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The misery after getting dumped by a man prompted Laura Zigman to write a wry, autobiographical book about bulls and cows – Animal Husbandry. It is now a film starring Ashley Judd, Greg Kinnear and Hugh Jackman, re-titled Someone Like You, which retains the spirit if not the title, Zigman tells LOUISE KELLER.

Animal Husbandry is your first novel. What inspired you to write the book?
Getting dumped -- and the misery that ensued -- inspired me to write Animal Husbandry. Of course, the first five or so drafts were so horribly autobiographical that it was unreadable, I think, to anyone except me (and even I had a hard time reading it). But eventually I rewrote it, fictionalizing much of it. They always say you should write about what you know, and I've always found that to be true.

Are the characters based on people you know?
Many of what my friends and I have gone through, are, I think, common to a lot of people -- getting dumped; wanting to have children and being afraid there won't be enough time (Dating Big Bird); being insanely jealous of your mate's ex (that's what my third novel, HER, is about). Again, writing about what I know has always worked best for me.

What research did you carry out and over what period of time?
When I wrote Animal Husbandry, it was, hard to believe, before the Internet was such a highly developed and common research tool, so I'm afraid to say that most if not all of my research was old-fashioned: books and magazines. When you're sad and lonely and miserable and feel pathetic after being dumped, you have a surprising (if alarming) amount of spare time to read such things, and to find "meaning" in everything. Which was the case with me. When a friend pointed out "The Coolidge Effect" about bulls and cows, I was absolutely fascinated, and that fascination (narcissistic, again, when you're dealing with the after effects of being dumped) was fueled by every other little tidbit of scientific data that I found. All the scientific information in the book is true and factual, of course, whether or not you agree with it's (sometimes questionable) application to human heartbreak.

How did the film come about and how did you feel about the title change?
The film rights were sold long before the book was published, when it was still in manuscript form. Lynda Obst, the producer, bought it for 20th Century Fox, and we met several times -- in Los Angeles, and in New York -- to discuss the screenplay with the screenwriter. Up until about three weeks before the American release of the film, the title remained Animal Husbandry, but then at the last minute the studio changed it. Clearly, they felt uncertain about a mass audience understanding what the title meant and doubting it's appeal. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed by that -- as was Lynda Obst; Tony Goldwyn, the director, and Elizabeth Chandler, the screenwriter.

What is your relationship with cows?
At the moment, I have no relationship with cows. Years ago when I was younger, and the men I dated were younger, and much less complex, the metaphor of cows and bulls seemed an entirely appropriate way to explain the often devastating pitfalls of dating. But now, I'm turning 39; the man I live with and have a baby with is divorced with a nine-year-old daughter, and things seem much more complicated.

And do you think of yourself as either an old cow or a new cow?
Again, when I was writing Animal Husbandry, I definitely felt like an Old Cow. All the time. I thought of most of my friends, who were also single, as Old Cows. This went on for many years, I'm afraid. Now, though, I've stopped thinking that way. The world of love and relationships is much more complex to me at this point in my life; there is far more gray area. Technically, I suppose, I would consider myself simply a Cow, since I'm living with someone (we're planning to get married, one of these days), but I'm never smug enough to take any great pride in that.

Did you work with screenwriter Elizabeth Chandler and is the sensibility that you captured in the book reflected in the screenplay?
I met with Elizabeth Chandler several times during the years she was adapting Animal Husbandry. This was really a treat, since I didn't have an official role in the writing of the screenplay. I was grateful to Lynda Obst for including me and keeping me in the loop, and for giving me a chance to see how the process works.

Did you go onset? And what was your initial reaction when you saw the film?
I did go on the set of Animal Husbandry, in mid-August last summer, about six weeks after I'd had my baby. Which was great. And not so great, since I was about 30 pounds heavier than I normally am, so standing next to Ashley Judd at that moment was hideously embarrassing since she was absolutely gorgeous, and tiny (I asked one of the wardrobe people if she was a size 2. The answer: "A size zero, if even."). But aside from that, it was quite exciting. We met Hugh Jackman, who was incredibly warm and friendly, and who took a great interest in Benji (Hugh and his wife had a 3-month old son, Oscar). He is also one of the most handsome men any of us had ever seen. Greg Kinnear was there, too, and of course Lynda Obst and the director Tony Goldwyn. The day we were there, they were shooting a scene where Eddie, played by Hugh Jackman, has a huge hickey on his neck that Ashley Judd points out with great disgust. Eddie's response is, "I bit myself shaving." This was quite a kick for me, since that was a line unchanged from the book. This past winter, in mid-January, I went to New Canaan, Connecticut, to see an early cut of the film with Tony Goldwyn. It was pretty amazing to see the film, even though they were still editing it. I thought they'd done a terrific job; despite all the changes from the book, I really, really enjoyed it.

How did the casting reflect the images you constructed for the characters yourself?
I thought the casting was terrific, and unexpectedly interesting. Since I never write with any casting ideas in mind (who could have that much hubris?), I was very excited and curious to see who would end up playing who. I was thrilled when I heard they'd cast Marisa Tomei, and Ellen Barkin; surprised by the choice of Greg Kinnear -- he was absolutely hilarious, I thought; brilliant in his portrayal of Ray. Hugh Jackman, of course, was the perfect womanizer-with-a-heart-of-gold; and Ashley Judd? Well, when you write a rather autobiographical novel and someone that beautiful is chosen to play a character that is, essentially sort of you, it's great. And completely ridiculous.

After Animal Husbandry you wrote your next novel Dating Big Bird. Tell us about it and will it be made into a film?
Dating Big Bird is about a single woman in her mid-thirties who really wants to have a child but is afraid she won't meet the right man in time to have one. It describes the situation many single women in their thirties start to face, and while it sounds like a complete cliché -- women's biological clocks ticking and all that -- it's very, very real to the women in that situation. I wrote the book three years ago, before I met my boyfriend and became pregnant, so I was completely in that position: wanting to have a child, but convinced I would have to figure out some alternative method of having one because my dating history was well, a big spotty....

Published July 12, 2001

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