The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of I Used to Go Here.
What was the inspiration for the film?
Kris Rey: I found the inspiration for the movie when I was on tour with my last film [Unexpected] four years ago. I got invited to a bunch of different universities in the states where I showed the movie and talked to students, and it was my first time going back to college as a professional adult. It was such a weird and fun dynamic… I sort of related more to the college students than I did to the professors. It reminded me of when I was a student, and I was like if a visiting filmmaker comes, maybe they’ll come get beers with us and hang out! And there were a few filmmakers that did do that, that came out to a bar. So I had this impulse when I went to the universities; I did go out and get drinks a few times with the students. And it was interesting because it really felt like being a celebrity— they were all very interested in me and asking questions, and it felt kind of undeserved at the time. I remember thinking, depending on where you were in your life, you could really get into that and maybe want to stay there for a while. There would be a temptation to keep that bubble going for as long as possible.
Can you talk about the casting process? I was impressed with the diversity of the cast.
KR: I always try to ground everything in realism and naturalism, even with a comedy, even if it gets a little broad. It’s what I like. It’s my taste. So when I’m looking for cast, I’m looking for people that look and act like real people. It’s funny; I got a text from my friend last night that said “I love that everyone looks like a real person,” and it’s such a funny compliment because of course every actor is a real person! No matter what they look like, they’re all real humans. But when I’m casting, I do look for someone that looks like their authentic self. It was important to me that all the college students felt like real college students. I didn’t want 30-year-olds playing 20-year-olds, and I really wanted them to look young and be fairly unknown. As far as the diversity goes, that all falls into place with the intention of creating a realistic cast, and trying very hard to represent what actually exists in real life. It can be challenging, because financiers are looking for recognizable names for roles. I had to fight for an Asian-American to play Laura, I really wanted Emma to be African-American, and I had to specify it in the scene descriptions for those characters, and then continue to push.
And Gillian, what drew you to the script?
Gillian Jacobs: I was doing a play in New York and I read the script and had a Skype meeting with Kris. We saw the character in the film the same way. I was really drawn to it because I felt it was a three-dimensional leading character who was grappling with her work and life as much as she was her romantic journey. I’m always really drawn to scripts that talk about those issues as well. I could relate to a lot of the things she was going through so I was very eager to get to work on this film with Kris.
I always try to ground everything in realism and naturalism, even with a comedy.
Can you talk about the rehearsal process? Were you able to spend time with the other cast members before the shoot?
GJ: Because a lot of us live in different places, we didn’t have a chance to rehearse traditionally before we started shooting. But all the scenes that took place at the lake were shot as this summer camp in Wisconsin, so we had this sort of built-in bonding time of driving from Chicago to the camp, spending a few days at the camp, and then driving back to Chicago. I felt like there was a big advantage to having all the cast in this big van together, talking for a few hours and getting to know each other. Everyone is so easy to get along with; they’re all really smart and charming and interesting. My sense is that all the actors that were playing the college students that lived together developed a kind of natural rapport pretty easily, and I loved spending time with them. I think that’s really a testament to Kris’s casting.
I loved the last scene between Kate and April. Both characters seemed to subvert expectations. How was it writing and shooting that scene?
KR: I love the character of April. Hannah Marks, who plays April, is so unbelievably cool and is similar to the character she plays. The last scene with April is actually a re-shoot. I’m glad you responded to it because the whole experience of ending the film was very stressful. We initially shot a totally different scene that was much more mild and awkward between them, a keep in touch kind of thing. Which had its moments, and worked on the page. But then when I saw the first cut of the movie, it just didn’t feel like it honored the character of April. And it left Kate with much to learn, so Gillian and I were kind of re-writing it on set together while we were doing those re-shoots. We were sitting down being like “should she say this?” because it happened really quickly. I love the way both actresses play the scene and I think it wound up being perfect.
GJ: Once again, Kris’s casting of Hannah – an actress/writer/director – was so brilliant. She’s doing all the things I aspire to do at a younger age than I started attempting any of those things. She’s such a terrific performer and I love this re-write of the scene where she’s really calling Kate out, and it really gets Kate to her most honest. It had been touched on in those scenes with Jermaine’s character and Josh’s character, where she’s sort of admitting the book is a failure. But I feel like the scene with Hannah really gets to a more honest place. It’s bad and I didn’t want to write a bad book and now I have to live with that. I love that Kris’s script ended with a “I could’ve been better,” which is Kate at her most honest, but also being nicer to herself too.