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JULIET, NAKED

About The Production
Acclaimed novelist and former New Yorker music critic Nick Hornby is known for weaving 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 motorcycle. When you think somebody's lost and they suddenly appear, that's such a great dramatic moment."

The author had also been contemplating the way the advent of the internet allowed devotees 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 really."

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 Juliet, Naked, 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 of the 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 music, the characterizations and the ending, among other things. It was important to know we were on the right path."

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 he had 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 knew many 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 most 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 compelling as 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 way with 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 difference between 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 it's been made public - the artist or the audience? "Who knows the music best?" he asks. "Someone who 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 central character 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 screenplay 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 worked, the 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 feel bigger."

Another challenge in adapting the story for the screen was that on the page much of the 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 the narrator's 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 conflicted 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 positive."

In fact, Hornby says he found the script "incredibly skillfully done." "She created something 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 summer 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 exhibits.

"I have been a fan of Rose Byrne for a very long time," says Peretz. "She is uniquely talented - 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 confidence."

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 with 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 completely inappropriate."

The story of Tucker Crowe reminded Byrne of Jeff Buckley, the acclaimed singer-songwriter 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 and funny, 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 Peretz 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 '80s and early '90s. His album Juliet became an obsession for his loyal fans when he went into seclusion shortly after its release.

As Tucker, Ethan Hawke adeptly embodies a man looking for redemption after decades of 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 overshadows his 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 things out."

"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 strong 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 actor first heard about the script from Peretz while it was in development and was immediately interested. "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. "His work is completely readable and accessible, but it's also deeply human, heartfelt and emotionally 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 film 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" implies. "A Hollywood rom-com is like a Hallmark card - soft, without much wit, and without edge," says Hawke. "Judd and Nick can both tell warm, romantic stories that are truly moving and intelligent. 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, says Hawke. "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 studies 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 together."

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 of "Girls."

"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 frustrating 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 also charming." O'Dowd remembers receiving an e-mail from producer Barry Mendel about the role while 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 on."

Hornby's male characters seem endearingly familiar to O'Dowd. "I used to do a television 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. "Duncan 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 frustration 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 Jackson, 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 acting 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, Naked¸ the filmmakers faced another kind of challenge: How do you create a legendary album from scratch? The novel offered 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 Duncan holds 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 were a 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 Hitchcock, Ryan Adams, Conor Mullen Oberst and others were chosen. Fully produced and stripped-down 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 actor 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 from 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 many strong 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 producer, 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 aspects of 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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