Opening in limited release this weekend is director Jason Reitman’s (Up in the Air) great new movie, Young Adult. Written by Diablo Cody (Juno), the film centers on an alcoholic young adult novelist (Charlize Theron) who ventures back to her hometown in order to pursue her now-married high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson). Patton Oswalt co-stars as Theron’s former classmate. While Young Adult could have easily taken the familiar steps of “bad person goes home and turns everything around”, I’m happy to report Reitman and Cody have crafted a unique movie that should not be missed. It’s definitely one of my favorites of the year and I’m pretty sure Theron is going to get a nomination for her portrayal of Mavis Gary. Watch the trailer here and here’s some clips.
Anyway, I recently got to attend a press conference in New York City with Theron, Oswalt, Cody. They talked about how the project came together, the idea of going against what we normally see on movie screens, the soundtrack and music from the ’90s, their own high school experiences, actors and directors they really admire, the rehearsal process, and so much more. Hit the jump to check it out.
Cody: Well I’ve been an avid consumer of young adult literature since I was one, and I think some people leave that stuff behind when they become old adults, but I never did. I was always interested in the fantasy world created in those novels. I think that’s the kind of thing we see reflected in pop culture more now than ever with reality shows, and these weird fully made up people living these fake fairytale lives on camera. I think the idea of somebody whose priorities were completely screwed up, who wanted to live in that world, even though it’s completely unattainable, that was intriguing to me.
Did you talk to the young adult writer when you decided to prepare for this, and also what kind of feedback have you gotten?
Theron: Actually I didn’t talk to anybody, which is probably pretty lazy of me, but the feedback I’ve gotten has been really interesting. I actually, since we’ve started showing the film, I’ve heard from a couple of people, who are not only young adult writers, but who are in the position that Davis is in, where they are writing books that are credited to another person or to a creator, and they were very enthusiastic about the movie. They said I nailed it, which felt good.
Any (France scene word’s) kind of?
Theron: I’m kind of working the (France) scene right now. I read the Sweet Valley High movie that is currently progressing toward production I hope. I was kind of inspired by that world, the idea of anonymity behind art.
Oswalt: You did like a hard R Sweet Valley too, which I thought was very courageous.
This character, in the press that I read before I saw the movie kept talking about what an unsympathetic character she was. I was surprised, because she seems to be an alcoholic, delusional, mental ill person, who’s kind of a loser that you feel sorry for rather than hate. Can you talk about how you see her, and the idea of going against the type of this kind of thing?
Theron: First of all nice to see you again. Second of all thanks for insulting me. Third of all, I’ve never been a fan of labels. I think its very easy to kind of look at somebody and just kind of throw a label on them ‘They’re crazy.’ I’m not a fan of justifying bad behavior or justifying why people are the way they are. I think that’s a cop out. I don’t have a lot of empathy for that. I thought the things she did were pretty despicable, but not to the point that I was disgusted by her. I never had a hard time liking her. I would love to go and have a beer with her. Never let her hang out wit my boyfriend, but I would love to hang out with her. I think she’s entertaining about all her stuff. Some people can have all the things that she kind of has and just be really annoying and suck the air out of a room, and in a way she kind of does that, but it’s a funny way of sucking the air out of a room. I found her fascinating. All I know is what I liked when I read the script, was the idea of a woman dealing with very common mid to late thirty issues that women can really relate to, but because of how she wants her life, is dealing with them the way a sixteen year old would deal with them. I thought that was really fascinating. She says things like, ‘Don’t you know love conquers all?’ It’s the typical sixteen-year-old saying. Here she is thirty-seven trying to get her life together, and she just doesn’t have the tools to do it. I don’t try to kind of go for the overly sympathetic. I don’t really like sympathy; I don’t like it for myself. Sometimes sympathy you feel like, you’re kind of trying to victimize someone. Maybe it’s my own shit that I have to deal with. I think more than anything, people just want to be understood.
Do you see this as a sign of progress for women in entertainment? Do you see this as a step up or a step back?
Cody: I’m certainly not going to call it a step back, because that would be the opposite of what I’m trying to do as a writer, and also as a female. It’s funny when people talk about Bridesmaids they always talk about ‘Oh we’re seeing raunchy women,’ and I say, ‘No we’re seeing women.’ That’s what feels fresh about this. You’re actually seeing women in funny complicated situations, where you would normally see male characters. I don’t really see it as women behaving badly, but just as seeing more multi-faceted characters, and I hope there will be more of that. I’m enjoying it.
