A: Those blackjack scenes are quintessential Jake. And it's not just Anna and Olivia — if you could turn the camera around and see the crew, everybody shut up and walked over to the monitor and were trying not to laugh. He came alive too, and when Jake's on fire, it's amazing. He's so charming. (Kendrick's response, it turns out, might have been alcohol-fueled; she told Vulture she didn't realize she was drinking real beer in that scene and became legitimately drunk.)
Q: You thank Jeff Garlin in the credits. His recent movie "Dealin' With Idiots" was also entirely improvised, but it hangs together as a series of comedic sketches. It's a different brand of improv than what you do in your movies. How do you know each other?
A: We're trying to figure out a movie to make together. I met him when "Hannah Takes the Stairs" came out because "I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With" (Garlin's previous film) came out the same day.
"Curb Your Enthusiasm" changed my life. I was in film school when that started, and the whole idea of doing improv like that opened up ideas for me — that it was like: Oh, this is really funny and they don't have a script, and you can feel that there are real people here. And they're playing themselves! It was majorly influential for me.
I ran into him a few years later at a screening and we started hanging out. He comes through Chicago enough and I'm in LA enough that we'll get lunch and hang out.
Q: Do you see yourself staying in Chicago?
A: I do. I think it's totally do-able here. I shot a movie called "Happy Christmas" here last December. I had just worked with Anna, and we got along really well, so I was like, "I'll see if she wants to come back to Chicago and do another movie." (Lena Dunham is in the film as well.) So we just kind of stealthily, quietly rolled into production.
The next movie that I want to make is set in Chicago. A TV show idea I have is set in Chicago. So if I can do the work here, then I can also have my family here and then it's all very easy. The only reason I would move — and I have no plans to move, I own a house here — is if I found I was constantly working away from Chicago. That can be very stressful on the family. Short of that, I love it here. I don't want to be anywhere else. We can exist off a lot less here, which means I don't have to do movies I don't want to do and I don't have to direct commercials. That's the dream, right? If I can make enough money once or twice a year doing a movie then I can live here, then I never have to go.
And I'm actually happy to exist outside of the industry where every conversation I have is about movies. When I go to LA it can be fun to exist in that world, but it's so refreshing to come back to Chicago where my friends don't make movies.
Filmmakers talk shop
The Black Harvest Film Festival heads into its final two weeks with a panel discussion Saturday called "The Real Deal about Filmmaking," featuring director Kevin Willmott, the University of Kansas film professor whose comedy "Destination: Planet Negro!" (a sci-fi satire about race and gender — and my top pick of the fest this year) screens Friday and Tuesday. Go to siskelfilmcenter.org/blackharvest2013.
Not so pretty woman
In Jean-Luc Godard's "Vivre Sa Vie" (released as "My Life to Live" in the US) a failed actress in need of cash leaves her husband and newborn to become a prostitute — as one does, apparently, in Paris circa 1962. The film is fiction but was shot (in 12 episodic chapters) to look like a documentary. Starring Anna Karina, who was married to Godard at the time. "This is a great movie," Roger Ebert wrote after catching up with the film more than a decade ago on DVD, "and I am not surprised to find Susan Sontag describing it as 'one of the most extraordinary, beautiful and original works of art that I know of.'" It screens Saturday at Doc Films. Go to docfilms.uchicago.edu.