Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds are switching it up with their latest comedy, The Change-Up. Its premise may sound familiar, but Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin has managed to put a new spin on an old tale. The film has an all-star cast including the hilarious Leslie Mann and gorgeous Olivia Wilde. Check out our interview where Bateman, Reynolds and Dobkin talk about making the film, working with women, and pushing the barriers of comedy.
ScreenCrave: What did you enjoy most about shooting the film?
Jason Bateman: Working with this guy is pretty great. We didn’t do a whole lot of work because there was a lot of playing and there’s a lot of support. He’s got incredible ideas for what different to say if you’re tired of hitting that joke out of the park — which these writers, [they] write these incredible lines, but eventually you’re going to get tired of hearing that and you’re going to stop laughing at it. [Reynolds] comes up with one that is no better no worse but just beautifully different. Working with David is fantastic because the guy is incredibly professional and prepared so everything moved like people had been there before and knew what they were going. In a world of chaos, which is what a movie set is, it’s nice to be working with professionals.
Ryan Reynolds: I’ve admired [Bateman] for a long time, both personally and professionally. I use to pride myself that I could not break in a scene, you could do and say anything but he upturned it into an actual disability for me. There’s an entire movie that could just be cut of me tearing up and trying to hold it together and then standing at a perfect right angle for the scene because I can’t catch my breathe. That was really nice but pretty soon it got embarrassing.
Making The Change-Up:
SC: David, how did you approach directing this movie?
David Dobkin: The script was hilarious. It was the best script I’ve ever started a movie with. We had a lot of the blueprint down which gave us a lot of freedom to play. What I normally do is in rehearsals and I have a very long rehearsal process with my actors. In the rehearsal process we go through the scenes and we let any kind of ideas or inspirations that they may have come out in that room. Then I have the writers take it and get back into the script. By the time we’re on set, there’s not a lot of [spontaneity]. I know it’s appears that way and ad-libby but it’s not. It’s a natural study process to get to that point. That’s just the credit of the actors being really good actors. The other thing that I do when I am in the rehearsal room, I never get the scene to happen all the way, I bring it as far as I can, it’s foreplay, but you never want to cross the line because if you do, you’ll end up seeing a whole bunch of stuff that you love, then you’re going to force your actors to recreate something that happened, it won’t feel spontaneous or real. It’s a gamble, but you take it to where everyone understand, very specific, what the bulls-eye is but it doesn’t happen ’til you’re there on the day, which gives it a sense of excitement or a sense of it happening in those moments.
SC: Did you have Ryan and Jason in mind from the beginning?
DD: When I first read the script, I wrote down a very short list of actors, and they were both on that list. It was a list I brought to the studio, there were eight actors that had been approved for the movie, pre-approved and Ryan and Jason were off that initial list. It fit perfectly. You could see clues in both of their careers that they had performances that touched upon this thing but none of them had gone all the way with it. It’s fun. Part of casting is not putting people in roles where you’ve seen them before, I know that’s what everybody wants but it’s a little bit of the trick of going this is what you love about somebody but you’ve never seen them do this before. You can’t come up with a performance like what Vince Vaughn did in Wedding Crashes – roles are very specific, each one is a unique opportunity for that actors, there’s no two that are really the same, if you line it up at the right time with the right person you usually get something really combustible. I feel like both these guys nailed it on both sides, they worked hard to share characters and do that stuff.
SC: How did you two [Ryan and Jason] approach your characters? Did you study each other?
RR: Well, I first met Jason fifteen years ago. We’ve known each a long time, but I think I can speak for both of us, quite unilaterally, when I say none of us are good enough at our jobs to do an impression at each other.
JB: How dare you?
RR: We went with the essence of the other guy. We have a pretty high level of conceit right off the get go on a movie like this. We didn’t want audiences picking apart a performance as a spot on imitation of each other. It didn’t seem necessary.
