About The Production
Acclaimed novelist and former New Yorker music critic Nick Hornby is known for
his passion for popular music and its fans into his stories. Juliet, Naked, his
2009 exploration of
romantic attachment and disillusionment, features a retired rock musician now
living in seclusion,
hiding from his own unbearable success.
"One of the things that started me thinking about this story was a piece in
Vanity Fair about
Sly Stone," says Hornby. "The journalist had spent a long time trying to get in
touch with him. It
seemed he had disappeared off the face of the map. Then he came roaring up on a
When you think somebody's lost and they suddenly appear, that's such a great
The author had also been contemplating the way the advent of the internet
of the most arcane topics to congregate online. "I was struck by how groups of
people can form
very easily, in a way they hadn't been able to in the past," Hornby explains.
"Even the most obscure
cult figure can be discussed by a fan base all over the world. It was a
combination of those two ideas
Producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, partners for almost 30 years in Bona Fide
Productions, have a long history of turning popular novels into successful
films, from the Civil War
epic Cold Mountain to the high school satire Election. "We also both happen to
be big fans of Nick
Hornby and of the earlier films made from his books," says Berger. "When we read
we were sure there was another great, accessible movie in it. It combines rock
'n' roll music with
recognizable characters and issues most of us can relate to in some way."
The producers optioned the novel and brought it to Judd Apatow, producer of some
most popular movie comedies in recent history. "We have a lot of respect for
Judd," says Berger.
"He's great with comedy and he loves music and Nick Hornby, so we thought he
would be the
perfect collaborator for this. He eventually brought in Barry Mendel, and then
Jeff Soros of the Los
Angeles Media Fund became a partner as well."
Hornby was supportive of the project from the very beginning, according to
Soros. "It was
great to get his stamp of approval. He checked in with us to talk about the
characterizations and the ending, among other things. It was important to know
we were on the
Yerxa agrees: "People who admire the novel will find that it is very much in the
spirit of the
book, both thematically and narratively. You always have to invent a few things
to make a book
work on screen, but as adaptations go, this is pretty close to the original."
A (Literal) Rock Star Director
Apatow suggested that the producers meet with director Jesse Peretz, with whom
collaborated on the hit HBO series "Girls." Peretz came with a skill set
uniquely suited to the film.
In addition to helming four successful feature films and dozens of television
episodes, he was a
founding member of the alternative rock band the Lemonheads, giving him
first-hand knowledge of
the stresses of burgeoning musical fame. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge
of popular music
that rivals Hornby's.
"I have lived at least a part of Tucker Crowe's life," says the filmmaker. "I
people like him, and I have authentic experience of what an indie rock show in
1991 was really like. I
know how things work in that world, what parts of the fantasy are true and what
is just wishful
thinking. I am also an insane music fan myself and I know many truly obsessive
music fans like
Duncan, so I can see this story from both his and Tucker's perspective."
After reading the book, Peretz was eager to bring the story to the screen. "I'm
interested in ideas and characters in a film," he says. "If I have a gut feeling
that I know who the
characters are I want to find a unique way to make a story come alive. This
checked a lot of boxes
for me. Between this amazing team of producers and Nick Hornby's incredible
record of writing
books that make great movies, I was all in."
The director says he found the exploration of Tucker as a self-loathing father
well. "He is angry about his failures in parenting and trying to redeem himself
by doing it right with
his fifth child, 6-year-old Jackson. That was another moving and interesting
aspect for me."
The producers' bet on Peretz paid off in a big way, says Soros. "He has a lovely
actors, producers and crew that fosters a lot of creativity on set. He harnessed
all that energy and
pushed it in the right direction. One of the conversations we often had was the
funny and jokey. It's a thin line that the film plays with throughout. That was
the most challenging
ongoing issue and he found the right tone."
After seeing the finished film, Hornby agrees. "Jesse did a tremendous job," he
says. "It was
interesting to have someone with that music background who could add
authenticity and make sure
things look right. Jesse knows all about that stuff."
