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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.