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Catherine Curtin Discussion: First One In Film

Written by: Nikoleta Morales

The Legendary actress Catherine Curtin sat down with us to discuss her latest film and women carving out their own path in the film industry. Her latest project, the film FIRST ONE IN, is directed by Gina O’Brien. The cast is a talented roster of actors including Kat Foster, Georgia King, Catherine Curtin, Emy Coligado, Aneesh Sheth, Karina Arroyave, Josh Segarra, Alana O’Brien, and Michael Ian Black. View the full interview on or our Cultured Focus Magazine Instagram.


After accidentally killing an endangered animal on a popular reality TV show, Madi Cooke (Kat Foster) is labeled an eco-terrorist, is fired from her job, and believes she is the most hated woman in America. Looking for a way to reinvent herself, Madi gets a makeover, changes her last name, and interviews with Bobbi Mason (Georgia King) — an overachieving, tightly wound, real estate shark — who only hires women who play tennis, in order to maintain championship status in a local, annual tournament.

Madi, who hasn’t played since high school, joins a clinic at Acme Indoor Tennis and befriends a group of misfit tennis players: Jane (Catherine Curtin), Ceecee (Emy Coligado), Preeti (Aneesh Sheth), Valentina (Karina Arroyave), and coach Fernando (Josh Segarra). But soon enough, Madi finds herself torn between her new job and her new friends. Struggling to balance her new life, Madi gets help from her former best friend and high school tennis partner, Ollie (Alana O’Brien).

In a twist of events, Madi and her band of underdogs take on Bobbi’s Mason Agents at their Elite tennis club, where Madi will finally find her grit or lose everything.

The Director:

Gina O’Brien makes her directorial debut with “First One In,” her third original screenplay. First One In is a comedy about an alliance of women who are mediocre tennis players, yet they go on to play in a prestigious, local tournament against super competitive, grown-up mean girls.

Prior to First One In, O’Brien wrote “Fan Girl,” a film directed by Paul Jarrett, starring Kiernan Shipka and Meg Ryan. Fan Girl opened at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2015. It was acquired by Disney Worldwide and made its US premiere on ABC’s Freeform.

O’Brien’s first screenplay, "Once More with Feeling," a film directed by Jeff Lipsky, starring Drea de Matteo

and Chazz Palminteri, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009. It was distributed by IFC Films and licensed by Netflix and Showtime.

Prior to screenwriting, O’Brien was a journalist and magazine editor in New York City. She has been published in The New York Times, The New York Daily News and a variety of magazines. She married her college sweetheart and eventually left her career to raise their two children. Today she’s an avid tennis player, but remains only a little better than sucking.

Director's Statement:

First One In is about an alliance of women who are mediocre tennis players, yet they go on to win a prestigious, local tournament against super competitive, grown-up mean girls.

During the day in tennis clubs across America, millions of women gather to hit balls at each other. I’m one of them. We wear trendy outfits, visors and elbow and knee braces. We drink coconut water and eat protein bars and take acetaminophen. We are middle- aged women of all shapes, sizes and athletic ability. Our personal lives may differ from one another, but on some 250,000 courts in the U.S., we’re all tennis players. And many of us aren’t very good.

That’s okay because we don’t know it, plus it provides material for a screenplay.

Madi Cooke, our protagonist, learns that even when you lose your grit in a very public and embarrassing way, even when all the challenges in life seem gone, a comeback still is possible. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to make my directing debut with First One In, my third original screenplay.

Director James Burrows once said that the first rule of directing comedy is that there are no rules for directing comedy. Probably not great advice for a first time director... but I like James Burrows, so I searched the Upright Citizens Brigade to find a few actors with improv backgrounds. No rules in improv and I wanted to create an atmosphere of, yes, this dialogue is funny, but please make it funnier. Really, no one needs to tell improv actors to do anything. Get a good take, then let them go at it. I’m thinking this worked for us.

A benefit of also being the screenwriter is that I can help actors understand what drives their character, so they are set up to be genuinely creative. Ha! I wrote that sentence before cameras rolled. On a 23-day shoot with a large cast, there was not enough time to do this in a meaningful way. Those I did spend time with, opened my eyes to changes that made this a better film. That’s probably the biggest lesson I take with me. Never waste a character. No matter the role, spend more time with every actor.

My cinematic inspiration for First One In is part Edgar Wright. I like how Wright gets jokes to come visually. He finds laughs in zooms and creates humorous moments by having unexpected elements and characters pop in and out of frame. I appreciate how he uses new ways of shooting mundane tasks to quicken the pace of a film, and synchs music to action. These are inexpensive ways of inserting interest and humor, and on a low budget indy film I chose to do it often.

Thankfully I had an awesome crew who understood my goals, even if I didn’t verbalize my ideas with fancy NYU film school movie language (you know who you are). My producers, my cinematographer and the best editor ever, truly made the process easy and fun. And so did our incredible cast of 18 women and a few good men. I mean one guy took on four roles; he’s that good.

First One In is a comedy for women, but it isn’t the typical comedy for women. It isn’t about parenting, romance, marriage or girls’ nights in Vegas. I like those, but this is different. It’s about women who challenge themselves away from their everyday lives, on a team with other women.

- Gina O’Brien

For more information on the film, follow below.

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