Oswalt: If I could just add to what you said though, you have finally made progress as a group, if you can be depicted as the full spectrum. Usually any kind of subgroup in a movie goes from being made fun of and victimized, then it swings to far the other way, where they’re always amazing and positive, which is just dehumanizing. Then finally a single individual can be a hero, and funny, and an asshole, just like we all are every second of the day, so that’s definitely progress too.
Theron: I talked a lot about this when I did Monster. I think people get really freaked out when they see what Diablo just really beautifully articulated. She’s a real woman, conflicted. I think women are almost way more conflicted than men. I think we come from a society where we are very comfortable with the Madonna-whore complex. We are either really good hookers, or really good mothers, but we’re not bad hookers, and we’re not bad mothers. We are nothing in between, and I think it’s refreshing to see. I grew up on cinema where guys got to do that. Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman and De Niro got to play all those characters that I saw myself in, those kinds of struggles and the lurky dark, and it’s very rare to kind of see women. But I think we are, I think we are getting a chance to kind of play those kind of honest characters. Also when people comment, ‘Oh it’s so brave,’ it really isn’t. It’s just refreshing, and it’s so great as an actor to get the opportunity to do something that’s incredibly truthful. It’s been really nice.
What would an Oscar nomination be to you for this? There’s a lot of talk about that. Do you think it’s ever good to look up an old love for just a vessel?
Theron: You’re first question, I can’t even think about anything like that. I know it sounds unbelievably cliché, but I haven’t worked in three years, and to have the opportunity to come back and do something like this with Pat, Diabo, and Jason, who I really wanted to work with in this kind of material. To see people respond to it has been the greatest gift. So I can’t really think anything beyond that. It’s just been really nice to have people come up to me, and have these little tiny anecdotes of what they connected with in the movie. The movie kind of puts them in a ‘Mavis Mood,’ so they feel really free to say things like Mavis, which is so endearing and I love it so much. I just feel like that proves that we all set out to do the thing we wanted to do and we succeeded in that. That is really the greatest gift for me, plus I have an Oscar. The other thing I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing to call up an old love. I have not done that. I don’t know. Not if they’re married with a newborn baby right?
Diablo you’ve been writing characters who have a very youthful attitude. These are from their high school years, and I was wondering, where do you listen to music, and if you could compile a list of songs from high school, what would it be?
Cody: This movie is the high school mix tape. That’s what was so fun about it. Jason and I are the same age, so we got to sit down and say, ‘Do you remember this one; do you remember that one?’ When the characters enter a space in this movie, a lot of the time there’s a (musak) thing and it’s almost always a song from the 90s, which was Jason’s wink at the genre. In fact I was just thinking about that teenage fan club song that Mavis is totally obsessed with, and listens to in her car. That was probably my favorite song when I was nineteen or twenty and I was college radio DJ, and I would just play it constantly. Plus it’s like six minutes long, so you could go to the bathroom, which is very important when you’re a DJ. Where do I listen to music, pretty much everywhere, like everyone else?
Oswalt: I remember when I read the script, and she described not just the song, you’d actually describe that specific yellow cassette tapes. The geometric thing, which I’ve made so many things. I don’t know if anybody knows what I’m talking about. I’ve made so many mix-tapes for so many failed relationships. At my high school a mix-tape for me would just be the Ringo Man Soundtrack, because that is such a mix-tape for safe suburban rebellion, and also for someone like me who was ten years behind punk, and I got to spend the summer of 84 letting people in on, ‘You’ve got to listen to these punk bands.’ They’re like ‘We know its bound around since 79,’ and I’m like, ‘No you don’t know man. There’s this band called Black Flag,’ ‘Yeah we know man, they’ve already broken up,’ ‘No listen.’ That was my high school experience, was being ten years behind everything. That’s my mix-tape right there.
As you were creating this, writing it and getting it passed the powers, and actors you were considering the roles, and dealing with things from agents and managers, I know you probably had other obstacles.
Cody: They’re not thrilled when you hand one like this in.
Cody: I really don’t think this film would’ve come into existence if it weren’t for the combined power of Jason Reitman and Charlize. On my own it would’ve been a no go. It’s a challenging movie; it’s a small movie. I feel like there has been this pressure for me to write a big romantic comedy, basically since I rolled into town. I try, and it just doesn’t seem to be in my skill set. I write small and weird. I did sense some resistance, but at the same I’ve been fortunate enough to work with people who believe in me. Then when Jason gave the material his vote of confidence that meant a lot, because is very selective about his material, and the guy has never made movie that’s less than great in my opinion. So suddenly we had a little more firepower.
Your character plays this very beautiful popular girl in high school, and I wanted to ask you what type of high school student you were. Did you experience mean girls in high school?
