Being able to relate to a character within a film can be important. That’s part of the reason I walked away from Safety Not Guaranteed with such genuine happiness, understanding this story of an outcast and the joy one can have of truly just being yourself. During SXSW I had the chance to sit down with the film’s Karan Soni and Jake Johnson who play the co-workers of Aubrey Plaza. Together we talked about expectations, Jaws, seeing themselves on film, and a lengthy discussion of technology and the good and bad side of it. Check it out below.
The Film Stage: The film played at Sundance. Did you both see it there?
Karan Soni (KS) and Jake Johnson (JJ): We did.
There was a certain level of success over there. Do you come here with an idea of how it is going to play or are you sitting there, in the theater, biting your nails?
JJ: You bite your nails. I don’t think you can ever feel totally confident because you never know. If we did 10 festivals and got the same reaction, by the 11th you’re probably going to start to feel confident. But this second one, at least I know for me, I felt nervous.
KS: I was really nervous at the screening last night. But before I wasn’t. I was really nervous at Sundance. But as soon as the screening started [here] I was with a different audience and a different vibe, I was just in my seat like, ‘Oh, boy,’ and just the whole thing over again.
JJ: The audience reacted really big in Austin. And I hear there’s great audiences here and there really was.
A lot of actors say that they don’t necessarily like to watch themselves on film. A lot of times those particular actors are not comedic actors, but instead dramatic or things like that, something very intense. So with the lighter side of things, is it easier to watch yourself? Do you laugh at the same jokes over and over or do you lose some of that?
KS: I, personally, don’t like watching myself. So I was really scared to watch this. But I noticed, because I’ve watched it a few times, I’m pretty OK with watching it. Maybe that’s because I really enjoy the movie a lot. It’s really up my alley. Even last night, I was laughing at all the jokes. And I feel like everyone has their moments in the movie.
JJ: This is true.
KS: It cuts from scene to scene and every actor, all four of us, just get great moments. Also I think it would be different if I watched it by myself. But with an audience, I can not help but just get on board.
JJ: I agree with that answer. I feel the same way.
This movie talks a little bit about losing touch. Specifically with your story line, Jake. You both have had a certain level of success so far. Have you lost touch with people in your own lives that you otherwise wouldn’t have if you weren’t so busy?
JJ: I don’t talk to my brother enough. He just had a son. I have a nephew, Luke Johnson.
KS: Oh. [Laughs] I don’t know why, but I just had a visual of a Luke Johnson.
JJ: Did you really?
JJ Well, he’s a little bit of a spiritualist over here. He used to read tarot cards.
KS: Oh, yeah.
JJ: So, I think that it’s less about Sundance or South by Southwest, but doing a TV show I’m pretty busy. So I see the people I care about less. I see my sister less. I don’t see my wife enough.
In this day and age of cell phones, Facebook, the internet, webcams and stuff like that, do you feel like you have the ability to still be close?
JJ: Yeah, I always do FaceTime with my brother and the baby. So I see them a lot, but nothing compares to the real thing. But it’s cool. I prefer this than, you know, telegrams. [Laughs]
KS: How long ago did that happen? I don’t remember that.
JJ: [Laughs] I’m a little bit older than you.
KS: I was thinking the other day, that in one way Facebook is cool because you can keep in touch with people, but it’s not the same. Like, the other day, someone invited me to a show they were doing, in person, but they never sent me a Facebook invite, so I never even took the effort to remember when it was happening. I just assumed. And they were like, ‘Oh, you never came.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you did invite me.’ It’s weird. It’s become this whole other thing. It’s cool in some ways, but in others I feel like you lose touch.
In that way, you don’t have a paper trail. In a way it’s like, ‘Well, you didn’t send a reminder. You gotta follow up.’ [Laughs]
JJ: I don’t like that stuff, in terms of technology. If somebody just does something on Facebook, I don’t feel responsible to understand it or come. I accept texts and emails, but Facebook, I’m like, ‘Come on, man.’ I still use that thing as a goofy, fun thing to view photos of people I went to high school with.
