By Judy Carmack Bross
Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field
When co-stars Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, Lily Tomlin and Sally Field burst on Chicago screens this week along with quarterback Tom Brady in “Eighty for Brady,” locals should cheer as well for Chicagoan Sarah Haskins, who co-wrote the Paramount Super Bowl comedy with Emily Halpern. The Francis Parker and Chicago improv scene graduate worked from a true story about four lifelong friends and Patriots fans determined to see their idol Tom Brady play at the 2017 Super Bowl, capturing the winning skills of all her superstars in hilarious interplay.
Described as part road-trip comedy, part best friends forever, and part sports documentary, Haskins and Halpern knew the ropes of working together since their days as Harvard students, begun again when Haskins moved to Hollywood and re-connected with Halpern, then a TV writer, in 2008. Haskins told us in a recent interview about when they were approached to submit a pitch for the story: “The concept immediately resonated with both of us. Emily is from Boston. I love sports. And we both loved the idea of writing another story of female friendship.
We salute Haskins on “Eighty For Brady” which is predicted to dominate the box office next week end and going forward, and delighted in her humor and kindness as we talked.
Sarah Haskins, left, and Emily Halpern at the recent Palm Springs Film Festival with Rita Moreno. Haskins told us: “Emily and I ran into Rita Moreno at the hotel bar after the screening. Did she stay up later than us? Yes.”
Have you liked comedy since you were a child? Did you like to watch funny shows or do comedy routines as a very young person?
I did not! I am always impressed by stories of kids who know exactly what their purpose is, but that was not my story. In part because my parents did not let me watch TV. Ha! Now I work in television! I sure showed them.
Francis Parker is definitely known for its excellent theater and writing programs and has been a path to many successful people in various aspects in Hollywood. Did you enjoy writing and theater there?
Absolutely. And I wouldn’t even consider writing and theater to be separate “programs” When I was at Parker, opportunities for creativity were embedded throughout the curriculum. We were always learning about something and then creating a performance or a piece of art, especially in lower school. I had two seminal moments that nudged me toward theater and performance. I first realized I might be funny when I was cast as Ms. Hanigan in our 8th grade play, “Annie.” I do not remember myself as a particularly funny or outgoing middle schooler, so I’m grateful to my teachers for whatever they saw in me. I loved the experience. I loved getting laughs. Huge self-confidence boost right when I needed it.
Then, during my senior year, a friend of mine, Jake Armstrong, was doing an independent study in theater and asked me to participate in a sketch and improv show. We did some great scenes: Nichols and May, Kids In the Hall, plus improv games. I had so much fun I knew I was going to seek out doing more
comedy in college.
At Harvard, I think from what I read, you were very involved in creative aspects and theater. What did you do there that prepared you for the excellent work you are doing now?
Thank you for calling the work “excellent.” I hope so! At Harvard I did some theater but mostly improv comedy with a group called IGP. Being in a college improv group prepared me for utter chaos. Being in the middle of utter chaos is good preparation for life.
Sarah Haskins, at left, as part of Second City’s TourCo.
I know that you did Improv in Chicago, what was that world like then? At which theaters did you perform?
Ah, back in the golden years of 2001-07. Before social media. Before smartphones. When it took an hour to type out a text on a Nokia.
It’s hard to sum up the world. There were the more established legacy theaters: Second City and i.O. and, at that time Annoyance was a place that people sought out for their excellent teaching and edgier comedy style. At the same time there were new theaters and venues percolating – The Playground was a cooperative theater that opened the improv scene up to independent groups of performers. I took classes at all of these places – and learned a ton at each place – but I primarily performed at i.O., The Playground and on Second City’s TourCo.
Overall, I remember it as vibrant and busy and creative and inspiring. I was looking through some old keepsake boxes recently and they are full of show programs and newspaper clippings from the Chicago Reader. Shows I did. Shows friends did. Something was always going on. At times it felt like the improv community was almost an extension of college –a weird comedy specific college – where you had a group of other twenty-something people around you all interested in and engaged in pursing the same thing. Which could certainly be complicated at times. Many of us were pursuing comedy as a profession so there were elements of ambition and competition. And most of us were still growing up and figuring out how to “adult” so there’s all that messiness involved as well.
I’m super grateful for those years and the incredibly funny and talented people I got to know, take classes from, perform with and have fun with. All before our pre-frontal lobes were fully developed! We did it!
Going to Hollywood, how did you launch your career there? What was the comedy world like when you got there?
