by Christine Westwood

Here’s a recipe for a great, entertaining movie – cast Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Chris O’Dowd in an unexpected love triangle by About a Boy and High Fidelity author Nick Hornby. In competition at Sundance, Juliet, Naked is the story of Annie, the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan, and her unlikely romance with once famous cult musician Tucker Crowe (Hawke), who is also Duncan’s fan obsession.

“Nick Hornby talks about nerdy fans and obsessions and how we want to share the intensity of liking a creative piece with others, and also growing up realising everyone is different,” said an affable Ethan Hawke in Sundance cold weather sweater and beanie. “If JD Salinger were a musician or if Kurt Cobain didn’t die but just went missing for 25 years, that’s Tucker Crowe, a serious musician who then disappears.

“Rose as Annie is in a lot of ways the classic leading man,” he continues. “It’s her story and Chris and I are the damsels in distress vying for her love and affection.

“I like to compare Nick Hornby to Larry McMurtry, just great authors who have such a unique voice, their characters vibrate. Nick Hornby books make great films, he’s very influenced by movies when he writes.”

Now in his late forties with a long career under his belt as an actor, writer, musician and director, Hawke gives a rich, funny performance as the ex rock and roller who has spawned children to various mothers and abandoned his career mid-flight when he became disillusioned with his fading talent. Juliet, Naked is the title of a seminal bootleg album that Annie loathes and Duncan eulogises.

“Attain an incredibly smart woman and then neglect her is essentially what Duncan manages to do,” Chris O’Dowd says. “He’s one of those men who I guess has arrested development. I get it about being a fan though, I was kind of nerdy about music and sports, maybe less so now, but still about films and tv. Now it’s work so it’s allowed!”

Chris O’Dowd, image courtesy of Sundance Institute

With her trademark humour and delicacy, Rose Byrne delivers a heart-warming performance as the strong and sincere Annie. She joined her co-stars and director Jesse Peretz (Our Idiot Brother, but also founding member of pop band The Lemonheads alongside Evan Dando) on stage for a Q and A after the screening to a capacity audience.

“Working with Chris, it’s hard not to laugh,” says Byrne. “We were laughing a lot, especially when we did a bit of improv, that always catches you.”

Director Jesse Peretz described some of the challenges they faced in building Crowe’s backstory, so it was believable enough to carry the ‘legend.’

Jesse Peretz. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute

“The biggest challenge that started months ago was really about getting the Tucker Crowe music. We had 140 songs submitted and we had a real specific thing that we wanted. The breakthrough was when Ethan and our friend Nathan Larson, who composed the music on this movie, had a really magical session so in the end all the Tucker Crowe music is performed by Ethan and Nathan.”

“The amazing thing about Nick Hornby novels is that they all spin around rock and roll,” adds Hawke. “His love of rock and roll is somehow part of his voice as a writer. For our film it’s a tall order that this guy had written a classic album. What’s it going to be? What should it sound like? It’s one thing when you read it in a novel because your brain just projects your version of what a great album is, but everybody’s version of that is different and having to define it is really challenging. When we got accepted to Sundance this whole thing got pressed into overdrive and we were sitting up till two in the morning doing a classic album in three days!”

“We also stressed finding enough pictures of Ethan (to create posters of Crowe) when he was younger that we could get clearance for and that people wouldn’t recognise,” Peretz says.

No spoiler alert but the ending in Hornsby’s book is ambiguous about the fate of the characters. “We looked at alternate endings,” Peretz explains. “I think if you polled everybody on this stage we all had slightly different takes on exactly what happened after the last paragraph in the book. There were a few challenges in finding just the right balance. I don’t know if we did but this is where we ended up.”

When asked about any weird fan encounters, Hawke joked, “I have so many and so many are x-rated,” before going on to talk about his favourite moment in the movie. It’s a confrontational scene where Crowe tells Duncan that the album he is so passionate about is rubbish. Duncan replies with, ‘I don’t care what you think because it means something to me.’”

Hawke says, “In that moment you feel Nick Hornby has somehow throughout his career given voice to all of us fans. I’m a huge fan, so I never know how to answer a question about it because the fan is me. I love the movies and I love rock and roll. This is why I love these festivals and the audience feedback because otherwise the only barometer for success with regards to the cinema would be money. You guys being here tonight – that’s the most interesting fan story to me.”

Juliet, Naked is playing at the Melbourne International Film Festival

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