Danny Peary Talking to Director/Writer Josh Boone and His Young Stuck in Love Stars:
I’m surprised that the title Stuck in Love was never snapped up before for a movie because it would have fit about 90% of the films ever made. Writer-director Josh Boone originally had another title for his crowd-pleasing comedy, which opens in New York City this Friday and I hope will play in the Hamptons soon. Writers. That title would have applied to the successful, but now frustrated novelist Bill (Greg Kinnear); his cynical nineteen-year-old daughter, Samantha (Lily Collins), who has just sold her first novel; and his shy sixteen-year-old son, Rusty (Nat Wolff), who hopes to become another Stephen King but for now writes romantic poetry. But the new title also applies to the nonwriters they love: Bill’s ex-wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly), who insists she will never return to him but never fully pushes him away; Samantha’s kind classmate Louis (Logan Lerman), who breaks through her tough exterior; and Rusty’s first love Kate (Liana Liberato), who hopes he can rescue her from troubles. And it applies to parents who have unconditional love for their children, and vice versa–although Samantha has broken off all ties with her mother for being unfaithful to Bill and leaving the family three years before. But while I’d rate Stuck in Love as the better title for Boone’s debut feature, I think it’s kind of a fail-safe choice when what this film deserves is a cool title that indicates it is far more creative and clever than one would expect from its familiar premise. Boone’s dialogue is consistently shrewd and witty, his humor is offbeat, his tone is cheery, and his wisely-selected cast breathes life into his likable characters. It’s fun. Last week I did this interview with the amicable Boone, a native Virginian who was in New York City for only the second time. Following it is an interview I then did with his impressive young stars Liberato (Truth) and Wolff (former star of Nickelodeon’s The Naked Brothers Band and the son of actress Polly Draper and jazz pianist Michael Wolff and singing partner of his younger musician/actor brother Alex Wolff). Boone, Liberato, and Wolff were too modest to say it out loud but they all were obviously stuck in love with their movie.
Interview with Josh Boone
Danny Peary: I read that you started writing this film in high school. So did you spend the last couple of years rewriting it?
Josh Boone: I didn’t rewrite it because I wrote only the first page in high school. I wrote the script in the fall of 2009. I had thought about the idea for five or six months and wrote down notes, and then I wrote it in about a month. A year later I got fed up with waiting for it to happen and started sending letters to producers. I got to Judy Cairo and a year later we were shooting. It happened really fast. I shot the movie last year.
DP: Why did you initially have such a problem getting the film off the ground?
JB: I was attached to direct it, which was the problem because I hadn’t directed before.
DP: I have the feeling that you wouldn’t give up this script to another director.
JB: I never wanted to sell scripts, I just wanted to make movies. When I was kid that’s all my friends and I did, write scripts and make movies on video. We were dorky movie geeks like the kids in Super 8. I came out to Hollywood and got my first agent when I was eighteen or nineteen and for years things almost happened. I had actors attached to projects, but nothing sold because I wanted to direct.
DP: When you say projects, how many did you have planned?
JB: I probably wrote twelve or thirteen scripts and one or two were optioned several times and I had casts attached to them. I just wasn’t able to pull the money together. But I stayed aggressive. I always say that way more talented people than me fell by the wayside just because they couldn’t stick it out long enough to get into position to make a movie. It actually took ten years to get this film made.
DP: So how many years did you think it would be called Writers before its title became Stuck in Love?
JB: The first time I met Judy Cairo, she said, “I want you to know that nobody will ever call this Writers.” I said, “Why not?” She asked, “If you went to a movie theater and looked on the marquee to see what was playing, would you go see a movie called Writers?” I said, “Probably not.”
DP: I’ve interviewed Greg Kinnear and Lily Collins and met Jennifer Connelly for past films. They are genuinely nice people. My guess is that everyone you cast in your first film is nice. The characters they play make bad choices but are basically good, so I’m thinking that’s partly what attracted them to your film. Were you looking for nice people?
