Last year, in those uncertain early days of the pandemic, Jake Johnson feared his movie-making days might be behind him. Apple TV had just passed on a pilot for a Seventies-set sitcom about a cult named Habata that the 43-year-old had hoped to star in, and back before a vaccine had been developed, Hollywood executives told Johnson there was no telling when – or indeed if – full-scale film productions might return. Troubled, Johnson decided to take matters into his own hands. “I called my friend Trent and said: ‘Let’s go make a movie, because we might be done in this business,’” he remembers, speaking over a video call from a trailer on set somewhere in California’s San Fernando Valley. “We said: ‘If this is our last one, let’s just go out and have a ton of fun.’”
Trent is Trent O’Donnell, an Australian director whom Johnson met when he was hired to work on New Girl, the sitcom that first hit screens a decade ago and transformed Johnson from a jobbing bit-part actor into a winning romantic lead. Over the course of the show’s seven-year run, Johnson won the heart of Zooey Deschanel’s Jess, and millions of fans, as Nick Miller, the lovably grumpy bartender who manages to become a successful author despite not being fully convinced he knows how to read.
O’Donnell joined the show as a guest director in its third season but quickly became such an integral part of the crew that Johnson remembers him being on set every day for the following four years. “He and I have spent hundreds of hours together,” he says. “For this movie, we were total partners. We wrote it together, paid for it ourselves and shot the entire movie in 12 days. To do that, we had to fully know how we work together, and all those years of New Girl really gave us that.”