“I had a little panic attack because we didn’t know each other”: Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher on new romcom Your Place or Mine
Your Place or Mine is a brand-new romantic comedy feature directed by Aline Brosh McKenna (in her directorial debut) and co-produced by Reese Witherspoon, who also stars. The story follows two best friends Peter (Ashton Kutcher) and Debbie (Witherspoon), who have known each other for around 20 years, following a random one-night stand. Their lives moving forward are however complete polar opposites: Debbie is in a stable job as an accountant living with her young son, Jack (Wesley Kimmel) in LA, whilst Peter is based in bustling New York, where he holds down a glamorous career as a brand consultant. Through one of their long-distance calls, the kooky best friends decide to throw caution to the wind and trade their entire lives for a week with some very surprising revelations.
The Upcoming had the pleasure of hearing from Witherspoon, Kutcher, Zoe Chao (Mika), Jesse Williams (Theo), Kimmel and director Brosh Mckenna at the global press conference ahead of the worldwide release of Your Place or Mine.
Aline, the idea for the story is personal to you – but what made you feel this was the one to make the leap into directing a film?
Aline Brosh Mckenna: I was very taken with the story. It was based on personal experience and I wanted to do a romantic comedy for people who have been through something in their lives. I’ve accumulated some life experience so, as I was working on it, it felt very personal to me throughout the process. It was an idea I’d had for a long time and it finally came to fruition. I like to work with unknowns; I’m really looking to discover people, as you can see with this cast – people you may not have heard of. So I was lucky enough to find these folks!
Reese, your character, Debbie, adores books, and she’s always had this dream of being an editor. Did Aline tailor that to you because of your connection to the literary world?
Reese Witherspoon: I don’t think you did?
ABM: I didn’t!
RW: No, ‘cause I don’t read. I never read a book. It’s not on brand at all. I was like, “Will people know that I don’t like to read?” And you were like, “I think you can do this. I think you can make them believe.”
Ashton, you’ve done a lot of romcoms, but you’ve often played these sort of stunted man-children. And, while Peter doesn’t want to settle down, he’s definitely an actual grownup. So was that refreshing to play?
Ashton Kutcher: Well, I’ve played grownups before. I think it was interesting. It was very much about the hair; Aline had a very particular hairstyle that she felt that this character had to have and she used the word “grownup” a lot. She said, “I want you to have grownup hair.” Grownup hair? This is my hair. It’s old. It’s 45 years old – it’s the same age as me! But the style and just the put-together essence of the character, I think it was a juxtaposition to the all-over-the-place world of Debbie. So that was fun to play. I’m just this person that had this meticulous life, everything needed to be in its place. The pen needed to be here and the headphones here and this there. The other great thing: I’m not a very big fiction reader, I don’t read a lot of fiction – Aline said, “Yes, but this character’s a novelist, so he’s going to be very well-read in fiction.” So, I ended up diving in. Aline sent me ten books prior to the film. She said, “You need to read all of these…”. Every one of the books had notecards in them about what Peter got from this book – specifically, what he got as a writer from this book.
RW: Which was your favourite?
AK: The Air I Breathe? Was that it?
RW: When Breath Becomes Air.
AK: When Breath Becomes Air. That book was devastatingly wonderful. High Fidelity was very good. I read all of them. I read ten books.
ABM: I didn’t expect you to read them all. You read them all?
AK: I read every single one of them.
ABM: I also gave you books I thought Peter would think were over-rated.
AK: Some of them very much are over-rated but… The one about the kids catching on fire all the time? I actually fell in love with reading fiction again from this experience. So that was kind of fun and refreshing.
RW: Aline also sent me 25 books. I did not read any of them. I called her, and I said, “I have three children. I’m running a company and I have a full-time other job. I’m not reading these books. But they would look really good on the set.” And they did.
AK: To be fair, don’t read Permanent Midnight right before you go to bed.
