Friends With BenefitsCast
: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Emma Stone, Richard Jenkins, Andy Samberg, Jenna Elfman Director
: Will Gluck Genre
: Comedy, Drama, RomanceRated
: M Running time
: 109 minutes Synopsis
: A young female head-hunter (Mila Kunis) in New York convinces a potential recruit (Justin Timberlake) to accept a job in the Big Apple. Despite an attraction to each other, both realise they're everything they've been running from in a relationship and decide to see what happens if they leave emotion out of it and keep it strictly physical.Release Date
: August 18th, 2011
"We need to talk."
"We're heading in different directions."
"You deserve better than me."
"Let's stay friends."
Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) certainly aren't in a settling-down frame of mind. When New York-based executive recruiter Jamie trains her considerable headhunting skills on luring hotshot LA-based art director Dylan to take a dream job in the Big Apple, they quickly realise what kindred spirits they are. They've each been through so many failed relationships that they're both ready to give up on love and focus on having fun.
So when Dylan relocates to New York and the pair start hanging out regularly, they share plenty of laughs over a twin belief that love is a myth propagated by Hollywood movies. That's when these two begin a deliciously sexy, decidedly grown-up experiment.
Could these two fast friends - who are successful, unattached, and scornful of commitment - explore new terrain?
If they add casual "no emotions" sex to their friendship, can they avoid all the pitfalls that come with thinking about someone else as more than just a pal?
As two people weaned on the disappointing promises of romantic comedies, Dylan and Jamie shouldn't be entirely surprised when their bold move becomes a bawdy, sexy ride into uncharted territory, exposing much more of themselves than they ever thought they'd get to see.
Friends with Benefits stars Justin Timberlake (The Social Network), Mila Kunis (Black Swan), Patricia Clarkson (Easy A), Jenna Elfman ("Dharma & Greg"), Bryan Greenberg ("How to Make It in America"), with Richard Jenkins (Dear John) and Woody Harrelson (2012).
Friends with Benefits is directed and produced by Will Gluck (Easy A), also producing were Martin Shafer, Liz Glotzer, Jerry Zucker and Janet Zucker. The screenplay is by Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, along with Will Gluck. Story is by Harley Peyton and Keith Merryman & David A. Newman. Executive producer is Glenn S. Gainor (Burlesque). Director of photography is Michael Grady (Easy A). Marcia Hinds is the production designer. Tia Nolan is the editor. Music supervision is done by Wende Crowley. Costume designer is Renee Ehrlich Kalfus.
Director Will Gluck was looking for another project, having just finished editing Easy A for Screen Gems, when the script for Friends with Benefits came to his attention. "I've always wanted to do a movie that was an update of the old Hepburn and Tracy movies," Will Gluck explains, citing his love for the sexy, banter-filled comedies of Hollywood's golden past. So with its pointed dialogue, enticingly adult comic situations and charming yet flawed characters, Friends with Benefits certainly hit the nail on the head conceptually,. Dylan and Jamie are the Hepburn/Tracy characters of our time, with our sensibilities, aspirations, and most of all this generation's views on family, friendship, love, and sex.
Will Gluck knew that essential to the success of the movie would be casting actors who would match the dynamic and flirtatious chemistry captured in those landmark films. Will Gluck explains, "Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis had such good chemistry together, it's unbelievable. It was like magic. You just want to watch them do anything together. The most important part of this movie is when they're on screen together." Will Gluck goes on, "I hit the lottery with those two together. Mila Kunis's funny, smart, charismatic, beautiful, goofy. It's so fun to watch her, especially with Justin Timberlake."
Will Gluck recalls catching Justin Timberlake on "Saturday Night Live" and being wowed. "I was impressed, and then he did another 'Saturday Night Live' and he was even funnier. And the reason he's so funny is because he's a great actor. This is his first full-time comedic role. He can do anything. He's so charismatic that you can't keep your eyes off him."