JB: Obviously the first thing I wanted was great actors. But I also figured I wanted to work with people who weren’t going to make my life more difficult. There are people at my agency who would have let me know if someone was difficult or not. You’re right that they’re just really wonderful people who elevated everything. I was really lucky to bring together that cast.
DP: I read how ecstatic you were to get Jennifer Connelly to play Erica, because she is your favorite actress. In the film’s production notes, you say that one of your favorite films was Once Upon a Time in America, which was her debut as a young girl.
JB: I loved that movie when I was younger. As a teenager I definitely had a big crush on Jennifer Connelly. When we met I told her! She and Greg Kinnear brought so many ideas to the movie.
DP: While watching the film, I was thinking it could be the sequel, part 2, to a film in which things went badly for Rusty, Samantha, Bill, and, perhaps, Erica a few years earlier. Can you picture an earlier, sad film leading to this film, in which good things happen?
JB: You’re saying that if it had a prequel, Stuck in Love is what takes place three years after the fall. I don’t know. I know the characters, and felt for this film I needed to have them at certain places in their lives. They need to go to new places for the character arcs, and I felt how it begins is the best time and place for them to start.
DP: Things hadn’t improved for anyone since Erica left Bill, but Stuck in Love shows the recovery stage for them and their kids, Rusty and Samantha.
JB: Yeah, this is how they finally heal, I guess.
DP: Cynicism, represented by Samantha, vs. romanticism, represented by Rusty–is that a theme of your film?
JB: I guess so. Stuck in Love came from a really sincere place; I think the reason it’s positive is that I was drawing from my childhood, just putting stuff in it that really happened to me and was personal. I don’t know why it came out this way other than at the time that I wrote it I was just very earnest. I really did mean everything I wrote.
DP: Could you have made this film with an unhappy ending?
JB: I think that never would have felt right. It always felt like it should end just as it does. It’s definitely wish fulfillment on my part to try to make what happened in my life when I was younger turn out right. Does that make sense?
DP: I know your parents were divorced and that was terribly upsetting. Were they evangelicals?
JB: Born-again Baptists. My first ten years were actually very normal, and then my mom got very religious and everything completely shifted in my life for the next ten years. It was an interesting childhood.
DP: So is the film autobiographical only in regard to Rusty? Or are there parts of you in more of the characters?
JB: It’s not just parts of me. Samantha, Rusty’s older sister played by Lily, is based on my younger sister a little bit. My parents got divorced when I was already 16 or 17, so I’ve always felt I dodged a bullet emotionally, but my sister and younger brother were four or five years younger and had a much more traumatic experience. I saw how they reacted to the divorce and the bad decisions they made over the years that I don’t think would have happened if they’d had a more stable home life. So I think Rusty and Samantha’s stories are the most autobiographical; Bill and Erica, the characters played by Greg and Jennifer, aren’t really like my parents at all. The circumstances of the divorce are similar, I just kind of flipped or changed certain things to keep anyone from being embarrassed.
DP: What’s interesting to me is that in your script and the characters, is there’s no anger coming from you.
JB: I guess that’s because I can look back at it objectively.
DP: Was your sister angry?
JB: She was very angry. She’s about twenty-six now, but it took her many, many years for that anger to diminish. Divorce is very tough on girls, especially teenagers.
DP: It’s no secret that Rusty is essentially you and this film contains a lot that is autobiographical. Does that include his first love with Kate?
JB: Yes. When you’re in high school, you can feel so passionately about somebody. It’s just so intense when you’re young and you know it’s never going to be like that later in life. I remember being in class and looking at this one girl, and in the movie I tried to show what went on in my head. Time stood still for a moment–that what it felt like when I looked at the girl Kate was based on.
DP: Was that first page you wrote in high school about you and her?
JB: Yes. She was sitting in the classroom, too. And I literally wrote down on one page what was happening at the moment. From that page, I’d put in the movie that Nat’s in the classroom and looking at Kate. That’s what I put into the script.
DP: Did you write something for that girl, too?
JB: I guess this film, in some ways. I think I wrote her a poem in high school, something I pulled out of an old collection of English papers. I tried to put stuff in it that was real.
