If you’re an indie film fan, you’ve probably seen at least a few of the performances of Ross Partridge—perhaps The Off Hours, Baghead, Cold Turkey or this year’s Lamb (which he also wrote and directed)—and of Jennifer Lafleur—perhaps The Do-Deca-Pentathlon or The Midnight Swim. If you’ve seen their performances, you know how talented they are. And, if you’ve met either of them, probably walking around a film festival, you know how wonderful they are.
What you might not know is that as great as they are individually, they’re also a wonderful couple, one that makes you happy to see them together. One that inspires you to hold your own significant other just a little bit tighter. The perfect subject of a Valentine’s Day issue, in other words.
I try to be as objective as possible in my interviews, but it should be noted that not only am I a raving fan of Ross, of Jenn, and of Ross & Jenn, they also appear in my upcoming movie, 6 Love Stories. So I could in no way be objective about my love for them when we sat down to discuss their background, their relationship, and the ups and downs of being an indie film couple. But I do hope you’ll find our conversation interesting and inspiring—and be sure to stick around until the end for a special surprise guest appearance!
Paste Magazine: How are we all doing today?
Jennifer Lafleur: We’re doing well. We’re doing a lot of busywork and taking care of some stuff. Just hustling and looking for the next thing.
Paste: [laughs and sings] Everyday I’m hustling.
Lafleur: [Sings] Everyday I’m hustling, hustling, hustling…
Paste: [laughs] So for this Valentine conversation, I kind of felt that I would start by talking to both of you about growing up and where you’re from and what make you who you are…all that kind of stuff. Then I’d love to talk about how you met, and obviously we’d want to talk about Lamb, and then what you all are doing now. I also want to get into what the ups and downs of being a couple in the same crazy industry is like. How does that sound?
Ross Partridge: That sounds great. Although, the fact that this is a crazy industry…I don’t know what you mean. [laughs]
Paste: What ever could that mean? It seems like the most normal thing ever, right?
Lafleur: It’s so simple, it’s so not complicated at all. [Laughs]
Paste: So I just realized, I don’t think I’ve ever talked to either one of you guys about your growing up, your family, the early years.
Lafleur: We pretty much had the opposite experience in childhood.
Partridge: You couldn’t meet two more different people [laughs].
Paste: Who should go first, who’d make for a better story?
Partridge: Jenn should go first.
Paste: Tell me where you were born, Jenn?
Lafleur: I was born in Ware, Massachusetts. I grew up a couple of towns over in Brookfield, Massachusetts, a tiny little farm town that was literally only known for being the home of Elsie and Elmer the cow.
Paste: What did one or both of your parents do while you were growing up?
Lafleur: My dad is an emergency room doctor. When I was growing up, my mom was with the ambulance squad and a police officer. Then she left the police force and stayed on as the chief of the ambulance squad, but also became a firefighter, and she still does both of those today.
Paste: Please tell me that’s how they met, because that’s an amazing story.
Lafleur: They met in high school; my dad is two years older than her. They didn’t go to the same high school, but they met at a volleyball party. My dad was acting like a showy, cocky, young dude, and my mom was rolling her eyes a lot. She was like the total coolest babe ever, and my father ruthlessly pursued her and wooed her with his charm.
Paste: It sounds like you were close with them when you were growing up. A good tight-knit family.
Lafleur: Yep, I have an older sister and a younger brother. Like normal things. My sister has certainly attacked me with a wooden spoon more than once in our childhood, but we all got along really well, and I’ve always been really close with my parents. I actually became an EMT when I was 18 years old and worked on the ambulance with my mom. We would take the patients from the field and bring them to the hospital to my dad’s emergency room where he would then take over. It was just like “Mom, hand me that nasal cannula, and put the oxygen up to 7.” [laughs]
Paste: It’s like the family business, right?
Lafleur: It was, totally was.
Paste: When did you know that you wanted to act?
Lafleur: Always. Always. My parents say that I was singing before I was talking, and performing before I was walking. I remember my parents brought home something that was probably a variety industry magazine about child actors because I always talked about how that was something I’d wanted to do. It was Macaulay Culkin on the cover of My Girl, and I was like yeah, that’s what I want to do.
Paste: Wow, so even at an early age, you knew.
Lafleur: Oh yeah. In the yearbook it was like “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was like “An actress.” So I knew early, but I was also interested in medicine, so I was initially thinking about being pre-med, or working in the medical field in some way. Because I knew that acting certainly wasn’t a stable, sure thing. I was looking for the backup. I originally started in medicine, and slowly started changing my major and minors to more closely represent acting. So I ended up with corporate communications, and minors in English, theater, and computer sciences. Computers were the future, and I thought maybe that would come in handy, which of course it hasn’t. I don’t know anything about it. [laughs]
Paste: Same reason I took Russian when I was in college in the late ‘80s [laughs]. That has come in handy a lot for me.
