Justin Timberlake might be new-ish to acting, but he is decidedly on point when it comes to what he wants to talk about. When he sat down to discuss Friends with Benefits with co-star Mila Kunis, he obviously had a clear idea what he wanted the movie to be when they made it. Kunis let Timberlake do the heavy lifting in the interview, but their chemistry was just as present off screen as it was on. Take a look…
What were your impressions of the script and what you could bring to it?
Mila Kunis: I was already semi-signed on to it with Will Gluck. The draft that I read was dated and PG-13.
Justin Timberlake: We shared that view.
MK: I read it and didn’t understand the purpose of this film. It was neither here, neither there. And they said “I think they’re going to do re-writes, so why don’t you meet with them” and so I met with Will on the Sony lot, and later that night we had dinner, just Will and myself, and we talked about what the plan for the script was, and I didn’t know they had plans to rewrite the script from the ground up and workshopping it, and making it R rated, and making it more of a comedy and less romantic. Since Sarah Marshall I didn’t want to do more romantic comedy, and that was all I was being sent – romantic comedies. I didn’t do them for a reason. The reason I wanted to do this was I was given an opportunity to have a voice and do what I thought was funny, and the way that I view comedies, and what I think is funny. So I was excited for that, and that’s what I signed on for.
From what we’ve heard there was a lot of spontaneous creation that was taking place during this film. How did the two of you respond and collaborate with Will?
JT: Just to back up a little bit, the premise for this movie – though we both felt it needed to be reworked, it felt generational. We wanted to come from a place of seeing it as an opportunity to start from scratch, and make situation humor out of the idea for this movie, and relate it to our generation. Cut to us starting to work on the film, and we started workshopping the movie, and when we both signed on we had a longer amount of time to play. We wanted to shoot in New York in the heart in the summer, because both New York and Los Angeles are big characters in the movie, and for both of our characters to come for the opposite sides of the country and having that as something between us – figuratively. There were a lot of opportunities to workshop this, and find out what your point of view – as a person – about this situation. And literally that’s where the best comedy comes from: an honest place. That’s when we could take those ideas and make them real and awkward – and funny. So that’s how it got started. When you have that much time to work together, and it is a true two-hander, the two of us creating all of that. So we bonded over that. And it had a lot to do with how we were on set, because we already had a rhythm for these characters, and how they banter back and forth and improv on top that- there’s a lot of improve in the movie, but it’s the icing on the cake. But having that layer underneath and finding what you found funny, because the bedrooms scenes were unique in the sense that you get to have – during the act- an actual conversation that is still witty but also the audience can feel more comfortable. Because everyone’s been in those situations, but no one talks about them. To see a couple – who aren’t a couple – talking about them as they’re happening? It made for a lot of good situation humor.
It’s also interesting to see you have two funny sex scenes in a month of each other.
JT: Well, the first one in Bad Teacher wasn’t really a sex scene, technically. That’s just a good jean jam. It should be celebrated.
Were you surprised how frank the sex talk was without trying to be funny? Just trying to capture the kinds of moments we’ve all had?
JT: We weren’t surprised by it because we created it. The movie was originally PG-13, and we bargained hard to get an R rating to make it feel more real, so we wouldn’t have to feel we were doing the cutest version of a sex scene, we could make it funny for both of us. Between Will, Mila and myself we trusted that we had a good like-minded sense of where we wanted to go, and if the envelope got pushed it’s because the three of us were just all laughing, and that felt like the proof that was in the pudding. That we were moving in a direction that felt fresh and true.
Was the studio comfortable with that?
JT: They were. Surprisingly.
Do you think this sort of relationship can work in real life?
JT: Man, that’s the first time we’ve ever gotten that question.
MK: Good question. Yeah, wow.
JT: We have a good answer. We think if you’re honest and safe, then rock out with your…
JT: With your personality out, because I don’t think that it’s a long term thing
MK: It’s not a long term thing.
