Chicago Split: Jake Johnson on “Win It All”

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Joe Swanberg’s “Win It All” is the story of a lovable Chicago loser named Eddie who has a bit of a gambling problem. When we meet him, he has a life balance of scraping by as a parking attendant for Cubs games, gambling in Chinatown at night and distancing himself from his brother (played by Joe Lo Truglio), who wants to get him involved with the family landscaping business. But when Eddie is trusted with a lot of money by a convict, the compulsive gambler quickly loses all of it and needs to get it back, quick. Along the way he receives amused words of advice from the gambling addiction sponsor he’s previously lost touch with (Keegan Michael Key) and finds someone worth getting his act together for, a woman named Eva (Aislinn Derbez). Like a lo-fi and lighter take on films like “California Split” or “The Gambler,” this venture is possibly Swanberg’s most narrative-driven movie ever, taking place throughout Chicago and with Johnson’s charismatic, endearing and possibly hopeless schlub front and center. 

Johnson co-wrote and produced the story with Swanberg, their second script collaboration after “Digging for Fire” and third as an actor and director (“Drinking Buddies”). "Win It All" (now streaming on Netflix) marks a major star vehicle for Johnson, who has previously played supporting roles in the likes of “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Jurassic World” and as amicable old-soul and love interest Nick on Fox’s hilarious show “New Girl.” He also voices Grouchy Smurf in what one could call the exact opposite of a Swanberg film, "Smurfs: The Lost Village," also opening this weekend.

RogerEbert.com spoke with Johnson about “Win It All,” his experimental collaborations with Swanberg, his interest in being a part of the new way movies are made and more. 

The story of "Win It All" is certainly interesting to come from a rising actor who has hit many successes ["Jurassic World," "New Girl"] along the way. What does luck mean to you as a person, and also as a professional in a competitive business?

I’m not a big believer in luck. The showrunner for “The Walking Dead,” Scott Gimple—to be a name-dropper—he and I are old friends, and we have had a long-standing battle of how much this business is about luck, and how much it is about grinding and hard work and being in the right place and skill. I personally am not a big believer in terms of gambling or anything. I think if you’re good with cards, you can get lucky once in a while, but the truth is that if you’re a good poker player, and you sit at the table long enough you’re probably going to come out on top. And I feel that way with most things. 

So, my reason to do “Win It All” was less my interest about luck, and more about a character who is caught in a gambling addiction, who falls in love, who’s in a situation where they might want to get out of their own way. 

There are a lot of gambling movies that go to these dark places, most recently when Mark Wahlberg lost all that weight for “The Gambler” to portray how dire things have become. But "Win It All" has the ability to not be too dark about a gambling addiction but also not be too slight. But I’m curious as to how you came to balance that aspect, or what you were thinking about with Joe. 

The casino world and the underground casino world is a world that I’ve dabbled in, and I know it. And it feels like the movie casino world is like, the guys are kind of cool and rough around the edges and hit this unbelievably dark bottom for that person to get out. And I wanted to exist in a slightly different place. I love gambling movies; “California Split” is one of my all-time favorites, and I love the roles of these places. But I like to make movies that are entertaining for people and I like them to be a little bit lighter and a little bit of fun. It’s the kind of movie that I want to watch right now. I wanted to make a gambling movie because I love gambling movies, but I also wanted to make it a romantic comedy that would make you laugh, and I wanted you to like the characters. And if Joe [Swanberg] and I went too far deep into darkness, I don’t think we’d be able to pull ourselves out. And I think the ending, I wanted it to be a big, fun ending. It was a delicate balance that we talked a lot about as we were writing and creating the story. 

Given that this movie is arguably slightly more narrative driven than “Digging for Fire,” was your writing process with Joe significantly different? 

This and “Digging for Fire” were like opposite experiences as writers together. What we did with “Digging for Fire,” Joe and I talked about this story where a guy was digging for a body in his backyard. Because that was based off a true story, where there were bones in my backyard of the first house I was living in, and a bunch of friends and I went looking for that body. And we said, “There’s a world here. But what if we just really open it up, and each actor that came in we allowed them to be a part of the collaboration?” And we kind of formed that story as we went. There’s a lot that I really loved about that process, but there was a lack of control that I didn’t love. And so on this one, we wanted to control the story, and I really wanted to control the story more and see how that felt working with Joe. Half of the script was dialogue, Keegan Michael Key and Joe Lo Truglio are they’re allowed to say what they wanted to say. But there was still the ability to stay on story. 

