Anton Yelchin’s unscripted thoughts on “Like Crazy”

Anton Yelchin’s unscripted thoughts on “Like Crazy” (photo)

Posted by on

If you’re impressed by the screenplay for the indie romance “Like Crazy,” here’s an important bit of info: technically, there was no screenplay. Director Drake Doremus and co-writer Ben York Jones penned a detailed outline then developed the characters and story with their lead actors, Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin. The heartbreakingly authentic dialogue? Yelchin and Jones improvised it on the set.

“It was a 50-page outline that read like a short story,” Yelchin told me about the (non)-script he received from Doremus. “It was actually very detailed in terms of subtext and the emotional condition of the characters. There was enough there to figure out who these people were, and then by virtue of that, to fill in the rest of the blanks.”

These people are Yelchin’s Jacob and Jones’ Anna, twentysomethings who meet at college in Los Angeles and fall madly in love. There’s just one problem: Anna’s from England and once school ends, her visa expires. That drives the couple apart — Anna returns home to work for a magazine in the UK, while Jacob starts his own custom furniture business — and forces them to decide whether their relationship can endure a distance of 5,000 miles and seven time zones.

The 22-year-old Yelchin — who’s been acting professionally since the age of ten — told me he relished the opportunity to help create a character from the ground up and to improvise in a drama, rather than a comedy. During our conversation, which also included a few questions about Yelchin’s role in “Star Trek 2,” we talked about the challenge of improvising without speaking and just who the heck he’s talking to in all those scenes acting into a cell phone.

What inspired you to get into acting?

I was a horrible athlete. My parents [former professional figure skaters Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin] are athletes; they tried me to get me to do that, but I just couldn’t. I sucked. First I wanted to be a scientist, and I set our bathroom on fire. Then I wanted to be a basketball player and I’m a not-very-tall white, Russian Jewish kid. So that didn’t work out either.

There wasn’t anything in my life that I felt really excited about. Then I went to an acting class. I was very shy but very animated in private, and a friend of ours who is an actor knew me well enough to tell my parents “You should take your son to an acting class.” My parents were of the opinion, because they had started skating very young, that you should have something that you do that you care about, because it structures your life as you’re growing up. I went to this class and I loved it and I told them I loved it, and they were super supportive because they thought “Great, he won’t just be playing with his friends all day, he’s going to be doing something.”

So “Like Crazy:” when you first met with Drake, what attracted you to the project?

I’d known about Drake for a couple years because his producer, Jonathan Schwartz, and I have been friends for a while. He would tell me about their last movie, “Douchebag,” how they were going to go out in a car for two weeks and make an improv movie for no money. I very strongly believe in the freedom to do that, to make movies for no money with whatever technology is available. So when Drake had this project, the idea of doing an improv film at that level in that way felt really inspiring to me. I always thought it was kind of a blessing for an actor to get to improvise a drama. So Drake and I connected over all these things, our ideas about what you could accomplish in independent cinema and also this idea of improv.

Have you done a lot of improv before this film?

No, the only thing that I’d done that was improv was an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” when I was 13. That’s similar in some ways but different in a lot of other ways.

When you started working on the film were there any big things you brought to the character that weren’t on the page? Besides all of the dialogue, obviously.

I had no idea who Jacob was until I met Dakota, the furniture designer who built all the chairs in the film. He really was Jacob; he has a very powerful presence without saying very much and he’s very committed to this idea of permanence and being connected to these chairs he’s creating and the people they’re for. When I heard that, it really spoke volumes about our story, which is all about connections and the way they get destroyed by time. Before Jacob met Anna he was really obsessed with his art. Then he met her and she was the first person he opened up to; the tragedy is that the first person he’s actually willing to open up to he loses. That whole idea and backstory was in the script, but it was really developed through conversations with Dakota and then in my own thinking.

As a viewer, when I hear the word “improv,” the sort of acting that comes to mind is usually very talkative. But as you mentioned, Jacob doesn’t say much. How much of the challenge of the improvisation was finding the balance between silence and speech? You’re improvising, but you’re also improvising silence.

It’s funny. The first time Felicity and I got together, our first instinct was to just talk all over each other, because that felt like what people do when they’re having a conversation. On any other film, silences are where the editors start cutting. That’s a thing I’ve heard on many projects: “You need to keep the tempo up or they’re going to start cutting away.” Maybe silence is something we’re uncomfortable with as a culture, I don’t know.

What we realized very quickly was that the most honest thing about conversations can be the silences. So much is said in what’s not said, whether someone’s really happy and doesn’t need to speak, or whether they’re going through all these difficulties and they don’t know what to say. That fit so well with Jacob because he’s so reserved.

I’ve been lucky to play characters that are really broad. To sort of reverse that and study someone who’s all about what’s going on inside and often doesn’t say what he’s feeling was really interesting. And challenging, too, because that’s very different from me. It was so exciting to get to explore a character that was about those silences and more about everything being internalized rather than externalized.

When I saw the film I didn’t know much about its backstory, but I realized very quickly that it was made by someone with firsthand knowledge of long distance relationships because I have firsthand knowledge of long distance relationships and it got them absolutely right. Did Drake ever talk to you and Felicity about the experiences that inspired the story?