Lafleur: [laughs] Yeah. In undergrad I would perform in plays in order to get the musical theater experience. I also got involved with theater, and the head of the theater department, Jack Shea, really took me under his wing and really helped to cultivate amazing roles for me and would choose projects that he thought would challenge me. Then I started getting nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Award for the ATF, American College Theater Festival. It’s kind of like the Tony for colleges, and I got nominated all through the years that I was working in the theater department. Then grad schools started to try and recruit me to tell me about their schools, and initially I was like “I don’t know if I can do this, this is not a smart decision,” but my parents were actually the ones who talked me into it. They said, “Is what you want to do? Because it’s better to look back at your life and say why did I do that, rather than why didn’t I do that.” So I went to grad school. I went to Brandeis, and it was pretty much a full ride. Then I moved to New York City immediately upon graduating, and the first play I did in New York is where I met Ross.
Paste: Wow…Alright, so let’s hit the pause button.
Lafleur: Pause. Now we go to Ross.
Paste: And Ross, tell me more about where you were born and grew up?
Partridge: I was born in Morristown, New Jersey. I lived there very briefly. My father was involved in radio. He was kind off a big radio disc jockey, and he was on the radio in Manhattan with a station called WNEW, and has a radio show called Milkman Matinee, which was kind of big for early morning commuters. I’ll talk to people’s parents and they’ll know about my dad. He had a booming radio voice, and he was the quintessential spokesperson. He did commercials, and did radio. That’s kind of how I was around it. My mom worked in traffic, and was in the traffic department of the radio station, and that is basically how they met. My mom was his third marriage, for my mom, my dad was her second marriage, so she had two sons prior, and my dad had four children prior.
Paste: So you became one of seven, the youngest of seven between them…wow.
Partridge: Yeah. We didn’t see a lot of them often. My brothers came in and out, so it was kind off a very transitory place. My dad, being in radio, eventually got out of New York and then we bopped around the East Coast for a while, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire and then we ended up in Massachusetts. Ironically, 20 miles from Jenn’s hometown.
Paste: That’s crazy.
Partridge: Yeah, basically my dad bought a radio station in this small town called Auburn, Massachusetts. My parents bought it together. And then my mom, we ended up moving to this place from Pennsylvania. My father was from Worchester Mass, so it was like coming home for him. He wanted to be this big fish in a little pond, and boy did he get it. My mom arrived in this town and was basically like “We have to get out of here.” My parents split up. I moved all over the place. I lived with my mom for some time in upstate New York…
Paste: How old were you when that happened?
Partridge: I was 10. So I lived with my dad for a while, and then I ended up living with my mom in upstate New York. Then I went to high school there and then decided I wanted to go west and be where the warm weather was. So, I went to UC Santa Cruz and my roommate was a theater director and was like “You should audition for this play.” I really wanted to go into film studies and study film, and I wasn’t really thinking about acting, but I ended up auditioning for 12 Angry Men, and I became one of the angry men.
Paste: Which one?
Partridge: Damn, I don’t even remember at this point [laughs]. It was so long ago. But yeah, I kind of got the theater buzz, and spent the next 15 years or so bopping around from LA to NY, not really sure where I would land and doing small TV roles here and there. I stopped acting for a while, worked for a film company and then got back into acting, did a play and met Jenn. I was 37 when we met and had been all around the world, but ironically met a girl who lived 30 minutes from the town I had lived in when I was a child.
Paste: That’s crazy. So before we start talking about you all meeting, let me just go back for a second. Ross, you felt that you wanted to study film studies in college. Were you thinking of going on to be a critic, or an academic, or did you not think it through and just wanted to study cinema?
Partridge: No. I knew I wanted to study cinema and make movies if I could. In high school I had a great English teacher who encouraged me in creative writing. I didn’t have that much confidence. I wasn’t quite into school all that much. I was actually working a lot during high school. I was actually worked almost 30 hours a week all the way through high school. From selling waterbeds to making pizza, to doing whatever I could in order to make some money. So it was kind of like a dream that I would get into film. I loved movies, but I was also not so focused until college. My main goal was to get into college and when I did, everything else like getting into theater just kind of happened, with my roommate and so forth. I had an idea that I wanted to make movies, but at that age it was kind of like if I could do anything, why not make movies? Without realizing there were so many more important things to do [laughs].
Paste: So when you did decide that this acting thing is what you want to do, was that a source of tension for your mom and dad? What was the situation?
Partridge: There was no tension. The relationship with my dad had fallen out in the early part of high school and junior high. So I wasn’t talking to him much, and his opinion didn’t really add up too much. And my mother was always encouraging, and was kind of a painter herself and loved the performing arts and always encouraged me in whatever I wanted to do. So it was fine. I didn’t have anyone saying, “No, you should probably think about something else.”
