On February 2nd, the dramedy series I Just Want My Pants Back, executive produced by Doug Liman (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Bourne Identity, Go, Swingers), premieres on MTV. A funny, honest portrayal of friendships and relationships among a group of 20-something friends in Brooklyn, it tells the story of Jason Strider (Peter Vack), his best friend Tina (Kim Shaw), and Eric (Jordan Carlos) and Stacey (Elisabeth Hower). When a one night stand steals Jason’s heart and his pants, he begins a quest to get his beloved jeans back, and hopefully find the girl, while growing up along the way.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Doug Liman talked about how and when he got involved with I Just Want My Pants Back, what makes MTV the perfect home for the show, the challenge of finding a talented and attractive cast of actors who was relatively unknown, and that he’s confidant they’ll get a Season 2 because he feels like the audience is going to have the same emotional response to the characters that he does. He also talked about the challenge of balancing producing the TV show with his feature film career as a director, how he’s hoping All You Need Is Kill (starring Tom Cruise) will be his next film, and that he plans to make Everest (about George Mallory and his three attempts in the early 1920’s to become the first man to climb the world’s highest mountain), after that. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
DOUG LIMAN: It was in the stage of being a book by the same title, written by David Rosen, that Dave Bartis and I read and fell in love with, four or five years ago now. We met with David and it was one of those rare moments where the author of the book was clearly the best person to write the pilot and be the showrunner. David came from the world of advertising before he wrote the book, so he had a great sense of filmic storytelling. That has never happened in my career, and this is not my first book adaptation, obviously. Even when I was doing The Bourne Identity, I met with Robert Ludlum and it was clear, from one meeting, that he wasn’t the person to turn it into a screenplay. The thing is that Rosen’s book, and his scripts for the series, have such a specific voice that it’s hard to imagine how anybody else could possibly have done that. It’s a voice that makes the show special. It’s not the plot. We’re not the first people to do a show with young people living in Brooklyn, or in some other major city. What sets the show apart is the specificity of the voice. It’s just not like anything else I’ve ever seen.
LIMAN: These characters are in their 20’s. Even if he ended up back in a relationship with the woman who took them, at that point, the pants would likely have been borrowed by some guy that she dated. It seems likely that those pants are destined to travel the country on their own, from one night stand to one night stand.
What was it that made MTV the perfect home for this show?
LIMAN: Because, if you’re talking about a show that has a youth appeal and these kinds of characters that’s set in this world, that’s the world MTV lives in and is the world other networks try to tap into. When I was doing Swingers, we made it as an independent film and were going to sell it. At that particular time, the gold standard for selling your independent film was Miramax. And, I feel like the gold standard today, if you’re doing a show with young characters, is MTV.
This show has a very indie film look and feel to it. Was that something that was intentional, or is that just what the budget would allow for?
LIMAN: It’s reminiscent of my earlier films, that are also about characters in this age bracket. It certainly helps the budget to shoot it in that style, but it’s more meant to be evocative of a world in which people watching the show are out shooting their own friends on their iPhones and editing it. I feel like there’s a certain aesthetic. Swingers tapped into that before there were iPhones. A critical aspect of this show is how authentic and honest it feels. I try to hold my films to that same standard of honesty. Really, there’s not one dishonest moment, in the entire season. Outrageous things are happening to these characters and they all feel honest, and the camera work is consistent with a show that feels honest. There are network shows that show people in their 20’s, living in New York, in super-fancy apartments. It’s already set in a fairy tale world. I feel like Brooklyn is already such an amazing place to set a show that you don’t actually have to exaggerate anything.
We got a ton of ideas just from riding the subway to the set, every day. When you take the L train in New York, one of my producers described it as being at a nightclub. There’s great musicians playing for money, with their hat out, and everybody on the train is in their 20’s and super hip and cool. You almost feel like, if you don’t look a certain way, there should be a bouncer that says, “Take a different train.” Characters this age live in tiny apartments. You’re going to have a certain amount of handheld camera work just because there is no other way to get a camera into an apartment that small. That all adds to the authenticity and honesty of the show. You could build small apartments on soundstages and take a fourth wall away, but it suddenly would start to feel a little bit staged and dishonest. Given how hard David Rosen worked to make his characters as honest as they are, it was all I could do, as the director on the show, to try to live up to that standard.
This cast is all young and attractive, but not overly glamorized and relatively unknown to viewers. Was that what your intention was, with the casting?
LIMAN: That’s one of the things that I love about television. Not only can you take chances on material like this, that isn’t based on a comic book, but you can take chances on actors and turn them into stars. I think that our show is packed with stars. You just won’t know that for another month or two. When I was making Swingers, people were like, “You don’t have anybody in the movie. There are no movie stars in the movie.” I was like, “There are movie stars in the movie. The world doesn’t know it yet, but Vince Vaughn is a movie star. Just because the world hasn’t caught up to that concept yet doesn’t make him any less a movie star.”
With their friendship being such a major part of the show, how challenging was it to find actors to play Jason and Tina?
LIMAN: Casting is basically the entire ball game for me. There would have been no Bourne Identity without Matt Damon. On Go, we spent five months casting it. My main job, as a director or producer, is casting. We, and our partners at MTV and Universal, scoured not just New York and L.A., but the country because these were such unique and specific characters. To find an actress like Kim Shaw, who’s as beautiful, smart and funny as she is – they don’t just show up on the bus to L.A., every week. The casting for this show was probably as hard as I’ve worked on anything, since Go. Finding Jordan [Carlos] for Eric and Elisabeth [Hower] for Stacey were no less difficult.
