Sundance Interview: Michael Cera, Charlyne Yi, Jake Johnson, And Nick Jasenovec

Paper Heart is part documentary about love, and part fictional boy meets girl tale. It started when Charlyne Yi decided to document people’s love stories, but in order to focus on her belief about love director Nick Jasenovec wanted her story front and center. So they got together with friends, hired Michael Cera to be the love interest, and put together two films. Unlike Borat it isn’t entirely clear how much is real, and that’s the point.

Below is an interview with the director, and Jake Johnson who played Nick in the actual film, along with the couple in question: Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi.

Can you talk a little bit about where this started, the seeds for this movie?

Charlyne: Originally I wanted to make a documentary about love because I’d met a lot of people who had really amazing stories. I didn’t even know them, but I thought these stories are so great keep telling me. I felt nosey, but I love hearing a good love story whether or not I know them or not. I thought it would be a good idea to make a – I’m so nervous right now, and there’s something gross in my water.

Nicholas: It’s just fecal matter.

Charlyne: I don’t know, I realized it would be cool to make a documentary about love because everyone is looking for love and what’s to mean something to somebody. Then I talked to Nick about that.

Jake: Also because you didn’t believe in love.

Charlyne: Yeah, that’s true.

Nick: I don’t think she told me that right away. She told me the idea about making a documentary about love. Just knowing Charlyne and her personality, I knew it would be interesting no matter what. But then once the whole thing came out about her not believing in love, I was like maybe you should be front and center of this movie because that’s a big part of why you’re doing this and people should experience it through you. So we decided to do that, put her front and center. We realized we would need some sort of arc, and couldn’t count on Charlyne changing over the course of making the movie so we decided to just script that change.

You (Michael and Charlyne) are described as a real couple. Is that the case?

Michael: We like to leave it to the imagination of the audience member.

Reports say so

Jake: I’ve got reports!

I was wondering if your relationship pre-existed the film.

Nick: IF nothing else we were all friends before we made the film. I think by the time Charlyne came to me with the idea we all knew each other.

Michael: Yeah, and worked together.

Nick: We had a very strong relationship.

Michael: Still do, I would say.

Nick: Mike and I had done a short together, and Charlyne and I had done a video we won’t talk about.

Charlyne: That was dreadful.

Jake: Nick, Charlyne and I did a half hour stage play of ET. With her playing ET, Jake was Elliot, Seth Rogen was the brother. It was a lot of fun.

Michael: It was a great show.

Nick: It was at the UCB theater, I think like a hundred people. And we never did it again.

Jake: It was all this work for one night. Literally all of this planning, we did it one night. People were like, “When you doing it again?” Yeah, I don’t think we are. I think that was it.

Nick: And that was when we were waiting to get funding. We just got sick of waiting around for money to arrive. So we put on a live show. I guess we pitched [Paper Heart] for awhile, like six months, everywhere to studios and we finally ended up working with Anchor Bay. They were great, we didn’t have to show them anything and could figure out the movie as we made it. Which is how we figured out the movie anyway.

Charlyne: Yeah, especially in post production there’s so many options and so many different movies it could have been.

Nick: It could have been a very broad comedy if we’d wanted it to be. With Jake being a real goofball.

Within the improvisation did you run the same scene numerous times?

Nick: A little bit, yeah. We were trying to keep it fresh so we’d try to limit the number of takes because we did want to sort of keep that realism and that reality to match up with the documentary stuff. We would try to not do set ups that we couldn’t reasonably get. Because we wanted it to feel like it was shot sort of verite, to fit with the documentary stuff. All of that worked toward creating the realism of the scripted stuff.

Jake: There were some scenes we did shoot in various cities because Charlyne and I, we didn’t know where the story would be in the relationship. The three of us were on the road without Mike for about four weeks.

Nick: This was before we shot Mike.

Jake: We did all of the documentary stuff between my character and Charlyne’s character before Mike came and shot. So we would be at a different location that we would see and think it’d be nice. Let’s do a scene here; let’s do a scene at the beginning of the relationship, the middle of the relationship, deeper in the relationship. Then they could cut it wherever they wanted to cut it.

