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Anton Yelchin’s unscripted thoughts on “Like Crazy”

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

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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.

[laughs]

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.

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Rocky IV Paulie Robot

Mr. Roboto

5 Reasons Rocky IV Is Too Rotten to Miss

Catch Rocky IV Friday at 8P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: MGM/UA/YouTube

When Rocky IV was released in 1985, the critics were not kind. (While it wasn’t around back then, the film’s 39% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself.) Less of a movie than a jingoistic music video starring a robot and a steroid-addled, monosyllabic Russian baddie, Rocky IV is a far cry from the Italian Stallion’s humble origins.

Still, more than any movie ever made, it exemplifies the whole “so bad its good” genre. This movie was made for us, the great-unwashed masses of the 1980s, who loved the band Survivor and hated those Commie bastards. Before you catch Rocky IV on IFC’s Rotten Fridays, let’s take a look at some moments that make this flick a “too rotten to miss” classic.

5. That Opening Shot

Rocky IV
United Artists

It takes all of 30 seconds for the audience to know they’re in for one ridiculous rollercoaster ride through a Cold War conniption fit of good vs. evil. Gone is the subtle tone and grounded reality of the first Rocky. In its place we see two gloves, one emblazoned with the American flag, the other with the Soviets’, hurtling toward each other. When they collide, sparks fly, and we witness an explosion decades in the making.

In case the symbolism is too subtle for you, director/writer/star Sylvester Stallone is trying to hint that this movie will be the clash of civilizations we’d all been waiting for, but instead of nuclear bombs, a humble palooka from the streets would be duking it out in the ring with the ultimate representation of coldhearted Communism. If it were up to us, this opening shot would’ve won Best Picture all by itself.


4. So Many Montages

Rocky IV has a running time of 91 minutes and 20 seconds. Its eight montages (yes, EIGHT) run a total of 29 minutes and 10 seconds. That is one third of the movie solely dedicated to montages. (Considering Stallone’s contempt for all things Soviet, we have to wonder if he knows it was a dirty Ruskie who invented the montage.)

During one of the many, many montages, director Stallone actually flashes back to a scene that had happened a minute and half prior, creating the impression that he might actually flashback to the montage we were just watching in the same montage. Stallone clearly loves a good montage set to an inspirational ’80s song, and so do we. Which brings us to…


3. A Soundtrack Full of Pumped Up ’80s Jams

Speaking of montages, they are set to the score of some of the cheesiest hits from the mid-’80s. For once, we’re spared tracks from Frank Stallone, with Stallone replacing his rocker brother with synth-y singles from Survivor, John Cafferty and Kenny Loggins. And of course, Robert Tepper, possessor of an ’80s mullet that could topple empires, crooning “No Easy Way Out.” The music in this movie is one step away from being a parody of the music in this movie. If you ever want to know what cocaine can do to the human mind, just listen to this soundtrack.


2. Rocky Ends the Cold War

Rocky IV speech
United Artists

In one of the most misguided, self-congratulatory, and immediately dated moments in cinema history, good ol’ galoot Rocky Balboa single-handedly ended the Cold War four years before the Berlin Wall came down.

To quote the Italian Stallion himself: “In here…there were two guys… killing each other. But I guess that’s better than millions. What I’m trying to say is… if I can change… and you can change…everybody can change!” And just like that the Soviet public, generals and even the Premier himself rose to their feet in applause, realizing what fools they’d been. This guy beat Mr. T for Heaven’s sake. He knows what he’s talking about!


1. Paulie’s Robot

Okay, let’s all take a deep breath and really consider this for a moment. Rocky IV has a robot butler in it. A movie franchise that began back in 1976 exploring the gritty reality of a bum fighter trying to prove himself somehow limped along long enough to turn into a weak Short Circuit rip-off in which an alcoholic mooch with a history of domestic abuse now gets his coffee served to him by a robot. A robot that he has programmed with a “sultry” lady voice!

