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Interview: Paper Year’s Avan Jogia

by Leora Heilbronn

Paper Year opens on a young, beautiful and very much in love couple (played by Eve Hewson and Avan Jogia) just moments after they’ve gotten married. The film then goes on to document the quick unravelling of said marriage, as well as the toxic work environment bride Franny (played by rising star Hewson) encounters as a writer on a reality game show. Loosely based on Canadian filmmaker Rebecca Addelman’s own tumultuous marriage and sexist work life, the film was a hit at the Calgary Underground Film Festival and opens this weekend in select theatres across Canada.

We were very humbled to speak on the phone with Paper Year‘s awe-inspiring Avan Jogia (seriously, the Vancouver native does everything! Actor, writer, director, musician, poet, activist, editor and the list goes on and on). The following is a condensed and edited version of our phone interview.

Brief Take: Congratulations on the film! Both you and your co-star Eve Hewson give such naturalistic, nuanced performances in it and I appreciated how it showed the realities of young love. What drew you to the project? 

Avan Jogia: I first became involved with the project because of Rebecca Addelman, who I have such love and respect for. She wrote a really great script and as an actor you work with the best scripts whenever you can, and I really liked the idea of the script. When it comes to the idea of the quote unquote “romantic comedy”, whatever that means, how do you reinvent that? You start with the structure – she starts with the best day of their lives, the fantasy, and then quickly unravel it. In the typical movie in the genre, everything is terrible and then they meet each other and everything is then good.

BT: What do you think are the key components to maintaining a healthy relationship (both working and romantic relationships)? 

AJ: I think communication is key. My biggest hurdle as a born and bred Canadian, is communication in terms of getting what you want across, while also maintaining my values and what I believe to be the correct level of politeness, you know what I mean? [laughs] If you can’t communicate that, while also operating from a place of empathy and a place of compassion, and that construct is a rather sweeping one but it applies to a working relationship and it applies to romantic relationships, as well as to relationships with family and friends.

BT: I love that this film has talented women both behind the camera, Rebecca, of course, but also a great group of female producers, and then amazing women on camera too, with Eve Hewson and Andie MacDowell. What was your experience like working with them? 

AJ: Rebecca is just a good director; she knows what she wants and she gets it. She had a unique vision and I liked her sensibility, we have very similar sensibilities. Then working with Eve – she’s such a talented actress and just an amazing person. We had such a riot making this film and that piece is really important to me with the films I’ve been working on. I found it such fun to work with her. Then Andie MacDowell, I shot a brief scene with her but I found her very lovely.

BT: You’ve worked with some very talented female filmmakers lately – Rebecca, Bette Gordon, Lea Thompson and Carly Stone, amongst others. Do you see a shift in the industry to support more female as well as other marginalized storytellers? 

AJ: I feel like the industry is making an attempt to readjust. I feel like, with every readjustment, the cream of the crop will rise to the top. Rebecca is an amazing filmmaker and I’m lucky enough to live in a time that allows me to use my voice, as well as many other filmmakers who are coming up right now. I feel lucky to be here for that. I’ve been doing this for 12 years and when I got into this it was a different industry for me and for a lot of different people too. So the industry is changing but I want to see the day where marginalized filmmakers don’t only have to tell their marginalized stories. I want to see them being able to make a film that doesn’t have anything to do with them on paper, quote unquote. We’ve been to these gates before, we’ve seen marginalized voices being able to tell their counter stories before, but we need to see them hired for stories that have nothing to do with who they appear to be on paper.

BT: We’re currently in Pride Month so I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about your organization, Straight But Not Narrow. Are you still working on that campaign? 

AJ: There was a time and space for Straight But Not Narrow. I think it was really important. We created it as straight allies to speak to straight people about the LGBTQ community, which was a very important conversation to start. We spoke to them about how to be an ally, how to be there, and how to support queer voices and how to support gay talent. There was a time and place where that was very important. For me personally, any opportunity that I have to educate the younger generations, I’d like to be a part of that. There are so many amazing queer voices that are speaking to the queer community about how complicated a support system can be. Apathy is violence, so if you’re just sitting there with your mouth shut and not saying anything, and you’re not standing up for your value system, and your friends or acquaintances are facing persecution and you’re apathetic? Silence leads to violence.

BT: As a multi-talented virtuoso yourself, who inspires you?

AJ: Wong Kar Wai is an amazing artist and Nick Cave is an amazing artist as well. I try to look at artists in all different genres and there are many different types of artists that resonate with me. I love people who have a point of view and are obsessive about displaying it. I’m working with Gregg Araki right now and he’s a filmmaker that I’ve admired for many, many years. There’s a lot of content out there but a lot of it is middling and doesn’t have a point of view. I like to support radical artists who have a point of view that is out there and are distinct.

 

Paper Year is currently playing in Toronto (Yonge & Dundas), Vancouver (The Park) and Ottawa (South Keys) 

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