Drake filled us in on his relationship and I read some of his girlfriend’s letters to him, but it wasn’t so much to say “Hey, let’s make this autobiographical” as it was to just show us what that emotionally felt like for him and what he went through. Having all this information about Dakota and Drake’s life, the characters take on a life of their own and they become a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but very much their own thing. The goal was never to create a sort of autobiography for Drake, though I did borrow some things, little behaviors I noticed, gestures that he does.

Can you give me an example?

Drake does this thing where he puts his hands together, like he sticks one set of fingers into the other and does this repeated jabbing motion. I don’t know how to describe it, but he does it all the time. He does it when he’s excited, he does it when things are really intense. He did it so much that I was like, “I’ve got to put this in the movie. It’s such a Doremus thing that I’ve noticed every day.” There’s a montage in London and we’re walking down the street and you’ll see me do it. And I’m so grateful that it’s in there; every time I see it I get a kick out of it.

Did he realize you were copying his move in that moment?

Oh yeah. I think I had thrown it in a couple times before, but that’s the one that made the cut — and that’s the one that really works because it’s just us goofing off and it made Felicity laugh.

There are a lot of scenes between Jacob and Anna on the phone; Jacob in Los Angeles, Anna in England. When you’re shooting those scenes, who are you talking to? Is Felicity on the other end of the phone acting with you?

We shot the two sides of those phone conversations at different points in the shoot — we shot Felicity’s side when we were in England, and we shot my side when we were in Santa Monica. But she was always on the phone. When I was on camera, Felicity was like a block away in a car. When she was on camera, I was on the roof on her building with a phone.

The characters’ phones are one of the clearest markers of time in the film. At the start of the movie, you guys are using these ancient looking flip phones; later, you both have iPhones.

Yeah, Drake jokes that he’s going to see the movie in five years and it’s going to feel really dated because we’re using the iPhone 2 or something and by then it’ll be the iPhone Zillion.


It’s true though; the movie takes place before the ascendance of Skype as a kind of global communication tool. Had the story been set a couple of years later, Skype would have been the cell phones. So the cell phones are their attempt at feeling like they’re with one another. And I think people do do that when they’re in a long distance relationship. You Skype, and if you can’t Skype you’re always texting or sending each other pictures. You compensate in what is really a very closed-off, technological way that can’t really capture the emotions. In some ways, it may be even worse; it’s almost a tease.

“Like Crazy” is in theaters now. If you see it, tell us what you think. Leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.


New Arrivals

This Week on IFC: Benders and Gigi Does It Are Here!

Benders and Gigi Does It invade IFC Thursday, October 1st starting at 10P.

Posted by on

This Thursday, October 1st, get to know two great new shows on IFC. At 10P, get on the ice and join the team on Benders. On the premiere episode, Paul’s (Andrew Schulz) grandpa makes him an offer he can’t refuse, even if it interferes with his busy schedule of hockey playing and beer drinking.

video player loading . . .

The stay tuned at 10:30P for Gigi Does It, the new show starring David Krumholtz as a grandma who gets her groove back. This week, Gigi Rotblum inherits her late husband’s secret fortune, hires an assistant (Ricky Mabe), and takes unexpected measures to protect herself. James Urbaniak (Difficult People) guest stars.

video player loading . . .

Can’t wait until Thursday? We’ve got you covered. Click below to watch FREE episodes of Benders and Gigi Does It.

Watch an episode of Benders

Watch an episode of Gigi Does It

In addition to YouTube and right here on IFC.com, an episode each of Benders and Gigi Does It can be seen on VOD and TV Everywhere platforms through IFC’s cable partners.

Hyde That 70s Show

Hyde Rocks

Think You Know Hyde? Take Our That ’70s Show Character Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mondays & Tuesdays from 6-11P on IFC.

Posted by on

That ’70s Show‘s resident snarkster Hyde represented the rebellious counterculture of the 1970s. But how well do you know the man who stood up to The Man? Take the ultimate Hyde fan quiz below and find out.



Turkey Day Binge

Spend Thanksgiving in Sweatpants With IFC’s Sweatsgiving Marathon

Spend Thanksgiving weekend on the couch with Todd Margaret, That '70s Show and more.

Posted by on

Thanksgiving means food, family, stretchy pants, and a lot of time on the couch. Make the most of your couch time and come hang out with IFC, because we’re spending the long weekend running marathons. No, not the kind that involve actually sweating. We’re running back-to-back episodes of all the shows you love and movies you can’t stop watching. Don’t believe us? Check out the turkey-tastic video below.

Starting early Thursday morning, November 26th, head to Red’s basement for some quality time with Jackie, Kelso, Donna, Fez, Hyde, and Eric with a marathon of That ’70s Show. Afterwards, sink into a turkey-induced TV coma with David Cross and the Thunder Muscle crew in seasons one and two of Todd Margaret before the new season starts on January 7th.  On Black Friday, skip the shopping-crazed hordes for marathons of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Exorcist movies. And while you’re gorging on leftovers on Saturday, catch a Resident Evil movie marathon that’ll sate your zombie-killing appetite. (Comedy Bang! Bang! fans take note — Scott and Kid Cudi will return Thursday, December 3rd at 11P with back-to-back episodes.)

