We’ll Never Have Paris is a surprising, honest and enjoyable romantic comedy, with an all-star cast, dark subtle humour, great physical bits, and lots of cringe moments to have you peeking at the screen through your fingers. It is surprising as it’s made by the guy most people know as, ‘the guy from the Big Bang Theory,’ and even more surprising as it is as far away from the broad gags fans of the popular sitcom love. Simon Helberg and wife Jocelyn Towne co-directed the movie penned by Simon about the time before they got married and after they broke up. In it, Simon gives a strong, heart-felt performance, which left me wondering if it was the same guy from that show on E4.
I was tenth in line at the press-junket set up during Simon’s and Jocelyn’s breakfast. They seemed to be on autopilot at first, so I let them continue…
Simon: The movie is based on our real life break up before I proposed. It’s a disastrous and clumsy break up, followed by an even more embarrassingly horrific proposal, but at its core it’s about a quarter-life crisis.
Jocelyn: The next question is, what was it like working together, since you’re both directing the film.
Fault: Go ahead, this is great.
Simon: Thank you.
Jocelyn: It was challenging working together and also a great experience. We developed a shorthand during pre-production of what we were looking for and then when we got on set we went about trying to execute that. It wasn’t always the smoothest sailing, but we got better and better at communicating and working together.
Fault: Not the smoothest sailing, cause ‘someone’ is a diva?
Jocelyn: He’s so demanding.
Simon: I had a Bentley take me to work every day.
Fault: I’ve found that working together and living together can be a nightmare.
Jocelyn: We’re both really passionate and obsessive about our work so while it is a little bit complicated to take it home every night, as it shoves parts of the relationship out the window, it worked out really well. We were able to turn to each other at the end of each day and discuss the same thing, and I think it helped make the film better because we were able to keep discussing it at all hours.
Fault: Simon, who did you complain to when you got home at night?
Simon: Well I made the mistake of complaining to Jocelyn about herself. I told her that the director is driving me crazy!
Jocelyn: It was the most stressful thing we’ve ever done.
Simon: We lived in a little bubble, just the two of us, unfortunately reliving a lot of those tragic mistakes that I had made in the past. I don’t know if it was therapeutic or just pure…
Fault: Simon, as opposed to being a part of an ensemble cast like with the Big Bang Theory, you are a writer of this film, the co-director, this is you, this is your story. Did that add to the pressure of making the film?
Simon: It feels like it is mostly on my shoulders, which is hard. I had nobody else to blame if a joke didn’t work, if the craft service was bad, if the lighting got messed up, I felt essentially it’s all me. Of course Jocelyn and I were collaborating, but I definitely felt like, ‘oh my god, I’ve brought everybody here to tell this story about a very self-indulgent time in my life and in some ways and here I am indulging in it again.’ But I think the terror of being vulnerable and honest and depicting myself in what wasn’t the best light or, weren’t the best times of my life, was something that excited me, and scared me.
Fault: Simon, you are from a very successful long running show. One would assume that you could just do that character forever and make a lot of money doing it.
Simon: I could just do that, but my interest goes beyond playing one character or doing one kind of thing.
Jocelyn: There’s always going to be something else that you want to do. Art is sort of this black hole. It’s insatiable because you do one thing, and you think that’s the one thing I always wanted to do, and then there’s a new desire that pops up from that.
Simon: I think it’s an easy defence mechanism to just stay with the one thing and keep yourself safe. It’s very scary to put yourself out there in any way at all, whether it’s walking up to somebody and saying hello, or making a movie, or confronting whatever it may be. When you’re in any vulnerable situation I think it’s easy to shut down or get angry and say, ‘I don’t really care anyway,’ and I do a lot of that. I’m trying more to enjoy this part of it because it’s rare. I’m getting to watch our movie in a theatre with people, and it’s…
Jocelyn: Really cool.
Simon: Really. I try to hold on to that moment, and not for validation or praise, but because nothing is more honest that a collective group of people experiencing something together and having a visceral reaction sitting in a room. It tells us all that we need to know.
Fault: Can the show be limiting?
Simon: The show can be limiting. I don’t think that’s taboo to say. I don’t even mean it negatively. I’m playing one character and even though it’s gotten this incredible long run and will continue to run, hopefully, and you’ll get to see more colours of this guy, it’s still one character so it’s as limiting. It’s a hot button topic. ‘Do you get to pigeon holed?’ ‘Is it limiting?’ I think about those things too. Do I get to…
Jocelyn: Will people always see me in one way?
Simon: ‘…I’d love to play other parts, but do they see me only as that guy?’ It’s something that is scary. I understand it too, because I’ve seen certain people say things, and they clearly have a hard time separating me from the show, and I’m guilty of the same prejudice in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of people who do one thing, or are known for one thing, and then I see them do something else and my immediate knee jerk reaction is, ‘WOW!’ and I didn’t realise that I had limited the person in my own head.
Words: Chris Purnell