Pictured: Halley Feiffer and Ryan Spahn
"It has such a heightened cartoonish feel," Spahn says, referring to He's Way More Famous Than You, the film he cowrote and stars in and is also directed by his boyfriend, Michael Urie. "It almost feels like Muppets Take Manhattan-meets-Woody Allen."
The fun on-screen chemistry between Spahn and Halley Feiffer, who co-wrote the film together and play brother and sister in the quirky comedy, makes one imagine they are longtime friends who concocted a meta-story one night over too-many drinks, while confessing horror stories about their acting careers. But Spahn says it all happened a few summers ago in Martha's Vineyard when they met and realized they had a similar sense of humor. They later became friends over Facebook and started urging one another to come up with a script.
But what about Mamie Gummer, who's also featured in the film and has fun poking fun at her own perceived privilege as the daughter of Meryl Streep? She must be an old pal?
"I've spent two summers on Martha's Vineyard with all these wealthy, WASPy families," Spahn explains. "We're all kinda friends with Mamie, and we wanted to make a joke about what sort of person we'd assume Mamie Gummer would be. "
It's only one of the spot-on scenarios that plays off perceptions of actors' baggage that will ellicit a giggle. Natasha Lyonne is also featured and offers commentary on her own acting ups and down. As does Ralph Maccio, who at 51 (it's almost impossible to believe!), plays a sleazy version of himself (watch this hilarious clip).
"We wrote him as this nice guy, which he is, and he gave us this massive note that he wanted to be weasly," so Spahn and Feiffer changed gears and gave him the role he wanted.
In fact, the take away of this kooky meta-comedy is that if you don't like the roles you're being offered, write the ones that you want. Spahn, who is currently finishing his third year at Julliard—and is currently sporting a scruffy beard for the "fat, drunk" role he's playing in a college production of Twelfth Night—wrote three films prior to beginning school and has managed to get each of them made (the next, Grantham & Rose, is in post-production).
It can be tough being a gay male acting couple—the competition for auditioning for the same roles, the potential for jealousy—Spahn, however, says they've been lucky not to have such problems so far. "Michael is at a completely different place in his career," Spahn says. "Plus, we're not the same 'type.' We've also both been completely busy and occupied. There's never been a time when one of us was sitting at home doing nothing. I think that's maybe when jealousy could pop in."
But this was the first time they'd worked together in this capacity: What was it like working with his boyfriend (who's currently receiving raves for his one-man Off-Broadway show Buyer & Cellar) as a director?
"Most of the time when couples, or even writers, collaborate, there's usually tension," he says. "I thought it was going to be weird, but it never came up with us; we work really well together. Michael has such a respect for the script and us as actors that we never had a problem—not between us." But Spahn admits that when they turned their apartment where they live together into their production office things got a little crazy. Or the time early on when they got booted from the planned filming location (Feiffer's parents apartment) and had to find a new place to shoot.
"It was the day of the earthquake in Manhattan," he says. "And the doormen would not let us up. So Michael called up Vanessa Williams—she has an 'estate' up in Chappaqua—and he asked if we could film up at her house for the next five days. She said, 'Ok, great.' So we literally packed up the trucks and drove up there. When you see that gorgeous house when we're filming the film within a film, it's Vanessa's."
So have they had any strange responses to them playing hyped-up, fictional versions of themselves on screen? "It's only seems weird to people who don't know us and think that's what we're like," Spahn says. "Our friends get really uncomfortable at times, because it has a documentary feel. But we wanted to push the boundaries, and it's what we wanted to do."
Watch Halley perform an over-the-top scene from The Outsiders below: