A wonderful, beautiful and eye-opening movie about love, family, work and time-travelling. Yep, that’s exactly how you could describe director Jeremy LaLonde his latest film “James vs. His Future Self“. We were able to speak to writer/producer/actor Jonas Chernick right before the UK premiere of the movie at the Glasgow Film Festival.
Liselotte Vanophem: Hi Jonas, how are you doing?
Jonas Chernick: I’m doing very well. Thanks
LV: Congratulations on “James vs. His Future Self”. It’s a very beautiful movie. How did you come up with the story?
JC: 25 years ago I had this idea about this character who’s going to Europe to find himself. Going to Europe is something we North Americans all talk about. We all want to go to Europe to find ourselves. The character does literally find himself in a café in Europe. This idea stuck with me for many years. Then I got really into time-travelling movies during a period in my life. I became fascinated with the idea of time-travelling. I thought I could make a time travel movie with the story I had in mind for many years. After that, I saw “Primer”, which is a film that was screened at the Sundance Film Festival so many years ago. For me, it was the best time travel movie ever made. I watched it and I thought I could never make a time travel movie now because that one was too good. I would always think that mine would be worse. For that reason, I put the idea of my own time-traveling movie away.
However, three years ago director Jeremy LaLonde, with whom I worked together as he did cast me in one of his films, asked me if I had any ideas for a science fiction film that we could write together. I told him about my idea. He loves it and then we quickly began to expend it to be what would become ‘James and His Future Self’.
LV: You wrote the story for this film together with Jeremy. How did the writing process go? Did you sat together or did you e-mailed back and forth?
JC: Well, we never sat in one room and wrote the script together. We would have long creative sessions during which we would explore, brainstorm and discuss. We would send over documents to each other back and forth that we would revise and refine and then we would have more meetings and more conversations. Then we started to write drafts and we would send them to each for years. It was all about rewriting. When we were very close to production and shooting the film, I gave Jeremy the ‘writer’s hat’ and I put on my ‘actor’s hat’ and ‘producer’s hat’. I said to him that “I was no longer going to be writing. We got until this point and if more changes needed to be made, you’re now the writer/director”. I would be happy to help out of course. That was a really good system that I figured out during working on other films with other co-writers. We worked well, we never had any trouble. It was a very harmonious and peaceful process.
LV: When writing the story, did you guys already know that you were going to play the lead?
JC: Well, when we first starting to write the story, the character of James was much younger. He was in his early twenties and we thought I would play Jimmy, the older version of James. I was very excited to do that and we developed that script for over a year. Then we realized that it wasn’t that interesting to have James to be that young. We realized that when being in your twenties you still have your whole life ahead of you to make decisions. However, when you’re in your late thirties, earlier forties, you’re coming at the point where you might think of starting a family and choosing your career over your personal life becomes a decision with much higher stakes. We realized that it would be much more interesting to cast me as James and rewrite the story about the character in his late thirties, earlier forties. Then it came down to finding a great actor who could play Jimmy in his sixties.
LV: How did the rest of the cast come on board then?
JC: We know very early that we wanted Daniel Stern to play Jimmy and we offered him the part almost a year before we started to film the movie. He came on board and was very helpful. Helpful with writing and had a lot of thoughts and ideas about how to make the script better. Tommie-Amber Pirie, who plays Meridith, my sister, acted in most of Jeremy’s film and she and I played lovers in his movie called “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town”. I knew Tommie very well and we had good chemistry. Jeremy and I kind of wrote the part for her.
For the role of Courtney, we were looking at a lot of different people. Daniel Stern’s manager at the time suggested that we should look into Cleopatra Coleman. We know her work because we were fans of her television show “The Last Man on Earth”. We watched some more of her work and then we offered her the role. The last part was the very important role of Dr. Rowley. We knew that we wanted to have a recognizable actress for this part but never in a million years, we thought that Frances Conroy would be interested. She just loved the script and her character so much and came on board while we just started to shoot the film. She was a last-minute addition to the cast.
LV: Before making sure that you had the right cast, did you put them together to make sure that they had great chemistry?
JC: Well, usually you don’t have time or resources to do that, especially not when you’re making an independent film so sadly not. We had a lot of Skype calls with Daniel Stern and we could tell by those calls that he and I would fit very well together. There was this certain chemistry we had. We would take about the scripts and characters and so I knew that we would hit it off perfectly. After the first Skype call we had, when we closed the laptop, Jeremy and I just hugged because we knew that it was going to be great.
