Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

October 31, 2010

“Relationships between men are awkward. I tap into that,” says Due Date dir Todd Phillips

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 10:50 am


I hadn’t really heard of Todd Phillips until The Hangover. I’d only seen Road Trip, which was disgusting and sick, but also inherently honest to its genre. I hadn’t seen Old School or Starsky & Hutch, but I had friends who swore by both films.
The Hangover is every straight man’s fantasy. Wish-fulfillment. But there’s little one can say about that film that hasn’t been said before. Interestingly, Todd Phillips’ new film, Due Date is an entirely different animal. The dirty humor is still there – among other things, there’s a masturbating dog in this movie – but somewhere beneath the filthy jokes is a warm tale about the grieving process, about impending fatherhood, and the value of true friendship.
Robert Downey Jr stars as an expectant first-time father whose wife’s due date is ony days away. As he hurries to catch a flight home to Los Angeles from Atlanta to be at her side for the birth, his best intentions go completely awry when a chance encounter with an aspiring actor – and disaster-magnet – played by Zach Galifianakis, leads the two of them being tossed off the plane, and forced to drive cross-country to their common destination.
I interviewed 40-year-old filmmaker Todd Phillips in Los Angeles on October 26, 2010 and found him to be articulate and clear-headed. Empire magazine has just labeled him ‘The Funniest Man in America’, and while you could argue with that, there’s no denying that he makes incredibly entertaining films about relatable male characters.
He’s already begun shooting The Hangover 2, which was in the news only last week for a cameo of Mel Gibson’s that’s been cancelled allegedly because the cast wasn’t comfortable working with the controversial star.

Here’s my interview with Todd Phillips on Due Date:

Getting into this movie right off The Hangover, was the pressure palpable?
It was fun to dive into something. It’s fun not to over-analyze why something’s a success and then to get gun shy about doing it again. So I never think of it like, “Oh, it has to be as big as The Hangover or it doesn’t work.” The reality is, we made a comedy film that I think stands up on its own. I think it works, and that’s really the goal with each thing. It’s not so much, for me, about comparing it to The Hangover. I mean I like the comparisons because it’s a great movie, The Hangover, but with this it was its own thing.

At what stage did you realize that Zach Galifianakis was the perfect guy for this role?
Well, I mean, quite honestly, while I was filming The Hangover, the writers of this movie were working on the first draft of this thing, and it was something we were developing at my office, and I thought, “Boy I really want to find something to do with Zach right away, ‘cos you know he’s so great in The Hangover.” And so that was how it started. Then when I took over the writing with my (writing) partner, we started writing it for Zach and for Robert (Downey Jr). And then we asked Robert to do it.

So Robert Downey Jr was your first choice all along?
Oh yeah! I mean, who do you think would be above Robert Downey Jr to choose? I don’t know. He’s the best.

But he’s not an immediate comedic actor…
You know, Robert’s one of those guys who’s known to be able to do anything. I don’t think Robert has any limits to what he can do. So I was excited to go ahead with this.

How did you sell the movie to him?
Well, you know, Zach and I went over to his place, and he had read the draft and he talked about the kind of things that he’d want to address in it, and how to deepen it. But he liked The Hangover, he liked Zach, he liked me… Honestly, it was easier than I thought it was going to be.

You really like Juliette Lewis, don’t you? She has a small part in Due Date again.
That’s right, that’s my girl, Juliette, and she’s been in three of my movies (Old School, Starsky & Hutch, Due Date), and she is somebody I always go to for these kind of interesting parts. Truthfully, if I did a movie that had women in it throughout the whole movie, I’d still go to Juliette. I happen to do movies, where everything’s about men. But if I did a movie – and maybe one day I will – with female central characters, I’d still go to Juliette. She’s just a tremendous actor and she’s a brilliant comedienne…funny and just real. I like her most ‘cos she’s real and she feels very real.

