Filmmaker Drake Doremus put heart and soul into Like Crazy (winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize), a romance inspired by his own First Big Love.
The story is simple enough: a smitten British exchange student (newcomer Felicity Jones) writes a multi-page letter to her American boy crush (Anton Yelchin), sticks it on the windshield of his car, and first blush love ensues. The camera steeps the viewer in a flutter of gazes, whispers, laughs and oxygen-cutting kisses, all so deliriously addictive that the heroine overstays — and thus violates — her visa in order to spend the rest of summer by his side in California. Though Anna and Jacob love each other “like crazy,” immigration issues, the physical distance between Los Angeles and London, and the wiles of more convenient partners (enter the white-hot Jennifer Lawrence), make their relationship achingly impossible. It’s an impediment that traps the next seven years in a series of long-distance courtship starts and stops.
What drew you to the film?
I received the outline in my flat in London, sat down in one sitting, and read it in one go. I loved the tone of it, and the idea of improvising a film was really exciting. I had never realized it was a way of making a film, of actually improvising directly to camera.
And your character must have been attractive to play.
Yes, what really drew me was the combination of the film’s style and the character. I loved how impulsive she is at the beginning; the girl is the one pursuing the guy, which is so unusual because we see it all the time it’s the other way around. I thought, “There’s something about this girl!” She acts on her emotions, which is sometimes hard to do.
You were also able to develop the role, since we see you grow from the age of 19 to 26. What changes did you want for Anna?
I wanted her to get more serious as she becomes concerned about her work and being a successful journalist, which obviously dictates her character in some way. I think a lot of working women understand this predicament of wanting to pursue your job and be good at that, but needing to combine that with having a relationship.
Are you similar in that sense?
To find the reality of the character, you have to look at the similarities and the differences between the two of you. With Anna, she’s much more forward and impulsive than I would ever be -- I tend to be more indecisive and take my time over things. She’s quite reckless and truly romantic, and she’s obsessed with Jacob. I wanted to understand why she would be like that, and I think the key is that she’s from a very secure background; she has two loving parents who have given her a sense of freedom. All those things are what make a character interesting for an actress.
The trailer for Like Crazy
Tell me about rehearsals. For an actor without lines to memorize or marks to hit, what becomes your touchstone?
The main thing was to just spend every minute of the day with each other so that we could be as comfortable as possible. In the first week especially, we would get In-N-Out Burger — Drake and Anton are very passionate about their In-N-Out — and just sit in an office and chat.
In between, we would be rehearsing and repeating the scenes until we learned to listen. The key with improvisation is not to speak too much and to trust that the right words will come. The words always come when you listen, and so it was just getting into a rhythm for Anton and I so that we would be listening and responding directly to each other. Then, to be under the covers and to speak intimately, we would be relaxed and feel like we could take risks.
And many of the scenes seemed to play themselves out on a pre-verbal level.
Yes, and that’s my favorite kind of acting. I love it when people are not saying exactly what they’re thinking, because that takes away all the mystery from the character. In life, we don’t say exactly what we’re feeling and thinking; we’re often quite false in our words. The real truth is conveyed in our eyes. Before I did Like Crazy, I watched Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves. Her performance had a subtlety to it; it was a great inspiration for this film.
You mentioned Emily Watson. Who else has influenced your acting?
Emily Watson I adore. I love Annette Bening, especially in The Grifters. Also Angelica Houston and Helena Bonham Carter. I like female actresses who aren’t scared to be unattractive, where vanity isn’t dictating their choices.
Did you expect audiences to respond so well to this film?
I think the ambiguities and intricacies of a relationship are something every human being can understand. The portrayal of relationships is often very idealistic, and so to see a film that is still funny and not depressing, but tries to understand the reality of loving another person, people seem to respond to that. There are no gimmicks or pretense — no flying monkeys or anything — just people in rooms talking.
Like Crazy opens in theaters October 28.
© 2011 Paramount Pictures and Indian Paintbrush Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.