Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce are in a movie directed by Andrew Bujalski, the writer-director of minimalist, non-starry gems like Computer Chess and Mutual Appreciation. Read that again. Smulders is the former How I Met Your Mother star and current Avengers supporting player. Pearce has been in everything from Memento to the Adam Sandler vehicle Bedtime Stories.
What appears to be incongruous works splendidly. A witty and sly dramatic comedy, Results looks at the professional and personal complications that arise between gym owner Trevor (Pearce) and his employee, personal trainer Kat (Smulders), when the recently rich and recently divorced Danny (Kevin Corrigan) decides to get in shape.
The A.V. Club caught up with Smulders and Pearce during a publicity stop in New York City, where they lounged on a couch like a couple paging through the Sunday paper. Aside from explaining how they became involved in Results—and their desire for a more risqué version of Computer Chess—the pair discussed the terror of carrying a movie, their hatred of the meet-cute, and transitioning from acting in TV to film.
The A.V. Club: You are two Marvel Cinematic Universe veterans in a movie from the director of Computer Chess. How did that come about?
Guy Pearce: You couldn’t call me a Marvel Universe veteran. [To Smulders.] You, maybe.
Cobie Smulders: I don’t even think you could call me that. I mean, I’ve been in a few, but—
GP: I think “a few” constitutes a little bit of vet-ness.
GP: Vet-ted-ed. Veterinarians.
CS: That’s the right word. Vet-ted-ed? [Laughs.]
GP: But I know what you’re saying. They’re very different worlds.
CS: They are.
AVC: In Andrew’s previous works, he’s not using “big names,” so how were the two of you presented this?
GP: Well, it came to me directly from Andrew, because he and I had met a couple of years ago on something else, and it didn’t end up coming to fruition. And then he contacted me about this and said, “I’ve kind of written this for you.” So, you can’t say no to that. And I wouldn’t say no anyway because it’s Andrew and I love his work. I’ve done some pretty odd films, I suppose. Not in this sort of style, but I do feel like the things that I’ve done lean more toward this sort of universe then, say, the Marvel Universe. That feels like more of a step into another world for me.
AVC: What’s funny about this role is that Trevor is very much an optimist. I don’t remember very many roles where you played an optimist or someone with a cheery attitude.
GP: [Laughs.] No, possibly not. I’m a miserable bastard. As my mother would say, “Get that miserable sod look off your face.”
AVC: How did you approach that role?
GP: I’ve spent many years going to gyms, and I’ve seen plenty of people who are like that, so it wasn’t really a foreign environment, and it wasn’t really a foreign attitude. I can be fairly optimistic, but I’m probably more a realist, I think. I mean, optimism’s an interesting quality, isn’t it, because I’m always slightly dubious as to what’s behind it, you know? And so it was interesting to see [Trevor] unravel and see him try and keep it there in the box. I think Andrew’s really good at exploring that stuff.
AVC: Cobie, according to the press notes, Andrew didn’t know of your work, so how did you two connect?
CS: The power of charm.
AVC: His or yours?
CS: Mutually. Mutual charm.
GP: Mutual appreciation.
CS: Yeah, mutual appreciation. I got the script very much through the Hollywood way, through my agent.
GP: It’s like a snap of the fingers, and…
CS: Get me whatever’s hot! What’s happening?! What’s happening in Hollywood right now?!
GP: Where’s my Monster? [Laughs.]
CS: Get me my Oscar film! That’s how it works.
AVC: So you snap your fingers, and—
CS: —and the roles just fall in. No, I got the script through my agent, who has very good taste, and I read it and I freaked over it, and I watched Computer Chest… sorry, Chess. That was a different one. That was a different film.
GP: That was the porn. Have you seen Computer Chest?
CS: That was the one I watched after Computer Chess. I would like to see that be re-made as a porn. Wouldn’t that be great? [Both laugh.] Anyhoo, I digress. But I read it and then I met Andrew over Skype. And we liked each other very much, and he was coming to L.A. a week or two later. We got together and worked through a scene and he recorded it on a flipcam, whatever, and… I got the job. I kind of got really excited about it after watching Computer Chess because this is a man who’s trying things and has an interesting point of view and is really interested in characters and what makes people the way they are. And they’re flawed and they’re interesting—and I think that’s what really drew me to this character.
In terms of blockbusters versus indies, I think it really just comes down to, what is the most interesting character? Is it something I’ve done before? Is it something that I can learn? With this one, I had to educate myself about personal training, about how you work out, about the body, about just taking care of yourself, about the vitamin industry—all of this stuff. It was an education for me, so I really enjoyed that.
GP: And I was on board before Cobie was and Andrew was very excited to call me and tell me about you.
CS: And you were like, “This is a huge mistake.”
GP: “What are you thinking, you idiot?” No, not at all.
