The mastermind behind Superbad brings us another amazing, real- life, hilarious, 80′s theme park film, Adventureland. There is no doubt about it, writer/director Greg Mottola knows his comedy and after hanging out with him for 20 minutes you get why. He’s passionate about film and he puts everything he has into it, without taking himself too seriously. Plus, he’s also insanely funny. He’s got a wicked sense of humor and is not afraid to call out an interviewer on a stupid question – I love that.
Adventureland has been a project long time coming. For over seven years, Mottola was trying to get the film off the ground, but just when he was starting to get somewhere with it, this guy named Judd Apatow came up to him and asked him if he’d like to make Superbad. After he finished that little epic comedy, he decided to take his success and finally get his film off the ground and luckily for us, he was able to.
This film is all about crappy first jobs. What was your first good job?
Greg: Probably directing “Undeclared.” [laughs] I’m so lucky I got to be in movies because, clearly, I have no skills whatsoever. Working at an amusement park is obviously, not the worst job in the world. I think it’s one of those things where you come from not much money, and you’re humiliated that you have to do something; it’s good to be knocked down a peg. I mean, that’s how I see Jessie’s character. He needs to be shaken up. Coming out of college, with all these ideas and nothing to do with them. I like to believe a little bit of real world experience isn’t so bad, even if it is an amusement park.
Why make your characters post-college? I think the traditional route in Hollywood would be to make them high school students…
Greg: The sad answer is that I was a particularly immature post-collegiate person. But, it goes back to that idea that you don’t learn anything useful in college, necessarily, in a very crude sense. You know, coming out of college and panicking, it’s strange that…I don’t know how much younger generations…you know, I would read articles about kids moving back in with their parents, even before the economy got terrible; it was still happening. I came from a generation where my grandparents were from Europe, and my parents grew up with an intense pressure and my brother and I had to do better than they did. And…where does that go? Each successive generation can’t do better and I feel that a lot of people my age, and the generation behind me, have felt the pressure of “well, what now?” And, now, obviously, is especially scary. When I wrote the movie, it was a whole different landscape.
This film is set when there were no cell phones, no MySpace or FaceBook, how do you feel that effected how the film worked? Do you feel like you modern technology takes away from a film like this?
Greg: I really wanted the movie to feel like it had taken place 20 years ago, I didn’t want it to be an 80′s kitsch fest. And we didn’t have the budget to recreate the set of Dallas, or something. [laughs] But, at the same time, as I about to write and conceive it…everyone thinks of their youth as a more innocent time. But, a world without Internet and cell phones seems like a colonial village of blacksmiths; it’s just so weird to me. And there’s something I found really freeing about not having to have all that stuff in the movie.
What about the music in this? There was music from the era, and new stuff I had never heard before. How did you pick it?
Greg: It runs the risk of being a sort of “here’s the director’s favorite record,” but I used the music that meant that much to me at that time and people, of course, still love. When I was depressed in college, music really got me through heartbreak and things like that. The movie, in a way, was kind of conceived to have the vibe of a pop love song in my head. And when I start to get into it further, I realize that even the Top 40 stuff, the common, shared music, doesn’t exist the way it used to. It sort of petered out in the 90′s, people don’t listen to the radio the way they used to. We get our music in different ways now. It feels more vulcanized, or whatever. I do have a nostalgic sentimental side, so the music was really fun. The nice thing about a low budget film, one of the advantages, is that you can go to record companies and get much better deals. The song Panama in Superbad cost almost the entire music budget we had for this film. So, the 35 songs we have in this movie cost the same as 1 or 2 in Superbad.
A lot of the casting seemed dead on, especially the part for Martin Starr, did you write that for him?
Greg: No, but Martin was one of the first people I thought of. The character is a kind of a tribute to every guy I’ve known in life who’s really, really smart and gets in their own way. [They are] really afraid to put themselves out there. They are people I’ve met that are like, well, you’re ten times smarter than I am, how come you’re not doing anything with your life? He’s that kind of guy. And, I thought Martin would bring his wonderful, dry, hilarious, soulful quality to it.
You’ve teamed up with Judd Apatow, who is somewhat of a comic God, at the moment, what has that been like?
Greg: The nice thing about Judd world, is that it has the weird sense of being a theater company. We are really working with our friends. We made this outside of that, but there were a bunch of us in it; Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and, hopefully, we’ll all go back and do more. If not, I’ll just steal from his talent pool.
Where did you get the idea for Matt Bush’s character, Tommy Frigo, who is constantly punching everyone in the balls?
Greg: I think people assume that because I did Superbad I put that [character] in the movie, but the truth is that guy was my next-door neighbor from the elementary(?). [Laughs] And, if he were here in this room, he would try to punch me.
