The Wackness

“The girls were fly. The music was dope. And Luke was just trying to deal.”

So goes the tagline for up-and-coming director Jonathan Levine’s latest venture, The Wackness (click here for a plot synopsis and review). He and Olivia Thirlby – the Juno alum whose character steals semi-depressed teenager Luke’s heart – sat down with LondonNet to talk about young love, music and how nudity changes a friendship.

On the significance of 1994, the year The Wackness is set:
Jonathan graduated high school that year, and though the film isn’t autobiographical, he says he and the main character have a “shared perspective”. So was his graduation summer spent peddling drugs out of an ice cream cart, like Luke (played by Josh Peck)? “None of that drug business ever happened,” he says, “but I don’t know if it was more innocent.”

About going against movie standards and letting a young girl lead a relationship:
“Especially at that age, there’s just no comparison,” says Olivia. “Girls feel like they’re women and guys are just freakin’ little kids. I related to [Stephanie] so much that I decided to play her as myself.”

Olivia says she and Peck have Luke-and-Stephanie tension onscreen and off. “When you’re naked with someone else is a room full of people who aren’t naked, it brings you closer together,” she understates. Ironically, the two also co-starred in this year’s Safety Glass (with Hilary Duff and Steve Coogan), but their characters hardly knew each other.

Creating the soundtrack, a big-name blend of early-90s hip-hop:
Although he was able to get tracks from artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Nas and Faith Evans, Jonathan wanted more. “I wanted to put in some alternative (like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins), but we just couldn’t fit it in,” he says. “It was getting too expensive.” On his own mix CD, he’d have some Dolly Parton, (don’t judge), while Olivia would go for Bill Evans, Eryka Badu, Regina Spektor and Broken Social Scene.

On filming – being artistic, and very, very hot:
The Wackness’ cinematographer Petra Korner has worked with Jonathan since making his first short film, Shards, in film school. She went gritty for an effect Jonathan says is supposed to create a “memory-meets-reality” effect. Petra’s making a name for herself in the industry and just finished another project with director Wes Craven.

The film wrapped about this time last year, and New York was burning hot then. “That bathroom scene, I probably had my shirt off,” Jonathan says. As for Olivia and Josh, wardrobe couldn’t bring the fresh shirts fast enough.

The influence of Sir Ben Kingsley, who played Luke’s Manson-haired, bong-hitting shrink:
“There wouldn’t have been a movie without him,” says Jonathan. “He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.” Sir Ben was one of the first actors to sign on, and the director often took his lead from the cinematic legend.

Olivia wanted advice from the actor, but he often wouldn’t give it. “As long as you’re doing what’s true and honest,” she says, “that’s enough.”

– Jill Hilbrenner