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[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Sleeping With Other People.]
Like most romantic comedies, including When Harry Met Sally, which writer-director Leslye Headland has jokingly compared her new movie to, Sleeping With Other People ends with its two romantic leads finally getting together.
But it takes a while for Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) to reach their happy ending. The two go their separate ways shortly after admitting they love each other “for free,” with Lainey moving to Michigan for med school and Jake embarking on a relationship with his divorced boss, Paula (Amanda Peet). But it takes this time apart, and a restaurant-clearing brawl, to make Jake and Lainey realize that they belong together.
And Sudeikis says he finds the film’s denouement “realistic.”
“I think grand gestures happen all the time. I think what’s nice is that the grand gesture actually happened in the absence of one of the characters and it allowed him to be more honest with himself,” Sudeikis tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The whole premise of Fight Club is to have someone knock the shit out of you to make you feel something, and that’s what my character elicits out of Adam [Scott’s character], is sort of rocking his world and releas[ing] him. Sometimes you get in your own way and your own baggage doesn’t really allow you to jibe with your own intuition. When that happens, it’s something that you think about on your deathbed and movies are kind of a fun place to live out the bold choices that as human beings we’re maybe too afraid to make very often.”
Headland adds that Jake and Lainey have “earned” the film’s ending, explaining that she initially felt that they should be together and her Bachelorette star Kirsten Dunst, who was originally attached to play Lainey, helped her commit to that decision.
“One of the very, very first drafts I showed to Kirsten Dunst,” Headland says. “She was like, ‘We’ve been through so much with them they really deserve to be together. They’ve really earned it.’ And that really stuck with me while writing and making the film … The characters in and of themselves had earned this ending, even if the audience might be split on it. I think that Jake and Lainey really deserve to be together. They worked really hard to become better people and the reward for that kind of self-sacrifice and that kind of self-love is finding somebody that’s right for you….As someone says earlier in the film, ‘Love isn’t a feeling, it’s a decision.’ They’re deciding to be together at the end. It isn’t just that they’re caught up in the romance of it. They really do make the decision to commit to each other despite how scary that might be.”
Headland explains that she didn’t set out to write a rom-com but she created the characters and realized they belonged in such a film and that it was the best genre to tell their story. And her film inspirations for Sleeping With Other People run the gamet from The Graduate and The Apartment to Punch-Drunk Love and Carnal Knowledge.
She was also inspired by her view of Sudeikis in creating the character of Jake.
“I just felt like Jason was really somebody who could talk himself in and out of things,” she says. “I felt very taken with him whenever he talked to me. So I loved the idea of a male character that could talk someone in and out of bed … I don’t know if that’s actually how Jason is, but it’s just what I got inspired by.”
Similarly, Brie ended up being a perfect fit for the character of Lainey, Headland explains.
“Ali, I don’t think I really changed anything for her, she just really embodied that character in a really cool way that I didn’t expect her to,” Headland says. “She’s really, for lack of a better word, a good girl, especially as Trudy on Mad Men and Annie on Community. The studios that we were trying to get interested in the movie or the financiers, they always called [the character] ‘a bad girl, what a bad girl she is.’ I didn’t really see her that way, so Ali actually felt like a really perfect fit for her. I saw her as a very good girl that was actually behaving badly.”
With Adam Scott‘s character of Matthew Sobvechik, Headland wasn’t so much inspired by Scott, whom she worked with on Bachelorette and will probably work with again, she says, as she was inspired by real, seemingly unappealing people she was hung up on.
His look, meanwhile, was taken from aspects of several other film characters, she says.
“I wanted to give him that sort of bored, moneyed look that Mrs. Robinson has in The Graduate. His glasses are based on these glasses that Jack Nicholson wears in The King of Marvin Gardens, that’s the one time that Nicholson played a nerd,” Headland explains. “So I’m trying to think of something that’s nerdy but also really sexy. [American Psycho main character] Patrick Bateman was sort of the idea of sort of a soulless haircut.”
She adds: “It was sort of fun to create a monster based on my own personal experience. He was really cobbled together. Like I really wanted to create somebody very indelible, like somebody that you could point to and say that’s an archetype. That was part of the problem I was having when I was in a relationship with a man like that is there’s no archetype like that in pop culture…I really wanted Sobvechik to be so memorable that the next time you ran into someone that was being cold or cutting you off via texts, you could be like, ‘He’s such a Sobvechik.'”
Sobvechik may be a new archetype but the drug-like influence he has over Lainey is already a familiar feeling for many, as Sudeikis and Brie explain.
The two recall how in one of the first scenes in the movie, after Lainey and Adam Brody‘s character break up, she has a breakdown in the bathroom and is instantly calmed when Sobvechik returns her text to him.
“It’s just a hit of Sobvechik, that ‘Where are you?’ It’s just a text, that gives you that peace of mind,” Sudeikis says. “I know I’ve felt that as a guy in various relationships where it’s like ‘I’m shit, I’m shit.’ Boom. A text from somewhere comes out of the ether that just makes you feel like you’re worth something.”
“It’s just the physical manifestation of the mental thing that’s blocked that she has in her mind that she can’t live without this thing,” Brie adds.
Brie says that filming that scene definitely included discussions of that drug-like influence and notes that all of the shaking and panic attacks Lainey feels around Sobvechik were in the script.
“It’s about the way that she needs this person. It’s become so psychosomatic by the time that she’s had these obsessive feelings for him since college where she’s just always waiting for something to be reciprocated and in a way is always holding her breath for this one guy,” Brie says. “The need for him is just so intense that when she can’t have him it’s overwhelming.”
And it’s this obsession with Sobvechik that Brie argues keeps Lainey from realizing she loves Jake until the “love you for free” scene.
“It’s sort of the first time that she lets herself let go of Sobvechik. She kind of realizes the type of person that he makes her become,” Brie says. “I think it’s a big wake up call for her. … Clearly she’s thought about it because she brings it up then but she’s always had this obstacle of this other guy. … Even when she’s falling in love with Jake, she can’t see it because she’s so clouded by her obsession with Sobvechik.”
For Sudeikis, his role in Sleeping With Other People is the latest in a string of more realistic, everyman characters. But the Saturday Night Live alum doesn’t see any difference between his film work and what he did for the sketch comedy show.
“I’ve always gravitated to doing scenes that were relationship-based. The majority of scenes that I wrote for SNL, they never started from a costume or a wig or an impression or a voice. They came from a premise in my life that I at least attempted to turn into something comedic,” Sudeikis says. “It’s not like I’m trying to do anything different. I don’t have that perspective on it. I’m in the trees over here. It all looks the same to me.”
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