JB: You’re not going to R-rated comedies to get a study in acting. I think you want to go in there and have a good time, laugh your ass off. Maybe get offended a couple of times and get the hell out. We’re not trying to win Oscars here or teach anybody any lessons. Having said all that,t his movie is about as high quality as you can get, with an R-rated comedy. The comedy pushes all boundaries and barriers, and happens to sneak in quite a bit of heart and relativity, if that’s possible in a concept where people switch bodies. It’s the reason that Ryan and I jumped at the chance to be in the film [because] of the quality of the script, what [Jon] Lucas and [Scott] Moore did with what is a concept that people are more than familiar with. There’s no reason to do another body-switching movie unless you’re going to do something different, and we do here. This is an R-rated body switching movie. It hasn’t been done before. You put the director of Weeding Crashers on that, I’m already in. We were lucky to be a part of it.
RR: He said that in one exhalation.
SC: Was it fun to do the body switch in this way?
RR: Every actor loves a challenge where you get to play two different people in the same film. For me, I think the only way to do it was [the way we did it]. It allows you to inhabit the bodies that these guys are in. To really experience their world. The fact that basically, every film where two drunk idiots piss in a magic fountain, great. But they switch bodies great. What happens after that was the reason to do the film. To have this mentally unhinged lunatic be looking after your children was something very appealing. There’s something fantastic about that set up and that pay off and vice versa. And this conservative guy is inhabiting the world of a guy working in porn. It’s absurd. That’s what it’s all about. If you see it through the perspective of other people, I don’t think it would be that rewarding.
Working with female characters:
SC: David, how do you go about creating strong female roles in your films?
DD: I pay a lot of attention to those characters because they are real characters in the movie. Sometimes they get treated like ‘the wife or whatever or ‘the sex object.’ Every character is an opportunity to create a fully rounded three-dimensional character that can carry emotional weight. That can carry comedic weight. That can deliver on all of these other different ideas and I think early on I caught on to that idea and certainly the opportunity. Wedding Crashers was [where I saw] the women could drive all of these scenes and carry all of this comedy and push all this stuff and put the guys into a situation where they are in a more submissive situation which lets you go farther with sexual content. If it’s the other way around, it’s not funny. I looked into that. Plus, I think that they are interesting character.
Certainly in this movie, you knew when you read the script that for Leslie’s character, Jamie, she carries the entire emotional weight of the movie and you realize that the guys, at a certain point where spinning into like losing themselves and if you didn’t have that character in a real situation, you weren’t going to be able to follow the film to the end. For Olivia’s character it would have been a very easy role, all you needed really was a hot girl. It was very simple. It would have succeeded at that level, but it’s not interesting that way. You want something that’s compelling. You want the audience to fall in love with these characters as well and be invested in them.
I always look for strong women, and to play strong women I look to strong women who are strong actresses and can carry the dramatic weight and also have comedy timing. They were both amazing. I’m totally thrilled with how they both succeeded in the roles.
SC: Ryan and Jason, what was it like acting opposite Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde?
JB: It fit really well in this film because there’s a lot of offensive things that [our] characters do, and to earn that acceptance from the audience and have it not be repugnant or repellent, the audience has to empathize with [us]. We are basically playing victim, a lot, throughout the whole film. That was very intelligent form the writer’s perspective. It let’s you do a lot of crazy things that the audience sort of feels bad for you. By having strong women dominating them and emasculating them at certain points, it just earns you more leeway, comedically. In an R-rated movie you want to push things as far as possible. I don’t know if that was a conscious effort on their part, but it work for the film.
RR: Leslie’s a fantastic comedic actress as we all know. A lot of these movies tend to [put women as two-dimensional characters], it could be very thankless. It’s very easy to just paint her as the nagging offensively, stereo typical wife role, but she’s complex and hot and funny and charming and interesting. Their life might be touch stale, but that’s what happens. Olivia, that girl just brings so much to the table. The mouth on her. Like a sailor. Just amazing. It takes a lot of comedic chops to play a role like that, and not let it turn like the person is just going along with it. I like that she’s getting this guy into as much trouble as his buddy was.
