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Aziz Ansari on cover of LA Weekly

Mar 6, 2015

LA People 2009: The Lovable Douche Bag -- Parks and Recreation's Aziz Ansari 

Buddies with Kanye, filming with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, the standup guy is making his name as Amy Poehler's new right-hand man

Aziz Ansari might just become really famous this summer -- for being a dick. The 26-year-old actor and standup comic has roles in two of this year's most anticipated comedies, NBC's brand-new Parks and Recreation and the third Judd Apatow film, Funny People. Ansari is far from the marquee name in each, with the former starring Amy Poehler and the latter a pairing of Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, but his character in each will surely leave a mark. And probably not in the most redeeming way.

In Parks & Recreation, filmed in the style of The Office, Ansari plays Tom Haverford, Poehler's "right-hand man" in the parks department. Haverford, Ansari says one morning before his call-time starts, "thinks he's a really cool guy but is really kind of a douche bag. He's constantly hitting on Rashida character, but he's also married."

While he won't say it, his character in Funny People is probably modeled on Dane Cook. "Randy's basically this terrible comedian audiences love. He tells these really dirty jokes that are really stupid, but he wins the audience over by dancing around and having a DJ."

Naturally, Ansari himself couldn't be any further from Randy or Tom. Completely unassuming, he's easily mistaken for the quiet kid in the corner, even when he's telling a particularly hilarious story. There's a sensical calm about him that makes little sense with the many personalities that emerge in front of the camera. He shrugs off the idea of being a "breakout comedian" quite genuinely, focusing rather on the "marathon" and quality of the work.

After graduating from the Upright Citizens Brigade improv troupe in NYC, Ansari first found fame with MTV's cultish sketch show Human Giant, alongside Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel. In 2008, he took his standup act on the road with his very own "Glow in the Dark Tour."

Despite ripping off Kanye West's tour title and poster, the protective musician didn't send his lawyers after the young comic, but instead, requested tickets and made multiple postings about the show on his popular blog. And as witnessed in a few TMZ videos, Ansari can occasionally be found in Kanye's entourage.

"He's always like, 'Yo, man, you got so many jokes', and we'll be out somewhere that's not on a stage or something, so it's kind of weird . And I'm like, 'Hey man, I'll do a few minutes, but you have to do 'Heartless' ... without Auto-Tune or any instruments.'"
LA General

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Entertainment Weekly's Summer Movie Preview with Ed Helms, Paul Rust & Charlyne Yi

Mar 6, 2015

2009 Summer Movie Preview 

Oh, sweet.  The summer movie season is finally here.  Johnny Depp is pulling out the big guns, Harry Potter is (finally) back at Hogwarts, Meryl Streep is feeling saucy, and Sacha Baron Cohen is stirring up all sorts of new trouble.  EW's complete guide to the films of summer takes you behind the scenes with your favorite actors and filmmakers -- and helps you plan your moviegoing now, before all the cool treats melt away.

Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by Todd Phillips

The morning after their buddy's Las Vegas bachelor party, three guys wake up in a trashed hotel suite with no memory of why they're all bruised and half-naked.  Or why a chicken is wandering around the room.  Or why the groom-to-be is missing, with 24 hours until his wedding.  So begins this comic mystery smothered in Sin City depravity.

Director Phillips (Old School) looks back on the Vegas shoot with a mix of glee and guilt.  "When you're comfortable walking around the blackjack tables in your pajamas on a Sunday afternoon," he laughs, "you know you're in trouble."  Danger lurked on camera, too.  The actors shot a few scenes with a live tiger -- another odd remnant of their characters' wild night (supposedly the property of boxer Mike Tyson, who cameos).  "Todd always had crazy ideas of what we could do with the tiger," recalls Helms.  "Like 'Can we throw steak on his face?' And the trainer would say, 'I don't know.  Let's see what happens.'  It wasn't exactly comforting."  Maybe not, but it looks like the risk paid off: Warner Bros. is already developing a sequel.  Atlantic City, anyone?  6/5 (AM)