Honing the Script
A two-time Oscar nominee for screenwriting, Hornby has penned memorable films
including Brooklyn, An Education and Wild, but he declines to adapt his own
books for the screen.
"By the time I get to the end of a book I've had enough," he says. "You spend
three years putting all
this stuff together. By then, the idea of spending, in this case, another seven
or eight on the script
doesn't appeal. I'm very happy to support other writers doing it, though. I've
always enjoyed the
process and I've made friends through these film collaborations. But while I
have other ideas in my
head I'd rather get on with the next book."
In fact, one of the central themes of Juliet, Naked is whom art belongs to after
made public - the artist or the audience? "Who knows the music best?" he asks.
just chucked it out there or someone who has spent years living with it? I
believe art means what
people want it to mean and those opinions are perfectly legitimate. Just because
you created it
doesn't give you any more right to its interpretation than anybody else. If you
want it to stay yours,
then don't put it out there. I think Duncan's passion for the music legitimizes
him in a way."
Early drafts of the script were written by Tamara Jenkins and Jim Taylor. As
much as he
admired the existing versions, Peretz had some ideas of his own to incorporate.
"I missed certain
things that were in the book but not the script," he explains. "And there were
other elements I
wanted to make less prominent."
But the first order of business, according to Peretz, was defining who the
of the film should be. "For me, Annie is the most compelling character and I
wanted the story to
center on her," he says. "She's blocked and wants to learn to turn the page, to
reinvent her life if she
can, but she is caught between these two quite different man-children. Her story
is the most
emotionally grounded and I didn't want her buried behind male characters who are
louder but have
less urgent needs."
Peretz asked his sister, writer Evgenia Peretz, with whom he collaborated on the
for Our Idiot Brother, for her thoughts on the screenplay. "It started off very
informally," she says. "I
read the script, I gave him notes, and we talked in depth about ways I saw to
improve it. Hornby's
work is very much in line with my sensibility. I responded to the wry way in
which Annie looked at
her life and her failed relationships, and her frustrations and her regrets
about not having a child. I
have so many friends who have gone through or are going through similar kinds of
struggles, so her
character really resonated with me."
Eventually Evgenia was asked to create her own draft of the script. As she
character began to become more empowered, she says. "She's doing things a little
more on her own
terms. We gave her more of a backstory about why she felt obligated to stay in
this small town and
strengthened her sense of responsibility to it. That made her decision to leave
Another challenge in adapting the story for the screen was that on the page much
relationship between Tucker and Annie takes place via email. "I never want to
hear giant chunks of
voiceover in a movie," says Evgenia, "but we had to establish a really strong
connection before they
meet in person. The biggest challenge in adapting any novel is how to dramatize
interior thoughts. So many of hers were so funny and we wanted to get those
ideas out there."
The screenwriter also wanted to bring more sympathy and humanity to the
character of Tucker Crowe. "It was important to show that Tucker was growing as
a father and not
just regretting the decisions he had made," she says. "I felt that for women
watching this, Tucker
needed to do something to deserve Annie's love."
On the other hand, she says, Duncan, Annie's Crowe-obsessed boyfriend, is such a
quintessential Hornby character that there was little room for improvement. "I
don't think that
character changed much at all from the book."
Initially intimidated by Hornby's stature as a writer, Evgenia was grateful for
his support and
enthusiasm. "Nick was hands-off in a healthy way," she says. "When he came to
the set, it was
surreal and terrifying. I was afraid he'd think I completely mangled his book,
but he was totally
In fact, Hornby says he found the script "incredibly skillfully done." "She
that really works," he adds. "The big problem with films is always the time you
have available, which
is almost nothing compared to a book. I think this is so richly done in a very
disciplined way. If you
enjoyed the book, I can't see why you wouldn't like the movie."
