Like Crazy is perhaps the definitive long-distance relationship movie. In it, a British exchange student in LA, Anna (Felicity Jones), and her American classmate Jacob (Anton Yelchin), fall head over heels in love. They’re so mad about each other that when Anna’s visa runs out she carelessly stays on for two months, setting in train a series of events that will tragically separate them.
For director and co-writer Drake Doremus, the old adage “write what you know” applies bigtime. Doremus, 29, had an intense seven-year relationship with an Austrian woman. “I was separated from [her] due to a visa situation,” Doremus tells Time Out on the line from California. “And it was a really stressful and difficult thing.” He laughs ruefully. “At the time I didn’t know it was going to be a great idea for a film.”
A graduate of the American Film Institute in the Los Angeles Hills, Doremus is a fast worker who has made a movie every year for the past four years. When his transatlantic relationship and marriage came to an end, he knew that he wanted to make a film conveying the whirlwind of emotions he’d been through.
“The emotional journey and the sheer exhaustion really stuck with me,” he says. “I would describe Like Crazy as a movie about two people who try to get over each other but can’t. They’re forced to be together because they love each other.”
The low-budget film, filmed on a Canon EOS 7D still camera (a device more frequently used for holiday snapshots), is extraordinarily powerful thanks to the performances of the two leads, and the fact that all of their dialogue was improvised. Watching the movie is like eavesdropping on raw moments between a real-life couple.
Doremus and his co-writer Ben York Jones wrote a 60-page outline in just two months and went into production almost immediately. “Because it wasn’t a complete script we were able to find a lot of the emotional moments in the rehearsal process. We found a lot of them on set as well.”
Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, The Beaver) was the first to be cast, playing the sensitive, introspective furniture designer Jacob. Doremus didn’t bother auditioning any other actors and was set with the task of finding a British actress who had both chemistry with Yelchin and searing dramatic honesty.
He found the astonishing Felicity Jones. “The tape Felicity sent me was so pure. In the conversations she was improvising she was present, open, vulnerable, funny, smart and touching – she just had it all.”
The penny began to drop about just how effective Jones would be in the film in a scene during the first date between Anna and Jacob where Anna reads him a poem she has written. “Felicity actually wrote that poem. I had never heard it, and Anton had never heard it, until the first take. It was like, ‘Wow – this is coming from the inside out.' Her commitment to the character was profound and inspiring.”
Jones won the Special Jury Prize for acting at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 and Like Crazy was named best film by the Grand Jury. Not one to rest on his laurels, Doremus has already shot a new (untitled) film with Jones, featuring Guy Pearce in the cast. “We’re cutting it right now. It’s a darker film than Like Crazy and on a bigger budget. It’s incredible watching Guy improvise in an American accent. I’m really excited for people to see his performance in this film.”
Doremus has made an impassioned movie that’s both a poignant love story and a demonstration of how the world’s jealously guarded borders can make life impossible for the most innocuous of people. Does he feel any lingering anger or sadness about what he and his ex-partner went through?
“Not at all. The opposite. If I hadn’t gone through that, I would never have made this movie, which has done so much for my career. And I’m grateful for having had that experience with another human being and having felt that much love at that time of my life.”
Like Crazy opens on Mar 1.
Sign up to our monthly film newsletter