Paste: Maybe a fallback plan?
Partridge: Maybe something with stability would have been the perfect remedy for someone like me, but no.
Lafleur: Maybe a completely useless minor in something like computer sciences.
Paste: Exactly, you could both be working at Xerox right now. So why don’t one of you take the lead in telling me how y’all met? Who tells the story better about how you met?
Partridge: Who do you think?
Paste: [Laughs] I’m not going to touch that one.
Partridge: That story has been nearly perfected of how that went down, and every time I tell it, I’m immediately edited with “No, no, no, you’re telling it wrong.”
Lafleur: [Laughs] Well Ross is the one to always kind of downplay things. I, I, have a small—
Partridge: And Jenn’s always the one to want to embellish things. [Laughs]
Lafleur: It is not embellishment. [laughs] Just a little flourish here and there.
Partridge: It kind of goes back to how different our paths are. She comes from this beautiful type of background where her parents love her, they adore her, they have video footage of her singing when she was four, five six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18.
Lafleur: I mean, I’m still sending them videos.
Partridge: The first time I went over to her house, her dad was like “Have you seen the DVDs?” And I’m like “what are the DVDs?” And it is literally chronologically organized from every month of Jenn’s life since she was like five. [Laughs] It’s her singing, every month of her life since she was five. So I come from a background where we’d move around and have a family get-together and look at each other and wonder “How the hell are we related?” [Laughs] We come from completely different upbringings. So I’d say one is light, one is dark and somehow we find it in the middle. So yeah, Jenn is better at telling happier stories, that’s not my natural tendency.
Paste: OK Jenn, let’s hear it with the flourish story.
Lafleur: It was a warm summer night…2005 to be exact. [Laughs] I had recently moved to New York City and I was working on my first play. I had already started rehearsals for it. It was a play called Bash by Neil LaBute, and I had only met the one actor who was in my one act with me, and the night where we had the full cast run through, I got to the theater a bit early and I was waiting outside at the stage theater in the middle of Times Square…just kind off sitting there, looking around and watching a crazy lady talking to herself, or the homeless people walking by, and other actors going to their curtain calls. I was really just taking it in and I saw this guy walking down the street, and he was probably the most handsome man that I had ever seen in my life. But he had a terrible mustache.
Partridge: And that was Colin Farrell.
Paste: And then Ross came walking right behind him.
Lafleur: [Laughs] And I was kind of just staring at him and admiring how handsome he was and wondering why he had this terrible mustache. He kind of just stopped right in front of me, and at first I thought it was because I was staring at him. But he looked at me and said “Are you here for Bash?” I said “Yes I am, I’m Jennifer,” and he said “Hi, I’m Ross.” And I said, “Nice to meet you. So, the mustache. Is it yours or for the character?” And he was like “Oh, it’s for the character.”
Paste: How bad was this mustache? Was it like the Hitler mustache, like Michael Jordan?
Partridge: It was more like Tom Selleck.
Lafleur: Yeah, it was more like Tom Selleck.
Paste: So what you mean is that it was an awesome mustache [laughs]. But go ahead.
Lafleur: It was very fascinating. What’s interesting is that that night, I got to sit and watch him perform and he was strikingly the most handsome man that I have ever seen. But he was such a great actor, and that is a million times more attractive than physicality alone. So, I was pretty enamored by him, and we got along really well. Every rehearsal we would always go out as a cast, and I found that we would always end up sitting in a corner and talking to each other and having these long conversations and having this sweet soulful connection. He said to me very early on that he thought we were cut from the same cloth, and that what it really felt like. We were totally different people, and in some ways couldn’t have been more opposite, but at the same time it felt like we were the same person too. So it was a very slow start. I had just moved to New York shortly before that and had been in a relationship with a really great guy for a long time, and it sort of had played itself out and we were in the process of breaking up. So it took a little bit for us to transition into a relationship. It felt like a traditional courtship, where it was like a slow getting to know each other and spending time together, and finally when we were able to be together it felt like—finally—this is it.
Paste: It’s interesting how structurally you had this excuse to keep going on these group dates where you could spend time together but there was no pressure, or much pressure. It wasn’t like it was a cast of three, but it wasn’t a cast of 83 either. It seems like the perfect size.
Lafleur: Yeah, it was perfect.
Paste: That’s awesome. And Ross, what were you thinking at this time? Besides, obviously, “Hubba hubba?”
Partridge: Originally when I saw her I was like wow, she was so…I am 11 years older, and I had been living in LA and I’d been dating a bunch. I felt a bit sullied by the time I met Jenny, and I just felt a bit downbeat, like this is never going to work out. She was just a breath of fresh air, she just had such a spirit. And I immediately was like, “This is such goodness in people’s lives.” She was new start…I think I said to her at some point, “You’re like my last shot at doing it right. You’re a good person in people’s lives.” She’s such a good human being that you just have to hold on to.
