[From Mar. 9th to 17th, Flixist will bring you live coverage from deep in the heart of Texas at South by Southwest Film 2012. Keep an eye out for news, features, interviews, videos, and reviews of some of the most anticipated films to hit the festival circuit in 2012.]
Safety Not Guaranteed was one of my most anticipated films for SXSW 2012 and with good reason. When I'm not being serenaded by the prospects of some thought-provoking, cerebral indie film, I have a soft spot for character-driven comedies. With a cast that stars Parks and Recreations' Aubrey Plaza and The League's Mark Duplass, my expectations were high. Luckily, the film was able to match (and even exceed) what I was expecting.
Amidst the craziness that was SXSW, I was lucky enough to participate in a roundtable interview with Aubrey and Mark, where we talked about everything from the differences between working for TV and film to Aubrey's seduction scene. If you haven't yet, read the roundtable discussions I had with the writer and director of the film, as well as Plaza's and Duplass' co-stars, Jake M. Johnson and Karan Soni.
I’m a real character lover, and your characters are so beautifully, nicely real and rounded. I just wanted to tell you guys that right off the bat. What was it like helping create these roles?
Mark Duplass: Awesome. We got a great, great script, and it was very funny and touching and all those things. For me personally, I felt like a little bit of responsibility to keep the tone of the movie on the rails with Kenneth because he could have gone a lot of different ways, from crazy Napoleon Dynamite-ville to Travis Bickle to lots of stuff. I felt like my job was to kind of try to keep the heart going, try to keep that purity of someone who believes that they can time travel… Keep that alive and use that to try to draw in Darius, because Kenneth is not an easy sell, romantically speaking.
Aubrey, how was that seduction scene in the grocery store? How many times did you have to shoot that, because I thought that was hilarious.
Aubrey Plaza: Seduction scene? I like that. We did that really fast, but we talked about it before and we had a couple of ideas that we added in there. We both kind of knew that that was an important scene. It was like the first magical moment between the two of them where we see they can maybe have a connection or something, so it felt important.
MD: Jake [M. Johnson]’s character [Jeff] says something in the movie like, “I’m sure your weird mojo clicked with his weird mojo.” That’s a lot about what this movie is.
You mentioned last night about how you started off as a producer, and obviously you’re involved a lot in the filmmaking side, not in this film, but in general. And then you kind of slid into being an actor. Can you talk about that process?
MD: The easiest way to get a role in a movie is to become a producer on it, that’s the long and short of it. When the movie was brought to me, and when movies are brought to me and Jay [Duplass], and my producing partner, Stephanie Langhoff, they’re usually brought because someone has tried to get a lot of money to make their movie and nobody has given it to them, and they know that we know how to make movies fast and cheap. It was given to me under those premises, “Let’s go make the movie.” I was very concerned about the Kenneth character, and when we talked about casting it, I said, “Look, if somebody plays this thing as a joke, it’s going to crash the whole movie.” And so Colin [Trevorrow], the director, and I got into a conversation sort of accidentally, a creative conversation about Kenneth, and through that, after about half an hour, he was like, “Why don’t you do it? You know everything you’re saying is right. You should just do this.” I was like, “Yeah, I tricked you. I got you.” So yeah, we’re shooting two months later.
So you wanted to do it all along, or no?
MD: I was interested in it. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I wasn’t sure I was right for it, because when I first read it, I did imagine someone much more quirky, just as you read it and you see it. But then when we started talking about it, “Actually, if we can just use me to ground the character a little bit more, that might be what the movie needs to make it feel a little more real and not like a screwball quirky comedy.
Did you guys have anyone in mind when you guys were talking about the character?
MD: No, no. We kind of threw around cast ideas and it kind of quickly, between me and Colin, came back to me.
AP: I really wanted Charlie Sheen, but everyone told me that wouldn’t work out.
MD: He already lives in a different time.
AP: Nicolas Cage, maybe?
AP: The Big NC.
MD: The Big NC.
AP: We’re sick of working with each other, I’ve done so many movies with him.