If you’re spending the weekend on the couch, be sure to tweet or Instagram along with us using the #IFCSweatsgiving hashtag. Post a selfie watching IFC with the hashtag #IFCSweatsgiving and you’ll be entered to win a sweet pair of IFC pants. IFC’s Sweatsgiving is the perfect way to catch all your favorite IFC programming and avoid your kooky Aunt Edith this Thanksgiving season.

Stephen Merchant Everett 1920

Cringe Humor

10 Moments That Prove Stephen Merchant Is a Master of Cringe Comedy

Stephen Merchant brings the awkward to Comedy Bang! Bang!.

Posted by on

They say that behind every squat, successful British writer-producer is a lanky, six-foot-seven bespectacled co-creator. All right, maybe no one said that ever, but it certainly applies to the duo responsible for some of the most awkward moments in television history. Masters of cringe comedy Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant produced The Office, Extras and Life’s Too Short — along with many other moments that caused viewers to avert their eyes and squirm in their seats. Even when flying solo in shows like Hello Ladies, Merchant can provide just as many unbearably uncomfortable moments as an incompetent talent agent, an inelegant pick-up artist or just a bloke sharing a story about being turned down by a nightclub doorman.

To get you ready for Stephen’s appearance on tonight’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, here are some of his funniest cringeworthy moments.

1. Performing Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty,” Lip Sync Battle

When you have to sway a crowd and you’re built like a flailing-arm inflatable balloon man, you gotta play to your strengths. So when tasked to perform Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” on Lip Sync Battle, Merchant proudly bared his midriff, upper thighs and soul in a cutoff T-shirt and flared leather chaps. While we applaud his self-confidence, we don’t have the inner strength to be caught dead doing that.

2. Discussing his first Golden Globe win, The Graham Norton Show

It’s hard to imagine a time when The Office was something of an underdog, but the original UK version was just a plucky upstart when it won its first Golden Globe. Unfortunately for the then-unknown Gervais and Merchant, their long, awkward walk to the stage was punctuated by the announcer mispronouncing their names and Stephen’s head getting cut off for the front page photo.

3. The Oggmonster, The Office

Although Gervais’ David Brent was the poster boy for The Office, Merchant only appeared twice in the original series as Gareth’s gangly pal Nathan, AKA The Oggmonster. Even more ungainly and off-putting than the Assistant to the Regional Manager, Oggy is pushed to tears by David Brent’s relentless joshing about his appearance. We feel for ya, Oggy.

4. Nudie pen, Extras

In this very NSFW clip from Extras, Merchant plays the highly incompetent agent Darren who, between failing to get acting work for Gervais’ Andy, is caught in flagrante in the company of a novelty nudie pen. Inappropriate, unprofessional and utterly humiliating given the focal point, his moment of self-gratification is somewhat vindicated when assistant Barry is caught doing the same thing.

5. Trip to Rio, The Ricky Gervais Show

Debuting as a radio program in 2001, The Ricky Gervais Show was among the first wildly successful podcasts and spawned countless comedy audio programs in the years since. Co-host and whipping boy Karl Pilkington was the breakout star, but Merchant supplied a heapin’ helpin’ of embarrassment with cringeworthy anecdotes, including this story of his trip to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

6. Hopeless nightclub pick-up artist, Hello Ladies

Without Gervais on the roster, Merchant shined as hopeless romantic Stuart Pritchard in HBO’s Hello Ladies. Showcasing his true-to-life awkwardness around women, the sadly short-lived series upped the cringe-ante that he and Gervais injected into The Office — and this torturous nightclub scene is perfect proof.

7. Eager wedding guest, Hello Ladies

As we all know, weddings are a meet-cute hotbed, but it definitely requires optimal positioning. Unfortunately for the viewer’s nerve, Stuart is keenly aware of this. Persistent past the point of rejection, he monopolizes the line to congratulate the newlyweds and wedges himself into a table with single women. Eagerness has never been so unsettling.

8. Denying Warwick Davis a loan, Life’s Too Short

Having to turn down a friend in need is so unbearable, most of us will compromise our comfort with favors just to avoid it. Not surprisingly, Gervais and Merchant — playing heightened versions of themselves — don’t have an issue with sidestepping support for diminutive actor Warwick Davis when he asks the successful team for a loan.

9. Behind-the-scenes dance party, Extras

Yes, it’s Stephen dancing for the second time on this list. But honestly, it’s never not cringeworthy.

10. Nightclub zinger, Conan

Single life is unanimously the worst, but it can be easily mitigated through fortune and stardom. And while Stephen Merchant is a household name among comedy geeks, his notoriety has yet to hit the radar of certain LA nightclub doormen. Appearing on Conan, Merchant shares a story of trying to get into a nightclub but being thwarted by the bouncer at the door with a devastating putdown.

Powered by ZergNet