Directed by Joe Swanberg, Drinking Buddies tells the story of Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), who work together at a craft brewery. They have one of those friendships that feels like it could be something more, and that should make each of their significant others (played by Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick) uncomfortable.
At the film’s press day, actor Jake Johnson spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about why he wanted to do Drinking Buddies, getting to drink real beer throughout the shoot, what it was like to work with his co-star Olivia Wilde, and how much he loved the beard he grew for the role. He also talked about why he was all for Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Johnson) getting together on the Fox comedy series New Girl (returning on September 17th), how much fun it was to reunite with Damon Wayans, Jr. (who did the New Girl pilot before being recast) for the action-comedy Let’s Be Cops, the crazy injury he got while shooting a stunt, and the projects that he and his producing partner Max Winkler are looking to do with their company, Walcott. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JAKE JOHNSON: Truthfully, this was after Season 1. I’m really still new to the TV game, and all of that. In terms of this specific movie, I had a very strong agenda, in that I live in L.A. and things have gotten pretty busy, so I don’t get to go back to Chicago very often. And my brother’s wife had just given birth to my first nephew, so I knew I needed to go to Chicago over the summer, at some point. And I had heard, through Lizzy Caplan, about this guy Joe Swanberg, who was making a movie in Chicago ‘cause he’s from Chicago, and he was interested in me being in it. So, I was interested in being in that movie ‘cause I could then be in Chicago. That’s how it really started for me. And then, when I got to know Joe personally, I started to really like him, and the idea of the movie he wanted to make was a movie that sounded really interesting. But, I truthfully said yes to the movie so that I could be around my nephew.
And you got paid to drink beer.
JOHNSON: Well, getting paid is an interesting term. I got to drink a lot of beer. Because I had my expenses here, I lost money making Drinking Buddies, but I probably gained some money with the amount of free beer I got. And then, working with Joe Swanberg was awesome. Very rarely, in my career, have I worked with somebody where I knew they were going to blow up, in some way or another. It was like that with Max Winkler when we did Ceremony. Now, he’s done nine episodes of TV. He’s become the New Girl go-to director. And when I worked with Swanberg, I was like, “He’s going to have a whole thing, as a director.” He’s so good, and it’s so great to act under him and be in his movies. This might be the last chance I get to work with him. All of these A-listers are going to want to be in a Swanberg movie and he’s not going to answer my calls. He’s got that thing. So, it turned out to be great.
What was it like to work with Olivia Wilde and share this experience with her?
JOHNSON: A lot of Hollywood actors have an on-camera persona and they appear a certain way in interviews, but off-camera they suck and it’s really surprising. You meet people and think they’re going to be what they are, but they’re not. Olivia Wilde is actually like that. She’s really nice, she’s not egotistical, and she’s fun. The first couple of weeks with Joe Swanberg and Olivia and seeing my nephew, I was like, “This is my dream job!”
Could you ever have imagined you’d be the guy torn between Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick?
JOHNSON: Oh, the beauty of Hollywood! And then, I’d go back to work and be like, “Oh, now I’m dating Zooey Deschanel, and Olivia Munn is heartbroken because I don’t want to be with her, and Lizzy Caplan is chasing me down.” Hollywood is a funny place.
JOHNSON: Yeah, I got used to it. I loved it! I’ve always wanted to see how long a beard could get. I grew that one, and then I asked Liz Meriwether if I could please have a beard in New Girl, but she said no. At the end of the season, everything was crazy with Caroline, so I said, “When we come back, what if Nick has gone through a deep depression?” She was like, “Yeah. No. Shave the beard.” So, I had to shave before the first table read.
With New Girl, were you worried about Jess and Nick getting together, and the affect that might have on the show?
JOHNSON: You know, I really wasn’t. This is gonna sound bad, but I don’t care what happens. I want to do things now. I’m definitely part of the microwave generation. I can fast-forward my TV. I don’t know what’s going to happen in Season 4. That’s up to Liz Meriwether to figure out. I know that, right now, it started feeling like I wasn’t being honest. We did an episode early in the season where she was like, “Are you attracted to me?,” and Nick was like, “No!” I was like, “What the fuck are we doing?! Of course, he’s attracted to her!” There’s only so long you can get away with them not trying it. It might not work, or it might not work now, but it could work later. There’s too much chemistry between them. There’s too much of that thing to deny it. And so, whatever happens in the long term, it has to feel honest. This is not real, if you don’t put these two together. Now, breaking them up is very real, and keeping them together is very real. But, rather than worry about the curse of the kiss or the Moonlighting thing, we have an audience that cares about the show, so you can’t really lie to them or they’ll know it.
