In an exclusive interview, Yi dishes on misconceptions about her "romance" with Michael Cera (and her almost-on-screen romance with Jonah Hill), dishes on 'Dirty Dancing' with Channing Tatum, and reveals why she almost blew her chance to get 'Knocked Up.'
5 Questions With One Funny Girl
Charlyne Yi, the 23-year-old comedienne-musician-writer-artist-actress heretofore best known as the sole female in Seth Rogen's perpetually stoned 'Knocked Up' entourage, is garnering big buzz for her tiny film, 'Paper Heart' -- a charming, disarming and line-blurring documentary-narrative hybrid film about one skeptical girl's quest to discover whether true love really is possible.
Half a documentary, in which Yi travels across America interviewing real-life romance novelists, professors, and Average Joes and Janes for their take on the Big-L, and half a scripted narrative, in which Yi plays a fictionalized version of herself who falls for a fictionalized version of 'Superbad' star Michael Cera, the film (which opens in limited release Aug. 7) blends reality and fiction so seamlessly that Yi and Cera have long been linked as a real-life couple. (For the record, she says they've never "ever" dated -- which kind of takes the p*** out of tabloid reports that they recently broke up.)
In an exclusive interview, Yi opens up about her "romance" with Cera (and her almost-on-screen romance with Jonah Hill), dishes on 'Dirty Dancing' with Channing Tatum, and reveals why she almost blew her chance to get 'Knocked Up.' -- By Tom DiChiara
1. How'd you come up with the idea to make the film a hybrid of documentary and scripted narrative?
It was going to be a straight documentary because of my own questioning of love, which isn't as extreme in the film. I think we exaggerated that for purposes of the narrative. I came up with the idea of making the documentary, capturing real love stories. I talked to Nick Jasenovec [the director and her good friend] about it and he said, "Oh no, because of your perspective on love, you should be on camera, and we can kind of see it through your eyes." But because of lack of time -- we only had a couple of weeks to shoot -- and also because of the fact that I didn't want to film my personal life and dating [laughs], we decided that the best thing to do was to treat it more like a hybrid of both a narrative film with fiction and a documentary. And I would have to take on a character named Charlyne Yi because I'd be really interviewing them as myself, and so it would be jarring if I was myself during the interviews and then, for the narrative, someone else [laughs]. It would be weird.
2. Was it hard to pick who was going to play the love interest in the narrative portion, or were you just like, "Oh, I'm dating Michael Cera, so we'll just have him do it"?
It was tough trying to figure out. And we weren't dating at the time [laughs] ... or ever. Yeah, I also heard that we broke up [laughs]. Someone sent me an article that I was really sad. It says that I'm sad that we're touring together. But he's actually in Toronto right now filming a movie called 'Scott Pilgrim.' So that's interesting [laughs]. But it was hard to cast it, at least for me. Nick knew that he wanted Michael. I wasn't aware of his work. I knew him, but not his work. I figured everyone's an actor, everyone's done commercials and stuff. So when people said he was an actor, I didn't really think anything of it. But then we were making a list of all the young actors that were talented and we're like, "Who's going to want to play a character named their own name and not get paid a lot of money [laughs] and also be able to, like, play it realistic?" With all our friends, we kept imagining: What if it was Jonah Hill? How would Charlyne and Jonah Hill interact? It would have been a completely different movie. He's great, too, but then Nick was like, "Oh, Michael's really good." And he made me watch some 'Arrested Development.' I was like, "Oh, he is really good." Michael is so different from his character. I mean, essentially there's a part of you in the character, but I was like, Wow, he was really good. I pitched to him and did a horrible job [laughs], and I don't think it made any sense. And then Nick re-pitched, and Michael agreed.
3. Has your attitude toward love, which was pretty cynical at the outset of the movie, changed at all since?
What's strange is that when we were writing the narrative we were like, "Oh, Charlyne's character won't change through other people's stories" ... But the real me learned a lot from these people. In the beginning -- I think I was like 19 when I came up with the idea for the documentary -- I think I was more naïve than I was skeptical or bitter or cynical. And just the uncertainty of knowing what love is ... I think uncertainty was where all the questioning was coming from. And I think I was overreacting. I was like, "Oh my God! I'll never find anyone, will I?!" [Laughs] It's just so silly to overreact over something like that. Through talking to people and seeing these really long relationships ... you realize that the completely obvious thing is that everything's uncertain. Your job is uncertain. Your relationships with your friends are uncertain. You may think they're going to last forever, but they may not, or they may. And it's really not up to you sometimes [laughs]. Once accepted that, I realized [I should just] chill out. Calm down. Go with the flow. See what happens. And I think every time I interviewed someone I'd get chills and go, "Oh my God, that's a really good story." -- because we would hang out with them for hours, shooting and setting up in their house. These strangers really let us into their lives ... You can't help but feel more affected than watching a fictional film because these people are real. There's this one couple who said, "Love is really worth fighting for, and you can never replace that person in the history, in the memories." It reminded me of 'Eternal Sunshine' when they choose to relive everything over again because it's worth the pain.
4. Your 'Dirty Dancing' Cinemash with Channing Tatum is hilarious. What inspired you to make that, and how'd you get Channing on board?
I was actually a fan of his from -- and he gets embarrassed, because I brought it up -- 'She's the Man.' I think he's funny in it because it's hard to be the straight man. And also in 'A Guide to Recognizing Our Saints,' he was really, really good. So I got his contact info and I was going to just ask him to do a bit with me for promotion stuff, but that fell through because he emailed too late. But he was really excited because he'd seen the movie. And then I got asked to do that Cinemash thing to spoof something. And I was like, "You know, I've always wanted to spoof 'Dirty Dancing.'" I love that movie so much. But then I was like: "But who could play Patrick Swayze? Who knows how to dance?" And I was like, "Oh my God -- Channing Tatum can dance!" He was so much fun to work with, and such a nice and funny person, especially since he kept saying he wasn't funny. And we're like, "No, you are hilarious." The fact that he would dance so seriously and know that it's funny and he's aware of how ridiculous it is [shows] that he knows how to have fun. He's a great guy.
5. You made your big-screen debut opposite an impressive list of funny dudes, including Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, in 'Knocked Up' -- what was that experience like?
It was really fun. I was going to make a joke, like: "Impressive? Don't let that get to their heads [laughs]." It was the first time I'd ever acted in anything really. It was terrifying. I was just talking about this to my friend the other day. I was like, "They really gave me so many chances because in my audition I was terrible." I was stuttering and I was covering my face with my script. And they gave me so many chances to improvise, and everything that would come out of my mouth was not funny until like the end, when I said one thing. And I was really sure that I did not get the job. And then, when I did get the job, I said my lines very stiffly -- like,"Hi. I am Jodi. I heard you are pregnant." That was the line! [Judd Apatow] actually came out rubbing his forehead, going like, "Hmmmmmm ..." He was like, "Can you just do what you did in the audition?" I was like, "I don't remember." He was like, "You know what? Let's just roll for 10 minutes. Have fun, forget about the script. Let's just say stupid s***." I'm like, "Ooooo-kay, I don't know if you're going to like this [laughs]." If you suck in audition -- which I've sucked many times -- people usually go, "OK, thank you. That's all." But for some reason they gave me so many chances. I don't know why. And then, even on set they could have been like, "This part is completely irrelevant to the film. Why would we give her 10 minutes to improvise whatever she wants?" And for some reason, they just didn't give up on me, and I think I'm really lucky that they saw something [laughs].