There is wisdom to be gleaned from Jake Johnson, the guy who always seems to be cast opposite the latest Hollywood It girl—even if one of the women has gone from manic pixie dream girl to insufferable cliché. In Joe Swanberg’s new film Drinking Buddies, now available on iTunes and On Demand as well as in theaters, Johnson’s character has a long-term girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) but seems headed toward a fling with his co-worker at a craft brewery (Olivia Wilde). And in Fox’s New Girl, which returns on Tuesday, he plays an immature guy who has escaped the pull of an ex-girlfriend only to date his roommate (Zooey Deschanel). Recently, Playboy talked to Johnson about alcohol, the work wife, the male wandering eye and the perils of mixing alcohol with the work wife and the male wandering eye.
PLAYBOY: Almost every scene in Drinking Buddies is alcohol-fueled. Is that why the characters—especially yours and Wilde’s—can’t seem to stop flirting with each other, even though they’re in long-term relationships with other people?
JOHNSON: The movie is definitely about how alcohol affects judgment. Both my character and Olivia’s are probably alcoholics, and if they didn’t drink so much, their chemistry probably wouldn’t be such an issue. But since they get drunk together nearly every day at work and then again at night, the lines begin to blur. Drinking Buddies is about when those lines finally come to a boiling point.
PLAYBOY: Did you specifically have a discussion with Joe about the characters’ alcoholism?
JOHNSON: To be honest, I never thought of them as drunks until after the first screening at South by Southwest. Afterward we did this live Q&A and someone asked, “Why did you call this movie Drinking Buddies? You should have called it Young Alcoholics Anonymous, because it won’t be cute when they’re 50.” It’s true. Their behavior is sloppy. They do things they regret. But they’re having the time of their lives. They haven’t reached bottom. They’re merely reaching an age when it’s a little less cute.
PLAYBOY: The movie also examines the lingering doubts present in most relationships and the sexual tension that exists between friends who are of the opposite sex. What do you think about the idea of a “romantic bullpen”—a stable of hypothetical sexual partners a person keeps even when in a long-term relationship?
JOHNSON: That’s an interesting term. There’s a stage in a man’s life—right around the time when he gets married or after he has kids—when he takes a look at that one girl who has just kind of been around. And a lot of guys, in some way, make a go at it. Either they’re the type of guy who cheats or the type of guy who just talks and thinks about it. Still, many guys have that one last hurrah that’s not talked about. The last hurrah does not manifest at bachelor parties—even if that’s the core of what a bachelor party is supposed to be: Blow it out! These days, bachelor parties are just a time to hang out with friends. For example, I just had a bachelor party for a friend where we sat in a cabin and drank a million beers. But something happens during that stage when you’re like, I know I’m about to emotionally commit to this woman forever, produce children and do the whole nine. I’ll kick myself my whole life if I don’t see if there’s a better option.
PLAYBOY: Has the notion of a bullpen changed from when you were single?
JOHNSON: I have no idea because I’ve been with my wife for close to 10 years. The last time I was single, I didn’t have the benefit of smartphones and social media. My single friends now live in a whole other galaxy. There are so many ways to reach out to girls and to have experiences that are different from when I was dating. Today, people’s bullpens are so much more intense, intricate and complicated. The last time I was single my bullpen was her or her—there was nobody else. It was like, there are two girls who have maybe shown a little interest in me, and I’m pursuing both of them! There’s not another girl I text and some other girl I talk to on Facebook. None of that.
PLAYBOY: New Girl stacks up interestingly against Drinking Buddies, in that we’ve seen you and Zooey Deschanel enter into a romantic relationship that was originally just platonic. Do you feel the show is on a loose trajectory that casts you as “Jim and Pam” now that you’re together?
JOHNSON: I believe my TV character isn’t well-rounded enough to be in a functional relationship. The characters are very immature. It’s not a show about fully formed adults. It’s about people who have adult bodies but haven’t grown up yet. And that’s not how you form a relationship. You actually have to grow up a bit first.