Tribeca: Aubrey Plaza, Max Greenfield Talk Breaking Out of TV Roles for 'About Alex'
The indie drama About Alex features a number of well-known TV actors, including Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza, New Girl's Max Greenfield and Parenthood's Jason Ritter.
The movie's writer-director, Jesse Zwick, who makes his feature film debut with the project, also has a TV background, not only writing for Parenthood but also being the son of legendary producer Ed Zwick (Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, Once and Again).
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The elder Zwick executive produced the project, but his writer-director son is quick to clarify his dad's involvement, noting that while he didn't provide any of the film's funding, he did offer guidance throughout the process.
He also helped get the film's primary producer, Adam Saunders, on board.
"I met Ed through our last movie; he sort of mentored us," Saunders explains to The Hollywood Reporter. "And he sent me the script and asked my opinion of it, and I said, 'It's amazing, and you have to let me produce it.' He said, 'It's not my decision; it's Jesse's, so he introduced me to Jesse, and I was lucky enough to have Jesse choose me to produce it."
The Big Chill-like film focuses on a group of college friends who reunite for a weekend away after drifting apart following graduation.
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"It was inspired, in certain ways, by a real group of college friends that I had," Jesse Zwick tells THR. "We've tried throughout the years to stay in touch with each other, but it grows more difficult as we all get older and take jobs and have girlfriends and boyfriends and sort of move on with our lives, so we've tried mightily to maintain those bonds. And it was a story about a group of people who are sort of entering adulthood and maybe their sort of last throes of adolescence, asking themselves what they all still mean to each other."
Saunders says it was the incorporation of social media into that story that hooked him.
"I hadn't seen a movie that really captured this concept of how social media has changed our friendships and that kind of thing," he says. "I hadn't seen that kind of thing done so articulately before. I just felt really passionately about this movie. It's a really beautiful, timely piece."
Jesse Zwick, who explains that he was able to learn by observing the behind-the-scenes process on his father's sets, also says that his experience writing for Parenthood helped him with the ensemble and dramedy qualities of About Alex.
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Many of the film's stars say that it was the involvement of other actors in the cast that made them want to sign on and some, such as Parks and Recreation's Plaza, liked the opportunity it provided to break out of their well-known TV roles.
"Being on TV is a totally different thing than doing independent films," Plaza tells THR. "So for me it's just helpful to break out of doing TV and just do something that's challenging in different ways."
Plaza adds that she also liked that her role in About Alex was much closer to who she really is.
"I really loved the character because she was actually my age and going through things that I can relate to, which is rare," she says. "I usually play characters that are a lot younger than me, so I really loved the idea that I could actually play someone that was late 20s and at that time in her life when she's trying to re-evaluate things and figure out what she wants. Everyone goes through that when they turn 30."
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Greenfield also says it was helpful to "shed" his New Girl character for a bit, but he found that the skills he's picked up from working on the hit Fox comedy helped him with this film.
"You're acting week in and week out, you're picking up different techniques, you're picking up different things that you learned over a long period of time so that when you get to do a movie like this that's so different, you get to go, 'Well what if I applied some of the stuff that I learned here to this?' A nd I feel like a lot of those things served me well in this film," Greenfield tells THR.
Ritter adds that he felt the film's comedy vets were able to draw on their improvisational experience.
"In an independent movie, they're able to use that talent for drama and have it be as spontaneous and have them put in moments of lightness," he said. "But I also think that people who work in TV are used to a really fast pace, getting a lot of pages done a day, coming to work memorized and prepared. So you had a whole group of people who came to work every day ready to work and had done their homework."