At this year’s ShoWest, I was able to participate in a great roundtable interview with director Todd Phillips as he was there to promote his upcoming comedy Due Date. The film stars Robert Downey Jr. as a father trying to rush back across the country to make it to his wife’s birth and Zach Galifianakis as an aspiring actor who becomes Downey’s traveling companion. The movie has been described as Trains, Planes, and Automobiles meets The Hangover and it co-stars Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Alan Arkin, and is slated to hit theaters on November 5, 2010. I saw some of the film at ShoWest and it looked awesome. You can read my thoughts here.
During the interview, Phillips talked about how the project came together, how much is scripted versus improv, how he came up with the masturbating dog, what’s up with The Hangover 2, his relationship with Warner Bros. and so much more. It’s a great interview and one worth checking out. Hit the jump to read the transcript or listen to the audio.
Finally, this interview is a result of Collider’s partnership with Omelete, so a big thank you to them. And like we always do…you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. Just know when the interview started people were talking over the speakers so you can listen to us laughing about what was going on…
How it came about?
Phillips: Came about? It was just a script that I’d been working on with a couple writer friends of mine and it was an idea…sorry I’ll talk louder. I’ll just talk loud. But it was just an idea that we had to…I’ve said this before probably to some of you, it’s so much about what I love to do is about casting and it’s about working with funny guys and I’ve never worked obviously with Robert Downey Jr. and I think he’s one of the greatest talents out there. I knew Robert wanted to do a comedy. I had this idea, like I said, I’d been working on with these writers. And I went to Robert and said, “Hey I want to put you with Zack in this thing”. It was really kind of an organic come-about but for me again the thing that attracts me to movies in general is who are the guys? Who are the people I get to work with? And what will that chemistry be like?
How was the first meeting between the two actors? It’s pretty crucial.
Phillips: Yeah. It is. It was awkward because Zach always makes very off-color jokes. Thinks that everybody’s on the same page as him. I know Zach well after doing “The Hangover”, and Robert was a little…we were at Robert’s house in fact and Zach was 15 minutes late because he rode his bicycle there. So he comes in all sweaty and like Zach does not look like Josh Duhamel. So he walks into Robert’s house, you know, sweaty and starts making some off-color remark that was a personal affront to Robert. I don’t want to get into what it was, and it just started off on the wrong foot. But that’s what the movie’s about. It’s about this left-footed relationship, so in one way it worked really well.
There was an instant chemistry between the two?
Phillips: Instant non-chemistry!
Was there a lot of improvising then?
Phillips: Yeah, always. I mean you know on my things and again I’ve talked about that before but always leave room and one of the reasons why I work with the same people over and over, in this case with Zach, is just because I leave so much room to improv and Zach’s so good at improv and Robert can keep up with anybody because he’s just a brilliant actor. So it was interesting to watch those two together.
Was it hard to control him?
Phillips: He’s never hard to control because the last thing you ever try to do as a comedy director is control. Actually you try to inspire anarchy more than control. And that’s really what my job I find is most of the time is to try not to control it and let it just be really loose. I don’t know…did we bring you guys in there for this whole thing? Yeah. You know, that’s the first time we showed any footage. We haven’t shown the studio the movie yet. We’re showing it to them next week, but I always think that comes through in the footage is just this sense of abandon and sort of recklessness in a way and so that comes from not trying to control too much.
How much would you say is left from the original script and how much is basically, you know, created by the two guys?
Phillips: Well, it’s not like it’s created out of thin air. I don’t want to discredit any writers because the movie’s still written, it’s still about this thing that it’s about. It’s just, in comedy, you just find yourself treating the script a little bit like a blueprint and you veer off. So it’s not like they’re making up brand new scenes, it’s just the lines and the reactions are going to be….you can’t script stuff that sometimes comes in the moment. You know what I’m saying?
On “The Hangover”, Zach came up with some pretty outrageous stuff on the set. Were there certain really outrageous things that he came up with on “Due Date” that you managed to put in the film?
Phillips: I’m sure there are and I don’t really remember in “The Hangover” or in this what they are. You know, it all blends together in other words.
I think on “The Hangover” you mentioned the baby jerking off.
