Juliet, Naked bears the irresistible Nick Hornby hallmarks: an intense obsession with popular culture; characters who are modern, idiosyncratic, and affectionately drawn; a beautifully wrought blend of humor and underlying warmth; and wisdom about the nature of life.
Published in the autumn of 2009 Nick Hornby’s novel “Juliet, Naked” caught producers Albert Berger’s and Ron Yerxa’s attention, as both were fans of Hornby’s writing and music lovers.
They then approached Nick Hornby and, finding that the rights were still available, Berger and Yerxa brought the project to Judd Apatow. “Judd is a great movie producer with a strong interest in music, so we thought he’d be an ideal partner. He responded enthusiastically to the novel and agreed to collaborate with us on developing a screenplay” recalls Berger. Ron Yerxa adds “He’d read all of Nick Hornby’s books, so Judd was already up to speed.”
Juliet, Naked is a comic account of life’s second chances.
Annie (Rose Bryne) is stuck in a long-term relationship with Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) – an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). When the acoustic demo of Tucker’s hit record from 25 years ago surfaces, its release leads to a life-changing encounter with the elusive rocker himself.
Based on the novel by Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity), the film is directed by Jesse Peretz (Our Idiot Brother, “GLOW”, “Girls”), from a screenplay crafted by Evgenia Peretz and Tamara Jenkins & Jim Taylor
With the story traversing the UK and USA and characters from both sides of the Atlantic, “Juliet, Naked” offered a perfect opportunity for an American production company to come in and contribute to the story.
Apatow agreed to develop the screenplay out of his discretionary money as part of his Universal deal and optioned the material to collaborate on.
The first decision was who would adapt it.
Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa had a long-standing relationship with husband and wife team Jim Taylor and Tamera Jenkins. “We had done a number of projects with Jim over the years and some with Jim and Tamara together. We suggested that to Judd and all felt that they’d be a very good team to take a crack at the screenplay.” said Berger, “We met with Jim and Tamara and embarked on developing the screenplay.”
It was during the development stage that Judd Apatow collaborator and fellow producer Barry Mendel came to hear of the project.
“The people who really initiated it were Ron and Albert, when they brought the project to Judd. They were setting up a meeting and Judd mentioned the meeting and the book. I read the book out of curiosity and loved it so joined the meeting and it became a very natural collaboration between the four of us.” recalls Mendel. He continues “I think we’re all script-orientated producers, the goal was to embrace the challenge of adaptation. It’s not something I’ve done before so I was excited about trying to take what was a great experience of a read as a book and make a film of it that is worth its salt. That challenge was part of the attraction as most adaptations, especially of good books, fall sadly short. Obviously About a Boy and High Fidelity were interesting versions of those books and movies that people like and come back to and are satisfying.”
Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins worked methodically on the early drafts of the script.
Barry Mendel reflects on being patient with the writing process: “It’s just one of those things where you’re cooking something and it takes time”.
During that period, the American film studio appetite for British romantic comedies shifted away from big budget projects, Mendel again: “We had set this movie up under Universal with Judd’s deal and all of a sudden the idea of making a movie for $30 million didn’t make sense any more. Universal made it clear to us – “We like this script, it’s a great script, we’re just not making these movies anymore.”
The studio world changed into franchises, higher concept ideas. So, in early 2014 we were faced with the fact that we didn’t have anybody to fund the movie. At that point we realised we were going to have to find a way to take what we’d conceived as a medium-sized movie and make it the grunge version. So that was a big challenge. What we did was send the script out to independent people and we struck up a relationship with LAMF, with Jeffrey Soros and Simon Horsman, who are making these kinds of movies. They loved it and really wanted to do the movie and they were ready to green light it.”
With the finance and script in a good place it was time to look for a director.
Judd Apatow had worked with Jesse Peretz extensively on “Girls” and he felt that he would be a great choice for this material. In the summer of 2014 after meeting with Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Peretz gladly came on board: “The novel really hooked me” he recalls.
“Jesse was an ideal choice for a number of reasons, including the fact that he had spent a long time in the alternative rock band, The Lemonheads and he knew the world of music and musicians.” Berger remarks,
“We felt Jesse would have a nice feel for understanding the musician side of Tucker, as well as the music fan in Duncan. Jesse would also have a strong point of view about the creation of the albums “Juliet” and “Juliet, Naked”.” Berger continues, “Jesse also brought a nice empathetic feel towards Annie’s character and her story. He had a handle on all three of the characters and their central struggles—parenting, the desire of a woman to find her place in the world, the journey of the reclusive musician back into circulation—all of it. Obviously Jesse isn’t British and he’s not a woman, but he connected to each of them in a unique way. From the production design to the costumes, he brought an honesty and authenticity that set the movie in the right tone. In all ways, Jesse was a perfect choice.”
With Jesse on board and Jim Taylor and Tamara Jenkins each having moved on to new projects, the team started to look for a new writer to take the screenplay forward.