Stallone was inspired to include the real life robot Sico in Rocky IV because of the work it did to help autistic children like his son Seargeoh. That’s all very moving, but doesn’t explain why he decided to write a scene where Paulie dubs poor Sico “the love of my life.” It’s a testament to Rocky IV‘s “too rotten to miss” status that Paulie’s robot girlfriend/personal servant isn’t even the craziest thing that happens to Rock and the gang.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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Swimming To Cambodia Spalding Gray

Gray's Anatomy

Everything You Need to Know About the Movie That Inspired “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”

Brand new Documentary Now! airs Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom Pictures

This week Documentary Now! spotlights a master monologist with “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything.” Before you tune in at 10P this Wednesday on IFC, check out our guide to Swimming to Cambodia, the 1987 film that captured writer/performer Spalding Gray’s acclaimed one-person show.

Spalding Gray 101

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures

Actor and renowned monologist Spalding Gray spent two years on stage perfecting his Obie Award-winning “Swimming to Cambodia” monologue. In it, Gray tells the story of his eight weeks in Southeast Asia while shooting the 1984 Academy Award-winning movie The Killing Fields. He had a small role, but the experience gave him several anecdotes about hanging out with the film crew and experiencing the local culture, all while searching for “the perfect moment.”

Directed by the Silence of the Lambs Guy

Hannibal Lecter
Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

Acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Demme took Gray’s two-night, four hour performance and crafted it down to 85 minutes. His use of dramatic lighting, stylish camerawork and a score by performance artist Laurie Anderson was praised by critics and earned the film a cult following. No stranger to groundbreaking docs, Demme also directed the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which Documentary Now! pays tribute to in this season’s episode “Final Transmission.”

All about the Voices

While it may have been a one-man show, Gray created a repertoire of characters all with distinctive accents. (He portrayed conversations between himself and others just by turning his head.) Our favorite impressions are of his demanding girlfriend Renee and Ivan Strasberg, the South African director of photography on The Killing Fields who, as depicted by Gray, sounds a bit like a Jamaican surfer.

The Original Cranky New Yorker

In one memorable scene, Gray rants about how his noisy upstairs artist neighbors are driving him and Renee crazy. Even in the mid-’80s, there were New Yorkers complaining that the city wasn’t what it used to be.

Show and Tell

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures/YouTube

A big fan of visual aids, Gray used pull-down maps to illustrate his travels. This helped to bring Swimming to Cambodia to life, since he’s basically sitting at a desk the entire time.

Inspired One-Person Shows

Gray’s groundbreaking performances in Swimming and other documentaries like Monster in a Box and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Gray’s Anatomy (about Gray’s struggle with a rare eye condition) paved the way for future one-person shows. (We wouldn’t have everything from Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” to Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” without him.) Even Doc Now! star Fred Armisen got into the one-person show act for his recent SNL monologue.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Spalding Gray when “Parker Gail: Location Is Everything” premieres Wednesday, September 28th at 10P on IFC. 

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Burning Heart

10 Reasons Why Rocky IV Is the Ultimate Rocky Movie

Catch an all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC.

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Photo Credit: United Artists/Everett Collection

Sure, most people love the first Rocky for its heart, gripping boxing scenes and the classic training montage. Or, you might love Creed for being both a return-to-form and a new exploration of the Rocky mythology. Maybe the thrill of seeing Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in the same movie makes Rocky III your top pick. Well, sorry, you’re wrong: Rocky IV is the greatest of all the “Italian Stallion”‘s movies.

Before you watch the all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC (with Rocky IV airing at 8P as part of Rotten Fridays), check out a few reasons to appreciate the fourth installment as the king of the series.

1. The Greatest Opening Ever

How many openings are able to sum up the entire conflict of the film in less than a minute and without a single line of dialogue? And how many of those movies have exploding boxing gloves? Just try to watch the opening sequence above and not be completely psyched for the pumped-up flick to come.


