Mayim Bialik’s feature directorial debut As They Made Us tugs at the heartstrings with reckless abandon. It makes sense, considering she chose Dustin Hoffman to play a character inspired by her late father in a movie all about the emotional rollercoaster that is preparing to lose a loved one.
“My father passed away seven years ago, and there’s a very formal year of mourning in traditional Judaism. And after that year ended, I started feeling a desire to write,” Mayim Bialik told MovieMaker.
The film stars Dianna Agron as Abigail, a divorced mother of two who struggles to come to terms with her dysfunctional parents (Hoffman and Candice Bergen) as her estranged brother (Simon Helberg) suddenly re-enters the picture and her father’s health rapidly declines. Abigail does all of this while stoicly trying to find new love.
As They Made Us is partly based on Mayim Bialik’s real life — and partly made up. But Bialik demurred on which parts of the film fall into which category.
“There are many things in the movie that never happened. There are many things that did. I’ve decided not to go scene by scene, just out of respect for my family, my vulnerability,” she said. “But I have spoken openly about growing up in mental illness. Never dealt with addiction this way, meaning in writing, but I felt that this was a place to do it.”
At first, she thought that she would just write the movie and that someone else would direct it. But it soon became clear that As They Made Us was her story to tackle in its entirety.
“I went to Jim Rash, and he said, ‘No, this is your story, and you’re going to write it.’ And I spoke to Eddie Gorodetsky and Eric Kaplan from the Chuck Lorre Big Bang world; Don Reo, who created Blossom for me, and as a writer, I really respect, and they sort of guided me through the continuing writing process,” she said.
“My ex-husband said, when I was trying to decide if I am going to direct it, he said, many young men right out of film school say ‘I’m going to write and direct my first movie, it’s going to be amazing and everything I touch turns to gold.’ And he said, ‘Why not a woman? Why not you?'”
Mayim Bialik was overjoyed to reunite with her Big Bang Theory castmate Simon Helberg for the first time since the CBS sitcom’s finale in 2019.
“My father passed on while I was working on Big Bang Theory, and Simon knew my family, knew me, and I know a bit about his family and his life. We were friends and co-workers,” she said. “I never thought he would do this, but he was kind of the first person that I cast in my head.”
Getting Hoffman and Bergen to sign on was the icing on the cake.
“I never dreamed that I would get Dustin and Candice, and then for Dianna to step in and kind of be the mortar around all these relationships was just so special,” she said. “Also, Julian Gant who plays the caregiver — I worked with him on Call Me Kat and so that was actually really amazing.”
As a first-time director, Bialik her drew inspiration from David Mamet’s book On Directing Film, which was a gift to her from her partner, Jonathan Cohen.
“David Mamet’s book is what I kept with me. You know, his book on directing and in particular directing actors. I had selected quotes from that that I would look at every day. I would touch the book in my hotel room every day before I left,” she said. “Mamet’s book is probably the thing that most guided me and you know, I have my selected quotes, but you know, tell the story in the smallest units that you can the simplest units with the least cuts. The least you know, if something’s not necessary, take it out.”
As They Made Us hits theaters and VOD platforms on Friday.
Main Image: Simon Helberg, Candice Bergen, Dustin Hoffman, Mayim Bialik and Dianna Agron behind the scenes of As They Made Us.