For his part, Justin Timberlake not only loved the adult humor of the screenplay, but was intrigued by where Dylan and Jamie are in their respective lives when the movie introduces them to us. Both are young and successful at work, but they're also circumspect about love, and struggling with family issues. "Just the things that happen to you when you get to a certain age, like my age," says Justin Timberlake, "where you're sort of questioning the 'establishment' of what you've grown up with - as far as relationships are concerned - what it all means."
The actor goes on, "Our characters meet each other in that time where they've both recently split up from other relationships and we're both in that headspace where we kind of want to just be single."
Mila Kunis saw her character Jamie as someone who "believes in true love and believes that Prince Charming is out there and is desperately seeking that." Jamie doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve, though. "She's a typical New Yorker," laughs Mila Kunis. Indeed, Jamie is sharp, fast-talking, determined, and by all accounts more of a realist than a dreamer.
Jamie is also funny and easy to be with. So when Dylan moves to New York after she recruits him for an exciting position at GQ Magazine, the two become fast friends, comrades in cynicism, ready to laugh at the world's craziness and each other's foibles.
With Justin Timberlake's Dylan working hard to establish himself at a new job in a new city and no time to pursue life's more frivolous aspects, and Mila Kunis' Jamie meeting too many "nice" guys who turn out to be not-so-nice, the two come to an agreement asserting mutual benefits without the emotional complications of dating. 'Cause after all, everyone has physical needs, they convince themselves. What could possibly go wrong?
Justin Timberlake explains, "It's about two people kind of living parallel lives. They get together and come up with this crazy plan of having the physical act of a relationship without any of the emotion. That's really where a lot of the hilarity ensues. It's nice to have an "R" rating for this movie because in the intimate scenes, there's some funny things that we were able to come up with. It's a funny dynamic when you have characters who aren't emotionally attached in that way - or at least the don't think they are."
Jamie's mother, Lorna, brilliantly brought to life by Patricia Clarkson, provides a good deal of humor and color as well as some pointed insight into Jamie's character. Will Gluck explains, "Lorna is a single mother. The kind who was probably a groupie for some rock band in the seventies and eighties. She's very absent and Jamie was probably the mother in that relationship." Coupled with a string of disappointing relationships, it was easy for Jamie to assume the stance that it's better not to depend on others for emotional sustenance.
While Will Gluck, having recently worked with Patricia Clarkson on Easy A, was well aware of her genius, it was the first time Mila Kunis and Patricia Clarkson had worked together. Mila Kunis was smitten. "One of the greatest actresses I've ever worked with," says Mila Kunis. "I so wish we had more scenes together because I loved working with her."
Dylan's family resides in Los Angeles. His father, a respected journalist, now retired and suffering from the early stages Alzheimer's disease, is touchingly played by Oscar®-nominated actor Richard Jenkins. Dylan's sister Annie, played by Jenna Elfman, feels the weight of handling their father's challenges alone while raising her son.
"We have so many great actors in this movie," says Justin Timberlake, "but to have Richard Jenkins as your dad - great scenes playing back and forth - I think that's been my favorite exchange."
It's not common to have a serious issue such as Alzheimer's threaded into what's primarily a comedy, but Will Gluck likes the juxtaposition and explains, "I like doing more emotional stuff. Not just with Alzheimer's, but their (Dylan, Mr. Harper and Annie) relationship, and also the strained relationship between Jamie and her mother. As long as they can laugh about the tough situations they're going through, that makes it even better.
Will Gluck tells how he came to cast Jenna Elfman: "She did the table read and within the first few seconds it felt like Justin Timberlake and Jenna Elfman had been brother and sister forever. Jenna Elfman has a great combination of playing a motherly figure but also gives Justin Timberbake the business. They feel like they've fought a lot as kids. It just feels real."
For Jenna Elfman, the role represents the voice of reason for Dylan. "My character thinks he's lost his mind and can't see what's right under his nose, which is this amazing girl with this great sense of humor."
She cites the family scenes as crucial to understanding the movie's message about what's important in life: "Justin Timberlake's character coming back and being around his family starts to wake him up, because you can't take things for granted. At its core, that's what this movie's really about."
