The most relatable films often times come from actors who can realistically infuse their characters with lessons and ideas they’ve learned from their own experiences and lives. The up-and-coming actors from the new independent comedy-drama, ‘Stuck in Love.’ The movie, which is in part inspired by some of life experiences of its filmmaker, first-time feature film writer and director, Josh Boone, showcases how even in the struggles of marriage, divorce, parenting and growing up, the family ties that plague people are often the ones that also save them.
‘Stuck in Love’ follows veteran novelist Bill Borgens (Greg Kinnear) who can’t stop obsessing over his ex-wife, Erica (Jennifer Connelly), who left him three years ago for another man. Even when his married neighbor-with-benefits, Tricia (Kristen Bell), tries to push him back into the dating pool, he remains committed to his ex-wife.
Meanwhile, his independent collegiate daughter, Samantha (Lily Collins), is publishing her first novel while recoiling at the thought of first love with romantic classmate Lou (Logan Lerman), or reconciling with her mother. Her young brother, Rusty (Nat Wolff), is trying to find his voice as a fantasy writer and as the boyfriend of the girl of his dreams, Kate (Liana Liberato), who’s struggling with substance abuse. The family’s crises bring them together as they uncover surprising revelations about how endings can become beginnings.
Wolff and Liberato generously took the time recently to sit down in New York City for an exclusive interview to talk about shooting ‘Stuck in Love.’ Among other things, the two actors discussed how they thought their respective characters, and the relationship that forms between them, were well-written, unique and interesting; how they had a great time shooting with Boone on the set, as he allowed the actors to improvise at times and offer suggestions on their characters; and how they wanted to tackle the important issues in the film, such as Kate’s drug addiction and Bill and Erica’s divorce, sensitively and realistically.
Question (Q): Nat, you played Rusty Borgens, and Liana, you play Kate, in ‘Stuck in Love.’ What was it about your characters and the script overall that convinced you both to take on your roles?
Liana Liberato (LL): Well, I’ve never played a role like this before. I normally play the more innocent type, and I wanted to show a different side of me, and a different type of person I can play.
Nat Wolff (NW): She’s not innocent at all. No, I’m just kidding.
For me, I thought the romance between Kate and Rusty was so well-written. Also, the idea of a family that was a bunch of writers was interesting, as they talked about writing all the time. I come from a family of musicians and actors, and that’s literally all we talk about. It creates for a lot of conflicts and fights. It’s nice when you all care about the same thing. So I can relate to that kind of family.
Also, I had been really good friends with Liana for a year before doing the movie. I’ve known Lily since I was 11. Greg and Jennifer and I are mall buddies, we go to the mall a lot. (Liberato laughs.) No, I’m just kidding, I had never met them before we began shooting. But I was excited to work with them, as I think they’re amazing actors.
But I’d love to go to the mall with you guys, if you want to, Greg and Jennifer. Just call me back (Liberato laughs), because I always call you guys. So call me back (Woolf jokingly gives a phone number and Liberato laughs again.)
Q: Since you had known each other for a year before you shot the film, like you mentioned, how did you two build your onscreen bond together?
LL: Well, we stayed in Wilmington, North Carolina, which is a really small town, so all of us bonded.
NW: We bonded so much, because we really had no one but each other.
NW: (laughs) So we were all stuck in this hotel.
LL: We made friends with the people who worked at the front desk.
NW: Yeah, Laura at the front desk still texts me.
LL: I call her.
NW: You called her?
LL: Yeah, just to see how she was doing!
NW: Laura at the front desk was really sweet.
I actually spent the first week in North Carolina by myself, and it was the first time I was without my parents on a set. I didn’t bring any money; I didn’t have any cash, so I literally couldn’t get any food for the first week of rehearsal. So I’d run to the set for the set breakfast. Then I’d run home to get this meatloaf that they had at the hotel at 6. It was the biggest thing I had been a part of, and I was literally starving. (The two laugh.)
LL: He’d have these three-day old burgers in his refrigerator, which was gross. (laughs)
NW: It was disgusting. They’re probably still there, because Liana wouldn’t let me eat them. (The two laugh.)
Q: Like you mentioned Nat, this was your first big movie you did on your own. What was the whole process like for you, particularly working with the cast on the film?
NW: I think it would have been harder if everyone wasn’t so friendly, and if we hadn’t gotten along. But it was a really tight group. I would liken it to what I dreamed of when I was younger, and what I imagined making a movie was like. It isn’t usually what making a movie is like. There are usually some negative and professional aspects to it, whereas with this, it was really a blast.
Q: Like you mentioned, ‘Stuck in Love’ is an independent film that was shot in primarily the Wrightsville Beach area of Wilmington, North Carolina. What was the experience of shooting the film independently like overall? Were there any challenges on the set?
LL: I don’t know about Nat, but I’ve done a lot of independents with a small budget. But we worked at a fast pace. We only had 20 days to do the film, and you get used to it.
NW: What we’ve talked about is that sometimes, not all the time, but the bigger the budget, the less room you have for developing the characters. But with this movie, it was more intimate, and we had more input.
LL: Yeah, that’s true. You come on set and you’re prepared. We were all already comfortable with each other, so it was really easy. It was just like a conversation.
Q: Do you both prefer working on independent films over the bigger budget films, or vice versa, or do you just enjoy acting?
