Like Crazy starts with a cute British girl named Anna (Felicity Jones) sneaking a note under the windshield wiper of Jacob (Anton Yelchin), a quiet American boy and her fellow college senior. The note leads to a date which leads to a passionate summer romance. But Anna's overstayed her visa, and when she finally pops back to England for a brief visit, U.S. Customs won't let her back into the States. What follows is a several year struggle: they stick together, they split up, they come crashing back like electrons that just can't resist. Drake Doremus' romance is at once totally young and tragically mature—and that it springs from his own long distance love has made this one wild year. Doremus has been carrying his past with him even as his career kicked into high gear, starting when Like Crazy bowed at Sundance, won two Jury prizes and was immediately snatched up by Paramount Vantage. After all this drama, we ask the young director what he's learned about love—and why he wanted his gorgeous leads to have less chemistry.
I thought it was interesting that this is about an American boy and a British girl. I can almost see two kids like that forget that the same rules apply to them as they would for a romance between an American and somebody from India.
For sure. I think that was a very conscious effort in a way to make them seem the same, but they're not. What's so unfortunate and, in some ways, and tragic about the immigration laws in this country is that it doesn't matter if you have an accent or not, it doesn't matter where you grew up, where you spend time. They don't discriminate—it's almost like math, it's like robots. Whatever it says on a piece of paper is what it says and that's all that matters. No matter how many commonalities you share, it doesn't matter.
And you have to make a drama where what's keeping them apart isn't family or a bully or an ex-boyfriend-it's a faceless bureaucracy.
Yeah, totally. I feel like the antagonist in this film is love. It's not a person or a government or anything. It's really their infatuation with each other drives them to make a decision that turns into the conflict of the film, so in a way their feelings for each other and love is the antagonist in the film.
It reminded me almost of Romeo and Juliet where it's about two young kids who created their own problem by not listening to wiser people.
Absolutely. I feel like that's a point that I really wanted to make about young love. It forces you to do things that are illogical because you don't have anything to base it against. The more you live life, the more you understand the logical side of love and the logical side of a relationship. Certainly when I was that age and that young, I experienced a lot of possibly poor decision-making based on having really intense feelings for somebody, and that's certainly what I wanted to explore personally with the film.
What was it like kind of tapping back into that for such a long period of time? Because when I think about my horrible decisions, it's embarrassing and I want to think of something else as fast as I can.
Yeah. It is embarrassing at times. It is painful, but hopefully that's what you do as an artist or as a filmmaker: you try to tap into something real and true and no matter how painful it may be, it's part of you and it's something that made you into the person you are today. So I'm proud of a lot of the things that I've been through, and I'm really proud of the film because I feel like it comes from a person trying to be honest and trying to just portray what he's feeling, and it's nothing more than that. I'm not trying to make a film that's hiding anything. I'm trying to make a film that's honest.
Does this mean you might have ex-girlfriends who think this movie is about them?
[Laughs] Possibly. You know, I mean, it's certainly an amalgamation of a lot of different things and feelings. I've been in a long distance relationship, and so has my co-writer Ben York Jones, and Anton and Felicity brought their own things into it. What we learned pretty quickly into the course of making this film was that so many people on the crew and so many people making the film really related to what was going on. It was a really universal story. When we were making the film, we really were making the same film because we've all been through something similar.
It feels like a very Hollywood story because when you make a film, you're gone and you don't have control over your own schedule or hours—it's almost like being taken away or separated by an ocean.
Absolutely, and I think that's the thing in common that people on the film really related to more than anything. They're constantly on the road. And I've heard Anton talk about it as well. I think what he can relate to the most about Jacob is that the women that he's dated in his life, he's had a hard time staying connected with. That's certainly something that an actor can relate to.
You chose Anton for the film first and then put him together with different actresses to test their chemistry. That process sounds awkwardly godlike.
Yeah. You just stance a stance on your gut, really. I just sort of saw Anton and Felicity together in my head, and I saw him perfectly on film and I saw her perfectly on her film that she sent in. I was just kind of thinking in my head, "Wait a minute—this is going to work." And I just felt it so I went for it. But it was certainly a gut decision. It was on no basis of anything other than hoping that they would have chemistry.
Do you think you can make chemistry?
I think so, but I also think that really the camera doesn't lie. At the end of the day if it hadn't been there I think the camera would've revealed it. And in such an intimate environment you would've been able to see the strings being pulled and you would've been able to see sort of the effort going into trying to fake or make it be chemical. But I almost felt like I didn't want them to try to have chemistry. I wanted it to happen naturally. So much of the rehearsal process was going through exercises having discussions of what would happen naturally, because the last thing I wanted to do was forced this sort of boundless energy between the two of them. It really needed to come organically.
That's true, like, it can really be played almost over the top and then it would seem less believable,
Oh, totally. I mean, I almost wanted them to fight it. That's what's interesting in the film. The film really in a way is not about two people trying to make something work. This film is about two people trying to get over each other, and what it feels like to be unable to move on because you're so stuck on somebody. There's a sort of inner subtextual fight that I really wanted to portray. So in a way, if they didn't have it, I didn't want them to fake it because if they had it, we could fight it and it could be so dynamic to watch them fight this actual, natural chemistry that they would develop over the course of rehearsal.