Because David wrote such specific, colorful, funny and honest characters, finding actors who could do all of that was a challenge. There are actors out there who are funny, but you don’t really believe them. And, there are actors who play characters where you believe them, but they’re not that funny. To find actors who could do everything as a massive breakthrough for us, on the show.
To find two actors like Peter Vack (as Jason) and Kim Shaw (as Tina), who can play best friends, who are both really good looking, really smart and really funny, and not have you just be waiting for them to hook up, was big for us. They are literally just best friends. There are guys and girls who are just friends, but you wouldn’t know that, if your only life experience was based on watching TV and film. And, Kim and Peter pulled that off. In fact, their relationship is so much fun to watch that audiences are genuinely rooting for them not to hook up because you don’t want to change anything. It’s so much fun to watch, exactly how it is.
LIMAN: I’m a character-driven director, and I tend to fall in love with the characters in my movies and TV shows. What I love about television is that they don’t have to leave the nest. You can do Season 2, and then Season 3 with them. So much work and so much love and care goes into creating the characters that it’s great to then be able to spend some real time with them, over years. I’m desperately in love with not only the world of I Just Want My Pants Back, but the individual characters.
The thing I’ll be most excited about, if and when MTV picks up Season 2, is going to be the chance to just spend more time with the actors playing the parts, with the writers writing the characters, and in the editing room, watching scenes with the actors. Legitimately, when David Rosen and I watched the last episode of the season in the editing room, we were a little teary at the end. I’m being totally serious. We were like, “We’re going to miss these characters.” Even if it’s only going to be a few months before we go back into production, the moment you finish editing the last episode, you’re like, “We have to say goodbye to them.” I’m confident in a Season 2 because I feel like the audience is, for sure, going to have that same emotional response and demand a Season 2.
How will you balance the show with doing feature films?
LIMAN: It’s a rough balance. Once the show is up on its feet, as much as I want to spend all my time there, I recognize that I do have a feel career that requires me, at some point, to say goodbye, a little bit. I’ll still get to see dailies and be a part of it, but not on the same level that I was a part of Season 1. But, the same thing happens with my movies. As soon as I finish, all I want to do is talk about a sequel. I get very passionate about my films.
Do you know what film you’ll be doing next?
LIMAN: I’m hoping it’s going to be a film called All You Need is Kill, for Warner Bros. with Tom Cruise. It’s just figuring out everyone’s schedules, and if we can, in fact, do it next.
What drew you to that subject matter? Is it the fact that it’s so unlike anything you’ve done before?
LIMAN: Well, nothing I’ve done is like anything else I’ve done before, so that is one of my criteria. But, I just fell in love with the script. There is no other formula for me, in this business. If I’m not in love with the script, there’s nothing. It doesn’t matter what you give me. It has to start with the script. And, Dante Harper wrote a really cool script that’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. When you can come across a piece of material that’s totally original and fun and completely satisfying, you jump on it.
It’s the same emotions that drew me into I Just Want My Pants Back. It sounds crazy because one’s 20-somethings in Brooklyn, and the other is Tom Cruise battling aliens, but the decision for me comes down to, “Is the material fresh, original, fun, smart, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and satisfying?” Usually those things work in opposition to each other. If you do something that’s really original, you discover why everybody else does it the other way, usually. There’s a reason cliches exist, ‘cause they work.
Early in my career, I started just doing things my own way, and it worked, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t dark moments on pretty much every one of my movies, where I said to myself, “Oh, my god, what have I done?” There’s a reason why there was a particular rule that everybody else was following, that I just ignored. Sometimes rules are there to save your life. And then, I would just work through it.
Is it harder to find original material like that, that really gets you excited?
LIMAN: It’s not that it’s harder. It’s always been hard. It’s not because the material is not out there, as much as it is, on the film side, that the business changed. It’s very hard for a studio to take a chance on a piece of original material. They used to have the fall-back of DVD sales. They had ways in which they could safely make an investment in a piece of original material, and those opportunities aren’t necessarily there anymore.
LIMAN: Oh, for sure. I’m climbing Mt. Washington in three weeks, as part of my research for the film. I’ve climbed it before, but now I’m climbing it to pay attention to other details. In that case, specifically how do you film climbing, in a really exciting and visceral way? If you look at Mission: Impossible 4, it’s very hard to do vertigo, and they really did a brilliant job on that movie, when he’s on the side of that building. I’ve done sides of buildings, in The Bourne Identity and in Covert Affairs, and I’ve never elicited the emotional response that Brad [Bird] and Tom [Cruise] got in M:I4. So, I’m starting to think about, “How am I going to film sequences on a mountain climb that will be as visceral and exciting as the climb itself is?”
When are you looking to go into production on that?
LIMAN: Hopefully, it will be right after All You Need is Kill.
Is it fun for you to balance working in the indie world with working in the studio world, and now doing TV?
LIMAN: I definitely love the pace of I Just Want My Pants Back. There’s just no question that shooting 10 pages a day, and doing five, six or seven scenes a day, is an exciting pace to work at. All You Need is Kill is not going to operate on that pace at all, if nothing else, because of the extreme visual effects in the film. I started in independent film, and I think my heart will always be there.