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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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Keep It Weird

10 Hilarious “Weird Al” Cameos

Weird Al comes to Comedy Bang! Bang! starting June 3rd at 11P.

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Photo Credit: ABC

“Weird Al” has had one of the most unique careers in entertainment history. Sure, he made his name with parody songs, but he’s long since transcended simply poking fun at pop, becoming an American comedy staple in the process. With his new gig behind the keyboard on IFC’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, we thought we’d take a look back at just a few of his classic pop culture cameos, in which he showed he was more than just the man with the accordion and rhyming dictionary.

10. The Goldbergs

“Weird Al” came full circle with this recent cameo on this ’80s-set sitcom, once again donning the frizzy hair, mustache and Hawaiian shirt to return to his glorious retro roots.


9. Galavant

Galavant, the historical musical comedy series, was recently canceled by ABC, but not before we got to see Al as a doo-wop crooning monk who’d taken a “vow of singing.”


8. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

Wet Hot Weird Al
Netflix

With Wet Hot American Summer making a triumphant return last summer, we all should have known they would work in a bit in which “Weird Al” played a summer camp hypnotist who turned into assassin Jon Hamm.


7. Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Wet Hot Batman
Cartoon Network

“Weird Al” creates music for all ages, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he occasionally pops up on Saturday Morning cartoons, like this turn on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, in which he got to battle the Joker and the Penguin alongside Batman, Robin and Scooby-Doo.


6. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!

Al has popped up on Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s bizarre ode to anti-comedy series a few times, but this wedding fever dream, straight out of the mind of a serial killer, really sort of sums it all up, whatever “all” is.


5. 30 Rock

Al is a man of many talents, but at the end of the day, he knows how to rip out a parody song with some bite. Here he puts his gifts to good use, writing lyrics to the 30 Rock theme song, and highlighting their lack of ratings in the process.


4. Halloween II

“Weird Al” shows up in just about the last place you would expect here, in Rob Zombie’s hard R horror remake. Playing a guest on what looks like an early version of Talking Dead, Al does some typical talk show shtick alongside Michael Meyers’ ethically compromised doctor, Samuel Loomis.


3. Transformers: Animated

Al has quite a history with the Transformers. His song “Dare to be Stupid” was used in 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie, and he also popped up as Wreck-Gar, a simple-minded robot brought to life by the All Spark, on Transformers: Animated.


2. The Naked Gun

Al’s stardom was ascendant in 1988, if this classic gag from Naked Gun was any indication. (He also did the theme song for the 1996 Leslie Nielsen comedy Spy Hard.)


1. Amazing Stories, “Miss Stardust”

Weird Al
NBC

Al’s first TV cameo might just be his, ahem, weirdest. As an alien affectionately known as “Cabbage Man,” “Weird Al” made quite the impression without even needing his trusty accordion.

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Hello Sally

5 Roles That Prove Sally Kellerman Is a Comedic Genius

Sally Kellerman returns to Maron this Wednesday at 9P on IFC.

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With her statuesque beauty and sarcastic verve, Sally Kellerman has put her stamp on several iconic TV and film roles. She always gave as good as she got, keeping her leading men on their toes. With Toni Maron returning to help Marc through a tough time on Wednesday’s brand new Maron, we thought it was time to revisit a few of Sally’s classic roles that prove she’s more woman than most of us can handle.

5. Judge Henderson, Moving Violations

Playing a saucy judge with a taste for bondage, Kellerman got to go full-on villain in this absurd comedy starring lesser Murray brother Joel. Who needs Bill when you’ve got Sally in a full leather getup?


4. Louise, Brewster McCloud

It takes some real talent to make a conversation about remaining celibate this sexy. Kellerman turns up the heat here, mixing sensuality with a mythic quality (she may be a fallen angel of some sort in this movie), that makes us want to forget Brewster’s dream of flying, and just spend a little more time with her on the ground.


3. Maron

Whether she’s dropping passive aggressive comments or searching for his love handles, Toni is the perfect representation of all of Marc Maron’s neuroses.


2. Back to School

Holey moley, when literature professor Dr. Diane Turner starts reading some sexy prose to her class, Rodney Dangerfield isn’t the only one whose eyes nearly pop out of his head. Kellerman proves yet again that she can mix class and crass with the best of them, playing the type of woman you can discuss erotic literature with — or just live it out with.


1. M*A*S*H

In perhaps her most iconic part, the one that scored her an Oscar nom, Kellerman plays the apple of a whole army base’s eye. It’s far from easy getting that kind of attention in the middle of a war zone, which Kellerman shows with one truly epic meltdown. Major “Hot Lips” Houlihan would make anyone’s grandpa’s war stories a littler bit easier to listen to.

Watch how Toni comes back into Marc’s life on this week’s Maron. 

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Southern Fried SNL

Watch Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in SNL’s Southern Rock Supergroup

Fred and Carrie kept it mellow on the SNL season finale.

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Photo Credit: Saturday Night Live / NBC Universal

It was a veritable “band from comedy heaven” this weekend as a myriad of comedians assembled for a feel-good musical sketch in the Saturday Night Live season finale. Guest host Fred Armisen was joined by Portlandia cohort Carrie Brownstein as well as Maya Rudolph, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Larry David, and members of the SNL cast to form faux-southern-rock supergroup The Harkin Brothers — a band whose members managed to outnumber its audience.

If The Harkin Brothers’ smooth vocal stylings remind you of The Blue Jean Committee from Documentary Now!, that’s probably not a coincidence. The BJC first appeared in a different, more regionally-specific form in a SNL sketch with Sudeikis on drums.

Watch an all-star SNL cast perform a mellow tribute to Arkansas called “Summertime in Fayetteville” in the video below.

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