AVC: Cobie, many people know you from How I Met Your Mother, which was an ensemble. You’re on the screen a lot more in Results than in your other movie work. How did you prepare for that, especially when you’re working with Guy and Kevin Corrigan?
CS: I was very insecure. You’re right, because I’ve done a lot of ensembles and I’ve done bit parts in bigger films. When you go to see them for the first time, you’re like, “I’m only in, like, a little scene in this movie. It’s fine, let’s just go see this movie.” But when you’re like, “Oh shit, I’m in every fucking scene.” [Laughs.] It’s like, “Oh no, it’s on me!”
GP: It’s an interesting change, isn’t it?
CS: It’s a switching of gears, and it is kind of scary. And that’s, I think, why you really have to trust your director. And you really have to trust the editor. I think [Robin Schwartz] did a fucking brilliant job. She was in Computer Chess as an actor. This is really her first big editing gig. She really had to do a lot of it herself because Andrew had a baby the day that we wrapped.
AVC: Oh, wow. So was he harried throughout the shoot?
CS: Shockingly, no—until that last day.
GP: Well, that’s right, he left the set. He had to leave the set on the second-to-last day. Thankfully, the machine was moving quite well at that stage.
CS: If it happened in the middle, that would have been scary. But, yeah, I mean, you really have to go into it together and it doesn’t matter how big your part is. And you’re all serving the same story. You’re all serving the same plot.
GP: I had done a bunch of stuff, and I don’t know if it was Memento or what it was, but where you first start to see yourself on-screen carrying something, and, ego aside, you assess yourself differently because you go, “Am I actually capable of carrying [a movie]?”
CS: Right, right.
GP: And I guess you realize that’s it hard to be objective. So you do end up trusting your director and going, “Well, if you think I can carry this then all right.”
AVC: Guy, do you still get that “oh shit!” moment after 20 years in movies?
GP: Well, I don’t think I’ve carried a film in a long time [Laughs.], so I don’t know. But talking more from years ago, like watching Memento, for example, where I think I am in just about every scene. I’m more used to it now, I guess. But I still want to bring something different to every film. I get a bit tired of actors who kind of are the same character in every film that they do. I find it almost like the next episode of the whatever show.
AVC: Cobie, you were involved with How I Met Your Mother for almost 10 years. Now that the show has been off the air for a year, do you want to do a whole mix of characters? Are you envisioning a career like Guy’s?
CS: I’d love to have Guy’s career. Is that available?
GP: Yeah, it is.
CS: For the next 20 years, please. Yeah, I’ll take that.
GP: It’s totally available.
CS: It’s amazing what just kind of comes your way. I’m not really trying to, like, break out of anything. I think that I was really blessed to be on a show where I was able to try many different things. I mean, look, [Robin Scherbatsky, Smulders’ HIMYM character] got to have a lot of these big dramatic moments on the show and she had to have a lot of these big comedic moments. She was a freakin’ pop star, you know? There were a lot of different moments within that character, so I never felt like I was being pigeonholed in any way. Moving forward, just for my own interest, for my own experience, I just want to try different things.
GP: And I reckon it’s more of an external perspective that on some level you really can control and dictate how your career’s going to go. I know for some people they kind of can, but I’ve only ever really been interested in being an opportunist. The reason I say this is because quite often people say to me, “What’s the ultimate role out there that you want to play?”
CS: Right, right.
GP: I go, “Well I can’t even answer that question.” I don’t think about it like that. When I read something, I want to be surprised. So I read something and go, “Wow, I never, ever would have thought of playing this kind of role. This is exciting me, let’s go do this.” I mean, a year ago I never would have thought of such a thing, so you really do bounce around. And I think that sort of inspiration is what keeps you buoyant as an actor, what keeps you going. That’s why I say I don’t understand the actor that chooses to play the same role in everything all the time.
CS: Well, I think it’s also that’s just the opportunity that comes your way a lot of the time, though.
GP: I guess, and I suppose it also comes down to kind of going, how flexible do you feel that you are as an actor.
AVC: This is the kind of movie where the audience knows Kat and Trevor have a history, even though it’s not detailed. How much work did the two of you put in, either together or apart, to make sure that that history was expressed?
GP: I don’t know how much work we did. I feel like it just happened naturally because we got on really well as soon as we met. It’s interesting how sometimes it’s understanding another character that then informs more of who your character is. By going, “Oh okay, so if she’s like that then that really tells me where I can sort of go on an energetic level before she’s gonna shut me down.” And I go, “Okay, now I understand their relationship more or I understand what our past relationship has been.” You get to understand that dynamic. So I feel like it occurred kind of naturally in rehearsals rather than having to work it. I mean, I’m sure we talked about it, and I can’t remember whether we talked about—
CS: I don’t think we ever got into specifics of, like—
GP: Did we date for six months?
