The dramedy film “Stuck in Love” (formerly titled “Writers”) shows how a family of writers deals with and expresses romantic love. Three years past his divorce, veteran novelist Bill Borgens (played by Greg Kinnear) can’t stop obsessing over, let alone spying on, his ex-wife Erica (played by winner Jennifer Connelly), who ignominiously left him for another man. Even as his neighbor-with-benefits Tricia (played by Kristen Bell) tries to push him back into the dating pool, he remains blind to anyone else’s charms. Meanwhile, his fiercely independent collegiate daughter Samantha (played by Lily Collins) is publishing her first novel while recoiling at the very thought of first love with a diehard romantic (played Logan Lerman).
Bill’s teen son Rusty (Nat Wolff) is trying to find his voice, both as a fantasy writer and as the unexpected boyfriend of a dream girl named Kate (played by Liana Liberto), a school mate with unsettlingly real problems. As each of these situations mounts into a tangled trio of romantic holiday crises, it brings the Borgens to surprising revelations about how endings become beginnings. “Stuck in Love” had its world premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, where I caught up with Kinnear for this interview.
Have you ever wanted to be a novelist in real life?
I have incredible of novelists — the idea of being able to start with nothing and create something that moves you is remarkable. I have the same sort of fascination; there’s a mystery to it. It’s why people find filmmaking so fascinating. It’s not so fascinating when you’re making a movie, but the idea that these groups of people — crew, actors — get a couple of cameras, go off for a couple of months, and come back and project something that emotionally moves an audience, I think people are quite taken with that. And in the same way that somebody could sit there with a blank page and start with some story that I could then end up reading years later and moved by it emotionally is quite a hat trick. So I love the idea of being a writer. I just can’t do it.
Have you ever tried writing a novel?
The kind of writing that this guy, Bill Borgens, does — I’ve done some writing for scripts and things like that — he’s in very rare territory, as is the rest of his family. And I had never played a novelist before. I thought there was something very cool about that. I was excited about that. He’s going through a rough patch. He’s seen better days. It’s true of all vocations: You have your highs and lows.
What can you say about working with Lily Collins, who plays Bill Borgens’ daughter Samantha?
She’s quite lovely and really talented and wonderful. I was very lucky to have her as a daughter for a brief couple of months there. It was really talented. She came in and actually read for this role.
And Josh [Boone, the writer/director of “Stuck in Love”] called me and said, “Hey, do mind coming over? Lily Collins is going to read for the role.” She really wanted the role, and I went over, and we did this [reading] in a room like this, just one or two times, and I thought, “Wow! This girl is fantastic.” And they knew it. And she ended up becoming Samantha, and I was very elated about that.
And how did you get cast in “Stuck in Love”?
Oh, same thing as usual. The script was sent over. It was not one that I jumped at right away. A family of a bunch of writers didn’t strike me as the most exciting subject matter, but I cracked it, and I thought that the characters, regardless of whether they were thought of as family or not, were very vibrant. And I like the multi-generational storylines going on.
And I met with Josh, and he told me that the story between Jennifer Connelly and myself was actually born out of his own parents’ divorce and how powerful that was. I thought that was such an incredible thing, that that was the starting point. His wish list was that, “If my parents could have gotten back together, how great that would have been.” I was quite moved by it, actually.
And then all the other elements of the storylines, I felt little bits and pieces throughout high school and college. I, in fact, recognized some of those things. And I liked how it was a comedy with some drama or a drama with some comedy. I wasn’t quite sure, but it had a little bit of both.
What kind of student were you in high school? Were you a geek or a jock or somewhere in between?
I was somewhere in between. I got introduced to acting at a young by a couple of great drama teachers. I was interested in that. I never thought I’d get a job being an actor, truthfully. But yeah, I probably landed somewhere between the two. I wasn’t a total geek but I wasn’t a total jock.
You mentioned earlier that there were some things in “Stuck in Love” that reminded you of when you were in high school? What were those things?
I don’t know if they were all relatable to my own life, but there were threads and bits and pieces of just that kind of passion you have when you’re young and finding what that’s about. It’s quite interesting. Nat [Wolff] is a wonderful actor, a really good actor. I was blown away. I’d worked with Jennifer Connelly before, but I hadn’t worked with any of these other actors. I thought they were all quite, quite good. I was really pleased with the casting.
