If you've followed his career on television, Ed Zwick's name-- along with his producing partner Marshall Herskowitz-- is synonymous with honest, deeply felt dramedy series like thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, earnest attempts to show life on the screen as it really is. If you've followed his career at the movies, though, Ed Zwick is someone else entirely, the direct of massive historical epics like Glory and Defiance, never meeting a cannon or a battlefield confrontation he didn't like.
For the first time since he started his directing career, though, the small-screen Zwick is coming through at the movies with Love and Other Drugs, a romance between a pharmaceutical salesman (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a Parkinson's patient (Anne Hathaway), set during the Viagra-fueled pharmaceutical boom of the late 90s. Having not produced a TV show in over a decade (save the short-lived experiment Quarterlife), Zwick told me he was eager to start telling that drama-tinged, modern story again, and that Love and Other Drugs particularly started taking shape as a love story once he got Hathaway and Gyllenhaal on the set, witnessing the two actors' innate chemistry together.
Check out the rest of my conversation with Zwick below. It's worth noting that I started by telling him I was in the generation that grew up worshiping My So-Called Life, and Zwick told me that Devon Gummersall, the actor who played Brian Krakow, is still in touch with Zwick and attended the Love and Other Drugs premiere in Los Angeles. No, he's not just circling on his bike under that streetlight for the rest of eternity; I can't be the only one who worried about that, right?
My So-Called Life and thirtysomething, feel much closer in tone to this film than the other features you've done, and I wondered if you had initially considered this story for television.
No, the funny thing is--we haven't done television in a while, and i missed that voice. I missed the currency of that kind of story. But I always thought this was a movie. In fact I realized I hadn't done anything like that as a movie for so long-- my very first movie was somewhat similar to it, called About Last Night. It was an attempt to have behavioral comedy that we then started this.
And what does behavioral comedy mean to you?
It means comedy that's born out of real-life experience, rather than forced, over-the-top experience.
Do you feel like we're only now ready to go back to Viagra as a subject matter? It was such a punchline for so long, and now we can look at it and not just giggle.
Well it was a really important moment in the culture. Every time seems to have its drug that is metaphorically significant-- pot in the 60s, cocaine in the mid-80s, Prozac in the early part of the 90s. I think Viagra, with the Internet and the sped-up economy and everything instant and going faster, it seemed to be representative of it. You can only know that in retrospect. Also I think it was about men and masters of the universe, older men, still wanting to fuck. And the whole culture of people refusing to give up their youth. Trying to describe what youth was to younger people, creating MTV and Nickelodeon, these demographically imagined things where older people were going to control youth culture.
You've got all that stuff with Viagra going on with older men, but you're telling a story about young people. It's kind of a contrast.
The Viagra really had to do with the revolution of drugs being directly marketed on television to consumers for the first time. That's something that changed the culture forever. The United States is still the only country besides New Zealand where you're allowed to advertised rugs on television. We wanted to tell a story where someone was in a situation that was incurable, juxtaposed with someone for whom there's apparently a solution for everything, which is pills.
Yes, it's unspoken in the piece.
The story gets close to a lot of those darker issues; did you find yourself having to kind of write away from them not to get bogged down there?
You know, how does one strike a balance? Like anything you try something and it feels right, feels wrong, you write it, it changes when you shoot it, it changes again when yo edit it. The funny thing about a movie, I find, is it tells you what it wants to be. If you try too hard to overdetermine it, you feel it being forced. It's often best to let a movie have a life of its own.
At what point did this film start emerging as what it turned out to be?
We did three weeks with Jake, of all that pharmaceutical stuff, first. We had rehearsed a lot with Jake and Annie, but then Jake was shooting first. Then Annie came, and t was really once they were doing those scenes together that it became so clear that was the beating heart of this movie. It was insistent in that way.
So it started as less of a love story?
Well maybe it was less of a love story before I started casting and working with Jake and Annie together. Maybe this reveals my bias, but most movies are love stories of one kind or another. Even monster movies and horror movies, sometimes it's the man and the monster, or this bromance thing that seems to be happening. The love story seems to have its gravitational pull.
Sex scenes on film can feel kinda gross and sleazy, and it can feel exploitative and unsexy. When you're shooting it and putting it together how do you keep the attractiveness?
The key I think was have it feel like it was real and in life. When you see nudity on film, it seems to call such attention to itself in a way that is gratuitous. The fun thing in this movie, the nudity is often separate from the sexuality. They're often just lying there nude and talking. There are a lot of other movie cultures in the world that would look upon this as being kinda normal. If you see Spanish film and French film and Italian film, nudity is just another thing people are because they're people. We wanted to go for that feel.
Is it hard to make a romantic comedy like this, that's R-rated and deliberately aimed at adults?
I miss them. All these labels, they make me crazy. I think we're lucky to have gotten it made, because it doesn't fit into the mold, and the molds seem to be getting stronger and more ubiquitous these days.
Does that feel like a personal challenge to you?
I often do what I do in reaction to things. My So-Called Life was in desperate reaction to things, that I hadn't seen a teenager accurately depicted ever on television. I think thirtysomething was the same way.