Paste: No doubt. I have used the phrase “breath of fresh air” to describe Jenn much more than once.
Partridge: Now it’s more like she’s a breath of fresh air that comes in like a goddamn hurricane.
Paste: She’s like a hurricane-force breath of fresh air.
Partridge: Yeah. It’s not like a gentle breeze, it’s like a “Oh, here comes the force.”[laughs]
Paste: That actually suggests another good question. Jenn, jumping forward, what is the biggest difference between the way you thought about Ross then and the way you think about Ross now, as far as who he is? If you have gone from a breath of fresh air to a hurricane of fresh air, he has gone from what to what for you? You don’t have to match it in romanticism, you can just be honest.
Lafleur: I don’t know that it’s changed all that much. I think.
Partridge: Old Dog.
Lafleur: That’s definitely true, there have been moments where I’ve said “People don’t change, do they?” And he’s an old dog. That’s okay, I think that the ways that we are different are what makes it work. I don’t know if Ross would be able to operate in this world with someone who is exactly like him, and I don’t know if I would be able to operate in this world with somebody who operates the same as me. I think that if I was with someone just like me, we would run each other to the ground by never stopping. We would go, go, go, go and Ross and that other person would run each other to the ground. [Laughs] He is so incredibly bright and creative and soulful and inventive. He’s always thinking about new things, and I help him harness those things and bring them into a reality. In a lot of ways, he is the creative force behind a lot of the stuff we work on together while I work in the beginning part to get it going and then I grab it and run with it and drag him along with me on the adventures or misadventures, however they may turn. Luckily there have been far more adventures than misadventures. I don’t know if that answers your question or not.
Paste: No, it’s great.
Lafleur: From the moment I’ve met him, he has always been so assured of who he is, to this day. For better or for worse. Mostly for better. [laughs]
Paste: As your relationship progressed, what was the first project you two initiated together? Not just as actors on someone else’s projects, but the first that was yours, that you did together.
Lafleur: Well, after we did Bash together, my friend Justin Ball and I created a small theater company called the Great Theater, and the first play that we did was called Things Beyond Our Control by a playwright I went to grad school with named Jesse Kellerman, and we knew that we wanted Ross to be a part of that. Ross’s title was an actor but he had come from a production background and really just came on as producer and made it happen. We were this scrappy little theater company making productions working with new playwrights. We did a couple of plays together doing that. So it really started in the theater, both working as actors. Ross had met Mark and Katie Duplass at the Nantucket Film Festival right before he and I met, and they really hit it off. Mark encouraged his brother Jay to come and see the play that we were in together, to come see Bash and after he saw Ross in Bash, they cast him as the lead in Baghead. He said to me, “you’re wonderful, we don’t really have a role for you, but do you want to come out and play this small little role?” I had never done a film before, so I was like “Yeah, let’s go to Austin, Texas, let’s do it.” But I think collaborating with the Duplass brothers is how we started to work in film together. Ross went on to then produce their next film, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, which I acted in. Then we made Wedlock together. So we started with them, then peeled off and started to develop scripts. Ross would primarily come up with the ideas and bounce them off me, and we would hash them together and go back and forth, and then we would write the script and I would edit them, and then he would do a rewrite. He found the book Lamb when he was at Skyline Books. It was a staff pick, and he kind of just picked it up and started reading it. And an hour later he was just standing there like “I should probably buy this.”
Paste: Please tell me you all have tracked down the employee who picked it and sent them a thank you note.
Lafleur: That is a great idea! We haven’t.
Partridge: I tweeted at the store and they did tweet back, but we should find out who it was.
Lafleur: Ross was like, “I don’t know if I’m crazy, but I think I want to make this into a movie.” I read it that night and was just like, “Oh, for sure this is what were doing.” We had been bouncing around all these different ideas, and it was just 100 percent crystal clear that this is what it should be. Ross went about getting the rights, connecting with the author and building a relationship with her. By December 2013, we had the rights, and by February 2014 he had written an amazing version of the script that needed very little editing and rewrites, so we just tweaked it a little bit here and there. We were in preproduction by May and shooting by June.
Paste: Ross, I think there needs to be an amazing panel you need to lead at the Sarasota Film Festival about how to write an amazing script that needs very little rewrites. Because I know a lot of people, including me, could use that panel.
Partridge: It’s much easier when you’re adapting a book. Writing something from scratch, I don’t know about that capability [laughs].
