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William Jackson Harper, Aya Cash found fun in 'We Broke Up'

William Jackson Harper and Aya Cash pretend they're still together in We Broke Up. Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
William Jackson Harper and Aya Cash pretend they're still together in "We Broke Up." Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

LOS ANGELES, April 23 (UPI) -- Despite its title, the new movie We Broke Up is a romantic comedy. William Jackson Harper and Aya Cash play the couple that breaks up. Both actors said they appreciated how the film finds humor and heart in awkward, difficult moments.

"When there are tonal shifts, that's when things get really fun," Harper told UPI in a Zoom interview. "Your character has to come from a slightly different place, but you always want to keep it as truthful as you can."

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Doug (Harper) dumps Lori (Cash) days before they are to attend her sister's wedding. Doug decides to go, anyway, but Lori asks him not to tell her family they broke up.

The ruse leads to awkward situations in which Lori's sister, Bea (Sarah Bolger), and her fiance, Jayson (Tony Cavalero), continue to treat Lori and Doug as a couple. In private, Doug and Lori discuss where their relationship fell apart. Cash said both sorts of scenes were equally engaging.

"Acting is acting," Cash said. "Whether it's comedy, drama [or] sci-fi, I feel like you just try to ground it in reality and let the script do the work for you."

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One of the film's more broadly comedic scenes is a series of Paul Bunyan Day games. Bea asks her wedding party to play summer camp games she enjoyed as a kid.

"If you can end up with a tutu and a horse head mask, then I think you've had a great day," Cash said.

Harper said director Jeff Rosenberg allowed the cast to have fun filming Paul Bunyan Day. The sequence involved complicated photography, but Harper said Rosenberg kept the behind-the-scenes issues away from the actors.

"He was having fun, we were having fun," Harper said.

Rosenberg said cinematographer Andrew Aiello was nervous about his plans for the scene. The director asked Aiello to use a handheld Steadicam to follow the chaotic action of the games.

"Can you just dance with the actors?" Rosenberg said he told the operator. "We'll just play some games."

Rosenberg co-wrote the script with his childhood friend, Laura Jacqmin, who said writing a romantic comedy about a breakup necessitated the tonal shifts.

"There's still some wackiness, some zaniness, some comedic set pieces," Jacqmin said. "It's equally leavened with the story of this very real breakup, this couple at a crossroads trying to figure out what's next for them."

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If Doug and Lori ever become too serious, Bea and Jayson are there to liven up the movie. Rosenberg said the soon-to-be newlyweds are the characters who allow "the audience to smile because you know they're going to do something goofy."

Jacqmin and Rosenberg said Harper and Cash were their first choices for the roles of Doug and Lori. However, they said it took several years to find a window in which both actors were available.

Cash wrapped You're the Worst in 2019 and Harper finished The Good Place in 2020. Both went on to new projects immediately.

Harper and Cash said they had watched each other on stage in the New York theater, but had never met. By the time they worked together, they had seen each other's TV shows, too.

"We didn't have a whole lot of time to meet and hang out," Harper said. "But there was a familiarity that was already there just because I'd been a fan for so long."

Harper said he began to film the Amazon series, The Underground Railroad, before We Broke Up, and returned to finish it after the movie. Thuso Mbedu plays Cora, the main character from Colson Whitehead's book. Harper plays Royal, a free man who helps Cora escape.

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"A lot of the things that happen in the story have very direct historical analogues," Harper said. "So it does feel like history in a lot of ways but it is a fictional story."

After Underground Railroad, Harper will star on Season 2 of the HBO Max series Love Life. The show jumps back and forth in time to show its main character's different relationships.

Harper said that Season 1 focused on a young character (Anna Kendrick)'s immature relationships. In his season, Harper said Love Life explores more mature relationships.

"Season 2 is dealing with someone who's a little more grounded," Harper said.

Cash next stars on the Fox comedy, This Country. The show follows a documentary crew studying young adults in a small town. Cash said she's excited for viewers to see her costars.

"It stars some of the best comedians you've never seen before," Cash said.

We Broke Up is available on video-on-demand Friday. Underground Railroad premieres May 14. This Country and Love Life Season 2 do not have premiere dates.

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