Is he [the character] still in your life in a way?
Greg: No, well, my parents are friends with his parents still, so I’ll hear stories about him. He’s father to a lot of children, which is [laughs] a little upsetting.
What made you think of Ryan Reynolds for his role as the more serious, heart breaker? It seemed like such a different type of role for him.
Greg: I’m very grateful that Ryan was willing to take a roll like this. Ryan is very funny, and he doesn’t play losers, usually. I wanted somebody who’s handsome, and not stupid, but is clearly the victim of his own psychology. He’s feeling sorry for himself, he’s stuck. I thought Ryan would make it interesting, hopefully, that he’s giving advice to Jessie’s character about how to win this woman he’s having an affair with because his own vanity is greater than his sleaziness [laughs]. I didn’t want him to come across as a villain, just as someone you come across in life; someone very selfish, and his own worst enemy at the end of the day.
It’s just a landscape of people that are stuck; like his parents, the dad is drinking, it’s not fixed. I didn’t want the Hollywood ending of like “And, by the way dad, I’m going to New York to win this girl and you’re going to stop drinking.” It’s not that movie; life’s happening and it goes beyond the end of the movie.
Did you have other actors in mind for the roles?
Greg: A lot of people ask me if I had thought of Michael Cera before Jessie. The truth is, I was a fan of Jessie’s already and Jessie was the first person I thought of. I think Jessie, maybe because he’s a New Yorker and more neurotic than Michael, felt more like me. Although, Michael’s brilliant, I love Michael. My only hesitation for Jessie was that he was in The Squid and the Whale and there’s some overlap in the characters. But then, when I sat down and thought, I felt I could live with comparisons because I think that’s a great movie. My movie’s not going to be as good, but, hopefully, people will still like it.
Why did you pick Kristen Stewart?
Greg: I hired her off of a meeting; I didn’t even get t the auditioning part. Although she’s younger than the characters written, I just find her compelling and she’s the dramatic ballast to the movie. For me, she’s the kind of actress where she makes the actors think in dramatics, you really wonder what she’s thinking, she’s very feeling-full, she’s complicated, and she’s got a great bullshit detector. She’s a serious young woman, but she’s also got this great lightness to her. She had a great contrast, someone you could actually fall in love with, get close to, and then be terrified by. And I needed her to work on all those levels. It was funny to us, one day, she came in and said, “Oh, I’m going to do this vampire picture [Twilight].” We had no idea. Catherine Hardwicke [the director of Twilight] flew to our set to spend a day auditioning [with Kristen].
After Superbad, you could have had any number of projects. Why did you pick Adventureland?
Greg: Well, I’m just not very savy. Not a smart business person. I had written Adventureland, and literally, the week I was about to start showing it to potential financiers, Judd called me and said, do you want to do Superbad? Which, I had gone through a table reading of it years ago. They tried to raise money for it much earlier, with me potentially directing, but no one wanted to do such a vulgar R-rated dirty comedy with people nobody had heard of. Finally, after Judd made 40 Year Old Virgin and things started to change, they were willing to take a chance on it, and he called me and said, do you want to do this? I immediately said yes. It was one of the few times I made the right decision.
When Superbad was in post-prduction, I started shopping potentia ideas (?)around. I mean, I come from indie films, I went to film school in New York, my first movie was a super low budget movie called The Day Trippers. My fantasy is to have a career that goes back and forth. One of my friends/mentors is Steven Soderbergh who is, you know, a thousand times more prolific than I am but, it would be nice to have just one tenth of his career and do what he does; work on all different kinds of levels. It is incredibly rewarding to have both experiences. It’s frustrating that we had much less time and money on Adventureland, and there were things I couldn’t do. But, you know, the trade off is you get to make the movie a little weirder and a little less sentimental or whatever; qualities I like to see in movies. The next movie is with Universal Pictures with Simon Pegg. I’m equally as excited for that as doing my own stuff.
And what are you working on now? What’s your new project?
Greg: It’s called Paul. It was written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It’s the first thing they’ve done, that Simon’s written without Edgar Wright, which was fortunate for me, that Edgar is a very busy man. It’s about 2 science fiction geeks who go on a road trip. They come to America, they go to Comic Con, and then go to Area 51. It’s like their dream road trip, and on the way, they meet an alien. And, you know, because they wrote it, it’s very smart and it goes in weird directions. It’s not the total mainstream version of that, it’s much more interesting.
Are they British in it?
Greg: They are playing Brits, yeah.
Check out Adventureland in theaters tomorrow, April 3rd.