A large paycheck, top billing, or a nice, customised trailer may all come with an opportunity to feature in a movie.
But when it came to appearing in Your Place or Mine, Ashton Kutcher and Reese Witherspoon were handed an unexpected assignment: homework.
“I handed Ashton books that I felt Peter would have read and had an opinion on,” writer-director Aline Brosh McKenna explains. “I handed Reese a collection of books that I thought Debbie had accumulated over the years — some first editions, some beat-up paperbacks. One of them was inscribed to someone called Peter, so I assumed it was Peter’s book, which Mom had preserved after he moved.”
Kutcher and Witherspoon play Peter and Debbie, two best friends who met 20 years ago after a one-night fling. Peter wanted to be a writer and Debbie wanted to be an editor when they were in their twenties, but they’ve since given up on those goals in favour of more realistic employment. But when they switch places, with Peter caring for Debbie’s son Jack (Wesley Kimmel) in Los Angeles and she staying in his New York bachelor pad, they discover that they may have let go of some of their dreams (and one other) too hastily.
Kutcher claimed that he was a model student during a press conference. “I’m not a huge fiction reader,” he said. “I don’t read much fiction. And Aline says, ‘Yeah, but this guy is a writer, so he’ll be well-read in fiction.’ As a result, I ended myself plunging in. Prior to the film, Aline sent me ten novels. ‘You need to read all of them,’ she says. And in each of the books, there were notecards on what Peter received from this book, especially what he acquired as a writer from this book.”
“[My favourite was] Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air,” Kutcher concluded. “That novel was heartbreakingly beautiful. High Fidelity was excellent. I read them all. I finished all ten novels. This encounter made me fall back in love with reading fiction. That was enjoyable and refreshing.”
McKenna joins EW: “I had no idea Ashton would read every book I handed him. But, as I’ve come to know him more, that’s really Ashton.”
In contrast, Witherspoon, well known as the founder and chairman of the popular Hello Sunshine Book Club, did not complete the job. “Aline also gave me 25 novels, and I didn’t read any of them,” she laughed. “I phoned her and told her I had three children. I own a business and work another full-time job. These books are not being read by me. However, they would look fantastic on the set.’ They succeeded.” (McKenna confirmed that the books were all old, and she did intend for them to be more set decoration than Witherspoon’s background research.)