Starring Hayden Panettiere, Paul Rust, Lauren London
Directed by Chris Columbus

Based on the best-selling 2007 novel by Larry Doyle (The Simpsons), Cooper follows a sad-sack valedictorian (Semi-Pro's Rust) who reveals his true feelings for the titular cheerleader (Heroes' Panettiere) at graduation and then embarks on a long night of postgrad partying with her.  For Columbus, the film marks a return to the teen-comedy genre he left for dramas (Stepmom) and big-budget spectacles such as the first two Harry Potter adaptations.  "I thought about Adventures in Babysitting and about how much fun I had making that film," says Columbus of his 1987 directorial debut.  "Over the years, so many people have told me how that movie meant a lot to them growing up." Doyle acknowledges that his plot may sound familiar. "The story is about the cheerleader and the nerd -- I'm not going to pretend like it's never been done," he admits.  "Although specific things change, you can go back 100 years and find teenagers doing the same things.  Kids doing crazy s--- in cars just never goes away." 7/10

Starring Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera
Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec

Not quite a documentary, not quite fiction, Paper Heart is a hybrid.  Yi (Knocked Up) stars as herself, a comedian on a quest to shoot a documentary about whether true love exists.  Yi initially wanted to make a doc, but as the project unfolded, it became clear that that approach wouldn't really work.  As first-time feature director Jasenovec explains, "We decided to make her a main character, because the audience should go on the journey through her eyes.  And there needed to be some sort of narrative arc, but we couldn't guarantee that Charlyne was naturally going to change."  Enter Cera, Yi's real-life boyfriend, who created some drama by playing himself -- or a version of himself -- meeting and falling for Yi.  Jokes Cera, "I came in and was like, 'Guys, give me a shot here.'" 8/7 (ABV)

More summer movies featuring UCBT performers:

Starring Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt
Directed by Harold Ramis
Also starring June Diane Raphael with Paul Scheer

Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann
Directed by Judd Apatow
Also starring Aubrey Plaza and Aziz Ansari

Starring Jeremy Piven, Ving Rhames, Kathryn Hahn
Directed by Neal Brennan
Also featuring Ed Helms and Rob Riggle with Jessica St. Clair, Kulap Vilaysack, Jean Villepique

Starring Brad Pitt, Mike Myers, Diane Kruger, BJ Novak, Cloris Leachman
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Also featuring Paul Rust
LA General

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Charlyne Yi, Jake Johnson featured in Nylon Magazine's Young Hollywood issue

Mar 6, 2015

Jake Johnson
What is Love? 

And what is real, for that matter?  In her new film, Paper Heart, comedian-actress Charlyne Yi asks the big questions.

In this era of scripted "reality" television (surely docudrama is a contradiction in terms, anyway?) made up memoirs, and real people inserted into fictional situations, the line between fact and fabrication is growing ever more blurry.  Consider these examples: this year's finale of The Bachelor, anything on VH1 involving Andy Dick, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, and Sacha Baron Cohen's entire body of work.  Nevertheless, it's into this somewhat dubious territory that Paper Heart, a new faux documentary starring the endearingly geeky, bespectacled comedian Charlyne Yi, blissfully waltzes.

The premise of Paper Heart is that 22-year-old Yi (who prior to this, had small roles in the comedies Semi-Pro and Knocked Up) has never experienced love and doesn't believe it exists.  So she decides to make a documentary on the subject -- traversing the country on a listening tour, gathering people's romantic histories and words of wisdom on l'amour.  "The leaves looked brighter," an Atlanta woman reminisces about falling in love with the man she is still married to after 30 years.  "Nobody has what we have, and it's worth fighting for," adds her husband.

Intercut with the interviews are improvised scenes in which Yi starts dating Michael Cera (playing himself) who she purportedly meets at a house party.  The result is a semi-scripted, boy-meets-girl romance -- featuring the tongue-tied suitor, Cera, and his reticent object of affection -- tucked inside a real, honest, and at times touching documentary.  Adding further to the film's complex layering is the fact that Cera and Yi are actually in a relationship.  They even composed the film's winsome musical score together.