DP: Did she react the same way as Kate does to Rusty’s “Angel” poem?
JB: I guess so, yeah. My buddy and I would cast her in our movies just to be able to hang out with her. I’d think, Oh, I like this girl, let’s make a movie with her. She was a really nice girl, and a good person.
DP: But you gave her screen counterpart, Kate, a lot of trouble.
JB: That girl was very troubled in high school, too. I’m still in touch with her, and she’s in a great place in her life now.
DP: Did you tell her about the film and is she flattered?
JB: Yeah. I told her it’s 75% fiction, but it’s emotionally true. Nat’s character is definitely very, very close to who I was when I was that age. I also was a huge Stephen King fan. Rusty’s just cooler and more handsome.
DP: Nat Wolff’s terrific in this film, and he makes Rusty extremely likable. He even has one of his songs on the soundtrack.
JB: I was lucky to get him. Liana brought him to me. I kept telling people I needed someone like Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous, one of my favorite films. I want somebody sincere and vulnerable and who doesn’t think he’s really cool. Liana had auditioned for some movie with Nat and they had a connection as actors, and she said I needed to meet him. He did such a good job.
DP: Lily Collins seemed to be a little in over her head trying to carry Mirror Mirror, but even then I thought she had potential. She really fulfilled it in this film.
JB: She wanted to play Samantha so much. I had so many girls up for that part, but Lily just stalked me. When I finally met with her, I talked to her about her relationship with her dad [rock music superstar Phil Collins]–and saw she had a similar family dynamic–and how she had written for newspapers and magazines and was really passionate about writing. She’s very smart and flies so much that she has time to read a lot, as I always did. It was just meant to be that she played Samantha.
DP: All the characters and the actors who play them are smart. I think that comes across in the film because your script is smart.
JB: Thanks, I appreciate that.
DP: I point this out because I sense you went for that, having a smart script, and took special care with every bit of dialogue. Is that because you felt that if you were making a film about writers that you had to write smart dialogue for them?
JB: I guess so. I read so much when I was younger. In my family there was no sports at all, it was always books. And books lead to movies. Books were my world, so even for the books you see in the movie, I picked ones that I thought the characters would read.
DP: Talk about the theme of maturity. Everybody of every age grows up in this film.
JB: I wanted the film to be a coming-of-age-story but for everybody, even the adults. Are we ever mature, no matter how old we get? I don’t think everybody every grows up. I look at myself now and say I still feel like the kid I was once and that I’m just pretending to be an adult. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s kind of how we will always feel. We don’t feel that much different than how we felt as kids because we’re still the same people.
DP: One thing about your script that strikes me is that Rusty never asks his mother to get back with his father. It’s interesting that you don’t let him force it.
JB: I was like Rusty in that I could go back and forth from household to household and was at peace with both my parents. I tried not to judge them.
DP: And at the end Rusty waits for Kate, just like his father has waited for his mother to return.
JB: I guess so, you don’t really know what happens.
DP: I know you’re a big fan of Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. One way the films are similar is that within a year’s time, everything changes.
JB: Yeah, I have two Thanksgivings in the film, one at the beginning and the second a year later. I kind of borrowed my structure from Hannah because I needed to figure out how to tell my story while jumping back and forth between characters.
DP: It’s not only structure that you borrowed. It’s also adults resenting their talented kids in some way, and people who love each other being mean to one another.
JB: It’s all that, like in Hannah when Michael Caine brings Barbara Hershey into the bookstore and gives the poem to her. That stuff is so great.
DP: Both films are about how time heals.
JB: I think it’s true, or maybe it’s that after a while you can forgive and let some things go.
DP: So, if not that, what is your big theme here?
JB: I don’t know that I necessarily have a theme, I just wanted to tell a story–first love, first mature relationship, and marriage and divorce. Hopefully everybody who sees it can relate to somebody in the movie. Maybe they’ll watch it on Netflix in five years and be in a different place in their lives and think, “Oh I like this story better now.” I try not to be too analytical about it.