I moved to Los Angeles to work for a show called “Infomania” on Current TV, a now-defunct cable network that was going to be part of the crowd-sourced internet revolution. And it was! Just, you know, not as much as YouTube or Facebook. Aside from Infomania (which was a comedy/news show covering the media) Current was curating and programming really interesting and serious documentary content- it was probably just too classy to make it in the internet age. At Current I got some attention for an Infomania segment I created called “Target Women” that satirized how advertising tries to reach out to a female demographic. You can find some of them on YouTube.
Probably what truly “launched” my career was a dinner I had with Emily Halpern in 2008. Emily was a friend from college and was working out in LA as a TV writer. We talked about wanting to write a teen movie that focused on the female teenage experience. That idea became “Booksmart.” The script got a lot of positive attention, enabling us to write more movies and also find
work in television.
This shows my naiveté—not knowing how projects come about—did you come up with the idea of “Eighty For Brady” or were you approached to write it or did you approach Paramount when you heard that it was in the works?
We were approached by Donna Gigliotti, a producer on the film. The big ingredients had come together – an agent at WME (William Morris Endeavor)’s grandmother was part of a group of octogenarian women in Boston who called themselves “Over 80 for Brady” and got together to root for the Patriots (and Tom) every weekend as a celebration of friendship and football. He thought the story could make a great basis for a film and brought it to Tom Brady who agreed.
Donna asked us if we were interested in bringing her a take (basically a pitch for what the movie and story would be) and our answer was a resounding YES. The concept immediately resonated with both of us. Emily is from Boston. I love sports. And we both loved the idea of writing another story of female friendship.
My Mom and her friends love the Cubs so the idea of setting a female friendship story in the sports world was not a crazy idea to me. I was like, yes, women love sports and love watching and cheering together.
Are you a football fan? What was it like to bring Tom Brady into this film?
Tom Brady was involved before we were – so really, we should ask Tom Brady what it was like to bring us into this film. Just kidding, just kidding, please do not bother him, he’s busy.
Everyone must ask you what it was like to work with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field and Rita Moreno. Would you go to the set during filming and watch them working together?
We visited set a few times, but the role of a writer in film can be very different than that of TV. It is really the director’s medium. We’ve met the cast since and they are all tremendous.
What is it like to see beyond amazing people saying your words? Did they often ask you about what you wrote and interact with you about it?
These women are icons and I am wowed every day that they had anything to do with a project I’m involved in. Each one of them has been in a movie or show that I could cite as influential or impactful to me – so it’s rather overwhelming to really step back and think about it.
One of the really great things about the movie of course is that these are older women who have this great adventure and really take charge. I have written recently about Chicago Innovation and their work in debunking myths on ageism, and that way that older people are made to feel invisible. These women are anything but invisible. This most make you feel good about helping to fight this prejudice against age.
Yes. And we really tried not to make cheesy age jokes in this movie – obviously their age is part of who they are and part of the challenge in getting to the Super Bowl, but it’s just an element of their characters, not the sum totality.
And in general, I (and Emily) always love projects that involve expanding or complicating the roles that women get to play. I mentioned my mom and her friends earlier; watching their friendship growing up was not only something that brought me strength and comfort, but also joy. They were funny. They were funny about troubles, they were funny with each other. And there was strength in that ability to laugh and get through things together: divorces, financial trouble, us crazy kids. All of it.
They were (and are) dynamic, interesting people who were always tackling new projects and roles even as they juggled jobs and kids. One of them joined a theater company. Another went back to school and became a nurse. A third ushered at Wrigley Field in retirement.
My favorite memories are of hanging out together in someone’s kitchen over some O’Fame pizza and laughing. And watching them make each other laugh – so I hope we brought some of that energy to this film.
What are the new projects you can tell us about?
We are writing a television pilot for CBS starring Ashley Tisdale. It’s currently entitled “Brutally Honest” and explores how having a baby can “ruin, save, change, destroy and inspire your marriage…all before lunch.” It’s really fun to work on. Ashley brought us the idea after having her daughter and as moms, we relate. Oh, do we relate.
Dr. Rob Murphy, a medical hero in Chicago for his pioneering work with HIV-Aids and more recently COVID, recently mentioned his pride in your accomplishments and the fun of watching you and his daughters grow up together.
This is just a great place to give a shout out to Rob Murphy (and all the Murphys, really, Morgan, Mandy, Andrea) for being massively positive influences on my life and career. I practically lived at their house in high school. I definitely ate all their food. And they made me feel smart and funny and seen and have been incredibly supportive over the years. Thank you, Murphys.
Haskins married writer Geoffrey Edwards, son of Peter Sellers’ director Blake Edwards and stepson of Julie Andrews, in 2010 and have a daughter. They live in California, close to Haskins mother, a continuing source of inspiration.