Echoing the sentiments of Foreigner's classic cornball hit but without all the melodrama, Charlyne Yi wanted to know what love was, and she wanted some people to show her. In her new film Paper Heart, the actress-writer turned her initial plans for a documentary on the "L" word into a narrative hybrid.
Together with director and co-writer Nicholas Jasenovec, Yi, playing a character named -- yes Charlyne -- sets off cross country to get to the meaning of what love is. She interviews happily married couples, celebrities, and divorce lawyers (among others) and tries to overcome her own pessimism about love.
I spoke to Yi from the Just For Laughs Comedy Conference and Film Festival in Montreal earlier this week, and asked her about her views on love (then and now), her co-star Michael Cera, and how her film evolved from beginning to end.
Your little film is getting a lot of exposure lately...
It's pretty intense but it's awesome so many people want to hear about the movie.
What are your hopes for this movie? Obviously it's not a big summer blockbuster by Hollywood standards but you must be excited to see it compete in theaters...
Especially since we didn't know really what the future was going to be. Originally it was going to go to two theaters maybe for a week and then go straight to DVD. Now it's going to much more theaters and people seem to be aware of it.
Well, Entertainment Weekly had a great piece on how your film as well as 500 Days of Summer and Adam are ushering in sort of an intelligent "teen comedy" comeback this summer. What do you make of that?
I don't know. I'm not sure about a comeback. I think it's hard to say a movie is a teen movie or a family movie or something. I'm a big fan of family movies like The Santa Clause. I don't think they ever make comebacks. I think they always exist.
But, they're not always done well.
Yeah, that's true.
Like did you see The Sante Clause 3?
No, I only saw first one.
Don't. Moving on, how did this movie evolve? It seems to have started off as something and ended up as something completely different.
It constantly evolved. The idea was kind of views of my own questioning of love personally -- not to doubt anyone else's love. I wasn't certain of my own love. That inspired [the movie]. I found it strange that strangers would just open up to me with their love stories.
That's the documentary end of it, but there's a story to it, too...
Capturing the true love stories [is] the documentary portion, but Nick wanted to see the film in my eyes because of my doubts. He thought it's be a great way to see the film. He wanted me to start dating on camera, but I wasn't comfortable with that. Because of that, he came up with the idea of creating a narrative and using that as the basis. That way, my character would have an arc and I would take on a character's name which was mine in the hopes it would allow the documentary pieces seem more natural in the film.
Did Michael Cera come on board early on in the process?
I think after we figured out what we wanted to do with the film -- combining the documentary and the narrative -- we hammered out an outline and made a list of all the young actors we found talented. Nick knew Michael before. I didn't actually see him act before, and he told me to watch Arrested Development. [I did] and was like "Wow, he's such a really good actor -- so subtle, so natural." I was all for him, and Michael was into the idea.
And you guys dated, right?
[Laughs] We didn't date but were always friends.
You didn't date?
No. I've been getting that once in awhile. It might be because we're playing ourselves. Most [thought] Ellen Page and Michael [were dating] for Juno.
Ah...Now that you've made the movie, where do you stand on love now?
I think the beginning was my [being] naïve. I guess the idea of being uncertain made me have doubts but then I realized with everything there's doubts and you question if it'll last forever. There's nothing wrong with that, and you accept that and live in the moment and see where it goes. Making the actual documentary and meeting all these strangers was like staring at love in the face. It was living proof that love exists.
Anytime you doubt love ever again listen to the lyrics of "The Greatest Love of All..."
I love that song. My band covered it.
Speaking of which, you wrote the music to this. Not too shabby -- writing it, starring in it, and scoring it -- huh?
It was really exciting. The big lesson we learned from doing the documentary, the narrative and the music is that even though you don't know what you're doing, as long as you're confident -- not arrogant -- and brave enough for the challenge, you'll be alight.