DP: When Kate and Rusty have their first kiss, she says, “I think you’re going to be very good for me.” I think that’s a key line in the film in regard to several relationships.
JB: Greg brought that line to the project. I wrote something similar, but we reworked that line of dialogue based on what he said. I think when Kate says it, it’s very selfish on her part.
DP: I didn’t find it selfish.
JB: She’s saying, “You’re going to be very good for me,” but she’s not asking herself, “Am I going to be good for him?”
DP: But Rusty sees something special in her and believes, correctly, I think, that she’s going to be good for him, too.
JB: When I was younger I wanted to save girls with problems, like Rusty does with Kate. It was my thing. Maybe it was because they were bad that I liked doing it.
DP: Your new projects, The Fault in Our Stars and Pretenders are totally different from Stuck in Love.
JB: I’m making Pretenders next year and it couldn’t be more different, more dark. Yeah, I will never make a movie like Stuck in Love again. It just was the right thing at the right time. It made the most sense for where I was in my life when I wrote it.
DP: Is it an age thing?
JB: I think so. I needed to write about all this stuff before I got older and forgot all the details. I’m now 34 and I feel old!
Interview with Nat Wolff and Liana Liberato
Danny Peary: Josh says you two had a connection before making Stuck in Love.
Nat Wolff: We were friends for about a year before we did this movie. She was nice enough to be in one of Alex and my music videos, for Maybe. That was our first time on camera together. We had the same agent, and we both went up for a movie that I won’t mention by name, and we got really close to getting it.
Liana Liberato: We worked really well together.
NW: We really loved working together so we’ve been trying to find something for a long time. Liana actually found this script and sent it to me, saying, “There’s this really funny stoner character that you have to check out.” I read it after a couple of weeks and we had a meeting with Josh.
DP: Did you audition together for Stuck in Love?
NW (laughing): Liana didn’t have to audition, she’s too cool for that. She was given the part. They made me come in to see if I had chemistry with her.
LL: That’s because Rusty is a very important character and they wanted to make sure they picked the right actor. When we met with Josh, Nat got up to go to the bathroom, and Josh looked at me and whispered, “I love him.”
NW: We rehearsed beforehand. We did a scene outside a concert that isn’t in the movie, and then we did a scene that’s in the movie, right before Rusty and Kate go into the closet to have sex for the first time. I remember we did a lot of improv. It was just really exciting.
LL: Nat killed it. Sometimes they have a list of the actors’ names in the audition room, so the director and producers can write their notes down next to each actor. I was being really stealthy and took a look at everyone’s notes to see what they said about Nat. I was so confused, because they put like ten exclamation points next to his name. I was like, “Oh, my god, what does that mean?” Obviously, it was a good thing.
DP: Liana, I really liked you in Trust as the teenager who is raped by someone she meets online. In an interview for that film, you said it was hard playing some scenes but you felt it was important to represent other girls who have been victimized by online predators. When playing Kate, did you feel you wanted to represent other girls with drug problems?
LL: Yeah, absolutely.
NW (laughing): Liana is so good at playing these troubled girls.
LL: I think it’s really easy for Kate to come off as a bad person and I didn’t want that to happen. I tried to make her as normal and sweet as possible, and someone who just happens to have this really big weight on her shoulders. She will have to struggle with addiction for the rest of her life. I met with a girl who’s a recovering addict and she had the exact storyline that Kate does. I was able to talk to her whenever I needed help with my character.
DP: Talk about the line Kate says to Rusty, “You’re going to be good for me.” Josh thinks it is a selfish thing for her to say. I don’t find it selfish.
LL: I think there is some selfishness beneath the line, but I think using it is her way of charming him as well.
DP: I thought there’s a kind of desperation in your character, and this is the one guy who actually sees good stuff in her.
LL: Right, he respects her.
DP: Nat, does Rusty think she’s going to be good for him?