You’ve made a cameo in the movie too…
Well, me, I play the same character in every movie, sort of this guy named Barry, who we also call Mr Creepy. And if you notice, Juliette in this movie is named Heidi, and in Old School she was named Heidi, and I showed up at the door in Old School, if you remember – I said I was here for the gangbang – so it’s really the same two characters reappearing.

I remember you in The Hangover as the guy in the tracksuit, pawing his date in the elevator…
Yeah, same guy. Shady and sleazy…(laughs)… I think some directors like to put themselves in their movies as like a savior sometimes. Like M Night Shyamalan will do that sometimes. I like to be the most deviant guy in the film. I think that’s just more appropriate.

Why do you like making movies about men?
I find the relationships between guys to be inherently awkward. When I watch a movie like Sex and the City, I like it and it’s fun, but I notice that the women have such an elegant way of interacting with each other. And guys just don’t have that elegance. So it’s just funnier to me to explore that ‘unelegance’.

Is that something you discovered growing up? That it’s easier for women than it is for men?
I did. Well, I grew up just with my mum and my two sisters. Which I know is odd, because from my movies you’d think I was this guy’s guy and that I grew up among older brothers. No, never, ever. And I think that maybe my movies are an exploration of that because I never understood it. I never understood male friendships.

What do your mum and your sisters think of your movies?
They’re always embarrassed…(laughs)…

Did they discover your knack for comedy through your movies?
My mom always told me that I was the funniest person she ever met. She didn’t get out a lot…(laughs)…but she always thought that was my thing.

Do you think you’ll ever do something where all the major characters aren’t guys?
Oh yeah, for sure. There are so many female actresses I’d love to work with in a real way, Juliette Lewis being one of them. And if I was to do a comedy, I love Sarah Silverman so much. I think she’s as funny as Zach, she’s just hasn’t been used to her fullest potential in movies. I think there’s a ton of women out there that I’d love to work with, and I think there are a lot of premises that you can do that are still bawdy and real, but involve women.

This movie is different from your other films in one significant way – it has heart. It’s more than just another risqué, ribald comedy.
For me, it’s what was interesting about doing the movie. And I think for Robert Downey and for Zach as well, it was about not doing a straight-ahead comedy, but really trying to manipulate the tone in the movie, which is basically what the director’s job is – to be the purveyor of the tone. So I’ve done a bunch of movies, this was my seventh movie or something, and I thought, maybe with a little bit of confidence you can do another comedy, but really kind of walk the line between going from something a little bit touching and sad, to something really funny…and take an audience on that ride and just play with the tone a little bit. So that was the challenge, but also what made it worth doing.

What was it like to work with Robert? He famously likes to work on a script before heading out to shoot. He has a lot of ideas…
I wish everybody would be like that. I mean, for me, there’s never too many ideas, so I love it. Some directors get nervous and close up around it. For some directors it’s intimidating, I think. For me, I love it. The more, the better. The more things we can throw into the mix and talk about it, I love it.

What about Zach? He just comes across as an actor who’s willing to try anything…
I think the essence of all comic actors – or all the good ones – is fearlessness. You know, Zach just has a fearlessness about him. And I think that comes from getting up on stage and doing stand-up, and maybe it works some times and it doesn’t work other times. I think you build up a fearlessness, and I think you have to have that to be a comic actor. I think Will Ferrell has that, Sacha Baron Cohen has that.

Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis have said they enjoyed improvising with the lines on set. Were there days you just wanted them to stick to what was on paper? Were there days it was hard to just manage them?
Well no, they’re adults who’re there to work. They’re not out-of-control children. Sometimes actors behave like kids, but I don’t try to rein that in. That’s what you want. You want that energy. You’re not doing heart surgery, you’re making comedy. So you want that energy, it only works for the movie. There’s nothing to rein in. I think you’d be a bad director if you were taking all that energy and talent, and going, “Whoa! Let’s put the brakes on it!”

