Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Choice Words with Carlen Altman, Co-writer and Star of 'The Color Wheel'

Choice Words with Carlen Altman

Shot to center stage by his film's selection as the #1 undistributed movie by the 2011 Village Voice Critics Poll and buoyed by a rare "I hated it so much I loved it" review from New York Times' chief critic A.O. Scott, director Alex Ross Perry is in the enviable position of having been interviewed about his film, The Color Wheel, almost too much.

The Color Wheel is the story of two relentlessly dislikeable siblings, Colin (director Perry) and J.R. (co-writer Altman), careening into disappointing adulthood on two separate, but equally disquieting trajectories. I sat with co-writer and star Carlen Altman for some fresh insight into the film, and (maybe) life. 

Tell me about your film.

The Color Wheel is a feature comedy about a brother and sister who go on a trip and they're really hateful and they hate/love everyone around them. Well, not really. They're kind of annoying to everyone around them, and each other.

It seems to me that the brother and sister in the film are very much two sides of one person.

Somewhat, yes. The two main characters are supposed to reflect two, kind of, stereotypes, that we feel like we are, compared to the people around us. I relate to J.R.'s character, in terms of how in a lot of ways she still has this naive optimism about making it as a news anchor, even though she has no real talent.

Were you worried about that at all, portraying someone who has no talent… Was it scary to air your own fears in that way?

Yup! That's me! No talent! (laughs) 

Alex and I feel like we know a lot of people who fit the stereotype of both J.R. and Colin, in that we know alot of people who have given up on their dreams. [In The Color Wheel], there's a line where Colin's character says that he'd like to be one, but it's too sad to be an aspiring writer, or an aspiring anything, and he'd rather have some kind of certainty in his life. And JR's character is just the opposite, the dreamer.

I guess we see ourselves in both people--we each want to have stability in our lives, health insurance, things that Colin might have, but we also want to follow our dreams and be filmmakers, and jewelry designers, and all these kinds of non-sustainable ideas.

I'm glad you mentioned that. Tell me about the other things you do, you make these Jewish rosaries?

Yeah! My line of Jewlery--'Jew-lery'--is called Jewish Rosaries. I'm Jewish, and I'm not really religious, but I really love how Catholic rosaries look and I really felt envious that there wasn't something so cool that Jews could have... you know… dradles aren't that cool.

Well you can't spin a cross.

The grass is always greener, right? Anyway, one day I made a rosary with a Jewish star at the end of it and people said "Where'd you get that?" "Oh I made it," and then it sort of turned into a real business even though I have no jewelry training. And I act sometimes, but my bread and butter, I guess, is this jew-elry.

My dad is a standup comedian called 'Uncle Dirty', and I go through phases where I think I'd like to do it, but I don't really think I have the mentality for it. I hate repeating myself, which doesn't help. Plus, improv people always seem like they're making up for being deprived of attention as a child!

I wanted to ask you about the improv thing, and how much improvisation there was in the movie, because it seemed very scripted.

Thank you, yeah, we worked at that. I would say that 85 percent of it was scripted and 15 percent of it was improv. 

Let's do some more numbers. This interview is for 7x7, so naturally we love 7s--

Me to, it's my favorite number!

Since the film characters of J.R. and Alex are so much more about what they don't want than what they do, could you give me a list of 7 things you hate?

1. I hate people who clip their nails on the subway.

2. I hate overweight people who feed their children junk food.

3. I hate when I see pregnant women smoking.

This is kind of a public health concern laundry list.

I guess it is, isn't it (laughs).

4. I hate when people are phony.

5. I hate people who are mean to animals.

6. I hate when people talk about how much they love animals while they're eating meat.

…I guess they're all environmental concerns. Is that 7 yet?

Almost, one more.

7. I hate having ADD!

The Color Wheel is Altman's first writing credit, though she has appeared in works by indie up-and-comer Ry Russo-Young, who also briefly cameos as Colin's girlfriend in the film, and in Dunham's online series 'Tight Shots'. Plays twice nightly this week at Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St @ Valencia, 415-863-1087.