Richard Jenkins offers a similar viewpoint about the movie. "The thing about having Alzheimer's is you do realise you don't have a lot of time. If you feel something for someone, you should not play games."
Serving as both court jester and sage in Dylan's New York world is his new co-worker Tommy, an athletic, flamboyant art director at GQ, played to profanely funny perfection by Woody Harrelson. Says director Will Gluck, "Tommy's a strange character to play and I don't think Woody Harrelson's ever played it before. I don't think anyone's quite played this character. Only someone like Woody Harrelson can pull it off."
Woody Harrelson says it took him a bit to devise an approach for such an outrageous character. "It took me a second to really get it," Woody Harrelson explains. "The thing that was interesting to me about Tommy Bollinger is that he's kind of a guy's guy. Like one of these guys who talks about girls in a pretty graphic terminology, but as a gay man." Laughing, Woody Harrelson adds, "He says stuff that I can't believe we shot."
There were plenty of laughs on set when Woody Harrelson was working, enthuses Mila Kunis. "Woody Harrelson cracks me up like no other," says the actress. "I cannot do a scene with him because I just start laughing. He looks at me and I just start laughing." Justin Timberlake had the same problem in a scene with Woody Harrelson, trying to keep a straight face. "It's a real challenge to just Buster Keaton the whole thing, when you're sort of dying inside," he says.
Although American audiences first fell in love with Wppdy Harrelson through the much revered sit-com Cheers, he has more recently been seen in, and has received much acclaim for, his work in dramatic roles, such as his recent Oscar®-nominated turn in The Messenger. Working on Friends with Benefits has rekindled his love for comedy. "It's like coming to work in a playground, you know?" the actor says. "I haven't felt quite that extreme since Cheers where everybody is always trying to come up with new things to make a scene funnier. Will Gluck is just a great director. He really has a sense of comedy that's extraordinary and comes up with amazing ideas on the spur of the moment."
Will Gluck gives full credit to his actors, though, when the spirit of creativity is in the air. "I try to do the script that was written, then after the first or second take I just keep yelling out different things to try," he says. "A lot of that has to do with working with such good actors. They make it so easy because pretty much anything they say is going to be good and funny."
It was a process that Justin Timberlake took to immediately. "Will Gluck and I are like kindred spirits in that way," he explains. "I find that I thrive in that type of environment, probably because I come from the stage so you get used to having to change things on a dime. The world of improv is a very comfortable place for me."
Mila Kunis chimes in with her own praises as well about being directed by Will Gluck. "Will Gluck is so great to work with. I don't think we've ever cut. I'm pretty sure we roll out the forty-five minutes that we have and you'll see Will running into a shot, running out, running in and out...he thinks so quickly and so fast."
But more than just being two hours of laughs, "it's also a movie for adults," reminds Will Gluck. "A movie about what's happening in modern-day relationships. Hopefully, we're doing it smartly. Hopefully, if Hepburn and Tracy made a movie now, this is what it would be."
Tucked away into the movie are references to the great classic films of our current generation -- not to mention a fictional movie-within-the-movie Jamie and Dylan repeatedly watch that hilariously covers every romantic comedy trope in the book -- Friends With Benefits asks: does being cynical of love's clichés make you blind to the genuine article? "These two characters know that they're going through something that people have gone through in the past," says Will Gluck. "They are also very cognisant of the fact that they are in a relationship without commitment, just having sex, and that it's probably going to end badly."
Will Gluck continues, "So even though there are romantic undertones, the characters are both very cynical about it. Jamie loves watching romantic comedies, but she doesn't buy into the idea that it exists. She believes that movies are all fairytales."
Mila Kunis laughs as she points out the irony, "The movie references other films so much, that life starts imitating art a little for these two, but they're so cynical, they don't even see it." At its core though, she says, "chances are you don't have that fairytale romance." Mila Kunis goes on, "This is a very organic version of how two people meet and how things evolve. It's very much the truth."
Justin Timberlake sees a stealth aspect to the movie's fun and games. "I think the heart of this film sneaks up on you," concludes Justin Timberlake. "I think that that's what will get audiences: before they know it, they're completely invested in these characters because they're so likeable."
