I got to interview Anton Yelchin for The Beaver at SXSW. He plays Porter, the teenage son of Walter Black (Mel Gibson). Porter hates his father and keeps a list of all of Walter’s flaws, so he can avoid them. He’s really not buying it when Walter wants to talk through a beaver puppet on his hand. In his own teenage life, he’s encouraging class valedictorian Nora (Jennifer Lawrence) to deal with her past and get back to her art.
Yelchin is now attached to several franchises including Star Trek and Terminator, but I was going for a different scoop. I saw Like Crazy at Sundance and it so profoundly affected me, I wanted to bring you the advanced scoop on the film that Paramount will release later this year. In Like Crazy, Yelchin plays Jacob, who struggles with a long distance relationship to Anna (Felicity Jones) in England. His on-again/off-again American girlfriend is Sam (Jennifer Lawrence again).
I hope this makes sense. It was day 7 on 3 hours sleep per night.
Q: Both The Beaver and Like Crazy seem to deal with characters addressing issues that are difficult for people to talk about. Did you see that connection?
AY: Yeah, I mean I think Like Crazy, people sort of find easier to talk about because it’s a love story. It’s hard for people, it makes people sad because it reminds them of their own personal heartbreak. I think The Beaver has sort of a much more serious issue at its core which is depression. Personally I think depression is a more serious issue than a long-distance relationship but obviously both films are about the two profoundly affecting the people involved, restructuring their lives completely. But I also think the way that Like Crazy approaches long distance relationships isn’t something that people like to talk about. People like to think that it’s clean but it’s not. It’s completely ambiguous and really difficult for each party involved. Sometimes you just don’t know because Jacob and Anna date other people while they’re still together technically. It’s gray. It’s kind of a gray area.
Q: In Like Crazy I think they’re dealing with blame and anger too.
AY: Sure, yeah, it’s that thing of pointing fingers but who can you really [blame?] With Walter Black in The Beaver, it’s not his fault that he is depressed. It’s not but it profoundly affects the people around him. It ruins their lives. In a relationship, it’s neither of their faults that it worked out that way in Like Crazy that they’re across the world from each other. They both did it together and then it just is how it is. But you’re right, a lot of it is about wanting to blame somebody for something and seeing that you can’t really and trying to understand that.
Q: With The Beaver, it’s more straightforward that talking through a beaver puppet is not healthy. Does that make it harsher dramatically?
AY: Of course, it’s more tragic I think personally because you see a man suffering so much that he has to resort to talking through a puppet he found in a trash can.
Q: Walter’s dealing with that, but Porter’s helping Nora deal with an unspoken issue so it’s more layered that just the beaver.
AY: Right, of course, and I think one thing is that Porter and Walter both have issues that they don’t face. That’s what it is, by being afraid, by both having fathers that are depressive and Walter’s father committed suicide and Walter has incredible depression as a result of that. Porter is afraid to be like his father so he suffers this kind of depression as well and falls into what his father falls into. Porter then tries to do everything he can but face his own issues. He’ll take Nora’s very dark past and try and help her face it, which is almost like a cry for help to have himself face his own issues but he uses it on her instead of taking it into consideration for himself.
Q: It did make me happy for Jennifer Lawrence. At least she got to end up with you in one movie.
AY: Yeah, Jen, man, she’s so great. She’s such a great actress. She’s so different in Like Crazy, so different in The Beaver, she’s different in everything. She’s just a great actress.
Q: But one of the most heartbreaking things in Like Crazy was that Sam was an amazing girl. She just wasn’t Anna.
AY: Yeah, that scene kills me. I think Jen is so brilliant in it, where she starts crying and he has to tell her he has to go. She just loves him and wants to know if he loves her and he does. It’s not that he doesn’t love her. It’s just a different kind of love. It’s not that same thing. It’s a friendship. It’s great because Jen and I had already done The Beaver so we were already friends. Because it was an improv film our comfort level with each other, not that we couldn’t do it if we hadn’t met before, but we were really comfortable with one another. We know one another, we’re friends. I think that translated into making the relationship between Sam and Jacob more like a friendship.
Q: Do you think maybe Porter keeping a list of all the flaws he wants to avoid might not be the way to deal with it either?
AY: Yeah, exactly. He keeps a list of the flaws just to make himself more angry about who he is. To remember to not do those things because he thinks they’re going to make him like his father. So it really is just another way of him trapping himself inside of this nonidentity, this weird thing that’s not a realistic construct. It’s a construct that he uses to trap himself. You can’t avoid having an identity. You are who you are but that fear of facing that, that fear that maybe who he is is like his father, he tries to stay away from it by listing all these things, it’s completely unhealthy and traps him in all this pain.
Q: One of them is “hates his father who hated his father who hated his father.” So what does he think he’s doing?
AY: He’s not avoiding it. He lists them and he can’t do anything. It’s a completely unconstructive, painful, unpleasant place to be and it ultimately almost destroys him.
Q: What was acting with the beaver like?
AY: Well, it’s different for me because Porter never acknowledges the beaver. He always thinks it’s ridiculous so he addresses his father, and he doesn’t even really address his father. He addresses his mom but when he deals with his father in the hallway, he just thinks it’s ridiculous. It’s insulting and hurtful to him and there’s also that relationship of his father has now chosen a puppet over him. Not only has his fathe taken himself out of the family and this is of course on a subconscious level where it’s like because all he thinks is he hates his dad, really he wants his father. A father is the missing part of his life, the part that he can’t face and it hurts him tremendously. But to add insult to injury, his father has now replaced connection with his family with a puppet.
Q: Were there ever moments on the set where it just seemed ridiculous?
AY: I think Mel loved it. I think it’s a great character. I think he does such an amazing job in the movie, for an actor I think that opportunity is pretty great, to be able to play a man who has a beaver and his hand.
Q: When you’ve had conversations about Like Crazy, have you found it’s really revealing about the people who are telling you their experiences?
AY: Yeah, that’s one thing about Like Crazy. Everyone had their own story related to the movie. Everyone had their own heartbreak. Everyone had their own love that they would cry about when they talked about it. All different age groups, both sexes, everyone had that one person or maybe a couple people that had affected their lives in that way and they told me.
Q: Even the people who are cynical about it reveals how strong they feel relationships can or can’t last.
AY: Yeah, because I think Like Crazy’s a subtle film, it doesn’t really give answers. It sort of shows a situation that there really is no answer to. That’s why I think it ends like that. You see a moment in time in a kind of voyeuristic way.