Interview with Patricia Resnick

Photo credit: Ryan Miller/Getty

In 1979, a 26-year-old lesbian screenwriter named Patricia Resnick began
working on a story about three pink-collar office workers who kidnap their
"sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss, and secretly
take over running their department.

The result was the feature film comedy, Nine
to Five
­– starring Lily Tomlin,
Jane Fonda, and in her film debut, Dolly Parton – which went on to earn over
103 million dollars in the US alone, making it the second top-grossing film of
1980. Not bad for a film starring three women.

The movie has since become a beloved, iconic example of female solidarity
and workplace injustice, with a huge lesbian fan base.

Now, it’s making its way to Broadway, as the play, 9 to 5: The Musical, starring Allison Janney, Megan Hilty, and
Stephanie Block.

Resnick talked to AfterEllen about writing the film Nine to Five, bringing it to the stage, working with Dolly Parton –
and how slow-dancing with Nancy Reagan changed her life.

AfterEllen: What was the inspiration
for the film?
Patricia Resnick:
I read in the trades that Jane Fonda wanted to make a
movie about secretaries with Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. Lily had given me my
first writing job, and I had done a piece for Dolly on a Cher
special. I decided it was right up my alley and called up my agent. I found out
they didn’t have a writer attached, so, I sent in my stuff and went in and met [with

She had a lot of statistics about clerical workers and things that she
wanted to say politically, and she wanted it to be couched in terms of a
comedy. She felt that would make it more palatable. So I went off to try and
come up with a story and we just proceeded from there.

AE: Did you have office job
experiences of your own to draw from?
I never worked in an office. I was a waitress for quite a long time.
But no, I never worked in an office. Fox [Studios] got me into their insurance
company, which is a huge, downtown LA company with offices and secretarial
pools, and all of that. I went in every day for two weeks and had everybody
tell me their secrets. I also applied to get a job as a secretary, just to see
what that was like. But my typing skills weren’t good enough.

AE: Being a writer doesn’t guarantee
any kind of decent typing skills.
I know. I type with four fingers and I’m not that fast. I make a lot of

AE: Me, too. I’m working off of one
seventh grade typing class.
That’s more than I ever got!

AE: Did you want to be a screenwriter
right out of college?
Yeah. I went to USC film school. I had to do a paper on an American
director and I decided it would be more helpful if it were a living American director,
because I thought maybe I could parlay that into something.

I happened to be driving down Wilshire
and I saw they were shooting and I got
out to see what it was. It was a Robert Altman movie called California Split.
I waited around until he came out, told him I was going to write a paper on
him, and he let me come interview him. [Later] when I was done, I dropped it
off and he called me and said he wanted to hire me.

AE: You got your break into the movie
business by doing a drive-by?
Yeah, I did! I don’t know what I would have done if that hadn’t

AE: How long was it between that
fateful day and starting the script for Nine
to Five
Well, let’s see. I went to work for Altman right after I graduated, so
I was 22. And when I started working on Nine
to Five
, I was 26.

AE: Twenty-six year old screenwriters
– any writers for that matter – don’t always have a lot of creative control
with big studios. Did the film turn out the way you wanted it to?
It’s funny; it didn’t turn out the way I wanted to, although at some
point, you have to stop arguing with success. So, I let go of that.