What do you get when you mix a fresh-out-of-rehab lunatic brother, a broken-hearted one-night stand, a transsexual computer hacker ex-con, and a sex tape gone awry? Surprisingly, an absolutely charming and genuinely hilarious (not so) romantic comedy. Writer/director Jordan Roberts’s new semi-autobiographical comedy, 3, 2, 1…Frankie Go Boom, is a film about overcoming humiliation wrapped inside a farcical tale—with a love story buried somewhere underneath.
The film follows Frankie, a reclusive hot dude and overall good guy (played by Charlie Hunnam, in a role that strays from his typical psychotic badassery) who reunites with his brother Bruce (played by the always funny Chris O’Dowd) when he gets out of rehab and decides to get serious about his directing career. A drunken bike-riding incident ensues and Frankie meets Lassie, a vulnerable and slightly imbalanced woman played by Lizzy Caplan. After the two end up spending a very sexually straining night together, Frankie later finds out that his brother caught the whole thing on tape and has sent off the DVD. The next series of events is one pratfall after another while maintaining a sweet, very real relationship between Frankie and Lassie. Somewhere along the line, Phyllis, a transsexual computer hacker played by the ever-delicate Ron Perlman, comes to Frankie’s aid, and the story continues to unfold misstep by misstep into something that feels refreshing, authentic, and laugh-out-loud-alone-in-the-dark hilarious.
I caught up with Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Lizzy Caplan to chat about what attracted them to the bizarre story, taking on roles that make people uncomfortable, and just what Sons of Anarchy fans have to look forward to.
How did you become involved with the film?
Ron Perlman: My buddy Charlie Hunnam was doing the movie and he passed the script along at the behest of the filmmaker with the idea that I would hopefully be playing the role of Jack (which ended up being played by Chris Noth). I was reading the script and I got to the role of Phyllis and I said, “Hmmm, wouldn’t this be the tables turning.” So I pursued it and it turned out that it worked out, and so I crossed that one off my bucket list.
Charlie Hunman: Somewhere along the line, Jordan decided that I was the actor he wanted to play the role. He wrote me a letter just saying he was a fan of my work, and it was a really lovely way to be approached. I read the script and just thought it was fantastic and warm and weird and beautiful. But I couldn’t really see myself in it. I’m not a comedian, and it felt like the dynamic between those two brothers was a bit too much of a stretch for me. For the last five or six years, I’ve been in the midst of being really nothing but head-crackin’ thugs, and it felt like a huge departure for me. I told Jordan he seemed like a passive guy, and I’ve been playing these characters where if anyone tries to put upon them, he knocks them out. So he said, “Here’s the thing: that’s the way everybody reads the script, I don’t blame you. But it’s a very obvious way to play it, what’s much much more interesting dynamic is that you’re a regular dude the type of dude that in the past you definitely punched a few guys in the face but you’re a regular dude every guy in the audience is going to be able to relate to, who just happens to have a lunatic for a brother.” And when he articulated that way, it just started to feel a little bit more accessible to me.
What did you think the first time you read the script?
RP: Oh, I knew by page two that I wanted to be in the movie. It was just really well-executed and was really great writing, really funny. I mean, laugh-out-loud funny. It’s very hard to laugh out loud when you’re quietly reading a script in a room by yourself, but this one was amazingly well-written. I didn’t know I was going to be a chick until like page 55.
CH: I just thought it was really kind of beautiful in a really kind of wacky, dark, larger-than-life way with very accessible themes. The film is semi-autobiographical; a lot of the stuff here is taken directly from Jordan’s life. And it just speaks to his essence that the film comes off as a comedy. It’s just what he’s interested in. We were dealing with real stuff but in a way that was intended to make people laugh instead of cry, which is probably the only way to deal with these things because if you deal with this stuff in a traumatic way, it would have felt heavy-handed and melodramatic.
Something I really liked was that amidst this craziness, Frankie and Lassie had a very real chemistry and human connection.
Lizzy Caplan: So what you’re saying is…we found love in a hopeless place. I mean, it was great. He’s a very, very ideal co-star in that he’s very low-key. We had a great time and an easy rapport from the get-go. Yeah, we jut hit it off. I guess we knew we were going to have to do this highly embarrassing shit together and really got along.
CH: I really loved her and thought she was just wonderful. We had much more of a brother/sister relationship than any kind of romantic connection. We’d go in to do a kiss and she’d be like, “Dude, you should really eat some more onions.” There was nothing romantic between us in, and yet, somehow when the camera was rolling, I was definitely conscious that we had a connection and that was like a tangible interest in each other. The way Jordan wrote the script, there were moments where he dialed the comedy down and just let the characters in the world breathe for a second, which I thought was really smart.
Ron, did you always know you wanted to play a woman?
