Like a character from one of his movies, writer-director Andrew Bujalski has a self-effacing style of speech and a habit of making a thoughtful observation, then promptly second-guessing it. He also seems to be motivated in large part by conquering his own fears, which he acknowledges so freely that he used the word “fear,” “frightened,” or “terrified” in answering about a third of my questions as we discussed moviemaking in general and his latest feature, Results. Where Bujalski’s early films were about people feeling their way through life after college, and his last feature, Computer Chess, was an affectionate and bemused look back at the infancy of computer-nerd culture, Results is a charmingly meandering, brainy rom-com set in the adult working world. As always, the director finds gentle humor and emotional truth in the bumpy road traveled by his main characters: Trevor (Guy Pearce), the owner/manager of a gym; his star trainer, Kat (Cobie Smulders); and their new client, Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a newly minted millionaire who’s a schlubby stranger to the world of fitness. He also scores some interesting points about how the work we do—or, in Danny’s case, don’t do—both reflects and affects who we are.
Your movies don’t seem strictly autobiographical, but they do seem to be at least partly about whatever stage of life you’re at. I wonder if you’re thinking about doing anything about parenthood, since you’ve been very open in interviews about how being a father has transformed your life.
I don’t know. The problem is it would be such a big undertaking that I’m a little nervous about the idea. You really have to direct kids. Not that the directing would be so scary, so much as coordinating and organizing and the rest of it. Like with everything, there would be ways, but you strike fear into my heart. [Laughs] Like you say, nothing I’ve done is strictly autobiographical, but it’s all very personal. My life feeds into what I do in a kind of back-alley way, in terms of perceptions and wondering what we’re doing on this planet. So, yeah, the thought of doing a movie about parenthood has crossed my mind. I’ve imagined what I’d like to say about that, but it would be kind of frightening to try to actually pull it off.
How much do you get to choose what you do next and how much is just a function of what you can get funded? Are you always working on a bunch of different things at once until one of them gets greenlit?
Yeah, to some degree. Politicians always talk about the arc of the possible, and there’s certainly some of that when it comes to moviemaking. I have movies that I haven’t figured out how to get made, so we’re not talking about those right now because I haven’t made them. On the other hand, like politicians, you can fall into the same trap where if you get too focused on what’s possible then you’ll never make any progress, so I try to let my imagination go. Ultimately, the thing that I’ve found is that, although I may have a half-dozen ideas that all exist on different budget levels or in different spheres, nothing really happens until I say, “Okay, this is the one I want to do.” Certainly, the big change, at least for right now, about being a parent is that it feels like I can’t do something that I’m going to spend 12 years on and make a thousand dollars for. In the past, for whatever reason, that did seem like a good idea. [Laughs] I mean, I love working that way. I love the freedom of that. And I would love to go back to it, but maybe it wouldn’t be possible.
Because the financial obligations of being a parent make you look at that kind of thing differently?
Yeah, yeah, for sure. And, you know, I can blame my kids, but I’m also older, and the money thing is more challenging anyway.
Speaking of fatherhood, women are so often asked about how being a parent affects their work and men almost never are, so your being a parent usually wouldn’t be part of the conversation if you didn’t bring it up.
Yeah, I know, I’m complaining. I don’t know why I—
No, no, wait. I don’t think you’re just bitching. My point is, the way you talk about being a father seems connected, to me, to the way you’ve always put fully realized female characters at the center of your movies. So, I wonder: Do you think of yourself as a feminist? And are you consciously trying to tell women’s stories, or work “women’s issues” into your work—or at least not to cut them out of the stories you tell? Or are you just being yourself?
I guess I’m just being myself. I feel like my last two movies are very male. Obviously we have a pretty strong and significant female character front and center in Results, but it still somehow feels like a very bro-y movie to me. And Computer Chess is a very male movie.
But you had that female programmer in Computer Chess, who everyone kept “welcoming” because she was so out of place.
Yes, of course. I do love making movies about women, and I want to do more. I think I had a little bit of hubris on the first and the third movie [Funny Ha Ha and Beeswax], where I thought, “I’m qualified to do this because I understand women,” and then [Laughs] I got married and my wife disabused me of that illusion. But on my list of projects is always something that’s woman-centric. In part because I’m motivated, always, by wanting to see something that I haven’t seen. I have this terrible fear of making something that someone else is making better at the same time. There’s something in it, too, that comes from ego. I want to put something on screen that I don’t feel like other people are putting on screen. It’s not a knock on anybody else; it’s just me looking for my own little territory to grow in. And for better or worse, [Laughs] women still seem to be largely uncharted territory in movies.
You went from probably your least commercial movie ever, Computer Chess, to presumably your most commercial one with Results. First of all, what do you think makes this one “at least kinda sorta semi- quasi-…’commercial,’” as you put it in IndieWire?
It’s such a hard thing to quantify. I feel like I’m always wrong about that. Going into Computer Chess, I thought it was the least commercial thing I could possibly do, and then if you measure in terms of box office it’s splitting hairs because you’re not talking about big numbers in any case, but it did as well commercially as anything I’ve done. So, mostly we’re talking just about sort of external elements. In the case of Results, first and foremost there are actors’ names and faces on the poster that people recognize. There are semi-familiar romantic-comedy elements. But I really don’t know. I think I always trick myself into thinking that everybody’s going to walk along with us on this journey and understand what I’m trying to do, and then I read the reviews and I go, “Oh, yes, of course, I forgot.” I forgot that at a certain point I kind of stopped looking at the playbook and did this other thing because I thought it would be fun. Not everyone wants to go off the path.