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Interview with Paper Heart’s Charlyne Yi

July 28th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

In Paper Heart, actress-comic-musician Charlyne Yi goes on a cross-country quest to find out what love truly means. Shot documentary-style, she interviews real-life couples, scientists, kids and even her famous comedian friends (including Seth Rogan, whom she co-starred with in Knocked Up, and Demetri Martin) about the subject of love because, it seems, she doesn’t believe in love herself. Along the way, she meets Michael Cera (played by Michael Cera), and they slowly — in fact, reluctantly on Yi’s part — start to have a relationship that’s played out for the camera. It’s a quirky, sweet little story about romance as Yi depicts her documentary subjects’ stories of love using paper clip puppets who find themselves plunged into icy rivers or on the back of a motorcycle. Yi was kind enough to talk to Hulu about the project and to share an exclusive outtake with NUMB3RS star David Krumholtz with us. You can catch the film in select theaters August 7. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

Hulu Paper Heart is one part documentary, one part feature film. Can you tell me the idea behind approaching the story like that?
Charlyne Yi:
It was supposed to start off as a traditional documentary because I was skeptical about love. I think right after high school, I was kind of questioning — how do you like someone for so long and yet want to be together still? It sounds totally mean. I don’t know, I’d only been in a handful of relationships pre the movie. Also, I’d watch shows like ElimiDate and you’d see these people in Jacuzzis together making out on their first date, and I’m like “Oh my god, the world is so scary!” and “Oh my god, I hope I don’t have to be like a slut in order to get some attention and go on a date with someone!” And I know that’s not the way it is, but I think when I was 18, I was scared.

Later in life, when I moved out to L.A., most of the people I hung out with were comedians. There were these 48-year-olds that I was friends with, and all sorts of different ages. And at a certain point, I just met people who had interesting stories, like there’s a man who got married and years later, he goes back home and looks in his attic. He finds this photograph up there. He and his wife are from totally different states, and he went to college somewhere else. So the picture was of him at this party, posing, and his wife is posing in that picture, as well. They had never met. They could have met years ago, and that didn’t happen. Stories like that really inspired me to want to make the documentary about love.

Also, the fact that I think that everyone wants to find love, so from there I talked to Nick [Jasenovec] about my perspective on love and how I wanted to make a movie about love, but it actually being a documentary. He wanted me to be on the screen, and I didn’t feel comfortable about that. But then he also mentioned his interest in me actually finding love, and how that would be great for the documentary, if I fell in love. I said didn’t feel comfortable about that, either, and eventually we came to the conclusion of making a film about that, treating it more like a fictional film where this girl meets this guy, and eventually falls in love, but she doesn’t actually believe in love. We’d use the documentary pieces as more a way to brace the film in hopes that, if I were to play a character named Charlyne, and everyone else played versions of themselves, that if the viewer didn’t know what they were watching beforehand, that maybe they would care more about the story and maybe there’d be more weight to it. We also didn’t want to fool them so much that they thought it was true, so we paid credit to writing and also have the director played by Jake Johnson as also a way to show that.

You said you hadn’t been in many relationships before this film. Have you had a ton since?
[Laughs.] I guess not before the film, what I meant was when I was like 18 and scared of the world. I think I realized more along the way. No, no I haven’t. I don’t know why I said that!

Jake Johnson seems to be the one person in the film who doesn’t play himself. Why didn’t Nick want to be on camera, playing the director?
He’s not so comfortable being on camera, either. And also, I’m not saying this to be mean, but he admittedly says that he is a bad actor, and I think so, too. [Laughs.] But why Jake? Both of us were really big fans of him, and we really love his work. He’s also really, really good at playing realistic characters. We’re mostly friends with comedians, so we thought he was awesome for the part.

I thought you actually had good chemistry with him, in a friendly way of course.
[Laughs.] I think part of that was because we were all friends in the beginning, so we were just acting as friends.

Do you hang out with all these guys all the time?
Maybe not all the time, but yeah, every once in a while, I hang out with them. I think it’s harder to hang out with people you work with, because me, Jake and Nick are actually working on something right now, another project, so we spend a lot of time with each other already. I think the more we work with each other, the less we hang out, because we see each other almost every day. When we’re not working together, we hang out.

