Jake Johnson and Self Reliance Co-Star Biff Wiff Get Heartfelt About Their Film

R.I.P. Minx, but fear not, Jake Johnson fans. The New Girl alum and voice of Peter B. Parker in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is generating headlines for his directorial debut in Self Reliance. Johnson also wrote and stars in the engaging comedy thriller about a middle-aged man who’s offered a chance to win $1 million via a trippy dark web reality TV show where assassins try to kill him. If he remains alive after 30 days, he’s rich. But is it all legit?

Self Reliance also stars Anna Kendrick, Natalie Morales, Andy Samberg, GaTa Holland, Emily Hampshire, Mary Holland, and Boban Marjanović. And Biff Wiff of Everything Everywhere All at Once, Night Court, and Jury Duty delivers yet another memorable turn, this time playing a homeless man with a big heart.

Fans of comedy thrillers will appreciate the great mix of action and humor running throughout Self Reliance. Jake Johnson and Biff Wiff shared more about working together and bringing the movie to life in this exclusive MovieWeb interview.

An Action-Packed Comedy with Heart

Self Reliance

Release Date
January 12, 2024


1hr 25min

Self Reliance is wonderfully fun and inventive. It’s also filled with celebrity cameos — Christopher Lloyd and Wayne Brady drop in for the fun. Johnson plays Tommy, a guy still mourning his breakup from a year ago. When Andy Samberg (playing himself) invites Tommy into a limo, he soon discovers he has been selected to be part of a quirky dark web reality show. All he has to do is avoid getting killed by hired assassins who can be anywhere and everywhere.

The caveat? So long as Tommy is with somebody, he cannot be killed. Imagine the antics that ensue. The story takes a turn when Tommy suddenly befriends a homeless man named James, brought to life with open-hearted delight by Biff Wiff. Anna Kendrick also offers a nice turn as a love interest; the pair have great chemistry after starring in Joe Swanberg indies like Digging for Fire and Drinking Buddies. In the meantime, Tommy keeps James close, but danger lurks all around. Tommy’s family is less than supportive of what they feel is a delusional mental episode.

Related: Jake Johnson’s Best Performances, Ranked

“I think the James character is the most important character in the movie for Tommy,” Jake Johnson admitted. “In terms of building the movie, I told our producer, Ali [Bell], that unless we cast the right James, I didn’t know what the movie was. Because when you’re auditioning to play somebody who is on the streets, then staying with [your character], a lot of people brought heaviness and a lot of truth to it. The scenes got very heavy.

“It almost felt like we were doing a drama,” he added. “We needed somebody who felt real because it’s not a sketch; somebody you believe, but somebody who naturally brings you up a little bit, and when they’re in scenes, you’re laughing.”

No problem there. Johnson and Wiff make a great comedic team. To Johnson’s credit, the writing and directing are pitch perfect throughout Self Reliance. Johnson went on to say that Wiff, so believable as James, helped make Tommy more embraceable for audiences.

“You like them and you believe that Tommy, who’s a weirdo, is having a great time with this guy. When they’re together in the montage [scene], you believe it — ‘Yeah, these two weirdos became buds.’ So, once I met Biff, I was like, I felt a hundred pounds were off my shoulder because a good actor makes writing look better. That whole sequence, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, now we got it. Like, now I know who Tommy and James are, and I can build around that.’”

Biff Wiff on Jake Johnson

It’s hard not to appreciate Biff Wiff’s charm. Also known as Gary Crotty, the seasoned actor found a solid fan base, thanks to memorable roles in Everything Everywhere All At Once, I Think You Should Leave, Dragnet, NCIS, and Pretty Little Liars. In spring 2023, the actor garnered attention over his cancer battle and, thanks to fans, raised the money he needed to pay off his medical bills using a GoFundMe page. He praised Johnson’s work and loved coming on board the film.

Related: 10 Films That Inspired Everything Everywhere All at Once

“Working with Jake was just so pleasant for me, and he gave me a freedom that I could work with,” he shared. “There was no pressure ever. Like he says, the right actor makes writing better. But you have to have something to start with, and the stuff that he gave me was pretty good. I thought sometimes, ‘I’m not coming up to the level of this writing,’ and about then he would step in and say, ‘Forget the damn writing. Do what you were doing, keep it natural, keep it light, and it’ll come out fine.’

“And it did. I was very delightfully surprised by how much I loved it,” he added. But one of the big questions — for any actor and filmmaker — was whether audiences would embrace the film.

“I hope audiences take away the [importance of] relationships,” Wiff said of how he hopes the film will land. “I don’t think any of the relationships [in the film] play like ‘movie relationships.’ I think that they play as real. I want audiences to take away that loneliness is out there, and that people need people. It’s very important. And it’s an important part of this film.”

Unpacking Jake Johnson’s Inspiration

Jake Johnson’s celebrity soared while starring in New Girl on Fox. He’d go on to deliver a great turn in HBO’s Minx, which later moved to Starz, before fading to black for good. Social media lit up, wondering about Johnson’s return voicing Peter Parker in the popular Spider-Verse animated movies. No word on when voice recordings will begin for the third and highly anticipated film, but Johnson still seems to be on board.

In the meantime, projects like Self Reliance are giving the actor/director time to expand his creative reach. When asked if there were any directors who inspired him prior to leaping into Self Reliance, he said, “It’s tricky because there’s a lot of directors, and the original idea for this one was like a comedic Jacob’s Ladder. Then I also loved Bottle Rocket. I obviously love Paul Thomas Anderson.” However, he added:

“I didn’t really have a director I could really lean onto and think, ‘That’s the tone I want to do.’ I viewed it more as — I’ve done so much TV. I was actually thinking more different TV directors and moments. I am more of a TV person than a film person. That’s what I’ve done more. It’s what I watch more. I was just thinking more about moments and performances. I didn’t go to film school, so I don’t have a Criterion Collection. But I’ve seen every episode of Cheers three times. I think that’s a good framework for anything.”

That it is. Catch Self Reliance on Hulu now. Watch it through the link below:

Watch on Hulu


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