That leads to this idea in your film that some people might see as controversial—that you can be in love with somebody, but still date other people and even sleep with other people, which is a line most movies don't cross.
The grayness. I don't know if it's because of technology or the way we live our lives nowadays, but yeah, it's really difficult. I mean, when you're with somebody but you're not really with them, where is the line? There's a scene in the movie where they talk about seeing other people when they're not together, and it's so heartbreaking because at the end of the day, you're young and you're growing up and you're living your life and it's really hard to say, "I'm not gonna see this person for six months and I'm not gonna be with anybody else." You know, even if you're madly in love with somebody, the temptations and the fact that you're growing up in a different city really sort of start to take hold and you start to second guess things, and that's where the grayness comes in. I really wanted to make a film about the grayness. With Jennifer Lawrence's character and Charlie Bewley's character, it's just so gray. It's never defined what's fully on or what's fully off on purpose, because that's sort of an experience that I really wanted to portray.
Have you seen different reactions from people in different age brackets? Like, do older people just think "stupid" kids or almost root against them because they're so young, it seems implausible that it should work out?
I would think so but surprisingly sitting in with older audiences, people in their fifties and sixties, it's a much more nostalgic reaction I've been getting—which is them looking back on their life and remembering making decisions like that, remembering falling in love like that. It's very nostalgic for them. And the people who are experiencing it now are really emotional about it because it's so fresh and raw. And younger kids—high school kids—I feel like they long to feel this kind of love. They're interested in the possibility of it. So really, surprisingly, younger people and older people are responding in very different ways, but still having a connection to what's going on in the story.
That's interesting because now that you say that, it's the people from the older generation who actually did marry the people they were in love at 22. People from our middle generation are, like, "Are you crazy? Don't get married until you're 30."
You got it! So true. It was so normal to get married in your early 20s. Absolutely.
You taught high school. Did that keep you in touch with the way young people talk, the way they think. Not that you're old at all at 28, but people forget really fast.
No, I feel old, especially since being around high school kids last year. I was broke and I was teaching film at a performance arts high school in Orange County and I taught two semesters. I had this class of sophomores and then they became juniors. They were incredible. And they taught me so much about filmmaking really in a way because they were so eager and interested to learn. And what was so fascinating is I learned and took so much out of the process I didn't think I was gonna take out. I ended up doing a bunch of test screenings of Like Crazy for them and it was amazing to hear their comments and hear how insightful they were about the story and about love and about relationships. It really helped me, so it was a good experience and they're great kids—I still keep in touch with some of them. They do make me feel young, and I love that.
Growing up 10, 15 years after we did gives this generation such a different perspective on long distance communication. I'm class of '97, and when I went to college, my boyfriend who lived seven hours away had to write me letters. Here, he's in LA, she's in London and they can send instant text messages.
Wow. Wow. Yeah. [Laughs] I had that experience at a certain point, I mean, when I was dating someone from overseas, it was 2004 to 2005. We were writing each other letters and we emailed, but it certainly wasn't texting and it certainly wasn't Skype. It's getting easier and easier to trick yourself into feeling connected to somebody. But even if you're Skyping, you're still not there. So frustrating, these sort of surrogates that pop up and seem to make distance easier, but distance is distance and it'll never change. Technology changes but love stays the same. That's sort of one of the points I wanted to make with the film, as well.
It's true, and when you see her get texts from him in England, there's something so mundane about it, she's almost annoyed.
Yeah, totally. It's annoying. Absolutely.
So do you think that there's anything they could have done right?
Yeah. If they had sort of followed the rules and she'd left and then come back, I think that would've given them a better chance, but at the same time, the relationship is gonna run its course irrespective of what decision they make. They grow up and they mature, the relationship will become whatever it's supposed to become. I really do believe that everything happens for a reason. With these characters, that's the case.
So when you're a young filmmaker and you put a story on the screen that has a lot of your own personal history, do you get into awkward conversations with your new girlfriends? Do they know too much about you?
It's been very weird dating this year. Thank you for bringing it up. [Laughs] It's been unbelievably weird, yes. I've dated a few women this year and it's been-yeah, it's been hard. I'm certainly still sort of in this movie and this story, and I'm constantly talking to press about it and doing Q&As. It's very difficult to sort of start something new.
You vowed to make a movie a year. How's that going? How's your energy level?
My energy level—it's good, it's good. If the movie wasn't being well received, I think it would be a little bit lower because it's exhausting. But one thing that's keeping me going is that people want me to make movies and people are encouraging me to make movies and share my thoughts and feelings through my films, so that is very much pushing me forward. It's exciting to see the process.
It makes sense. I feel like this film, you could flip it around like a coin and see their romance really cynically. Cards on the table: are you a romantic or cynic?
I'm a romantic. I mean, I feel like any sort of cynical elements of the film are more—I'm trying to convey more truth than cynicism. But at the same time, I feel like I'm still very romantic and optimistic and excited about the idea of love: and having it, finding it, losing it, maintaining it—all those ideas are so very in me and things I'm passionate about in my life and in my work.