Theron: I was pretty much a mess out of primary school. I really experienced a lot more of that stuff from the ages of seven to twelve, where there was a really popular girl at my school, and I was obsessed with her, like you’d go to jail for that stuff today. I’m so embarrassed to say this, but I was in tears one day, because I couldn’t sit next to her. Oh I have issues. Then three weeks ago, I was in London, I’m shooting a film there, and I was in a fitting, and this girl goes, ‘Oh I know Charlene,’ and it was the girl that fucked me up in primary school.
Oswalt: Who’s now mummified in your basement.
Theron: Who now lives kind of a sad life. But I kind of got that out of my system, so by the time I went to high school I was kind of broken in and more immune to all of that stuff. I wasn’t really in the popular crowd. I went to art school. I was kind of obsessed with ballet. I wore really nerdy glasses. I was blind as could be, and boys don’t really like big nerdy glasses. Not so much. I didn’t have any boyfriends, but I had a massive crush on this guy, who this interviewer that just did a story on me for ‘Vogue’ actually found, and he was all like, ‘Yeah tell her the crush was mutual.’ Fuck that. It was not mutual, and he was like, ‘Oh I remember she wore those glasses.’
Oswalt: What was the guy’s name?
Theron: I can’t do it. This guy is going to get hunted down. No I can’t do it.
It’s in ‘Vogue.’
Oswalt: Oh is it in ‘Vogue?’ I have a subscription that’s waiting at my house right now. It’s my Bible people; I mean look at how I’m dressed.
Which is an actor or director who’s work you really admire, and when you go back to watch, you are just constantly amazed at their work?
Theron: Jason Reitman. I mean I really — I don’t know how the gods kind of worked it out, that I ran into him at the time that I did, and that Diablo had sent him this script at the time that she did. He read it, and kind of responded and thought of me. Then we kept running into each other. I’d never seen the guy in my life in L.A. and then all of a sudden everywhere I went I saw him. It was really bizarre. I’ve seen all of his movies, loved all of his movies, but Up in the Air really struck a cord with me. I was secretly somewhat obsessed, and it was within a six-month period. I love Christopher Buckley’s Thank You for Smoking. I love what he did with that adaptation. I don’t know I just really like his work. I think some people emotionally tap into things the same way you do, and Jason taps in emotionally the same way I do. That’s all I think of right now fresh off my mind. A very creative answer wasn’t it? Him and Fellini, to make me sound smarter.
Oswalt: You think Fellini’s a form of pasta don’t you? It’s weird and this is cyclical thing for me, but I’m on this weird Michael Powell kick again. Every few years I go back and just get immersed in his movies. I just watched Black Narcissus again and The Red Shoes, and Colonel Blimp. Now I’m starting to realizing just through my behavior of how I watch movies, that he’s the guy that I didn’t realize I was so obsessed with all these years. That’s the guy I just keep going back to. I can’t help it.
Cody: I know a lot of people feel this way, so it’s not the most original answer. I’m the most insane unrepentant Paul Thomas Anderson fan girl. I’ve been watching actually Punch Drunk Love a lot lately. I really love that movie. To express that kind of truth in a film is to me so amazing. Even late last night I was watching this old video he directed for Fiona Apple and I was like I couldn’t even make a feature film as powerful as this three minute video. I just think he is awesome.
Oswalt: I love the beginning of Magnolia, the thing about the dealer. That scene is genius. Brilliantly acted.
Your character, Charlize, needs help in the film. Is this a common scenario? Are there a lot of people walking around, who need help, but people are afraid to confront them you think?
Theron: Yes I am the expert on this. I don’t know how to answer that. What I like about Diablo’s writing is that there’s the subtle little hints that she’s almost a lost cause. Even her friend, Vicki, wants to help her, but she’s like, ‘Yeah, we got out. I can’t reason with you, you’re a thirty-seven year old loser.’ I don’t know. Jason and I did not spend a lot of time talking about what her issues were, and I loved that. I find that that stuff can sometimes cloud just the pureness of a person being a person. We never really talked about is she crazy, or does she need help. It’s obvious that she’s delusional completely. But I didn’t want to focus too much on whether she should do four hours of therapy or two hours of therapy or what kind of medications she should be on. She’s just a beautiful car wreck. There’s no cure for that.
How did you spend the last couple years? Are you looking for scripts? Are you taking it easy?
