Finding a person who will genuinely improve your life, whether as a friend or a romantic partner, can be a difficult process for many people, particularly if they’re still trying to bolster their own sense of worth. It can be particularly even more challenging for recent college graduates, who are struggling to build careers and find a sense of security as they truly step out into the world on their own. That’s particularly the case with the three main characters in the new romantic comedy, ‘That Awkward Moment,’ from first-time writer-director Tom Gormican, who created a relatable story about young adults searching for their place in the world.
‘That Awkward Moment’ follows three single best friends-book cover designers Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), a doctor in his residency-who are living seemingly carefree lifestyles in New York City. After Mikey’s wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas), unexpectedly tells him she’s been cheating on him and wants a divorce, the three friends make a no commitment pact. Since they’re all finally single at the same time, they’ll forgo romantic relationships and instead concentrate on partying together and with as many women as possible.
However, the friends’ obligation to their agreement quickly begins to waver. Mikey begins having sex with Vera again, even though they aren’t any closer to rekindling their emotional bond than they were when she first revealed her affair. Jason also begins secretly dating an emerging novelist, Ellie (Imogen Poots), whom he met in a bar and subsequently designed a book cover for inadvertently. Daniel also covertly starts seeing his friend Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), after the two spent countless nights trying to set each other up with other people. The three friends try to process how Jason and Daniel are now unexpectedly falling in love, while Mikey, who always believed in marrying young, is going through a break-up, without letting the changes in their attitudes affect their relationships with each other.
Gormican was joined by several of the stars of ‘That Awkward Moment,’ including Efron, Teller, Jordan and Potts, at a recent press conference at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel to talk about the romantic comedy. Among other things, the writer-director and actors discussed how the actors were always the filmmaker’s first choice as the three friends in the film, as the characters needed to be incredibly likeable as people, and not just as actors who embody them; how they think life’s too short to spend it in bad romantic relationship and friendships, and if one person’s not really getting anything out of the bond anymore, they should end the connection; and how they relate to their characters, as they’re good people trying to find love, and figure out what friendship truly means.
Question (Q): For the actors, when you looked at the script, where there moments where you hated your characters? Where did you draw the line of who you are and who your character is?
Michael B. Jordan (MBJ): I passed on the role numerous times. (laughs)
Tom Gormican (TM): We had to chase Michael down, and kept calling his agent. We kept passing on his pass. (laughs)
Miles Teller (MT): Of course Morris Chestnut wasn’t available. (laughs)
MBJ: I asked them so many times to change the name. I couldn’t be Mikey-it was too close. But I was the guy who was trying to make his relationship work, even though they’re not in love anymore. Sometimes people grow out of love, and that’s how Mikey felt. He couldn’t make his relationship work.
There were times when I wanted to say, you’ll be fine, so get back in the game. Be around your friends, drink and have a good time.
MT: Mike’s the most unlike his character. I’m so used to seeing Mike being so in control of his feelings. It’s usually the girls who are saying, “So…what’s next, Mike?”
When I first met Tom, we expanded the role of Daniel. Once I met Mackenzie, we had a lot of fun. In the movie, she starts off as my friend, so the most important thing for me was to hang out with her and make it real.
Zac Efron (ZE): What I liked the most about Jason is that once a woman tries to be honest, he gets scared. I always believed that honesty is the most important thing in a relationship. It’s difficult, especially in scenarios like this movie. You’re young and single, and trying to figure out your own life.
So that’s why guys can relate to this movie. We walk a careful balance in really being good guys deep down, and waking up the next day and feeling guilty about our commitment issues. At the same time, we have to live our lives.
I think this is the first look into what it’s like to be a guy of our age. Sometimes it takes your best friends to help you get through it. But Jason does learn a lesson at the end.
Q: One of the best parts of the film was that no one knew who Morris Chestnut was. How did that aspect of the story come about?
TG: First of all, you needed somebody who Michael B. Jordan’s wife would plausibly cheat on him with (laughs), and Morris Chestnut is very cool. In the original script, it was Art Garfunkel. (laughs)
MBJ: That had to go!
TG: Michael was adamant about that going. So we chose Morris, because we’re all big fans of his work. He had a tremendous year, and we like to think we had something to do with that.
MBJ: Tom wanted to see me get into a fight with Morris Chestnut. (laughs)
TG: I remember asking him that specific question, of who would win in a fight between him and Morris Chestnut, and I’m not going to tell you what he said…But it’s Morris Chestnut. (laughs)
Q: Tom, can you talk about the casting for the film?
TG: For me, these were always the three guys in the film, and I chased them down until I was able to get them to say yes. I think one of the most important things about a movie where there are guys in their 20s, often make terrible decisions. So they need to be incredibly likeable as people, and not just as actors who embody them.
They also have to be people who would be friends in real life. I think they became just that in the movie. The actors did become great friends, and that sort of thing shows up on screen. So that was my process of who we could put together. I think we did the best job possible in finding actors who worked for these roles.
Imogen was also perfect for her role, because I wanted someone who in real life…
Imogen Poots (IP):…who’s really awkward. (laughs)
TG: Yes, someone who’s incredibly awkward, but who may also surprise you and someone like Zac’s character. We needed someone who wasn’t obvious for Zac’s character. The moment when a guy like Zac and a girl like Imogen meet, that’s when he realizes he needs to make a few changes. So she perfectly embodied that for me.
