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A chat with Unfriended star Jacob Wysocki

September 8, 2015

Film + EntertainmentInterview | by Francesco Cerniglia


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Jacob Wysocki has a varied acting palate: comedy, drama, horror it makes no difference, he’s still going to put his own stamp on things. We got talking about his breakthrough hit, what floats his comedic boat and cyber bullying in his latest movie Unfriended.

So, I watched the film this morning. I had the pleasure of watching your demise whilst I was eating my porridge.

Great! Can I ask you something? Did you watch it on a laptop?

I did indeed. It’s weird actually because I found myself wanting to click the screen at times when iMessage popped up or when a web browser covers half the skype screen.

I wanna see if I see myself trying to click, too.

Tell us a little bit more about your career path, and how you got into movies, considering your background in improv and making YouTube videos.

Yeah, well, in college I was involved with this improv organization called Comedy Sports and they do comedy, improv and theatre in 72 high schools in southern California. I started super young with them, like at 14, and I did that for four years in high school and then in college. My first year in college was where I met a bunch of these other kids at Comedy Sport and we sort of broke up and started making our own sketch videos on YouTube. And we were young and sort of like “we should do something as well as improv.”

How did your first role for indie flick Terry (2011) come about? How did that start everything off for you?

I was doing this TV show called Huge and it was the first thing I ever did. I dropped out of college and did this show because I had this opportunity and I remember we were almost done with the season and I auditioned for this movie. I hadn’t really auditioned much and I just went out for it and did it and it all kind of fell into place. Definitely a transforming experience in terms of realizing “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life”.

And it seems like quite a steep learning curve. Going from doing YouTube videos and a sitcom to suddenly starring alongside someone as seasoned as John C. Reilly, it’s kind of crazy, isn’t it?

Yeah, definitely, it educates you by submersion you know, it definitely felt like not knowing how to swim and being thrown into a lake. But retrospectively there is no better way to learn. Just jump in and get to work and no better person to work with than someone as trained and seasoned as John C. Reilly.

In Unfriended, you play a character called Ken, tell us more about him.

Ken is the kind of kid who is not afraid to speak what he feels and people just think “ahh leave him alone he’s funny, he’s just trying to goof off”. There’s also a little uniqueness in this world that he understands how it works because he is very tech savvy and that’s a special little niche for this group, considering it takes place on computers.

How weird or different is it to go from working with someone as experienced as John C. Reilly to working with a group of people who are relative newcomers. How does that change the dynamic?

Ahh man, there’s so many factors going into this movie that made it what it is. We were all stepping into unknown territory and I think you could throw the most seasoned actors into this role and they’d have the same worries and trepidations that we did because it was so conceptually different to anything that’s really been made before. So I feel like the concept evens out the playing field. And all of us were in the same zone, we’ve all done our own things and had certain levels of success but none of us were green. This was nobody’s first rodeo so that was the benefit and we all had to go in and be like “it’s up to us to make the movie”.

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And it paid off! It’s the biggest opening for an original horror movie since The Conjuring. It seems like over the past couple of years there’s been a lot of sequels and not much original content. The filming was a new way of doing things, how difficult was it to engage with your co-stars?

The level of engagement and normalcy we were trying to capture was that of when you’re talking on Skype. Being on your phone, and texting and multi tasking and maybe you’re watching a video whilst you’re on Skype. We were all legitimately plugged in with each other, all our computers were hardwired we were all on the same location separated by rooms in a house. So I think more than anything there’s not a disconnect but a genuineness that leads into the world of talking on Skype and being on the internet. I never thought “man, it’s so hard to connect with my fellow actress or actor” because we were there talking, we could look at each other and you could have an emotional reaction just like if you were talking to your mum on Skype.

In the movie you and Courtney Halverson seem to get the most laughs. Seeing as you’re in your own little space was it easy to relax and put your own little spin on things and add a bit of improv?

So much of the movie is improvised. Maybe 70-80% on my end is improvised because we are doing these long takes, hour and a half takes and there is a natural tendency for things to go more left or right around the bend so things are constantly moving and changing. I come from this comedy background so innately those things are going to happen and I’m going to push to make things funny and I think part of the reason I was hired is because I have the skills to be fluid and move and it doesn’t have to be the same every time. We knew we had to hit a-b-c down the line but how we get to a-b-c doesn’t really fucking matter as long as it feels like a real conversation.

And that’s what I liked about it because it’s not a horror movie full of clichés where the character has got the villain on the ropes but then does something stupid and messes it all up. In Unfriended it was realistic and I felt the director was trying to warn us about the influence social media has over our lives. What do you think?

I’m going to be super honest with you and say that I am the one person in the cast that doesn’t think that this movie is like a soapbox to stand on and say a message. It’s doing that by proxy. It is exposing a heightened aspect of what is really happening in our media. But ultimately this movie was made to tell that story and uses these grounded things that we all have in our day to day lives to make it happen. When I read the script the first time I wasn’t like “wow they are really trying to say something about cyber bullying”. They were using cyber bullying to help enhance the scenario but with that being said, if a 13 year-old is going to think twice about what they are doing on the internet, then fucking great – because they should be. So ultimately it is doing that but I don’t think that was the purpose. It was to see if you can make a movie this way, we had a conceptual idea to shoot a movie that takes place on Skype. I’m not a campaigner for anything like that but that’s just my mentality.

To go back to the direction I think you can see similarities with movies like Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project and REC in the way the audience are in the action with video cameras. All these movies happen to be super successful. Any insight into why voyeuristic movies are so appealing?

I don’t know man, there’s a certain level of immergence with the video camera helping to provide a suspension of disbelief. Either this or the human ego is fucked and our brain loves the idea of itself. We’re a focal point and we pay more attention that way.

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Where do you get your inspiration from? Are there any comedians you particularly look up to?

Man, there’s so many, I grew up loving Jim Carrey. And being a big guy, Chris Farley and John Candy are two people I look at and really admire and love.

I was a kid who watched too many Jim Carrey movies and I remember my dad playing me Richard Pryor albums when I was very young and Sam Kinison albums.

I always knew I was too young to hear it but I’m so glad he let me listen to those things because it shaped my comedy. Especially Kinison, he was so loud and wasn’t afraid to be inappropriate.

What about British comedy? I know some of it gets lost in translation but does anything jump out?

Of course! Eddie Izzard was huge when I was growing up like why-is-this-man-in-a-dress-hilarious and it’s so well written too you can tell he’s tight and precise. I love the British Office too. Ricky Gervais is amazing!

Unfriended is out now on DVD in the UK

Sean Mackenney