Theron: On my couch. Potato chips. Unemployed. No it sounds like it was like that, but I was getting ready to do ‘Fury Road’ with George Miller in Australia. Initially I passed on this, because when Jason first came to me I was packing and going to Australia to start production on ‘Fury Road,’ which was a year shoot. I was in Australia for two weeks, and they pushed the film, and I came back, and Jason called me up and said, ‘Let’s do this in a month.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’ But I was waiting for that film to happen, and I had other things in production; I have a production company. I was developing TV shows and film, and working with great people. Creatively I was very satisfied. I was working with people like David Fincher and Lily Scott. So creatively I wasn’t feeling like I wasn’t doing anything, I just wasn’t in front of the camera.
You had mentioned that you always wanted to write your big romantic comedy, but how frustrating is it for you when they canceled a TV series that was so cool and wonderful?
Cody: That’s really kind of you to say, thank you. You know it was one of those things, that wasn’t that shocking, because we never really had the audience that we wanted in terms of numbers. So I honestly was really grateful that we survived as long as we did, and really grateful to Showtime, that they would support something that was that offbeat and interesting. It was some of the most satisfying work that I’ve done, but you also have to understand, when you’re dealing in the realm of small and weird, things don’t always survive. So you just appreciate them as long as you can, and treasure the experience I guess.
What do you miss?
Cody: I don’t even know. Sometimes I think about the mythical fourth or fifth season and where it would’ve gone. I think we still had a lot of stories to tell, but I think it wrapped up nicely, considering we didn’t know that was going to be the last episode.
Charlize and Patton, your scenes together were so relaxed and so honest and real. Was there a lot of prep time? Did you do a lot of rehearsal?
Theron: A lot of alcohol.
Oswalt: We call it acting juice. We kind of got along right at the first table read. We were teasing each other, there was just something.
Theron: Yeah I don’t like rehearsal, and Jason doesn’t like rehearsal either. I hate table reads. I hate anything where you have to say the words out loud.
Theron: So it was a huge problem. Then Jason, he had done two table reads at his house previously, and then he said, ‘Just come and do this,’ and I was like, ‘God dammit Jason, I might break out in hives and I hate this.’ Jason was like, ‘No just read it; I just want to hear the words. Don’t feel pressure.’ Then this fucker was like to the map, and I’m sitting there going, ‘are you kidding me? Are we going to do this now? Alright bitch, let’s go.’ By page twenty we were at it, and I walked out and I knew we were going to make the film together.
Oswalt: And I was glad, because the person who read before you was Gandolfini and he was not great. I love him, but he was so wrong, and the studio wanted him so bad.
Can you guys talk a little bit about what the experience was like for you, the first time you went back to your hometown after making it big in Hollywood? Did the perceptions of your hometown change? What was that like?
Theron: I’ve gone back several times. The only thing that really stuck with me the first time I went back was walking through the house I grew up in and everything feeling so small. It was such a bizarre feeling, and I can’t explain it. I just remembered my bedroom being so much bigger and then I was like, ‘My mother made me sleep in a closet.’ Everything felt so low. I guess that was kind of profound for me, because I just remember it so big you know. I still see some of my high school friends. I BBM one of my high school girl friends almost everyday. I don’t hate going back to my hometown; it’s actually really nice.
Theron: Blackberry Messenger. Oh my God I am so cool.
I know that one of things you’ve been involved in, when you haven’t been in front of the camera the past three years, is the Africa Outreach Project, so I wondered if you could update us on this. What kinds of things are going on, and why you’re so involved?
Theron: It’s going great. My director is actually down there right now looking at three new projects. We’re just continuing to find projects that are really encouraging prevention care. I think if you do this kind of work, just like anything in life, if you don’t love it shouldn’t do it. I really love what we’re doing, and I really believe in it. Growing up in a country like that, and seeing how prevalent AIDS is, and understanding the immediate need, but feeling this kind of horrible neglect for people who just have no tools to understand how to not become HIV positive just seems so wrong to me, and it felt like a missed opportunity. So we’re just trying to encourage already existing NGOs to really support prevention care, so it’s been great.
(In the end of Young Adult,) I don’t remember her name, but she looks at Mavis and she says you have such an enviable life and you’re still so miserable. In Hollywood you have this wonderful life, do you know people where you look at them and say, ‘Why are you upset? You have the envy of the whole country.’ What do you say to people like that?
Cody: You definitely meet a lot of extremely powerful, successful, wealthy people in Hollywood who are extremely miserable. Mavis’ priorities are screwed up. She’s the one who says, ‘How can people dare to be so happy with so little?’ One could argue that having friends and family and a roof over your head is in fact a very fulfilling life. It’s just not enough for her, because in her deranged world of reality television and fashion magazines. To her that is an unfulfilling, dull, pitiable life, but paradoxically she’s consumed with self-pity as well. I mean it’s unfortunately the human condition. I think when you take people who are damaged and you give them money and freedom, it can be a toxic cocktail. That’s Hollywood right there.