NW: I think he’s just madly in love with her. They’re in the relationship for different reasons. She’s the girl of his dreams, and she looks to him to get her out of a rough spot. I don’t think those are healthy reasons to start a relationship, and that’s why a lot of people who see the movie believe it’s doomed from the beginning.
DP: In this film, there’s hope for every relationship at some time. I think what really might doom the two characters is their ages. If they’d met several years later, they’d be more mature in dealing with their situation, perhaps. Is that part of it? I know Josh really wanted young actors to play the young parts.
LL: Like he says, because of Kate’s issue, the relationship seems doomed from the beginning. Also it is Rusty’s time to experience first love and first heartbreak.
DP: Does Rusty get his heart broken or is it disappointment?
LL: Well, he stays in a closet for, like, two days.
NW: What do you mean exactly?
DP: First love comes with first heartbreak, but Rusty’s not destroyed afterward, and I don’t think he wouldn’t say, “I wish that romance had never happened because I hurt too much now.”
NW: Right, I don’t think he would say that.
DP: So is Kate a good “first love” for Rusty?
NW: I think she is. He’s sort of disconnected from the world and doesn’t really put himself out there, and I think she opens him up. I do think she is really good for him. I don’t know if viewers necessarily see that, but I can see it when I watch the movie.
LL: There’s good and bad to any relationship, really.
NW: I think Rusty has one of the biggest characters arcs. There’s a big change in him and by the end of the movie he is definitely more mature.
DP: Josh says everybody in this film matures. In the movie, a Flannery O’Conner line is quoted, in which she contended that people experience everything before they turn twenty, so can write then. What are your feelings about that line?
LL: I think you’ve experienced enough in your life to write by that age, but you haven’t reflected on it yet. All these important moments happen but we won’t be able to get an actual perspective on them until we’re much older.
DP: A mature answer. And Nat, since you’re bumping hands with Liana, I assume you agree?
NW: Yeah, I’m not going to beat that answer.
DP: Many movies today have kids, teenagers, and young adults getting into trouble because they lack adult supervision. That’s certainly a theme of this movie, too. From your own experiences do you believe adults oversee kids lives or do you think kids, even those with attentive parents, make their own ways?
LL: I think a lot of kids these days get a lot more freedom, whether it’s with their parents’ knowledge or not.
NW: Young people can exist so prominently online without the knowledge of their parents. I think that might be our biggest difference from other generations. I just saw Bling Ring and Spring Breakers. Those are good movies that make me feel pretty bad about my generation. They kind of make me upset. If aliens come to earth and see just a few things from our generation, I hope they watch Stuck in Love because this movie has a lot more hope. Not that those other movies aren’t cool for what they are but they do leave a negative feeling.
DP: Stuck in Love is a hopeful movie for all the characters. The obvious question is how much do you relate to Rusty?
NW: I grew up around musicians and actors, so when I read the script I could relate to the idea of having a family where all conversations revolve around one thing. It’s great in a way because we all care and are really passionate, but it also creates the same kind of conflict that it creates in the movie between Samantha, Rusty, and their writer father. I think of all the characters I’ve played, I found more elements in Rusty than anyone. He’s kind of an easy character for me to slip into. I felt relaxed when I was playing him because I have similar elements in myself. I really loved Rusty and was sad when the shooting ended and I wasn’t able to live in that world any more.
DP: And, Liana, do you know girls like Kate?
LL: Surprisingly, not really, I had to go search for them. I’ve obviously not been in Kate’s situation or anything similar to that extent, but I relate to her in a way. I know that she’s human and makes mistakes just like everyone else. She went down the wrong path, but she has a good heart.
DP: I told Josh that he wrote characters with goodness in them and then cast nice people.
NW: We all lived together in small hotel in North Carolina during the shoot and we’ve talked about what a disaster it would have been if we hadn’t liked each other. Now Josh is one of my best friends.
LL: It’s really easy on some films for people to not get along. But on this it was really easy for everyone to connect.
NW: It’s like when young kids think about what making a movie would be like. My dream would have been this movie. It’s not usually like this.
DP: Well, Josh just really cared…
NW: We all cared.