Woman on the Verge
Annie, played by Rose Byrne, was born in a seaside town that was once a popular
resort but is now badly run down. After leaving to study art in London, she
returned to help her
father run a small museum in town and never left. In her early 40s, she is now
wondering if she will
ever fulfill her early ambitions or instead spend the rest of her days puttering
around a few dusty
"I have been a fan of Rose Byrne for a very long time," says Peretz. "She is
- incredibly funny, yet completely grounded dramatically. And she couldn't be
more humble. She
never wants special treatment or tries to attract attention to herself. She is
very generous with other
actors. Lily Brazier, who plays her sister, is a stand-up whose acting
experience is limited. Rose was
always available for guidance, love and support, which gave Lily so much
At this point in her life, Annie is realizing the many things she has missed out
on. She badly
wants a child, but she and longtime boyfriend Duncan agreed long ago not to have
any. She is
frustrated with their relationship, with having to be a parent to her
irresponsible adult sister and with
being stuck in an unfulfilling job.
"It's an unusual sort of love story about two people - Annie and Duncan - who
are in love
with the same man for different reasons," says Byrne. "It's also the story of a
couple falling apart.
It's got the bones of something tender and gentle. Annie is very insecure,
constantly beating herself
up and second-guessing herself. And suddenly she makes these bold decisions.
Where she has been
incredibly passive and her whole life seems like a lost opportunity, she
suddenly decides to seize the
day and break all the rules."
For 15 years, Annie has played second fiddle to Tucker Crowe in her relationship
Duncan. "He was there from day one, long before he was physically there," Byrne
says. "There's a
great line in the book where it says it's like she's got a partner with an
illness and she's just grown
used to accommodating that. All of a sudden, overnight, that's over. But then
Tucker is such a
disaster. He's got this terrible history of having children he's never met with
a series of different
women. You have to ask why she is doing this. But that's the point: We do fall
for people who are
The story of Tucker Crowe reminded Byrne of Jeff Buckley, the acclaimed
who died at 30 after releasing just a single studio album. "Obviously that's a
story with a different
ending," she acknowledges. "But it's about unfulfilled potential. When an artist
has a moment and
then disappears, they take on another life, a history with a great deal of
weight. So much music is
disposable, but when you have such a talent it rises up."
Byrne had read Juliet, Naked when it was first published and found it charming
but also profound in a way that stayed with her. "I love the specificity of
human behavior with all its
idiosyncrasies and eccentricities," she says. "But it's always done with a
healthy sense of humor,
which I think I'm drawn to. He has his own brand in a way, and that's so hard as
a writer. But when
someone says it's a Nick Hornby novel, you immediately know the tone of it."
Knowing that Apatow, with whom she had worked before, was producing, and that
was directing made the project even more attractive for Byrne. "I thought, my
goodness, I'd love to
do that," says the actress. "About two years before we started production, I met
with Jesse and just
pitched myself. He has done some exceptional work on television recently. I
loved 'Glow' and I'm
quite a diehard fan of 'Girls.' He has so much knowledge and emotional
intelligence about music,
which is such a big character in the film, as it always is in Nick's books."
A Reclusive Cult Idol
Tucker Crowe is an almost forgotten figure in alternative rock music of the late
early '90s. His album Juliet became an obsession for his loyal fans when he went
shortly after its release.
As Tucker, Ethan Hawke adeptly embodies a man looking for redemption after
indulgence and self-destructive behavior. "Ethan is quite believable as a cult
figure," says Hornby.
"He is a cult figure anyway, I think. One can believe that Tucker's got talent,
but also that he
destroyed his relationships for a large number of years."
Hawke's powerful work as an actor over the past three decades sometimes
numerous other accomplishments. An Academy Award
and Tony nominee, novelist, screenwriter
and director, he has also performed music in plays and movies from Reality Bites
to Boyhood. "Ethan's
such a diverse talent," says Byrne. "Working with him you get to see the full
package. He helped
untangle so many puzzles in the script, which was important when we were
rehearsing and figuring
"Hawke is perfectly cast as a tortured artist trying to make amends for a long
list of past
transgressions," says Yerxa. "Even though this guy has lived a life of
indulgence and is a failure as a
family man, he still has a devilish sort of charm and humanistic appeal. You
believe that Annie
would be attracted to him despite all of his flaws."