RP: I never knew how badly! I guess I always did, I just didn’t know it at the time.
And was your character based off of Jordan’s sister?
RP: Well, in the writing it was, but I didn’t know that Jordan had a brother that was now his sister. I didn’t know that this character was based on somebody real; I just thought it was another comic invention by our brilliant screenwriter/director. And I don’t think I found out that it was based on somebody real until we were pretty much done filming, and I was kind of grateful that I didn’t know because it might have intimidated me to know that I needed to portray a character that was actually existed in the universe.
Has she seen the film?
RP: According to Jordan, not only did she see the film but she endorses it.
Lizzy, I heard you say something once about how you like playing characters and taking on roles that make people uncomfortable—why is that?
LC: Yeah. I do. There are some people—when they go to a movie or watch a television show—that just want to check out. They want to see something that doesn’t make you feel any real emotion—it’s just comforting. And listen, I have plenty of TV shows that serve that purpose, but when I am choosing roles and things that I want to do, I’d rather make people feel something. And it doesn’t always have to be the most positive, as long as it’s a real reaction, a real emotion.
How long were you guys filming?
RP: I did everything in one day.
CH: It was just a single day of work for the two of us. I think it ranks up there as possibly my favorite day of filming in the history of my career so far. We had such a blast together.
In working in very low-budget projects like this, do you feel like you have more freedom to give yourself over to it? Is there something different about working in this environment?
LC: I think there is something more free about it, beyond the fact that usually the directors are more open to hearing your improv ideas or open to rewrites on themes or whatever because they don’t have to answer to studio heads, and you don’t have to go through fifty people to change one line in the script. I think that offers a lot more freedom there, but if the movie is truly terrible and doesn’t work, nobody sees it. So you can pride in your job because if people see it, it means something is working.
CH: The fact that it was low-budget definitely factored into me being comfortable enough to take the risk, stepping completely out of my comfort zone and taking this role on, because when you work in this kind of budget, the film has to be good for anyone to see it. It’s just never going to get out there otherwise, and I felt like, good if people see it, if it sucks then no harm no foul. So the size of it definitely played into the decision. But then of course it is slightly difficult to work under those conditions. We have to work very quickly, and when I found myself doing comedy for only the second time in my life, I would have loved to be able to have had three or four takes. But the reality is, when you’re working that quickly, you get two takes and then you have to move on.
Ron, you’re the main image in most of the promotion for the film. When you watch the film at first, you’re waiting for you to show up, and then it’s such a surprise when you do. Did you enjoy the element of surprise of the whole thing?
RP: I must admit, it was the element of Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman who are known for having a slightly different background dynamics meeting in this capacity; that kind of got my fancy tickled. And so then I began entertaining the idea, but was truly sold when I saw how well the character of Phyllis was executed throughout the whole rest of the film. I became kind of obsessed with trying to figure out if I had it in me to play this character, this chick.
How was it working with each other in such a different way and having to do much different scenes together than you’re used to?
RP: It took no small amount of bravery for Charlie to play a character like Frankie, who is outside of his purview, and for me to play Phyllis, clearly. And the fact that we had this history of being friends—having been in a lot of tight spots together in terms of executing dangerous material—probably made it a lot easier to get us through that day.
CH: It was really wonderful. We got to be friends, you know? Ron is such a sensational actor; he’s absolutely fantastic and really effortlessly turns his mojo on and off. I have to work at it a little harder and don’t have the experience and same bag of tricks. So any given day on Sons of Anarchy, our relationship is so contentious because we’re working these scenes over the course of the day where I have to believe that I despise him and want to murder him. It’s not easy for me to just switch that off and joke around and be pals between takes. So although I love Ron as a man and respect him immensely as an actor, I kind of don’t have a great relationship with him on the set of Sons. I really hold him at an arms length, which is really difficult for him and really difficult for me, too, but it’s just the reality of what I have to do to deliver the performance that I want to deliver. So this was a real opportunity for us to be just pals and to hang out and laugh and have fun and that’s what it was.
And when you were filming a lot of those close scenes between the two of you, were you laughing a lot and being really playful with everything? I imagine it must have been in order to keep things from getting too weird.
RP: There were a couple of times when we cracked each other up. We went to places that caused no small amount of amusement on both our parts and that also made the day go by quite pleasantly. And there are moments, to this day, that I just think about where I actually just fall off my chair.
CH: For Sons of Anarchy fans, this is going to be a pretty interesting thing to see.
Have you heard any fans’ reactions to the film?
RP: Actually, Jordan tells me that he’s been following all the sites that deal with both Sons fans and fans of Frankie Go Boom, and there’s a lot of crossover and a lot of very positive feedback from the Sons people about Charlie and me. There’s also been a pronounced amount of negative, which one might expect.
