Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson Take the 'Training Wheels' Off in 'Drinking Buddies' (Video)
The actors, starring in Joe Swanberg's latest, describe working without a script as "organized chaos" and say the only requirement for being cast was to love beer.
If there was one common trait among the cast and crew of Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies, it had to be a love of beer.
Asked to name her drink of choice, Olivia Wilde says, "Unfortunately, I like beer."
"Unfortunately," the Irish-American actress says, because "you can only drink a certain amount of beer before you float to the ceiling."
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Wilde stars in Drinking Buddies as the lone lady working in a Chicago brewery alongside Jake Johnson and real-life beau Jason Sudeikis. While Wilde spends her days as a marketer and event planner, Johnson brews. Together, they drink (and they flirt).
The duo, alongside co-stars Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick, quickly built an endearing chemistry both onscreen and off, bringing mumblecore vet Swanberg's ideas to life without any semblance of a script and leaving the filmmaker to shape the story in postproduction.
"It's taking off the training wheels," Wilde tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We've come to describe it as organized chaos because Joe had an outline, we didn't know anything beyond his description of that outline -- I never even got it on paper. He described it to me over the phone, I wrote it on a napkin.
"But then, we dove into it -- and with an open mind -- and we shot probably enough for seven movies and Joe wrote the movie in post by editing it down and carving out the story."
VIDEO: Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick Juggle Boyfriends and Beer in 'Drinking Buddies' Trailer
For both Wilde and Johnson, the finished product came as a pleasant surprise.
"I think it's a really nice movie," says Johnson. "But I also think, on a movie like this, the director really has to know what he wants, and I think you need a certain cast. If one person isn't playing for the whole team, if they're trying to make this be the star performance and their own moment, it doesn't work, because we're writing it as we go."
While casting his film, Swanberg met with his actors via Skype for a chat -- not a formal audition. Johnson believes that the main requirement for being cast was "that we understood beer and loved it," but Swanberg says he was actually looking a bit deeper.
"I just knew I needed to find actors that had a rich life outside of the movies," Swanberg tells THR, noting that all four of his main actors are politically engaged and have rich family lives. "The kind of improv that I do where I'm asking them to contribute a lot and be really conversational, I knew I needed to cast people who could hold up their end of the conversation and have a lot of experience to draw from."
And after 18 days of filming in Chicago, the cast and crew were presented with a craft beer -- brewed by Swanberg, Wilde and Johnson -- to bring home to their families. (Or enjoy on their own.)
Drinking Buddies, which premiered at SXSW earlier this year, is now available on iTunes and VOD. It opens theatrically in New York on Aug. 23 and in Los Angeles on Aug. 30.
For more from the actors, watch the video above. For THR's complete interview with Swanberg, click over to the next page.
The Hollywood Reporter: You interviewed the actors over Skype and took Olivia and Jake to a brewery before filming, but were there any chemistry tests or qualities that you were looking for before you started this project?
Joe Swanberg: There was no chemistry test but there were certainly qualities I was looking for. You always have a hunch and you hope that it's going to play, but I just knew I needed to find actors that had a rich life outside of the movies. [Actors] that were engaged in things, had hobbies and interests that weren't related to themselves and filmmaking. It's the kind of industry that's easy to get wrapped up in your own thing, and both Jake and Olivia, all four of the actors really, they're politically engaged and have rich family lives. They're just interesting, complex people
THR: When you're bringing actors on to a project like this where they're expected to generate all of the dialogue, was there ever any terror on your end? Any last-minute doubts or worries?
Swanberg: My only terrors and last minute doubts are about things on my end, like am I gonna show up and completely freeze in terms of what we need to get done that day? Am I not going to have a good idea about where to place the camera, how to cover something? You know, I knew that these actors were good. It's one of the exciting things about being able to cast actors whom I'm already a fan of their work is that they're the last things I'm nervous about. But, you know, the first scene on the very first day everyone was doing such great stuff and making everybody laugh and coming up with so many great options that I was sort of instantly at ease with how the improv and all that stuff was going to go.
THR: I read that you had a lot of options for titles for this film. Why did you choose Drinking Buddies and can you tell me some of the other options you were throwing around?
