Natalie Portman talks about No Strings Attached
When 14-year-old Emma Kurtzman turned down the awkward, teenage advances of Adam Franklin outside of the Big Lodge at Camp Weehawken, neither one of them had any clue about real, adult sex. But quite the opposite is true when, years later, Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) cross paths--as they seem to have done randomly throughout their lives--and wind up in bed having sex. Really good sex.
And since Emma has a self-professed 'peanut allergy to relationships,' just as Adam has sworn them off--mostly because his once-famous television star dad (Kevin Kline) is now dating Adam's most recent ex-girlfriend--the two decide to forego the accompanying emotional muddle of a relationship and just be friends with benefits. Hook up without hang-ups, boffing without bother, coitus without cost. No commitment, no lying, no jealousy, no clothed spooning, no emoticons, no shared breakfast, no "I miss you," no body part nicknames, no mix tapes…in short, "No Strings Attached."
What starts out as a perfect solution to physical need becomes a little more tricky--when Adam inadvertently brings his feelings to bed (and to the hospital closet, the back seat of the car and just about anywhere that provides horizontal support). Eventually, both wind up trying to untangle the strings they were trying to avoid altogether while struggling to answer one key question: can two friends have sex without love getting in the way?
Comedy kingpin Ivan Reitman returns to the director's chair to helm the edgy, smart and sexy "No Strings Attached," written by by Elizabeth Meriwether.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
When the notion of exploring an of-the-moment, R-rated story that turns the romantic comedy formula on its head landed on Ivan Reitman's desk, it didn't take long for the Oscar-nominated veteran filmmaker to see the cinematic potential in the premise.
Reitman says, "I had been working with [screenwriter] Elizabeth Meriwether for about three years, and every evolution of the script gave me something that I really responded to. I felt, 'Here's a story about characters, about people dealing with a very contemporary dilemma.' Interesting people, very funny people, speaking frankly about love and sex. And I just fell in love with it."
Elizabeth Meriwether explains, "I was really into the idea of a love story that started with a kiss instead of ending with one. That's what happens in real life sometimes and as someone who loves romantic comedies, I wanted to write one that felt modern."
"I think the compelling idea here is the concept that contemporary young adults have a much easier time having immediate sex with a partner than having a romantic relationship--a true emotional involvement with someone," continues Ivan Reitman. "That's what interested me. A little over 20 years ago, 'When Harry Met Sally' asked the question whether a man and a woman could be friends without sex getting in the way. Frankly, I think the question today is, 'Is it possible for a man and woman to have a purely sexual relationship without emotions getting in the way?'"
An emerging playwright in New York, Meriwether seemed like the perfect voice for her generation, one that is smart, savvy and technologically engaged. Montecito Pictures producer Jeffrey Clifford took the initial meeting with Meriwether. Explains Clifford, "After our first meeting and getting the sign-off from Ivan, Elizabeth went away and came back with a script. It was her writing from her heart and experience, and when the script came in, it was one of those rare times where you know immediately it's going to be a movie. Liz has a unique voice, and the script crackles and has a sense of humor that is subversive and completely distinct."
Reitman (who had just come off of producing the multi-award-winning "Up in the Air" with his son, filmmaker Jason Reitman) offers a very simple reason why he wanted to return to directing: "I got inspired. I loved the work Jason did as the writer/director of 'Up in the Air' and it reminded me how much I love telling stories--creating movies with good ideas, ones that are all about character and performance. I had mostly been doing bigger films with lots of special effects, and basically, I got jealous. And as Liz's script was evolving, I thought, 'Well, here's an opportunity for me to do that kind of a comedy.'"
Meriwether's motivation was to write a movie that depicts the ins-and-outs of modern relationships: "The chronology of a lot of people's relationships starts with hooking up and immediately goes to a place of not knowing what's going to happen. The hook up then happens a couple more times, so you have a discussion to determine whether or not it's something real, and that's the way it goes. We're used to seeing romantic comedies where they fall in love, kiss and then suddenly, they're expected to be together and know exactly what to do."
Instead, the premise of the film felt like an opportunity to explore an idea that (on paper, at least) seems like a logical and perhaps even an ideal arrangement. The screenwriter even confesses, "This movie is a bit of wish fulfillment for me--the idea that you could sit down and agree that you're only going to have a physical relationship and if anything else develops, you can abandon ship."