ABM: That’s recovered addict Jerry Stahl’s book, his memoir about his drug addiction. Since Peter is sober, I thought that would be good.
This is a really unique romcom in that our two romantic leads are barely in the same room together. Reese and Ashton, how did the two of you build chemistry with that obstacle? And how challenging was it filming the spilt-screen pieces?
RW: Well, we decided probably a month before we started shooting. I had sort of a little panic attack because we didn’t know each other. But we fully had met one time at a party, and it was weird. He was weird.
AK: She thought that I was quirky.
RW: I said, “quirky”, but I really thought weird. I’m kidding. We were quirky. Then, so about a month before, I was like, “I don’t know this guy, and we’re supposed to be best friends for 20 years.” So we started sending each other videos every day.
AK: Every day we would send back-and-forth videos of “how’s your day going?” “What’s going on?” “What’s happening with you?” “What are you afraid of?” “If you had pancakes, would it be syrup or hot?”
RW: “Who’s your best friend?” “Why are they your best friend?” It was actually really fun. Then our kids would get in the videos and our dogs. You met my dad on my video.
AK: I met your dad. We hung out on your porch quite a bit.
RW: We hung out on my porch a lot, yes.
AK: By the time we started shooting it, we were sort of used to communicating this way.
RW: We should put a little compilation video together of all our videos. It would be funny.
AK: The tricky part of shooting it was when we’re in a scene together, and we’re both there. We’re very improv-y with one another, but given the way that this was done, one side of the coverage was done before the other person even began to shoot their side of the coverage. So we were acting against a video of the other person and choices that were already made. You couldn’t make a choice that would dictate the choice that they had already made.
ABM: You guys almost quit. Both of you almost quit.
Jesse, to return to the subject of books for a minute, your character, Theo, is a literary editor, and you used to be an English teacher. Is there some version of your life where you became more like Theo instead of an actor? Or are you also an avid reader?
Jesse Williams: I am an avid reader. I was definitely a reader of fiction until I kind of converted. I stopped reading fiction and became obsessed with non-fiction for the last ten to 15 years. So I’ve been returning to that recently. Yes, I did teach, so I love books – books changed my life, particularly in high school. Actually, during this process, Aline was awesome. She got me a vintage, signed copy of one of my favourite books ever, which is Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, which is just an absolute treasure. Books are absolutely a transformative mark in my life, or a fork in the road where things could have gone very differently.
ABM: Jesse and I worked on a list of books for his office. We collaborated on that list and then the art in Theo’s office. Much of it is copies of Jesse’s own art, artists that Jesse likes and brought to our attention. So that makes that feel as authentic and grounded as possible.
Miss Minka doesn’t read any books?
Zoe Chao: No. She reads people.
RW: But also, isn’t she, like, a molecular scientist?
ABM: Yes. She has a degree in differential calculus, but books are boring.
RW: I still don’t know what that is.
ABM: It’s hard.
ZC: Numbers, maybe.
Zoe, the surprising thing about Minka is how she goes from showing up without any underwear at Peter’s apartment to having a Master’s degree in differential calculus. How did you find that balance in portraying a woman who defies expectations at every turn?
ZC: I fell in love with Minka as soon as I read the script. Aline had just made such a surprising, lovable weirdo on the page. Then Sophie de Rakoff brought all these amazing clothes and boom! The character was there. I love Minka because, though you don’t know what she does, there’s a very calculated mystique about her. She is not a sinister person. She’s actually a very positive person. And, I think, the ultimate hype-sister and wing woman that you need in this life. I like that she’s full of contradictions.
Wesley, you share an interest in hockey with your character, Jack. Was that something that got worked in once you signed on, or was it on the script when you auditioned? What other things do you share with Jack?
Wesley Kimmel: It was always a part of the script. I had started playing hockey when I was little; I had started to learn how to skate on hockey skates. I never really got to playing actual games, like Jack got in the movie, but I always skate in the summers. So it was like, “Oh, I’m skating in this.” So I had some lessons leading up towards the shoot, but it wasn’t super new learning how to skate.
