Spinning Platters Interview: Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, and Drake Doremus on “Like Crazy”

by Jason LeRoy on November 4, 2011

Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones in LIKE CRAZY

Few films have nailed the invincible excitement of young love with the giddy, wrenching precision of Like Crazy. The third feature film in as many years from director Drake Doremus, the film stars Anton Yelchin (The Beaver) and Felicity Jones (The Tempest) as Jacob and Anna, a young couple that meet while attending college together in southern California. When they discover their mutual attraction, they immediately understand the obstacle in their path – Anna is British and only in the U.S. on a student visa – but as they fall deeper and deeper into the first throes of romance, Anna decides to throw caution to the wind and stay with Jacob a few months past the expiration of her visa. Despite the instant gratification this choice provides, it will lead to lasting, disastrous consequences. The film works as a romantic drama as well as a terrifying cautionary tale about the dangers of abusing a student visa.

Sort of a midpoint between (500) Days of Summer and Blue Valentine, this film (which also stars Jennifer Lawrence) is in many ways superior to both. The characters and their interactions have a remarkably lived-in and authentic quality to them, which is largely due to the extremely lengthy rehearsal process that went into it. Much of the film was devised as a collaboration between Doremus, 28, Yelchin, 22, and Jones, 27, with the two leads trusted to improvise much of their dialogue. As they explain below, it was a process of deep immersion from which it was not easy to emerge.

Spinning Platters sat down with the trio when they were in the Bay Area for a screening at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Being in the midst of a lengthy press tour and having recently returned from tours of Pixar and ILM, they burst into the room in a flurry of Big Lebowski quoting and constant, convivial mockery of Jones’ stately English accent (her pronunciation of “country” prompts Yelchin and Doremus to exclaim “Cunt-tree!”). “We’ve reached the point of madness,” Jones solemnly explained. “I just can’t wait to talk about the rehearsal process again,” Yelchin said sarcastically, a tone that playfully informed much of the conversation. (We took the hint and didn’t ask about the rehearsals.)

Who would you say is the target audience for this film?

Drake Doremus: Everybody. Basically anyone who’s young and hasn’t had this [experience] longs for something like this; anyone who’s having it [right now] can feel it; and anyone who’s had it in their past. Initially we were like, “Oh, maybe it’s just for people in their 20s,” but really we found after sharing it with older audiences that even people in their 60s can relate to it. And people in high school can long for a relationship like that. So really, it’s across the board.

This was such an intimate shoot. Is it daunting to think about tons of people now watching this thing that was just four people filming in a room?

Felicity Jones: Yeah, I think when we made it we really didn’t have any concept of… We just made something and wanted to make it truthfully. We didn’t have any kind of expectations. I think that’s what made it so wonderful. We just sort of did it and got on with it and were completely immersed in it. It was only when we got to Sundance that it was like, “Oh no, people are going to actually watch this and see it!”

Felicity, you’ve said that you had a hard time wrapping your head around Anna’s choice not to leave when her visa was about to expire. Were there any other choices your characters made that you didn’t really understand?

FJ: I think that Anna is so committed to this relationship, and the fact that she is constantly trying to get it back – it was almost like there was this madness to it, and I found that quite difficult. In a way, that’s also what attracted me to her, because she just sort of keeps pushing this relationship. I kept saying, “These people are mad, they’re just completely nuts!”

DD: And you’re playing a crazy person in [my next film] too. I think you just like playing crazy people because you’re…kind of…

FJ: Crazy myself? I am kind of crazy. I just think it’s more interesting to play people who really want something.

Drake, you started out as a feature filmmaker with the plan of making one film each year. Have the unexpected success and promotional duties of Like Crazy interrupted that?

DD: So far not really, thankfully. We got the [new] movie in the night before Toronto, so we just barely got it in, and now we’re cutting and we’ll be done in the spring. So, if there’s a chance and there’s the right project to make in the fall or late summer, then there’d be time to do it again. But yeah, it’s getting harder! It’s not as easy.

FJ: How does Woody Allen do it?

DD: I don’t know.

FJ: He probably isn’t doing publicity tours. Not at this point.

DD: Probably not.

