'Home Again's' Pico Alexander on Role in Reese Witherspoon's Character's Journey
The relative newcomer plays the love interest for Witherspoon's Alice in the rom-com directed by Nancy Meyers' daughter, Hallie Meyers-Shyer.
[Warning: The following story contains spoilers from Home Again.]
Actor Pico Alexander only had a few other credits to his name before playing Reese Witherspoon's character's love interest in the romantic comedy Home Again. And when he was being considered for the part, Alexander was traveling along the Mediterranean, spending time with family while Skype-ing with Witherspoon and writer-director Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the daughter of Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give, It's Complicated, The Intern) and Charles Shyer (Father of the Bride).
He recalls, "There was definitely this moment where I think they were like, 'Who is this kid? Why is he going to Africa when he could come to L.A. to do a chemistry read with Reese Witherspoon?'"
But he got the part, playing Harry, one of three aspiring filmmakers — the other two played by Jon Rudnitsky and Nat Wolff — who end up moving in with Witherspoon's Alice. Harry quickly embarks on a steamy romance with Alice, a newly separated mother of two. And while their affair is short-lived, with Alice breaking it off after he essentially stands her up at a dinner party, it helps both of them move forward and grow, Alexander says.
The young actor, whose previous credits include Netflix's Brad Pitt-starrer War Machine, J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year and James Schamus' Indignation, reflects on what motivates his character's relationship-ending decision to keep having drinks with a hot-shot producer instead of leaving to meet Alice, the "unconventional family" created at the end of the film, how realistic the movie's industry-centric meetings with agents and producers seemed to him and more.
How did you get involved with this film?
I was actually out of town. It was sort of the first time in my life that I had put my acting career on the back burner. I left the country. I went to Poland to take care of my grandfather and an uncle of mine. I just felt like I wanted to go and get to know my family a little bit better—most of them live in Poland. I told my agents that I'd keep doing the self-tape thing every so often. I taped for this in Poland. I didn't really take the tape particularly seriously. I did [the audition] with this friend of mine — a Polish girl who spoke some English. We filmed it on my iPhone, did a couple of takes, sent it in and then I was in Spain. I had gone to Spain with a cousin of mine to see his girlfriend, and we all decided to rent a car and take a trip on the Mediterranean. I ended up getting a call from my agents that Hallie Meyers-Shyer wanted to Skype with me while I was on the road, and luckily I had WiFi, so I Skyped with her while I was on this beautiful cliffside overlooking the Mediterranean with a castle next to me. She wanted to see if I wanted to fly out to do a chemistry read with Reese Witherspoon but I told my agents that I couldn't because I had bought tickets to take a boat to Tangier the next day. So I ended up doing a chemistry read with Reese at a cafe with really shoddy WiFi, and then we ended up moving the official chemistry read a week down the line and I came out to L.A. for that. To be honest with you I never really thought that I was going to get the part at all. It was always just, "Let's see how far I can take it." I was really excited to meet Hallie, and I was really excited to meet Nancy [Meyers] and then to work with Reese, even if it's just through Skype, and even coming out here. I was like, "How often do I get to have a day where I work with Reese Witherspoon?" I just never really thought I was the one.
There's a significant moment in Harry and Alice's relationship where she invites him to a dinner party and he's getting drinks with Reid Scott's producer character, Justin Miller. The drinks end up going late and Harry doesn't leave to meet Alice at the dinner party. Why does Harry do that?
I don't think that Harry thinks that [his decision to not meet up with Alice] has as much gravity as it actually does. I think, in the moment, he just thinks that it's less serious and he's sort of updating her through these texts, and he had told her beforehand that he had this big opportunity to meet with this producer and that it seems like he's going to give [Harry and the boys financing to make their movie]. I think Harry just thinks that she'll understand that this is a huge opportunity for him in terms of his career and in terms of getting this movie up and running with the boys. For most of the film, Harry sort of behaves haphazardly. There's that lovely scene between Alice and George (Rudnitsky) when he picks her up from a date when she says, "Men can just do, and we have to think about the consequences." And I think she's really talking about Harry in that way. This guy just stumbled in. He hooks up with her, he finds out that she's a mom, he has no problem moving into her house and making another move on her within a week of living there. He doesn't really think about the fact that she's recently separated and that she's got these two daughters and that they need some stability in their lives. He just sort of behaves and is a little bit self-absorbed and a little bit selfish and I think that that all comes crashing down in that scene. He realizes how much it really hurt her. He sees the effect of his actions on her, and he realizes that he has been so mistaken. Because he had a completely separate experience from what she was dealing with.