Can you tell me a little about your “woman on the street” interviews, where you basically stand on the corner with a microphone? Paper Heart kicks off that way, and you have other segments like this posted on the Internet. How do people react?
I’m really bad at talking, so I don’t know how to come up with questions. So I was like, what if you threw a mic in someone’s — well, you wouldn’t throw it, but put it out there and extend your arm and either wait for people to come up to you and be like “Hey, what’s this camera doing?” and see what happens. Usually they feel obliged to talk, or if you go up to someone with a mic, they react in some sort of way that’s funny to me, at least.
And then with the man on the street in Las Vegas [in Paper Heart], no one really wanted to talk to me, except for the really drunk people who just wanted to scream things that didn’t make sense.

One of my favorite scenes in this film was when you went to a playground in Atlanta and interviewed kids. It seemed like the kids were more open — you could just stick a microphone in their faces to get them to start talking.
I think before we started shooting, Nick said, “Go make them feel comfortable, go play with them.” I’m like, “Go play with them?” I think I was 22 at the time. “I’m a 22-year-old woman; don’t you think I’m going to creep them out?” And he said “No, you look like one of them.” I forgot that kids are so much more different from adults. You can make a friend when you’re a kid on the playground instantly, you just say, “Hey, wanna play?” And they’d say yes or no. But as an adult, when you see someone you want to play with, it’s creepy! You can’t just go up to someone in some situation and say “You seem cool, wanna play? Wanna play some basketball?”
So I just ran up to one of them and said “Tag, you’re it!” And they all started playing with me and screaming and pushing me around like I was one of the kids. And I think even one girl, she was like a bully, she actually kind of hurt me. And I was like “What should I do? I’m an adult. Should I be like, ‘listen little girl, you don’t know how old I am, you better back off?'” I can’t push her back, that’d be horrible. Her parents were probably watching me. Anyhow, it was cool to see how accepting the kids were and how eager they were to talk to me and play, and talk about love for the camera.

When some of the people you interview talk about love, you do something unusual to depict their stories. I’m going to call them animated diorama sequences. How long did you spend building those? Did you have help?
I made of them, but I had a little help with the construction because I couldn’t cut things with the wood. He had some good ideas for the movement of the river. And this other guy helped with the last sequence, with the trees moving, because I couldn’t build that in time, either. Nor did I know how to. I spent maybe two or two and a half weeks building all the stuff. I felt like this crazy person, because I would just lock myself in the room and order food. It’s so meticulous, building these puppets, and I felt like a crazy person. My friends would ask me to hang out, and I’d say [lowers voice to sound crazed] “No, I have to finish these puppets. You don’t understand, this project will never be done!” They would offer help, but I’d be like, “No, you can’t do it. You can’t read my mind, only I know my mind!” It took so much time despite how crappy they look.

How you found love since you started this movie?
[Giggles.] No. I have found my love for a new food. I experienced a new food that I’m really excited about. I didn’t know what a panini was. I mean, I knew it was a sandwich, but it’s a really tasty sandwich.

A panini?!
Yeah. This is really embarrassing, but I took Hooked on Phonics, and I’m a really poor reader. I accidentally said “pa-NAN-ni” when I ordered it. And then my friends were making fun of me, so the next time I ordered one, I tried really hard to get it right, and to stress the syllables. So I told my friend “I’m going to get this right,” and I looked at the lady and I go, “One cheese pa-NAN-ni, please!” I got it wrong again. [Laughs.] But as far as a real person, I have not actually found love yet.

Last comment: Jan 23rd 2011 5 Comments
  • Christine says:

    Wow, harsh comment.
    I love this movie. I think Charlyne is wonderfully eccentric. I adore the animations because they are unique. And her singing voice is great. Very folky, which I love.
    I suppose it is a specific taste.
    Also, I don’t think she looks like “a cross between a cabbage patch doll,troll, and an old chinese man”. Cabbage patch dolls have curly hair, trolls are mean looking, and old chinese men look like old chinese men.

    Someone who appreciated this movie a lot.

  • Jojo says:

    could you help me to get touch with her ?

  • Jojo says:

    I want to know more about this girl.I am a Chinese girl,same age like her ,younger.I major in English so I like watching English Movies very much.One day ,I met “Paper Heart’ and get to know Charlyne.And then almost all my classmates got to know her.We like this funny lady.Hope we can get more news from her.If we can connect her by email ,there will be cool!Because I have a same expercience like her.I really want to talk with her.

  • bobo says:

    I, unfortunately, had to endure this movie and thought it was agonizing all the way through. Charlyn Yi is a cross between a cabbage patch doll,troll, and an old chinese man (just imagine the top of her head shaved). Her voice sounded like a whiny pre pubescent teenage girl, add singing to that and it’s like a hipsters wet dream. OH, and what about the animation? Whoever did that should be shot, multiple times…

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