Ahead of the European premiere of James Vs. His Future Self at the Glasgow Film Festival 2020, I sat down with film director Jeremy LaLonde and lead actor Jonas Chernick to talk about their film.
qmunicate: First of all, can you tell me a little bit about how this project came to be?
Jonas: Jeremy and I have worked together as a director and actor before— Jeremy cast me in his film How To Plan An Orgy in A Small Town. After we worked together as director and actor, we wanted to look for something else to do together. We’ve read each other’s script over the years and have given each other notes, but Jeremy asked me if I had any ideas developed, something in a sci-fi world. And I happened to have this little idea that was a little bit sci-fi-y, so I shared it with him. It was really just the bare bones nucleus of this movie— one man against his future self, and we ended up expanding and developing it into this.
qmunicate: Time-travel is obviously something that has been explored in many movies, but I think you have a unique angle on it. I was wondering what your approach was to doing a new take on this trope.
Jeremy: For us it was just about coming up with clear and succinct rules around time travel. There’s a lot of stuff that’s not in the movie, where Jonas and I filled blackboards and emails and notebooks whilst we were figuring it out ourselves. The rules were very strict and firm in what we could and couldn’t do, what Daniel Stern (older James) could and couldn’t know, and how all of that worked, and that way we could throw most of it away and focus on the story. We’ve all seen the bad version of time travel movies, where you’re pulled out of the movie by going: ‘Oh I didn’t buy this or that’. I think the cardinal sin of a movie is if you’re pulled out of it because you start pulling it apart, and then the movie has failed. We didn’t want the movie to get in the way of itself, and so it was about making sure it was as clear and clean and simple as possible, so you can just enjoy the ride.
qmunicate: Another thing I really liked about the film is that the science-fiction elements are there, and that they are planned out, but you don’t overindulge them. You find a good balance between the human drama and the sci-fi elements—
Jonas: — and the dick jokes!
qmunicate: Right! That’s important!
Jeremy: It’s a triangle!
Jonas: The holy trifecta!
qmunicate: James as a character initially seems like the archetypical physics nerd. I was wondering how you went about finding the balance between creating a protagonist who’s a bit unlikable in the beginning, but also someone you can really relate to, because you can clearly tell where he goes wrong in his life.
Jonas: For me, as a writer and actor, I’m very interested in characters that make questionable choices, especially early on in the film, and then you spend the rest of the story trying to redeem the character. I like the tightrope that you have to walk when you’re writing this, because you want to keep the audience on your side, and yet you want to make sure that your character is making controversial choices that your audience doesn’t agree with.
Jeremy: I think it’s very important for Jonas and I to not have our characters fall into the tropes that they naturally are. You mentioned that he is a nerd, and he is that, so we want to make sure that that comes across, but he’s a nerd by way of passion and not by a way of how many quotes he can give from Star Wars. So there are other ways we can lean into that and we can have some fun with it, but what’s the sad side of it? What are all the different layers and shades of that? We want to lean into it in a way that’s honest. These are human beings, and not just tropes.
qmunicate: Older/Future James is played by Daniel Stern, who’s amazing in the film and plays so well with Jonas. Old and young James are quite different because of plot reasons, but are there any moments where you tried to act off each other or imitate each other’s quirks?
Jonas: I did! I was very excited that I was going to do it, not imitating Daniel, but that I was going to let my performance move towards some of his mannerisms in a way. When we were prepping to shoot the movie, Jeremy and I were roommates in Northern Ontario, and we did a Daniel Stern film festival. Every night we would get together and watch a Daniel Stern movie, and I would sit there with my notebook, and I would take notes on the way he says things. Jeremy would just sit back on the couch with popcorn watching me with a sly smile on his face. Then, we got together to talk about it, and he took the notebook and threw it into the fire and said: ‘no, no, no— it’s great you did all of that but this isn’t about an imitation’. Jeremy very wisely said that his perspective was that this isn’t an imitation, and we want to embrace the notion that future James is a different person, that he’s gone down an avenue that’s led him somewhere else and so we’re not going to mimic his voice. Instead, Jeremy found really clever, subtle ways of mirroring us visually, and we had moments where he would frame us in profile or where we were looking at each other and would do the same thing, so it was really more about that and getting away from the big stuff.
qmunicate: So, are you planning on collaborating again in the future?
Jonas: Yeah. We got something in the works.
James Vs. His Future Self screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival, and will be available in the UK on Sky from in April. Read our review of the film here: [insert link].
More information on the Glasgow Film Festival is available here: https://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival.
[Amelie Voges – she/her – @amelieleav]