How Press Play mixes romance, time travel, and surfing

Penni Schewe

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Time travel romances are all the rage these days. From the Rachel McAdams film About Time to the hit anime Your Name to 2022’s streaming adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife (which had already been adapted into a film starring…Rachel McAdams), this sci-fi subgenre of the modern rom-com has captivated audiences who no longer desire smoldering vampires or lovelorn wizards.

Press Play is the latest addition to the growing genre, a lo-fi entry that puts more emphasis on music and emotional connections than it does on the logistics of traveling back and forth in time. That’s due to the sensitive direction by first-time helmer Greg Björkman and a committed lead performance by Danish actress Clara Rugaard. In a conversation with Digital Trends, both Björkman and Rugaard talk about the pleasures of filming in Hawaii and which songs would be on their time travel mixtape.

Digital Trends: Greg, what compelled you to write and direct a love story involving time travel and mixtapes?

Greg Björkman:  There’s a movie that you probably have seen called About Time, and it’s a really well-done, emotional story. And I think of it that way because the emotions are all there, but it’s also a time travel movie which I forget about occasionally because the emotions are so good.

Laura and Harrison talk in Press Play.

One of the things that I thought of when we were writing this was it needs to be both emotionally sound and the time travel has to make sense. The story itself was inspired by a relationship that I went through at the time. When we go through relationships, they inevitably end. And this particular one I didn’t want it to end. So, the movie became about the challenge of someone letting go of a relationship that has to end.

What was the most difficult thing you encountered while filming?

Björkman: You have to forgive me because it was it’s been a little bit since we were there. But sure. The most difficult thing was probably our tight production schedule. We wanted more time to just be there in Hawaii.

Getting your crew and your cast together at the start of the movie is probably the most important thing for a director. Also, picking the right people when you have a really good script. If you have a really good crew and a really sound story and cast, you generally know where you’re going to end up.

I didn’t feel like there was anything that really went wrong or was a challenge because I was doing what I wanted to do for the past 10 years. I’d dreamed about being a director and here I was in Hawaii shooting a film. It was amazing.

Clara Rugaard (actress): I would probably say the science fiction element of it made it quite difficult for me as an actress. It’s time travel, so there’s quite a bit of back and forth. You have to keep track of the timeline to get the emotions of the scene right.  And because my character goes back in time to the same moment that the audience has seen before, the stakes are totally different than they were before.

What was your favorite scene to film?

Rugaard: There are so many good moments. I mean, all the surfing scenes were a lot of fun.

Laura and Harrison surf in Press Play.

Clara, did you know how to surf beforehand?

Rugaard: No, I had never surfed before shooting Press Play. Lewis and I took lessons when we were out there on the weekends. We were a bit spoiled since we had the best stuffing instructor teach us on these soft, warm rolling waves of Waikiki. It was just idyllic and so much fun to shoot those scenes.

Björkman: There’s one scene that James [the screenwriter] and I wrote very last minute. It’s the scene between Laura and Cooper in the record store where Cooper talks about his wife. It’s such a simple scene, but the emotions behind that scene make it a very powerful moment for Danny Glover’s character, Cooper.

The song that’s in that scene is “Oh My Love” by Katyna Ranieri and Riz Ortolani. That song is the song I played for Danny on set before we filmed that scene. And he listened to it three times before we filmed. And so he really understood the emotional weight of that scene. I told him about the song’s vocalists had never met before they recorded that song. And afterward, they were married for like 60 years, I believe. In our film, it’s a very powerful scene because it’s a realization for Laura and it’s a warm trip down memory lane for Cooper.

Greg, what was it like working with not only Danny Glover, but also Clara and Lewis Pullman?

Björkman: Oh, man, I can’t imagine anybody else in those roles. When I first met Clara, there was like a sparkle in her eye. She knew exactly who this character was supposed to be. And I saw the same thing with Lewis. He was determined to know as much as much info as I could provide him as to who Harrison was.

Danny Glover in Press Play.

When we cast Danny, the point of his character was being a mentor and somebody who’s already been through a great deal of life.  I grew up watching him in Operation Dumbo Drop and Angels in the Outfield, so seeing him in that in that role was just a dream because I’ve known this actor all my life and now I’m actually getting to meet him. And it was great because he’s exactly who you think he is. He’s so warm.

Rugaard: I was just in awe of him the entire time I filmed with him. And he’s such a kind and loving soul and had so many great stories, and it was just an absolute honor to be in his presence and watch him at work.

Which songs would be on your time travel mixtape?

Bjorkman: Oh, boy. You know, I would probably take “Oh My Love” from Danny’s scene. I collect vinyl records. I love stuff from the ’60s and the ’50s, but I also have streaming services that recommend me songs on a consistent basis. So it’s nice to find new things that way. I’m pretty happy with the mixtape we made for our film, which has both old songs and new ones from bands like Japanese Breakfast.

Rugaard: Thank You” by Bonnie Raitt because I’m a little bit obsessed with it. “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel because it makes me so happy. I also had a real obsession during the time that we were shooting Press Play with “Annie’s Song” by John Denver. It was actually Greg [the director] who introduced me to it. We had it on repeat, and I thought it was so beautiful.

Press Play is currently in theaters and is available on digital platforms.

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