Cheryl Hines plays a sharp-witted small town waitress in the late writer/director Adrienne Shelly’s last film, Waitress. In addition to Hines, Shelly’s romantic comedy features Keri Russell (Felicity) as a waitress who’s a master at creating new pies, Nathan Fillion (Serenity) as the new OB-GYN in town, and Andy Griffith as the owner of the café where Hines and Russell work.
Waitress made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival after Shelly was murdered, and was picked up by Fox Searchlight at the festival when audiences fell in love with Shelly’s final project. Hines believes Shelly’s film provides viewers with the sort of escapist entertainment they crave and is often missing from movies. “I know I’m in a good movie when I’m not looking at my watch seeing how much longer,” said Hines. “And this movie, all of my friends have told me when they watched it, they didn’t want it to end. They wanted to keep watching these characters and see what they were going to do next. And I think those kind of movies are rare.”
It’s evident Hines enjoyed her time on the set of Waitress and working with Shelly. “She was great. She was a very funny, intelligent, intense, passionate person. She knew what she wanted and at the same time, she was somebody you wanted to hang out with at the end of the day. So it was great.”
Waitress had a tiny budget and only a 20-day shooting schedule, which was quite a challenge for writer/director Shelly and her cast. But Hines says it’s clear from the finished film that Shelly knew exactly what she was aiming for from the get-go. “Adrienne obviously had a very clear vision of the tone of this movie. When we were shooting it, I wasn’t really aware of the exact tone of this film until I watched it. So, to me, if anyone does any sort of creating or directing, I thought that was a very good lesson. I don’t know if I’m articulating it right. The film has parts that are very stylized, that you don’t realize what the finished product is going to be. Because you’re just showing up and shooting your scene, you don’t know what the big picture is going to be. So it’s just interesting watching that, I suppose.”
Hines let her emotions guide her into accepting a role in Waitress, noting this definitely was not a financial decision. “I read the script and loved the role that Adrienne had created,” Hines said, explaining what grabbed her about the project. “I thought she did such a good job not only creating these characters but capturing the complexity of life and the choices that we make, the idea that life isn’t black and white. Sometimes you make the wrong decision but you might be having the time of your life while doing it and then is that wrong? I thought it captured very interesting concepts.”
Hines is the film’s comic relief and the Emmy-nominated actress says she played it just how Shelly wrote the character. “Adrienne wrote the script and it really didn’t change much from the time I read it to when we shot, so this character was written that way,” recalled Hines. “And Adrienne, when we were shooting it, was pretty liberal about letting me do what I thought the character should do. We worked together that way.”
Being on the set with Andy Griffith was an incredible experience for all involved. “He’s amazing,” said Hines. “We were shooting this little independent film in the middle of nowhere in this diner and in comes Andy Griffith. He was just so great in what he did, and watching that scene he did with Keri Russell was really mesmerizing. I was just standing there thinking, ‘Oh, I’m watching a legend now.’ It was pretty amazing.”
All kinds of pies bearing interesting names play an important role in Waitress. Russell’s character whips up new creations, naming each of her new pies after events in her life or after the emotions she’s feeling at the time. From ‘Kick in the Pants’ to ‘I Hate My Husband’ to the ‘Pregnant Miserable Self Pitying Loser Pie’ (filled with lumpy oatmeal and fruitcake), the pies of Waitress are an interesting reflection of Russell’s character. Asked what she would call a pie that sums up her philosophy, Hines said her pie would simply be called ‘Life’s a Joke’ and the key ingredients would be chocolate with just a dash of hot sauce tossed in to throw people off.