“This movie is not taking itself too seriously; you can relax, you are going to be in for a very fun ride,” says actor and writer Jonas Chernick when talking about one of the jokes that sets the atmosphere for James Vs His Future Self, a quirky Canadian science fiction that had its European premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival 2020. Born from an idea that first saw the light of day two decades ago, the film revolves around James, a man who meets an older version of himself, Jimmy, during one of the most defining moments of his life. His older self, however, wants nothing but to destroy everything he is set to accomplish.
The film’s biggest merit is its cast, which includes household names such as Daniel Stern and Frances Conroy. On casting the latter, Chernick gushed: “We had a dream list, ten actresses that we would love to have and she was on that list from the get-go”. When Conroy agreed to participate in the film, a teary-eyed Jeremy LaLonde – the film’s director – was left speechless. “We literally got a call the next day [after offering her the role] and suddenly Jeremy was on Skype with her talking about science and physics and she had so many ideas about the character!” To the Canadian duo, it was a dream come true.
Whilst Conroy came late to the project, Stern spent a whole year helping the writing team tweak the script. An experienced character actor, mostly known for his role in Home Alone, Stern was the perfect fit for the concept Chernik had in mind for Jimmy. “We actually wrote the role thinking this would be a great one for a character actor in his 60’s who doesn’t get the chance to play a range of emotions”, and it works. It is visible that Stern is having a lot of fun playing with the idea of terrifying a younger version of himself into conforming to a certain set of life choices. “He had really great ideas that helped the script, he was incredibly professional and prepared and just amazing to work with”.
When it comes to James’ love interest, the constraint, tense character of the protagonist finds its counterpart on the confident yet tender Courtney, played by Australian actress Cleopatra Coleman – a name to remember. Coleman, who rose to the spotlight due to her role in the American comedy series The Last Man on Earth, is an incredibly charming leading lady. “You have to believe I would give up everything to be with this woman”, said Chernik, and it is easy to believe one would not have to think twice if given the chance of building a life with her.
Chernick and LaLonde were set on Cleopatra from the get-go. The casting process, which took place remotely, consisted of long phone calls instead of the usual Skype sessions. The creative team was so certain about Coleman that the unconventional process did not hold much weight. When the face call finally did happen, Jeremy busted into Jonas‘ room: “He said ‘you have to see this’, showed me a picture on her Instagram and she was bald! The surprise gave way to ‘wow, this is amazing, this punk edge, so confident, so beautiful!’”. The writers had previously pictured the Coleman they had seen on The Last Man on Earth, with long, luscious black hair, but were instantly on board.
When asked about the repercussions of this change within typically sexist film executives, Jonas was completely open: “Some of the men involved with production on higher levels challenged us, they wanted to put her on a wig and we fought against it, it’s insulting, it’s offensive, we fought for it and we won and I’m so glad that we did”. Brutally honest regarding his privileges, the writer was happy to step back and let Coleman build her own version of Courtney. The actress, who is also a writer, was the one to tell the guys it was okay to explore the character’s sexuality on screen. “She added some dialogue to her character and we were very open to it. One line that she asked to put in that we would never – as male writers – have written is: ‘I would like to say that I’m horny. I’m a scientist, I haven’t been on dates and I’m horny’. If we had written the scene it would be a male fantasy, but she came up with it and it was perfect, the way she worded it. She is quite a find, she is amazing and will have a huge career”.
Yet another element that contributes to the overtone of the feature is the production design. “One of the hooks of our time travel movie is that is a time travel movie that takes place entirely in the present, we didn’t have to build a time machine and that was quite liberating. Having to come up with that puts you into a position of vulnerability”, says Jonas before discussing how the science we see onscreen came to be. “There are a lot of formulas, physics, chalkboards everywhere. I reached out to one of the world’s leading particle physicists, Peter Krieger, who lives in Toronto where we live, and I cold-called him and he was so into it! All of the formulas on the walls and the papers are real, they are actual formulas and they all mean something”.
As for his next project, one thing is certain: Chernick will be once again writing, producing and acting on it. The filmmaker is adamant in saying that he would only produce projects he has written. The production process, he says, is his least favourite part of the whole experience. “Producing is horrible. I never wanted to be a producer, all I ever wanted to be was an actor, from age six, taking classes on the weekends, putting plays for the family dinners, and then I realised an actor spends way too much time waiting for the phone to ring and I don’t like that, didn’t feel like a life that I could live. And I’m a creative person so I decided to spend my time between gigs writing and the first time I’ve written actually got made. I realised around that time that nobody was going to be as motivated to get these movies made than me. I am the most motivated person to get this movie financed and made. I fell into producing as a means to an end. If this gets made then I get to act, so there was this prize for me at the end of it. I would not have been nearly as motivated to do this for someone else”.
When it comes to television, however, the conversation is entirely different. Chernick is set to have a central role in the next season of Canadian hit series Workin’ Moms, currently screening in his home country but not yet available worldwide on Netflix. The experience he had on the series has changed him as a filmmaker. When asked about working with actress, director, and writer Catherine Reitman, Chernick could not contain a sense of gratitude and admiration. “If I’m only working with other straight, white men, I’m closing myself to the world. It was the first time I was on a predominantly female set and it was amazing”.
James Vs His Future Self opens in theatres across Canada and the US in April and the UK via Sky TV on April 7th.
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