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Monday, March 1, 2021

‘America’s Next Top Model’ creator Ken Mok talks ‘feel-good’ directorial debut after ‘s—ty’ year

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Jami Ganz, New York Daily News, (TNS)

It’s the right time for a feel-good flick.

Ken Mok didn’t know the world was about to be upended by coronavirus when he wrote and filmed his directorial debut, “The Right One,” which came out Friday on digital and on demand. But he’s trying to look on the bright side.

“I think given the s—ty year that we had in 2020 (laughs), people are desperate for a feel-good romantic comedy,” the “America’s Next Top Model” co-creator told the Daily News last week.

The film follows Sara (Cleopatra Coleman), a young novelist battling writer’s block and the obsessive need to be authentic, and her attempt to unscramble the puzzle of her newest inspiration: Godfrey (Nick Thune), a man of multiple eccentric personas he’s seemingly incapable of turning off.

As it happens, the character was largely inspired by the late, great Peter Sellers, of “The Goon Show,” “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Pink Panther” films.

“He was such a brilliant mimic. He could play any character,” said Emmy nominee Mok, who also wrote and produced. “But when he was not playing a role, he didn’t know who he was.”

The “Joy” producer also drew from more recent inspiration in the form of an influencer who crafted a faux identity online and quit social media when she “couldn’t deal with the pressure of it.”

As a result, Mok began considering “authenticity … and how social media really is kind of corrupting that.”

Authenticity was also the name of the game for comedian Iliza Shlesinger, who plays Sara’s agent Kelly.

“You can hire any actress to just read lines. But I feel that if you’re hiring me, especially as a stand-up, you want me to bring something to it,” the “Elder Millennial” comic, 37, told The News on the same call with the director.

Mok, a long-time fan of the “Pieces of a Woman” actress, shared that he wrote Kelly’s abrasive yet loyal character with the New York-born Shlesinger in mind, in part because “her energy just leaps off the screen at you.”

As Sara tries to break down Godfrey’s walls, she also starts to mine his life for her book. Schelsinger says that tactic is imperative for stand-up comedy.

“If you’re not pulling from real life, then you’re a fictional storyteller,” said the “Spenser Confidential” actress. “I always err on the side of respect — you know, you’re gonna have to see these people in real life. So if you get on stage and you s–t on your husband and you didn’t talk to him about it first, he may not love that. So it’s always about respectfully pulling” out true-life details.

As for the movie, Shlesinger hopes it allows people to “just take a mental break for a little bit” and of course, “be entertained” — two underrated commodities in the era of COVID-19.

“It’s one of those films where you … feel a little bit better about humanity and people are you,” said Mok. “And hopefully it’s one of those movies that people can watch over and over again because we sure need a laugh nowadays.”

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