From the GATW Archives: Interview: CEREMONY actor Jake Johnson

Posted on April 8, 2011 on GATW.

ake Johnson should be in every movie. In the only two I’ve seen him in (PAPER HEART and CEREMONY, respectively), he’s stolen the show. His comedy and comedic timing is top notch. I met Johnson almost two years ago when he was touring with Charlyne Yi for PAPER HEART; to show you just how much fun these two are, check out our video interview with the duo.

I saw CEREMONY at TIFF and have since wanted to speak to the crew about the film (interviews with writer/director Max Winkler and actor Michael Angarano coming soon). This was made possible when I met Winkler and Angarano at SXSW. Max connected Johnson via email, where the below interview was conducted. Read on as we discuss CEREMONY and taking chances with first time directors. Also, stay tuned for Alanna’s interviews with Winkler and Angarano.

How did you get your start into acting?

I did a two man show in NYC called The Midwesterners with one of my oldest friends Oliver Ralli. We were directed by another friend of ours, Bill Bungeroth (now the director of Chicago’s Second City Main Stage). We performed throughout NYC and toured the country performing in any festival that would take us. After years of performing on stages, I moved out to Hollywood and started grinding my way up through commercials, one line parts, etc.

You’ve worked with Max Winkler before on Clark and Michael - is this how you got involved with CEREMONY?

Yes, after working on “Clark and Michael” Max and I started working on multiple ideas together. When CEREMONY came together, he told me from the beginning he wanted me in his movie (he just didn’t know for which part). He was forced to put me through the ringer, though. I auditioned at least five times for it. But Max was always in my corner. Max is truly a good person to have fight for you. He’s loyal, talented and fierce.

From the beginning of pre-production, were you always supposed to play Teddy?

No. Teddy was originally written as British. As soon as Zoe became Uma Thurman, Max started considering me as Teddy. We had to rethink and refind the character, but Max and I like a lot of the same stuff. The note Max would give me throughout production was, “Weirder, Jake. Go for it.” It’s probably the best direction I’ve ever gotten.

Your character is constantly drunk and pretty much does whatever he wants - what was it like during shooting?

Like that…I’m kidding. It was a really fun shoot. Max let me have a lot of freedom and he really respects his actors, so we were able to try things and feel ownership. I couldn’t imagine a better working experience.

You play Uma Thurman’s brother in the film, how intimidating was it playing along side such a brilliant actor?

She’s a great actor and made it very comfortable to act with.

You’ve been in a lot of large studio films in a co-starring role. Do you think it’s easier and less pressure to have a lasting career in film by doing that vs. taking the leads and having to keep up the box-office numbers?

I do. I’m also at a stage of my career where I feel I have a ton to learn and so not being the lead takes some pressure off. Acting in movies/TV is so different than acting on stage, so it’s a process. I am not in a huge rush to be the main guy. I am also not in a huge rush to be a big movie star guy, either. I’d be very happy being a working character actor, as long as I’m working a lot.

Your comedic timing is flawless - do you have any aspirations for plans to direct a feature?

Thanks, Chase. Yes, I would love to direct. I am using the time of being on sets now to absorb as much as I can in terms of lenses, set-ups, etc. Hopefully one day, I have the opportunity to direct, but, like being the lead in a project, I am in no rush.

What can you tell us about two of your upcoming films, JUNK and SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED?

I’m not allowed to say much about SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED besides that I am really excited to be working with such talented people and with a great script (I don’t know much of anything about JUNK, I worked for a day on it because Jasenovic asked me to. They all seem like nice people, though, but I’m in the dark on it.)

Some of your work has been with first time directors. How do you go about deciding to take a chance with that person?

As an actor I like being given some freedom, but I also like the director to have a vision. In terms of first time directors, I like to meet with them, get a drink, and see if we see the script in the same way. If we do, and we see the process of actually making a film the same way, then I like to roll the dice and see what we can make. At the end of the day, you gotta gamble a little in this business.

