Thanksgiving dinner for the crazy Turner clan goes from bad to worse when estranged daughter Nina (Alicia Witt) makes a surprise visit home for the first time in 15 years. Nina clashes with her stepmother Deborah (Cheryl Hines) and sister, Lindsay (Sonya Walger), while half-brother Jacob (Ashton Holmes) tries to keep a massive gambling debt a secret. Meanwhile, family patriarch Poppy (Peter Bogdanovich) has his own dramatic news to share. Will Slocombe’s Cold Turkey is a black comedy about how — despite our best efforts — we all eventually turn into our parents. I sat down with Cheryl Hines and Will Slocombe to talk turkey about this dysfunctional family.

coldturkey-posterDanny Miller: I have to admit that I went into this film expecting some kind of broad comedy and was surprised to find a much more serious look at families and family dynamics.

Will Slocombe: It’s weird because I actually thought I had written a comedy! But at every screening we’ve had people tell me how emotional the film was for them.

You cover some pretty heavy stuff, even though there are also a lot of laughs. I’m still trying to figure out why I enjoy watching these kinds of films so much even though I hate living through such experiences in my own family!

Cheryl Hines: It’s true! I think we love watching these dysfunctional family dramas because we’re so grateful that it’s happening to someone else and not us.

Right. It’s somehow comforting to know that other people have such difficult families. The nightmare character of Nina (beautifully played by Alicia Witt) is such a loose cannon. Don’t we all have at least one Nina in our family?

Will: Absolutely. Especially in my case since I based that character on a family member! I have to say it’s been an interesting experience for my family to watch this film. Some of them think that I’m picking on them so I try to explain how universal these themes are.

I’ve gotten into trouble in the past for things I’ve written about my family. Are you sure you’re going to be invited to Thanksgiving this year? You’re pretty brave to put this stuff about your family out there!

Or maybe just stupid! The interesting thing is that the person who enjoyed the film the most was the Nina character.

Ah, the benefits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

(Laughs.) Yeah! She said that if I was going to write a parody of her, that’s pretty much what it was going to look like. Some of the other folks were not quite as thrilled.

Cheryl, I think you did such a great job presenting the challenges of being a stepmother — my wife really appreciated it! I hope that no one sees your character Deborah as —

Cheryl: Horribly unlikable and mean? (Laughs.)

But she’s not! I saw her as trying very hard to make everything work with these crazy people. Do you worry about her coming off unsympathetically?

Yes because there are definitely times when she doesn’t seem very likable. But considering the big picture, I think she’s doing the best she can.

I think she’s very tolerant, considering how nuts they are. And I cheered for her when she took a stand about how much she was going to take.

Yeah, I loved how these guys keep saying, “That’s just how we are” and finally she says, “I know! And I don’t like it!” That really floored them.

I love the dynamic between you and Peter Bogdanovich. Which makes me ask, Will, how the hell did you get Peter Bog-freaking-danovich to star in your film?

Will: I don’t know! My casting director called someone who called someone who called someone!

You didn’t know him from some other project?

God, no! I wish I could say that I was in any kind of situation where I happened to know Peter Bogdanovich! No, we just offered him the part but I was sure he was going to turn it down — it was a terrifying couple of days. But then I got word that Mr. Bogdanovich wanted to speak with me and it went really well so he decided to do the film.

Were there moments during the shoot where you were like, “Holy shit, I’m directing Peter Bogdanovich?”

I know it sounds weird, but there really weren’t. But I definitely think there were moments for him where he was thinking, “Holy shit, I’m Peter Bogdanovich and I’m being directed by Will Slocombe!”

Cheryl: Some young whippersnapper!

Will: Right! But we eventually really got to like and respect each other. I would go into his dressing room and sit on the floor and look up at him while he’d tell me all these Orson Welles stories — I just ate that stuff up. And I think he liked the fact that I’d written the film myself about my own experience. That helped me get away with saying things like, “No, that’s not right — I know who these people are!” He ultimately believed me, but it took a few days!

So he had his own idea about how his character should be?

He had his own ideas about where the camera should be! And what takes I should use. And when I was wasting everyone’s time! (Cheryl laughs.)

Wow, to go head-to-head with the director of The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon on that stuff, you must have an awful lot of self-confidence!

Or delusion.


I’ve always loved the sub-genre of Thanksgiving movies. Cheryl, were the Thanksgiving dinners in your family anything like the Turners’ craziness?

Cheryl: I come from a totally different kind of family. In my family, it’s all on the table all the time so nobody has any secrets. If you’ve done something stupid, we all know it immediately and we’ll mock you and make fun of you openly. We’re a very loud and competitive bunch, we play lots of games like running charades where you might get tackled. Sometimes we’ll put on a talent show.

Oh my God, I want to be in your family so bad!

Oh, don’t let me sugarcoat it. We definitely have our moments — there’s always someone who drank too much slumped in the corner shouting, “I failed in my life! I failed you all!” We’re like, “That’s okay, Grandma, calm down!”

I always feel for the in-laws in these types of films — they just married into this insanity.

There’s an element of that in my family. When somebody brings in a newcomer, I always feel sorry for them. Everbody’s saying things like, “Remember the time you did such and such?” and we don’t even finish the story because we know it and then everyone’s laughing but we never tell the newcomers what we’re talking about! They’re the ones who usually end up doing all the dishes just to get away from us.

And in this film, as the stepmother, you’re still the newcomer even though you’ve been there for 20 years!


Will, were the challenges of getting your first film out there what you expected?

Will: Oh my God. Getting it financed, getting it made, getting it out there — it’s all insane and it almost fell apart about a hundred times. I’m very grateful that we are getting a theatrical release as well as being on VOD.

Cheryl, what made you say yes to this young whippersnapper?

Cheryl: I really liked the script. And for me it was a bit of a turn because I’m not really known for drama — that was exciting. Plus, how could I turn down working with Peter Bogdanovich? I really loved everybody in this film. And I loved the bittersweet message: You have a family. They may not be great, but they are your family!

You’re so great at improvisation but this was all tightly scripted. Does that use a different part of your brain than doing something like Curb Your Enthusiasm which is all improv?

It’s definitely a different part of your brain. It’s funny because as an actor you usually get dramatic training where they tell you that everything you need to know about the character is in the script — the punctuation is meaningful, everything the other characters says about you is meaningful — you must respect the script and the writer. Then you do improv and they say, “Throw away everything you know!” It’s just a different way of performing.

Does improv usually involve a certain level of terror? The realization that what you do might not work?

You can’t go at it that way because then you’ll never open your mouth. I trained at the Groundlings Theater and the very first thing they teach you is not to judge yourself. But actually, doing improv live does terrify me these days. They always want me to go back to the Groundlings but I’m too scared. You get on stage and you’re under the gun to say something funny so I start to panic. But when I’m shooting a show like Curb I always figure that if something didn’t work, they’ll fix it in post!

Have you ever had an interview where someone didn’t ask you if Curb Your Enthusiasm is coming back?

No, I have not had an interview where somebody didn’t ask me that!

Oh crap, I almost made it!

I don’t think it is but what do I know? The last time I talked to Larry about it he was like, “Aaaaaah, I don’t know!”

Cold Turkey is playing in select cities and is available on VOD.