CH: Yeah, I don’t think anybody ever anticipated that Jax and Clay would be making out. So people will either think it’s hilarious or absolutely hate it.
Lizzy, something I’ve always loved about you as an actor was your sense of comedic timing and your willingness to take on these ballsy, funny roles for women. Would you say comedy is your preferred genre to work in?
LC: I think that the comedy acting community is where I feel the most comfortable right now. But I am doing a drama television show coming up, so I’m really pumped to be able to do that because I think it’s an intimidating prospect. Honestly, I just like attempting to do something that’s different than what I’ve done before and different types of genres, like, the more I can chop off the better. I just don’t want to have to do one thing.
Charlie, did you end up enjoying comedy and liking the challenge?
CH: I enjoyed the challenge as a one-off experience. I don’t think I’m going to do comedy any time soon. My dad was a very well-known gangster in Northern England; I come from, like, a crime family, and so I stepped away from that and I have nothing to do with that at all. But my area of interest still seems to be drawn to that. I write a great deal, I have a few projects in development, and all the time I feel drawn to those stories.
The film had a very authentic message to it about dealing with humiliation and getting something positive out of it. That’s something the characters went through, but also, in acting it, I feel like you must have gone through a lot of that as well.
RP: You’re absolutely right. There was a lot of life imitating art and vice versa. You had to be willing to humiliate yourself in order to even just step up to the plate. But I ain’t complaining; it makes for some really interesting work and some really interesting challenges, and I’m happiest as an artist walking on the tightrope.
CH: A couple people asked me, “Do you think it would be easier or more difficult, that scene with Ron, if it was your friend or someone you don’t know?” Now listen, having a man twice my age with very coarse stubble [embracing me]—you hope it’s your friend because that’s going to be pretty fucking awkward to do.
LC: I think the profession is just one where you’re signing up to be embarrassed and be humiliated on a regular basis, you know? If you don’t get a sort of joy out of that, you probably shouldn’t be an actor.
I feel like it’s hard for some actors to navigate between television work and film careers, but all of you are successfully doing both simultaneously. Do you want to keep doing that?
LC: I definitely want to keep doing that. You’re starting to see more and more actors that the public considers to be film actors starting to do more television because the quality of TV has just improved so dramatically in the past bunch of years. A lot of the shows that they’re making are just as good as films, if not better. They’re just like really long, thirteen-hour-long movies. And so I think being able to move back and forth is completely ideal.
CH: The process of it is very similar. We shoot an episode of Sons in seven days, so we’re still working with that rapid-fire, day-to-day schedule. The difference is just the information you get; you get the whole picture when you’re going into a movie and you can arc the performance accordingly. In television, you’re doing it incrementally so you have to be adaptable; you can’t go into the process with all the information in front of you. You can kind of go down where you think something’s going, and then all the sudden you get a script and you have to make the changes and go in a different direction. It can be difficult, but I think all of these chapters that you face teach you something, and you grow and get better and better because you’re overcoming these challenges.
RP: I just really like working on smart material with smart actors. I happen to have a real soft spot for independent cinema, it seems to be artist-generated more so than studio-generated, and the artist seems to have more of a say in how it’s executed and carried out and what the vibe is. I really love being around young creative people who don’t know the meaning of the word “no,” who don’t know the meaning of the word “hard.” They’ve got nothing to lose, and they’re shooting from the hip all the time. I find that’s why I continue to do all these low-budget feature films with young, fresh filmmakers. My first example of that was Guillermo del Toro’s first film. And now I’ve done five movies with him. So you try and make lightening strike twice by finding the next Guiellermo and marching to the light with him.
I’m a huge fan of Drive and Nicolas Winding Refn, and he’s someone that, as you say, shoots from the hip and does what he wants to do.
RP: I keep hoping that every time my phone rings it’s NWF calling me about doing his next film, but that hasn’t happened yet. He’s absolutely brilliant; he’s absolutely born to make films. He makes them not like anybody else. I was really, really lucky that he entertained all the lobbying I did to win that role. I don’t think he had me on his radar for the role; I don’t think he had anyone particularly on his radar. But he did put me through some paces in order to convince him.
Lizzy, you’ve been acting for a while now, but in the past two years or s, you’ve really been doing a ton of work and people have really started to taking notice. How has that been—is that still sort of new for you?
LC: I notice that I’m getting to do projects that I really like and I want to do and really believe in. I’ve gotten to play the most interesting characters in the last two years than I’ve ever gotten to play. But I think my fixation on success has declined as any sort of success I’ve gotten has inclined. I kind of don’t give a shit. I guess you have to pay attention to it but for me, it just matters if I can I keep working, do the job I want to do, and be as successful as I need to be.