NW: Well, no one puts me in the big studio films. (The two laugh.) I think if it’s a good director and cast, I think it probably doesn’t matter either way. I think Liana and my sensibilities so far, and what we’ve gravitated towards, have tended to be indie scripts with less money attached.
But I’ve been in bigger budget movies and have had a great time and experiences. I’ve also done independent movies where I didn’t. So this is just a lucky experience.
LL: I think ultimately, we just look for great work, whether it’s a big budget or small budget. We just look for good work.
NW: I just look for work where I can punch Schwarzeneggers in the face.
LL: (laughs) Or they punch you in the face.
NW: Well, I punch Patrick.
LL: That’s true.
NW: The next movie, I’m going to punch Arnold (Liberato laughs), and then I’m going to punch his younger brother. Then I’m going to find Grandpa (Liberato laughs again), and all the Schwarzeneggers I can find, and punch them all in the face.
LL: That’s nice, Nat. (laughs)
Q: Speaking of working with good directors, Josh Boone made his feature film directorial debut with ‘Stuck in Love.’ What was the process of working with him like on the set, as a first-time helmer?
LL: He was wonderful and well prepared. This is his script as well, so it was his baby and he had visions for how the movie was going to be made, and the music. He was willing to answer any questions that we had.
NW: He really didn’t have any ego, and he was really excited to collaborate.
Q: Speaking of Josh also writing the script, what was the process of working with him as both a writer and director: Do you both generally prefer working with directors who also penned the script?
LL: I really don’t think I’ve worked with another director who also written the script, except for David Schwimmer, who (helmed and) collaborated on (the script of) ‘Trust.’ So Josh was really the first person who I have worked with who has done both.
NW: You would think that a writer would be more worried about his words.
LL: Normally they are.
NW: In my experience, it’s been the opposite, where they know the script so well, and they’re so clear on the intention of every line, that if lines are a little changed or improvised, as long as they have the same intention, they’re okay with it.
I know some other writer-directors are supposed to be very dictator-like with the words. But in my experience, it’s been different.
Q: Did you both improvise, or offer Josh any suggestions on your characters, while you were on the set?
LL: Did we improvise?
NW: I improvised in the rehearsal week, which was integrated into the script. During the shoot, I did a lot of improvising that I thought was going to be cut, but ended up being in the movie. Some of the really strange lines made it in.
LL: Yeah, he definitely did improvise.
NW: A lot of times Josh would encourage us to have little moments at the end of scenes, and that’s always fun.
LL: Yeah, we just played around.
NW: I know of a couple lines that I improvised. I improvised a line that I didn’t know was going to be funny at the time, when I said, “Bye, Stephen,” when I was talking to Stephen King. When I was doing it, I didn’t realize what a dork I was. (Liberato laughs) I thought I was pretty cool. Also, I improvised the line “Girls.”
LL: That was hilarious.
NW: Logan and I had become really good friends, but we only had one scene together. We already had become good friends, and had this really strange relationship, so we couldn’t stop laughing. Our one little moment together, the crew became so annoyed, as we couldn’t stop laughing.
We were improvising and coming up with different digs. As a joke, when the girls were first leaving, I said, “You know girls,” and I was just trying to make him laugh. I knew it wasn’t going to be in the movie. Then I watched the movie and saw it was in there, and I was like, “I didn’t even know that was filmed. I didn’t know you guys were recording.”
We were also talking about our favorite books, and I said, “Have you read ‘Percy Jackson?'” (Liberato laughs.) Logan’s like, “Yeah, yeah, Rusty, I read it.” (Liberato laughs again.) He plays Percy Jackson in the films.
Q: Speaking of the scene with Stephen King, Rusty is motivated to continue writing when he receives a phone call from the author, who says he enjoyed his story. Are there any filmmakers you’re both fans of who inspired you both to pursue acting?
NW: What I compare it to is if Paul McCarthy called me on the phone and talked to me about one of my songs that he heard. Obviously, that’s never happened, but that’s what I had in my head of how I would react.
I tend to get more star-struck when I meet musicians than directors or actors, for some reason. Especially with actors, they seem more tangible, so it doesn’t seem as big of a deal. When I met James Taylor and Elvis Costello, I could barely speak. There’s something about them that seems like they’re more unreachable or god-like to me.
Q: Kate struggles with substance abuse issues throughout the course of the movie, which at times puts a strain on her relationship with Rusty. Liana, what was the experience of showing that aspect of Kate on screen?
LL: Well, I definitely wanted to portray her accurately. I didn’t want people to dislike her at the end of the film. I wanted to make her sweet and real, but she just happens to have an issue with drugs, and she has to deal with that for the rest of her life.
I did a little bit of studying. Josh was always open to answering my questions. Our storyline hits very close to home for him, so he had a lot of answers for me. I also met with a girl who’s a recovering addict, and a very similar thing happened to her. So I had a lot of outlets, so I was able to figure out Kate and how she acted.
Q: Erica and William have been divorced for several years, and while Samantha blames her mother for the family’s separation, Rusty still maintains a relationship with her. With many families separated by divorce today, do you feel that children taking sides between their parents is reflective of in modern society?
NW: Yeah, I think a lot of times in divorce, kids unfortunately pick sides. It’s nice that in this movie, there’s some resolution, whereas in real life, a lot of times there isn’t. I find the scene where Erica comes to the book party probably the most painful for me to watch in the movie, because it’s so upsetting. Samantha is so deeply hurt, but she’s also hurting her mom. I actually had to talk about it, because that scene is really heavy for me.