Lafleur: I think he was so great about sticking to the heart of the book. Bonnie Nadzam wrote such a beautiful book, but Ross diligently had to think about how the poeticism of the writing could translate onto the screen and work with that. He really just stuck to the heart of the film and didn’t try to overcomplicate it. He is just a great writer and a very soulful person and I feel like that shines through in the final project as well.
Paste: Did you all have a feeling when you tackled Lamb? To use the book analogy, it feels like the beginning of a new chapter, it doesn’t feel like sort of the next thing in a string of projects y’all have done. It feels like 30 years from now when y’all are doing your career interview, you’re going to say “Of course we did Lamb, and that’s what changed everything.” Did you all have that feeling that it was going to be big like that?
Partridge: I have to be honest with you, it did. In the sense that there was a certain point where I read it and had this instinctual charge. It felt like the thing that I’ve been looking for. I had made a film 12 to 15 years before that and it was my film school—I don’t like to talk about it because it happened very quickly, and I knew that it was going to take me a really long time to try and get back on the horse and make a film.
I knew I wanted to make something I truly felt passionate about. There was no worry, fear, all those things that keep you trapped from probably making anything. When I read the book and finally decided that this is what I go with, something had changed where I knew there was no fear involved with it at all. This was my complete freedom of knowing I had to do this. It was a confidence, not like I had ever had before, especially in the face of such adversity with this type of material where people were like “this is amazing, but you’re crazy,” “you’re out of your mind for making this.” The more I heard that, the more I got inspired, the more I realized that this is the challenge I have been looking for, the type of material that resonates with me in a way that creates thought and emotion.
I have a hard time thinking that I will be able to just go and make something that is just this. I’ll be able to entertain certain things like doing a film like Wedlock but this is closest to how I feel or what I want to say as an artist. This is the type of story…I’d watch these type of movies when I was young and it would make me want to make movies. The type of storytelling that motivated me to feel things and gave me comfort, and the fact that it created a feeling. So yeah, from this point on, I think I will be forever indebted that I found this thing that gave me the confidence to be like “yeah, this Is what I want to do, and this is how I want to go about challenging audiences and trying to create challenging material that is effective in one way or another.”
Lafleur: For me it was never about “this is going to be a life-changing thing for me.” It was more about knowing that this was the right thing for Ross to be doing and wanting to give him the support for it to happen. His success feels very much like my own. I know that there are certain couples who are very much in close proximity to each other and in relationships and sometimes feel this strange competitiveness with one another like this person is getting a bit more fame and success and it creates a bit of a rift. I don’t think either of us have ever experienced that. When he books something or an opportunity comes our way, it’s like we almost feel more excited when it happens for the other person than when it happens for ourselves. I just knew that I would be able to give good support to him and use those hurricane winds to make it happen for him. I don’t think that the movie will necessarily change anything in my career because my focus is not being a producer but to be an actor, but it changes the trajectory of our lives in the sense that we made something really special together and it will show people what force Ross is as an actor, a director, a writer, a producer, and I know that affects me.
Paste: Why don’t we talk a little bit about how it feels being a couple in this industry, and kind of what you’ve learned along the way, both about couplehood and about working within couplehood.
Partridge: I think it’s kind of representative of how your relationship is. If you have a good relationship, you can work well together. I guess what I’m saying is you have to have a pretty solid foundation in order to work together, uh, in that capacity, I think. I dunno, it just seems that one kind of feeds the other, I guess? I dunno. It doesn’t feel like it’s that much of a chore for us to work together because we kind of know each other’s tastes and sensibilities and what we both are into. So it just seems like a natural progression for us, but I can see how it’d be very difficult for some people to kind of, uh, you know, to do it. It’s a lot of time and it’s…are you there? I think I’m rambling.
Paste: I’m here. Keep going!
Partridge: I mean, when you work on something, you know, it’s two years of your life so you have to, I think, be very specific and be aware of the fact that it’s going to be this much all-consuming and you have to—it’s almost easier because, you know, you lay your head down at night and you’re with the person who’s working on it with you the most and they understand.
Paste: Do you have “Work Ross & Jenn” and “Home Ross & Jenn” and you have to toggle between the two? Or is it pretty much a very similar dynamic both ways?
Lafleur: I think it’s probably a pretty similar dynamic. If anything, we have to challenge ourselves to differentiate them a little bit more. You know, almost create business hours and outside of business hours where you’ve got to just drop it and not talk about the movie for a little bit. Because we definitely went down rabbit holes where, you know, it’d be, like, two o’clock in the morning and we’re still talking about a certain scene and whether to use this take or that take and what we need to do for the story arc and going on and on and on and finally it got to the point where I needed to start saying, “I can’t talk about the movie anymore today. Starting at 9 a.m., I’m reopen for talking about the movie, but for tonight I’m done.” Especially when it is, you know, an indie film and Ross is writing and directing and producing and going on location scouts and starring in the movie. You know, I was producing. Which again, on an indie film means that I’m, like, helping out with catering and craft services and locations and casting. So when you’re wearing so many hats, it feels like it takes every single second of every day. So you’re just supposed to keep working on it no matter what the time and I think that, you know, we had to just kind of create boundaries there.