Comedy is basically timing. How did you really know that you really had it down to a science of being funny and also being serious?
Oswalt: You were talking about how much you love Jason Reitman’s movies, and I think because you know you’re in the hands of someone who knows how to edit a film and how to edit a scene. We just knew subconsciously we were in such good hands director wise that we could relax enough. That comedy was never needy. We were never going for a laugh. It all came very naturally. A lot of times what was sort of great about the way that she played Mavis, was the laugh comes from her not giving me any response, and then I get more nervous, which is a really real thing that a lot of actors really don’t have the balls to do. They always want to be saying something or listening and reacting. She was able to just go, ‘You know my character is just not engaging in this scene at all,’ and that is where the humor came from. It came from knowing we’re working with a good director. I got to play off somebody that really understood human nature, which that is what’s important in comedy. Knowing comedy is knowing human nature. That kind of swirled together and created a thing, and fade to Golden Globe. I lost my own train of thought. I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. Do you know what I’m saying there? You asked a really smart question and I answered it so stupidly.
Theron: You try to see things as you do this, at least I do. The thing I noticed is that a lot of times great material can get ruined if its not in the right hands. You realize the tone is so important to a film, and that tone can really make something fall or succeed. I just think that there’s such a beautiful nourish between Diablo and Jason. There’s something really incredible when you read her writing and then you see what he does with it. He so understands her writing, and she so understands what he does. That is so rare and that is what made us feel so privileged to be apart of that. She knew exactly what story she wanted to tell. It is in the slightest detail just so brilliant, so brave, so precise, so exact. Then at the same time you have a director that steps up and he knows exactly how to ground it and how to give it a foundation. Then he kind of guides us in knowing when to go more and when to go less. That is a talent that when you’re in it you can only say thank you to the gods, because it’s like chemistry. It’s like something that you can’t mechanically put together.
Oswalt: First thank you for implying that I have any control over my career that I get to choose projects. Tell Spielberg to be disappointed; I’m going with Reitman on this. I was very lucky to be offered this script. I got to know Jason through we both love films and we both own French bulldogs. That’s kind of how we got to know each other. Then I started doing these table reads early on for the script, but as far as my intentions, I’m so beyond genre, drama, comedies, I just want to do really good, interesting projects. That could mean something like this script when I read it, which was so good, or something like the Adult Swim show that I did, which was so bizarre, but also a great script, just stuff that constantly roles the dice down the felt and just goes for it. Man this script went for it. Hopefully someday, if I’m ever at the point where I have the luxury of intention, I will make the right choices, but so far I’ve been lucky that the choices I’ve been given have been really good.
Did you and Jason meet at a dog park? Is that what you were saying with your French bulldogs?
Oswalt: No, we met at an awards ceremony, and we were just gabbing about movies, and I was presenting an editor’s award, and I actually knew all the editors. Those guys are like rock stars to me. It’s like the music geek that knows the bassist’s name. That’s how excited I was. So then we started talking, and he saw on my phone that I had a French bulldog, and he goes, ‘I have French bulldog!’ and we started showing pictures back and forth. Then I started to go to these screenings he has at his house every Sunday. Basically I did all the early readings, so I got this movie the way a squatter gets an apartment. I was just there, and they were like, ‘He’s got his mattress and his hotplate, just let him have it.’ That was a very good follow up though, ‘Did you meet a dog park sir? Excuse me don’t avoid the question.’ Wow that was amazing.
Theron: I don’t think I’d add it straight onto this movie, because I like that Mavis leaves Sandra, but I do like the idea of Sandra and Mavis eventually in a sequel finding each other, and taking that little fucked up mini on like a Thelma and Louise. The two of them just cross-country driving. Damage.
Oswalt: They just drive around and roll their eyes, until the police kill them.
Theron: Yeah nobody gets raped or anything like that. They just role their eyes.
Oswalt: Every screening I’ve been to, people will come into the lobby and I watch them talking. Here’s what I love about the movie, everyone has very specific ideas of what happens when Matt wakes up, when Sandra’s alone in that kitchen, when Mavis gets back to Minneapolis. They’re all completely different, and they’re all right. So then what happens when in the next scene? This is a great go-see-the-movie, and then go somewhere and discuss what you think happened next.
Cody: You said specifically I could only add ten minutes to the movie. I think I would do either the mini flying off a bridge, pausing in mid air: Dukes of Hazard or funny crazy credits. Does that count as extra ten minutes?