What happens when you put Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver and Jason Bateman together in a Long Island house for a month?
Filmmaker Shawn Levy did it last May, and the result is his comedy-drama "This Is Where I Leave You," which opens Friday. It's the story of the Altmans, a dysfunctional Jewish family that reconvenes to sit shiva for its deceased patriarch. Fonda plays the widowed but still lively Hillary Altman, while the other main cast members are her bickering children, none terribly thrilled to be back home. Based on Jonathan Tropper's best-selling novel from 2009, "This Is Where I Leave You" is set in a never-named suburb of New York City, but locals may recognize it as the village of Munsey Park.
"This Is Where I Leave You" is the latest in a string of movies filmed on Long Island, some of them independent features ("Affluenza," a teen drama set in Great Neck), others big-budget releases (Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," shot in several North Shore locales). Earlier this summer, Fey returned to Long Island to film the comedy "The Nest" in Bethpage and other locales.
"I'm learning that Long Island is a magical place," Fey says. "We used Bethpage to double for Orlando. We just put up a couple of palm trees, and there you go."
The Altman home in "This Is Where I Leave You" is a white Colonial on Burnham Place, not far from Manhasset. Levy, whose credits include the "Night at the Museum" movies, says he considered shooting in Westchester but saw the house in a location scout's photo book and fell in love with it. The house sits on a cul-de-sac, just like the one in Tropper's book and, Levy says, his own childhood home in Montreal.
"Everybody at the studio told me it doesn't really need to be on a dead end," Levy says. "But I said no, it has to be. And when I saw the house, I thought, this is too good. We have to shoot this inside, too."
Rather than build a separate set for the interior, which would have allowed more room for lights and cameras, Levy packed the existing house with his 11-person cast, which also includes Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton and Timothy Olyphant. Though some filming was done at a skating rink in Bellmore and on the streets of Great Neck, most scenes take place in and around the house, right down to a front-yard fistfight between two characters. ("We completely demolished their lawn," says Levy.)
The actors all but lived in the Munsey Park house for 25 days. Their trailers were inconveniently far away, and lunch was easily brought in (Fey says they ordered from Benihana in Manhasset), so they often spent their breaks sitting together on beds in the upstairs bedrooms -- much like their characters in the film.
"We all just stayed put in the house, which was probably a really useful bonding experience," says Fey. "It was like we really were a family."