Phillips: Did I mention that? That sounds like me.
Zach came up with it and you had to convince the dad.
Phillips: Oh that’s right. That was funny actually. I had to talk to the dad and get him to let us do that with the baby. You know, I can’t remember anything off hand on this movie like that. Honestly I don’t remember, but I’m sure there’s millions of things, but nothing maybe as iconic as jerking the baby off.
How did the masturbating dog thing come about?
Phillips: That came about just me being retarded. You know I’m like a 14-year old. I think it’s funny. I have a problem. I’m a moron. I am, and it’s embarrassing to like talk about it in an adult way because I know what you’re thinking. I think I’m a moron, too.
No, I’m just wondering if you have a dog?
Phillips: I do. I do. He doesn’t do that. He’s a gentleman. My dog’s a gentleman. But I just thought I’d never seen that. It’d be sort of funny. So we got this guy-this friend of mine who’s an animal trainer who’s worked on my other movies-and I’m like you think you can do it, or like wouldn’t that be funny if…and he’s like I’ve got a dog that might be able to do that. The dog does that but it takes a lot for him to do that. It took a long time.
You brought pictures of other dogs or…
Phillips: No, no. Oh you’re sick! (everyone starts laughing) It’s not like sexual thing to the dog! He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Okay. You never know. I don’t know.
The first day of ShoWest exhibitors said that they there is no sure star right now…However, there’s sure movies like this one. What do you think about that-the sure star right now.
Phillips: The sure star? Well, I mean I don’t know that there’s every been a sure thing in the movie business, or that would be all we ever see. You know, it’s never really been as formulaic as people like to think it is. I do think right now, and I think it’s probably because of the Internet and the quick word of mouth on things that movies have to deliver on their marketing. In other words, you might think that “Transformers 2” was bad, you might think it was great. But it delivered on what it was selling and that’s why it did well. And “The Hangover”, I think, delivered on what it was selling. It was saying it’s a crazy, ridiculous comedy. And it think it’s when you try to trick and sell something different, you know what I’m saying, where it’s gets a little bit…you confuse the marketplace. I have to talk to whatever about it, but anyway I don’t know if there’s ever a sure thing. I think people like comedies and I think concept driven comedies seem to be working when it’s a clear concept and you deliver funny stuff. So I think in this movie, again, is the first time we’ve shown footage it seemed to play really well in the room, but we have better stuff than that. We started cutting this last Wednesday and we cut it in 4 days, you know just put it together.
Is there some sort of pressure on you now since “The Hangover” that you have to produce like the next….?
Phillips: No, I think the opposite really. I really think it’s like “The Hangover” has enabled me to get a little bit…I don’t have to argue with Warner Brothers about an R-rating. I don’t have to argue about putting in that masturbating dog or whatever. “The Hangover” has a lot of those fights for you, so in a weird way it’s alleviated so much pressure and then if you’re talking about the pressure to perform as well as “The Hangover”, I think any director would say you have to treat every movie its own thing. You can’t be comparing it to your last thing. “The Hangover” was lightening in a bottle. We’re aware of that. It went through the roof all over the world. And so I don’t hold it up to those standards.
What about the studio execs?
Phillips: No, they don’t either.
Are they saying to you, come on can we do it again?
Phillips: No, no. I think they’re very realistic about it and I think they’re also very realistic about like how “The Hangover” was kind of one of those just moments where just things come together-lightening in a bottle sort of.
Why do you think road trips are so appealing for comedy in movies?
Phillips: That is a good question actually. I think there is something about just being without a net. In other words, when you’re on the road you don’t have the support of family and friends and that sort of natural support system that surrounds you at home. So there’s something about when you’re on the road and you’re traveling, it’s just the 2 or you or the 3 of you or whoever it is, and there’s no support system there. And I don’t know, that to me, not having a net is in comedy equals sometimes just recklessness and danger and thus comedy.
Alan Horn talked about “The Hangover” I would say at least 50 times in that presentation. I know you guys are discussing or you’re moving forward on the sequel, and I’m definitely curious, how is the studio treating you, and I know it’s far away in the future, but have they said sort of just whatever you want to do-go for it?
