Ben Stiller, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Horovitz & Noah Baumbach
Examine Life While They’re Young
by Jay S. Jacobs
What happens when hip young professionals in New York City reach their forties and realize that they are no longer as hip nor as young as they had always imagined?
This is the quandary behind Noah Baumbach’s latest film While We’re Young, his second collaboration with actor Ben Stiller. (The two also worked together on the criminally overlooked comedy-drama Greenberg in 2010.)
Stiller and Naomi Watts play Josh and Cornelia, an arty couple (he’s a documentary filmmaker, she is a producer) who have suddenly realized all their friends are devoting their lives to having kids. Unable to have kids, Josh and Cornelia obsess about their jobs and technical innovations to fight the inevitable march of time.
The couple starts feeling younger when they befriend a cute hipster couple in their 20s, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Jamie and Darby take them to the hip new happenings and show a refreshing ambivalence about life, rules and status, until it turns out that they have some more devious motives than it originally appears.
Also along for the ride as Stiller’s former best friend in a rare acting performance is Adam Horovitz, better known as Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys. (Horovitz had starred in two indie films – Lost Angels and Roadside Prophets – in the late 80s/early 90s, but has rarely acted in the years since.)
A few days before While We’re Young had its New York premiere, we were invited to participate in a press conference with stars Stiller, Seyfried and Horovitz and writer/director Baumbach.
This is the kind of movie that people of different generations can relate to. At what point did you feel that you were an adult and maybe disconnected with younger people?
Ben Stiller: When I realized all I listened to was the Beastie Boys. That’s all I cared about. (laughs) I feel like having kids. Having kids was the first time for me that I realized I had not think of myself. I’ve never really thought about myself as older, but you start having these more mature responsibilities. Then after you do get to a certain point where you start to realize… like tastes in music, where you just can’t keep up. I remember that years ago, when I started [thinking]: Oh, I’m not aware of that. And it’s just too much trouble to listen to. I’ll try to listen to the stations. Different stations like Alt Nation or something on Sirius [radio], but I always find myself going back to like… Lithium [a Sirius 1990s grunge channel].
Noah Baumbach: The 80s on 8. [A Sirius/XM station that specializes in music of the 1980s.]
Ben Stiller: Yeah.
Your Ben Stiller Show was on MTV when they still played music.
Ben Stiller: Yeah, it was when they started to change over. We were sort of a hybrid. That was a long time ago.
How do you all feel like the advancement of modern technology is affecting the quality of human relationships?
Adam Horovitz: Hold on. Let me text you the answer. (Everyone laughs)
Amanda Seyfried: Good one. It’s true… Besides negatively, maybe?
Ben Stiller: I think there is good and bad. I’m on location now working on a movie. Just to be able to FaceTime with my kids is something that is amazing and great. Skyping. I think those things are really incredible. But then there’s that other thing, what Adam was referring to about texting. It’s much easier to hide behind the technology, and not have actual human interaction. A lot of kids in their twenties hardly talk on the phone with one another. Texting is talking to them, I guess. Not that I know what kids are doing. (laughs)
Noah, what do you feel would make a great double feature with this film?
Noah Baumbach: I’m trying to come up with a double show idea. I’m just getting accustomed to the fact that it’s going to be one show. It hasn’t opened yet. We’re already putting it into reparatory. What would be a good one? Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. (They all laugh.)
Ben Stiller: I literally just watched that movie. That’s unbelievable. It’s really creepy. Very good.
Amanda, what did you like most about your character of Darby, and are there any lessons you learned from her?
Amanda Seyfried: I really liked that she doesn’t seem to worry about much. There’s this burden that I carry on my shoulders constantly. I’m really actively working on really loosening up and being mindful. She’s got that. I think she’s born with it. So, yeah, I’m learning life lessons constantly from Darby.
The overall film shows that nowadays documentaries often merge the most poignant aspects of life from different people, like the documentary takes significant elements from Darby’s life. What do you think about that in real life, in relation to real art?
Ben Stiller: Gosh, that’s a deep question. That really is. I don’t know. I think Josh in the movie is probably more concerned with this idea of truth in his work and cinema. I feel like, for me, all art is based on other art, to a certain extent. But I think what Noah’s talking about in the film is a very real thing. It’s been going on for awhile. Reality television has blurred the lines in a lot of ways, in regards to what’s real and what isn’t. What’s scripted and what isn’t and what people want to see, in documentaries in particular. They want to be entertained, but I think documentaries that can actually tell you the truth and be entertaining and draw you in – where is that line? I don’t know. I’m not a documentarian. That’s something they have to deal with. It’s probably tougher today, as people now are so used to being entertained by “reality” television. There’s a crossover there and some blurred lines of what is actually truthful. Even great documentarians seem to know how to fashion a story and have it be truthful and still make it dramatic. Those choices are always artistic, creative choices that have to be made by the filmmaker. A lot of times biopics and movies about real life subjects that are dramatic, they are always making those choices. Making scenes that didn’t necessarily happen, but trying to imbue you with the idea of what happened.