How nice is it to know that the network is really behind the show, allowing it time to find its audience?
JOHNSON: It is nice . I don’t have the expertise of having gone through it and failed. The first pilot I ever did was New Girl. The first time I ever tested for a show was New Girl. I’m not one of those guys where this was my first audition. I got passed on by 300 TV shows. But, this was the first one that said yes to me, so I do feel, deep down, that this is how all TV shows go. I can pretend to be humble and be like, “I understand that they don’t,” but this is all that I know. You get on a TV show, you work a lot of hours, a lot of people watch it, some people love it, the network is really supportive, and you have an unbelievable talented creator and a great cast where everybody is good. When I watch Zooey in a scene, probably every day, there’s at least one moment where I think she did something excellent. And Greenfield will do something ridiculous. I will not say excellent with Max Greenfield, but I will say hilarious. And Lamorne [Morris] always does something that’s surprisingly funny. If that’s your main cast, we’re in a pretty good situation.
JOHNSON: It was really neat. Everything turns into the first day of school, when you’re on a job. You find the first person you’re buddies with and the person who you’re going to hang with, and Damon and I buddied up during that pilot. And then, when he didn’t get the job, I was so sad because I’d lost my buddy. Luckily, Zooey, Max, Lamorne and I have genuinely gotten really tight. But, doing this movie with Damon was really nice. He and I became genuine good friends. I think he’s one of the funniest guys in the business, and one of the nicest. And he’s coming back to New Girl, this year. He’s gonna do a bunch of episodes with us.
Was he the reason you signed on to do that movie?
JOHNSON: That’s the reason I did the movie, and I think he would say the same thing. The movie came up and I was gonna probably say no, and then I heard he was thinking about it. We texted each other and were like, “I’m in, if you’re in!” I wanted to spend three months with Damon in Atlanta, messing around and having fun. So, we said yes together.
When you got injured doing a stunt, did it feel like a cool war wound?
JOHNSON: No, I threw a midget lady! How is that cool?! It’s not like I was jumping off a train! The injury is so lame. There was nothing heroic about it. There’s nothing cool about it. I threw a little person, and she got the better of me. She was fine. She took a way harder fall. I ripped the tendon off the bone, and she got up and was like, “Great!” I shouldn’t have done it. We had a great stunt guy who was doing really hard stunts and not getting hurt. He drove a car through buildings. I threw a small person and my hand will never be the same, for the rest of my life.
You’re doing a lot of comedy work now. When you do something that’s as improvisational as Drinking Buddies, do you feel more free in your acting?
JOHNSON: Not really. I came up in the improv world, so I’ve been doing just about anything for a laugh since I was 21 or 22. I did a bunch of commercials where I was the “before” guy in a tampon ad. So, I don’t have any shame, in that department. I’m willing to do anything to get paid, as an actor. Doing a movie like this was more freeing. I felt like I got to have ownership over moments. I got to play a dramatic scene the way I wanted to, rather than being told how to do it. I feel like, a lot of times, directors love to just direct, even when they don’t have an answer, because they just want to control. And Joe is not that way. He’s like, “Do it however you want to do it, just make it work.” I appreciated that.
Has it inspired you to try your hand behind the camera?
JOHNSON: I think, at some point, I would love to direct. But right now, I’m having a really nice time acting. I started a production company through 20th Century Fox, called Walcott, with Max Winkler, and I’m really excited about that. I really want to find a talented writer and see if we can get their show on TV. But I think, down the line, I’d like to try directing.
Do you have a plan for the type of projects you want for your production company?
JOHNSON: Yeah. We want things that are really inclusive, where a lot of different people can watch it. I don’t want a real niche thing. I want a really funny, really original voice, and I like things that have a real heart to them. It’s hard to get all those things, but that’s what we’re looking for.
Drinking Buddies is now playing in theaters.