Nick: And my directing style is just, “One, two, three…prov!”

So when you’re doing the external stuff do you have to clear he street?

Charlyne: No, it’s scary.

Nick: People are just walking by and it works because you’ll see people looking directly into the camera.

Michael: There was that one drunk guy.

Nick: Yeah, there was the drunk guy we had a real problem with. We had permits in LA, everywhere else we didn’t. We shot completely guerrilla style. That night was rough, that was Hollywood Blvd.

What did the drunk do?

Michael: He was just screaming, screwing up takes by yelling at us. Taking pictures of us.

Jake: Like literally right in the scene. Right on man, but we are shooting a movie.

Nick: He was like, “Right on, I make movies too!”

Michael: He got really angry.

Nick: But we decided not to announce the movie just so it could kind of take people off guard. When was this filmed, and over how long of a period, what’s real, what’s not? We were so shocked we would shoot in these public places and no one would write on the internet about it. It was on one blog and everyone was like, that can’t be true.

What was it like to go through such an ordeal with filming and financing, then with Sundance it shows up in the trades at least a couple months ago? This is sort of the hot ticket of the festival.

Nick: Yeah, someone leaked it before they announced the lineup. They got information wrong, I have no idea where it comes from.

Jake: They called it “Paper Hearts.”

Charlyne: They described it incorrectly.

Nick: “The Michael Cera Comedy.”

Jake: The Michael Cera comedy, Paper Hearts.

Michael: It didn’t affect it too negatively, I guess. It’s nice for people to see it and figure out what it actually is.

Nick: It was sort of the best way to release the information possible. No one knew it existed before, but it was disappointing at first.

Michael: It’d be nice to go under the radar and be a big surprise instead of having expectations.

Was the plan for you to go into directing, or was this out of necessity?

Nick: Yeah, I’ve been directing since high school. I’m not an actor or anything. I’m in Superbad, but that’s just because I have friends in the movie. Oh, we have a party scene let’s put all of our friends in there. But I hated it. I hated being in front of the camera and thinking about everything, it was terrible. That’s where Jake comes along to play me. Just in an effort to sustain the reality and not have any jarring transitions between the doc and fiction. Jake did a pretty good job because I saw a review this morning that said I played myself in the movie.

Michael, saying that it’d be nice to fly under the radar you’re kind of in a position with the last couple years where it’s almost impossible to get out from this movie being “The Michael Cera” comedy. Are you still adjusting to when the press notes say you’ve become one of the most sought after actors in the business?

Jake: You wrote that, didn’t you?

Michael: Yeah, I think I did. I didn’t realize they were actually going to print it.

Nick: That’s how he signs his emails.

Michael: It doesn’t really have too many things that come with it. Except it would have been nice to come and be unexpected here, but it’s not that big of a difference really. As long as it’s playing here, I think we’re happy

At the end, who’s house is it?

Michael: It’s my old house, actually. It’s where I was living at the time, but we’ve since moved.

So was that the Brampton/Toronto confusion?

Nick: Oh yeah. Originally we did a Toronto title card because we thought no one would know what Brampton was.

Jake: Apparently Brampton is a rough part of town.

Michael: Becoming rougher. Ever since I showed up.

Charlyne, you’re doing a lot of things with writing, films, stage. Is there anything you prefer over the others?

Charlyne: Stage. I think when you perform you know instantly the reaction. Whether they hated you, or like you. That’s always nice, even if they do hate you because there’s still a chance to win them over. That’s the most rewarding thing. I recently performed at this place I was banned from years ago in Fontana.

Nick: You were banned from there?

Charlyne: Well, kind of. They didn’t like my stand-up. They were like, “This isn’t stand-up, get out of here.” Then they wouldn’t book me. My friend asked me to do her show there, and I was like this is my chance to redeem myself. I said a joke, and they all laughed. I was like, “Yes!” Then I told a slower joke that took like a minute and a half, and they hated it. Oh my god, they hated it. I was just like gotta pile through it, and I was stuttering. Then I won them over again, which was like the most rewarding feeling ever. To go from “Yes!,” to “Oh no!,” and back to “Yeah!!”

Jake: The story of Charlyne Yi.

Steve West

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.