By Calum Cooper
Jonas Chernick and Jeremy Lalonde are a prolific duo in their native Canada. Both between them, and together, they have created various raunchy comedies that have proven both humorous, and popular among many demographics, winning several comedy and festival awards in the process.
Their most recent collaboration – “James vs. His Future Self” (2020) – is now available on SkyTV as of this week. It is a hilarious, and quietly sentimental, tale on human growth, with a unique spin on the common time travel trope. It premiered in Britain during the Glasgow Film Festival, where Calum Cooper sat down with the actor and director to discuss their latest project.
Calum: I’m delighted to be joined by Jonas Chernick and Jeremy Lalonde to discuss their new film “James vs. His Future Self”. For those who won’t have heard of the film, could you please give a brief synopsis?
Jonas: Sure. The movie is about James, a scientist who, for his whole life, has been obsessed with figuring out time travel. Just as he’s about to make a pivotal discovery he is confronted by a crazy older man who claims to be his future self. He has come back in time to stop him. He warns him that if he takes a potential job offer on Friday that he will discover time travel but ruin his life. But for James this just confirms that his dreams are going to come true. Thus comic hijinks ensue.
C: James of course is lovingly played by yourself.
JC: Aw thank you.
C: And his future self is played by Daniel Stern. It’s great to see him back in another film so I have to ask how you got him on board?
Jeremy: I have a series of photographs that Daniel doesn’t want leaked to the public… But no, in all seriousness, we just got lucky. We made a shot for the moon and listed all the different people that would be right for the movie and the jokes, such as why he looks a little different from James. And Daniel was top of the list. So we figured we’d try and if it doesn’t work hopefully we can move on to the next name. You try not to set your hopes too high, for the process can be daunting and heartbreaking, but we were very lucky he responded to the script for he’s very picky.
JC: He’s very reclusive and likes to just stay on his ranch. He’d rather say no to a project, but he liked the script.
JL: Yeah. He responded well to the characters and the themes, so we were very lucky. And he was just a dream to work with. You sometimes hear horror stories about famous actors, but he was so down to earth and lovely. Our childhoods were not ruined by working with him. If anything they were enhanced.
C: There’s a saying that you’re your own worst enemy. This film takes that sentiment quite literally with how it uses time travel. When researching for the film, what were some of the main influences?
JL: One of the things that always seemed fun to us was a comedy version of “Looper” (2012). It has a similar kind of story in terms of man vs himself literally. But we’re also big genre fans. We love “Primer” (2004), we love “Back to the Future” (1985), and we love “Groundhog Day” (1993), which isn’t really time travel but it’s similar. We wondered, how do we make something that’s our own? We don’t want to do a bad version of the genre type movie.
JC: “Back to the Future” was probably our biggest influence tonally. Sci-fi comedy is not too common a genre, whereas “Back to the Future” is the perfect time travel comedy. We wanted to try and do something similar, especially as that move is not cynical. It’s like a big warm hug. It’s fun, but also really smart, which is what we were aiming for.
C: Tell me a bit about James as a character, for he is a likeable guy, but he can also be quite frustrating at times.
JC: Sure. As an actor and writer I’ve always been interested in characters who make bad choices, especially early in the film. Then you spend the rest of the film trying to redeem them and keep the audience on your side. I feel comfortable in that world. There are definitely times when James’s actions can be frustrating and you find yourself yelling at the screen. But that’s the fun.
JL: There’s a moment in the film when James says something that would make the audience hate him for two minutes. Even one of our producers said “you can’t say that”. But that’s the point, that’s why he has to say that. Because it is a terrible thing to say. That’s his arc.
JC: He’s a character who is defined by his inability to understand social dynamics and relationships. So he, like many men, says the wrong thing to the woman in his life and has to dig his way out of that. Part of his evolution as a character is learning how to relate to people and treat them with respect and insight. Without that the journey isn’t complete. You do want the audience to love your characters, but that doesn’t mean they have to make the right choice every time. You still want to be challenged along the way.
C: The film is really funny with how it plays about with its concepts. But, I also really liked the dramatic elements. Particularly with how honed in younger James is versus older James who is more experienced but also somewhat jaded. That must’ve made for interesting dynamics between you and Daniel.
