Filmmaker Andrew Bujalski first got recognition for his low-budget comedies Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation, which contributed to the infamous “Mumblecore” movement, lumping him in with fellow indie filmmakers Joe Swanberg and the Duplass Brothers. A few years back, Bujalski transitioned to more scripted films with the acclaimed indie Computer Chess, but for the first time, Bujalski is working with well-known actors Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders for the romantic comedy Results.
Pearce plays gym owner Trevor, whose tryst with Smulders’ Kat has caused a divide in their work relationship, which is made worse when a rich client (Kevin Corrigan) signs up for training and starts showing interest in Kat as well.
Hopefully, you’ve checked out our interview with Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders already, but here’s an interview we did with their director shortly afterwards.
ComingSoon.net: So this is an interesting transitional movie for you because “Computer Chess” was very different from your other movies and this is very different from that.
Andrew Bujalski: True.
CS: One of the main things is you are now working with better-known actors (or SAG union actors as Cobie put it). Was that something when you wrote it, were you very much set on trying to branch out that way?
Bujalski: Yeah, I mean, that was certainly the big experiment here, and that was at the core of writing this thing. I always thought that if I were to enter the world of working with professional actors that I would probably just build the project differently from the ground up, and that was certainly the idea here.
CS: Did you write the whole thing and then look at different actors or did you have other actors in mind?
Bujalski: Well, I mean, from even part of the genesis of this thing was fantasizing specifically about Kevin and Guy. So I had them in mind as I was coming up with the story. I didn’t know who was going to play the girl. I knew I needed another character in there, if I was going to have these two guys. I’m such a fan of both of those actors. Incidentally, this a crazy way to go about making a movie, because the chances that I would actually get both of them were very low and it’s an incredible blessing that they actually came and did it. But for everything that they don’t have in common, there’s also some strange overlap and commonalities. For me, they were both just two fascinating, very internal actors, with either Kevin or Guy, I think I always lean in forward in my seat when I’m watching them, because they never quite let you know what they’re thinking. I thought, that’s great, but if I’m going to build a movie around two inscrutable guys, I need a very warm and very explosive woman at the center. I think some ideas crossed my mind, but I was never sure who was going to play that part, and couldn’t feel luckier to have found Cobie and had her bring this to life.
CS: Cobie has done this kind of genre on TV for years, being a comedy with romantic elements, but Guy doesn’t seem as obvious as Trevor.
Bujalski: Yeah, but you know, I’d met him earlier, a couple of years before we shot.
CS: Yeah, he mentioned that.
Bujalski: I did breakfast with him and was just really, really charmed by him, and of course, such a fan of his work. There was something. I guess the way my mind works is, you kind of look at his resume and you think, “Well, you’re really good at playing psychopaths and weirdos and obsessive loners.” He’s obviously pretty drawn to dark material. But, there was some funny challenge to me in thinking, “Well, I wonder if I can take those same qualities and make a little romantic comedy out of them.” I thought there was something there, where I could not push him against the grain, but kind of lean into that same grain, but just get something warmer out of it.
CS: It’s such an interesting take on the romantic comedy, because as Cobie mentioned, a lot of stuff that would normally take place between her character and Guy’s happened before the movie even starts, then Kevin adds a whole different thing to the mix by being in between. He’s actually kind of keeping them apart in some ways. Can you talk about how you wanted to branch away from what’s been done so many times before with the genre?
Bujalski: Yeah, well, again, it kinda came back to this idea that I was so building for these two guys, and then this third element, this woman between them, that it ended up kind of bringing me to this very odd structure. I’ve been lucky enough to get paid to write a more conventional romantic comedy. I wrote a studio script, but it never got made, but I had a little bit of experience in that world. Usually, the studio romantic comedies are such contraptions. They’re Rube Goldberg machines, which is a fun challenge, but also, it’s nothing but structure, but it’s a very specific structure usually. I liked the idea of kind of deconstructing that, but then taking a lot of those same elements and building this much weirder thing, which is as much as anything, is about the differences between these people. This would never pass muster in Hollywood, first and foremost, because it’s not totally clear who the hero is, and that you do have this kind of handoff, in a way, between Kevin’s character and Guy’s character, as they each vie for Cobie’s character’s affections. But, to me, that was really important. That was kind of what it was all about, was that handoff or was that overlap between these guys, which again, was sort of the kernel of the whole thing. How do I make a movie that makes sense of both Kevin’s performance style and Guy’s performance style? How can I have the maximum amount of fun with that? Which led me to this very weird structure. But you know, it’s the same things that kind of make it impossible, that also make it fun. The same reasons you go, “Oh God, is anybody going to understand this weird structure?” But then you think, “Well, but that’s why I have to do it. This is what I’m being drawn toward and this is kind of at the heart of the story.”
