Dave Franco, Alison Brie, and Jay Ellis share all you need to know about new Amazon Prime film Somebody I Used To Know
Karissa Schaefer ‘23 / Emertainment Monthly TV Section Editor
A newly jobless TV producer returns to her hometown on a quest for future ideation, accidentally stumbling across her first love. Fondly with rose-colored glasses, they remember what they once had, and she makes it her mission to get him back. The only problem: he’s engaged to get married in a few days.
Dave Franco shifts gears from his horror directorial debut The Rental (2020) for Amazon Prime’s new unconventional romcom, Somebody I Used To Know (2022), releasing Feb. 10. Co-written out of a genuine love for the genre with his wife Alison Brie—who also stars as the lead Ally—the movie spins the title on its head; when you think that “somebody” is Ally’s ex, it turns into a story about rediscovery of one’s self and how a trip down memory lane might very well be the spark to ignite you forward.
“We use what we know and love about the genre to almost lead the audience down a certain path where they might think ‘Oh I know what’s going to happen,’ then we try to pull the rug out from under them every step of the way and try to make all those twists and turns surprising and unique,” Franco said in a roundtable with Emertainment Monthly. “In terms of this love triangle and whether or not our lead Ally is going to end up with our other lead, Sean, we just wanted to make something a little more complicated and messier.”
Sean is the ex in question, wonderfully played by Insecure’s Jay Ellis. While he spends much of the film debating his attraction and stirred up feelings for Ally, he stars opposite his soon-to-be-wife Cassidy, played by Kiersey Clemons. He said the script allowed for maneuverability to explore different sensitivities and skill sets. Inflection in Ellis’ voice indicated he had a blast filming, knowing he had picked the right role for his personal growth as not only an actor, but also an individual.
“By trying to find who these two characters are, [Ally] ultimately finds her way back to herself, and trying to find who [Sean] is with her, he finds himself back where he started with Cassidy’s character,” Ellis said. “The [roles] that stick with me and I gravitate to are the ones I learn something from. I learned something from those characters—it’s not the same as me, we are different and have different qualities, but there’s something about them and their experiences that I ultimately learn from.”
It’s made known that Sean is adopted early on, setting a theme for how his character interacts with others and views his relationships. His early onset fear of abandonment is further fortified when first love Ally leaves to follow her career dreams in L.A. It’s no secret that Sean makes questionable decisions worthy of a side eye—like kissing Ally and professing his affection for her—which is exactly why Franco found the pragmatic Ellis so charming for the role; he could draw complex sympathy from viewers like no other.
His fear of abandonment “keeps coming up for him and it’s his greatest insecurity, which now plays into why he’s feeling vulnerable in this scenario where his current fiancée also feels like she might be pushing away to go after her career,” Franco said. “Jay is perfect for the role because he’s so grounded, he’s so natural and human, and it makes him very relatable. Even when he’s making these questionable choices, you can understand why, you see what he’s going through. Also, he’s just so inherently likable and we needed his character to be redeemable by the end of the day.”
Despite working together on past projects—The Little Hours (2017), The Disaster Artist (2017), and The Rental—this was the first time Franco and Brie co-wrote. Franco painted the scene: he’d be typing away at the computer while Brie paced back and forth, creating a fun workflow dynamic where ideas would bounce off each other like a trampoline.
“I would say to her, ‘Alright, what would you say in this scenario?’ then she would start improvising and acting it out, and I’d write down every word she was saying,” Franco said. “In terms of why it works, we just have similar sensibilities and sense of humor. For whatever reason, we don’t butt heads when it comes to working together creatively and we’re trying to diagnose why that is, but it’s better left if we don’t over analyze it.”
The husband and wife duo seem to have perfected the work-life balance necessary to create a successful project, a concept that is very much at play in the film. While much of this topic in the film takes form as a career vs. relationship mentality, it also dives into revisiting one’s past self and unleashing that inner child for a fresh attitude on life. Franco reflected on his own father who went to college for painting yet made a career out of business. It wasn’t until later in his life when he got back into painting as a hobby—it had been the happiest he’d ever seen him. While one may not need to make their career out of their favorite activity, Franco says it’s necessary to listen to and take part in these enthusiastic urges.
“You don’t need to choose one or the other, and hopefully you find someone, a partner, who understands you and will make certain sacrifices so you can be your truest self and explore all avenues you want to,” Franco said. “In terms of work life in general, there’s messages about how when you’re younger, you may have certain aspirations and dreams that don’t come to fruition as you get older. But even if you’re not necessarily content in your current situation, it’s not too late to pivot and get back to the things that made you happy.”