Did you have to push Joe in that way of being more story driven, or was he already interested in that? 

This is our third time working together, and we like the idea of experimenting with our style of working together, to find the thing that works best for both of us. So this one started off like an experiment—do we enjoy working like this? When we were on set we got more coverage than we usually do, and we did more takes than we usually do. But it was about partly finding the process that works best. I really enjoyed having that. I don’t think I’ll do another movie that has less story because I do like the story, so I think i’ll want to push further into the script. But it was a really pleasurable experience. And I really love the movie too, so it’s an easy one to push because I believe in it. 

Has it been a learning process for you as a writer, then? Can we expect more scripts from you in the future? 

Yeah, it’s interesting. I went to NYU for writing, so my upbringing is actually, I started off as a writer, I was getting developmental health. I sold a bunch of scripts as a writer, but nobody has ever seen them, because I’d get notes from an executive and then they’d pass on it. But I still did a year and a half of writing. So, what I love about Joe is that if you have a script, and he likes it and I like it, let’s just make it. There’s no outside executive because we’re financing. 

Do you think that’s why an entire roster of actors like working with him? I’m curious from your perspective as an actor, if you could explain why so many people of such huge names love working on Joe Swanberg movies. 

Totally. I think there’s a type of actor who is going to really love this, and there’s a type of actor who won’t love it. And the type of actor who won’t love it might be more of the actor who is really looking for a director who knows specifically, exactly what they want. And then your job as an actor is to say the lines in the way that you are being directed and be technically perfect. And there’s a lot of actors who really love that and who are really good at that. Joe wants more from his actors, he wants you to be a part of the discussion. If these are your lines, he wants you to know why you’re saying that, and for you to create why you’re saying that. As an actor who likes to have control, and that’s what I like to have and I like to have freedom, Joe really gives that to you as long as you are performing in a way that he thinks is servicing his project. And so when I talk to another actor who loves working with Swanberg, we immediately understand where the other guy is at. 

How much of it do you think is casting by personality? There’s a free-flowing idea to character in his movies, and for his audience that I think it creates an idea of “How much are they actually like this?” Or can you dispel something about that notion? 

I think it always depends on the project. And talking about “Win It All,” there’s no part of my relationship with Keegan Michael Key that he feels like a sponsor to me, that he’s mad at my actions, that’s not in our dynamic. Joe Lo Truglio and I have become friends but there’s no brotherly vibe and there’s no feelings that he’s ever been worried about me. So I kind of get what people say, when you hear the word improv you’re thinking people are playing themselves. And when it comes to the TV show it’s like, “Are you just like Nick?” Well no, I don’t live on a soundstage with professional actors, but it is me doing it and I do improvise jokes. My rhythm is similar to Nick because it’s me saying it, but no. Joe is married with kids, I’m married with kids. And Jess [Zooey Deschanel’s character] and Nick aren’t the real thing. But we can play those characters! But I don’t see the connection, but I know a lot of people do. 

We have this idea of who you are, just based on watching you only as an actor and you have an image from the roles we see you do. And you’re even in “Smurfs: The Lost Village” this weekend, voicing Grouchy Smurf. Which is like who Nick would voice if he had to voice a Smurf. 

Well, that’s because I got cast because they’re fans of “New Girl”! That’s what I mean. 

Do you think about your image, especially with something like “New Girl,” like when you’re creating a romantic comedy type? Or am I overthinking that? 