CS: What’s our meet-cute story?
AVC: Oh God.
CS: See, he gets it.
GP: Isn’t that a terrible expression?
CS: I just made this reference earlier and nobody was—
GP: I hadn’t heard it before.
AVC: You’ve never heard of the meet-cute?
AVC: Oh, well, you’re blessed.
CS: This movie does not have a meet-cute, as I was saying, and I’m kind of glad that it doesn’t.
GP: Yeah. What’s fascinating is when you’ve had a relationship with anybody in your life and you both know what that relationship is, you don’t have to do anything to prove to anybody that you’ve had that relationship. It just exists. Really, the work is done by Andrew and what he writes in the script. It’s not like we have to go, “Ah remember that, ay? Remember the… you know?”
CS: …that time we did it here?
GP: We don’t need to remind ourselves of it because we’re both completely aware of it. So it’s interesting playing something that the audience doesn’t fully know, but if we trust it, then it will come across.
CS: I’m trying to think of the first time that they’re on-screen—and I think it’s when she comes in and she’s late and then she gets in about wanting Kevin as a client and stuff. There is, like, a playfulness that I think leaves the audience going, “Oh there is something.” You know, we’re very physical with each other. And I like that it’s kind of ambiguous. Are they going to hook up? You don’t really know.
AVC: Guy, you were a body builder back in Australia. Cobie, you were just on the cover of Women’s Health. Given the characters’ occupations, how was the work that you put into those roles—in terms of working out, getting in shape—different than a normal acting job?
GP: Well, it depends on what the normal acting job is. I’ve done roles before where I’ve wanted to be buff and sort of fit or whatever. And I like to try and be a little bit fit because there’s usually one scene in a movie where you’ve got to run, which means you’ve got to run for about five hours nonstop. So, for me, it’s just worthwhile being fit because doing a movie can be kind of grueling for six, seven, eight weeks. Or 12 weeks. But, you know, I ramped it up for this.
CS: Yeah, you did.
GP: Spent time in the gym and ran more and, you know… [To Smulders.] Oh yeah, baby. And you did as well.
CS: If I go and play Maria Hill—Maria Hill should look like at any moment she could start fighting. So there’s that mentality there. But with this it was more of a mind-body connection. It was working with trainers, familiarizing myself with the proper, safe way to work out and what the benefits of working this muscle group and that muscle group. It was more of an education than—
GP: —just getting fit.
CS: Obviously I wanted to look like I had muscle tone and I was strong and that people would want to work out with me. [Laughs.] Like I knew what I was doing. But for me it was more—
GP: [Jokingly.] But you can’t have everything! So at least you knew how to play a trainer even if you didn’t look like one.
CS: [Laughs.] At least I knew how to play a trainer. The form was a big thing for me, making sure that [Kevin Corrigan’s character] was doing everything correctly because I think that’s why you go to a trainer. It’s like, anybody can go to a trainer and lift weights, but it’s like, No, lift it at this angle and you keep your back straight.
AVC: How important is being in shape in the acting process?
CS: I think it’s important in terms of being healthy. In terms of having energy and relieving stress. I think of working out like that when I’m not connecting it specifically to a character. With Maria Hill, a lot of the stuff I’ll be doing is boxing or tae kwon do. I’ll be doing all these things that are more violent.
GP: More violent?
CS: Yeah, exactly. And with this one it was more weights and stuff. But when I do it in my own personal life, it’s just to keep healthy because you never know when you have to jump into somewhere, fly somewhere, or just be with your kids lifting them up at the park all day.
GP: I quite like being out of shape if I’m playing a role that’s out of shape.
CS: I keep waiting for that call: “We’d like you to put on weight for this role.”
AVC: Guy, we were talking about How I Met Your Mother with Cobie. You were on the Australian soap opera Neighbours. When did you get to the point when you felt that you were away from that TV past and on the path that you wanted to be as an actor?
GP: Well, I didn’t know what the path was that I wanted to be as an actor, to be honest. I’ve been doing a lot of theater since I was a kid, so again, I was just sort of taking opportunities, and you know… I got sick of the show, though. I was on the show for four years. And I kind of knew that I was getting tired of playing the same kind of role. Funnily enough, I left that, did a couple of films, and then I got myself onto another TV show for another four years [Snowy River: The McGregor Saga] and also got sick of that. Once I started working in the States, in the mid-’90s, I started realizing that the opportunities for film were much broader.
CS: People always feel like there’s a big split between TV and films. I’m a television actress. I’m a film actress. Maybe that’s how it was 10 years ago. But I feel like the way that our world is heading, which seems to be online viewing for both films and television, I feel like there’s not that separation anymore. And actors are able to kind of flow between both worlds—and connect to both audiences.