Ally is seemingly lost after her show gets canceled. It takes a whirlwind few days for her to realize what she wants and who she is—something she can unexpectedly only find by looking at her reflection through Sean’s fiancée, Cassidy, someone who identifies with her. Cassidy is a confident, striving musician with the opportunity to go on tour with her band, something she initially turns away from because of her newfound relationship with Sean. While Cassidy is a reminder for what Ally has lost with Sean, she’s also a hopeful glimmer of what Ally loves about herself. It’s with this new outlook that Ally can not only support Sean and Cassidy’s marriage, but also use it as inspiration to dig into her passion projects again.
“[Ally] really likes her, but Cassidy reminds Ally so much of herself when she was younger and more of a free spirit, so part of that journey is her wanting to protect Cassidy the way she wishes she protected herself,” Brie said. “Also, what she doesn’t realize is just because she and Sean weren’t right doesn’t mean Sean and Cassidy aren’t right, everyone’s different. A big theme we’re talking about in this movie is when is it right to fight for a relationship, when is a relationship worth fighting for, and when is it worth throwing in the towel saying ‘I will always have a love for this person, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right person for me.’”
The idea for Somebody I Used To Know originated when Franco and Brie visited his hometown of Palo Alto. Growing from a mutual love of the Pacific Northwest, the movie was set in Leavenworth, Washington—a calming naturesque scene ripped straight from the atmosphere of a Christmas movie. The production was based in Portland, Oregon with filming locations spanning hour-long distances in every direction. Brie called it the perfect setting for the vibe of the movie, while Ellis reflected on his college years in Portland, saying he was truly living in his character’s shoes.
“It’s so beautiful and the people there are so cool, the crews are great up there,” Brie said. “The setting is like a character in the movie and this movie is so much about going home and the warm and fuzzy feelings you get there.”
The pair were inspired by influential romcoms of the 80s and 90s—Pretty Woman (1990), When Harry Met Sally (1989), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), and Sleepless in Seattle (1993)—which Franco considers “calming, charming, very grounded stories.” Just as they’re all focused on real people experiencing real rooted issues, he aimed to achieve that with modernity.
Always writing from a place of personal experiences, Brie maintained this way of contemporary thinking when writing specifically from the perspective of a woman. The movie features elements derived from Brie’s personality and free spirit femininity—armpit hair, comfortability with her sexuality, and streaking nudism. She credits her previous show Glow—an environment filled with different kinds of women embracing their power—for providing a personal milestone in reconnecting with herself and her body, something that finds its way into her work.
“When I think about the way women exist in the media now compared to when I was in high school, the standards are so different,” Brie said. “We talk about older millennials and all of us still being traumatized from diet culture in the 90s, things like that, and now it’s so refreshing that people talk so openly about body positivity, mental health, and things like that.”
The theme of nudity runs rampant throughout the film, pulled straight from Brie’s time at a progressive liberal arts college where there was a rule that the only place you have to wear clothes is in the cafeteria. The comedian that she is would make her friends laugh as she streaked across campus. Besides Ally and Cassidy’s exposé moment, the end of the film also showcases the oldest nudist retreat west of the Mississippi River. Franco describes it as a full circle moment, as a motivated Ally embarks on a new TV project focused on her original idea to document thriving nudists.
“We used it as a metaphor in a way where the movie starts with Alison’s character very buttoned up and a little fierce,” Franco said. “By the end of the movie, it’s all out for the world to see, and it represents her getting back to her purest self. We talked to people who actually live [at the retreat] full time and they were some of the most joyous, open, welcoming, happy people I’ve ever met.”
Fascinated by telling stories about women’s relationships, Brie conceptualized the intricacy of Ally and Cassidy’s unconventional friendship. She didn’t want to make Cassidy the stereotypical romcom bride, rather take a humanizing approach to make her interesting. During Ally’s final confrontation with Cassidy in which she makes amends and convinces her to follow through with the wedding, the two share a kiss before passing out. While Brie says the intimate moment is open to interpretation, the real heart of it lies in their connection and relief to have someone truly know them.
“I just love how [female relationships] can take on so many forms and two things can happen at the same time,” Brie said. “Am I jealous of this person? Am I identifying with her? Do I want to be her? Do I hate her? Do I want to have sex with her? Do I admire her? Am I inspired by her? So much of this movie is about Ally identifying with Cassidy and the two of them feeling seen by one another when no one else is seeing them.”
This is just one of the many entertaining aspects of the movie, which Ellis says he wants audiences to have fun with. Calling Franco a great director, he said all the actors came together, assuming pride and ownership in their respective roles. The atmosphere was an enjoyable, yet emotional rollercoaster.
