Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, the talented screenwriting duo behind the highly successful Despicable Me, reteam on Despicable Me 2 to bring to the big screen an all-new animated comedy adventure for audiences to enjoy. Opening July 3rd, the sequel features the return of former super-villain Gru (Steve Carell), his adorable daughters, the lovable Minions, and a host of new and outrageously funny characters. Paul and Daurio are the writing team responsible for penning the screenplays for The Lorax and Horton Hears a Who!, based on the Dr. Seuss children’s books, and also done in collaboration with producer Chris Meledandri.
At the film’s recent press day, Paul and Daurio talked about expanding on the first film while lightening the tone and introducing new themes and characters for the sequel; giving the Minions, the breakout characters of the first film, a much bigger part; showing Gru’s evolution from super-villain to super-dad as he leaves behind a life of crime to raise Margo, Edith and Agnes; drawing on their own experience as parents, such as dressing up as a Tusken Raider from Star Wars, for inspiration; creating a new Latino super-villain whose journey is similar to Gru’s; and adding some romance to the storyline. Check out the interview after the jump.
Question: Everybody loves the Minions. How did you decide how much they would participate in the movie? Was there a percentage? How much is too much?
Cinco Paul: Possibly. We have never pushed it far enough to know, but we decided 47 percent was the right percentage. You can quote us on that. It’s very mathematical. You want to find the right balance, but you have to have the Minions because people responded so much to them. We wanted to find a story that would make the Minions more a part of the story than they were in the first movie. In this one, as you know, they’re disappearing. What’s happening to the Minions? We made them a much bigger part of the movie in those terms.
Daurio: Yes, because everybody loves the Minions.
Did you draw from some of your own experiences as parents to infuse hyper-reality into what goes on with parents and children in this movie?
Daurio: Yes, absolutely.
Paul: Ken has three kids. I have three kids. The first movie was basically the story of our lives. Every man is kind of a villain until he then has kids. And then, they soften us up.
Daurio: But it’s also, how am I going to rule the world with these three little monsters always around me, always asking me to pour juice because they can’t do it? So absolutely, we draw from everything. The secret is that Gru gets to do all the things that inside we all wish we could do. I wish I didn’t have to wait in line when I’m with my kids. I wish I could just freeze ray people. Gru gets to do that, and in this movie especially, he gets to be the dad that I’m sure I’m going to want to be when my daughter starts becoming interested in boys.
Paul: That definitely came from my personal experience. My kids were a little older than Ken’s, but I remember when my daughter was twelve, suddenly a boy started hanging out in front of our house after school. It was this kid, Justin. My office at the time was right in the front, so I just looked out the window. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t concentrate. I was like, “What are you doing? What do you expect to achieve by standing in front of my house with my daughter inside?” I hated that kid so much. A lot of that applied to Gru’s response to Antonio (Moises Arias). No dad likes to hear that some boy is texting his daughter.
What was the challenge for you to come up with another story? Was it easy and did it just snap into place where to take it, or did you struggle to figure out what was Gru’s next complete journey?
Daurio: Absolutely. We wrote that first movie as one movie and that was it. That was the story. It was finished. And so, when we had the opportunity to start looking at a sequel, we scratched our heads for a minute because we thought we’ve told the story. But once we did look into this family, we realized we had this great gift of this absolutely insane family where the dad’s a super-villain, or was, and now he’s adopted three little girls. They’ve got a very strange and unique little group there. The idea to get to explore that family was really appealing to us both. There are Minions. There’s a secret lab. He’s got to drop them off at school. All these things just seemed like a lot of fun. We were pretty excited when we realized what Gru’s next step was, because that was the question that we had to ask ourselves. We just tried to answer that in this movie. What’s his next step?
Paul: We did have a light bulb moment when we realized, “Where can we take Gru emotionally that we didn’t take him in the first movie?” And then we thought about what if Gru falls in love? How is Gru going to respond to that? That was a big part of us realizing there is more story to tell with Gru.
Daurio: And Margo.
Paul: Certainly Margo. There’s a lot of romance. There’s Gru and Margo, and even Dave, the Minion, has some romance.
