It’s hard to imagine that a collection of films labeled “Mumblecore”—works fueled by low-budgets, naturalistic dialogue and existential crises—got its start at Harvard, where Andrew Bujalski once studied. It’s equally difficult to imagine a movie in which Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders and Kevin Corrigan share the same romantic and professional space. And yet here we are with Results, Bujalski’s wry curveball of a comedy about two personal trainers (Pearce and Smulders) whose lives take a few unexpected detours upon working with a wealthy client (Corrigan). In conversation, the Boston-born filmmaker discussed the DNA of Results, “self-improvement” culture and why he will never buy George Clooney as the “down-on-his-luck schlub.”
Sam Fragoso: This is the first time you’re working with what the industry would consider ‘stars.’ Did you write Results with Smulders and Peace in mind?
Andrew Bujalski: I wrote it for Guy and Kevin Corrigan. I didn’t know Cobie in advance, but I was very lucky to find her and have her complete this puzzle for me.
Fragoso: What about them did you latch on to?
Bujalski You know, I had worked a little with ‘real actors,’ professional actors, but the bulk of my experience and my comfort zone is with non-pros, and I’ve certainly never worked with or engaged the Hollywood machine and worked with folks with this level of professional ‘status’ as these guys. Status is a strange thing, and it’s a daunting thing. But I’d met Guy four years ago, and we’d had breakfast and discussed another project –
Fragoso: That wasn’t this one?
Bujalski: Yeah, we’d talked about another script of mine which has not been made yet, but I just found him to be a fascinating person and of course a fascinating actor, I’m a fan of his work. And Kevin is someone I’ve been a fan of for twenty years, and I know him a little bit socially for the last three years. So really it just started with me just sitting down and thinking, ‘Well what would it be for me?’ What I didn’t think would work would be to just write a script for nonprofessionals, and then go, instead of nonprofessionals, I’m going to hire real actors. I had no interest in or intention of writing Beeswax 2 or Computer Chess 2 and saying, ‘It’s going to be just like that but with George Clooney.’ It seemed to me that I had to construct something differently from the DNA of it. And I wasn’t quite sure what that was. In starting to think about it, wrapping my head around that problem, I thought, ‘How can I get specific? What actors would be fun to work with?’ And Guy and Kevin came to mind. I started laughing thinking about the two of them occupying the same movie.
Fragoso: Especially with Guy’s Australian accent, which I always forget he has.
Bujalski: Yeah, although, apparently—and I only learned this two days ago at our premiere, and now that someone’s pointed it out to me, I should have noticed it all along—he’s such a consummate character actor. Guy loves nothing more than to disappear into a character. So I think it took him a minute when I sat him down and said, ‘I love for you to do this in your Australian accent and not worry about doing an American accent.’ It wasn’t immediately intuitive to him, but we exchanged some emails about it and I told him why I wanted that and he was okay with it. But what I hadn’t quite realized until an Australian journalist pointed it out to me is that I think he is doing a little bit of character acting, I think he’s playing up his accent a little. I just hadn’t noticed until it was pointed out to me.
Fragoso: He needs to do some kind of character.
Bujalski: I appreciate that. It’s funny with Guy how systematic he is about that.
Fragoso: You mentioned earlier the ‘DNA’ of this movie. What exactly is the film’s DNA made up of? Broadcast News has been mentioned a lot.
Bujalski: Well, I adore Broadcast News, it’s one of my favorite movies in the world. I can’t say it was consciously on my mind. Frankly, I don’t know we’re worthy of the comparison, but I’m certainly flattered to have it mentioned in the same breath.
Fragoso: And then Pain and Gain.
Bujalski: Put that on the poster: Broadcast News meets Pain and Gain. But really, I think [with] anything I’ve ever written, I don’t quite know where I’m going till I get there. A lot of it is following intuition and just following what seems funny to me.
Fragoso: And subject of self-improvement seems….
Bujalski: There’s just this general question of thinking about working with actors. Sometimes you go to see a movie in which Clooney plays a down-on-his-luck schlub. He’s a great actor, but I can’t take it when he’s cast as a down-on-his-luck schlub.
Fragoso: You didn’t buy him in The Descendants?
Bujalski: I didn’t, and it’s not his fault. He’s a great actor, but I just can’t see past that. And so that was one thing for me, and I thought, ‘Look, I’ve got Guy Pearce in a movie, and he’s a very committed actor, so I could say, Guy, go get fat for me,’ and he’d do it. But he’s gorgeous—he doesn’t think so.
Fragoso: He doesn’t think he’s gorgeous?
Bujalski: No, it’s very funny to talk to him about it, he’ll tell you about how out of shape he thinks he is.
Fragoso: So Results really is a perfect fit for him.
