FREEHOLD – How do you get from Springsteen’s hometown to the City of Angels? Freehold Township High School graduate David Iserson, television writer and author, knows. Film was always his goal. His new movie, “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” starring Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux and Sam Heughan had its Los Angeles premiere July 25 and opens nationwide Aug. 3.
Kunis and McKinnon star as Audrey and Morgan, Los Angeles-based best friends who find themselves in the middle of an international conspiracy thanks to Audrey’s ex-boyfriend, who has a team of assassins following him. It somehow falls on these two to save the world.
In between promotions and getting ready for the big release, he answered a few questions from Jersey Shore Online.
Jersey Shore Online: The 11-year-old David had head shots, one you described as “Child Don Henley on the Cover of End of the Innocence Album.” What were your creative aspirations growing up in Freehold?
David Iserson: I acted in school plays and small community theater productions and I went to weekly drawing and painting classes for much of my childhood. Growing up, I wanted to one day have my own comic strip. Something like Bloom County or Calvin and Hobbes. This dream didn’t happen.
JSO: You graduated Freehold Township High School, then Northwestern University. Did you always have your sights set on Saturday Night Live? How did you land that writing gig (and when did you decide that you were more a writer than actor?)? What did you learn about the craft, and about yourself, during that time on SNL?
DI: I did not have my sights set on SNL. I moved to Los Angeles to write. Film or television. I took a bunch of improv classes in Hollywood and did a little bit of stand-up, but I was never great at it. I ended up working as an assistant (getting lunches, fetching coffee) on some short-lived TV shows and a coworker put me in touch with someone who I could submit jokes to for Weekend Update. I got some jokes on the air and it led to a job there. So, I moved to New York.
I didn’t work very long at SNL, but it was exciting. There was a great creative energy and that place is filled with mind-blowing talent. I learned a ton about how to write a joke, how to write fast and that, sometimes, your best ideas fall flat on their face – sometimes on national television.
JSO: You seemingly went from “Live, from New York…” to Tinseltown. You’ve written for both critically acclaimed and viewer-beloved television shows such as “United States of Tara,” “Mad Men,” and “New Girl.” What was the transition like not only from New York to L.A., but sketch comedy to serial dramas and the 30-minute comedy?
DI: I lived in LA before I worked in New York so moving back wasn’t really a transition. I loved working on so many shows and very different shows. I love writing all sorts of characters and the challenge of doing different things with different tones. But mostly, I love telling different kinds of stories and what all of those shows have in common is that working there meant sitting in a room with a ton of smart, talented people writing stories together.
JSO: You also wrote a young adult novel while writing on your television gigs, Firecracker, about a protagonist Astrid Krieger who lives in a rocket ship in her backyard and plots revenge against those allegedly conspiring to get her kicked out of prep school while she must suffer in public school. What did you decide about Astrid? Any more books on the horizon?
DI: Astrid Krieger is a character I’ve long loved and I was searching for the right way to tell a story about her. I had written a series of short stories about her life and when I got the opportunity to write a whole novel, I was very excited. I’m incredibly proud of that book.
But, writing books take forever and it’s hard to balance that and my other work. So, yes, more books in my future, but it’s moving slow.
JSO: You said in an L.A. Times interview, where you were talking about Firecracker, that you like writing female characters. You wrote the screenplay for “The Spy Who Dumped Me” with Susanna Fogel, who also directed the film. How did you and Susanna come up with the story of Audrey and Morgan, and was it always going to be “Audrey and Morgan” (female leads)? Did you write them with Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon in mind?
DI: Yes, I have spent a lot of my career writing strong female characters, as has Susanna, so writing about these great friends felt natural for both of us. Very shortly after we came up with the idea for the movie, the characters were almost fully formed in our heads and writing them was a lot of fun.
No, we didn’t write them specifically for Mila and Kate but the characters expanded and adapted once we spent more time with Mila and Kate and we shaped them to those actors.
JSO: What projects do you have lined up?
DI: I’m working on a bunch of fun things… but they’re all secret.
JSO: Neither you nor your wife are from Los Angeles. (David is married to award-winning taxidermist Allis Markham, originally from Madison, Indiana.) What fond memories do you hold of growing up in Freehold, and do you ever get back here to visit? What are your thoughts of the township, and the area in in general, now that you live elsewhere?
DI: Morgan, Kate’s character in The Spy Who Dumped Me, is actually from Freehold as we discover in one scene that I will not spoil. My parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and niece all live in Manalapan, so I try to visit them at least once a year. My great-grandfather moved to Freehold in the 1920s so my roots in central Jersey run deep. It’s very much a part of my identity, though I’ve unlearned my accent (“wuh-ter,” “cawfee.”)
When I visit I venture almost immediately to Chinese food at Szechuan Star on Route 9 and then, for my next meal, pizza at Federici’s.
When you live in LA and are from New Jersey, you get a lot of “Oh, you’re from New Jersey, do you know [some town I’ve never heard of]?” and then you say, “No,” and then there’s not much to talk about after that.
For tickets and showtimes, visit tickets.thespywhodumpedme.movie.