Partridge: Jenn was better at it than I was. For sure.
Lafleur: Yeah. He wouldn’t shut up about it. [laughs]
Paste: Yeah, I guess it’s kind of a good-news-bad-news thing. Like, that thing you’re thinking about all the time? The good news is your partner’s thinking about it all the time too. The bad news is your partner’s thinking about it all the time too.
Lafleur: [laughs] Exactly.
Partridge: But there’s a point where, like I said, I think it’s easier for them—for Jenn especially to kind of put it away, I guess, when we were finished with the movie. Then the real work started beginning, when I was trying to get the movie out into the world and then that becomes a whole other beast of conversation.
Partridge: So for the production of it for a year was one thing, but then it’s the year after where you’re still in this world of trying to get it out there and how to go about doing that and, you know, that can be an all-consuming thing as well, so…She was better at shutting it down, and I still had to live with it pretty much all the time.
Paste: Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that people outside the industry just don’t understand is that they think about filmmaking as filmmaking. As making the film. And making the film is such a small part of the entire process.
Partridge: Oh my god, yeah. That’s actually the fun part, and the easiest. Well it’s not the easiest part, but it’s certainly the one that has, like, practical nuts and bolts. You know, where you can do this if you have this much money and you can’t do this if you don’t have this much money and we can do this because we have this location or we don’t. It’s a little more black-and-white.
Lafleur: You also have a lot more control over it.
Partridge: But it’s all the other stuff, the prior. From casting to then when you’re finished with the movie and marketing the movie and trying to get the shoot in, how to get it into the theaters—
Lafleur: Which festivals to play at—
Partridge: What type of artwork, how to promote it…all this other stuff that really becomes the most laborious part of it. And actually the most crucial, you know, because you only have a very short amount of time. You know, with all this work you put in prior; months and months and months and months of work you have literally, like…it’s like a 12-hour window in which you put the movie into the world. I mean, not really, but in some ways it is. Once you get it out live, you have only one shot at putting a trailer out into the world and how people view it. You only have one shot at the movie opening and getting that press. So it becomes, you know, the stress from that is actually far greater than actually making the movie. Making the movie is the creative joy, the sweet spot. It’s the other stuff that’s the stuff that actually needs to be more…you need to be more informed about. Stuff that like, if you go to a film school, colleges should be teaching that stuff just as much as actually how to craft a movie.
Lafleur: Also, when you’re in a relationship together and you’re working on the same thing, there’s none of those professional filters that you put on when you’re working with colleagues. Or, you know, when you’re talking to the distributor you talk a certain way and stay calm and don’t freak out. You get off the phone and we start, not yelling at each other; just basically yelling to each other about what needs to happen and how it’s going to happen and if it’s going to be able to happen.
Partridge: Or at each other, too. It’s definitely the trigger for some greater things, for sure.
Lafleur: Well I don’t think we ever yelled at each other; it often felt like we were. It often felt like you were yelling at me, but I knew that it wasn’t. It was just you expressing concern and talking it out.
Partridge: I’m an alarmist and Jenn is not.
Lafleur: But me as a producer to you and as a girlfriend to you, I want to be able to provide what it is that you want and feel like you need. And so then it feels like it becomes my burden to take on.
Partridge: That’s the personal side of trying to manage this stuff in a professional way. Sometimes the two go hand-in-hand. I think that’s the thing with also making art of any sort is that it is a personal thing. It brings forth all your most personal sides of who you are: your own psyche, your own insecurity, your own feelings of love. All these things that come into play because you’re making something that you’re passionate about. It’s not like a pragmatic thing; filmmaking is based on feeling and emotion. So how do you really separate the two?
Paste: And much like with a relationship, you see so much of your identity wrapped up in the piece of art that you’re creating. I can totally see that. Well, we’ve touched a little bit on how what you knew about each other as people informed the process of figuring out your relationship as artists. But I’m also curious about the other direction. Are there things that you learned about each other through the professional process that you’ve then been able to take into, hopefully in a positive way, into your personal lives as well?
Lafleur: I think with this business of being an actor or other like artist, it’s very much a part of your identity. Yeah, and I think a lot of people have jobs that are not their identity. They go to work, they clock in, they do the work, they clock out, they come home, and then they have their lives. But with this industry, it bleeds into each other so much that who he is as an artist is very much who he is as a person. So all of the things that I am in awe of him, the creativity bleeds into why I’m in awe of him just as a human being and as a partner.
