15 years later, 'Waitress' star Cheryl Hines reflects on how the groundbreaking film 'captures the heartbreak of living'

·7 min read
A collage of Keri Russell, Cheryl Hines, Adrienne Shelly, and Nathan Fillion from the film "Waitress".
Fox Searchlight Pictures; IStock; Vicky Leta/Insider
  • "Waitress" premiered in theaters 15 years ago in May.

  • Its writer, director, and star Adrienne Shelly was murdered months before its release.

  • Shelly's costar, Cheryl Hines, told Insider Shelly "set the bar for everybody" on set.

"When the film started, you could hear a pin drop because you saw Adrienne's face on the screen. And it was like a gut punch," "Waitress" star Cheryl Hines said during a recent interview with Insider, reflecting on the film's bittersweet Sundance Film Festival premiere 15 years ago.

"Waitress" was a standout title at Sundance when it screened there in January 2007, months after its writer, director, and star Adrienne Shelly, then 40, was killed in November 2006 by Diego Pillco in the New York City apartment she used as an office. (Pillco later pled guilty to entering the apartment with the intention to rob it and strangling Shelly when she threatened to call the police. He received a 25-year sentence.)

The film follows Jenna Hunterson (Keri Russell), a waitress at a small-town diner with an almost magical ability to bake pies inspired by her mood. An unintentional pregnancy puts a seemingly insurmountable obstacle in the way of Hunterson, who was planning to leave her abusive marriage.

While she escapes the harsh reality of her life through an affair with her OB-GYN, Dr. Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), it's friends like Becky (Hines), Dawn (Shelly), and Old Joe (Andy Griffith) who force her to build a new life full of joy.

While the film flew relatively under the radar at the time of release, it remains beloved by fans and is still undoubtedly influential, having inspired a hit Broadway musical with original songs by Sara Bareilles.

Insider spoke to Hines and Shelly's husband, Andy Ostroy, about Shelly's legacy and "Waitress" 15 years after it captured our hearts and taunted our sweet tooths.

Sophie Ostroy and Adrienne Shelly.
Shelly was murdered when her daughter Sophie was just 2 years old.Andy Ostroy/HBO

Shelly was 'a ball of focused energy' and shot one of the biggest scenes in 'Waitress' while she had the flu

Hines — who met Shelly when she signed on to play Becky, Jenna's straight-forward coworker and friend — described the late filmmaker as "a ball of focused energy" on set

"Adrienne set the bar for everybody because she was working harder than anybody there," the actor said back in April. "So nobody could complain about their position because she was doing everything, and doing it really well."

One of Hines' most vivid memories on set was watching Shelly in the scene where Dawn, Jenna's quirky and idealistic coworker and friend, gets married. She remembered watching Shelly acting in character in front of the camera and then running behind it to get the next shot she needed.

Ostroy, who described himself as an on-set "nanny" to his daughter with Shelly, was similarly impressed by his late wife's composure on a rather difficult day.

"There's the scene where she's yelling at Keri Russell and Cheryl that she has a boyfriend now, and she doesn't care what anybody else thinks," he recalled to Insider in a separate interview back in April.

"She's red in the face because she had a fever. She was sick," Ostroy said. "I often think of those moments where, for a day in particular, not only was she acting, not only was she directing, but she was doing it with the flu."

Adrienne Shelly in "Waitress."
Adrienne Shelly in "Waitress."Fox Searchlight Pictures

Ostroy, who previously told Insider that he directed the 2021 documentary film "Adrienne" in order to bring his late wife "back to life," is very clear that he didn't have anything to do with creating "Waitress."

Still, while he was on set to support his family, he'd later make cameos in the film as a man at the tag sale, helping carry the crib that Jenna and her husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) have bought. He's also a man putting a cake in a display case in Lulu's Diner, which Jenna owned at the end of the film with Becky and Dawn working with her.

Recalling how his cameos in the film came about, Ostroy explained that as "a struggling filmmaker," Shelly was "one of those people that would make gifts, or give you things that didn't cost much, but that meant a lot." So she gave Ostroy bit parts in "Waitress" as a Father's Day gift.

Andy Ostroy and Adrienne Shelly.
Ostroy proposed to Shelly in Paris and takes their daughter Sophie back there in the film.Andy Ostroy/HBO

Since "Waitress" was shot quickly and on a tight budget, of just $1.5 million, Shelly made other casting decisions that were "cost-effective," according to Ostroy. One example was giving their then-young daughter, Sophie, the role of Jenna's daughter, Lulu, in the final scenes of the film set in the future.

"She didn't have to hire anybody. So it made perfect sense," Ostroy added.

Since Shelly's death, Sophie's appearance in the film has a deeper meaning for Ostroy, he said. He's now most impacted by the scene in which Jenna (Russell) is leaving the diner at the end while holding Lulu.

"And Adrienne's waving goodbye. It was like art imitating life," Ostroy told Insider.

'Waitress' has a 'fantasy-like' tone that still captures the raw emotions of life

Shelly, Russell, and Hines.
Shelly, Russell, and Hines.Fox Searchlight Pictures

"Waitress" is a layered story about pies and lust and abuse and love. But in 2007, it was rare to see a film that was so honest about the more difficult aspects of pregnancy.

While Jenna used baking and her affair to escape the reality of her abusive relationship, her pregnancy didn't come with the usual glow that's often shown onscreen. Instead, Jenna portrays a woman grappling with her pregnancy, finding it hard to connect with her baby until she was born. The love she had for her daughter eventually gave her the strength to start a new life.

"I did not like being pregnant. It wasn't sweet. It wasn't fun. There was really not much about it that I liked," said Hines, who was a new mother along with Shelly while they were making "Waitress."

"It's scary. It might seem like it's going to be the worst thing that's ever happened to you. And it's OK to have those feelings because that's normal," she continued. "But usually, people don't talk about those feelings. They talk about how great it is to be pregnant and to be glowing."

Hines loved Jenna's onscreen journey for that reason.

"And yet, when she had the baby, her life changed and she had clarity about everything," the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star said. "And I understand that because I felt like that. I felt like the day my daughter was born, everything made sense to me."

Cheryl Hines in "Waitress."
Cheryl Hines in "Waitress."Fox Searchlight Pictures

Ostroy said that "Waitress" proves Shelly was "ahead of her time with the message of female empowerment," but that she didn't have a grand plan to change the world — or Hollywood — while making the film.

Instead, Ostroy said his late wife just had "some things to say" and she "put that to voice in fictional characters."

"The irony is when she sat down to write this little movie called 'Waitress,' it ended up being this huge commercial hit that not only would be a successful movie but would later become so commercial on Broadway," Ostroy continued, noting that Shelly wrote, "a story that resonated so well with so many people."

Ostroy pointed out that though the tone of "Waitress" is "fantasy-like," it still captures reality.

"The message was so real and so honest," he said, adding that the tone was "very happy, sad, cry one minute, laugh the next. That's most people's lives."

Hines echoed his sentiment: "'Waitress' captures the heartbreak of living and also the simple joys."

Read the original article on Insider