JJ: I don’t view it as a means of real communication. So if somebody does a mass-whatever, I’m not reading all the stuff on the side. I’m just looking at the photos. [Laughs] Like, the other day, somebody got mad at a friend of mine about something on Facebook and I was so annoyed to hear about it. I’m just like, ‘Give me a damn break.’ Oh, that and Twitter also. I’m on Twitter now. Somebody sent me a direct message, for the show.
JS: You’re on Twitter now!
JJ: Yeah, for the show. And somebody sent me direct messages and I forgot to check for like a week, and they were like, ‘Hey man, I asked you a specific question.’ And I was like, ‘Hey man, fuck you. Call me, man.‘ I’m like, ‘I’m here. Call me.’
I think that is kind of interesting that, you’ll have friends message you certain things where, they have your phone number. They have the possibility of seeing you.
JJ: You can get at me. You can do an old school thing and leave a message, and when it goes ‘beep’ you say, ‘Hey, this is my question, call me back.’ But I just think with technology, it’s easier for people. And I also think that with technology, the good thing is that you get to do FaceTime with your nephews and nieces. The bad side of it is that people are way more bold on the internet. Like user comments and things like that, there’s a lot of things these people say that…
They would never say.
JJ: If you’re face to face with somebody, people have such bold opinions. Well, that’s cool, but, I do wish it was less anonymous because I like people being responsible for what they say. If you hate something, and have something nasty to say, that’s your right. And that’s fine. But I hate when it’s, you know, STUDMAN42…
JJ: Hiding behind these huge, tough words. Come on, man.
KS: Yeah, I read the comment wars sometimes and I feel like it’s a cool thing on paper because it’s an open discussion. But people just jab each other and I think that’s crazy.
JJ: And these people going back and forth, they wouldn’t be that bold with each other. ‘Shut the fuck up.’ ‘Eat my dick.’ If you two guys were having this fight, I’m pretty sure it would be a quick, like, ‘Yeah, I understand what you’re saying.’ But that’s just my opinion.
JS: To each their own. Yeah.
JJ: But not at three in the morning, on my computer!
Getting back. The film has this build up. I was just thinking about it and I’m likening it to Jaws…
It doesn’t show you, doesn’t show you, doesn’t show you…
JJ: That makes perfect sense.
And then there’s the finale.
JJ: Yeah, we’ve got a shark in the water.
JJ: It’s there throughout the whole movie. You know it’s coming.
Did you appreciate that? How it kept pushing it to the side and instead focused on the characters?
JJ: Going into this, that’s how Colin [Trevorrow, director] described it. The way he and I talked about the Jeff and Arnau story (their characters) was, he was like, ‘Don’t worry about the time travel. Don’t worry about this.’ It was just a character study. He wanted us two, as people, to hang out and get to know each other so that we were comfortable. He said that he wanted people to care about Jeff and Arnau, and that we would worry about other stuff later. So when we were shooting our scenes, we weren’t thinking about [that]. We weren’t thinking about the overlying, A story of the movie. We were worried about our weird, little B-story arc.
KS: I never though about Mark and Aubrey’s side of it. Chemistry? Yeah, I don’t know what they’re doing. And then when we watched it, it was really fun. I remember reading it, and then finally seeing it on the screen.
JJ: And that goes back to your earlier question. ‘Is it fun to watch?’ It’s not that fun watching yourself, because you know what you did, so all you’re doing is ‘Well, I wish I did it differently there,’ or, ‘That’s the take they used?’ It gets nit-picky. But when you get to watch other people, you get to see, as a fan, I get to watch Aubrey and Mark. I was shooting scenes with him, but it’s still nice to watch Karan work. My biggest laughs are when you get to watch your co-stars do something that, even you in the moment didn’t realize somebody was doing. I think that gets really fun.
Safety Not Guaranteed is now in limited release.