Partridge: Yeah, I don’t think I’d be—I wouldn’t be as attracted to Jenn if she sucked. [laughs] At least that’s my opinion, anyway; that she’s great. So that’s all that matters is that I think that she’s great. And I do, so…as far as her talent in the business.
Lafleur: Otherwise he doesn’t think I’m great; only as an actor. [laughs]
Paste: Well, I mean there is a certain element of that kind of, uh, Andre Agassi/Steffi Graf thing. Right? Where—
Partridge: You couldn’t have picked a better quote for me! Could not have picked a more right quote for me. You know I’m obsessed with tennis?
Lafleur: He’s obsessed with tennis. He’s obsessed with Andre Agassi. We’re here at a pool party and he’s feeling sad because his favorite tennis player lost today. [laughs]
Paste: The Agassi/Graf of indie film!
Lafleur: A little tennis shirt with little red hearts on it?
Paste: Get you a little mullet wig!
Partridge: Oh yeah.
Paste: But no, there is a sense in which, you know, any of us can appreciate how good either one of you are, but there’s also a sense in which, from the inside as a great actor, Ross, you can better appreciate just how good Jenn is and vice versa. Jenn, as a great actor yourself you can better appreciate just how great—that would make you fall for each other more than it would make any civilian fall for you, I would think.
Lafleur: For sure.
Partridge: For sure. I mean, yeah. I think that’s still a matter of opinion, but I aspire to be as good as Jenn. I don’t know how she feels about me; I’m actually much more complicated in the sense that, like—Jenn also knows that she’s really good. I think she’s great, but I think Jenn also is pretty confident that she’s damn good. I don’t think that goes the other direction. I think Jenn’s great and I just usually most of the time think that I’m pretty bad. [laughs] But yeah, and at least I aspire to, like, wow. I actually am inspired for other people to realize how great she is, too.
Paste: Well great. My gosh! I haven’t even asked you about the engagement story! Let’s hear the engagement story! There’s gotta be a great engagement story after 10 years of dating.
Lafleur: Alright, I’ll tell them the—[laughs] Ross is already cringing.
Partridge: Why does that have to go to print?
Lafleur: It’s okay. We don’t have to go into super specific. Ross and I went to Italy for our 10-year anniversary. Neither of us had ever been. It was a place that I was really, really wanting to go to for a very long time, but a lot of times our vacations just kind of revolve around which film festivals we go to or near where one of us is shooting on location. We hadn’t really planned a trip-trip in a really long time. So we went to Italy for a couple of weeks and on our 10-year anniversary we were staying in this really beautiful castle in the Italian countryside. Surprisingly, it was a total surprise to me that it happened. I wasn’t thinking about it or anything and then—
Partridge: Sure. I mean, it was our 10-year anniversary.
Lafleur: It was our 10-year anniversary.
Partridge: If there was ever a time for that to happen…surprise!
Lafleur: Obviously it was, you know—
Partridge: It was no surprise to our friends when all our friends were sitting back and looking at pictures on Instagram and they called it—what was it called?
Lafleur: They were calling it “Engagement-gate,” where they were, like, blowing up photos trying to see if I had a ring on my finger. [laughs] Because we—we decided after he proposed—
Partridge: So it wasn’t that much of a surprise.
Lafleur: Well, it was to me though. And we decided that we would wait a week to tell everybody because we’d been together for so long and…Like, the first thing that I said to him when he proposed was, “Do you even wanna get married?” [laughs] And he was like, “I got the ring!” He was so sweet and it was really romantic, but I didn’t want him to feel like because it was 10 years, or because it was Italy, or because everybody that he’s ever met gives him a hard time about the fact that we’re not married. They all kind of assume that it’s the man who’s waiting.
Partridge: Yeah for some reason I only hang out with—all our friends are very, like, highly devout, Catholic, Christian, moral people. For some reason, they all have it in their heads that—
Lafleur: Ross is always getting barraged with pressure.
Partridge: By all our Christian friends.
Lafleur: And I didn’t want him to feel like we had to get married. So I told him that he had a week to take it back if he was feeling anxious or feeling like it wasn’t the right thing for us.
Partridge: This is not the type of romantic story he was looking for, for the romantic issue of Paste magazine. [laughs]
Paste: It’s romance in the real world.
Lafleur: The romance was that we then had a really sweet week together traveling around Italy. And in a lot of ways, it hasn’t changed anything about our relationship. But it did feel like it was a very sweet deepening of the relationship in a weird way. To me. And at the end of our trip in Italy, I asked him, “So what do you think?” And he said, “Let’s do this.” And I said, “Okay, let’s call my parents.” Because everybody at home was going so crazy feeling like, “It’s Italy! It’s 10 years! They must be getting engaged! Why haven’t we heard from them?” It was fun.