Noah, what was the process of deciding to make Josh a documentary filmmaker, as opposed to a narrative filmmaker?
Noah Baumbach: Initially, I liked the idea that it was an occupation that they all could have that would be visual. Also something they could collaborate on. The way you capture a documentary film is different. This notion that you’re really just filming life, which is not really what it is, but at least that’s how we perceive it. I didn’t want them to be overtly staging something, so it couldn’t have been a fiction film. It really was more to create a way that each generation’s work could represent them in different ways. That would be something you could see and something an audience could react to. Once I had this documentary idea, though, I had to then engage in these questions of authenticity. They were arguments I engaged in fully with the characters and through the characters, but I didn’t come to conclusions myself. I felt like I was telling the story of a marriage and I needed to find a resolution to that which was satisfying for the movie and hopeful. The other arguments were things that I wasn’t going to ever have an answer for.
There are so many details that distinguish the generations, one of the things is Ann Roth’s costumes. What was the process of working with her on the film?
Noah Baumbach: Ann and I started working together on Margot at the Wedding. [That] was the first one we did together. People don’t know she worked with Mike Nichols throughout most of his career. She did Midnight Cowboy and Klute. She sees the whole movie. It’s not just the clothing. The actors can speak to this. They will come in for fittings, and she’ll have this whole back story and ideas. The first time I worked with her, she started talking about the back story for one of the characters. I thought I would sound stupid if I didn’t know that, because I hadn’t even thought of the back story. (laughs) She had this whole thing: “Maybe she sits on the porch…” It was like a whole other movie, so I just went along with it. But now I’m used to it. I can let her fill in the back story for me. She has a way of dressing people. It’s something, you can’t quite put your finger on it. It transcends whatever the clothing actually is. Somehow she sees the movie. I’ll then see things later in dailies, like texture in a shirt, and I’ll be: I’m so glad that’s there. I didn’t even realize when we picked it. It was important for this movie, too, because we’re dealing with now. We have to true to what’s going on now and what these people would really wear. I wanted it to feel timeless. We weren’t going to really imitate Brooklyn youth culture. We would never catch up if we tried to document what was actually happening now. So with her, we created our own style. She’s the one to do that. She’s great.
Ben, how do you relate to your character? Do you get skeptical when a younger, less established artist approaches you with a project?
Ben Stiller: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t think the character that Adam Driver plays in the movie would know… he has such a specific agenda and it is such a gray area. In general, when somebody comes up to you, I try to be positive and give them the benefit of the doubt that they have some plan. (laughs) I relate to a lot of the issues that are going on in the movie with the character. I think Noah has a great way of illuminating these little things. These little details about life and interactions between people. What it is to live your life. These little experiences that don’t necessarily get translated into movies that often. Movies are usually about bigger, more dramatic events. Noah will find the drama in these little moments. That’s what to me is so interesting about his stuff. As an actor, it’s fun to get into that: Oh, yeah, I know that. I’ve had that experience. Like that runner in the movie where Jamie’s never picking up the check. Those kind of things, the mini-dramas in our lives that are big to us, because you’re thinking about something like that for the rest of the night.
Adam Horovitz: It was just one time. I was going for my wallet. (laughs)
Ben Stiller: (laughs) Yeah. By the way, I thought of maybe a good companion piece to this movie. [It] would be Albert Brooks’ Real Life.
Noah Baumbach: Oh, yeah.
Ben Stiller: Albert Brooks’ character in that movie is sort of a precursor of Jamie.
Noah Baumbach: Is there still time to change the marquee? (Everyone laughs.) Take Don’t Look Now down. Don’t Look Back [a Bob Dylan documentary buy DA Pennebaker], I guess would be a good movie, too.
Ben Stiller: Yeah, it is kind of a Jamie [type of film].
Adam, was it easy for you to connect to your character, and what really attracted you to the role?
Adam Horovitz: Thank you very much. Well, Noah asked me to do it. So I said yes. Noah asked me to do it and I love the movies that he makes. I love these guys and what they do. When someone like Noah says will you do it, you just do it. Not anything, but some things. I did [feel connected to the character]. Being in a band, as you put out records, as the years go by, new music, whole new styles of music come out. There’s always a thing: do you follow that? I feel like you never follow specific things. So it was interesting to be the guy who didn’t follow the thing in the movie.
What are your future plans now that the Beastie Boys are done?
Adam Horovitz: (long exhale) Well, we’re going to see the movie tonight.
Noah Baumbach: Party afterwards.