No, I don’t think you’re overthinking. I personally don’t think about it. But I know exactly what you mean, because there is a way I could do something where there is a target audience for “New Girl” where I could cater to, but I actually don’t. And I have actually given it a lot of thought in terms of the work I do and the work I create. And in terms of “Win It All,” I want to get in the spot of my career where I love the work that I’m doing, and if the critics or the fans don’t, then that’s unfortunate. But I’m not doing it for other than this is the kind of movie that I want to make, and I hope that everybody likes it. And “Win It All” really feels to be that film, where we’re really lucky the critics have been really warm and I hope people check it out, but even before when Joe and I watched the final cut together, we gave each other a big hug. We were so happy with it. That’s what I’m really looking to get in terms of this new way of making movies. You can make a movie that can have a home that doesn’t have to be a hundred-million-dollar investment from the studios, to have to do test screenings to see if everybody likes every moment. If somebody doesn’t like it that’s fine, and if they really hate what I do there’s somebody else that they can watch. And a lot of them are 5’10" white guys with small heads! There’s a lot of options! 

But you’ve got to keep working then, because it’s not a business about luck, as you say. You have to keep fighting those other white guys.

Yeah, that’s right. Or work together! We’re going to make a movie with a bunch of 5’10" white guys. It would be called “Roughly 185 Pounds.” 

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La La Land Soundtrack Best-Selling Vinyl of 2017 So Far

Nielsen Music has revealed its statistics for the first quarter of 2017, including lists of the best-selling albums, most-streamed songs, and more. When it comes to vinyl, one release reigns supreme: the La La Land soundtrack, which has sold 25,000 copies to date, is the best-selling vinyl record of the year so far. Elsewhere on the top 10 best-selling vinyl list is Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, Ed Sheeran’s ÷, Run the Jewels’ RTJ3, the Killers’ debut Hot Fuss (reissued earlier this year), Ryan Adams’ most recent album Prisoner, and the xx’s I See YouLa La Land took home the Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score earlier this year.

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All Jay Z Albums Disappear From Spotify, Apple Music

All Jay Z Albums Disappear From Spotify, Apple Music

Jay Z’s albums have (once again) disappeared from Spotify and Apple Music, as the Verge points out. The only releases from the rapper’s career still on Spotify are features and some select singles. Watch the Throne is notably counted among the albums that have been pulled from streaming services. Of course, Jay’s full discography can still be found on Tidal, and can still be streamed on Amazon Music Unlimited and purchased on iTunes as off press time. In March of last year, Jay Z took his Blueprint album series and Reasonable Doubt off of Spotify and Apple Music. The albums came back to the streaming platforms later that year in October.Pitchfork has reached out to representatives for Jay Z, Spotify, and Apple Music for comment.

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Mastodon the Band Have Fun Getting Confused With Mastodon the Social Network

Mastodon recently released their seventh studio album, Emperor of Sand. But it turns out the Atlanta metal group are not the only Mastodon in town; the band shares a name with a recently launched social media network called Mastodon, which touts itself as a “free, open-source social network” that is billed as an alternative to Twitter. As Mashable points out, the band have been having fun with this fact the past few days, quote-retweeting notable people posting about the new platform and promoting their new album. “To be fair, we made Mastodon happen a long time ago, but welcome to the game,” one tweet reads. They even went so far as to tag Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, saying, “Hey @Jack, we swear we have no intention of harming you. Not sure why people keep saying that.” Check out the tweets below, and check out Mastodon (the social media platform) here.

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DJ Sentenced to Year in Prison for Remixing Muslim Call to Prayer

Dax J is a London-born, Berlin-based techno DJ. He recently performed at the Orbit Festival in Nabeul, Tunisia. Shortly after the festival, a club where one of its events took place was shut down when video emerged of a DJ playing a remix of the Muslim call to prayer. Dax J, who played the remix, has now been charged with public indecency and offending public morality in Tunisia, according to the BBC. He has also been sentenced to a year in jail. Dax J is not currently in Tunisia, and claims the “conviction in place will expire in 5 years.” In his apology statement, he also wrote, “I am incredibly saddened that anyone would believe that I played a track, featuring a 20 second vocal of the ‘Call to Prayer / Adhan,’ for any reason other than its musicality and the beauty of the vocal.” Read it below; find Orbit Festival’s apology (in French) here.

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Bobby Shmurda Sentenced to Four Years on Prison Contraband Charges

Bobby Shmurda Sentenced to Four Years on Prison Contraband Charges

In 2015, Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda (real name Ackquille Jean Pollard) was caught trying to smuggle a “sharp metal object” into Rikers Island. Pollard reportedly took a plea deal back in February and accepted guilty charges for promoting prison contraband, which could add 1.3-4 years to his current sentence. Now, TMZ reports that Pollard has been sentenced to four years in prison on the contraband charges. However, he will not serve additional time; the four-year sentence will run concurrently to his current prison term.