Lead female character Emma doesn't really want anything to get in her way, especially not romance. She is not a relationship girl, and she avoids them like the plague. As a doctor in-residence, she goes nonstop, often working 80 hour weeks with back-to-back shifts. She values honesty and efficiency, and she also likes to have sex. So, the sex-on-demand arrangement is the perfect answer. Per the screenwriter: "Emma is not a girly girl and wants to approach life very logically. She just wants to have fun and doesn't want to put any pressure on a relationship, because that's when people can turn into 'weird versions of themselves.'"
Leading male Adam is a man who has always had an easy time with women and adopts a carefree approach to life. The son of an ex-television star a bit past his prime, Adam has an ease with women and is no stranger to hooking up. After his latest relationship with girlfriend Vanessa breaks up, he is confounded to find her hanging around, but now with a new boyfriend at her side. Meriwether continues, "After Adam learns that his father is dating his ex-girlfriend, he realizes that maybe he has been too nice and too open. He begins to see emotional availability as a dangerous idea. At this point he just wants to shut the door and mess around."
And that's just what they do--they mess around. A lot.
After a spontaneous hook up one morning that takes both Emma and Adam by surprise, the two agree to explore the idea of a "no strings attached" relationship. They agree to use each other strictly for sex and remain friends without any of the other complications that usually accompany a relationship.
When asked if he undertook any research for the film, Ivan Reitman laughs and says, "Well, I was fortunate in that Liz Meriwether, who's still in her 20s, was smack in the middle of the technological and generational moment. As both a participant and an observer, she has a very keen eye and ear for the little rituals of contemporary dating."
But he admits that he sometimes took his 'research' home with him: "Look, I have three children all in their 20s, who are or have been going through this experience. I'd like to think of myself as an observer and a watcher as well. I think all of that helped to contribute to the sense of familiarity and reality that is represented in the film."
Looking for a Couple of Sex F(r)iends
When it came to finding the right actress for the role of the intellectual and emotionally unavailable Emma, the filmmakers stuck gold when Natalie Portman signed on. Key to Portman was the intelligence of the script, and she applauded the notion of a romantic comedy that wasn't dumbed down. "I feel like romantic comedies are often about the girl who has a job at a magazine or in fashion getting a makeover, but this movie is about people that we all know," says Portman. For the role of Adam, Reitman knew he needed to find a an actor that was both charming and desirable to women, but could also play insecurity in his romantic explorations. Reitman found his Adam in comedic actor Ashton Kutcher, who had the perfect combination of leading man looks and charm (along with a slight underdog sense of vulnerability) that the role required. Read more
Hooking Up with a Supporting Cast
One of the biggest influences and shapers of Adam's life, particularly his ideas on self-worth and relationships, is Adam's father, Alvin. An aging television sitcom star, Alvin has a larger-than-life persona, and he seeks to be more wingman and friend than supportive parent. "Alvin is a dad who doesn't know how to parent and instead, wants to be something more like a best friend to his son," observes Kutcher. "Being Alvin's son is what wholly defines Adam's position in the world, and now, what he is striving for is to get out from under the shadow of his father and to be his own person."Read more
Reitman as 'String-Puller': Filming in Los Angeles
As production began in May of 2010, Reitman set out to capture the allure and youthful energy of Los Angeles. Various locations were chosen to cinematically showcase the City of Angels in perhaps more unexpected ways (compared to the customary establishing shots of the Hollywood sign or the palm trees along Venice Beach). Such choices included the futuristic California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 7 building; the seldom seen and historic Bel-Air Bay Club, built in the 1920s by one of Los Angeles' key developers; a privately held, palatial mansion in the heart of residential Beverly Hills; the architecturally engaging, Mid-Century modern John Ferraro Department of Water and Power headquarters downtown, built in 1961 by architect A.C. Martin; as well as a seaside park in Oceanside, Long Beach. Adam and Eli reside in a post-modern, steel and glass Hollywood Hills home, chock full of Mid-Century and man-cave furnishings. Read more
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
IVAN REITMAN (Director/Producer) has been the creative force behind films beloved by audiences around the world - from raucous comedies like "Animal House," "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters," to more sophisticated delights like "Dave," "Six Days Seven Nights" and "Twins."
The career that has brought about so many laughs began in Canada, where his family emigrated from Czechoslovakia when he was four-years-old. Reitman studied music at McMaster University, but soon turned his talents to film and theater.
