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Five Questions: Chatting The Last Five Years with Richard LaGravenese and Jeremy Jordan

Prior to the film’s world premiere at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, we were overjoyed to speak with The Last Five Years’ director Richard LaGravenese and its leading man Jeremy Jordan. We were curious to hear stories from their work on the film adaptation of the beloved musical, learned about their mutual admiration for leading lady Anna Kendrick, and received their very different takes on the fundamentals of long-lasting relationships.

How did you get involved with the project?

Richard: It’s a project that I’ve loved. I’m a big musical theatre fan and a friend of mine turned me onto the score after the show had closed. It was an off-Broadway production in 2002 and it had a short run because of 9/11. And it became a cult favorite among musical theatre fans, like myself. I just fell in love with the score and I listened to it over and over and over and I imagined it as a film. And it became a passion of mine. Then in 2006, I was auditioning P.S. I Love You, and Sherie Rene Scott, the actress who was the lead in the original production of The Last Five Years, came in. And the first thing I said was, “Oh my God! The Last Five Years!” And we hugged and kissed, and from that moment on I knew that I wanted to do this little jewel. She then introduced me to her husband Kurt Deutch from Sh-K-Boom Records and he brought me to Jason Robert Brown, and, finally, we came together with our producers. I don’t know how they did it but they raised money with investors and now we’re here.

Can you talk a little about the casting process? (to Jeremy) You joke in your live shows that (triple threat) Jonathan Groff always gets the parts you want. Can you talk a little about the audition process?

Richard: Well when I was initially talking to Sherie, she said to me “You know even when we were doing the play we knew we were too old for the parts”. They’re supposed to be in their twenties. It’s that first love when you’re trying to figure yourself out. So we wanted actors that were that age. And I’m a big fan of Anna’s (referring to Kendrick) and she’s a big fan of Jason’s-her favorite musical is Parade. We met and I just saw her as Cathy. She just was Cathy to me. And, of course, to get a movie made, even on an independent level, it helps to have someone who has a track record, which she most certainly does. And this was before Pitch Perfect came out so we were lucky to have had her commitment. And then Pitch Perfect came out and it was even better for us. The male lead was a little bit more difficult to find. I had actors put themselves on tape and send them to me, actors you wouldn’t even think of. One of the actors from Pacific Rim, one from True Blood, they all just loved the show. That’s what I mean, people have this cult obsession with the show. Jeremy is one of the best talents we have in the theatre world. He has this voice that’s an extraordinary instrument. And I saw him onstage, and on Smash, and in his audition, and I just knew that he could do it. I believed their relationship. We had rehearsal here for about five days and I just believed the two of them together.

Jeremy: Well Anna was involved first because she’s a movie star. I mean she’s an Oscar nominated performer. For my part they were looking at some big names and seeing if they could hit the notes. So luckily for me, because it’s such a difficult vocal part, I got it. I had to go in three or four times to audition to convince good ol’ Richard that I could do it. I’m incredibly happy because I love the piece, and Richard and I are great friends now. And I think Jonathan is doing just fine.

What was the collaboration process like with Jason Robert Brown (the musical’s original writer/songwriter)? (to Richard) Did you speak about The Bridges of Madison County? (Richard wrote the screenplay to the film while Jason wrote the music and lyrics for the short-lived Broadway musical)

Richard: Jason was the greatest. He’s one of the smartest men I’ve ever met and he’s also been through the business the way I have so he didn’t have a lot of faith that this would come to fruition. We would be working on it, I’d be working on my drafts, I was doing the whole thing on spec while I was working on other projects, which is part of why it took so long. But he was a great collaborator, very trusting. I was very honored by that. We didn’t talk about The Bridges of Madison County but it was ironic that we were both involved with it. I saw it twice though, it was one of my favorite scores. It’s just such a gorgeous show and it deserved a better run on Broadway. His music is just so wonderful.

What was your favorite song to shoot? As a viewer and big fan of the musical production, my favorite was The Schmuel Song.

Jeremy: We were the most worried about that song but by the time we shot it we had a lot of fun. Except it was really hot. We were pretending that it was Christmas and it was actually July. We were in an old brownstone in New York and they didn’t have very good air circulation. And you know when you’re shooting they turn the air off. I also really loved the day we shot Nobody Needs to Know. That was one of the more challenging days too because we did it all in one shot. A seven minute shot and we did thirteen or fourteen takes of it and it’s all just me belting and emoting and going from quiet to loud, happy to sad.

After being involved with many sweeping, epic romantic projects, what do you think is the key to a successful, long-term relationship?

Richard: Well my favorite love stories are the ones where the people don’t wind up together. I think love relationships are more about finding out who you are than actually about this ideal that there’s one other person you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with. I don’t have the first fuckin’ idea how to make a love relationship work. That’s why I make the movies I do-I’m trying to figure it out.

Jeremy: Communication. I mean that’s usually the problem in relationships that I’ve seen in my family and whatnot. When you sort of stop being honest with each other and hide things, that’s a problem. I think as long as you’re up front and honest and you don’t lose sight of who you are. Some people want so much to please the other person and be there for them and give them the relationship that the other person wants, that they lose sight of who they are to begin with. And that always comes back to haunt you. I think Jamie was beginning to feel like Cathy was taking him to this place where he was in a negative mode all the time. As soon as he found somebody who was not like that he realized just how unhappy they both were. I think you have to stay true to yourself and be honest and open. At least that’s what I’m trying to do in my marriage and we just passed the five year mark!

The Last Five Years is currently playing in select theatres in Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary and On Demand.

Leora Heilbronn

Leora Heilbronn is a Toronto based film aficionado who has a weakness for musicals and violent action flicks. She can often be spotted reading a wide range of literature or listening to show tunes.