspa said.

The movie is loosely based on a potpourri of details from their lives. For example, girl eccentricities: Goldsmith’s 13-year-old cousin aspires to own 365 flavors of lip gloss, one for each day of the year. Or Yuspa’s own teenage obsession with her sister’s “peach outfit,” an oversized T-shirt and matching leggings.

“I was so desperate for the peach outfit that I would sneak into her room before she was awake and try to steal it,” Yuspa said.

Pop culture’s appeal: The fun of the “Thriller” dance -- a “major part of both our childhoods,” according to Goldsmith -- and the lyrical truth in the Pat Benetar song “Love Is a Battlefield.”

“When you’re that age, you really do get your wisdom from pop songs,” Goldsmith said.

And the magnitude of relationships and friendships: Being deemed an “eight” by the cute guy in junior high. Or meeting a best friend, nicknamed “Beaver,” at a science fair.

“The movie is a lot about when you get an adult perspective on life,” Goldsmith said. “It’s looking back on our childhood.”

The couple said they don’t see themselves doing any more serious types of movies.

“We really love the romantic comedy genre, and I just think that both of us are interested in creating strong female characters,” Yuspa said. “It’s not like since Josh has a female writing partner that I drive that through. He’s very sensitive.”

“I disagree, by the way,” Josh deadpanned. In all seriousness, he said: “What we write is relationships, and what we have is a relationship.”


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