Charlyne Yi and Jake Johnson offers a look at this new film about love and life
Despite professing a belief that she's incapable of love, comedian and actress Charlyne Yi finds herself falling for "Michael Cera," played by Michael Cera, in Paper Heart, an intoxicating mix of documentary, improvisation, and romance. We caught up with Charlyne at this year's Comic-Con to chat about her new film, along with her co-star Jake Johnson. Here's what they both had to say.
Charlyne, can you just talk a bit about the origins of this story and how you came up with this?
Charlyne Yi: Sure. Originally, it was going to start off as an original documentary, because I was a bit unsure about love. I was like 18 or 19 and I dropped out of college and I hung out with mostly older comedian guys, like 40 years old or older. I was like, 'All of them are single. Is that going to happen to me? I'm going to be a 40-year-old dude who's single' (Laughs). I don't really socialize, really, besides going to work and performing and hanging out with these older dudes. Also, younger folks I knew all went to bars and stuff and I don't drink or anything so I don't go to bars. So it was kind of my own questioning of love, if it was possible, because of my lack of social skills. I don't know. You're unsure about love, constantly, even people who are in love, and that really inspired the idea of making a documentary about that. Everyone wants to find somebody, even if they're skeptical. I came to (co-writer/director) Nick (Jasenovic) with the idea and he's like, 'What? You don't believe in love? Wait a minute. You're crazy.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm pretty crazy,' and he thought it would be an interesting idea to have me be on screen, because I wasn't planning on being, and seeing it through my eyes. I was into the idea of being on screen for the interviews, but not to be the subject of the whole show, and that kind of inspired the idea of creating a narrative where I would play a character named Charlyne, that way it wouldn't seem so abrupt to go from an interview where I'm Charlyne, to where I'm Cassandra in a narrative (Laughs).
Jake Johnson: Cassandra Dee (Laughs).
Charlyne Yi: So, from there we needed someone to play Nick's character and we found this cool guy (points to Jake). We were already friends with him and that would also be a way to say that this is obviously fake.
Jake Johnson: Yeah. It says it right there in the credits, 'Jake Johnson as Nick Jasenovic.' Then to get Michael Cera, who's incredible, to play that character was great.
So how did you get this movie to Michael or discover Michael for this part?
Charlyne Yi: Well, we were all friends and I didn't know he was an actor, really. I had never seen his stuff. I think you kind of know everyone acts and does commercials and that sort of stuff, but I didn't really think anything of it.
Michael Cera in commercials? (Laughs)
Jake Johnson: Yeah, you know Mike. He's in a million national network commercials.
That would actually be pretty funny.
Charlyne Yi: (Playfully mocking Cera's voice) 'Anybody want some Taco Bell or something?' But we would look at all these young actors that we were all friends with and we would imagine each of them in the role. Then Nick said, 'Why don't you guys check out some of his Arrested Development stuff.' Then it was like, 'Wow. He's a really good actor.'
Jake Johnson: He's so subtle and so real.
Charlyne Yi: So, he was our first choice and we pitched it to him and he agreed. I think it's also kind of scary for someone to agree to do it because they're going under a character of their own name.
Jake Johnson: Mike and Charlyne are both the kind of people who like the idea of messing around with that and I don't think a lot of actors would. Mike was kind of perfect for that.
Can you guys just talk a bit about the production and what kind of budget you had to work with?
Jake Johnson: It was $1 milllion.
Charlyne Yi: It was $1 million but we travelled from Los Angeles to New York to Paris and to Toronto, twice.
Jake Johnson: Yeah. We actually started it by doing five weeks on the road. Where you see that van at the beginning of the movie, that's actually the van that we were in. The director wanted it to feel like a band going on tour, so a lot of the equipment was in it and we would just shoot scenes - we just had a five-page outline - so we would just pull over and shoot a scene. Like the gun scenes where Charlyne and I were shooting, it was really raining. It was like a morning and we get back and our feet and legs are just caked in mud and it was a hard scene to shoot.
Charlyne Yi: And then a 10-hour drive after.