At first, according to Yi (who co-wrote the film with director Nicholas Jasenovec), selling Cera on the idea wasn't easy, partially because nobody was really sure what the idea was, exactly.

"I tried to pitch it to him like, "Yeah, we play characters, but they would be our names!" Yi recalls over pizza in the back of Palermo's restaurant in Los Angeles.  "He'd be like, 'What?' and I'd be like, 'And it would be a documentary!' So I did a horrible job pitching it to him, and I was really nervous because I knew it would be really cool for him to play that part."

"I don't remember ever being hesitant about it," Cera says over the phone a few days later.  "I remember her describing it and me not being able to picture it.  I find when I try to describe it to people I don't do a good job, either.  It's still hard to describe it... even after it was made."

Eventually, Jasenovec stepped in with a more cogent explanation of the concept, and Cera happily climbed on board.

In the film, slated for release sometime this year, Yi serves as a deliberately naive interrogator -- posing questions about the nature of love and relationships to newlyweds, bikers, romance novelists, kids, fellow comedians (including Demetri Martin and Seth Rogen), a smattering of scientists, a gay couple, and a divorced hunter (who, surrounded by looming taxidermy, conjures a less-creepy Norman Bates).  Some of the most poignant scenes involve reenactments of their stories using puppets and sets handcrafted by Yi and her dad.

Like the interview portions of When Harry Met Sally..., the film's documentary subjects lend verisimilitude to the fictional storyline.  "That got us a little excited," says Jasenovec.  "We felt that maybe if an audience was watching the film and wasn't sure if it was real or not they might be a little bit more invested in the characters and the relationships and where things are going to end up."

Actor Jake M. Johnson, who skillfully plays the role of the film's director, points out that blending the real and the staged required a delicate balance on the part of the cast and crew.  "We didn't want people to think we were making fun of them," says Johnson, referencing Borat as a paradigm they deliberately wanted to avoid.  He also notes that even in situations where he felt slightly out of his element playing the director (when, for example, an Elvis impersonator asks him how he wants a shot staged), Johnson still had to maintain the guise. "It just would've been confusing if I said, 'Hey I'm Jake, but I play Nick. Now, open up and tell us your love stories, assholes!"

For the sake of the documentary, the crew decides they must scrutinize Yi's and Cera's every move -- even when the camera's intrusive presence begins to stunt the blooming relationship's growth (one of the more hilarious examples being when the couple walks along a beach at sunset, and Johnson runs after them with a megaphone pushing for a picturesque kiss).  Yi and Cera then begin to try to escape the crew -- behaving like those self-conscious couples with cameras in tow trying to fall in love on a reality show, or like any relationship under the media microscope of Hollywood.  The director and actors admit it became an unintended, but obvious subtext.

"These shows where people are falling in love, and it means something?" says Johnson about reality TV romance.  "They're in a bathtub -- and there's a boom right above the bathtub! That's so weird! And people are like, 'That was the most romantic night of my life.'"

"How could you have a relationship on camera?" asks Yi, questioning the veracity of reality TV romances.  "It seems impossible."

An ironic statement, perhaps, considering Yi and Cera have encountered bothersome cameras together in their off-screen lives.  "We ran into some paparazzi at Sundance (where the film premiered in January)," recalls Yi, "and one woman was yelling, 'He's a fucking movie star!' And I'm like, 'He's a fucking human being!' You know? They're people. They need their space.  They're not just things you magnify and watch."

The invasive relationship between the camera and its subjects emerges then as one of the film's most compelling themes.  "That was the strongest example of a conflict that could help drive the story forward, and it came out naturally," says Jasenovec.  "Which is funny.  There's definitely a lot of art imitating life in this film."

Godard once said, "Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world." And in the end, Paper Heart feels a lot less like its pseudo-reality genre cousins of today and more like the playfully romantic mixture of artifice and documentary that someone like Godard might have made -- if only he had been a young L.A. alt-comedy geek living in 2009.
LA General

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