“The thing for me is, fun can also have something under it, and to me, that’s what this film is,” Ellis said. “It really wants you to take a step back and realize that just because you may be at your rock bottom or on a certain path, it doesn’t mean you can’t slightly deviate and that’s going to ruin you. Maybe you’re supposed to learn something from it to get you on the path you’re supposed to be on.”
The film features appearances by Amy Sedaris and Danny Pudi, two of Brie’s previous costars from Bojack Horseman and Community, respectively. Sedaris plays Ally’s boss for a short beginning scene, yet she certainly makes a hilarious impact. The actress improvised many of her lines, including the repeated “Sold!” “I have to go get my tubes untied,” and the various exit lines she tried every time. Brie said that when it comes to comedy, it’s good to let Sedaris take the reins. And filming with Pudi was the first time the two had been on set together since Community. Brie called him a brother to her, stating that they fell right back into old habits and worked their old show bits into the movie.
Franco says his acting experience has given him a leg up when he steps on set as the director. The first day he stepped foot on the set of The Rental, he instantly had a realization of familiarity, which only grew more comfortable on the set of Somebody I Used To Know. Understanding the mindset of an actor, as a director, Franco tries to facilitate safe and judgment-free on-set environments so the actors can be free to take risks.
“I’m very collaborative with the actors—one thing I like to do is meet up with my main actors during pre-production, before we start filming, and we go through every scene,” Franco said. “I ask them, ‘Are there any lines or words of dialogue that don’t feel natural to you? Let’s change that now so it feels like it’s in your own voice and you can start to take ownership over these characters, as opposed to figuring that out while we’re filming when there’s so much chaos and stress. Let’s get that out ahead of time.’ Also, sometimes while you’re filming, certain things just aren’t working, it doesn’t sound right, it doesn’t feel natural. I come from a background of doing a lot of improvisation in films that I’ve acted in, so I’m very free-flowing, and if actors have certain ideas to make things sound more natural, I’m all ears.”
Brie gives Franco the title of being the king of saying “That was perfect. We’ll do it once more like that” several times. While any scene took a good number of takes, Brie and Ellis settled on their big climactic fight towards the end for taking the most time to do, dedicated to get it done right.
“We definitely did more takes on [the fight scene] more than anything, for sure,” Ellis said. “For good reason because there’s so many levels to find in that scene. It’s also this thing of why is he coming to her, why is she letting him in—there’s so much to play there.”
The fight brings up old grievances between the ex couple as Ally comes to her senses to recognize what they’re doing isn’t right. It comes at a point in the movie where Brie hopes the audience is scared and unsure of what’s going to happen. An entire day was set aside just for the scene, shot in different ways.
“We did a lot of coverage on it—it goes all around the room and there’s so many stages to that scene,” Brie said. “These people both have things they need to say to each other and tapping into those moments where it’s just not right. You think things, even the characters think things are going to go one way, and then they just don’t. We had to temper with them by screaming at each other by the end. Where is the heat and anger coming from, and how much of that is internalized?”
When asked what advice he would give to his character, Ellis said to prioritize communication in order to truly understand your significant other.
“You have to realize that being a partner means being supportive of someone else’s dreams as well,” Ellis said. “They can’t just be your plan; you have to plan and create together once you bring someone into your life. My advice to [Sean] is to check in, listen and understand what [Cassidy] wants and needs to feel free, happy, and fulfilled in her life.”
Due to how consuming the job is, Franco says he’ll be taking a small break from directing after working on this movie for three years. He’s eager to dive back into his craft of acting, as well as nonstop collaborating with Brie, in which the pair already have projects in development. Out of love and respect for the genre, he’ll likely be returning back to his roots of directing horror for his next feature.
“I’m so proud of it and really excited to put it out in the world, but since I started directing, I’ve actually really loved acting more than I ever have, and part of that is because when I step on set as an actor now, I’m like ‘Oh, I just have one job. This is amazing. I’m going to kill it for you,’” Franco said. “In terms of directing, moving forward, my first movie was a horror movie, I went the complete opposite direction with this one, and I think I’m going to swing back and make another horror movie. I just love the genre so much and feel like there’s been a lot of really good ones lately that have inspired me and made me want to get back into it.”
Somebody I Used To Know will leave viewers guessing who ends up with who in this realistic telling of an unorthodox love triangle, centered on relatable characters experiencing everyday dilemmas. Hitting Amazon Prime Feb. 10, the movie arrives just in time for Valentine’s Day, so while you can add it to your eclectic watchlist of romcoms, Ellis and Brie nudge audiences to check this one out first.
“I hope people can relate to the characters,” Brie said. “We’re taking these complex characters, putting them in these classic romcom situations, and showing them very real, human reactions, so I hope that sets us apart. Also, you can watch them all, you don’t have to choose—we’re streaming! But if you’re going to watch one first, it should be this one.”