Paste: Well, I always tell all of my friends who get married (even the ones who have been dating a long time) you will be shocked at how different it feels to be married than just to be dating. And I have never, ever, ever had a single friend come back to me after getting married and say, “You know, I don’t think you were right. It feels pretty much the same as dating.” Yeah, it’s really—it’s different.
Lafleur: Do you think we’ll feel different?
Partridge: Um. Well I’m not going to ask how. I’m going to let it be a surprise. And then I’ll come back to you and say, “You were right!”
Lafleur: See, I feel like it’s not going to be that different. So I’m curious as to whether I’ll change my mind after it happens. I’ll talk to you in a couple of months.
Paste: [laughs] Exactly. So since you just had this indie masterpiece just come out into the world, whatcha done lately? What’s up your sleeves next?
Lafleur: Good question. I just finished shooting an episode of a new HBO miniseries called Big Little Lies, which is really fun. And I’m attached to a whole slew of indie films where they may or may not get made. Because that’s how indie films roll. And I’m starting to work on a show in May that I will tell you about more at a later date.
Paste: Nice. And Ross, how about you? Have you found the next novel to adapt?
Partridge: I have not. I am looking. I’m open to suggestions. I’m reading a bunch of stuff.
Paste: Are you looking through the staff picks at a local bookstore of every town you go to?
Partridge: Yeah, yeah. That’s how I roll. I just do staff picks and then we’ll see.
Lafleur: That’s it. That’s actually not a bad idea.
Partridge: It’s not a bad idea at all.
Paste: Might be even more important for you to track down who it was that originally had the staff pick, because you need to ask that person for another recommendation.
Partridge: I’m open to it! If they happen to read this article, please tweet at me or email me or whatever. Yeah, no. I’m just spending a lot of time trying to write and trying to just figure it out.
Lafleur: Ross also just finished shooting a Netflix series as an actor, too, called Stranger Things, where he plays opposite Winona Ryder.
Paste: So I understand. And was that a good experience, Ross? Should we all be looking forward to that?
Partridge: Yeah, it’s a great show. I just did, like, a small little arc on it. But it’s really cool—it’s kind of one of these shows you can watch with your whole family. I’ve actually seen a couple of the episodes already and I think it’s going to do really well. It’s a really fun, clever world, so I look forward to it. Yeah, it was great.
Paste: Beautiful. Well the last question I have for you guys is that, given you two are individually—like, every single person who knows either one of you, individually each of you is one of their favorite people. People hold you—each of you—very near and dear to their heart. And then together you’re, like, just this unbelievable couple. So, since this is the Valentine’s issue and we’ll have some lovers reading, why don’t you give your best advice for the lovers out there? How to be a couple as awesome as the two of you. [laughter]
Lafleur: You go.
Partridge: Aw, come on.
Lafleur: Ross is actually really blushing right now. He’s full-on blushing. He doesn’t do well with compliments. [laughs] Wait. We’re gonna get some advice from Mark Duplass here.
Partridge: Hey, Mark, what’s the key to keeping, uh—
Lafleur: To being a good working relationship and personal relationship. He’s the master.
Partridge: Mark’s the master.
Mark Duplass: Um. I would say proper grooming is very important. Don’t let yourself go. [laughs] Um. I would say, what I call 98 percent honesty. Don’t lie 98 percent of the time; that’s very important. And then I would say make sure you pick someone whose smell you really, really like, because that will get you through it. That’s my top three.
Partridge: Actually, one of Marks’ favorite pieces of advice that he gave a long, long time ago is when you were talking about when you were planning the wedding and you were like, “You know, when your wife is planning the wedding you basically just have to say, ‘Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh,’ and you agree to, like, five out of the seven things she’s bringing to you on a daily basis, but on the sixth time you basically, just have to be like, ‘NO!’ No matter what it is, you just have to say no so they know you’re paying attention.” [laughs]
Lafleur: See, I was going say something sweet, like, “Kindness and patience.” (laughs) But really it’s just about, you know, proper grooming and telling mostly the truth and picking somebody who smells good to you. [laughs]
Paste: Well I thought this interview couldn’t get any more like a wonderful indie film, but then we had a celebrity cameo at the end of it. That’s perfect. Mark, thanks for your input, too.
Lafleur: We’re having a swim day with the Duplasses. [laughs]
Paste: I love it! We have a committee!
Partridge: Maybe that’s the advice that you have to give when you’re doing all this stuff as couples is that you have to keep your friends close by in order to have them keep you—you need people to bounce all this stuff off of. It’s a crazy kind of industry and crazy business, so it’s nice to have your friends who are also working it to kind of help you along the way. Who have the same experiences and and, you know, step aside quietly and be like, “What the fuck are we doing? This is crazy!”
Lafleur: We definitely pull each other through the hard times and then get to revel in the good times too together. Luckily, there’s far more good stuff than bad stuff in the world.