So then the mood on your set is lighter by virtue of the kind of movies you make?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, I’ve been on other people’s sets and I can’t believe how serious they take it. I once heard that it’s really important to set the tone of your movie on the set of your movie. And we are making comedies. It is a little bit like, the inmates are running the asylum. It’s a little bit weird. I like it really loose, and half the time I’m high…(laughs)

Writing comedy can’t be easy. Where do you get your jokes from? Do you have a muse?
For me, I get inspired by trying to make Zach laugh. Zach, to me, is the funniest person I’ve ever met. So I always try to make him laugh, and I always try to think of something at night, and I’ll just text him, and then I love when he’ll text me back, and say “Ha!”…(laughs)… I like making him laugh, so a lot of the ideas just get inspired by our trying to make each other laugh.

I read somewhere that you showed this movie to test audiences months ago…
Yes, we test our movies…we’ve always done that. It’s not exclusive to this film. I mean, that’s the process of editing and tweaking… I showed this movie two months into an edit, and then again three months in, and then again four months in. And it always changed just by degrees, but that’s what you’re doing.

What I enjoyed about the movie is that some of the humor just makes you cringe. Especially for the characters, which is rare in a comic film, isn’t it?
Yeah, you laugh because it’s cringe-y in a way, and I think that a lot of the humor in the movie is just like you’re so embarrassed for the character… I love uncomfortable moments, and so does Zach, and so does Robert, and I think a lot of that, you’re right, just comes from the discomfort you feel for them.

In most road-trip movies, the characters go through an intense experience that changes their lives forever. In this movie, they come out the same guys that they were, going in, except that they now have a renewed respect for each other.
Well, yes, they come out relatively the same… But you’re right. And I think the same is true of The Hangover too. They didn’t change much. They went through some strange shit together. It’s what I call an unapologetic comedy. A lot of comedies, I find, do really bawdy behavior for the movie, and then they spend the last fifteen minutes essentially apologizing for that behavior. So when you leave, you think, “Okay, they didn’t really mean it like that.” And I always called The Hangover an unapologetic comedy. And I think this is the same thing. And that’s what I think I respond to. You don’t have to justify bad behavior. It’s okay just to have behaved bad for a while. Some people do that. And you’ll get on and everything will be okay, and the dog will be fine. You don’t have to apologize to the dog.

How far are you into The Hangover 2?
We’ve been shooting for about 18 days, and we’re leaving for Bangkok in four days to complete the movie, which is another 40 days. So we’re only about a third of the way through.

You were really divided between Bangkok and Mexico, weren’t you? What made you tilt in favor of Bangkok eventually?
I haven’t shot there yet, but I’ve been there three times this year, and it’s amazing. First of all, they’re really film-friendly and film-knowledgeable. And they’re an incredibly friendly culture, so it’s been wonderful. I had Bangkok in mind very early… The first Hangover took place in Las Vegas and you see how location is such a big part of a movie. There’s not a lot of cities that when you say the word, it just means something. And Las Vegas is a city that it just conjures up some kind of visual…(laughs)

Depravity…whatever you want to call it…bad decisions. And I think Bangkok for me is the same. I mean, take New York – it’s a great city, but it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a lot of things. But Bangkok, to me, sounds a little bit dangerous and a little bit crazy, where a lot of bad decisions get made. So that’s where it came from.

And finally, to address the Mel Gibson cameo, did you ever think a cameo would be so complicated for you?
No! To be honest it hasn’t really made it complicated, but it’s been a shame. Because really, what it all boils down to is that a cameo is supposed to be a surprise. And it all really blew up and became such a big deal.

1 Comment »

  1. Superb… a genuine laugh from a comedy film is rare.. But it was not the case in Hangover. Liked the way how this Todd writes comedy.
    I learnt some things out of this interview..

    Comment by Sabharatnam — November 1, 2010 @ 9:11 am

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