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Interview: Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski and Max Joseph talk We Are Your Friends

In his feature film directorial debut, Max Joseph earnestly explores the world of electronic dance music in the new movie, We Are Your Friends. The film stars Zac Efron as Cole, a young DJ with big dreams. When Cole finds a mentor in an older DJ named James, his ambitions finally seem within reach. When his connection with James’ girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) blossoms and James’ relationship with his protégé begins to break down, Cole is forced to make some tough decisions.

The stars recently visited Toronto for a stop on their global We Are Your Friends Tour. Lucky fans and media were treated to an advance screening of the film at Scotiabank Theatre Toronto, with screams erupting in the auditorium when the film’s stars and director made a surprise appearance to introduce the film and meet the fans. They sustained the film’s energy all the way to the after-party, where fans got the opportunity to dance the night away as popular DJs spun the music from the film’s soundtrack.

While the party was in full-swing, Zac, Emily and Max participated in a press roundtable, sharing their thoughts on first-time filmmaking, finding success, and storytelling through the power of music.

“I got a crash course – DJ 101,” said Efron, who was coached for the role by famed DJ and producer Them Jeans. “I learned how to use the decks, and then I learned the style to make it cool. It’s not just twisting knobs, it’s actually like, BOOM! Really twisting knobs, and it became really fun. You could say I’m proficient at it, I’m good at acting it. I wouldn’t call myself a DJ yet!”

For acting veteran Efron, We Are Your Friends provided him the opportunity to work alongside rookie leading lady Ratajkowski and first time director Joseph.

“We shot really quickly, and it was so fun to watch Max navigate his first go directing a feature film,” said Efron.

Max is best known for hosting and filming the popular MTV reality show Catfish.

“Directing was a skill I think I may have learned because of this movie,” he joked.

“It was fun to be with him through that experience and see him filming because it’s really hard to do and takes a lot of effort on behalf of everybody,” said Efron, whose admiration for his director was evident. “We had a killer crew, hair and makeup, the grips and everybody. We banded together to make a movie, in a short period of time, in the sweltering heat.”

The trio explained how getting the film onto the big screen was no easy feat.

“I don’t think people realize how little money or time we had. We started off with very few resources and it was just a small little cult film that kind of grew and grew,” said Joseph. “We didn’t have a lot of time and these guys were great, we could only do a few takes and then we’d have to move on. So every day was a challenge.”

Despite the obstacles in its creation, We Are Your Friends manages to tell a very honest story about relationships: between Cole and himself, his mentor, Sophie, and most importantly, with the music.

“The biggest challenge was the song at the end of the film,” said Joseph, referring to Cole’s big finale performance. “We reached out to a bunch of different producers, and there was one in particular I really liked, his name was Pyramid. He was kind of like the French version of Cole, slightly introverted, up and coming, and just really wanted this. After going back and forth for like a year on the song we finally sat down and made it. It was really hard to do but he pulled it off, so hats off to Pyramid.”

We Are Your Friends poses the question, is one incredible hit all a DJ needs to make it big?

“I think that it’s an idea that’s presented and then sort of contradicted,” said Ratajkowski. “It’s a step to finding yourself in the creative process.”

“I think, from Cole’s perspective, getting that one hit is your ticket,” explained Joseph. “You can tour the world on it, but it means nothing if you don’t understand why it resonated with people. It’s almost a shallow goal for Cole at the beginning of the film, and at the end of the film…”

“…it comes from a place of honesty,” continued Efron. “If it always comes from an original place then everything’s authentic.”

When asked what success for the film meant for them, the group proudly reflected on how far they’ve already come.

“This already is success for me,” said Joseph. “I was psyched that I was even paid to write a script, let alone that it got put into production, we got these amazing movie stars, it got picked up by Warner Bros. and now it’s coming out worldwide.”

“I would like for our generation to identify with the film in the way that I did,” said Efron. “I hope it means something to a lot of people. I know it will to anyone like me.”

“I don’t like saying that I hope the movie delivers a message, because I think art is up to interpretation,” said Ratajkowski. “We just want to start a dialogue, which I think we already have. So in a way I’m already really happy about the reaction we’ve gotten.”

“If people come out of the theatre and say that they got chills at a certain point, or that they received energy from it, or that they experienced any form of catharsis, that to me is success,” said Joseph. “That to me means the movie connected with people, and I think that is the coolest thing you can do.”

Photography by: Marc Levy

Kate White

Kate White works in PR in Toronto. She has a weakness for classic film and loves a good meet-cute. If you let her pick the movie, it will be When Harry Met Sally, every time.