Daurio: And he was a super-villain and now maybe Edith, the middle child, wants to be like him. Is she going to become a super-agent? There were all these things that we got to play with and have fun and say, “How does dad deal with this now?”
This time around you guys introduced a large Mexican influence into the story. How did the idea for El Macho (Benjamin Bratt) develop and how much research went into it?
Paul: Well, as you know, my name is Cinco. I was born on Cinco de Mayo. It stemmed from wanting to get my name in the movie as much as I possibly could. In all honesty, because my name is Cinco and I grew up in Phoenix, I had a lot of exposure to Latin culture and those sorts of things, and that inspired the idea of this villain, El Macho. The name came first and everything else came after that. We loved the idea of this villain. Ken actually has a lot of Latino roots in his family, too.
Daurio: Well, El Macho is basically my father-in-law. He’s this big, intimidating, scary Latino guy.
Paul: From Argentina.
Daurio: From Argentina. We did have this name, El Macho, and we thought Gru just wants to be cool and wants to be Mr. Cool and have it all going on. The exact opposite of that is someone who’s super macho and has it all together. It just evolved. The name, El Macho, just took us there. It took us to a Latino place and we went with it.
Did you create a backstory for El Macho? You have the same situation with a motherless home. Was that why he faked his death so he could settle down and be a family man?
Daurio: You did nail it.
Paul: Wow, she’s good.
Were you going to show the mother and where she went?
Paul: It didn’t end up in the movie, but it was in many drafts of the script. He faked his own death so he could settle down and raise a family, but then she left him.
Daurio: Because he got too soft.
Paul: Because she fell in love with him as this macho villain, and then when he settled down, he got too soft, and so then she left him. That was the motivation for his return to evil. I guess it’s simmering under the surface in the movie currently because it’s not there.
Daurio: There are a lot of things simmering that aren’t in there anymore. We could tell you lots of backstories.
Paul: You totally did nail it. That was exactly it.
Daurio: And he understands Gru. Gru is doing the same thing that he did which was changing his life.
Paul: Her name was Esmeralda.
Daurio: It was.
Which one of you dressed up as a cartoon character or a superhero for a kid’s birthday party? Gru takes it pretty far when he goes full-on Princess. Did you go that far and where did you decide to draw the line?
Daurio: I was not a Princess. I was a Tusken Raider, which is from Star Wars. No, I’ve done all those stupid things for my kids. I’m not afraid to. I was the magician at one birthday party, which means here I am in my garage learning magic tricks before the party. So yeah, you do all these things for your kids. You’ve got to throw the ego out the door and let yourself be stupid. Let them laugh at you. That’s fine. I’m fine with that if they want to laugh at me. Right? Cinco? I shouldn’t be embarrassed.
Paul: No. I did it once, when my wife had to be away for a while, and my kids were really young…
Daurio: This is embarrassing.
Paul: My kids were 3 and 1. My daughters were really young, well maybe 5 and 3, and I put on my wife’s robe and snuggled them and helped them get to bed.
Daurio: I told you. This gets weird.
Paul: This doesn’t leave this room. Dressing up as a Tusken Raider is much cooler.
So you decided to go full out though on the costume?
Daurio: Oh absolutely. I did the sounds and I chased kids around the party. The kids were crying. It was fun.
Paul: Since we have a character named El Macho, we wanted to feminize Gru as much as possible.
Daurio: It’s true.
Kristen Wiig is back in this film, but as a different character than in the first film. Was she just so much fun to work with that you guys felt you had to find something for her and created a role for her in this movie?
Paul: We love Kristen Wiig so much. She is brilliant and she is adorable. She was totally the inspiration for this character of Lucy. From day one, we were writing it for her and her enthusiasm. No one plays enthusiastic characters like Kristen Wiig. Right off the bat, we knew we wanted her. We were going to maybe have an acknowledgement that she was also Miss Hattie, and that went away at some point. But absolutely, it was Kristen all the way. We had to have her back, and I thought she was great.
