It took only two scenes in Knocked Up for Charlyne Yi to become an instantly recognizable movie personality. Even for those who have never seen the name surely remember the face: A stoned, giggly brunette, squinting through her glasses, asking a pregnant Katherine Heigl if she ever gets mad that her baby steals her food.
She was a hilarious supporting player back then, and now Yi is back — a little less stoned and even more likable — opposite Michael Cera in the trippy docu-romance Paper Heart, opening August 7. A quirky audience favorite at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Paper Heart begins as a purported documentary, following Yi — a stand-up comedian by trade — as she hits the road, questioning people's beliefs about true love. But her life quickly comes to parallel her art, as she develops a crush for Cera and their relationship emerges as an integral piece of the movie.
Ever since its debut, speculation has swirled: How much of "Paper Hearts" was staged? How much was real? Are Yi and Cera a real couple (the celebrity rumor mill says they just recently broke up)? The L Magazine put these pressing questions to Yi herself.
The L: Your film premiered at Sundance way back in January; what has it been like to live with this movie for the better part of a year?
Charlyne Yi: I'm in the middle of the press tour now, and it's a little daunting. I almost feel on the verge of a nervous breakdown — hearing my own voice for 12 hours straight, giving the same answers. I almost wish I could change my answer each time, just to spice things up.
I've actually been living with this film since February of 2008, and then we re-edited the film after Sundance this February, so it's like we never left it. It's exciting, though, because we have no idea where the future of this film is headed. Originally, we thought the film would go straight to DVD, maybe showing at two theaters, like most independents. But then from there, we made it into Sundance, and Overture picked it up, and now suddenly we're going from two to sixty theaters. It's pretty exciting.
The L: I've actually started reading several online rumors about you and Michael Cera being romantically connected. True?
CY: I think that's sort of weird. He had the same thing with Ellen Page, with Juno, because there was that romance on the screen. But no, we're just friends. To see "Charlyne and Michael" printed places, and then to see us in the movie, it makes things even more confusing and weird. People literally don't believe me when I say it's not true. But then, I've also read things online that said I was a cougar and 33 years old. Michael sent that one to me, which was hilarious: Carlyne's a 33-year-old cougar. So there's obviously a lot of BS out there.
The L: Obviously this movie is toying with the notion of reality. It's shot like a documentary, but, as you just said, the romance that we see between you two isn't actually real. So what was the chicken here, and what was the egg? Did it start as a documentary, or as a romantic fiction?
CY: The idea was inspired by my real questions about love. I was a bit naïve and 18, and I dropped out of college to hang out with so many older comedians, many of whom were single, and I was going home one night and it was just like: Oh my god, I don't know how to talk to people. I'm not the type of person to just go into a bar and say: “Hey, you seem like you have a cool personality!” I'm so nervous about everything, so it seemed like an obvious question to me: When you're in a relationship, how do you know it's forever?
So I started asking people and any time you'd really ask them about their love stories, people would really open to me. And then I started thinking: I've seen so many fictional films about love go through this emotional thing, what if the film was actually a documentary? Originally, I was going to run the camera. I wasn't planning on being on screen, but then Nick [Jasenovec, the film's director] really wanted me to go on screen and I did it on the condition that it wouldn't be a straight documentary. I had to be playing a role. And our bigger hope was: If you didn't know what was real or what wasn't, then maybe the movie would actually mean more. You'd forget what was real, and go along for the ride.
The L: As you interviewed all these strangers about love, who did you find yourself agreeing with the most?
CY: Well no one's right and no one's wrong about love. There are the bikers in love who just love riding their bikes and eating hot dogs and having fun. Then there are the kids and just because they're young, you can't say that their take on love isn't also worthwhile. Most people agreed that I just needed to live life in the moment and not worry so much about finding it.
The L: How have audiences responded? Have they gone along with the story, thinking that it's true — as you originally hoped?
CY: Well we've done a lot of interviews now, and it seems like the reaction is mixed. There are some people who respond and like it — that they can't tell what's real and what's not. There are some people who get real upset — not in a malicious, "ha ha, gotcha sucker" way — but they say they really thought it was real, and feel a little snubbed.
The L: What did you end up thinking? Did Paper Heart answer all your questions about love?
CY: I'm not as cynical now, after talking to so many people. I think love exists, but not in the way that some people think. There are a lot of people who think it's love the very first week they're with someone, but then they get to know them a little better and they start feeling differently. I think I've definitely been guilty of that — assuming this person is the best to hang out with but then a month later you let your guard down and suddenly you're not as interested. But I think I'm pretty honest about who I am, and doing this movie made me realize you just have to be comfortable with the people you like, and accept who they really are. I was a little more skeptical before, but I think all that skepticism was just because I was panicking and worrying too much about everything. Now I think I've learned to calm down.