FJ: People know who he is.

DD: But he’s doing screenings at Pixar and ILM all the time.

FJ: [excitedly] Is he?

DD: No! [laughs] I love that. [mock accent] “Is he?

There’s obviously a lot of romance in this film. What is the most romantic thing someone else has done for you, and what’s the most romantic thing you’ve done for someone else?

DD: Ooh, I like that question! That’s a good question!

FJ: Well go on, Anton.

[all laugh]

FJ: It’s hard because I can never think of anything! And it’s like, “Oh god, am I not romantic?”

Anton Yelchin: My idea of romance is a 40 and a microwave dinner and a nice soap on the TV. [laughs] No, I don’t know. I did romantic things for my girlfriend when I was with her. [under his breath] And she never fucking appreciated it. No, she was into it, I’m kidding.

FJ: I want to hear Drake’s answer! I’m sure it’s something grand. “I climbed the Eiffel Tower and then I sung to her…”

DD: [laughs] Without sounding cheesy, I think actually understanding and supporting someone genuinely, which is really hard to do, especially being in this business –

FJ: And being really selfish.

DD: And being really selfish! And when you find somebody you really love and you support them, and you’re not jealous and you’re really understanding of them, that to me is really romantic.

There’s a fairly iconic-looking shot in the film where Anna and Jacob are sitting on a boat with an American flag dividing them. Is America the bad guy in this story?

DD: It’s not America’s fault. It’s just what, in a way, comes between them. Embarking on visually illustrating that was a fascinating idea, but it’s certainly not like [the customs officials] are singling them out and treating them any differently than they’d treat anyone else who is going through that issue. They’re just doing their job and doing what they’re told to do. So, I don’t think necessarily that there are laws that are a problem in this country. I think they’re there for a reason. But that is obviously the physical conflict that they have to deal with.

AY: I also think, as opposed to other people whose issues may be rooted in some sort of economic thing, [Jacob and Anna’s] isn’t. Theirs is a conscious decision that they make that is just ignorant of what the repercussions are. I think deliberately ignorant, because they just don’t care. Also, we wouldn’t have that shot [of the flag] if that flag wasn’t on the Catalina boat, right?

DD: That shot would not be in the movie. We would have had to do something different. It’s incredible, though.

AY: We just showed up and there’s this flag.

FJ: And we just happened to sit there.

AY: We just sat there and looked glum.

DD: The whole movie was completely lucky. Nothing was planned.

AY: [laughs] Everything was arbitrary. We did no homework for the characters.

DD: We just showed up hoping the story would come. No, there was a little angel that would show up on our shoulder at certain moments, and that was one of those moments. But I think you get lucky when there’s a lot of preparation. Preparation = luck = good movie. Sometimes. The improv can really only flourish when a lot of preparation has gone into it.

Was it difficult to shake these characters after such an intensive and collaborative shooting process?

FJ: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. I think whenever you make something, when you’re filming, it’s such an intense relationship between everyone in the cast and the crew. We’d become a real family for the duration of that. It was very strange… We finished in London, and I stayed, and those guys all went and…it was really horrible, actually… [trails off]

AY: It was pretty awful, because we were so immersed.

FJ: It was pretty awful for everyone, actually, because there were hardly any crew members. Like, how many were there? Ten?

DD: Fifteen in Los Angeles, then when we got London we paired down to seven.

FJ: Yeah, so we were a very close group of people.

AY: Very, very close.

FJ: Now we hate each other.

Now you’ve grown apart.

FJ: Aww!

AY: [mocks] “Aww!

When Jacob and Anna are getting to know each other, there are several great character-building montages.

DD: I love a montage.

Do you ever live like your life is a montage?

DD: My life is a montage. I often think of my life as a movie. I think in terms of cuts, shots – every day of my life.

Set to what music?

DD: Usually M83, which is in the movie. But yeah, the last three and a half years I haven’t really had a break, and I don’t think these guys have either. They’ve just been going from movie to movie to movie to press to press. So it’s weird, because it feels like the movies really are your life. There’s no time outside of it. So when you’re at the supermarket, you’re still consumed by it. You’re not at the supermarket – you’re still in a movie! You’re still cutting. It takes over your life.

