Paper Heart is not your usual love story. But after conversing with the human beings that helped create it, that only makes perfect sense. Charlyne Yi and Jake Johnson don't look like the typical "movie stars" that try to teach us a thing or two about the big ol' L-word, love. (Johnson may be as charming as I'd imagine Zooey Deschanel to be, but he's certainly not as good looking). They're an early twenties duo living in the real world, and their documentary, coming out this Friday, reflects that honestly. Using interviews and actual footage of Charlyne falling for a kind-of noteable guy named Michael Cera, Paper Heart is something that could only be birthed by someone who has probably worn the same hoodie for a year, and expresses herself through puppet sequences (meaning Ms. Yi). When I interviewed Charlyne and Jake, they seemed as excited as I was to talk about the unique experience of Paper Heart. What proceeded was a rather "quirky" conversation, involving Charlyne's appreciation for Martin Lawrence, Jake describing his common wardrobe, and a course of events that now give me the rare bragging right of saying I was locked in a room with Michael Cera's (ex?) girlfriend.
Johnson and Yi may have helped make the indie-darling of the season, but that has little effect on the aura they exude as we sit on a swanky L-shaped couch in a hotel located in downtown Chicago. With high fives a-flyin', I might as well have been hanging with my bros.
(Especially with this particular film, I recommend seeing the film before reading our delightful conversation, simply for the sake of avoiding spoilers.) Did you guys know each other before Paper Heart?
CHARLYNE YI: We ran the same comedy scene, and we met at a bar doing some bits where he was like a music producer …
JAKE JOHNSON: It was a “Guitar Hero" night, and everyone was going, so neither of us had a chance to play. We ended up doing a bit together. [It was] about how she was a huge musician and I liked her sound and I was gonna make this kid a huge star. We both started joking, “Well, it’s really fun to joke around together.” Next thing I know a couple days later I get a five-minute message on my answer machine. She's a notoriously long pitcher of ideas. She wanted me to be in a play of hers where I play a bartender and she comes in and does this thing, and I didn’t totally understand it but it sounded fun, like “Yeah, sure." The play was really fun to do. After that we’re getting lunch and becoming friends. I think like four or five months later [director Nick Jasenovic and Charlyne] asked me to do this.
What movies made up your idea of love when you were younger, and what movies make up that idea now? Disney movies? Annie Hall?
CHARLYNE: I used to really love the movie Far and Away. And now, this movie’s like completely surreal but I really like the relationship within it a lot, it’s not what I would want my relationship to be, but Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is really great.
JAKE: I’d say things like when I was a kid like The Princess Bridge, and the more kind of fairy tale-esque, and even though like you said, Annie Hall. What I love about Annie Hall is that it’s actually about a break up, and maybe its about getting older and being more cynical, but part of it is that maybe it’s not going to work.
Well, that's part of it. That's the worst part of it.
JAKE: And there’s also that I’ve started to look back now on like “big loves” of my life that are kinda just gone now, or who are like friends. It’s like the end of Annie Hall, “well I’m really glad I got to know that person.”
It's the "dead shark," right? (Whipping out my Woody impersonation) “What we have here, is a dead shark.”
(They both laugh.)
Does the title [Paper Heart] basically refer to the puppet sequences or does it have any other kind of meaning?
CHARLYNE: Well, Braveheart was taken.
Braveheart 2: The Michael Cera Chapter?
CHARLYNE: "William’s back – as a girl!" Yeah, originally it was with the puppet sequences because the last sequence was tagged on recently.
Was there another ending?
CHARLYNE: Right after the breakup there was actually a stop-motion animation that was the heart and it split. It was me and Michael, and it kind of went through our love story but we were alone at the end. (Laughing) [It was] really depressing.
Jake, how similar did you try to make your character to the actual Nick? And was he really that bossy?
JAKE: Well I didn’t think he…
Well he wasn't too bossy. He had to get it done.
