Was it difficult to get the financial backing and support early on for such an anti-Hollywood young love story?
Yeah, certainly. It’s always difficult to get a film financed, especially one without George Clooney in it, but, luckily, I had a producer who really believed in me and went out and got the money. The film was shot 22 days, and we made it for $250,000 , so it was practically made for nothing. We didn’t have trailer or any fancy amenities—we just made it on the down and dirty in Los Angeles, and then in London for about a week.
So once Paramount jumped on board to distribute at Sundance, that must have been the ultimate “Wow” moment.
Dude, you have no idea. [Laughs.] It’s still surreal. It’s a dream come true.
Speaking of dreams, the look of Like Crazy is really dreamlike, almost whimsical. How important was it for you to give the film that kind of aesthetic quality?
It was so important. We shot on this camera called the Canon 7D, which is a still camera that has a nice, soft aesthetic to it. We built this rig to put film lenses on it; we really wanted to put a touch of nostalgia into the look of the film. So I think the film does have that heightened, uber-reality; the texture of it sort of feels like you’re remembering something. It’s kind of a distant memory, but it’s still a close memory.
The chemistry between Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, who both give great performances, is what gives the film its unique strength. How quickly were they able to develop that chemistry?
To be honest, it happened pretty fast. The three of us sat down to have dinner for the first time, and I had never met Felicity in person, and Anton hadn’t met her yet either, and we sat down to have some Mexican food and a lot of tequila and had a really long conversation about our lives and past relationships. They really became friends really fast; it was immediate, and it was really exciting to see it develop over the course of a week, during rehearsals. We did tons of exercises and in-depth things to delve into their chemistry and fully realize what their chemistry was.
I’m sure all of that tequila helped bring out the brutal honesty.
[Laughs.] Yeah, it was definitely a social lubricant.
There’s a really effective scene in the movie where Anton Yelchin’s character steps outside of a bar, while drunk, and talks to Felicity, even though he knows it’s probably not the best idea to drunk-dial. That’s something that any guy or girl who’s ever been drunk before can relate to.
Yeah, I can’t even count on one hand how many times I’ve called a girl while drunk at a bar. [Laughs.] That’s a very common experience in my life; that scene in particular, it shows that gray area of “Should I shouldn’t I? Are we or aren’t we?” Those are the questions we ask when we’re in love. It was important for me focus on the smaller moments like that—those are the things that people can really connect with, because we’ve all been there.
In light of focusing on the smaller moments, you don’t have any sex scenes between the main characters, which is an interesting way to develop their love without having to spell it out for the viewer. What was your rationale behind that decision?
I shot a bunch of bondage scenes, actually, but they didn’t fit into the film, so I ended up having to cut them. [Laughs.] They’ll make for one hell of a DVD package, though. No, I didn’t really think about that until after we’d written it. But the story isn’t about the sexual side of love; it’s funny, when I think of my first love, it’s not about the sex, especially as much as it is now.
It’s such a pure, pure thing, and the sexual aspect of it is there, but it’s not the point. You see them in a sexual context with their other boyfriend and girlfriend, but now with each other, and that was a way for us to show the effort it takes to get into somebody sexually and have it not matter, have it not be relevant because the connection with the older love is so strong.
And their follow-up partners are still good people—Felicity’s new guy isn’t the prototypical douchebag character that usually sweeps the rebound girl off her feet in movies, and Anton’s girl (Jennifer Lawrence) isn’t some floozy. That makes it harder for the viewer to root for Anton and Felicity to get back together. Was that how you approached those side characters?
Absolutely, and, for the most part, they’re really healthy for them. But it’s just that little X-factor, and that’s the frustrating part: Somebody who’s really good for you and healthy for you is right there in front of you, but you just don’t feel that connection with them.
More than anything, that’s heartbreaking, because you want to be with that person and you wish you could be with that person, but you just can’t. That’s the kind of honesty I hope translates with audiences.