Last night was the after party of Drinking Buddies at Maggie Mae’s in Austin. They also held a surprise birthday party for co-star Olivia Wilde. Today was a press day for the movie at SXSW, and we have lots of fan photos.

Appearances & Events > 2013 > March 9: World Premiere of “Drinking Buddies” at SXSW – After Party at Maggie Mae’s

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Miscellaneous > Fan Photos > March 10, 2013: Press Day for “Drinking Buddies” at SXSW

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Drinking Buddies’ Anna Kendrick, Olivia Wilde And Jake Johnson Talk Improv, Skinny Dipping At SXSW

Drinking Buddies' Anna Kendrick, Olivia Wilde And Jake Johnson Talk Improv, Skinny Dipping At SXSW  image
Actors and directors often say that the script is king. Haven’t you seen movies that – despite rich potential – fly off the rails? The issues often can be traced back to a script issue, a plot hole that swallows all effort and can doom even the most noble of projects.

Joe Swanberg swears by a different philosophy. The grassroots writer-director behind Hannah Takes the Stairs, Uncle Kent and V/H/S prefers not to lock his cast into a fixed screenplay, opting to let them react to conversations and emotions, which allows his dramas to live in the moment. It’s the use of improvisation to search for the beating heart of a particular story helps Swanberg’s latest, Drinking Buddies – which held its world premiere at the South By Southwest Film Festival on Saturday night – stand apart from traditional romantic comedies.

The movie boasts Swanberg’s most recognizable cast, exploring one of his most accessible character studies. It tells the universal story of an endearing yet mismatched couple, played by Anna Kendrick and Jake Johnson, who are tested by the temptations of infidelity when they begin interacting with a second couple, played by Olivia Wilde and Ron Livingston. Though Swanberg puts his foursome in familiar scenarios – a joint vacation at a secluded beachfront cabin; work events at the brewery that employs Wilde and Johnson – his reluctance to put words in his characters mouths allows Drinking Buddies to go down unexpected avenues as it searches for its truths.

Following the screening on Saturday night, I attended a private meet-and-greet with Swanberg and his cast and learning how liberating the director’s unconventional approach was to the actors helped me better appreciate the magic that’s captured in the loose, free-flowing but authentic film . “Putting dialogue in somebody else’s mouth has always felt strange to me,” the director told us – though the cast was quick to point out that Swanberg always had a strong vision about where he needed his story to go. The performers just had more leeway than usual in how they arrived at their destination.

Drinking Buddies, according to Swanberg, was written as a woman’s story because, in his eyes, the industry doesn’t attempt to write enough from the perspective of a female protagonist. He says that he wanted to watch this story play out to learn how women would react to temptations in their relationships. As the story unfolds, Kendrick and Johnson are presented opportunities to cheat. You might be shocked by who caves and who resists, but it’s the fallout from the relationships that gives the movie its narrative spine.

The cast added that the lack of a solid script was daunting. “I was scared shitless,” Kendrick told us, confessing to being a very organized performer who feared that she wouldn’t have enough original ideas to bring to the table once it came time to improvise.

Wilde had similar concerns going in, though both actresses eventually realized that there’s far more power in prolonged silences, and they realized they needed less “ideas” and more time just to listen and respond to make Buddies work as well as it does. She also explained how stimulating it was to improvise whole scenes with a versatile comedian like Johnson, and admitted to feeling like she’d blacked out during lengthy scenes because she was so lost in the moment and was giving it everything that she had to make a scene work.

“I hardly remember the process,” Wilde said, with a hint of awe in her voice. She added that she watches scenes in the finished film and doesn’t remember saying chunks of the dialogue. But since Swanberg only allowed his cast two or three takes of every scene, there was an added pressure to make a moment work quickly, before it was time to dash off to the next sequence.

Wilde also recalled the filming of a late-night beach scene where she explained to Swanberg that, in the moment, her character would desperately want to go skinny dipping… which led to a revealing scene. Yet when Johnson tried to convince Swanberg that his character likely would strip down and follow this beauty in to the ocean, his “improv” was denied for the benefit of the overall story.

Swanberg said it was his experience working as an actor on the horror film You’re Next that inspired him to expand his vision and try something more complicated with Drinking Buddies. He watched director Adam Wingard pur his heart and soul into that film, and he wanted to mirror that level of dedication. He points to this film as an epiphany moment, saying he better “respects and values” the trust factor between the director and his audience. It shows on screen.

Swanberg’s process sounds terrifying, but the cast swears that Drinking Buddies was the most creative, liberating and inspiring experience they’ve recently enjoyed. Kendrick told us she actually shot a second film with the director in December, and added that she hasn’t filmed an actual scripted film since working with Swanberg.

“So I’ll tell you if I’m ever able to go back,” she joked

“I probably ruined you,” Swanberg replied.

Livingston summed it up best when he said, “It really shouldn’t work,” but something in Swanberg’s process helps his cast members to create films that are unique, special and unlike most of what we see on screen. {}

SXSW: Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, and Ron Livingston Riff on ‘Drinking Buddies’

Within moments of meeting the cast and director of the new movie Drinking Buddies, you can see exactly why the end product turned out as funny, loose, and honest as it did. Their rapport in real-life is just as fast and loose and funny is it played out on screen. Case in point: while discussing blurring the lines of male-female friendships, the conversation bouncing between director Joe Swanberg, and stars Jake Johnson and Ron Livingston, sounded like something, well, straight out of a comedy.

Joe: ” I feel like when people who have had that kind of chemistry, through whatever means have gotten past it, and you’ve sort of gotten close to the flame and figured out how to stay close and create a boundary, those can become great friendships and you kind of have to push them past the breaking point and let them break a little bit and then you know where that is and then you both just agree to stay on your side of the line from there on out.”

