He was the unhelpful principal in “21 Jump Street” and none other than Jesus Christ in “A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas,” but Jake Johnson can currently be seen on a weekly basis opposite Zooey Deschanel in FOX’s hit, Golden Globe-nominated sitcom “New Girl,” which was fairly recently picked up for a second season debuting this fall. Fans jonesing for an extra helping of Johnson won’t have to suffer through summer repeats, however, as his new film, “Safety Not Guaranteed,” debuts this week. In it, Johnson plays Jeff, a sardonic Seattle magazine employee who takes two college interns, Darius and Arnau (Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni), on a road trip to track down the hermetic author (Mark Duplass) of a classified ad searching for a partner to travel through time with him. Unbeknownst to his employer or younger charges, however, the disillusioned Jeff is actually more interested in tracking down and re-connecting with a long-lost love interest who lives in the beachside community. For ShockYa, Brent Simon recently had a chance to speak to Johnson one-on-one, about the film, its disparate tonalities and time travel in general. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: You’re friends with the film’s director, Colin (Trevorrow). Had he mentioned or shared the story with you (and its real-life inspiration) prior to the movie?
Jake Johnson: Yeah, we knew each other for years. But I didn’t know anything about it until it was done. We had been friends but I didn’t see him for probably two years. He moved his family out to Vermont and I stayed here in L.A., and I would get the occasional how’s-everything-going email, and I would write back. We are both represented by the same manager, coincidentally, Greg Walter, and he said to me that Colin had an amazing script and might be able to direct it and there might be a part in there for [me]. I read the script, and loved (the character of) Jeff. This was before Aubrey was attached; it was written for her, and I thought she might do it, but we didn’t know who was going to be play Kenneth. [Still], I loved it. I was on board right away. I’m a big fan of [Aubrey], and wanted her to do it. I knew from the beginning that she was probably going to do it (because) it’s a great character. And then she and I hung out. She’s pretty awesome as a person. And then once we started talking we said, “Yeah, let’s do this.”
ShockYa: I spoke with Colin and he talked about catching blowback or shit on the Internet about (the movie) being characterized as an indie love story. To me, though, it juggles these different tones and qualities quite well — the quirky [potential-time travel stuff] and what the film is really about in large measure, of romantic regret and the shelf life of a past, and Jeff’s realization of that point.
JJ: Yeah, everybody’s got a Winnie Cooper. I love what Colin did in terms of tone. I think as an actor what I have had the opportunity to do a few times is to be in projects that could be described as cute and sweet, and try to add the element of that that is not that. So the person who will kick the unicorn in the face is the part that I’m getting a lot. [laughs] What I really liked about Jeff in this — well, look, I think the love story (with other characters) is very sweet, but I think if it’s that whole thing then those people hating on it are right. But there two movies really going on at the same time, and they are connected. And so for people who don’t like Jeff’s story or Arnau’s story, they have this great love story. And for people who maybe need a break from that, you kind of get two movies at once. So people who are hating on this movie have just watched a trailer, and as with a lot of Internet hate I think it’s ridiculous, because it’s mostly ill informed. If you watch the movie and don’t like it, you have that right. But I wish people would stop giving a fuck what these commenters said.
ShockYa: I think their agitation, however misplaced, is because the poster and [quoted ad text] implies a certain amount of bad-assery, as Colin termed it.
JJ: Right. That’s so true, a good point. They’re like, “Well wait a second, I just want a guy who goes back in time and kicks ass, man!”
ShockYa: If you had the chance to travel through time, would it be informed more by (curiosity about) a specific era or something in your own life?
JJ: If I really think about it and I’m answering honestly I probably wouldn’t fuck with it. It’d be fun to see what the ’60s felt like; it’d be cool to see if hippies were cool, or (if) they were just like hipsters — to go back to Haight Asbury and be like, “Do I hate you people, or do I like you?” [laughs] That’d be interesting. But knowing me, when all is said and done I wouldn’t do it. At the end of the day, I’ve got a wife and I have a nice life cooking here. So I’d come back and my wife would be like, “You look exhausted,” and I would be like, “I was just in the ’30s! I’m so bored here!” I think “Midnight in Paris” changed it for me. Because when he got in that car and went back, I was like, “That’s so cool, that’s my dream,” and then I loved that in every era everyone was bitching about [their own] era. I don’t want to see the past like that. So I’m just going to stay here and bitch about it.
Written by: Brent Simon