Shortly after graduation, Reitman delved into film production - first with the extremely low-budget horror comedy "Cannibal Girls," starring Canada's Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin, followed by the live television show "Greed," with Dan Aykroyd as its announcer. Reitman then headed to New York City and produced the Broadway hit "The Magic Show," starring McMaster friend Doug Henning. He continued producing for the stage with the off-Broadway hit "The National Lampoon Show," where he brought together for the first time the then-unknown John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Joe Flaherty. Reitman returned to Broadway to produce and direct the musical "Merlin," earning him Tony nominations for directing and producing. While in New York, Reitman reapplied his talents to filmmaking when he joined forces with National Lampoon and brought us the groundbreaking sensation "Animal House." Following the success of that film, Reitman returned home to Canada to direct "Meatballs," still considered one the most successful films ever made in Canada.
The string of hits continued with "Stripes" and the "Ghostbusters" series, which teamed Bill Murray with Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis; "Dave," starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver; "Legal Eagles," starring Robert Redford and Debra Winger; "Six Days Seven Nights" with Harrison Ford and Anne Heche; "Evolution," starring David Duchovny and Julianne Moore; and a series of films that revealed an untapped comic persona for action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Twins," "Junior" (both co-starring Danny DeVito) and "Kindergarten Cop."
Reitman's list of producing credits is equally extensive. He produced the family features "Beethoven" and "Beethoven's 2nd," as well as the HBO telefilm "The Late Shift," which received seven Emmy nominations. Other producing endeavors include "Heavy Metal," Howard Stern's "Private Parts," the animation/live action film "Space Jam," which teamed Michael Jordan with the Looney Toons characters; and the teen comedy hits "Road Trip," "Eurotrip" and "Old School," starring Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson.
In 1984, Reitman was honored as Director of the Year by the National Association of Theater Owners and the next year received a Special Achievement Award at the Canadian Genie awards. In 1979, and again in 1989, for the films "Animal House" and "Twins," Reitman was honored with the People's Choice Award. In November of 1994, Reitman became the third director honored by Variety magazine in a special "Billion Dollar Director" issue. At the end of 2000, Reitman's films "Animal House" and "Ghostbusters" were honored as two of this past century's funniest movies by the American Film Institute. He currently heads The Montecito Picture Company, a film and television production company, with partner Tom Pollock, in association with DreamWorks, SKG.
Reitman also directed "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" and is the executive producer of the smash Canadian comedy "The Big Dirty," starring the comedy troupe Trailer Park Boys. He was the executive producer on the DreamWorks thriller "Disturbia," which opened nationwide in April 2007.
Recently Ivan Reitman completed six films, all in release in 2009 and 2010: the family hit, "Hotel for Dogs"; "The Uninvited"; "I Love You, Man"; "Post Grad"; "Chloe"; and "Up in the Air," starring George Clooney and directed by his son Jason.
Reitman has been married to former Quebec film actress Genevieve Robert for over 30 years. Together, they have three children and live in Santa Barbara, California.
"No Strings Attached" was ELIZABETH MERIWETHER's (Screenwriter / Story by) first screenplay. It received the honor of being ranked in the Top Ten of the 'Black List,' the annual list of Hollywood's most liked (and sadly, unproduced) screenplays, and Meriwether was named as one of Variety's 'Ten Screenwriters to Watch in 2009.'
Before writing for film, she wrote two comedy pilots for the Fox Network, as well as off-off-Broadway plays in New York. Her plays include "The Mistakes Madeline Made," produced by Naked Angels; "Heddatron," a robot version of Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler," produced by Alex Timbers and Les Freres Corbusier; and "Oliver Parker!," produced by Stage Farm at the Cherry Lane Theater.
Meriwether was a Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting fellow at Juilliard from 2006 to 2008. She is currently working on a comedy pilot for Fox, and original projects for other Hollywood studios, including Universal and Paramount.
MIKE SAMONEK (Story by) is a screenwriter and fiction writer.
Raised in Michigan and Texas, Samonek is a former New York City advertising copywriter who has written several studio film scripts in various states of development, including "The Whole Pemberton Thing" at Alcon Entertainment. He also wrote and directed the $2.5 million budgeted home video premiere film "Table for Three." He is currently working on a children's book series and launching a local after-school program to help encourage and foster communication skills for first- through third-graders. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING