Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis hook up in the new romantic-comedy “Friends With Benefits.” And not just as the movie’s stars – but literally, as their characters have detached, just-for-fun sex like it’s going out of style. Except, it’s not. It’s very in, as director Will Gluck’s funny follow up to the gay-famous “Easy A” reflects.
In the film, the dreamboat duo plays an emotionally impaired twosome living in New York who realize they have something in common: They both love getting frisky, but neither want the strings. The rom-com’s not just an excuse to see both of their butts; it’s a modern take on the notorious hook-up scene – with lots of gayness going for it, including Woody Harrelson as Timberlake’s gay manly-man sidekick.
Just before lunch one recent morning, Timberlake and Kunis sat down in Santa Monica to talk about the gay people in their own lives, breaking stereotypes and the awkwardness of shooting sex scenes.
Are you as comfortable with your bodies as you seem to be in the movie?
Mila Kunis: I like to run around naked on the streets all the time! (Laughs) No, I’m pretty self-conscious in general. It doesn’t help that I’m a female.
Justin Timberlake: (Deadpans) I’m extremely comfortable with Mila’s body.
Mila, how does fake sex with Justin Timberlake compare to fake sex with Natalie Portman, your co-star in “Black Swan”?
MK: Well, the only thing I can say is that one was funny and one was scary.
Justin was the scary one?
JT: I was more intrusive. You do the math.
Justin, are those intimate scenes almost like choreographing a dance number?
JT: It’s physical humor, so it has a level of theatrics to it.
MK: Thank you, thank you. No, no – I agree. That’s the honest answer. It’s very choreographed and very specific.
JT: It’s definitely less awkward when you’re required to make them awkward. You know, when you’re required –
MK: (Gets up from the table for a drink)
JT: (To Mila, sarcastically) That’s cool. I’ll take care of it.
MK: I’m right here, I’m right here! I just went to grab water.
JT: Wow, I really have abandonment issues with you. That’s a stupid joke. Don’t make that serious. But we wanted to use these scenes to break a little ground. There’s a lot in it that just feels more like how we see our generation.
Did you feel like you had a kindred quality between you two?
MK: We have the same sense of humor, is what we realized early on. The chemistry had a lot to do with the writing and the quick banter, and when we got comfortable with the characters it was easy to put that across onscreen. We became friends because we had two, three months of rehearsal and writing and rewriting, and you don’t always get that – so you hope that somehow that translates onscreen. If you have a great time doing a film, you hope that audience has a great time watching it. But as far as feeling like kindred spirits, I think we had a lot of things in common.
JT: We actually do have a lot in common. We bonded over a lowbrow sense of humor that we share, but also, we kind of grew up in the business, so we kind of share that. And we’re both pretty normal people when we’re not working. I just think, like she said, we had an unusual amount of time to rehearse, so we were able to discuss the scenes when we work-shopped them and find what we thought was like-minded from a male perspective and a female perspective.
You’re a fan of Harry Potter in the movie – which, in the film, is said to be a gay thing. Are you a fan of the franchise?
JT: I’m sorry, that’s like a thing about wizards? Harry… Potter? I’m aware of it. Harry Potter’s pretty amazing. We’re all fans.
Do you both think that a lot of young people are reluctant to get into relationships because they don’t want to repeat their parents’ mistakes?
JT: I think that happens with every person, and not just with relationships. You go through a certain point in your life where you feel like you’ve taken all the cards you’ve been dealt and made a great situation out of them, and then things that are in your DNA that you have no control over, you have to kind of accept. But I think that you go through life – not just in relationships, but all facets of life – feeling like you want to gain your independence, so sometimes there’s a misunderstanding of feeling like you have to break away from your parents to do that. The more I realized how much I was like my parents, the more I was able to gain my own independence.
You have a very funny dynamic with Woody Harrelson’s character in the movie. Do either of you have gay friends like him in your own lives?
JT: I’m glad that you brought that up. That was very important to Will and myself when we were diagramming that relationship, because I do have a lot of male friends – straight and gay – and nobody gets treated differently. Your friends are your friends. We had a lot of discussions about that and said, “What a great opportunity to break ridiculous stereotypes about a gay male and show a great, honest relationship between a straight man and a gay man that’s just a friendship between two men.” I really hope that it feels empowering to the males in the gay community, because it’s real life for me.
And to have somebody like Woody, who’s such an affable, goofily charming person in real life, play that type of character is a real huge benefit for the movie. I was very excited to know that he was going to play that character because we really wanted to, like I said before, break stereotypes and comment on modern life. You take some chances when you do that, but I really hope that it feels empowering in a way, because I was very proud to have that in the movie.
(Looking at Mila) She agrees.
You have lots of gay friends, too?
MK: Yes, yes. I do! (Laughs) I’ve had an assortment of young gay gentlemen in my life since I was, like, 10 years old.
JT: I think it’s an important time to say that people are people, and this was a good opportunity to do that. Again, Woody’s character is self-effacing about his own sexual preference and he finds humor in it and I find humor in it, and we actually use our differences to become related to each other – and that’s important. So again, I’m just really proud of that aspect of the movie.
When you first meet Woody in his first scene his dialogue is jaw-dropping, but as you get to know his character in the movie you realize that that’s his actual character’s sense of humor in general. It doesn’t have anything to do with his sexual preference; it has to do with his sense of humor. So I hope that really comes across.
You hear a lot about how younger generations are more interested in the hook-up culture than dating and relationships. What kinds of stories were you told from people before you shot the movie?
MK: I was interviewed by a reporter when I was doing press for “Black Swan” and she told me that her current husband started as friends with benefits, so it wasn’t up until then that I actually started paying attention to the idea of it. But I feel like this concept’s been around forever. It’s just that people are more willing to talk about it now. It’s not as taboo as it was. I think that our generation is a little more forthcoming, a little more honest, and I think females are embracing their sexuality more so now than they were 30, 40, 50 years ago.
What about men?
MK: Men have always embraced their sexuality! (Laughs) I don’t think men have ever had a problem embracing their sexuality.
JT: I disagree with that. Seriously. I think that men have always been uncomfortably external about their sexuality.
What are your favorite romantic comedies?
MK: Other than “When Harry Met Sally,” it’s a bit of a cheesy answer but it’s honest: “Pretty Woman.” One of my favorite movies in general.
JT: I think it’s great, because it’s the movie that your character loves in this movie. (Laughs) I don’t think you should feel bad about that. It’s a great movie; it makes you laugh.
MK: I can put that movie on mute and tell you word-for-word each piece of that. I love that movie. It truly makes me happy.
JT: I got in trouble for saying “Terms of Endearment.” (Pointing to Mila) She was like, “That’s not a romantic comedy!” But it made me laugh!
I will say “When Harry Met Sally” is a great one, and what I love about that movie is what I love about what we aspired to do with this movie, which was stop and look around at our generation and say what’s funny and ridiculous about it. And for me, that empowers people who will go see this movie that want to be spoken to in a smart way about love and sex and relationships and connections between people.