JT: But, either you get promoted,
MK: Or you get fired.
But that’s all relationships.
JT: Exactly. One of my favorite movies in this genre is When Harry Met Sally, and we were just trying to, like they were commenting on part of their generation and how their generation dealt with sex and love, we wanted to have an honest banter between a man and a woman coming into their own as adults, and what was cliché about love and sex and relationships for this generation.
You’ve been in this business for a very long time, and you’ve had a lot of control. You must have been offered a lot of scripts like this, did you have to have control to make that step? You might be a control freak.
JT: You might be on to something by saying that. OCD. I honestly never saw myself doing a romantic comedy, so it wasn’t about having control – it was about expressing it right to my generation. That felt like something I could make more of a creative investment in for sure. But I wouldn’t be honest if I said that wasn’t a conscious decision to not take more. That’s a bigger thing. I have this thing coming from a small town in the south that presumption is unacceptable. So I already had this concern of having people accept me as an actor as well, so I was very conscious of jumping in and doing something because I could do it. I think that’s fairly obvious, in a decade I’ve only put out two albums. When I could have put out six.
But they’re still being played on Friday night.
JT: Thanks, but I don’t still listen to them. I think Mila would say the same thing, I think we want to do something that’s inspiring to us. I feel like we both think we’re lucky to have the opportunities that we’re having. You don’t do them because you can, so everything we do comes from a place of sincerity.
MK: No one wants to be gluttonous, and you get to a place where you feel deserving of everything you can lose sight of what it is what you wanted in the first place.
And credibility as well.
JT: I’ve met her parents, I think we both grew up with awesome parents who taught us to never have a lack of self-awareness, and lose our ability to see ourselves as people who get to do something extraordinary, but that we’re not extraordinary people. So when you have that as a base from where you’re coming from, you don’t want to squander that. I enjoy creating. And if you can do it in a cool way, do it. You can’t worry about disappointing people or what their expectations might be. Cut to this movie, and having it pitched to you as “you can do it your way, and we’re going to trust your point of view.”
I love Woody Harrelson’s character because he’s gay but he doesn’t play the stereotype. Was he in the original script?
JT: That character was not originally in the script, and it’s something that was really important to all of us. When we had the Woody character, we wanted to break ridiculous stereotypes about sexual preference.
MK: And about the relationship between a straight man and a gay man.
JT: I have a lot of straight and gay friends. And I get along with them the same way, and I wanted that to come from an honest place of men who have a different sexual preference than I do. And we both saw it as a great opportunity to break a stereotype. They could both be self-effacing to each other. That’s what true friends do. It’s like they say “you only pick on the people you like” and I like our relationship in the movie, and that we break the stereotypes.
Mila, you said you didn’t want to do a romantic comedy until this film, do you think this points the way forward for a tired genre?
MK: Yes and no. I looked at it as a two-hander, I didn’t look at it as a romantic comedy. It was funny, but it had romance in it, and that’s what made me feel more interested about doing it because you don’t see those movies very often. I mean, not to discredit the actors, but there’s so many, many movies where boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, they break up, the get back together, the end, and there’s not much substance. And it’s not to say that our story’s different, but I think the way they went about it to get from point A to point Z was a little more creative. I never wanted to play a victim, and I never wanted to play a girl who needed the guy.
JT: A good tool to make something fresh is to stop, look around and comment about ridiculous about our generation. Like the falsification of romantic comedies and the impact it’s had on women’s points of view and why men might think they might be ridiculous. There’s a comment where I say “why do women think they have to manipulate men to get what they want? And she says “personal experience. Romantic comedies.” To comment on it, for my reaction to be: that’s a ridiculous thing, to be able to comment empowers the movie. I hope that anyone who happens to be gay feels empowered by Woody’s character. When you can do that and make people laugh, if it falls under the genre of romantic comedy, whatever.
Friends with Benefits opens July 22