Swanberg: I don't remember. I mean we talked about it for -- you know Jake and I especially talked about it for a few months before we shot the movie. I actually can't remember what other names we threw around because we settled on Drinking Buddies pretty early in the process. So by the time we shot the movie I feel like that had been the title for a few months and that I screwed up my memory of any other options. It's a really tricky thing pitching a title. It's sort of the first line of defense in terms of what the world is going to see and kind of get an idea about the movie. Drinking Buddies was exciting for me because it manages to convey a sort of broad comedic tone and also be, like, thematically relevant to the movie in terms of where the characters end up and how that stuff goes. It's interesting to me because I've sort of been getting e-mails and comments from people who are sort of like drawn into the emotional aspect of the film, and the sort of realism of the film and who think that Drinking Buddies is such a broad comedy title and that it should have a more sensitive, realistic title. And then on the flip side of that, the movie's drawing in so many more people because of the title. I think it's an easy thing to see and go ‘Oh yeah, Drinking Buddies with Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson, that sounds great I'll check that out.' Yeah, it's complicated. I always think a lot about my titles.
THR: Olivia has said before that she can't wait to work with you again. Have you talked with her about what's next?
Swanberg: We haven't specifically. I can say that there are several projects that I'm thinking of right now and as I'm thinking of them I'm very secretly imagining Olivia in them. So, I hope we can do something together as soon as next year and sort of keep it going. It's really exciting to work this way because the more comfortable we get with each other and sort of the deeper the trust grows I think the more interesting the roles can be and the more complex the movie can be. I'm excited we've sort of taken the first step with Drinking Buddies. I'm really excited to do another project with her and try and go a layer deeper than that. I want to keep challenging her as an actor and I think she does a good job sort of pushing me and challenging me as a director, and so I'm excited for that to be a collaboration that we can continue for a long time, hopefully.
THR: How long were you filming this project?
Swanberg: We shot it for three six-day weeks, so it was very grueling, 18 shooting days. With six-day weeks it sort of feels like that day off doesn't feel like a day off, it's like just enough recuperation time to dive back into the next week. So it was a very much low-budget independent film, run and gun kind of shoot.
THR: Given the theme of the film, what is your drink of choice? I know you're a big beer drinker.
Swanberg: I am, I am. My beer of choice is the Three Floyds' Zombie Dust, which I think I successfully got the entire crew hooked on. I remember the producers and some of the people from the art and wardrobe department that live in New York and were headed back to New York after the shoot they actually rented a U-Haul just so they could fill it up with Zombie Dust and some other Chicago beers that you can't get in New York, because they didn't want to get back and not be able to have it. There was some real bootlegging of good Midwestern beers, I think.
THR: You also put yourself in the film -- in the scene with the moving truck with Jake.
Swanberg: Yeah, I am; I get in a fight with Jake.
THR: How was that? Did Jake get a little overly enthusiastic about beating you up?
Swanberg: Jake -- here's what I learned, there was no fight choreography or anything like that, it's a low-budget movie, so we just did the first take and sort of tried to see what was going to happened and we ended up doing five or six takes so we could shoot coverage of it, and I walked away from the experience knowing: a) I will never get in a fight with Jake. He's very scrappy and also as a director, it's like a very strange experience to sort of go from behind the camera to very quickly in front of the camera in a very physical fight scene immediately back to the other side of the camera. I had to change clothes [for the scene] and then got back into my regular clothes. I think if I act in my own films again, in a similar capacity, I will put it at the very end of the shoot and make it the last thing I did. But mostly I walked away from that realizing that Jake would kick my ass if we actually got into a fight. I was saved by the fact that I could call "cut." I was the one who was able to call "cut" so, saved by the bell.
THR: This film is a step in a new direction for you. It's a bigger budget than what you've done in the past, a little more glossy. I know you've also made another film since this one, but what is your next step?
Swanberg: It's interesting, I'm in a place right now where I'm really open to a lot of projects that I previously hadn't been. I'm trying to really say yes to things and sort of open up the possibilities of what might be next. So, I'm reading a lot of scripts that other people have written, which is something I've never done before, and I'm also pitching a few new projects, so you know, for the first time in the 10 years that I've been making movies I can honestly say I don't know what I'm going to do next. Usually I'm rolling from one thing to the next, but right now there's two or three things that may be the next one, and I'm enjoying Drinking Buddies and anxiously awaiting the knowledge of which thing will come together.