Bobby Shmurda was arrested on gang conspiracy and gun and drug charges in 2014. This past September, he took a plea deal, accepting a seven-year sentence. Shmurda initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but claimed in court that his lawyer forced him to take the deal. In an interview, he explained that he was also inspired to take the deal because it lessened the sentence of his co-defendant Chad “Rowdy Rebel” Marshall.

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Mitski Covers One Direction’s “Fireproof”: Listen

Mitski has released a cover of One Direction’s 2014 song “Fireproof.” (She also played it back in 2015, but that version has since been taken down.) Her rendition is one minute shorter than 1D’s original. Hear it below. Mitski’s track arrives as the latest offering in the ongoing subscription compilation Our First 100 Days. The program was started in conjunction with Secretly Group and 30 Days, 30 Songs (and produced with Revolutions Per Minute). All proceeds go to organizations that support causes threatened by Donald Trump’s proposed policies. Mitski’s “Fireproof” is the 78th entry, following songs by Angel Olsen, Avey Tare, Mikal Cronin and Kim Gordon (as Self Esteem), Toro Y Moi, Speedy Ortiz, and many others.


Mitski: “Fireproof” (One Direction cover)

(via Bandcamp)


In other 1D news, Harry Styles released his first solo track. It’s called “Sign of the Times.” Hear it below.

Mitski is performing at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. Get tickets to their Saturday performance here. Revisit our Icebreaker interview “Mitski Doesn’t Want to Become Indie Rock’s Anne Hathaway” on the Pitch.

Watch Mitski on Pitchfork.tv’s “Over/Under”:

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Tool Post Mysterious Teaser

Tool Post Mysterious Teaser

Tool have posted a mysterious new image on their Twitter, Facebook, and website. It says Tool and “6-24,” which could mean that something is happening on June 24. According to a February 16 post on the band’s site, Maynard James Keenan was “working on VOCALS for some of the new Tool material.” Tool’s last album, 10,000 Days, arrived in spring 2006. The image also follows the band’s tour announcement, which includes a headlining spot at Governors Ball in New York City. Find their upcoming dates, as well as the new teaser image, below.

In other Maynard James Keenan news, his band A Perfect Circle are readying a record for 2017. At a show in Las Vegas last night, they debuted some new material.

Tool:

05-24 Fairfax, VA – Eaglebank Arena
05-27 Bangor, ME – Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion
05-28 Boston, MA – Boston Calling
05-30 Rochester, NY – Blue Cross Arena
05-31 Hamilton, Ontario – First Ontario Centre
06-02 Montreal, Quebec – Bell Centre
06-04 New York, NY – Governor’s Ball
06-05 Pittsburgh, PA – Petersen Events Center
06-07 Detroit, MI – DTE Energy Music Theatre
06-08 Chicago, IL – Allstate Arena
06-09 St. Paul, MN – Xcel Energy Center
06-12 Calgary, Alberta – Scotiabank Saddledome
06-13 Edmonton, Alberta – Rogers Place
06-15 Vancouver, British Columbia – Rogers Arena
06-17 George, WA – The Gorge Amphitheatre
06-21 San Jose, CA – SAP Center
06-23 Sacramento, CA – Golden 1 Center

Revisit Tool’s “Vicarious” video:

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Watch A Perfect Circle Perform New Song “Feathers”

Last night, A Perfect Circle—the supergroup of Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan, Billy Howerdel, Matt McJunkins, Jeff Friedl, and ex-Smashing Pumpkins member James Iha—played the first show on their first North American tour since 2011. At the concert (the first of three at Las Vegas’ Pearl Theatre), the band debuted new material from their forthcoming record. It’s reportedly called “Feathers,” according to The PRP (via Metal Injection). Watch footage below. Last week, APC announced that they’ve signed a worldwide record deal with BMG. In a press release, Howerdel said, “New APC-2017!” The press release also confirmed that the band are at work on their first new album since 2004’s eMOTIVe. Find APC’s upcoming tour dates here.

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