What’s the difference between playing film roles and TV roles, and do you guys have a preference?
AP: I don’t really have a preference. I like both for different reasons. It’s fun to be on a TV show that goes on for a long time because you get to just know that character so well and it’s kind of fun to stay with a character, I think, for that long. But it’s also fun to get in there and get out of there.
MD: Yes, which we did on this movie. In and out very quickly.
They said 24 days?
MD: 24 days was the shoot. I was only there for 12.
MD: Yeah. I mean, it is and it isn’t. I’ve been on sets where we’ve shot for nine or 10 days before. 24 is not crazy quick…
That’s true. Long days too, right?
MD: Yeah yeah. For the TV stuff, I really like shooting The League because there’s zero emotional content on the show and it’s all improvised, so it’s just so easy, it’s just so fun, and the people I work with are really, really nice. It’s very low maintenance, honestly, and just very fun and loose. But when I direct a movie with my brother or something, it’s stressful or crazy, but nothing is quite as rewarding as that.
They did say the script stayed pretty true, but was there anything that changed significantly, like one little thing that maybe was altered just because of the cast, or as the cast came together?
MD: It’s a dialogue throughout because we’re obviously doing some improvisation with our backgrounds. We shot multiple endings for the film because that was one thing, honestly, I was adamant about, was that the tone of this movie probably wouldn’t be fully defined until the edit room. We kind of needed to have options, so we talked a lot early on about different options for the ending, because my experience in working with first-time directors and the way I was when Jay and I made our first movie, is you’re like, “I know exactly what I want.” But the truth is, you’re never really in control of a movie. It takes its own life at a certain point, so the biggest variable in this movie was we had lots of different ways to end it.
Aubrey, what appealed to you when you first read the script? What made you want to get involved?
AP: I loved the story. I thought it was really sweet, and I thought all the characters were really well-written and believable and grounded in a way that most scripts I read aren’t… I feel like I connected to it on a lot of different levels. I also felt it was kind of exactly what I was looking for at the time. I really wanted to do something where I was breaking out of this zone that I’ve been in a little bit, mainly just because I’ve been cast as this sarcastic, deadpan kind of character in a lot of things that happened one after another. So I thought it was kind of awesome, the transformation that Darius has in the movie and the journey that she goes on. As an actor, it was really appealing to play her and start out in a similar comfort zone, and then break out of that as an actor, but also as that character. It kind of worked. It felt really organic, too, and not forced.
How was it making that transition, especially being from an improv background and doing straight-out game. You have to think really fast, not just about the character you’re playing, but the whole story of something, and how was it to transition into something where it’s so subtle?
AP: It was really scary, especially because of that, because I got really used to not kind of say the words line for line, or I can kind of mess around a lot in a lot of the things I did before, and this was the first time that I really need to nail all of the little emotional moments that Darius has in the movie because it’s kind of you see you it through her eyes, in a way. That was really hard for me, and the most challenging thing is to make sure that everything I was doing is tracking in the right way and that I’m really… I’m changing in the right case and having the arc and stuff, and focusing more on that than playing the game of the scene or whatever, which is definitely something I’m used to. That’s just how I was trained growing up with improv and stuff. It was nice to kind of do both, because everyone that works on the movie is an improviser, too, so I feel like we kind of all had that as a tool if we needed it, and this script was so good that we didn’t really need it that much, but sometimes we utilized it, anyways. It was kind of cool to have both.
I know you guys shot for 24 days, and you were there only 12, and probably only three of you were there for the whole 24. Did you have that after-shock emptiness, the kind of, “I miss them” feeling afterwards?
AP: Oh yeah, totally. I cried. I mean, totally. It’s like such a camp feeling when you’re eating every meal together and working for 15 hours a day, you get so close and when it’s over, it just sucks.
Did they have an Aubrey or a Mark suite at the Sixth Avenue Hotel in Seattle?
AP: No, they only had the Jake Johnson suite.
MD: We didn’t urinate in the corner of ours, so we couldn’t get any named after ours.