Alright Now tells the fictional story (based upon a few British bands) of Joanne Skye (played by Cobie Smulders), a fading rock star who refuses to accept that her career is, in fact, fading. Amid the borderline pathetic embers of her musical bonfire, Joanne impulsively and drunkenly decides to enroll in college, only to find that her voyage isn’t working out as planned. Her search for a new beginning leads to a few unexpected places in director Jamie Adams’ completely improvised film.
Smulders — whose career includes nearly a decade of How I Met Your Mother episodes, an untold number of appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a smattering of assorted projects — throws herself into the unenviable position of portraying an unlovable heroine in this film. In our chat, she tells us how this character presented new challenges, and Smulders details how the craziness of modern society and social media has taught her to keep things real in her own life.
While I was watching this movie, it reminded me a lot of Drinking Buddies, not simply because there’s so much booze involved.
I was about to say … was it because there was a ton of alcohol?
Also because of the overall vibe. And I re-read the synopsis, which says “completely improvised” [like the dialogue in Drinking Buddies]. To what degree was the film really improvised?
The entire thing. There was no script. It was one of the reasons why I decided to do the project — because it seemed like a really big challenge. There was no script, we shot it over five days, and it was completely improvised, and we all met each other, and we all stayed in a house together in Cardiff (California). There was no dialogue, there was sort of a basic synopsis, and before approaching each scene, [director] Jamie Adams and I would decide what needs to be said, where do we need to go from here. So we would know what I’d have to say to give the [proper] information to the audience for the next couple of scenes to make sense, but dialogue-wise, no, there was not any script at all.
Is that uncertainty part of why you did this film?
Oh, absolutely. I like to do things that terrify me, which is maybe not the smartest instinct, but I like to do things that I haven’t done before. The idea of doing a completely improvised film is always something that I’ve been interested in. I’ve done films that have had some improvisation in it, but never one that had no script, no real playbook. And then it was also the challenge of it. When I first started talking to Jamie about the movie I didn’t think that we could actually … do it? To shoot anything in five days seemed impossible. And that was probably the reason we were able to do it is because we didn’t have a script. We were able to sort of be fluid with it and not worry about getting certain themes. We could make up scenes as we went … So we had a lot of freedom, and that’s why were able to get done what we did in five days.
What ’90s music icons did you draw upon for inspiration to play this role?
The movie is sort of Oasis-based. Jamie’s obsessed with Oasis, and there was actually a woman who Jamie was very inspired by, but it was also figuring out how because I’m not British. I could do a British accent and pretend to be British, but we kind of liked the idea of having a British parent, which, my [own] mother is British, and moving back to the country of origin and then form a band there. But it was mostly Oasis. I wish I could remember the woman’s name. Maybe I can while we’re talking … Oh, I remember the band! Sleeper — Louise Wener.
What does this film say about fame and longevity?
The character was really interesting because she was holding onto that stardom, and I’ve never had the experience of being onstage in front of tens of thousands of people and everyone knowing your song. Especially when you feel like there’s something so personal about … when you’ve written your own song, which obviously emotionally it means something to you at the time. You put your own experiences into these songs and lyrics, and then to have it move other people, I think is a very intimate connection. It’s something that could be very hard to let go of. Obviously, my character has a very hard time as she continues her tour of pubs around small British towns. It can be a difficult thing to transition out of.
Meanwhile, you’ve enjoyed an enduring career. Was it hard to get inside your character’s head while she was dealing with failure?
Well, we’re just meeting, but I have never felt like I’m on top of anything. I guess I’ve never felt like I’ve never been a crazy success because to me, I think every job is a learning opportunity, and sometimes, it’s just a learning opportunity on what not to do on the next one, what decisions not to make. But on a personal level, I’m just happy that I consistently employ myself, and I don’t think of any fame aspect. I don’t really consider myself in that category. But I certainly do relate to having to grow up and having to let go of things from your youth that were maybe not the healthiest decisions. Having to be more responsible and just let go of things, I can quickly relate to. And obviously, it’s much harder for my character to do that.