CS: A lot of these romantic comedies, you always know where it’s going. In this movie, I was like, “What’s going to happen? Are they going to form a band called The Results?” It seemed to be going in a very different direction than I expected. Were you thinking about it at all as a studio movie or did you always know you had to do it on your own?
Bujalski: Yeah, I’m not an expert on the studios, but I know this is not their thing.
CS: But did you ever have your agent pitch it to people to see if they’d be interested?
Bujalski: The idea was to do it as we did, around the budget range that we ended up at, was the idea, which is big for me, but small for professional moviemaking.
CS: All of the three main roles, even Kevin in some way, are pretty physical.
Bujalski: Yeah, he works out a lot.
CS: Right. He kind of starts out very heavy and gets in shape. They’re all very physical roles. Did they realize when they came on that would be the case. Did Cobie know she would be running all the time?
Bujalski: Cobie was pregnant when we shot, which is insane.
CS: Yeah, she mentioned that, too.
Bujalski: She’s a freak of nature. That’s not normal. But yeah, frankly, I think that’s part of why Guy signed on to do it, because Guy was a teen body builder, so he’s very, very comfortable and very familiar with the gym. I think he liked the excuse to go hang out at the gym.
CS: Wow, I’m learning more about Guy here every second. When he did that flip, I was like, “Where did that come from and how is that possible?”
Bujalski: It’s not CGI, no. It’s not in the script. I mean, that’s something where I think in the script I just wrote “pull-ups,” because it would not have occurred to me. Whatever that thing is, I don’t even know what to call it, so I couldn’t have written it in the script. But, that was something where he came to me and said… you know, it’s funny to talk to him because, look, he’s a golden god. He’s in incredible shape. But he’ll always tell you what bad shape he’s in and how weak he is. So he’s like, “I’m not very good at pull-ups. I don’t like pull-ups, but I can do this other thing.” I said, “Well, that’s — yeah, let’s do that. I’ll take it.”
CS: You’ve been in Austin for a while now, so do you ever go to the gym and have experiences like that? What inspired you originally to set it in this setting?
Bujalski: I was going only when I started to write the movie, I thought, “Well, this is the only way I’ll ever get myself in the gym is to call it research.” So I did for a little while. Then, I’m embarrassed to say that we shot the movie, and then I had no time, and then I had another kid and I’ve had no time. So I’m embarrassed to see Guy today, because I think I’ve gained 25 pounds since he saw me last. But part of it, honestly, was also thinking about me, just the anxiety of trying to wrap my head around working with professional actors. It drives me crazy in movies or indie movies, where you see the great looking movie star cast as the down on their luck shlub. I thought, “If I’m going to make a movie with great looking people, I want to let them be great looking people.” So the personal trainers, it made a lot of sense to me. I thought there was a nice overlap, also, between the anxieties and the stresses of that profession and the anxieties and stresses of being an actor. They have some commonalities.
CS: One thing you really nailed was the thing when you walk into a gym for the first time and it’s all about selling memberships. I’ve been to a gym enough times to have been attacked by sales people.
Bujalski: No, I know, I mean I’ve heard stories. I think certainly in New York, it can get pretty aggressive.
CS: By the way, I liked the Swanberg connection, that Cobie went and made another movie with Kris Swanberg while she was pregnant.
Bujalski: Yeah, it’s amazing.
CS: Did you make introductions or was it a coincidence?
Bujalski: It was a coincidence. I mean, she at some point, when we were on set, she mentioned or it came up that she was going to go do Kris’ movie. I said, “Great.”
CS: It’s really nice to see her at Sundance after being on TV for so long and doing the Marvel movies, and to see her do something more down to earth where she can show off her range.