Hawke's experience as a writer proved invaluable on set. "Ethan came in as a
presence and provided the final push for the script," says Jesse Peretz. "He had
a point of view that
made Tucker more fun than we envisioned. He is also a lover of music and a good
musician with a
strong voice. That's really him on the soundtrack."
Hawke's and Jesse Peretz's children attend the same school in New York City. The
first heard about the script from Peretz while it was in development and was
"I'd been a Nick Hornby fan for years," says the actor. "I had wanted to be in
About a Boy and I still
really wanted to do a Nick Hornby piece, so I was hoping this would work out."
Hornby, he says, has an unusual way of being literary without being pretentious.
is completely readable and accessible, but it's also deeply human, heartfelt and
sophisticated. There's usually some kind of rock 'n' roll spinning around Nick's
writing. I just really
enjoy the way he tells a story."
And in Hawke's opinion, Peretz was born to direct this film. "There aren't many
directors that were in a famous rock band," he says. "It feels like a fastball
across the plate for him."
The actor says the film has more substance than the label "romantic comedy"
Hollywood rom-com is like a Hallmark card - soft, without much wit, and without
Hawke. "Judd and Nick can both tell warm, romantic stories that are truly moving
My feeling is Duncan and Annie are on their way to quiet lives of desperation
when the movie starts.
Something is going to blow no matter what."
His co-stars bring out the subtleties of their characters in an authentic way,
"Rose is genuinely funny and beautiful and charming. And Chris made me laugh
starting at the first
read-through. In a lot of ways Duncan was always my favorite character. He's
reminiscent of that
great Philip Seymour Hoffman character in Almost Famous - so proud of his
geekdom. Nick clearly
has so much love for the obsessive fan."
A Music Nerd Extraordinaire
We meet Duncan about 15 years after he arrived in Annie's hometown to teach film
at the local college. To Annie, he seemed at first like a sophisticated,
inspiring figure. He was artistic
and passionate about books, music and culture. "He swept her off her feet in a
way," says Byrne,
"although they were clearly one of those couples that everybody but them knows
should not be
Duncan is childishly devoted to his memories of Tucker Crowe. Far more
interested in his
idol than his partner, he spends most of his free time maintaining a website
devoted to the musician.
Chris O'Dowd, who plays Duncan, had previously worked with Peretz on an episode
"He was the first person I thought of when I read the script," says the
director. "On 'Girls,' I was
blown away by his facility to improvise incredibly funny, spot-on lines without
throwing his scene
partners off. For me, he was the only person who could play Duncan."
Self-involved and oblivious to the needs of others, Duncan can be a somewhat
character, according to his creator. "Chris created a very sympathetic take on a
difficult guy," says
Hornby. "He is funny but not cartoonish in any way. He is still annoying, but
O'Dowd remembers receiving an e-mail from producer Barry Mendel about the role
he was on the set of a science-fiction film. "I was very much drawn to it. I
read the book straight
away. I'd worked with Jesse Peretz and I'd worked with Barry and we'd always got
Hornby's male characters seem endearingly familiar to O'Dowd. "I used to do a
show called 'The IT Crowd,'" he explains. "That character reminded me a little
bit of Duncan. You
can imagine him in a basement obsessing over something or other. I definitely
could see similarities
in those two characters. There's a kind of arrested emotional development.
They're unable to coexist
with women in a grown-up fashion."
In real life, he sees very little similarity between himself and the character.
definitely considers himself a culture nut and I'm probably that a little," he
says. "I don't know that I
get as obsessed about single-issue things. But other than that, being a useless
partner at times I could
understand and if I didn't I would be told daily about it."
It is O'Dowd's innate humor that saves the character, according to Byrne. "The
with someone like Duncan is his stubbornness, his belief that this is the
greatest album that's ever
been released and no other opinion is allowed. Chris can easily translate that
to an audience without
alienating them. In the book, you get to see more of his psychology, but in a
film, you sometimes
have to rely on the charm of the actor. Duncan has this juvenile quality and
utter obsession with the
music, but it's done with such gentle humor that it's always fun to watch."
