Yelchin likes improv method behind 'Like Crazy'

Star thrilled audiences connecting with Sundance winner

POSTED: 01:28 PM MDT Nov 03, 2011    UPDATED: 06:06 AM MDT Nov 04, 2011 
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By Tim Lammers, StrictlyCinema.com -

Anyone who's been in love certainly knows it's unpredictable, so it only made sense that the stars of "Like Crazy" -- Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones -- approached their roles in improvisational fashion.

And so far, the response to their realistic "reel love" with "Like Crazy" has worked. As it approaches its opening in theaters nationwide Friday, the indie romance brings with it not only the Grand Jury Prize from this year's Sundance Film Festival and various other festival accolades, but a deeply emotional story about the highs and lows surrounding a long-distance relationship that audiences have been identifying with.

"As we've been unleashing this movie upon the world -- especially at Sundance because we spoke to a lot of audiences -- we've found that people have really been connecting with it," Yelchin said in a recent interview. "It's not melodramatic or over your head. It's just about those moments of love that people know about."

Written and directed by Drake Doremus, "Like Crazy" tells the story of college students Jacob (Yelchin) and Anna (Jones), whose deep love for one another is challenged when Anna, a British citizen, violates the terms of her student visa and is not allowed to return to the U.S. after a trip home.

Up against strict legal systems on both sides of the ocean and appeal processes that separate them indefinitely, Anna and Jacob struggle with their feelings for one another -- and other people who come into their lives -- hoping somehow that the first true love they've experienced will survive it all.

Since most of the scenes in "Like Crazy" were improvised, the process, Yelchin said, was much different that other films that he had previously worked on.

To start, Yelchin said, Doremus provided him and Jones a 50-page outline that contained subtext, objectives and character descriptions, which eventually led to seven, 10-hour days of rehearsals for the trio.

"After that process, you develop a comfort and an intimacy with one another so when start filming, you commit 1,000 percent," Yelchin said. "There are no holds barred. You're just going for it. At a certain point, you lose yourself in it."

When you hear of improvisation as it relates to film, it's generally associated to comedies like "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" or "Bridesmaids" than it is drama.

The 21-year-old Yelchin, who did improv on an episode of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" when he was a young teen, said improvising a role in a drama akin to "Like Crazy" definitely requires a different set of acting sensibilities.

"On 'Curb,' I wasn't crafting a character so much, because (in improvised comedy) you have gimmick of a situation, then you play with it and it's funny," Yelchin observed. "Here, you really have to known this character inside and out so completely that everything you say as that character would be something that they would say as a person. It's really a gift for an actor to have that freedom because you can go wherever you want to go, say whatever you want to say, or even not speak when you don't want to speak. It really allows you to explore a character's soul."

And while Yelchin has had the pleasure of exploring that soul, audience members are finding it with him, too. Yelchin -- who's had a full movie slate this year with a pivotal role in Jodie Foster's "The Beaver" and as the star of the remake of "Fright Night" -- said the most satisfying experiences after making "Like Crazy" has been the one-on-one connections he's been making with audiences members.

"People of all ages and both sexes -- anyone who's ever been in a relationship and fell in love, said that they really related to it," Yelchin said. "I've had middle-aged women come up to me to say they related to it, and I've had young guys tell me the same. I've heard stories about long distance relationships, and heard other people saying, 'It makes me remember my first love.' It's really nice to realize that you've made something that a lot of people can relate to."

Of his upcoming projects, Yelchin said he's really looking forward to boarding the Starship Enterprise again as Ensign Pavel Chekov in the highly anticipated sequel to the 2009 blockbuster "Star Trek," which will director J.J. Abrams will start filming early next year.

At this point, Yelchin added, he has no idea where the next film will boldly go.

"I don't know what the story's about, but that's how J.J. works -- he keeps everything top secret," Yelchin said. "He likes to keep things under wraps so it's a surprise for us and even a bigger surprise for the audience."