AK: This guy’s playing this down. Okay, so we show up to shoot the hockey stuff and he’s slaying it on the ice. He’s downplaying this. You go out and, all of a sudden, you look like you’ve been playing full-scale hockey your whole life. It was crazy.
ABM: Ashton was legit excited. But, also, you wrote me a beautiful letter after you read the script about how much Jack spoke to you and why. It was really beautiful.
WK: Well, that first audition that I had, we were reading the script before, to get a gist of what was going on, and I looked up to my mom, and I said, “This is literally me.” We had the exact same qualities, the exact same issues, the exact same allergies. It was easy to be natural in the audition. It was just crazy.
RW: I’ve never had the same allergies as my character, in 32 years. Have you?
AK: You’re allergic to me!
RW: No, I’m not!
AK: Dust mites and grass.
RW: Dust mites and grass. Wow!
Zoe, you sort of serve as Debbie’s guide to New York City. Would you say that you would also be a good New York guide?
ZC: No. I do live here, but I heavily rely on Google Maps. Actually all my friends who live here think it’s really LOL that I…
JW: You still don’t know your way around?
ZC: I still don’t know my way around.
JW: It’s a grid!
ZC: You know, I’m just forever a learner. I love the city. I do think I’m a good hype-woman. I really love my friends and there’s nothing more fun than just singing someone’s praises – I could do that day in and day out. I could sing praises about New York, all the things I like, but I can’t tell you where we are now, for example.
Jesse, I feel like some of the audience are going to think Debbie should choose Theo. Was there anything that you had to do to make him less of a contender, or sort of soften that response?
JW: I just bring myself to the role and that’s a repellent on its own. No, I don’t think so because I think, early on, I realised that it’s not really about Theo. It’s about what’s true for Debbie. That’s one of the lessons in this: she surrounds herself with people – intentionally or not – with people who want what’s best for her and want to pull her forward, you know? We say that adage, that people around you are a reflection of you. Choose your friends wisely. And, if you notice, the characters around her always have her best intentions in mind – even Theo. Even though it feels like a random meeting, he still sees something in her and puts energy towards her. Sometimes people are in your life for, what do they say, a season? You know? Like, he’s there, he’s available but her decision… ultimately it wasn’t because of a failing of Theo’s. It was just body odour!
ZC: Like right now!
Aline, in addition to writing, directing and producing the film, you co-wrote the song Embers, which appears in the soundtrack multiple times. What was that experience like and how does the song relate to the story for you?
ABM: Is that gonna segue into me singing it? We used the band, The Cars, that I had grown up on as sort of Peter’s music. I noticed that men tend to pick a band or an artist that they love and then really stick to that. For her, we had a bunch of female singer/songwriter-type artists but we wanted a song that was hers. So I was lucky enough that Sid, who did the composing, and Alan, who works with him, invited me in to write a song with them. It was really fun, and we spent hours on the phone. I told them stories about why I had written the movie and some of the experiences that had led me to write it and what my inspirations were. Then we came up with this idea of Embers – that it’s a relationship that is not in flames at the moment. It’s still there, and it just needs to be stoked. Then I was on TikTok, and I found this young group of artists from the Berklee School of Music. They sing a cappella a lot so, we did the arrangement with them and I think it came out to be a really pretty cool song that sort of represents Debbie’s hope for re-igniting. But I wanted to say, Reese has three men who are interested in her in this movie and, one day, Reese was like, “Why do they all like me? They all really like me.They really like Debbie.”
RW: ‘Cause it’s a movie!
ABM: I wanted to show, when you’re falling in love and you’re not 21, that maybe she has more of a romantic history, and there’s other people in her life. Sometimes, in romantic comedies, the female lead is incredibly chaste, to a point that seems unrealistic. So that was fun to give her a number of different love interests to play off of.