Bujalski: Well, he was happy to hang out in a gym, and I think that’s a part of why he does. He’s so sweet and such an intensely committed collaborator. I’m so grateful to have worked with him, he exceeded all my expectations for his work and his level of commitment to the work. If I was going to cast Guy, I didn’t want to make a movie in which we ignored that he is such a fine specimen of humanity. Which didn’t mean that I wanted to objectify him or good on him, I wanted to do a movie where the beautiful people were allowed to be beautiful people, but also seem human, so something about personal trainers seemed funny to me and kind of on the money. There’s a weird overlap of the challenged and insecurities of those two professions.
Fragoso: Your movie does a good job of exploring those insecurities.
Bujalski: Much like acting, it’s sort of a glamorous job, per hour you might get paid well, but you don’t really know when the next hour necessarily is going to be. Trainers are putting their schedules together week by week and people just blithely cancel on them. You might have a really great gig as an actor this week, and who knows when you’re going to work again? And obviously you gotta look good all day every day.
Fragoso: Did you know any personal trainers personally?
Bujalski: There were some other things in mind, but I think the only way I could really justify trying to get on a serious gym regimen was to say, ‘Okay, I’m writing this script now, this is research.’ So I did start going to a trainer at a gym. When Guy’s character takes Kevin to a weight lifting gym, that’s the gym I was going to. I was going consistently for maybe a little over a year, and low and behold—I sure didn’t look like Guy, but I did get in the best shape of my adult life. It was nice. Of course then we shot the movie and we had my second kid (my daughter was born when we wrapped), so I haven’t set foot in a gym in eight months. My body has reverted to normal. That’s something nobody ever explained to me. If you start working out consistently, when you stop, then you feel shitty. As soon as you do, you’re like ‘Oh no! I thought it’d be fine to stop, I’ve been out of shape my whole life, but no!’ You’re aware of how sluggish and shitty you are, you just feel out of it. Don’t go, you’ll just end up feeling bad.
Fragoso: I appreciate the advice. You know, the only thing your characters seem to commit to is staying in shape. It comes across as a substitute for intimacy.
Bujalski: That probably started with this image of doing a movie with Guy and Kevin, and thinking, ‘What’s making me laugh about this?’ On the one hand these guys seem so far apart—chocolate and peanut butter. On the other hand, there’s this weird overlap. They’re both just actors, and what’s interesting about their work is that they can have a really interesting inscrutability. And I think in someway comes from different places, but they’re both hard to read. And I like the idea of playing off of that. So we ended up having two types of loneliness, and I needed this Cat character in the middle who’s more effusive and outgoing, but it ended up being another kind of loneliness. It did end up being this kind of meditation on different ways to be lonely.
Fragoso: It is hard to tell if Guy’s character knows what he’s saying is kind of ridiculous.
Bujalski: It’s a line we were certainly trying to toe. Sometimes Guy would wonder, ‘Is Trevor totally naïve? Is he dumb?’ And I always wanted to be careful. I certainly never wanted to play him as naïve or dumb. There’s a kind of willful optimism. I know people like that who are true believers. I don’t think you have to be naïve or dumb to be a true believer, on the contrary it takes extraordinary will. They’re very aware of all the holes you could poke in them, and they just have to work that much hard to inflate themselves.
Fragoso: So was the framing of Trevor’s YouTube video, which allowed us to see that the video has fourteen hits, intentional?
Bujalski: It’s funny, because we talked about that in post. On the one hand, it’s an indie production, so we’re moving very fast, so we really put that up on YouTube. That’s the real page and it really did have a low number of hits. And as we’re about to shoot it, we’re like, ‘Oh shit, is this okay? DO we need to take a minute and have everyone click the link 100 times? I think it’s fine.’ In some way, it speaks to Trevor’s enthusiasm as a businessman sometimes exceeding his pragmatic grasp.
Fragoso: It definitely elicits some pity. It’s a six-minute video that’s five minutes too long with fourteen hits, and he’s poured his heart and soul and livelihood into this.
Bujalski: If you want to get technical about this, and we did have this discussion—it’s a ridiculous discussion to have–but I talked it through with someone, and he could have his own web page, and it could be embedded, depending on the webpage’s design, and maybe other people have seen it in another non YouTube context. You’ll have to talk to the web nerds about that.
Fragoso: You’re not a web nerd?
Bujalski: I’m not a web nerd. I’m many kinds of nerd; but not a web nerd.
Fragoso: What kinds?
Bujalski: I used to be a movie nerd, I don’t know. I still think of myself as one, but I have two kids now. Which is kind of the breaking point of going to the movies a lot.
Fragoso: I don’t think loving film ever fully fades away.
Bujalski: I’m having an identity crisis about that.
Fragoso: You okay?
Bujalski: Short term or long term?
Bujalski: Short term, I’ll be fine. Long term is anybody’s guess.