Bujalski: Yeah, I’ll be very curious to see where she goes next. I think the world is her oyster.
CS: Your musical decisions are really fascinating to me. Last year, we had “Birdman,” where it had a lot of drums. In this one, you have percussion, drums, a lot of really interesting things. Was a lot of it created for the movie? Was it stuff you found?
Bujalski: Yeah, no, the score is by Justin Rice, who was actually the star of my second movie, “Mutual Appreciation.” He’s an old friend and somebody who, I love him personally. I’ve been a huge fan of his music for a long time. So I liked the idea. I’d never done a movie with proper score before. I don’t know if this counts as proper score, either, but I’d never had a composer. I’d always just taken tracks from different places, so that was fun. For me, it kind of fulfilled my… I always wished that I had musical talent, and I think if I could rub a genie bottle and trade in whatever filmmaking ability I have to just get up on the stage and play, yeah, I would love it. But the next best thing is being able to boss a musician around, so that’s what I could do. It was mostly by email correspondence, because I was in Texas and Justin’s in upstate New York. So we would get on the phone or write emails and he would send me things and we’d push it back and forth. But I like the idea. I did want to do something that was percussion based. Of course, I was a little nonplussed when I saw “Whiplash” and then I saw “Birdman,” and I thought, “Uh oh, I’m not the only person who has this idea.” But they’re all very different, and I think our score is very different from theirs.
CS: It adds a lot to the feel of this being a very different movie. That’s one of the reasons I liked it a lot, beause it’s not a typical romantic Also, you have Anthony Michael Hall in this.
Bujalski: We sure do.
CS: I didn’t realize that was him until later. But that’s a pretty crazy role for him. Do you have any idea where you want to go from here? Obviously, at this point, you could write and direct another movie, do another thing. You could try to do a studio movie.
Bujalski: Yeah, I just want to keep working and I want to keep being in love with it. I don’t know. The stuff I did in my youth was kind of all love. It was powered by nothing but love. I’m so, so grateful to have done it. I hope that never goes away. I have two kids now and I have a mortgage now, and so, there are a lot more practical considerations. The idea of working for three or four years and making four figures doesn’t do for me what it used to. Yet, that’s kind of still where my heart is. I would still love to just run off and do something crazy and not worry about the money. So who knows? We’ll see. I’ll just try to piece together what I can. But, there are opportunities everywhere. I like all kinds of movies, and it’s just a matter of where my talents are useful and I’m figuring that out as I go.
CS: It’s interesting to see where you and your peers have gone, the Duplass brothers, they have an HBO show that’s doing very well. Joe Swanberg’s kind of also going between working with real actors, but also using his earlier style. Greta Gerwig’s obviously doing really well also, both as an actress and as a writer. Do you ever see them and reflect back on the Mumblecore movement that brought you together but that everyone’s kind of moved past at this point?
Bujalski: I’m happy to. I mean, I live in Texas, so I don’t necessarily run into those folks on the street, you know? But, I’m certainly always happy to see them. I can’t imagine ever sitting down and reminiscing about the “good old Mumblecore days,” whatever that means, just because I don’t think any of us ever really related. I mean, that was kind of a media creation. It was not something that any of us particularly related to as a concept. I think if anything, they’re just nice people and I relate to them as a friend and as a fan, but not necessarily as a Mumblecore cohort.
CS: Do you ever think about doing a TV show?
Bujalski: Yeah, I mean, I’m getting paid to write a pilot right now and that’s great and we’ll see. That may or may not go anywhere. But yeah, I will say, I do think that my heart is always in movies, just because that’s what I grew up with. It’s really tough for me. I’m so invested in structure. The scariest thing to me about TV is that you’re not allowed to end it. What is the story, then, if there’s no end?
CS: You can have an end, you just never know how long the middle’s going to be. It could be a season or two seasons or five seasons or more, but that’s why you collaborate with other writers to fill in the rest. But it is a writer’s medium, as opposed to a director’s medium, which is film.
Bujalski: Right, sure, sure.
Results is now playing in New York, Austin,Toronto and On Demand, and it will open in L.A., D.C. and other cities on Friday, June 5. You can see the full list of theaters on the official Magnolia site.