Ron:  “Or you f**k the whole thing up and move to a different city.”

Jake: “Again.”

Drinking Buddies, which opened to raves and boisterous laughs at the Paramount Theater at SXSW this weekend, is a sexy, smart will-they-won’t-they romantic comedy about two friends Luke and Katie —played by Johnson and co-star/producer Olivia Wilde — who toy with the boundaries of friendship, flirting and their relationships — both to each other, and their significant others Jill and Chris, played by Anna Kendrick and Livingston, respectively.

But what sets Drinking Buddies apart from all the movies that ask the age old question “Can men and women really be friends?”, aside from their refreshingly new take on it, is that this one was heavily improvised. Instead, Swanberg let his tremendously gifted ensemble take an outline and flesh out their characters into fully realized, fully flawed, but relatable people. Swanberg, Johnson, Kendrick, and Livingston all talked to about the art improv, breaking rom-com stereotypes, and “the magic of four” in comedy.

Swanberg explained why he’s a fan of improv, and why it worked so well with Drinking Buddies. “It’s so weird that the way that we make movies is that we have these scripts and these characters in our head and then you have to go find people who then either match your pre-conceived idea of the character or can create that character through the performance. But you’re plugging real humans into fantasy constructs and it’s always seemed bizarre to me.”

“When I meet with somebody to talk about doing a movie, it seems crazy to me to not incorporate the things that I like about that person into the movie,” Swanberg continued, “Because, isn’t that the reason why I hired them, because we had a great conversation or we liked each other? When I watch Drinking Buddies, it’s so great for me because it’s like all the things I enjoyed being around these four people are there in the movie. They can’t not be, because of the way that we work, because we’re actually engaging in conversations with each other, making the same kinds of jokes we would make. It’s just such a nice little record of that moment of these four people interacting in a way where they’re exactly the four people that I was like ‘Oh yeah, these guys, they’re great!'”

So what real-life things wound up manifesting in the movie? “Jake does this funny voice sometimes that makes me laugh, [and] there’s the funny voice in the movie. It’s really allowing the things that are charming, or annoying, all of that full spectrum of somebody… it’s just creating a stage for those things to be captured, versus that person becoming a character on pre-written stuff.”

For Livingston, the improv aspect was “scary and freeing.” He explained, “There’s that night before you start a film where it’s like, ‘This is awesome, I don’t have to learn any of my lines,’ and then you realize, ‘But I am gonna have to shoot a scene!'”

But it’s that very nature of improv that allowed the cast to create characters that live well outside the confines of most romantic comedy stereotypes. Take, for example, the overused trope of the shrill girlfriend or jerk boyfriend, simply used to lessen an audiences guilt about cheating or as a prop to push the would-be couple together. (Johnson jokingly altered his voice to sound like what that annoying character would have sounded like in their movie, “You’re not allowed to hang out with your friends and drink beer! But I love you!”) In Drinking Buddies, however, Kendrick’s character Jill is anything but. In fact, you find yourself rooting for her, then against.

It was something that was important to Kendrick, creating a character that was not only likable, but walking the fine line of not being the villain. “That was something that, because there was no script per se, I was worried the audience would anticipate her to be that. And that that was something we would have to actively fight against. I didn’t feel that Joe was going to push me in that direction, but I was concerned that would be the assumption.”

Kendrick made sure that nailing down what might seem like minor details, would actually be a major influence for how viewers percieve the character. The actress recalled, “I remember my first day [shooting] during the wardrobe fitting, every time I put on something that was a little too school marm-y, I was like, the first time we see her it can’t be like, ‘So here’s the thing about Jill: she sucks’.”

But for any comedy to work, improv or otherwise, at the end of the day it really depends on the actors and how they work with the material and each other.  In Drinking Buddies, the foursome of Johnson, Wilde, Kendrick, and Livingston, all bounce off of each other in a way that only four could.

“I think it’s like a team,” Johnson said. “When you have a two-person thing, then you guys have to fill the voids with each other. With four, something like this, everyone in this cast is very good, so you don’t need a star on this team, a Michael Jordan per se…you can win with the group. You either go hard for the laugh, or go hard for the moment or go hard to support a laugh or support a moment. With four, if everybody’s good, it’s fun.”

Livingston said he likes how the dynamic of four “can shift to be really balanced or or really unbalanced and all it takes is one person walking away to go from unbalanced back to balanced again”, while Kendrick cited “chamber plays, like Dinner with Friends and Closer and Through A Glass Darkly. I think there is something magic about four, for exactly that reason. Things get messy.”

Of course, for every unplanned, on-the-fly moment of Drinking Buddies, there was one that Swanberg planned: to have a character named Gene Dentler. In Drinking Buddies, Wilde’s real-life beau Jason Sudeikis plays her and Johnson’s boss Gene Dentler. “That’s a cool story that I’m happy to tell,” Swanberg said, “My friend David Lowry, he had a movie at Sundance this year called Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. They started shooting the same day we started shooting Drinking Buddies and for both of us it was bigger projects than either of us had ever done before. We were texting and we were like, ‘We should have the same character in both movies just as a little hat tip. There’s a cop named Gene Dentler in his movie and Sudeikis plays Gene Dentler in ours. The name plate on Sudeikis’ desk [in Drinking Buddies] that says Gene Dentler, we sent down to Shreveport and he shot it in his movie, too.”

In a fittingly off-the-cuff moment, Kendrick marveled at the anecdote, “That’s amazing, I had no idea!” {}