Director Alex Lehmann Opens Up About Making The Rom-Com Meet Cute - Exclusive Interview

How many of us would choose to live out our meet cute again and again if we could? In the new film "Meet Cute," Sheila (Kaley Cuoco) has the opportunity to do exactly that.

Shortly after feeling sparks with a great guy named Gary (Pete Davidson), Sheila discovers a tanning bed that doubles as a time machine. This hidden treasure offers her the ability to go back to her all-time favorite day over and over again: her first date with the man of her dreams. As incredible as their meet cute may be, the film explores exactly what happens when you go too far messing with time — and we sat down with the director himself to hear all about balancing both comedy and drama in this not-so-typical time-traveling rom-com.

In an exclusive interview with The List, director Alex Lehmann explained why he's never been a big fan of rom-coms, shared why he felt Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson were a perfect match for the starring roles, and revealed the on-set joke that kept everyone laughing long after the cameras stopped rolling.

Why this filmmaker originally wasn't a big fan of romantic comedies

You have previously admitted that rom-coms aren't actually your favorite type of genre, so what was it about the script "Meet Cute" that drew you to it?

There was room for this to be a more honest rom-com. I don't like rom-coms, because they — well, I struggle with a lot of rom-coms, because they feel convenient, and then there's also this element of: You find the right person, and all of a sudden your life's going to click, and you're going to be happy.

I don't know. In my twenties, sure, that sounded great. Today I'm [like] — giant eye roll. My wife and I will give you a giant eye roll together. The truth is, there are certain things on our life journey that we're trying to figure out about ourselves and maybe fix about ourselves or improve about ourselves that no other human being is going to be able to take care of. I like that this story is about finding someone who can support you while you do it yourself, and that felt more honest.

Also, the commitment that these two characters have, the amount of B.S. they put up with, because they believe in the relationship ... It's not a perfect relationship, and they know that, yet they're still committed to it. That's romantic to me. I love it when people try hard, especially [in] this day and age, where we give up on things if they start to not go well. It's a very honest romance, and that's why it hooked me.

How he chose the film's stars Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson

What was it that you initially saw in Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson that you felt embodied the characters of Sheila and Gary?

There was a huge question ... I'll give you the hard one first. The hard one was Gary. I didn't exactly know what we were looking for in Gary. On the page, there were ways that he benefited Sheila, but I didn't get why Sheila was so into Gary on the page.

Then when we met with Pete, it was like the light bulb went off, because he's so lovable and funny, and he reminds you to be more childlike. He's somebody that can take the weight off your world by making a joke and being silly. Yet he still embodied this element of pain and hurt, and I wanted to save him. We all wanted to save Pete Davidson. Yet he's making us laugh while we're trying to save him ... That unlocked everything for me, for Gary.

As far as Sheila goes, I was looking for the Ferrari of actors, which is basically: You needed someone who could go 200 miles an hour and make sharp turns — all the comedy and all the drama, and basically [they] needed to be able to, on a dime, change directions. That's what Kaley's so fantastic at. She is so underrated as a comedic actress. All that "Big Bang Theory" and all — she's got her timing down to the microsecond. Yet she's got the dramatic chops behind all that comedy. She's unlike anyone.

I knew Sheila needed to be that Ferrari — the energy, driving it all. Or a tornado.

This is the running joke viewers will never get to see in the film

You let Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson improvise moments throughout the film. Were there any moments in particular that impressed you?

It would impress me when Pete could do five minutes of comedy on the movie "Jaws." It was not useful to our film at all, but he had the crew in stitches, and he had Kaley in stitches. That came in handy at times where we were doing so much repeating day stuff, that all of a sudden he would go on this tangent. We got to cut the cameras, because we got to save some digital media for the actual movie, but [it was] like, "Let's all relax for five minutes, breathe in a little Pete Davidson humor, and then get back to it."

But also, it's not just comedic improv. It's dramatic improv, and I've done it on all my films. It's about capturing the lightning in a bottle — those moments of what does it actually feel like and what words and feelings would you actually have in this instance that maybe weren't exactly on the page? — and then chasing that.

I've got a documentary background, so I love creating a more genuine moment and letting ... [It's like] a science experiment, you know? You find out what's going on and try to capture that human, in-the-moment experience.

Were there any other moments that didn't make it into the final cut that'll be really memorable to you?

Oh, man. There's no PG story I can tell. [Laughs] Most of the stuff that didn't make it into the cut is so that we don't — Yeah. It's humor.