JC: Thank you. That’s what we were going for. I think to be driven by one goal is an idea me and Jeremy connect to as filmmakers. But you have to be extremely obsessive. Getting a movie made is a series of miracles that requires strenuous effort on your part. So I think it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters, and only now in our middle age do we have perspective of that. Hopefully that comes through in the story.
C: What were some of the comedic inspirations for the film? For there’s a good range of slapstick and exaggerated imagery on what the future holds. Without going into spoilers, a world without ketchup is my personal nightmare.
JL: (laughs) That’s one of my favourite jokes. I’m so glad we got that in.
JC: Definitely. Although we tried to keep references to the future to a minimum, so as to keep the story focused. Comedically, Jeremy and I are known in Canada for writing raunchy sex comedies. There was a version of this film early on that was a lot dirtier, but as time went on and we figured out the tone, it became tamer. Judd Apatow movies were a big influence.
JL: I’m a child of the 80s, so I grew up with the really smart comedies from that era. And I’m also really keen on going back and seeing what or who influenced those filmmakers, like the Marx brothers or Ingmar Bergman.
JC: Jeremy and I have done five films each, including this one which we co-wrote together. It doesn’t seem like a lot but it is. Both of us are at the point where we are still influenced by other filmmakers but we have our own voice. Jeremy has a very specific voice. I have my own, and this movie is the collaboration of both those voices.
C: What were some of the thematic influences? I really liked the idea of someone trying to master time but having no appreciation for the time they’re in now.
JL: It took us a while to come up with. I wish we could say that was our idea from the get go, but it came to us about halfway through the process. Once that came to that it allowed us to make a lot of creative decisions that were floating between our ideas. Like having a time travel movie that takes place entirely in the present was something we felt was kind of funny but also unique. I think it reflects the aging process too, that as we get older and start to have families the idea of the present is ever more important. The line “wherever you are, be all there” came from my wife after an argument we had. It’s the idea of being mindful of where you are and that’s a journey I feel I have been on emotionally too in the last couple of years. I hope to enjoy the moment more and use that to be a better friend, a better father, and a better filmmaker.
C: In Their Own League is based around female filmmakers and voices, so something I really appreciated about your film was how well written the female characters were, like Edna or Courtney. Could you tell me a bit about them?
JC: As male writers and filmmakers who consider ourselves feminists, it was important to us from the beginning to not write stock female characters. Courtney is the love interest of the film, but we didn’t want her to be solely that.
JL: We wanted her to have her own aspirations.
JC: Right. So we worked really hard on that and when Cleopatra Coleman [who plays Courtney] came on board she got very involved in the character building, which she really appreciated. I think at some point early in the film the idea of Dr. [Edna] Rowley – the other half of the time travel discovery – came along. I originally envisioned a man, but Jeremy said “no, that’s a woman”. It’s funny because I consider myself fairly woke, but I still need a kick occasionally to get myself out of a mindset and think about things in another way. Jeremy has been a big piece of getting me to think like that as a writer, as well as diverse casting and thinking about things from a more conscious place.
JL: It is challenging though because the focus on diversity is really high right now and the lack thereof. Speaking as caucasian writers, you fall into the tropes of who you know and what you know. So you have to step out of your own comfort zone to write about different stories and different people. It takes work to be mindful that way, and I think everyone is on that journey in a way.
JC: The next thing that we’re writing together we decided we need to contribute with a female writer on it because I sometimes feel guilty or uncomfortable trying to write the voice of a woman. I think as writers we should feel free to write whatever we want to write, but I don’t want to be disingenuous either.
JL: What makes us strong as writers is that we collaborate with the actors too. When Cleo came on to play Courtney she had some thoughts and suggestions, so we said great. We allow our actors to add things in and play around. Daniel would come in and make suggestions for his character too, as would Frances Conroy [Edna Rowley]. We’re very open to the experiences that diverse ranges of age, gender, and ethnicity bring, because that makes it all more authentic. You’re strongest as a writer when you write what you don’t know and are willing to open yourself up to the experience of others.
C: You hinted at this earlier, but for the last question what are you guys working on next? Are you collaborating again?
JC: Yeah, we’re trying to put something together. It’s mysterious and ambitious and a bit outside the box. We’re not talking too much about it. And then we have various other projects that we’re doing individually that you’ll hopefully see soon.
C: James vs. His Future Self will be streaming on SkyTV from April 7th. Jonas and Jeremy thanks so much for your time.