FJ: Well, that’s the great thing about this. Even when we went back to different apartments or whatever, we’d always be thinking about the movie, texting each other ideas, which means it’s never finished.

DD: It’s constantly evolving. Until it’s picture-locked, until the ADR is in, it’s just constantly evolving. We want it to be organic, we want it to be the best it can be, wherever it comes from. Whoever has the best idea wins, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the best thing is what ends up on the screen.

Watching the movie, you can see a major strive toward realism on all levels of production. Were parts of that weird for you as actors, coming from different worlds like the stage or Star Trek

DD: You were in Star Trek?

AY: Yeah.

So was it weird doing something so intimate and vulnerable –

DD: That must have been cool.

AY: Yeah.

FJ: That’s rude, stop it!

DD/AY: Sorry.

FJ: I think we were both desperate to do something like that, because we’d done – well, I’d just done a snowboarding romantic comedy, so I was definitely ready for something a bit more introspective and naturalistic.

AY: I do think, though, that the process ends up becoming the same in figuring out who the people are. There’s never a point when you’re doing a movie where you can be like, “Oh, I’m just flying a spaceship, who gives a fuck who this person is? I’ll just wing it!” It just becomes that much more intense with this, and that much more emotionally specific.

FJ: I think when you do a movie like this, compared to something more performed, you do have to flick a switch in your mind where you go, “Okay, I want it all to appear as natural as possible.” It’s a conscious mode of performance.

DD: And an unconscious mode of performance, because you have to be able to get to a point where you can be unconscious, where after fifteen minutes you go, “What the fuck did I just do and say? It was so in-the-moment, words were just coming!”

FJ: But it is a style. It’s as much of a style as being on stage and doing Shakespeare.

When Anna decides to stay on with Jacob and spend the summer with him despite her visa’s expiration, there’s a great sequence where you show that summer as a rapid-fire montage of Jacob and Anna sleeping each night of it. What are the logistics of filming an elaborate sequence like that?

DD: Well, what was weird about it was it was the last thing we had on the last night we were [filming] in this apartment, and we only had an hour to do it.

Wow!

DD: We ended up doing it in about an hour and a half. All the costumes, all the production design changes, were all off to the side ready to go. The camera was mounted on the ceiling. They would hold [their position on the bed] for ten seconds, and then we’d go “MOVE!” and they’d jump up and change really fast, get into new pajamas or whatever, and then jump back in and get in a new position. And it was like, “Move, change, change, change!” So we did about forty changes in the course of an hour. It was incredible. That was a crazy night.

FJ: What was interesting was finding the different sleep positions that they would have throughout their relationship. So in the beginning they’re sort of intertwined, then gradually they more want their own side of the bed.

Why do you think right now is the best time for this movie to reach audiences?

DD: I’m 28 years old, and I kinda feel like there’s not a lot of movies for me. There’s not a lot that examine what I’m feeling or going through in my life. A film I saw earlier this year, Beginners, I really felt that way about. But other than that, this year I haven’t really felt that way about a film. And it’s just exciting to hopefully go after something that I would want to see, to make something for me, essentially, or for people that are in their 20s.

FJ: I agree. I think the use of technology in the film, there’s not many movies that are examining what the impact of that is, and how it affects relationships.

So many iPhones in this movie.

FJ: So many!

DD: And then this movie is going to be so dated in three years. People will be like, “That’s the iPhone 3G!”

FJ: And we’ll be, like, on the iPhone 9.

DD: And they’ll be like, “Oh my god, did you see Like Crazy? That was, like, so many iPhones ago!”

Is there a way that you would categorize this movie?

DD: Well, hopefully it’s genre-less, but I think it spans a few genres. It’s certainly a romantic drama.

FJ: It’s a dramedy.

DD: No! It’s a romantic drama is how I’d say it. But hopefully it’s not boxed in like that.

FJ: [perkily] It’s a love story for our generation!

[a beat, then Doremus and Yelchin break into laughter]

DD/AY: [mock accents] “It’s a love story! For our generation!”

[Jones shakes her head]

Like Crazy opens in San Francisco on Friday, November 4.

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