It was important to depict Sheila's character properly

One of the more complex-looking scenes was Sheila repeatedly hitting herself with a car. Can you talk about logistically what went into that?

That was crazy because we had a half day to shoot all that stuff, which for anybody that doesn't work in the film industry, it's crazy that we did that.

But there was no improv in Sheila hitting herself in the car. That one we figured out in advance. Because it's Kaley playing multiple roles, she had to wear different costumes, and then there'd be stunt doubles. It was the most planned out and down to the minute. We went hard for six hours. It was a really interesting experience, so different than the tone of the rest of the film.

What did you feel was most important to depict when it came to Sheila's mental health?

It's a fine line depicting mental health — Sheila uses humor to deflect what she's dealing with in her mental health, and we want to be very respectful of every audience member's own mental health journey, challenges, et cetera, while also honoring the fact that Sheila specifically likes to use humor to deflect. We didn't want to make light of it, but at the same time, we wanted to show what Sheila's doing.

It's more about Sheila's need for control and her fear of the future, and that's something that we can all relate to. She does take it to some pretty serious places, but [we were] reminding ourselves that it's about her fear of control and remembering that she's using a tanning bed time machine to try to control things. I don't know. I think we walked the line there. We didn't want to upset anybody.

But Sheila's Sheila. I know some Sheilas, and I have a lot of empathy for what they go through, and at the same time, I admire how much humor and levity they use to approach whatever mental health challenges they have.

Here's what goes into creating an 'honest' rom-com

What are the biggest challenges in general of making a rom-com?

First of all, there are a lot of really great rom-coms that exist already, and we don't want to step into their territory. We wanted to be our own thing.

Then, what are all these characters in rom-coms doing? They're doing some pretty crazy s*** to fall in love or to make each other fall in love, which is both ridiculous and yet so relatable. The challenge is showing that they actually deserve to be with each other, even for all the crazy things that they're doing.

For us, it was setting the grounds of a more realistic relationship where they're not just fighting for an idealized relationship, but they're actually fighting for that messy, honest depiction of what a relationship is over the course of a longer time period, which is where nobody's conceit takes this into new territory.

Were there any films or rom-coms in particular that inspired you while making "Meet Cute"?

Yes. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is one that stood out — you don't necessarily think of it as a rom-com right off the bat, but it's very honest. Even though it's got this device to ... Just like our tanning bed time machine, there's this device that does elevate the film, but if you took it out and you just made it a story about the characters, it still works. It's still a very honest story, so "Eternal Sunshine" was a model for that.

Then [there's] the idea that you've got two huge movie stars that are in all these big commercial things, and they're coming to do this quirkier, more indie-vibey thing that feels a little gritty and real. That's the same thing as when Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet all of a sudden were barely wearing any makeup and doing this quirky Michel Gondry film.

He wanted the backdrop to be 'real New York City'

A lot of "Meet Cute" is filmed at night. What was it like shooting in the dark in New York City on the streets?

Well, New York City is never dark. [Laughs] That's the beauty of it. The neon lights, the shops, the restaurants, the bars — that's what brings New York to life, is that every block you're going down, there's Kuya music playing, there's lights, there's people, there's life.

John Matysiak, our DP, did such a great job. We feel the city lights on the actors' faces. It doesn't feel like movie lights on the actors' faces, so they feel like they're there. That's the best, where a lot of the backdrop was real New York City. It wasn't us staging it, and we wanted the characters to feel like they were really there and interacting with actual New York.

How making a rom-com changed his overall feelings toward the genre

Has directing this film changed your feelings at all about the rom-com genre now that you've completed it?

Man, that is a great question. I've always loved relationships, and I love the idea of love. Maybe it's changed a bit for me, the concept of rom-coms, because I had so much fun making this. I laughed so hard for a month straight. That's something that Pete [Davidson] and Kaley [Cuoco] do so well — even whatever struggles or whatever seriousness they have in their life, they love to play. They love to escape the seriousness of life through play, and our play just happens to be recorded on a box and sent digitally to everybody's homes.

Rom-coms — when they're done right, even if they're not as heavy as ours — they do allow you to escape and have fun and play a good date night or something. Forget the world's problems and laugh.

What projects do you have coming up next?

There's a couple exciting things. I can't talk about them yet, but Pete and I have been talking. Kaley and I have been talking. We all had so much fun. We would love to work together again, and I'm excited about the future ... There's our closer. Unlike Sheila, I am very excited about tomorrow.

"Meet Cute" is available to stream Wednesday, September 21 exclusively on Peacock.

This interview has been edited for clarity.