ZE: That was one of my favorite moments in the film, when we figured out Jason. When a guy like Jason finds a girl who has something different about her, he has an awkward moment. He’s flustered, and doesn’t quite know what it is; he’s caught off-guard. So it’s an awkward moment for a guy who’s so smooth and handles himself, when he doesn’t have any tricks or know how to handle himself.
TG: That was brilliant acting, because Zac’s never been in that position. (laughs)
Q: Are there any guidelines you can offer on relationships?
MT: For me, once I know it’s not going to work, I’m very good at cutting it off. I think life’s too short to spend it in a bad relationship, and that includes friendships.
If you’re not really getting anything out of it, and it’s one-sided, who cares anymore? It’s hard to keep relationships with people. I’ve got my family and friends, and if a girl’s going to be a part of that, it has to be good.
MBJ: That’s easier said than done. When your emotions get involved, it’s harder to let go.
TG: Michael’s very sensitive. (laughs)
ZE: I think it’s tough to do what we do as actors, and constantly move around. We’re on an adventure here, and it has a lot of twists and turns. I don’t want to commit to being in a relationship that I can’t be 100 percent there for them all the time.
IP: I think the movie shows that with having a group of friends, they don’t necessary dictate personal matters. Like with Jason, his friends point out he likes the same types of girls all the time, but I think that’s always the case, no matter what gender you are. You really can’t choose who you fall for, and your friends can’t combat that.
Q: Gentlemen, there are several scenes where your characters are naked, and not just in the sex scenes. How did you approach those scenes?
MT: I apologize for my naked scenes. (laughs)
TG: That was my fault; I forgot to tell Miles to work out. (laughs)
MT: I’m an actor, not an in-shape person. (laughs) You read in the script, Daniel planks the toilet. So I showed up, and didn’t know naked I was going to be. I was on anti-biotics, and felt disgusting. When I got to the bathroom, it was very small. I was like, “I’m not going to fit,” and Tom said, “You’ll fit.”
ZE: All I kept thinking was that in real life, I wouldn’t use that technique. (laughs) It was a weird day of filming. While Miles’ bathroom was small, at least no one was in with him. Mine was just an elevated toilet in the middle of a room that was built just for this reason, and I was with a bunch of people. That was really awkward.
Q: For the actors, is there a limit on what you would do and show on screen?
TG: I think everyone’s upset they didn’t get to see Michael. (laughs)
MBJ: There’s still time! I’m pretty comfortable with that. It’s different from my experience on ‘Fruitvale (Station),’ where my character was getting searched. (The film’s writer-director) Ryan (Coogler), asked, “Do you feel comfortable?” But that’s real-he would have been naked, so I opted to do full nudity, and it worked out perfectly. So if Tom asked me to, I probably would have.
ZE: If there’s a specific reason for it, and it authentically helps the story, then absolutely. There’s nothing I wouldn’t try.
MT: I just need a head’s up, like a couple weeks or months. (laughs)
TG: Miles just needs to know there’s a camera somewhere near him, and he’ll do absolutely anything. (laughs)
IP: There’s no Imogen butt in this movie. But it’s nice that all the guys were planking. But I don’t know if a girl can plank. (laughs)
For me, it was interesting to read the script, because it was romantic. So I didn’t need to get scantily clad. But if something is necessary, I think it’s cool to go for it.
I think all that comes from a director. I think looking at what these guys did in the movie, and the fact they had such a terrific relationship with Tom, you can see why everything seems so straightforward.
Q: Tom, what was your inspiration in putting this film together? Did any of the material resonate with you in your real life?
TG: Just the toilet scene, really. (laughs) You start with that, and then the movie just sorts of writes itself.
I wanted to see a revitalization of the romantic comedy genre, because it’s one of my favorites. I also wanted to put a different spin on it, and have the film be told from the guys’ perspective. I felt like that’s something we haven’t seen before. I think girls want to peek behind that curtain. My hope was also that guys would see their own lives in it.
Q: Zac, thank you for being here. You gave an amazing performance that’s honest, funny and relatable. As a human being, you’re also very relatable. You successfully overcame some tough times last year, what were some of the good things that came out of that?
ZE: Thank you, and I appreciate the compliment. I’m so happy, and I feel like I’m in a great place. I’m glad that I’m really here to share this moment with everybody, and be present for all of it.
It was an interesting year. I’ve learned so many things. But the best part of it was being able to reflect on this experience, and realize how much I have learned from it, and the man I want to be. Coming back to New York with these guys, and just being here in this moment, exemplifies it. I’m so happy to be here.
Q: Were you able to relate to your character at all?
ZE: Well, in what ways do I not relate to my character? I loved him a lot. At his core, he’s a good person who’s getting through finding love. That’s really what I’m doing right now in my life. I knew I related to him the first time I met and talked to Tom.
TG: The idea of someone trying to figure out a relationship appealed to Zac. He found the way people approach their later 20’s interesting about the role.
ZE: I understand that being there for someone is what friendship is. Those are all things that I’m learning, so I wanted to be on that journey with Jason. This was one of my favorite things I’ve ever been able to do.
Written by: Karen Benardello