‘Like Crazy’ an extraordinary experience for young actors
December 22, 2011
ASPEN – Neither Felicity Jones nor Anton Yelchin has had formal training in acting. And even if they had, it is unlikely that any course would have prepared them to make “Like Crazy,” the romantic drama in which the two co-star as young lovers.
The film, directed by Drake Doremus, is cinema on the experimental edge. Instead of a screenplay, there was a 50-page outline; Jones and Yelchin were expected to improvise their dialogue (in a story, as it happens, about a pair of young adults essentially improvising their way through a long-distance relationship). “Like Crazy” was shot on a single camera, one that can be picked up for about $2,000; the total cost of the movie has been reported at $250,000. Doremus shot everything, including rehearsals, and wound up with 85 hours of footage.
“No one makes films like this,” Jones, a 28-year-old Brit whose performance as Anna is being hailed as a breakthrough, said earlier this fall at the Sky Hotel, following a screening of “Like Crazy” at Aspen Filmfest. “Some people let the actors improvise, but not like this.”
Making up dialogue on the spot may not have been the most unusual and daunting task handed to Jones and Yelchin. Instead, it was a fall-out of that method that struck the actors as almost other-worldly. Creating dialogue meant building a relationship, between the actors and between the characters, that had to feel authentic, one that shut out the artificial reality that they were, in fact, making a movie. At times, it truly did not feel as if they were on a film set; often, the crew was whittled down to the two actors and Doremus with his one camera.
“That creates a sense of intimacy, where you forget everything but what’s going on. It creates this world; you’re in a bubble,” Yelchin, a 22-year-old Russian native whose notable credits include “Hearts in Atlantis,” which he made when he was 11, and the acclaimed 2009 version of “Star Trek,” in which he played Chekov. “We’d be in bed and then Drake would say something and you’d say, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?'”
Along with the extraordinary experience of making “Like Crazy” (which returns to Aspen on Tuesday, Dec. 27, as part of Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings series at Harris Hall), Jones and Yelchin have taken more standard routes to establish themselves as actors. Both stress the significance of finding older actors whose long careers serve as models of what Jones and Yelchin would like to accomplish – a mentoring system that Hollywood doesn’t often cultivate.
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“What this industry loses sight of is, you’re able to work with so many beautiful, amazing, talented people who can enrich your life,” said Yelchin, whose colleagues have included Anthony Hopkins, Christian Bale, Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson.
Yelchin pinpoints Willem Dafoe, whose career has been marked by variety, unusual choices and an abundance of work, as an actor worth following. The two are featured in “Odd Thomas,” a supernatural thriller set for release next year.
“The amount of interesting filmmakers he’s worked with – he’s been in ‘Spider-Man,’ but he’s also worked with Von Trier and Scorsese,” Yelchin said. “The man has done everything, but if you look at his body of work, it’s continually amazing.”
“You look at people you admire and you take them as inspiration – Julianne Moore, Annette Bening,” added Jones, who appeared in student plays at Wadham College before moving into British TV. “Other actors literally become your teachers. You steal as much as you can, just absorb whatever you can.” Jones took a lot from Helen Mirren, who she acted alongside of on last year’s adaptation of “The Tempest”: “As a young actor you’re so stressed. After every take, you’re asking, ‘Was that OK?’ But Helen is so calm.”
Jones and Yelchin are also both discovering the crucial art of choosing roles. They seem very aware that, as young actors still making themselves known to the public and to filmmakers, there is a need for close consideration of what projects they accept. But as actors devoted to expanding their skills – witness their appearance in “Like Crazy,” which earned the Grand Jury Prize for best picture at the Sundance Film Festival – they recognize a need not to be overly cautious.
“It does feel very much like you have to be careful,” Jones said. “Until you’re established, hopefully then there’s a bit more freedom. There’s pressure. But you have to push that out of your head.”
Jones, who had seven projects scheduled for release in 2011, from indie films to TV shows to “Hysteria,” a romantic comedy featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal and High Dancy, is developing her approach to finding suitable characters.
“It can be whatever genre, but you have to have an instinctive reaction to the character,” she said. “When something’s right, you don’t want to doubt it. It’s instinctive and you know you’re going to enjoy it. If you’re deliberating, it’s probably not right. If you read the script and you start saying the lines out loud, you’re trying to find that voice, you know it’s right. If I read it in one sitting, that’s a good sign. And if you have that, it doesn’t matter how it turns out. You’ve made it for the right reasons.”
For Jones and Yelchin, “Like Crazy” had all the elements they look for. It felt daring but right.
“It was an opportunity. You jump at it,” Yelchin said. “The chance to make up your own characters, your own dialogue – that’s fascinating. You forget the you of your daily life. For that period of time, you’re just these two people and you do whatever you can to take them from point A to the end of the film.”
Jones said she didn’t feel like she was risking anything career-wise, but was taking a creative leap into the unknown.
“You have to take risks and you have to be scared,” she said. “Doing this film, it had to feel like a risk. It couldn’t feel like a day job. It had to be all-consuming. Fear is a good indication you’re doing the right thing.”
Jones apparently enjoyed the experience. Her next project is another film with Doremus. The film, featuring Kyle MacLachlan and Guy Pearce, is untitled, and slated for release next year. Similar to “Like Crazy,” it is a love story. “But a darker strain,” Jones said.