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‘Private Life’ creator and star discuss the film’s therapeutic power and that last-minute casting change

‘Private Life’ creator and star discuss the film’s therapeutic power and that last-minute casting change
Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang moderates a discussion with writer-director Tamara Jenkins, center, and actress Kathryn Hahn at the L.A. Times Envelope Live screening of "Private Life" at The Montalban. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Infertility has been a popular topic in the last few weeks with celebrities like former First Lady Michelle Obama and actress Gabrielle Union both opening up about their own struggles with IVF.

But for Tamara Jenkins, the writer-director of Netflix's "Private Life," that discussion has been happening all year since the film bowed at Sundance in January.

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"It has been kind of amazingly touching to have people feel like there was some forum to discuss it," Jenkins said at an Envelope Live screening held Monday. "I was very moved that it helped somehow when it helped them talk about it or laugh about it or feel less alone about it."

"Private Life" writer-director Tamara Jenkins reacts to former First Lady Michelle Obama writing about her own experiences with infertility in her recent memoir "Becoming."

"Private Life," which premiered on Netflix in October, tells the story and struggles of a married couple (Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn) who are desperately trying to have a child by any means possible.

Jenkins was joined by Hahn at the event, which was moderated by Times film critic Justin Chang and held at the Montalbán in Hollywood. The writer-director opened up about how she was inspired by her and her husband's own struggles to expand their family.

"When we were in the throes of this, it never dawned on me that this is great material. I was just in hell, in our own personal hell," she recalled. "I was interested in writing about a marriage, like a mutual midlife-crisis kind of story and then the idea of fertility became such a great externalization, a great metaphor for this great midlife-crisis moment in a marriage."

"Private Life" writer-director Tamara Jenkins discusses how her and her husband’s experiences with trying to expand their family led her to write a drama about infertility.

Hahn praised Jenkins' writing when discussing the film and particularly its movement between the dramatic and the comedic.

"You didn't have to decide what the moment called for because it was just in the writing of it," she said. "It wasn't a gig where you had to push on a pedal in one way or another."

Actress Kathryn Hahn talks about working with actor Paul Giamatti in Netflix’s "Private Life," and the film's leaps between the dramatic and the comedic.

However, there were tough times behind the scenes as well. The film moved to Netflix and then saw a key member of the ensemble leave — the actress playing Hahn and Giamatti's niece Sadie dropped out just three weeks before production was set to begin.

"I thought we were doomed and that Netflix was going to pull the plug," Jenkins said. "This actress fell out and it really was three weeks and suddenly we were actress-less."

Enter Kayli Carter, who at that time was appearing in her first play opposite Oscar winner Mark Rylance. "We were worried, because she wasn't well known, what Netflix would say and they miraculously said, 'Oh, we think she's great,'" Jenkins said. "We got to cast an unknown person. It was so rare, it was so exciting."

Writer-director Tamara Jenkins reveals the behind-the-scenes panic to recast one of the Netflix film's major roles three weeks before filming began.

For more information on future Envelope Live screenings and events, click here.

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