Pushing barriers in comedy:
SC: Do you have a preference between PG-13 and R-rated comedies?
RR: For me it’s always R. Every PG-13 movie comedy I’ve ever done, you always have that inevitable moment halfway through shooting where you call the studio to ask, “Are you sure we can’t go R with this because we just shot something terrible?” I understand why PG-13 exists. You’re appealing to four quadrants as opposed to two or three. The freedom is incomparable. You can get away [with more]. The only reason that you do a body swapping comedy, which has been done before obviously, but the only reason that you do it is if you can show that if we were to live in an absurd world where two drunk idiots piss in a magic wishing well and they switch bodies, you get to experience what it would be like. What it would be like is horrible. Horrible, horrible things would happen and terrible things would be said and done, and to bring that up under the screen in a PG-13 way, there’s absolutely no point. When it’s meaningful, in a movie like this, I prefer it. There’s [also] times when you’re in a PG-13 movie when it doesn’t need to be rated-R. It’s nice. It’s very easy to fall back on the the idea you can swear your way out of a scene. It’s nice when you can let it all hang out, and not worry too much about going too far, and if we go too far, well that’s the director’s fault and he can figure that out in post.
SC: Do you feel pressure to push the envelope, with movies like The Hangover?
DD: I don’t feel pressured. This movie was started two years ago. What showed up this summer was just a reaction to people embracing this kind of comedy. And I think, like anything, you can’t go doing the same thing over and over again. You want to push boundaries. If you’re in the lineage or Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, you’re trying to do that. There was a long stretch, in the late 80′s and the 90′s, of PG-13 comedies and R-rated comedy made its way back to attention. Now that you’re in the arena, it’s like if you’re going to go do it, go do it. Just stretch it and see where people will go. I think there’s a part of it that, why does anyone want to go on a roller coaster if it’s not going to have an upside down loop on it? There’s no point. Everybody is suppose to get a bit sick. That’s the fun of it, and some people more than others. There wasn’t a consciousness. I had no idea what they were doing in Hangover II or in Bridesmaids for that matter and the writers wrote it all in the script. I was following a blueprint that was making me laugh out loud when I read it. That’s what’s fun about it. That’s what exciting.
SC: On set, did you have moments where you thought, ‘Maybe this is a bit much?’
RR: Yeah. There was a few of those moments. For me there was a couple of moments in the lorno (porno) that went a little far. I don’t typically look at a schedule in advance which would be a wise tip for some young, up and coming actor to know that when your mom is coming to visit. that was the two days that my mom came out to Atlanta to visit. I introduced her to my porn-mate and proceeded to get in there and do the best I could, without throwing up on someone’s back. That was tough. There was a few moments in that sequence that aren’t in the film that will perhaps be in the DVD which are just too far, way too far.
JB: I didn’t feel like there were gloves on during this film. We could have kept going further and further, but there’s a balance that you have to strike. You don’t want to get the audience numb to stuff that is shocking and that’s what makes Dave such a good director. If you have it all be shocking and crazy all the time you have just static. He’s got a great ability, as do the writers, to bring it down, have it touch earth every once in a while and then take off again. This is a pretty good movie.
DD: On set, I push everything as far as I possibly can and then I pull it back in the editing room based on what an audience thinks when I test it. We test these comedies a lot and everyone has a moment that goes too far. Anything everyone unanimously agreed on is probably not in the film anymore and interestingly enough you’ll be surprised how hard people laugh at something they said they didn’t like which I cannot answer to that phenomenon but that is part of being an R-rated director. You realize that you will watch people laugh about something and then afterward when you ask them they will say that is too far, and it should be removed. It’s a weird thing.
David Dobkin’s The Change-Up hits theaters August 5, 2011.