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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.

Fred Armisen and Stephen Colbert Sample Foghat Wine

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Fred Armisen and Stephen Colbert Had a Rockin’ Wine Tasting

Catch Fred on the new season of Portlandia Thursdays at 10P on IFC.

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As per The Late Show’s themed gift recommendation this past December, we all spent the holidays delightfully unwrapping various Foghat albums and compilations. And while those cassettes remain in our tape decks, there’s still more ’70s boogie rock to enjoy in the form of fermented grapes. Yes, Foghat has its very own wine, straight from the cellars of drummer and Late Show fan Roger Earl, and Portlandia’s Fred Armisen joined host Stephen Colbert to sample the goods. And thanks to Earl’s watchful eye and drumstick swirl during fermentation, the pinot noir unfolds nicely on the tongue and has the perfect notes to swig directly from the bottle while shrieking, “HELLO, CLEVELAND!”

Watch Fred Armisen and Stephen Colbert don literal “fog hats” and take a slow ride through some tasty spirits below.

Fox passes on David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” sequel

Fox passes on David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” sequel (photo)

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If I can get you to stop staring at “The Expendables 2″ poster for just one second… thanks.

Here’s another item for Great Director Leaves Promising Update of Cultish Old School Genre Material Friday: according to The Playlist Fox has passed on David Cronenberg‘s sorta-remakey sequel to his seminal 1986 horror film “The Fly.”

At an interview for his new movie, “A Dangerous Method,” Cronenberg told The Playlist, “I wrote a script and at the moment Fox is not wanting to do the project.” And that’s that.

That’s also pretty disappointing stuff. If we were skeptical of another movie about “The Fly” — especially after, y’know, the other another movie about “The Fly” — we’d just think about the fact that Cronenberg’s version is a)a remake itself, of the 1958 film starring Vincent Price, and b)one of the handful of greatest remakes in the history of cinema and c)would be by Cronenberg, who wouldn’t take on an assignment like that unless he had something new and original to say about it.

But, alas, whatever that new and original thing was, it ain’t gonna get said, at least not in a new “Fly” movie (personal to David: Have you considered making something entitled “The Bug?” Could be big!). In the meantime, Cronenberg is working on a sequel to his recent movie “Eastern Promises” that would feature the film’s star (as well as the star of “A Dangerous Method”) Viggo Mortensen. Now let’s get back to admiring Arnold’s finger-in-a-socket hairdo until the weekend starts.

Would you have been up for Cronenberg’s “The Fly 2?” Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

“Twilight” music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas discusses the art of the soundtrack

“Twilight” music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas discusses the art of the soundtrack (photo)

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Finding the perfect song to fit a poignant scene in a film can often take months to a year to select. With the right placement, the entire mood of a movie can shift, making all that hard work pay off.

Remember Rocky’s warm-up routine to “Gonna Fly Now” and that pinnacle stair scene? How about when John Cusack’s character in “Say Anything” held up his boombox blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”? These scenes are easily distinguished as landmark moments in Hollywood and it’s impossible to imagine any other song being played.

IFC chatted with music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, known for her work in the “Twilight” series, to find out just how she selects the perfect track for each scene and the steps she takes from start to finish.

“Once a music supervisor gets hired, we sit down with the director and talk about the musical feel and vibe of the songs and the movie. That starts the musical conversation that might include CDs going back and forth or listening to tracks together,” Patsavas said. “Sometimes we start pitching tracks while the movie is being shot. And, of course once the movie is assembled and edited a supervisor pitches songs to picture.”

A self-described “new music lifer,” Patsavas said while she typically has several songs in mind for each scene, often one song will become the obvious best fit.

“I think it’s always important to have options. Sometimes a song seems so astonishingly right that those options are additional, lesser ideas. There are all kinds of ways to interpret a scene and it’s really about taking the emotional temperature of what the director is hoping for.”

Not an exact science, the song selection process has varied timelines.

“It could take a year if we start looking at the script before the movie is shot. It typically takes about a year for a movie to go from script to screen or it could take the very first time. It’s not a scientific process. It’s more of a creative process so there’s really no rule,” she said.

Patsavas went on to explain that being a music supervisor is like any creative job; you have to have a point of view.

“Music is incredibly subjective and the real magic comes when the producer or the director and the supervisor are in sync on what that musical personality is,” she said.

For those hoping to learn more about the art of song selection, Patsavas stressed the significant role music supervisors have within the film industry.

“I think it’s important to remember that music supervision is not just about a fantastic record collection or knowledge of music, although that certainly helps for aspiring music supervisors. It’s a collaborative process and it’s a partnership with the creative’s on the project,” she said. “The music supervisor is hired to help to create that musical signature, but it’s not in a vacuum and it’s not like putting together a mix tape, although we often get accused of that.”

Do you have any favorite uses of songs in a movie? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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