Peretz notes “The script was great, but it also felt like there were opportunities in the novel that weren’t in the draft that I had read. Part of my pitch for myself was re-working the script some and getting in some of the things that turned me on from the book, getting them into the movie.” Mendel adds “The first draft of the script was terrific and I loved it, I immediately felt like this was a movie and not a project that was going to fall by the wayside. Then the next phase of it, Jesse did a breakdown from having read the book and looking at the current script and I thought his analysis of it was inspiring. One of the things was to really make the Jackson and Tucker relationship critical in it and to make Jackson older. He’s older in the book. He was a toddler in the Jim and Tamara version and he got aged back up – beyond his age in the book – for the final script. That was a great call. He also had the inspired idea to make more of the Lizzie relationship and show Tucker’s evolution through his relationship with Lizzie who has a love-hate relationship with him. That’s something that’s brought out more in the movie than it is in the book. In the book she’s maybe a little pissier about her father but in the movie you can see she’s angry at him, but underneath that anger is a real yearning for a relationship with her father which is a beautiful juxtaposition and was an innovation on Jesse’s part that’s really great.”
Peretz adds “For me one of the themes that was most emotionally interesting was Tucker Crowe getting over his inaction in dealing with his kids. Clearly his kids (other than his youngest child) who he’s been a terrible parent to, were this block that was making him hate himself and he wasn’t doing anything about it. In the book there was this thread set up with his 22-year-old daughter Lizzie who comes to visit him and he goes to visit her when she has the baby in the hospital. That character was much smaller in the first script and it didn’t show the trajectory. To be honest we’ve now taken a bit of a liberty with the novel and taken that a step further to bring it home, so that he really does step up to the plate and succeed. I would say that was the biggest element of my pitch in re-working the script to land a reasonable sized redemption, learning something about himself and turning up for another one of his children”
Peretz emphasizes “I say that with great respect for Tamara and Jim, the script they wrote was fantastic and really funny with great cinematic situations. It’s a real battle to take a novel that has a lot that’s being communicated directly to the reader it’s hard sometimes to figure out the smartest, most economical way to bring it on the screen. I applaud all the choices they made and how much that script really worked, and how much we’ve really held on to.”
“Jim and Tamara had done really excellent work but we felt we needed a new voice and at a certain point we agreed on Phil Robinson coming in to do a draft of the screenplay incorporating all of our notes.” says Berger. Elaborating on the development timeline Barry Mendel notes, “Phil Robinson took a pass at it and we learnt some things from that. Then Jesse said, what if I work with my sister on it. There was about four months when Phil worked on it and then another nine months when Jesse and Evgenia worked on it.”
Yerxa expands on adapting the novel into a cinematic script, “The challenge of the book is that it depends on a lot of email exchanges between Annie and Tucker, who realize that they are kindred spirits despite never having met. So we needed to find a way to make this epistolary conceit a visual experience.”
“After Phil Robinson’s draft, Evgenia Peretz joined the team and had a wonderful effect on the project.”
Berger continues, “Evgenia brought a well needed woman’s voice to the proceedings, which is usually a good idea when you have a woman lead character! Nick Hornby is gifted at writing women characters, like in An Education and Brooklyn.
Evgenia built on the complexity of Hornby’s character and brought a smart, flexible set of skills, digging deeply into Annie and the guts of the movie.
She streamlined the narrative and did a nice job of getting across what Jesse felt he wanted to say.”
Mendel: “And that’s when things start to engage that took us through deep into 2015, where we had a script where we thought it was ready for us to send to cast.”
Between High Fidelity and About a Boy, “an adaptation of a novel by Nick Hornby” has practically become a movie genre unto itself—and one that is very beloved. For filmmakers like me who are drawn to grounded comedies, Nick Hornby is the gold standard. Indeed, Juliet, Naked bears the irresistible Hornby hallmarks: an intense obsession with popular culture; characters who are modern, idiosyncratic, and affectionately drawn; a beautifully wrought blend of humor and underlying warmth; and wisdom about the nature of life. The fact that there was some nearly deranged music fandom at the center of the story only made me more excited to see this realized on screen. I’m a recovering music fanatic myself (and the first bass player from the 80s punk band Lemonheads.)
So when this group of esteemed producers (Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa) contacted me about getting involved with an adaptation they had been working on with Tamara Jenkins and Jim Taylor of the Nick Hornby novel “Juliet, Naked,” I was immediately enthused.
I latched on to this very unusual story. Annie (Rose Byrne) has spent 15 years in a love triangle with her boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) and the reclusive ex rock star he worships from a far, Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). Duncan runs a Tucker Crowe message board where men exactly like Duncan aggressively argue about their fairly similar opinions. Twenty five years ago, Crowe released a bitter breakup album, “Juliet,” and then abruptly disappeared. But his heavily-male fan base has created a lexicon of references to obscure performances, demos and show posters. The fandom is designed to keep people like Annie on its perimeter, but when she writes a review savaging a recent release of the demos of this 25-year-old Tucker Crowe record, she spurs a relationship with the man himself.
Working with my creative partner and sister, Evgenia Peretz, we dug into the connection formed between Annie and Tucker. In their epistolary romance, they review their own lives and engage each other with an attentiveness that each is sorely missing in their respective lives. They are both coming to grips with regret–from different sides of the same coin. Tucker has many children scattered around the globe, and he’s screwed up his relationship with all but one. In Annie’s, she’s wasted the best years of her life on Duncan, a man-child who adamantly didn’t want kids. Now approaching 40, she’s realizing she made a terrible mistake, and is craving a child. As their relationship deepens, they spark in each other the hope that’s maybe it’s not too late to change the course of their lives.
One viewer I think aptly referred to this movie as a coming-of-age film for the middle-aged. For me this hits exactly the emotion that keeps us wanting to tell stories and make films: a hope that each project gives us an opportunity to rethink our preconceptions about our own lives, and to offer the chance to keep growing.