Daurio: You didn’t even recognize her in the other movie. She did this voice and she became that character, which is so not Kristen Wiig, so we thought we need to see more of that. We just went as far as we could with it.
Sometimes violence can be really funny. How do you find that balance to make things so shocking but also appropriate for children?
Daurio: It’s funny. I grew up watching Tom and Jerry beat each other over the head with frying pans all day long. I never hit anybody with a frying pan. How do you find the balance? We just make the movie that we would want to see. I can’t help but think of seeing the movie with my kids there, because they’re always there with me everywhere I go.
Paul: They are. It makes it really difficult to write together.
Daurio: I don’t know. We just bounce off each other like, “Have we gone too far?” There are times when we’ve pulled back. You do pull back.
Paul: But the world of Despicable Me is such a cartoony world. It is much more Looney Tunes than I would say the Pixar world or those movies. We can get away with a little more, although I know some people responded negatively to the Iron Maiden beat in the first movie where it looks like Edith…
Paul: And gets killed by the Iron Maiden. I don’t know if there’s anything in this movie that’s that [violent].
Daurio: When you screen the film, in the first early screenings, you feel it immediately if moms are cool with stuff or not. You can feel it immediately or they will tell you.
What about the injections into the little Minions?
Paul: Oh the transformation, yeah.
Daurio: Was that a little questionable? But all kids have to get vaccinated. We’re just doing our part.
Paul: That’s right.
Daurio: We’re trying to prepare them.
Why do you think the character of Gru resonates so well with audiences? Did you ever think that would happen and that you’d be doing a sequel?
Daurio: I don’t think we ever even talked about a sequel before the first movie came out. Nobody knew who we were. There were no toys.
Paul: Toy Story came out the same year.
Daurio: Toy Story 3. Who was going to see this movie?
Paul: The reason he caught on is he’s just delightfully evil. That’s the term that we use.
Paul: Is it delicious instead of delightful?
Daurio: We used to say delicious.
Paul: It’s just because he does all the stuff that we wish we could do. When we wrote that scene about the Sleepy Kittens where he’s reading the storybook to the kids, it’s like we’ve had to read these stupid books to our kids, and we all want to just tell our kids, “This is really bad. Don’t you know that? Can’t you see that?” And we don’t, but Gru could. How often would you love to spray your annoying neighbors with a hose and just have them fly off screen? We can’t do that, but Gru can. That is a big part of his appeal.
The Minions have captured people’s hearts worldwide. Tell me a little bit about the evolution. Were they started on the page by you guys? How did they end up being these wildly popular creations?
Daurio: They started off as we were outlining the story. We just found moments where Gru needed helpers, henchmen, minions, somebody. We wrote in the script early on, “Gru has one of his Minions do this” or “Gru’s Minion runs and grabs that.” They evolved and became more of the kind of characters they were, but we certainly had no idea that that’s what they were going to look like. I believe it was…was it Chris (Renaud) or Pierre (Coffin)?
Paul: I would say it was the directors. We have to give credit to the directors for this, because in the script, we just said, “Gru’s Minions do this or do that” in the initial draft. And then, they came up with the characters’ design and the philosophical concept of the Minions. And then, we started writing to that. We have to give a lot of credit to them.
Daurio: Initially, we would write dialogue for them, and they had the idea that sure, they’ll say their lines, but no one is going to understand them. They came up with that whole language, and they really were an evolution that the directors picked up on and said, “This is going to be gold.” And they were right.
Paul: Then we just took it and ran with it, and then just wrote as many scenes as we could with the Minions. Now we have Minions falling in love in this new movie and there’s the fire scene in Gru’s office.
Daurio: After the last movie, it was like we had this gift of Minions. They were always there. Whenever you need something, the Minions are there. You could interject Minions and you’re always going to make your scene better.
Do they work in any kind of scene?
Daurio: They work in any kind of scene. Anything.
Paul: They’re good with emotion, too. Some of them, like that one-eyed Kevin, you feel for him, too.
Daurio: Yeah. There are emotional moments, too.
Paul: And then you love to see them beat each other up.