ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Self Reliance director and star Jake Johnson, plus co-star Biff Wiff. The comedy movie marks Johnson’s directorial debut and will begin streaming on Hulu on January 12, 2024.
“When a middle-aged man (Jake Johnson) is invited into a limo by famous actor Andy Samberg, his dull life takes a thrilling turn,” says the synopsis. “Johnson is offered a chance to win a million dollars in a dark web reality TV show, where assassins from all over the world attempt to kill him for 30 days. The catch? He can’t be killed if he’s not entirely alone, leading him to recruit an unlikely team to help him survive.”
Tyler Treese: Jake, I really thought that you and Anna Kendrick played off each other so well. I really enjoyed the montage scene and the hotel room. How was it filming those playful, fun scenes?
Jake Johnson Working with Anna was really easy because we had done Drinking Buddies together, and we were in a movie called Mike and Dave. So that was really easy. But I gotta say, I think the great romance of the movies is between Tommy and James [laughs.] I think the Maddy character is the affair, but the wife is James.
I can see that for sure. Biff, James is such a fun character for you. What did you enjoy most about playing up that naive nature of him seemingly not knowing a lot of the world?
Biff Wiff: It was so easy working with Jake. He inspired me. Everything I thought of is on him. He really helped me out a lot. And the naivety of the character was just the way I am. Everybody who knows me calls me “sucker.” [laughs]
Jake, there are a lot of interesting themes at play in this film. But the loneliness and lack of human connection, especially in the 21st century, really stood out. What made you wanna really touch on those themes throughout the film?
Johnson: Well… Like, even right now. We’re doing all this, and I’m in a closet. We have figured out with technology how to not be around each other. It really hit home during the pandemic. And so I decided I really wanted to make this movie during the pandemic when I was really missing everybody. I was missing those interactions of just, you know, the way Biff makes me laugh in real life. Just the way you’re around certain people and they just charm you and make you laugh.
People’s spirits are so funny. And so I think that’s what Tommy was missing, and I knew that’s what I was missing. So I wanted to make a movie where somebody was forced to be around people even when they don’t always wanna be. That was the original kind of gem for the idea.
Biff, what really stood out about working with Jake and seeing him juggle both his acting duties and being a first-time director?
Wiff: He was amazing, amazing. I’ve never seen anybody work so hard.
Johnson: It was too much work!
Wiff: It was too much work! No, it was inspiring was what it was. To be around Jake while he was working. The freedom that he had, and the freedom that he gave me, was just inspirational. And it’s where it all comes from underneath.
Johnson: The reason I wanted to direct is [that] I’m definitely more of an actor than I am a director. I feel, so often, that there are these actors who are so good, then they get to set, and they’re forced to do things exactly as written. They’re forced to do things the same way. And you’re trying to create something that was in the director’s head that they thought of months ago. And certain actors are great at that, and I commend them. They’re awesome.
But then there are other actors that don’t necessarily fit exactly into that box. And on set, I’ve watched them get squeezed into a box. What makes them great gets drained away. And then when you’re with these people, they’re cracking the whole crew up, and they’re cracking everybody up, and everybody around them in their life likes being around them. Then they get on set, and you’re at Video Village, and you say, like… “Congratulations.” He said the line. Who cares?
So, my kind of reason for wanting to do this movie was to cast the right people, which I really feel I did. And then let them go. A lot of what Biff does in this movie — especially that scene with Anna and I at the restaurant, where Biff is there, and he and I keep talking about the date — none of that was scripted. Originally, he was gonna go sit at another table, and Tommy and Maddie were gonna be alone. Then, in doing it, once we started working with Biff, or when I started working with him, I was like, “Man, he’s such a star.” He’s kind of the perfect tone for the movie.
So I was like, “Let’s put him in this romantic scene.” We’ll just have a two shot. My only note to Biff was always just react honestly. If this was real life and you were the character. If you want to eat chips? Eat chips. Everything that kind of came outta that was just pretending this is real life. And when you pretend the scene is real life, really fun stuff happens.