Jake Johnson: Yeah. They were like, 'All right. Let's go.' We were like, 'How long?' and they said, 'At least seven more hours.' It's like, 'Dude, I'm like a wet dog. I want to be in a Hollywood movie!'
Charlyne Yi: So yeah. A million bucks is a lot, but yeah, we also went to shady hotels.
Jake Johnson: We stayed at a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I'm not exaggerating at all. I go into my room and you know that bolt at the top, in every hotel? That had been ripped off. There was a place where the metal was that got bent, and I'm like, 'Well, that's a little f&^%ed up, but hey, it's an older hotel.' Then there was a blood stain on the wall, where someone's hand was in there, fighting, and I was like, 'That's really shady.' Then I sat on the bed and there was an old lady's dirty underwear.
Was there an outline on the floor?
Jake Johnson: (Laughs) No, everything besides an outline. Dirty underwear, a broken lock, a blood stain.
Can you talk a bit about the great reception this has gotten on the festival circuit, how people have really responded to this?
Charlyne Yi: Most people seem to really like it. I know for a fact that not everyone has liked it, because I've seen some reviews.
Jake Johnson: It's been a really nice response because, we weren't sure when we made it, because it was basically guaranteed to DVD, and then we were told it would come out in two theaters, one in L.A. and one in New York. They were like, 'If nothing else, you guys are going to have that.' So, the fact that it's actually getting a real run and people behind us, we're really excited.
Charlyne Yi: Yeah, it's definitely awesome, so there's definitely hope.
So can you guys talk a bit about what you have coming up next? Charlyne, I heard that you're writing something for Judd (Apatow), I believe.
Charlyne Yi: Yeah. I don't want to say what it is, because it's illegal (Laughs) and also, they're unsure if it's actually going to get made. We're working on this pilot that me, Jake and Nick are doing for HBO, but we don't know if that's going to get made either. It's still in the writing stages.
Can you talk a bit about the pilot at all?
Charlyene Yi: Yeah. It's kind of like a Princess Bride thing. My character reads in a library and his (Jake's) character is this shady janitor. All of the character's in the library's world are incorporated in the story that I tell.
Jake Johnson: It's like The Wizard of Oz. Everybody who Charlyne's character meets, then goes in each genre. So, each week we can do a different genre, but it all starts at the library where she's reading and, like The Princess Bride it actually cuts to that world.
Charlyne Yi: Yeah, and if it was a Western, I would be like a Clint Eastwood but would play it completely straight and hope that after they accept the ridiculousness of the concept...
Jake Johnson: There's a sort of absurdity to it, but we want to play it as real. We did the play together, E.T., where she played E.T. and I played Elliot. Seth Rogen plays the brother and it was just like really fun and after that, we just got talking about. This was before Paper Heart, so it was like, 'Let's do a show with genre but take it really seriously.
It almost sounds like a tripped-out version of Night at the Museum.
Jake Johnson: (Laughs) I like the tripped-out part. I haven't seen Night at the Museum, but I know it's all these different characters, so I can't quite say yes.
So, finally, what would you like to say to fans of yours who might be curious about this movie about why they should check it out in theaters?
Charlyne Yi: We're all naked right now.
They totally are.
Jake Johnson: I like how you say 'they.' Dude, you're like wearing a robe with no bottom (Laughs).
You shouldn't have said that...
Jake Johnson: We're all in a sauna doing this. We're all sweaty, drinking mojitos, naked, just hanging out (Laughs). Comic-Con is crazy.
But seriously, why should audiences check this film out?
Jake Johnson: At the end of the day, we've gotten a lot of questions like why we would do a documentary, but the way we view it is it's just a movie and, hopefully, it's entertaining. If you don't like the documentary stuff, maybe you'll like the narrative stuff, and if you don't like that, maybe you'll like the puppet sequences. Go see the movie. There's something in there you hopefully will like.
Charlyne Yi: For me, if anything, I really love the documentary pieces. It's just real people telling real love stories and I think, hopefully, people will appreciate that part.
All right. Thank you so much, guys.
Jake Johnson: Thanks a lot. This was a lot of fun.
Charlyne Yi: Thank you.
You can catch this narrative/documentary hybrid film Paper Heart in select theaters on August 7th.