Interview: Charlyne Yi and Nicholas Jasenovec from “Paper Heart”
The Massie Twins recently had an opportunity to sit down with “Paper Heart” star/writer Charlyne Yi and director/writer Nicholas Jasenovec, to talk about their upcoming pseudo-documentary love story featuring Michael Cera. A hearty order of fresh pizza accompanied us.
The Massie Twins: How’s the pizza?
Charlyne Yi: I don’t know yet. Hold on.
MT: Will the pizza interfere with your ability to respond to questions?
Nick Jasenovec: Most definitely.
MT: You’re both executive producers and screenwriters on Paper Heart. Were there any aspects of the movie that you disagreed on?
NJ: I don’t think so. It was a pretty smooth collaboration.
CY: It was fun.
NJ: I think we were always on the same page. There was always some resistance from Charlyne in terms of not wanting to be on camera.
CY: Originally it was going to be a straight, traditional documentary. He convinced me that it would be interesting to see it through my perspective, since I was a bit skeptical about it all. He said, “I hope you fall in love on camera,” and I said, “Oh that’s creepy.”
MT: Tell us about the puppet sequences.
CY: I had worked with puppets before for stage purposes. “Stage purposes” sounds so smart! (laughs) Not really. I enjoy puppets.
NJ: To me it plays into that she sees love in a childlike manner.
CY: Hey! (laughs)
NJ: All of her views were based on Disney movies and fairy tales, so not only does she see love in that way, she sees the world that way too. It made perfect sense. There’s definitely innocence and a childlike wonder in the stories she tells.
MT: You shot 300 hours of video. Were there any segments that you obsessed over that didn’t make the cut?
NJ: Originally the fireworks segment was like 3 minutes long. It was just them shooting off fireworks, and now it’s like 30 seconds.
CY: Yeah, it’s just me and [costar] Jake having a blast.
NJ: Super self-indulgent. We were in love with it. It was so much fun to shoot.
CY: It was more of a personal attachment. We were actually documenting me having fun.
NJ: When we first put together just the scripted elements, the first cut was like 4 ½ hours. We knew we wanted to make a 90 minute movie, half scripted and half documentary. We definitely lost a lot of stuff. At a certain point though, it’s clear what should stay and what should go. I don’t think I really miss anything.
CY: I think it makes sense, what we have. After watching it hundreds of times, it became obvious.
NJ: There’s a whole different version of this film where the Nick character is a pretentious idiot. So we shot hours of him bossing the crew around while not having any knowledge of technical aspects of the film, and him making mistakes. He was much more of a puppetmaster.
CY: He was really mean to me in Paris.
NJ: He was much more about getting his movie. But comedically so.
MT: Do you feel like the fact that this film is half real and half fiction, but presented as if it’s entirely true, will confuse audiences?
CY: I think hopefully it’s not an issue. Hopefully it’s not a distraction.
NJ: Ideally everyone will watch it and think it’s real. But with the internet, people are always more knowledgeable. That’s one of the reasons why we didn’t announce the movie and just let it happen. We just wanted it to come out of nowhere and surprise people. Part of me wishes people would just watch it and accept it, but it is a piece of fiction and entertainment. But also, if there’s some confusion about it, that’s kind of interesting. The movies I like, I want to go and read up about and learn about how it was made and the details. Hopefully that uncertainty over reality will cause people to go read up on Paper Heart. We felt that if you thought it was real you’d be more invested in the characters and the relationships.
MT: So you won’t say whether the relationship was real?
CY: I’m not sure myself.
NJ: I think for us it doesn’t have any relevance over whether or not you can enjoy the movie. What Charlyne and Michael Cera did on camera was very subtle and quite believable. It was very carefully constructed. Talking about it might cheapen the effect.
CY: I’m scared to ask Michael if it was real.
MT: You seemed genuinely upset in Paris.
CY: Did I?
NJ: It’s because she was hungry.
MT: You’re supposed to say it’s because she’s a phenomenal actress.
CY: I was thinking about all the poor people in the world and I just started crying.
MT: What was shooting in Paris like, and how did you come up with the name Paper Heart?
NJ: Paris was surprisingly easy. We didn’t have permits. We had a guide who drove a van. We didn’t have any French speakers and had never been to the city before, but it was the most enjoyable three days of the shoot. We never had a problem. We shot everywhere and never got kicked out.