This film is all about new beginnings. How realistic is it for a former music icon to spontaneously decide to go to college?
In our movie, it seemed very easy. [Laughs.] I think what we were shooting at … one of the deciding factors is that there were going to be a lot of young men there. And probably a lot of young women there, who she would also be interested in dating. And sleeping with. So that played a big role in her decision to go to college, and sort of naively, she gets a bit of a wake-up call where she goes to college, and nobody knows who she is. So she can’t make any headway with anybody based off of her fame, so she’s sort of forced to go back into self-reflection mode, which isn’t an easy place for her to be in.
To be blunt, she doesn’t seem like ideal company.
Noooo, totally. No.
Would you give her a chance and hang out with her?
I mean, for a night? It might be fun. Don’t you think? She does feel like she’d be fun, but she’s very self-absorbed, and she does not seem like a good friend, but she seems like she’d be a good night out.
There’d be some good stories after that kind of night. But do you think she changes in the end, genuinely?
I do! There is a part of her, when we were making it, being able to do this video call with her dad, who she never really talks to at all. Going back to being who she is and being vulnerable in a way that she probably hasn’t ever been before. My hope is that she continues to explore that, but it’s hard.
I heard that while first playing Maria Hill in the MCU, you had to learn to throw a punch. What did you have to learn to do here?
Well, I tried to learn guitar, which is very difficult to do on the fly. I was working really hard at all the guitar stuff. Even Jamie had this guy write a final song in it, and then I was like, “Jamie, we have to be more like, she’s just a fun woman, and she doesn’t really know how to play guitar, she’s like learning to play guitar” because I can’t pull it off. But that was really cool because I always wanted to learn how to play. So it did force me to focus and learn a few chords, but it was the hardest (and I can’t even remember what chords they are), but they sort of broke it down for me. And I went to a teacher, and I had them show me, so I could do it and copy it and practice it at home. And this was not level one playing, this was like level six or seven, so it was a very big challenge, but it also allowed me to get more into the project and the whole process.
Do you feel like, and I don’t want to talk about Marvel too much, obviously, but have you had to deal with any of the rabid fandom? Do you feel like that has prepared you to play a rock star?
I’m a very grounded person. I’ve only had positive interactions, luckily, because I’ve only been a part of projects that people really love and don’t insanely love, maybe? They’ve always been projects like even How I Met Your Mother, where people are big fans of the show because it made them laugh, and they related to it in some way. And there’s more of a connection rather than a putting-anyone-up-on-a-pedestal scenario. I live a very simple life. I don’t ever associate myself with someone deserving of that type of recognition. Maybe it’s the Canadian in me. But I’ve certainly been witness to it. I’ve been in Hall H (at Comic Con) and I’ve seen reactions. I’ve seen people get really into it, but to me, it’s always been just kind of exciting because it hasn’t been me, I’m on the periphery, and I’m a part of these things, so I’ve been able to sort of part of that gift back to them and in turn experience it myself, but I didn’t use anything (from my Marvel experience) and had to play really imaginary on that stuff.
You once said in a magazine interview that it was difficult to deal with the occasional negativity online, and your perspective was improved from being 20 to being 30. And you were hoping that would grow even better after a few more years. Has that happened?
That’s a very good question. Um yeah, it has. I think as everyone says, you do get wiser with age, and I don’t know if it’s that or just … the world is so f*cking insane right now? That to focus on one negative comment when there’s just so many negative comments on social media and people saying things towards each other, and it’s like I just don’t care as much. I’m more focused on being positive and helping others and being on the side of good than I am about if people think I don’t look good in an outfit or not or suck at acting. I’m like, “Good, you go for it. You can think whatever you want. This is America. You’re allowed to think and feel how you want.” But there’s too much going on in my life on a personal level with my family and my work, and there’s too much going on in the world to give a sh*t if they have bad things to say about me. (Source)