Jennifer Aniston says Justin Theroux won’t tell her the secret of ‘The Leftovers’

We are in the middle of what could be a career-changing two-day span for Jennifer Aniston. The “Friends” icon and star of such blockbuster fare as “Marley & Me,” “Bruce Almighty” and “We're the Millers” shocked many by earning a SAG Awards nomination Wednesday for her role in the indie drama “Cake.” By Thursday morning she may have a Golden Globe nomination to go along with it.

Directed by Daniel Barnz, “Cake” went somewhat under the radar after it earned a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival in September (although this pundit was certainly there). The movie finds Aniston playing Claire, a woman suffering from chronic pain who becomes strangely fascinated by the suicide of a young woman (Anna Kendrick) from her support group. Obviously, Claire is suffering from more than just physical pain and Aniston, as I wrote in my review, “makes you believe this character is at her lowest point and only she can pull herself out of it. There is no Oscar scene. There is no massive crying fit. It's a complete performance from beginning to end and she deserves the appropriate accolades for it.”

New production and distribution company Cinelou Films had offers to release “Cake” next year, but thought they had something that could play in awards season and decided to release the movie themselves (it's worth noting Warner Bros. has a majority of international markets). Their hope was for a Golden Globe nomination to fuel a possible legitimate Oscar campaign and help its platform release in January. Instead, they got a SAG surprise and Aniston is absolutely in the Oscar nomination race (but they would still love that Globe nod).  

For Aniston, who is a Globe, SAG and Emmy winner on the television side, an Oscar nod would provide some overdue respect for a pretty damn successful movie career. Aniston took some time to chat with HitFix about “Cake” last week and, happily, she was as brutally honest as her onscreen counterpart.

HitFix: Did you even know you'd be making this movie a year ago?

Jennifer Aniston: No, this week is the anniversary I think of when I [first] sat down with Daniel and Ben if you can believe that. It was something that just sort of took on its own life and just was like was a speeding bullet into just this crazy trajectory. It was amazing actually. We”re still sort of pinching ourselves saying, “God, we can”t even celebrate a year anniversary yet of knowing each other.”

Had you read the script before you sat down with them or did they want to do a pitch meeting first?

No, it was out to someone else when I read it and I just sort of heartbrokenly, you know, heartbroken I said “please” to my managers, I said, “If this opens up and becomes available again I just need to throw my hat in the ring and, you know, just get on down on my knees and talk with Daniel and tell him what I want to do and that I”m dying to do it.”

You always hear about actors or actresses who fight for projects they really want, but it's also common to hear actors talk about all the bad scripts they get sent on a regular basis.  In a token year how many scripts do you think you actually read that you”re like, “Oh, I really want to do this.”

I mean maybe once every few years? When you get one like this where you”re just like “I have to do this?” I mean, there”s scripts that are like, “You know, this could work. This needs some work. We can get it there.” But then there”s rare — I”m trying to even think of the last time when I read a script that I said, “I want to start this tomorrow,” where there was no development. It”s a very rare, rare thing to have a script like this come to you.

So when you were reading the script, what about Claire”s journey appealed to you?  

You know I somehow I just fell in love with her and the story. I instantly took to her wicked wit in the midst of this physical and emotional chain that she was walking through. I thought that was so endearing and, I think for a good amount of us out there, we all can connect to our own degrees of pain and loss. We tend to find humor as a release for some of the darker moments. The first thing I could really connect into with her was that ability to be disturbing and funny and witty in the midst [of all this]. Like you almost see the shadow of her former self in those moments, which I thought was so beautiful. And I also thought Patrick Tobin wrote this amazing script and he didn”t tell you everything right off the bat of what was going on. He really let the story slowly unfold and you didn”t know where it was going and it ended up going places you never really expected it to go. It always took a turn I wasn”t expecting. And I fell in love with her. I really just thought, “Man, I had such empathy and my heart broke for her but I also wanted to hang out with her.”

And you shot it in 33 days I believe?

Twenty-five days. Twenty-six, but I was not working on the last day. That was my one day off.

Obviously in television you shoot fast, but have you ever made a movie this quick?

I have to say I think this is the quickest. I mean I”d say “The Good Girl” — no that was 36 days, even. I think that took more days. But not one that you”re in the whole movie, like “Friends with Money” was pretty quick. That was three weeks I think. And like “Horrible Bosses” was two weeks. But this is the movie that was shot like back to back, me [in] every scene. So no, this I had severe [exhaustion] at the end of this.

That actually leads into my question. Do you think doing a movie like this so quickly when you”re playing someone who”s in pain, when you”re playing someone who is not obviously a happy character going through happy things, is it easier to do it more quickly? Could you have done this over three months and been like…

No. Uh uh. We actually said we had the luxury of no time on our side because if we stopped for one minute, a) we would overthink something, and b) our bodies would go into physical permanent trauma, and just emotionally I don”t think I could have lived in that body and in that space for longer than the five weeks we were in it. It was perfect.

