In the improvised dialogue-heavy and ultimately scriptless indie romantic comedy “Drinking Buddies,” which was just release on DVD and Blu-ray last week, actors Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde star as Luke and Kate, two co-workers at a brewery who spend a lot of time flirting with each other despite both having significant others.
During interviews earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival where “Drinking Buddies” made its original debut before hitting VOD platforms and theaters later in the year, the cast (Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick) and director (Joe Swanberg) of the film sat down to talk about the pros of shooting a movie without a script and what it was like wetting their whistles in Chicago.
Your characters drink quite a lot in the film. How close do you think they are to actually being alcoholics?
Olivia Wilde: Oh, we’re above the level [of alcoholism].
Jake Johnson: Yeah, we’re definitely alcoholics.
Joe Swanberg: You know, I didn’t realize how much [the cast] was drinking until I started editing the film. It didn’t feel, on a day-to-day basis, that it was that much.
Olivia Wilde: Yeah, that’s the first sign of alcoholism – when it seems alright to have [alcohol] for breakfast. (Laughs) A few people who saw the movie felt like we had purposely made a movie about young alcoholics, which I thought was really interesting. It certainly wasn’t intended, but I guess some people see more layers.
Ron Livingston: But you guys [Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson] work in that brewery so you do drink a lot of beer.
Jake Johnson: Yeah, we drink a lot of beer.
Olivia Wilde: Yeah, the shots were not real. They were like ice tea or something like that. It’s harder to fake beer – to make apple juice look like beer. We wanted to pay homage to craft beer brewing. We all have such a respect for it. We wanted to learn as much about it as we could, which meant participating in [drinking].
Joe Swanberg: Yeah, I mean the second you guys got into town, the first thing we did was brew beer together. I was excited to expose you guys to it. I hate movies that are set in a world where it seems like they get everything wrong. Because you guys weren’t really brewers, it was hard to find a way you guys could talk about brewing beer that was realistic, but wasn’t so detailed that it seemed fake. It was important to me that if a brewer watched this movie, nothing would pull them out of it. We shot the film at Revolution Brewery in Chicago. Craft brewing is one of the really cool things happening in Chicago right now. I looked at every brewery space there. Not only were the guys at Revolution really great and welcoming us into that world, the space is gorgeous. It was brand new. It’s huge with all these whiskey barrels around. The guys were super nice. I think they might’ve kept Jake and just hired him on as a brewer.
Can you talk a little more about the sexual tension that is portrayed in the film between the characters? Of course, there is the hiking scene with Anna and Ron where they kiss, but there’s also a lot of tickling going on between Jake and Olivia for most of the movie. Did those scenes come natural to you all?
Olivia Wilde: You know what’s funny is that during those scenes you are operating with the right side of your brain. So, you can improvise for a while and then not remember anything you’ve done. So, yeah, it was so instinctual that it’s almost like you black out. For me, that happens on stage and certainly on this film. Watching it for the first time I remembering thinking, “I don’t remember saying that. I don’t remember doing that.” During a lot of those flirtatious scenes, Joe set it up and said, “OK, make the sandwich.” We thought, “OK, what if doing anything with this person was just so much fun?” Certainly for Kate, making this sandwich [with Luke] is like her dream come true. So, for her, making this sandwich with him and having this food fight with him was like the ultimate activity! Those scenes were about the pure bliss of interacting with someone that makes you feel that way.
Joe Swanberg: Those scenes were a lot of fun to shoot because I think those are the scenes in life where you’re improvising anyway. It’s those situations where the boundaries are getting blurry and there’s no precedent for it. There’s a million situations you’ve been in during your life where there is a precedent. You know how to go to a business meeting. You know how to have interaction as a student with a teacher. But then there are those situations where you’re misbehaving and are outside of the boundary lines and you’re on your toes and you’re like, “Oh, shit. I’ve never done this before. Is this wrong?” And you start making it up.
Jake Johnson: Also, it was fun working with Olivia. So, we got to know each other through our characters. So, the times we hung out, we both had people to see in Chicago after work. So, it was like, “This was a really fun day. I’ll see you tomorrow.” So, I got to know Kate as I got to know Olivia. So, when you had a fun scene it was fun and it would carry on. And those fight scenes we got in, we would have these really intense fights. It felt bad. Then I felt bad in terms of Jake and Olivia. So, when you have scenes like that with people you really respect like Olivia and Anna and Ron, it is impossible not to react and get intimate. So, in those scenes where we’re flirting with each other, Joe would set the scene and we would just try to live in it. If you were working with someone who wasn’t that strong, it would’ve been a lot harder.
Anna Kendrick: For me when we shot our scene, it was hard.
Ron Livingston: It was harder for you than it was for me.
Anna Kendrick: But it was a really tricky scene. I mean, how do you make sense that this happened? (Spoiler: Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston’s characters go on a picnic and end up fooling around).I mean, what would be the circumstances where these two people who aren’t tickling each other would fall into this kiss? I remember being really happy that we got it in one take and that everybody was happy and we were moving on and wouldn’t have to spend the whole afternoon pouring over how we could make it better.
Ron Livingston: Absolutely.
Anna Kendrick: So, I was so happy that it worked. Everyone was gathering up equipment and we were moving out of the woods to a new location and suddenly it occurred to me that I would have to tell [Luke] what happened and I immediately started crying. I turned away from everybody because I knew it was my responsibility to come up with those words. It was the scene where I would have to figure out how to tell [Luke].
Jake Johnson: Right.
Anna Kendrick: (To Jake) That’s where all the lines start getting blurry. It felt bad when I realized I would have to confess to you.
Ron Livingston: That’s where I feel this process (filming a movie without a script) is helpful. If that scene was scripted and you say, “OK, you’re going to have a picnic and you’re going to say these lines and then you’re going to kiss her,” it would’ve made it a different scene. Once you have that freedom and all you know is that you’re going to have a picnic and at some point you’re going to kiss her, it’s more honest. We didn’t want to fake it. All of a sudden it gets funny and awkward and made sense. You wait for it and then when it all of a sudden happens, it makes sense that you waited for it.
Jake Johnson: Part of the reason I hope this movie is well received is because you can see, even in this conversation, that the process [to make “Drinking Buddies”] was so weird in such a good way. (Laughs) I’m not like a 40-year-old veteran or anything, but, man, nothing feels like a Joe Swanberg movie. I say that as a complement. I mean, there was a scene where Olivia and I get into a fight and I text her later and asked, “Are we good?”
Olivia Wilde: Jake text, “I just need to know that we’re all right.”
Jake Johnson: This movie is weird! It’s fucking with my head!
Olivia Wilde: It’s like the scene with the bonfire. I think that was the first time in a movie where I was like, “You know, I really think I want to take my clothes off here.” It just felt like that’s what Kate would do at that moment. She would go skinny dipping. And Joe was like, “If you feel comfortable with that, go ahead. I think that makes sense in this world.” And you never know if Luke followed her in or not the next morning.
Jake Johnson: I told Joe, “You know, I think Luke follows her into the lake.” He was like, “Nah, bro.”
Ron Livingston: It’s like an NFL team saying, “We don’t need a fucking playbook.” It’s just different from any other kind of movie that you’ll see.
Jake Johnson: And I really hope somebody has the courage to give Swanberg $20 million. Whatever that movie is, I want to be in it. I want to see it.