JAKE: Yeah. I didn’t make him similar in terms of his mannerisms, but what I did do, because everything was improvised, Nick was really stressed and gung-ho. I think he had a lot on his shoulder. He and Nick, I mean Nick and Charlyne really did have -
CHARLYNE: “He and Nick.”
JAKE: (Joking) Well I thought we had a brother.
Well you call her [in the film] "Chuck." It's endearing. It's a bro-term.
JAKE: (Laughing) “It’s no problem dude, she’s my bro.” But I think that some of the bulk of it was taken less on Nick and more of the experience of the stress of it. “We have this movie, we don’t know what it is…”, that kind of stuff was part of how this character should be.
And does he make a cameo in the movie? Is that him in trailer? He's an editor I think.
JAKE: No, that's Ryan Brown.
CHARLYNE: He’s the real editor, but people at Sundance were confusing Ryan and Nick because they have glasses and kind of similar color eyes.
JAKE: Nick’s at the party sequence, when they’re playing music, and there’s a guy, he’s just sitting on the floor. He’s playing really drunk.
Whose idea was it to put the Weezer song "Devotion" in there?
CHARLYNE: I think that was Michael’s. He’s obsessed with Weezer. He wanted to change his name to Weezer.
Did he really?
CHARLYNE: (Laughing) No, no, I don’t know.
JAKE: But going off of that, the collaboration of Paper Heart really was if someone had an idea, there was a really good chance we were shooting it that day. There was a five page outline, so we knew where it was going. We knew where the end was, we knew things that needed to happen, but there was really no rule on how to get there.
CHARLYNE: So even though there was a five page outline, there must’ve been so much more if you were to write it down. There was 300 hours of footage.
JAKE: The documentary stuff is all real. The interviews are real, the psychic is real, obviously the kids are real, the judge and all that. [The interactions between Charlyne and Nick] were shot like a fake documentary.
Did you shoot before or after the interviews?
CHARLYNE: The first month and a half was on the road, so interviews and all the stuff with me and Jake. Every scene we shot was in the beginning of the relationship [with Cera], the middle of the relationship, [and] towards the end.
JAKE: But Mike was doing Year One so Mike came after we were shooting.
CHARLYNE: Yeah, so we had to pre-plan.
JAKE: Literally, Nick would see this room and be like “Oh this is really cool, let’s shoot here.” We’d do a scene where Charylne is sitting, (he gets up) my character would walk in and be like: (sitting back down) “So yeah, what do you think of this guy Mike?” and then we’d do a bit, and then after that I’d be like this, (he gets back up) “So, you and Mike are getting kind of serious,” (sitting back down) and then (he gets back up) “So, it’s not working, but who cares.” So if they wanted in post [production], they could take from anywhere, any section.
Did [Michael Cera] have any influence on [his character] not wanting to be in front of the cameras?
Is that pretty accurate to who the real Michael Cera is?
CHARLYNE: I still think that no one wants to be in front of the cameras.
JAKE: I think especially Mike. He doesn’t like it, and obviously he knew this was a movie, and I think he thought of it as an opportunity to play that. I think he made a character choice. even the break-up stuff. We would all sit in the morning, before every day, and basically talk up what we were shooting and one of the great things about Jasenovic as a director is if someone said “Well I don’t really this,” he wouldn’t be like “Shut up and do it,” he’d be like “Alright, let’s talk it out.”
(At this point, I am alerted by the organizers that I have two minutes left in my interview).
CHARLYNE: (sarcastically) Twenty minutes! how long has it been?
I don't know. This is the business though, right guys?
JAKE: Fight back, dude.
CHARLYNE: Fight back, Nick!
Well, you guys got the star power.
JAKE: (laughing) What star power?!
CHARLYNE: You know what, we should lock the door!
(Charlyne gets up from her spot on the couch and walks over to the door. She does indeed lock it.)
So I was on IMDB.com and I was looking up Paper Heart. And at the bottom of the page, one of the recommendations for a movie like this film was How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Could you explain why?
JAKE: I would say the puppets.
I wonder if [the internet] is hinting that Charlyne is Grinch-like.