2. Montages!

We all know that the best part of any sports movie is the montage, and Rocky IV doesn’t give you one measly montage. There’s a recap of the previous films montage, a getting to Russia Montage, two training montages and an ending fight montage. That’s five montages! There’s probably a montage of montages snuck in there, too.


3. There’s a Full James Brown Musical Number

This movie is so packed with memorable moments, it’s easy to forget one of the first things that happens in the film: Apollo comes out to fight Drago dressed as a shirtless Uncle Sam, while James Brown and a full band play “Living in America.” To drive home the number’s patriotism, there are dancers in tuxedos and top hats, weird unitards and bowler caps, and bedazzled showgirls with headpieces for miles. Oh, and don’t forget the giant tentacled dragon statue on the stage. This is how every boxing match should start. Heck, this is how we always want to enter a room.


4. The Soundtrack

The Rocky IV soundtrack doesn’t just feature James Brown — it has rock anthems galore, all of which make you immediately want to hit the gym. From “Heart’s on Fire” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band to “Sweetest Victory” by Touch to multiple Survivor jams, you’ll get pumped and stay pumped. Even the instrumental score rocks! Sure, sometimes it sounds like it was made on a kids Casio, but this soundtrack never quits and — to quote Robert Tepper — never takes the easy way out.


5. Abs!

Rocky IV weights

Every Rocky movie shows off Stallone’s incredible physique, but Rocky IV really ups the game. Not only do we get Dolph Lundgren mostly shirtless looking like a man machine, but we get a wide variety of scenes of Stallone doing impossible tasks. Stallone’s crazy dragon fly crunches, aka a thing no human should be able to do, automatically take this movie to the top.


6. Two words: Ivan Drago

Ivan Drago
United Artists

Not only does Rocky IV explore the global conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, but it encapsulates all of our fears of the Cold War in one perfect villain. Ivan Drago only trains with machines and science and looks like he stepped out of an Aryan Nations recruitment poster. He also only responds in short, cold phrases like “If he dies, he dies,” or “I must break you.” There’s never been a villain who we so clearly want to get the crap beat out of than Ivan Drago.


7. Rocky Makes Chores Look Badass

Rocky saw
United Artists

Rocky doesn’t need to be hooked up to machines to become the perfect fighter. All he needs are huge tires and some outdoor chores to do. No one’s ever looked cooler chopping wood and using tractor parts. Half of his training is lifting an old wagon, probably to fix a broken axle. If anything, this film inspires us to take care of that gardening work we’ve been neglecting.


8. Rocky’s Beard

Rocky IV Beard

Stallone’s beard game is truly on point in Rocky IV. And this isn’t some “I forgot to shave, here’s a little stubble” look. No, we get full out, lumberjack-style beard action. Does any other Rocky movie have our hero looking like an old Russian aristocrat? Another point for Rocky IV.


9. There’s a robot!

Again, there’s so much to Rocky IV, you probably forgot about the robot. Well, Rocky has some money now and he’s not going to spend it on frivolous things for himself. He’s going to buy Paulie a robot! The best part of this scene is how truly disturbed Paulie is by this new technology until he gives it a sexy lady voice.


10. Rocky Ends the Cold War

If you’re still not convinced that Rocky IV is the greatest, answer this question: Does any other Rocky movie bring peace between the US and Russia?

By the end of the film, Rocky rises up to beat the seemingly undefeatable Drago. He fights so well, that even the Russians begin to appreciate his skills. Then, instead of using his victory to prove America’s superiority, he gives a rousing speech of “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change!” The whole crowd goes wild, including all of the Russian government, who we assume give up Communism immediately based solely on Rocky’s words. Stallone’s call for international reconciliation through brutal fighting and a variety of montages makes this if not one of the greatest films of all time, certainly the greatest Rocky of them all.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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