Adam Horovitz: The guy is coming tomorrow to look at my dryer between 12:00 and 6:00. (Everyone laughs.)
Ben and Noah, this is your second time working together. Greenberg was a very LA-centric movie, this film is definitely a New York story. How do the settings and cities that you film in become characters in the films?
Ben Stiller: Yeah. I think [it was] definitely very different. The experience of making the movies was very different, I felt. I was using the word laconic, is that right? There was probably a more laconic, laid-back feeling when we were making Greenberg in LA. They are both were very small crews and Noah works in this very focused way. But the energy of both places are so different. I feel like that is what is captured in both movies. I really liked the energy Noah captured of LA in Greenberg. This movie is a much more New York-centric movie and has that feeling to it.
Noah Baumbach: In both cases, I wanted the city to exist as it would around our fiction within it. I like that feeling movies where you feel real life around something that’s clearly scripted. The challenge of course becomes how do you get Ben Stiller in the world without people ruining your takes? We put poor Ben on the streets in LA…
Ben Stiller: (jokes) How do you put Ben Stiller into the take without him ruining your take?
Noah Baumbach: People went like this to the camera (makes horns hand sign). People still do this when you go by if they see the camera. Somehow it announces them.
Amanda Seyfried: Trying to make their mark.
Noah Baumbach: In Greenberg, we would hide in a van with a black curtain. We knocked the window out. We would put Ben was on the street, have him go grocery shopping and mail letters. In this one, when you see him and Adam crossing Park Avenue, that’s real Park Avenue. That’s actually just going on. The subway and stuff. It’s a challenge, but I always feel it’s worth it when it happens. When you make it to the end without somebody doing this. (Makes horns sign again.)
Ben Stiller: So often in movies you see that where they set 100 extras on the street and everybody is walking around with briefcases and they are all actors…
Noah Baumbach: Everybody is looking at their watch.
Amanda Seyfried: Everything is so deliberate.
Ben Stiller: That is the worst, when you see extras and the acting happening. Noah really likes to keep it open. It’s interesting, because you are a director of real life and there is a lot more energy that way.
Noah Baumbach: For sure.
Noah, you started your career as a filmmaker here in New York, and in the movie, Adam Driver’s character is starting his career in the city, as well. Do you think New York is a place that can still cultivate you artists?
Noah Baumbach: That’s a good question. Not if you read those articles in The Times about the Time/Warner building and just about the way real estate is being bought here. I think it can be, but it’s obviously a different challenge than what it was. However, people seem to do it. Every year you feel like: Oh, this is it, they’ve ruined it. The new New School Building. That’s it! The one that looks like an air conditioning vent on Fifth Avenue and 14th Street. That’s the worst. I thought that’s it. We’re done. How can we thrive in this environment? But, somehow New York still wins out, I feel like. People find ways to be here. But obviously, I wish it were easier.
Were you conscious of not too heavily emphasizing the us vs. them aspect of the characters within the story?
Noah Baumbach: Well, like I was saying when we were talking about Ann Roth, from a design prospective, we did what was interesting to us. When Ben was rollerblading, Amanda gives him the rollerblades, the feeling was if they’re not rollerblading now, someday they will. We were just doing it the way that felt right for us. When I was writing it, I invested in all sides of the arguments. People assume maybe because I’m in my 40s, I’m going to take the side of the 40-somethings. But I tried to have as much fun with showing what’s not working in the marriage, or Ben’s ten-year investment in his documentary. I’m certainly not showing that as this guy has it figured out. The young people were crazy. I felt like both sides had merit when I was writing it. Beyond that, I felt like people will take away what they take away. I’ve gotten used to that in my movies. I feel like they are often interpreted in ways that I’m surprised by. But I generally like that.
The soundtrack really works. Did any of the songs really impact the trajectory of the story?
Noah Baumbach: The two songs that were in the screenplay were the 2pac “Hit ’Em Up” song, the hip hop that Amanda and Naomi had to learn to dance to that specific song. Amanda I think still performs it.
Amanda Seyfried: Half of it. The other half is tough.
Noah Baumbach: And “Eye of the Tiger” was also in the script. Some of the music came from thinking about the tastes of the characters. Particularly, continuing the technology joke that the younger people are analog and the older people are up to the moment digitally. I felt like the younger people also would play music from Ben and Naomi’s generation, so that was like thinking of “All Night Long,” the Lionel Richie song, or Psychedelic Furs. They were again presenting this culture back to the older people in a new forum that suddenly makes them think: That was a good song. That actually did happen to me with “All Night Long.” I really sold that song short. When I was a teenager, I did not like it. I did not like that record at all. Now I think it’s great. (laughs) Either agree or disagree, feel free to nod or be like [no]. But I love it.
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 27, 2015.
Photos ©2015 Jay S. Jacobs/PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.