What of the notion of "friends with benefits?" Is it really possible for two people to be boldly, bodily intimate while escaping the possibility of being hurt or the responsibility of having hurt someone else? Emotionally, he can't say, but physically, Justin Timberlake offers a clue: "Sex without emotion is painful," he laughs.
Mila Kunis agrees, adding, "I think I hurt my back. You want to talk about the un-sexiest sex scenes? Us for two weeks. At one point I was like, 'I don't even know what to say to you, I can't feel my leg.' So I would say "friends with benefits" does not work in life!"
Friends with Benefits was shot during the summer of 2010 at some of the most iconic locations that New York City and Los Angeles have to offer.
Will Gluck knew that when playing with the tropes of a New York-set comedy, the film is communicating with the audience with an already established language of cinema. When it came to New York, Will Gluck wanted to hit such picturesque locales as Central Park, the Hudson River, Times Square and Grand Central Station. Doing so during the height of the tourism season, however, proved to be a little challenging.
"It was really tough to film in those places to begin with," explains Will Gluck, "but when you add into the mix Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis and Woody Harrelson, it gets crazy. Within ten minutes of our showing up we would have thousands of people watching. Every day of this movie has been documented online."
Take, for example, a simple walking shot of Justin Timberlake on 5th Avenue -- it brought the opposite sidewalks to a standstill for two full hours. Likewise, the two flash mob scenes, one at Grand Central and another at Times Square, brought hundreds of fans who gamely stood and watched production until the early morning hours. Scenes in Central Park gathered huge crowds, while the actors worked with comparable ease on a small boat on the Hudson River.
The company started their day shooting at Grand Central Terminal while it was open for business. "That was cool," says Will Gluck, "because of all the people watching our flash mob." The climactic scene called for about five hundred extras but, "at one point there were about a thousand people going through the trains, as well as tourists, watching. It was an absolute zoo. It was wild seeing all these people, especially since I grew up in New York City and walked there all the time when I went to school. I never thought that I'd be having people dance in it."
After midnight, however, the doors were closed to the public and a hush fell over the stately historic building. According to Mila Kunis, that's when the magic really began to happen. "Grand Central Station was fantastic because it was ours," she says. "There's a secret stairway we went down and we explored. Nobody was there. It was completely silent. It was amazing."
The Hudson River didn't hold the same cachet. In fact, joggers along Battery Park blithely negotiated around the company's set and equipment, as Woody Harrelson and Justin Timberlake shot hoops in the humid summer heat.
From the park's dock, the actors boarded a vintage sixteen-foot wooden boat, while a shooting unit made up only of essential crew boarded a barge in order to capture Justin Timberlake, Woody Harrelson and Richard Jenkins on the Hudson River. Working in water has its own challenges. Will Gluck recalls, "Every time a huge ferry would come by, the boat would just come smacking down."
It was a day Woody Harrelson admits he will likely not forget for some time to come. "We were out on the Hudson in this little boat from 1927. I thought, 'How hard is it going to be?'" the actor shrugs. "I didn't think it could be that hard. I'm the one who's driving and at one point there was a massive amount of traffic on the river. This tugboat came by and I could see that it caused a pretty big wake and we're very low in the water. I was told to kind of point the boat in the wave when that happens. But this guy who was ducked down under some blankets sees the situation and says, 'I got to take over here.' I go, 'Really?' He takes over and this wave just washed over us completely. Completely drenched us from head to foot. Completely. It was hard, but it was pretty exciting, I've got to say. I do all my stunts unless they're dangerous, " the actor laughs.
When it came to shooting in Los Angeles, the production encountered a different vibe. "New York was so electric," Will Gluck summarises, "and I like filming in New York City, but there is something about being in L.A. where you can just concentrate on the work and not so much the pageantry of shooting a film."
Justin Timberlake explains the difference between the two locales: "L.A. has always been a town where movies get filmed. People stop and look around a little bit. But I think they get bored really easily because there is probably some other movie filming down the street. New York becomes a little more of a challenge. The city's so compact and dense with people. People stop and crowd around, which is exciting, then all of a sudden you feel like you're doing theater in the park. I think we were going through shock the first two days we filmed in L.A. because we didn't have six thousand people standing around watching us film."