CY: I think the only struggle was trying to get all the shots we needed in such a short time.
NJ: As for the title, at one point there was a different puppet sequence for Michael and Charlyne.
CY: Yeah, after the break-up there would be this heart beating that would crumple up.
NJ: It was a literal paper heart. That was an easy reference point. When we cut that out of the film, we went back and forth. It had always been called The Love Documentary, but that seemed long.
CY: If we cut it down to The Love Doc, that sounds gross – like The Love Guru.
NJ: Then we embraced Paper Heart because you could still connect it to the other puppet recreations. It suggested a weak heart. I don’t want to explain the title. (laughs) Mostly it ties in with the puppets.
MT: We only got to see it briefly onscreen, but where do you draw inspiration for your stand-up comedy?
CY: I think I just like to have fun on the stage. I really enjoy magic, or bad magic to make the audience say, “oh, what’s going on – this is really bad,” with nervous laughs. I remember when I was 18 I made friends with people who were 48 and at first I thought that was weird, but then realized that they’re just like us.
NJ: (laughs) Freaks.
CY: (laughs) Telling my mom I was hanging out with this 48 year old – he’s still a human being and while he may have more experience…
NJ: I don’t know where you’re going with this…
CY: (laughs) Essentially, I don’t know. I just like to have fun onstage. Mixing reality with fiction.
NJ: In her scripted shows, she’s the lead character, but the main romantic lead is often an audience member who will have no idea what they’re doing, what the story is, or what’s going on, and she’ll construct a half-hour story about how they become the leads. In terms of her solo stuff, it’s just very strange. But very funny. The first thing I saw was the magic thing where she collects a bunch of money from the audience. Then she says, “Alright I have $136 and a lighter. I’ll give this to whoever wants to come up and punch me in the face.”
CY: And I say that it’s just a magic trick and that no one will get hurt.
NJ: And the minute someone cocks their arm back, Charlyne starts crying and saying, “No! No! What are you doing! Please don’t!” It’s interesting seeing how real people handle the situation.
CY: And when they say, “I’m sorry,” I call them a big wuss and egg them on.
NJ: I don’t ever remember how it ends.
MT: It doesn’t end with someone getting hit in the face?
CY: Not yet. I’m a bit worried about that. It usually ends with me booing them off the stage and telling them that we’re going to watch the recording and laugh at them. It’s jokingly mean.
MT: When you first came up with the outline of the film, did you have a definite, pre-planned ending?
NJ: Yeah. The ending used to just end in Toronto. But we showed it to people and … We didn’t want to compromise the idea behind the ending, but still leave people with a more uplifting feeling.
MT: Did you scout out the bikers ahead of time for their interview?
CY: The bikers were spontaneous. Our hotel was right across the street from a biker bar and I really wanted to interview bikers. That night we went out and made friends with them. They were really intimidating. They were flashing their boobs and dancing.
NJ: They’re not supposed to be very friendly. But they were.
CY: One of the scariest things was when we went in there I had my Sherlock Holmes hat on and I took it off so people wouldn’t look at me. Nick came in with his fedora. This large man with a beard came up to us really intimidating, and said, “If I were you, I’d get the hell out of here.” Nick said, “Why?” and he said, “The fashion police are comin’ to get you!” (laughs) These guys were really nice!
NJ: We were shooting some scripted stuff and this homeless couple interrupted us and it turned into an interview. It didn’t make much sense so it didn’t make it in. It was mostly stuff about Jesus. (laughs)
MT: Did you enjoy the motorcycle ride?
CY: Yeah, the producers said, “Don’t go on it!” and I said, “Bye!” It was awesome.
NJ: It was like 90 mph.
CY: His speedometer was rattling and he said that wasn’t supposed to be happening. (laughs)
NJ: The worst part was when we went back and watched the footage, during the whole interview beforehand he’s taking shot after shot after shot. We had no idea.
MT: Do you have any relationship advice to give to other girls looking for someone special?
CY: I don’t know – I don’t know how to find someone special. I’m still searching. My friends were trying to teach me how to flirt. I don’t want to pretend, I just want to be myself. I don’t want to get dressed up. Just be yourself!
MT: Did you ever find out if true love actually exists?
CY: I think it definitely does. Maybe not for everyone – maybe it lives in moments, but yes it exists.