You made another movie with Jennifer Connelly: 2011’s “Salvation Boulevard.” You also played a couple with marital problems in that movie. Is that a coincidence?
Yeah, it’s just a coincidence that we did that other movie, but I like her. I think she’s incredible. So the idea of working with her made a lot of sense for me. She’s smart. She has a tough role here [in “Stuck in Love”]. She’s not playing an instantly likable person. She doesn’t beg the audience to like her. In fact, there are quite a few speed bumps to get over before she resolves herself at the end, but she did a really nice job.
Do you think being a teenager now is more difficult than when it was when you were a teenager?
I don’t know. Do you?
Teenagers have many more different ways of communicating now because of technology.
Yeah, I think the communication thing is hard in my life. I think with texting, there comes the insecurity of responding or not responding. Do you want to respond to somebody?
And how many people can be coming at you at any given time, when you take a kid, were they ever meant to have this many outlets of communication? Not really. Certainly not biologically. It was never supposed to be that way. I’ve been trying to negotiate all that. It’s got to be hard for a 15- or 16-year-old.
In fact, they’ve done some studies. Nicholas Carr wrote this book called “The Shallows,” which is a great book about the deadening effect of the computer on the brain. They’ve done studies about it. Even memory is limited, based upon these little devices. I suppose for a young person coming up, the ramifications of that would be quite difficult.
My oldest child is 9, and I try to keep computers away from her. I also have a 3-year-old, and all she wants to do is play with either the phone or the iPads. It’s a tough road. There’s no way around it. Toys R Us is coming out with their own tablet. [He says sarcastically] Isn’t that a great invention?
In many ways, Bill Borgens acts more like his kids’ friend than he acts like a parent. What can you say about that?
Who doesn’t want to play a cool father?
Are you anything like Bill Borgens as a father?
No. When I read the script, I was a little put off by his openness in his conversations with the kids. That was a little foreign to me — and yet strangely refreshing. I liked the exploration of a dad who was going through his kids like they were his contemporaries.
Of course, there’s the other side to that — because I have friends who deal with their kids like that — which is the kids deal with you like you’re they’re contemporary too. If you’re talking about your sexual experiences with you, it’s a two-edged sword.
It’s a little selfish, really. There’s some element of selfishness about that, but a successful novelist probably does have some element of selfishness. It’s the one I played best.
When you have a cast that can play such a believable family, what is the main reason for that believability? Is it the acting, the directing or the writing?
It’s always the acting. I do think it’s a combination of all those things you just cited. That dreaded “chemistry” term that you hear in movie profiles all the time is a little eye-rolling, but I do think there’s some element to that.
We all showed up in Wilmington [in North Carolina]. I’d worked with Jennifer. I didn’t know the other actors; they didn’t know me. A lot of these actors had never worked together before. So suddenly, everybody could end up hating each other.
It could have been better. That doesn’t necessarily mean that nobody got along. They did. It was quite an enjoyable group, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to equate to a better equation, in terms of the relationships in the movie and making it real to the audience. There’s just no accounting for it. It either happens or it doesn’t. It either feels real or it doesn’t.
Different people have different reactions. I’ve seen movies where I have strong disagreement with my wife about what worked and what didn’t. This is how art is. You paint a picture, and you say, “This is how I see it. Do you?” And people either say yes or no. Same with movie watching, I guess.
Where you do see yourself at this point in our career? And have the types of movies you like to make changed over time?
I’ve not been very genre-seeking in my movie search. I’ve been, probably stupidly, either responded to a script or not. I felt like, “Oh, this is something interesting here.” Or the chance to work with somebody. I’ve done some element of every kind of genre, to some degree.
I don’t know. I’m not very forward-thinking. I’m very linear. If a script comes in and there’s an opportunity to do something and it feels good, maybe it works out.
But in terms of career observation, I’m not great at that either. I guess I’m in my “literary phase,” given the fact that I did a movie called “The English Teacher” with Julianne Moore. We’ll see what’s next.
For more info: "Stuck in Love" website