In Los Angeles, the company was scheduled for about two weeks of stage work, but much of the shooting was on done on location and featured sites such as Mann's Chinese Theater, the beaches of Malibu, Hollywood's Pantages Theater, downtown's historic Union Station, Los Angeles International Airport and the ultimate Los Angeles set piece, the Hollywood sign.
Once the company made it to Malibu, the weather was considerably cooler than the dog days of summer in New York. In fact, even with a full-body wet suit, Justin Timberlake felt some chills, as did the crew, again loaded onto a barge for the days' shooting.
Justin Timberlake says that during pre-production, an actor isn't always thinking about the big picture when going over a script. "There are things you read in the script and you go, 'It'll be funny if we said this. It'll be funny if we did this.' Then all of a sudden you're out there on the water and it's three degrees and you're in a wet suit. And you feel like, 'Why didn't I see this coming?'"
While Justin Timberlake handled the jet-ski like a pro, the crew had a more difficult time loading into position. Will Gluck explains, "We had to be way out, beyond the break. The crew was on a gigantic barge about a half-mile off the beach. The only way we could get to the barge was by these little motor boats that took us from the shore to the barge. The waves were so strong at the shore, a lot of crew got injuries from getting smacked by the boats," he laughs. "A lot of this crew had just come off an action movie. They said that this movie was harder by tenfold because we did such crazy things."
The entire company was looking forward to shooting at the iconic Hollywood sign. There's a little bit of pride involved in filming at an internationally-known symbol and visual touchstone of one's chosen profession, made all the more rare by the fact that the site itself is not open to the public. But the actual nuts and bolts of shooting on a 30-foot-high sign located on steep terrain had the crew looking more like explorers gussied up in a complicated system of ropes and climbing gear.
Will Gluck says, "We were apparently the first movie to put actors in the actual Hollywood sign, in anyone's memory. People have shot around it, but we actually put Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in the second "O" of the sign. For two days we were up there, hanging twenty feet off the ground."
Mount Hollywood has an elevation of 1,640 feet, and the sign itself is at the top of a narrow ridge. The winds are quite strong on their own, but the company also had two helicopter-cameras for aerial shots. "I've never seen two people more cold," Will Gluck says of Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. "They were not too happy with me at the end of those two days."
No matter if you've seen it in photos, or from a rooftop in Hollywood, or a choice vantage point on the ground, it's only when you see the Hollywood sign up close that you realise just how big it is. Says Justin Timberlake, "You look at the Hollywood sign from Hollywood and it looks like you could grab onto the bottom of the 'L" and pull yourself up. But then you get up there and you look up at it and it's all the way up there." The actor shakes his head. "It was really, really exciting. It was extremely cold. I don't regret that that day ended," he smiles.
While Mila Kunis didn't have to suffer the waters of the Hudson or the Pacific, she can boast of her own little injuries and indignities. One scene had her climbing a ladder, "in five-inch heels and ending up hitting my shins exactly in the same spots each time."
"I've counted all my injuries," the actress goes on, "and this film has given me more injuries than all my other movies combined, in blisters alone," she laughs. She is referring the scene in which she navigates around baggage on a luggage carousel at LAX. Assigned platform heels for much of the movie, Mila Kunis had to do this particular scene barefoot. As the carousel rotated, she jogged along grabbing other people's bags and tossing them to their owners. All day long. "You can't imagine how black my feet were," she laughs. The crew, so impressed with her endurance and fortitude, broke into applause when the scene wrapped.
Will Gluck admits, that with all the big set pieces and location shoots -- from musicalising Grand Central Station to maneuvering around the Hollywood sign -- he's most excited about the scenes of Dylan and Jamie just talking indoors, feeling out their friendship and unwittingly becoming the heroes of their own romantic comedy.
"To me, the most fun stuff is when they're actually getting to know each other," says Will Gluck. "You see them falling in love even though they don't know they're falling in love."