Jesse Peretz’s Charming Rom-Com ‘Juliet, Naked’ Explores Fame and Fandom
Three adults at crossroad in their lives come together in “Juliet, Naked,” a sweet-natured romantic comedy based on the Nick Hornby novel of the same name. Just like a previous Hornby novel that made its way to the silver screen, “Fever Pitch,” “Juliet, Naked” deals with an obsessed fan, but this time around, the said fan, British university professor Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd), gets to meet his hero, one Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), an American musician who made a single alternative rock album in the nineties that earned him a cult following. But the main protagonist here is neither Duncan or Tucker, but Annie Platt (Rose Byrne), Duncan’s long-suffering girlfriend, a museum curator who lives with him outside of London in a house that contains a shrine for the rocker, who became something of a mythical figure after dropping off the face of the earth 25 years prior.
When it came time to find a director for “Juliet, Naked,” co-producer Judd Apatow went to Jesse Peretz, a a fellow producer and director on “Girls.” Before working in film and television, Peretz was a bassist for The Lemonheads, an alternative rock band led by slacker cool frontman Evan Dando.
“Part of what [Apatow] thought would be something that I would bring to it is the fact that half a lifetime ago, I was in a band the same time Tucker Crowe, fictionally, made his music. He was right,” Peretz revealed to Entertainment Voice. “When I read the script and the novel, the sort of immediate things that I felt like I connected to on a personal level was both the idea of Duncan, the fan, because once upon a time, I was certainly a fan like that… I grew out of that fandom at an age-appropriate time, unlike Duncan. But also, I was in a band with someone who’s not totally unlike Tucker Crowe, and I loved what was sort of intrinsicate to that character was that people’s over-romanticizing of him was something that felt fraudulent to him and was something that made him feel like a fraud.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, Tucker lurks on the fan site created by Duncan, and even sends him him an unreleased demo, “Juliet, Naked.” Duncan, of course, is enraptured, but Annie is less impressed. As silly as this sounds, this difference of opinion drives a wedge between the pair. O’Dowd is perfect here as the dissatisfied man-child, who finds comfort in the arms of a colleague. In a humorous scene that shows the extent of Duncan’s break with reality, his new love interest compliments a picture of Tucker and he thanks her as if she was complimenting him.
Peretz recounted the fortuitous circumstances under which O’Dowd was cast.
“Interestingly enough, when Judd and company sent me the script, it was like two weeks after I had directed Chris in an episode of ‘Girls.’ I had so much fun with him. He was so funny and his improvisational chops were unbeatable. I just remember thinking, ‘I really want to make a movie with this guy,’ and then two weeks later I’m reading this script with this part, and in my mind, Duncan was perfectly written for Chris.”
Annie, meanwhile, strikes up an email correspondence Tucker, who responds to a message she posts on Duncan’s site ripping apart “Juliet, Naked.” “Nailed it,” he emails her, and in an ironic twist, the person who had inadvertently caused her so much suffering becomes the one person to whom she can confide her hopes and fears.
It being Annie’s frankness that first attracts Tucker to her, one has to wonder if this sort of brutal honesty is what most artists really crave.
“I don’t think that I would say that’s true about most people,” said Peretz. “I think a lot of people just live for the praise and the adulation and like to embrace the fantaisies that are created about them, but I think on some weird level, as much of a flawed character he is, one of the things that ultimately feels likeable about him is the fact that he sees the ways in which he’s a fuck-up. What’s problematic about him is that when we meet him, he seems like he’s incapable of making the moves to change that situation, but ultimately Annie comes into his life and inspires him to make some moves…”
The father of no fewer than five children, Tucker has only taken an active role in parenting his youngest, Jackson (Azhy Robertson). After his estranged daughter, Lizzie (Ayoola Smart) gives birth in London, he finds himself compelled to fly over there and begin a path to redemption, but a heart attack he has upon landing at Heathrow slows him down.
According to Peretz, Hawke wasn’t the obvious choice to play Tucker, due to his being about ten years younger than the character that was written. However, the actor was able to win over the director.
“I remember him saying, ‘Look, I may be ten years too young to play the character, but I’m definitely not too young to have a heart attack.’ To me, that was the essence of Tucker Crowe.”
Similarly, the traditionally beautiful Byrne wasn’t whom Peretz envisioned as Annie, but she was also able to change his mind.
“When I met with her, her take on the character was so deep and complicated. By the end of the hour and a half we spent together, I was like, ‘She is going to totally becomes this character.’ Any of the hestations that I had completely evaporated.”
In need of rest, Tucker, along with adorable little Jackson, finds himself staying with Annie. In a pivotal scene, the three of them end up having dinner with Duncan, who learns its best not to meet one’s heroes. It’s hard for Annie and the viewer watch as the pompous Duncan is taken down a few notches by Tucker, who basically tells him he’s been wasting his time projecting this genius ontp him.
“I loved the questions it raised and the problems,” said Peretz of the dinner scene.
Peretz has just completed directing the pilot for Hulu’s “Shrill.” Based on Lindy West’s memoir “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman,” the series stars Aidy Bryant and is set to debut in March.
“Juliet, Naked” opens Aug. 17 in select theaters.