Do you think he thought their relationship was more casual than she did?
His whole life at this point is casual. He doesn't have anybody that's depending on him. He has no kids that he has to raise. He has no potential divorce that he needs to decide to file. He's living well. Everything's easy for him at this moment. He's got these two friends who've written this script. They're sort of successful at this juncture in L.A. They get to meet with all of these people. And I think everything is just casual and easy for him until he realizes what the consequences really are and how two different people in the same situation are having two different experiences. For Alice, while on its own, [what Harry did] may not have been the most reprehensible of actions, it was symbolic of a much deeper problem with their relationship and an indicator to her of things to come, which is why she feels the need to end it. Because, to him, he's like, "What do you mean, don't let the one stupid thing that I did get in the way of what's happening here?" … In Home Again, nothing really materializes for any of these characters in terms of their careers or in the material world. The boys don't necessarily get their financing, Alice doesn't get some big interior decorating job. The shift is each of them has their own personal journey, and they go through their own personal growth. What happens with Harry is he realizes that he has to look at things through a bit of a different light and he has to sort of reevaluate his own experience and think more about how other people are going to take in what he does.
Alice ends up somewhat alone in the sense that she doesn't get back together with her husband and she doesn't end up with Harry. What role does Harry play for Alice as she's dealing with this separation?
In a way Alice ends up alone, but I feel like it's the opposite. That last scene at the dinner table—we have formed this unconventional family and I like that. I like that the movie ends in a way where she hasn't ended up with anyone in the conventional sense and yet her family has now grown. Those people at that table — Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen, the three boys, the two daughters — we are this sort of unconventional group of people that are really close with one another and really care. Who knows what happens after the film, but I think this is more important and she is sort of less alone because she has this stability and this unconventional family. I feel like Harry is like the primer, the catalyst, the wake-up call, because they really do sort of fall for one another in a way and let themselves have these feelings for this short amount of time and I think we can reexamine what that casual hook-up really means, that it can be something deeper even though it doesn't last for a long amount of time. Harry was exactly what Alice needed in that moment, and Alice was exactly what Harry needed in that moment for them to become better human beings down the line and more understanding of other people.
How much of what happens in the guys' meetings with their agents and producers felt real to you as an actor in Hollywood?
I haven't had those pitch meetings — like I've never been a director or a producer in those meetings. The meeting with the agent was fantastic … It does seem realistic. It seems like a bit of a caricature of a real experience, like maybe it's a little amplified — maybe it's not quite as drastic as we see in the film — these agents and these producers and what not. But it's real. Those are definitely real things that someone has said: "I really like awards movies. I'd like to make a really good movie." That is absolutely something that someone has said. Or, in terms of giving you notes, I think this is a tough town in that there are always so many cooks in the kitchen for every project. Everybody's got their two cents. The fact is you're never going to please everybody, and what I think is important is that you not dilute the content. It's interesting for the boys. They want to make their film, but they also don't want to compromise and they don't want to sell out. How do you get the money you need without compromising what made you write your film in the first place?
What's next for you?
At the moment I'm in rehearsals for a play in the city called The Portuguese Kid. It's a new play, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley. So that's me until about Dec. 17 or so, and I'm really excited to do that. It's a really lovely play. It's really funny. I have a great character. I get to work with Jason Alexander. And it's just work—it's really, really hard, good work. And after that I would like to keep making movies. I'd like to meet some like-minded individuals, who I can jam with and have a great dialogue with and make movies with. Who knows, maybe down the line make some movies of my own.