Did you do any research beforehand? 

Oh yeah. I had, I mean I have a friend who had the terrible misfortune [of enduring the same pain]. She is a stuntwoman and went through a radical accident in the ocean when her leg was torn up by a boat propeller and she ended up — after 20 some odd surgeries — with her career possibly gone and such chronic pain [that she became] addicted to pain meds and all of that. So she was so wonderfully generous with her story and going deep with me on that. I had about six weeks to prepare so that was in and of itself a luxury, and also the fact it was shot in LA. Getting access to Daniel for five weeks to really rehearse, which usually if you”re on location you get maybe two weeks, if even. So it was really figuring out what was broken, what was physically wrong. “Was it in her back? In her leg?” Then you just start to limp and you find your physicality in that.

Oh and these amazing doctors, the psychopharmacologist that was so generous with his time. He read the script as well as the therapist that I know and that just said, “When doing something like this we wanted it to be so bulletproof, not one hole in that canoe, so that we were able to really tell an honest and true portrayal of this woman.” And so, we tweaked some things. There was a period in the first draft where she was addicted to methadone, but that associated too much with heroin, so that is what turned into [her taking] OxyContin and just saying what happens when you mix an OxyContin with a Vicodin and a bottle of booze. And, you know, when someone”s in extreme pain, how would they be physically altered? So there was all of those questions and I had to keep track because we were shooting so fast and so out of order. I had just my flashcards for every scene.

Cards — totally different performances but speaking to Eddie Redmayne a couple of months ago he actually had a chart that would tell him where each — so he wasn”t “wrong.” He didn”t screw it up. You did something similar?

Exactly. I did. I had my flashcards on each scene that [would say] two Vicodin, half a bottle of booze and then “continuing scene walking in on the” — because, you”re in pain, extreme pain coming off of drugs. [That's when] the pain is even greater. You”ve just taken your bunch of pills so you”re a little bit lighter, you know? It was all of that stuff where my script supervisor t was screaming out, “Slower, drunker, stoned, bitching.” Because she had my chart with her so she would just sort of feed it. So, it was just a lot of it technicalities, those technicalities that were super important.

One of the things that was really remarkable about the film is, considering how quickly it all came together and what a sort of small indie it was, is Daniel was able to get such a great supporting cast around you.

I honestly do not understand how he did it. There must have been some sort of fairy dust sprinkled all over this thing because we really have — I mean, from Adriana Barraza, who just breaks your heart and is so beautiful. Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington, Chris Messina. I mean come on, Mamie Gummer. I mean Felicity [Huffman], [William H Macy]. We just were spoiled. My dear assistant of, God knows, almost 15 years, her husband is a special effects makeup artist for like big “Pirates” movies and “Lord of the Rings” and all those. Basically he created my scar for free because that was like the big thing where we really needed a budget for those kinds of prosthetics and we just didn”t have it. So that man, God bless him, just said, “No, I refuse to take a dime,” and we had a lot of those wonderful creative godmothers and fathers that allowed their time pro bono. It”s also the fun and the beauty of making an independent. Everybody”s in a garage band. It's like you”re in a traveling theater group or whatever. It”s so wonderful.

I know you”re going to be promoting this movie for a while and you”ve just come off of a ton of promotion for “Horrible Bosses 2,” but do you know what you”re doing next?

Really Greg at this point I know that I”m going to a greeting in an hour. And then I know I go to bed and I know I wake up. But honestly no, I”m trying to really figure it out. I”ve got a bunch of things, pieces of moving parts that I”m trying to figure out where I really want to go and spend, you know, the next creative days of my life. So I haven”t nailed anything down just quite yet.

Well, I have to ask you one last question and it concerns your fiancé, Mr. Theroux. I”m sure you must watch “The Leftovers.

We watched it every single Sunday night and sometimes repeated.

What I want to know is have you ever just turned to him and said, “I won”t tell anyone else. What happened when everyone disappeared? Just tell me.”

No. He won”t tell me and I don”t want to know because, by the way, I watched the pilot maybe eight times and like on the fourth time when I thought, “OK, I think I get it. I think I get it.” And then I told him my theory and he looked at me and he goes, “Hmmm, that”s an interesting theory.” And I said, “Do I have to be told?” And he said, “Do you want me to tell you?” And then of course I don”t want him to because that”s the fun of these shows, where it”s just like I don”t understand it but you kind of come up with where you think it”s going to go and everybody”s got these crazy theories of what they think is happening, which is so fun to hear that he just sits there and takes them all in. But he”s a good gatekeeper. He”s a good secret keeper for sure.

“Cake” opens in limited release on Jan. 23.