With rave performance reviews, two breakout stars and a whole lot of media buzz, Like Crazy is set to be this year’s indie screen sensation. The long-distance love story, made on a shoestring budget, was an unexpected hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, winning the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and a special jury prize for leading actress Felicity Jones. North by Northwestern spoke with Jones, co-star Anton Yelchin and writer-director Drake Doremus to find out what sparked the story idea, how they prepared for the film’s improvisation, and how they connected to the characters they brought to life.
What appealed to you about Like Crazy? What drew you to it?
Felicity Jones: I think it was the opportunity to tell a very intimate story. As soon as I opened the script, the tone was so immediate, and I liked how intense it was. And it was about character, it was a character-driven film, which was something I was keen to do. Also, [it was] looking at love, but in a very unsentimental way, in a way I hadn’t quite seen before.
Anton Yelchin: I think firsthand, the fact that you could improvise drama, you know, I thought was kind of a blessing for an actor. And then Drake and I sat down, and I’d seen Douchebag, and I really enjoyed Douchebag. And above all, I think we really agreed on the fact that, or connected on the fact that right now is really kind of a vital time for filmmaking in the sense that studios aren’t really financing much and we have the technology, we have the means right now to make monies for—
Drake Doremus: Make monies?
AY: (Russian accent) Ve make monies!
DD: We’re making so much monies.
AY: Ve make so much monies! No, I mean, you make movies for very little monies is the truth right now…you know, the technology is there now, to, if you have a story that you really want to tell and you have a small group of committed people that really want to tell it with you, you can do that…given, of course, that you have a talented and interesting filmmaker, and people willing to go on that journey.
As actors, how does improvisation affect your approach to acting? If you’re improvising a scene, how does that change?
FJ: It becomes a completely different style of performance. And I think that’s something that, with improvisation, it just has to be very, very naturalistic. And it’s about knowing the characters as much as possible and having a very in-depth rehearsal process. And we all, we rehearsed for a week, and we spent a lot of time together and worked out exactly who these characters were and plotted them over the seven yards, so that when we came to set and we came to improvise, there was a structure already in place. And as long as you’ve done that preparation, and you can feel that you have the freedom to be more exploratory when you’re actually making the film.
You guys cut some of the dialogue to bring down the rating — was that disappointing?
DD: No, it was actually my idea. Paramount was very gung-ho about us going with an R-rating, but due to the fact that the difference was negligible, essentially; I mean, we changed two “fucks” to the word “sleep” instead, which totally makes sense. But I mean, there’s no difference in the film: it’s the exact same film, it’s the exact same intention, it’s the exact same scene…if anything, it’s even more impactful because there is still an F-word in the scene, and that F-word now comes later… I think having the opportunity to have more people see the film was something that was really important for me because it’s not necessarily a movie just for people in their twenties, or just for people in their thirties — I really do believe that uh, teenagers and even people in their forties, fifties and sixties can relate to this kind of love story.
What was it like working with your coworkers? How did you feed off each other’s energy?
FJ: It felt very straightforward actually, it felt very easy. We were immediately very relaxed around each other. And I think we knew what kind of film it was and knew that it had to be as sort of ego-less as possible. And so it was about just spending time with each other before we started shooting.
AY: Yeah, we had a really intense six-day rehearsal process. We spent at least 10 hours a day, 12 hours a day with one another; well, the three of us. Sort of at the end of that process, you just come to trust your, you know, your core group of people.
FJ: Well, that’s the main thing, isn’t it? Just making sure we all trust enough.
AY: And trust that you just are all gonna go wherever you need to go, and that there’s no really boundaries, because otherwise sort of an intimate project of this sort doesn’t really work. I mean, it requires that level of commitment and freedom.
DD: And once there are boundaries, the process of being spontaneous and the process of letting things come to you sort of falls away, so the fact that they were able to go there was really incredible and magical.
Drake, without scripted dialogue, casting was very important. What was it about Felicity and Anton that made you feel they were going to be able to deliver the performances you were looking for?
DD: For her, I mean, the tape that she sent me from England of her improvising some scenes in her living room…she did take a lot of risks in the tape. And that was really important to me, to have somebody that really was willing to go there and to take those risks. Even without even meeting her, I cast her, just based on the tape, which was totally, I feel like, kind of a crazy thing to do without seeing them together. But I just kind of had a feeling that it would work and kind of an intuition that they were meant to be in this movie together. And then with Anton, we spent three hours together having coffee and just talking. Really, we talked about the movie, but we just talked more about our philosophies about performance, and our philosophies about film, and we were just totally on the same page. So from there, I mean, it just felt really right.
The end of the movie is a little bit confusing. What’s the message?
DD: I think that, hopefully, what’s special about the ending is that everyone can bring their sensibilities to it and your past and what you’ve been through in your life. You can apply what you want to have happen, and that was what was important about the film, because it is such a gray film: it’s about sort of being stuck in-between all these different things and emotions and feelings and relationships. And so the ending sort of really reflects what the film was about, which is being in more than one place emotionally at the same time.
When the movie won at Sundance, what was your initial reaction?
DD: It was shocking, really. They had left-
FJ: I was in bed.
DD: You were in bed, you [Anton] were shooting a movie somewhere.
AY: I was, yeah — oh no, I was chilling!
DD: You were chilling. They needed a break. It was very surprising, given the fact that there is no, uh, drug use in the film, given the fact that there’s no financial hardship. It’s not necessarily your normal award-winning film, I guess you could say. But that’s kind of a joke, but kind of not. I mean, in a way it’s about two people who really don’t have that much to complain about that are sort of going through a difficult emotional situation in their lives. I think that it was certainly shocking and humbling, and to be part of the festival in general is just really special. To be there, the energy there is incredible, and, yeah, it’s just kind of gravy at this point. As long as people see the film, it’s really special to us.
What did you take away from this movie, personally?
FJ: Nothing. Like, thank God that’s over. No, well, for me, it was life-changing. It changed so many of my ideas about how to make films and how to be in front of the camera. It completely revolutionized the way I thought about acting and filming.