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Jon Favreau
Swinging to Love

Jon Favreau as Adam Levy in Love & Sex

Remember Jon Favreau's work in the summer '98 smash Deep Impact? Don't feel so bad if you don't--most people remember the film, but very few remember he had a role in it; in about five years (if not sooner), the same will be said about The Replacements, the recent Warner Bros. box office disappointment in which the actor also has a featured role. On the other hand, mention the Doug Liman-directed Swingers--his 1996 indie breakthrough and screenwriting debut--and suddenly people know who you're talking about. "That's the irony. The big movies I do, even though more people see them, nobody remembers them. With Swingers, I have people still coming up [to me about it]; even [co-star] Vince Vaughn has 20 people come up to him about Swingers for every one person that comes up to him about The Lost World. So although people don't watch them in movie theatres, these independent films tend to mean more to the people in the long run."

Favreau's latest, Valerie Breiman's delightful, low-budget romantic romp Love & Sex, is, like many of the entries in his filmography, an independent. But ever since Swingers, Favreau has been able to smoothly alternate the mainstream (Deep Impact, The Replacements, TV's Friends) with riskier projects such as the Showtime biopic Rocky Marciano, Peter Berg's beyond-black comedy Very Bad Things, and now Love & Sex.

This career strategy has proven to be quite rewarding for Favreau though not without some pitfalls. "It's a good deal that all actors should make because you need the audience. I used The Replacements press to help promote [Love & Sex]. I just got finished doing a press junket for The Replacements a few weeks ago, and I made sure I mentioned this movie. This type of movie needs so much to have people want to see it and hear about it because it's only playing in one theatre in every city. This is a movie that I really love and really stand behind.

"The Replacements was [also] good because it was a good opportunity for me to play a completely different type of character in a big movie, and the potential was there for it to become a huge hit, which it did not become. Now that it's not a huge hit, it's sort of like an extra line on my résumé because if those big movies that you gear towards making money don't make money, and the work in them isn't particularly specific like they are in the small films, they tend to just get washed away with time--whereas a film like Love & Sex or Swingers is going to hang around there for a long time and make an impression on people because a lot of thought and personal vision goes into each of these films."

That the thoughts behind both Favreau's Swingers script and Breiman's for Love & Sex draw heavily upon their respective authors' own dating misadventures was a similarity not lost on either of them. "[That was] one of the reasons why she wanted me and why I wanted to be in it. I've done my Love & Sex, and it was Swingers." According to Breiman, another reason why she wanted Favreau for the role of Adam, an artist who has the most substantial relationship with Famke Janssen's unlucky-in-love Kate, was his "everyman" quality--a distinction with which he takes no offense. "I think she meant in the big movies, with a couple exceptions, you have people who are larger than life. Like Keanu Reeves in The Replacements--women are going to see that movie because he is a heartthrob, a guy who, because of his appearance or the way he carries himself in a movie, is somebody they'll fantasize about as the perfect type of guy for them to meet. In this movie, I'm playing more of the type of guy that you really would meet. And from the other side, from a man's perspective, when they see Bruce Willis saving the world in Armageddon, they can fantasize about being that, but I don't think they relate to being that. When they see me in this, they tend to identify with the character and go on that journey with the character."

Helping the audience identify with the film, in Favreau's opinion, is the very personal nature of Breiman's story. "You have one story in you that's easy to write because you draw very heavily from your life. For her it's Love & Sex, and, believe it or not, Very Bad Things was not too far off from the experience that [writer-director] Peter Berg had. It was heightened with the murder and the death and all that, but he very much felt that way about his marriage, and the character I was playing was somebody who really represented the way that he felt. What's nice about having such a personal story is that the lack of experience is more than made up by the enthusiasm and how personal the subject matter is. You have a very good shot at a very special movie coming across, even if it's a little clunky as Swingers was and, less so, this one."

For his next project, Favreau is adding an even more personal touch. Not only did he write and star in Made (set for release by Artisan next year), the film also marks his feature directorial debut. "The film is basically a follow-up to Swingers: [it's] the first time Vince and I are together again; it's the first time a script I've written is hitting the screen; and it's my first directing experience. I tried to maintain a lot of the chemistry that we had in the first film, so that it would be appealing to people who like Swingers. But it's completely different characters; there's a bit more of a story; and it's a bit darker and more serious of a film. So you try to take the next step."

This next step, however, he found less difficult than the one he made with Swingers. "Swingers was a lot harder for me than [Made] was because with this one, everybody sort of knew my style. In that one I was working a lot more with the actors, and although I wasn't a director on that, I was much more hands-on with the performances and the way that the script was interpreted. This one was a lot more free-form; there was a lot more improv, and this one had more to do with the selection of the people because we really could cast it this time. Last time, nobody would've wanted to be in it; it was all my friends. This one, we got [Sean] 'Puffy' Combs, Bud Cort, Sam Rockwell, Jennifer Esposito--just an incredible array of people who are just in supporting roles; there wasn't one role that slipped away without us talking to somebody who over the years said, 'I want to be in your next movie.' So we had this great ensemble of characters, and at that point, you just let people do their thing."

Remaining constant, however, is some element of personal truth in the story. "Made is about these two guys who are friends, as I am with Vince, who are sort of making an attempt to move up in the world and get involved with organized crime. And the situations they find themselves in are not unlike what it was like for us to enter into Hollywood, meeting a lot of powerful characters, and what that dynamic is. Although we weren't boxers trying to become criminals, we were these out-of-work actors who were now becoming filmmakers. And if you could sort of extract that kernel of truth of human behavior, this in fact does becomes a very personal story."

Which the loyal fan base that connected with Swingers wouldn't have any other way. "It's a really nice, strong following that I appreciate very much. The fact that I'm a writer and now a director as well with Made makes it a relationship that's beyond just them seeing me on the screen and idealizing me. It's more like they see me as somebody whom they appreciate, the way my career has unfolded. And since Swingers was such a personal, autobiographical type of piece, I think a lot of people feel that they know me--and they do, more so than they know most actors."

Websurfers can get to know Favreau even better at a site he has recently launched. "Gettingitmade.com is a site that Vince and I put up without any advertising, without any funding from Artisan, without any e-commerce. We just wanted to put up a site so that the fans could sort of check up on what's going on and read up on who's in it, get all the real facts, and ask us questions that we mostly answer, so that we can remain in contact with our small but very dedicated following."

But until that film hits screens, fans will have to get their Favreau fix with Love & Sex, which he believes will more than suffice, given its ring of truth. "I think that this movie and Swingers are good because although they are stylized and exaggerated for the sake of humor and comedy, I still think it's more realistic than most movies."

(written August 26, 2000)

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