With Cleopatra, it wasn’t until she arrived in Canada for the read-through of the script that we knew if it was going to work or not. However, again we were so relieved and felt so lucky that she and I managed to have such chemistry. She brought so much to the role that we hadn’t anticipated. We just felt like that movie gods were smiling down upon us.
LV: There’s a lot of humour in this film. How was it on-set when the cameras weren’t rolling? A lot of humour and pranks as well?
JC: There was a fun atmosphere on set. We laughed a lot. Loads of scenes during which we struggled not to laugh. Everyone was very funny. Daniel Stern is a very funny man, Tommie is one of the most funniest people I know and Cleopatra is incredibly smart, funny and silly. There was a lot of laughter. Frances Conroy is also very witty but she’s a constant professional. She took it very seriously and was very prepared. I don’t know if there were a lot of pranks or a lot of silliness when she was around because we were just very excited to have her. She does such a great job.
LV: The scenes in the movie are very open, relaxed and easy going. Apart from one almost at the end of the film. Without spoiling too much of it, how was it to shoot that one?
JC: Well, it was an incredibly intense day. We had very limited time to shoot in that location. We were filming in Science North, which is a science centre in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. The people who run this place were very amazing and they were very generous and supportive. We sadly had very limited time and so each piece of that scene we had to shoot quickly. That helped us with the intensity of the scene I think. We didn’t have time to relax to play around. No, we knew exactly what we were going to do, where the camera was going and how we were going to shoot the scene. It all went very quickly. Frances Conroy really brings her A-game and is amazing in that scene. Daniel Sturn is so intense during that scene as well. It all came together incredibly well and it really exceeded our expectations.
LV: If there would be a possibility of time travel, would you take it?
JC: If I knew that it wasn’t going to destroy the universe with some paradox and if the science was certain that I wasn’t going to cause any problems, I would definitely do it. I think it would be a fascinating opportunity.
LV: The film has been going to many film festivals around the world now and will make a stop at the Glasgow Film Festival. Are there any film festivals you’re heading to with this movie?
JC: Yeah, indeed. We’ve been playing film festivals since September. We played most of the Canadian film festivals such as the Edmonton International Film Festival, where it was the openings film, the Cinefest Sudbury International Film Festival and the Calgary Film Festival. Then we made our way through the US. We had our US premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival earlier this year. Now that we’re going to move overseas we got Glasgow Film Festival as our European premiere. In April, we have two other great European film festivals coming up. Sadly, I can’t tell you which once yet because they still have to announce their line-up. We will also go to Brazil with this movie in April.
We’ve been very honoured to play at so many great film festivals and the audience seems to react very well to the film. We won some awards at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. They gave us four awards including the one for Best Sci-Fi Film and the one for Best Canadian Feature Film. We had a good film festival run so far and we’re very excited about the next chapter.
LV: Do you already know if the film will have a release in the UK?
JC: Yes, we will premiere on Sky TV on the 8th of April due to which so many people will get a chance to see this film. We’re really excited about that and very happy with it of course.
LV: Where did your passion for film come from?
JC: My passion for film started when I was very young. When I was four or five years old, all I wanted to do was going to the movies. My parents were very supportive. I would go to the movie during the weekend on both days and I never stopped doing that. It has been my passion for a long as I can remember. Going to a theater and watching a movie with an audience is such an amazing joy. Don’t think there’s a greater joy than that. The magic of cinema and storytelling and being transported, moved and affected, laughed and cry is just amazing When you come out of the theater, you’ve changed a little bit and learned a little bit and that’s just beautiful.
LV: Which ones are the films that you recently watched or that you still want to watch?
JC: Well, I’ve watched all the Oscar-nominated films such as “Parasite“, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” and “Little Women”. Right now, I’m on the Academy Of Canadian Cinema & Television and they’ve just announced the nominations so now I’m just trying to watch as many Canadian films as possible. Going to film festivals has been amazing as well cause when I go to film festivals, I still want to see as many movies as I can in between all the press, interviews, Q&A and events. I was very lucky to have seen great films at the film festivals, especially during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. For me, watching films is a priority because I couldn’t imagine making movies without watching any.
LV: Just one last question: Do you already have more films coming up?
JC: I have a film in which I’m staring and which is called “The Prague Orgy” [original title: Prazské orgie]. It’s from the Czech Republic and is an adaptation of the Philip Roth novel. The film opened in Slovakia and hopefully, it will make its way around the world soon. I’m also working on a film that I hope I can shoot during this summer. Sadly, I can’t say much about it because it’s not official yet. However, I will keep on making films as long as I can so there’s definitely more to come.