(At this point Charlyne makes a high pitched squeal more similar to a murderous mountain monster than the Grinch. Then she growls for a second).
How has your idea of the big L-word business changed since filming, if at all?
CHARLYNE: (To herself, sarcastically) Oh, what could I say about lesbians. I think I was a bit more cynical in the beginning, but now I’m a bit more hopeful. Everyone that we met was so inspirational and it was pretty exciting after each interview.
Michael drops the QC phrase, "quirky comedy," which is something he seems to get labeled with. What do you think of the whole "quirky comedy" idea?
CHARLYNE: It’s weird, “quirky” is always such a negative connotation. Before it was like (happily) “Yeah it’s quirky!” and now it’s like (disappointed) “Yeah, it’s quirky.”
What [other] words do you think it's associated with?
JAKE: Cheesiness. I think when I hear “quirky” I think of when Mike was doing that bit like “Oh, we’re making another cheesy movie here.” I think this [more of a] "weird" comedy, and I use "weird" affectionately.
Well, it is grounded in as much reality as possible.
JAKE: As much as possible. Like, a movie.
Or a documentary. Did you guys have pre-paid budgets? Or did you supply your own hoodies? There are a lot of hoodies in [Paper Heart].
CHARLYNE: All I had was …
(At this moment she stands up to display her gray hoodie, which has a few ink spots and looks a tad ragged, like any true hoodie should.)
CHARLYNE: We didn’t have money for wardrobe, so we kind of wore all of our own clothes, except for Jake.
JAKE: Well, they didn’t want me to wear my clothes, because I like to have a mustache, and I wear sweat outfits.
CHARLYNE: One time he rode up and he was wearing this silver matching running suit!
JAKE: Hell yeah! (Laughing) But [the director] said: “You can’t dress like this. No mustaches and no matching sweat outfits.”
But that would be kind of hip these days.
JAKE: It actually doesn’t play hip on me. “This 50-year-old guy from Chicago!" (Moments later, there's some knocking at the door. Charlyne belts out a maniacal laugh that would put any mad scientist to shame.)
CHARLYNE: (Resigning) Ok, ok, I’ll get it.
All of the other reporters are going to get thrown off! Michael Phillips is going to write a bad review!
(Charlyne rises from her seat, and unlocks the door. Jake and I shake hands and thank each other while I anxiously try to escape the deserved wrath of those in charge. The next interviewer walks in as while I try to organize my escape. I am bobbling my notebook, pen, voice recorder, and a small hot chocolate. Jake and I are still talking when Charlyne walks over and tries to shake my hand. As I furiously apologize to everyone for taking up extra time, I shake her hand but don't notice the mess I leave on the table as the remainder of my hot chocolate spills on the surface. My chances of being smooth to Charlyne ruined at the spill of a cup, I shuffle out of there and leave the interview at a moment that scrapes the ceiling of awkwardness. But consider it my audition for the next "quirky comedy.")
Quick Questions with Charlyne Yi and Jake Johnson
Favorite Fruit: CHARLYNE: Mangos JAKE: Watermelon
Worst Job You Ever Had: CHARLYNE: Wal-Mart JAKE: Graveyard shift at a casino
Favorite Movie You've Recently Seen: CHARLYNE: Dog Day Dfternoon JAKE: Scarecrow
Last CD you bought? CHARLYNE: High school…Green Day? "Nimrod"? I only own four CDs. on iTunes? The soundtrack to Becoming Jane JAKE: "Astral Weeks," Van Morrison
If you could be anyone for 24 hours? CHARLYNE: Martin Lawrence JAKE: Abraham Lincoln CHARLYNE: Now I want to change mine. William Wallace! From Braveheart
You want to get torn apart? CHARLYNE: Well, I want to save people. It’s worth it in the end JAKE: She would choose a different 24 hours.
Age of first kiss? CHARLYNE: 18.
Respect. High five! (We slam hands) JAKE: (With a grin) 13! "RESPECT!" (Gives me a high five)