From the GATW Archives: Giveaway: Win CEREMONY swag, custom signed by writer/director Max Winkler (bonus: contest video by Winkler)

One of the best films to come out of the Toronto International Film Festival last year was Max Winkler’s feature debut, CEREMONY. You should be familiar with Winkler’s work if you’ve ever seen any episode of Clark and Michael with Clark Duke and Michael Cera.

I finally met Max a month or so ago at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival and we bounced around ideas for doing something fun for the celebration of CEREMONY’s theatrical release this Friday. I had the idea for Max to record a video for you (our wonderful readers) talking about a CEREMONY contest and what you could win - a few emails later, the below video showed up in my inbox from Max. So, without further ado, watch the video and follow the instructions! Good luck, movie lovers!

CEREMONY hits theaters this Friday! Also, if CEREMONY is not playing in your area, you can watch via VOD or rent on iTunes. Let’s show the world we have great taste - support indie filmaking!

From the GATW Archives: TIFF 2010 Capsule Reviews: ATTENBERG, REPEATERS, and Max Winkler’s CEREMONY


ATTENBERG opens with our two main females standing in front of one another (seen above). They begin to show us the literal meaning to “French kiss,” and swirl their tongues around and around. Marina (Ariane Labed, right) doesn’t like the feeling, so she starts growling and sticking her tongue out. Then both of them jump around like dogs and the scene ends. This is pretty much the entirety of ATTENBERG, with a subplot of Marina spending time with her father during the last days of his life. Marina hates men too, she’s 23 and despises even the thought of a penis. Then she stumbles upon a man who fascinates her.

ATTENBERG was written and directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari, who served as an associate producer on the much talked about movie DOGTOOTH. After walking out of ATTENBERG, I couldn’t decide if I really hated it, or really loved it. I still can’t decide. Tsangari definitely has her foot in the door of arthouse cinema, but ATTENBERG stretches this genre to “WTF!?” Our lead, first timer Labed, was fantastic in it. She’s a natural at being awkward; the Michael Cera of women.


REPEATERS is GROUNDHOG DAY in hell. Three patients in a rehab hospital get this weird electricity charge through their bodies on a stormy night, which forces them to repeat the same day over and over. At first it’s a rush. One time they rob a liquor store. One time they break into their male nurse’s house and find porn magazines all over the place. As the repeats start to get worse and worse, one of them (Richard de Klerk) starts to go on a crime spree, and killing whomever gets in his way.

For an indie flick, REPEATERS was really well-made and a lot of fun to watch. Director Carl Bessai takes us on a journey  of raw, unplanned mischief, the kind you probably always thought about venturing on didn’t want to face the consequences. It’s one of those films where you don’t know whether to root for the bad guy or the hero, or even who is who.


CEREMONY was written and directed by MICHAEL AND CLARK’s Max Winkler. This marks the debut of his first feature as well. CEREMONY stars Michael Angarano as Sam Davis, amateur children’s book writer, and former flame of Zoe, played by Uma Thurman. Davis has big dreams: become an established writer and marry Zoe.  There’s a few problems: Davis is awful at his writing and illustrations and Zoe is soon to be married. So what does he do? Convince his friend Marshall (ROCKET SCIENCE’sReece Thompson) to take a road trip with him, unknowing to him Davis has plans to break up a marriage. They end up staying at the mansion Zoe, her fiance, and their entire wedding party are staying at, and things become, well, a lot more complicated.

CEREMONY is hilarious and very surreal when it comes down to the moments on life-changing decisions. Winkler knows how to balance his comedy and drama. With Angarano as our lead, he nails his character as a young Vince Vaughn: the out of place winks, the full confidence in situations he has no way of gaining. CEREMONY’s title might throw off the young crowd (this is not your typical rom-com), but it’s a lot better than sitting through an actual ceremony. Nobody cares about those things.