The most difficult role in the film to cast, according to Peretz, was 6-year-old
Tucker's youngest child. Precocious without being precious, the character is
Tucker's best friend in a
way, and what he sees as his last chance at redemption. "That was the scariest
part for me to cast,"
says the director. "It is so hard to find kids that young who can do the amount
of lines he has. He is
a key part of scenes carrying complicated emotional baggage."
Peretz found his ideal Jackson in Azhy Robertson. Although he has only been
professionally for two years, Robertson is already an in-demand performer with
several films slated
for release this year. "Azhy is an old soul who has an intrinsic emotional
maturity," says Peretz. "It
was exciting and a huge relief to find him. A hammy child actor just repeating
the lines would have
been a killer in a part that is so deeply important to the movie."
A Musical Search
When it came to creating the soundtrack for Juliet, NakedÂ¸ the filmmakers
another kind of challenge: How do you create a legendary album from scratch? The
few clues to what the music on Juliet might sound like, so the filmmakers were
starting at zero.
Working with music supervisor Marguerite Phillips and composer Nathan Larson,
Peretz sent out a
request for songs. More than 130 were submitted for consideration.
"It was heady to go into the music," says the director. "The degree to which
this record up as a criminally underappreciated piece of art is extreme. We
couldn't just get six or
seven okay songs with memorable hooks. They all had to be complicated and
interesting enough to
impress the super-nerd and explain why Duncan is obsessed."
Selecting the music brought out strong opinions during pre-production. "There
number of real music nuts involved in this and it became a hot-button issue,"
says Berger. "Jesse
obviously had a definite point of view from his days as a musician. Judd is
known for using music to
great effect in his films. I am proud to say that my personal obsession with
music is on display in the
film. I play one of the three sort of nerdy guys who pontificate about the album
Juliet, Naked on
Duncan's website. Jesse very kindly immortalized me in that way."
Eventually a selection of songs written by illustrious musicians including Robyn
Ryan Adams, Conor Mullen Oberst and others were chosen. Fully produced and
acoustic versions were recorded with vocals by Hawke.
"One of the first things Jesse asked me to do was record a couple of songs," the
recalls. "People had different ideas about how they should sound. The music
scene of the early '90s
is such a vital part of my life. Whether it was Kurt Cobain or Pearl Jam, that
whole sound that was
exploding. There were so many different musicians that were popular, so I had
fun imagining what
Tucker's sound would be and what he might be interested in."
Soros was astounded by the range of vocals Hawke brought to the music. "He goes
tender croon to banshee wail at the end," says the producer. "We are really
proud of the music. It
has such a strong presence throughout the film."
A Date Movie With Soul
The most difficult task for Peretz as a director may have been balancing the
personalities on set, according to Berger. "We started with great source
material, we had four
excellent screenwriters, five producers, each with a ton of experience, and
three really smart actors,"
he observes. "It had to be challenging for Jesse to listen to some very good
advice and still stick to
his idea of what this should be. He brought together the music, the comedy and
the drama to create
a wonderful story about a woman coming into her own, holding out for the
possibility of love
without defining herself in terms of the men around her."
For all its humor and romance, the film poses some serious questions, adds the
such as how much people can transform and redeem themselves midway through life.
"We found an
ending that is true to the characters, as Annie finds the person she wants to be
and leaves the door
open to romance."
Peretz hopes the film connects with a wide swath of moviegoers who recognize
their own lives in what the characters are going through. "I think it will
resonate with people who
are nostalgic for a period of their lives when they were obsessed with their
favorite musician, as
many people are in their youth," he says. "Men and women will identify with
Annie wondering if it's
too late to reinvent herself and get the things she wants in life. And I'm sure
many people will be
moved by the conflicted romantic story."
According to Berger, Juliet, Naked has all the attributes of a great date
movie - an
increasingly rare breed, he notes. "It's adult-friendly, not predictable and
plays out in an enjoyable
way on screen. Hopefully, when people get tired of the summer superhero films,
they'll find a great
escape in this."
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