Phillips: I think to a certain extent, I mean not certainly like whatever you want to do as far as spending money, but at a certain extent they believe that we brought them “The Hangover”. We delivered what we said we would deliver, so I think they know I’m not looking to fuck up the “Hangover 2”, I want to make it funny, too. You know what I mean? I think basically my point is we’re all trying to do the same thing. Make a real funny movie that works, so I think that they trust that certainly with that title I can do that. So they’re giving us the freedom.
One quick follow-up, how do you feel though getting back with those characters in the universe after such crazy success? I mean that has to…is there any pressure on you for that one?
Phillips: I mean again, I think it’s all good pressure. I think that the movie did so well and quite honestly the movie did so much repeat business that, I don’t know how aware you guys are of that, but they have their little formulas and the DVD’s and all those things, that people love those characters. In other words, sometimes movies do well but it’s just this huge flood of people go see them and then you know…this movie just kept going because people kept going back. That tells me that they love those characters and that tells me, not that the movie’s going to financially do better, but just that there’s love out there for these 4 guys. We can now put them through a whole new set of paces and people will want to see it. So for me, it’s really exciting. As big as “The Hangover” was, it again alleviates the pressure for “Hangover 2” in a weird way but maybe I’m just looking at it wrong.
So they’re like the “Sex and the City”, the guys are like the male equivalent of “Sex and the City”?
Phillips: You know I’m not even going to answer that because I have learned if I say “yeah, that’s a good point” then it comes and then “oh he equates him to Sex and the City like there’s a way I’ve just learned. So my new thing is just…Oh yeah, just look away.
Are you ready to do something serious one day or comedy is like really your stuff and that’s it?
(all of a sudden someone comes over the loud speaker in the room saying things about the next presentation at ShoWest).
Phillips: (laughter) Did everybody hear that? (laughter) I can’t believe that. Anyway, I’m sorry. Do I want to do something serious? You know I love telling stories. I love making people laugh and right now I just have so much fun doing comedies.
How do you see the Zach’s career in the future?
Phillips: It’s over. Flash in the pan. No honestly, having done two movies with Zach, working with Zach for over now 100 days put those 2 movies together and just being with him every day, Zach has so much stuff that people haven’t seen and so much ability and even listen, Robert Downey, I think we can all say whether you want to see “Due Date” or not is a phenomenal talent, and Robert Downey just was blown away by Zach. I mean really thought he was special. Just his acting ability. So I think Zach can do anything he wants. And Zach, like me, is attracted to comedy but I think he can do anything he wants.
So about the comparisons to Jack Black to Zach?
Phillips: What do I what?
Say about the comparisons? Do you see the comparison? Do you think it’s valid or…?
Phillips: No, I don’t really know Jack the way I know Zach, so I don’t know that Jack has the range that Zach does. I don’t know. I don’t compare those two.
It’s similar appeal, you know, to me anyway.
Phillips: Yeah, yeah. I guess so. I guess so. You tell me if Steven Spielberg was making a movie tomorrow and he needed a 40-year old whatever you want to…chubby sort of slackery…who do you think he would go to?
Well, maybe one or the other.
Phillips: Oh yeah? Who do you think he would go to?
I don’t know he’s go to.
I’m curious how things have changed for you after the success of “The Hangover” and obviously you have “Due Date” and “The Hangover 2”, but how is it with other studios and other projects coming at you and how are you sort of navigating the waters?
Phillips: I’m first and foremost a company man, surprising as that is. I love Warner Brothers. That’s where I have a deal. That’s where I’ve been for years. So I don’t really interact too much with other studios and do things with other studios and I don’t necessarily read scripts from other studios. I develop scripts that are in my wheel house at my company, you know what I’m saying? So I have let’s say 10 or 15 things that I’m developing, so I can go…so when “Hangover 2” is done let’s say I go, oh let’s do a movie…let’s do something in a year and start in November. What’s close? What are we loving? What’s good? Who can we get in this? You know what I’m saying? So it’s not like I get approached…I don’t open myself to that stuff quite honestly.
There’s a lot of talk that “The Hangover 2” is going to Thailand.
Phillips: I don’t know. There’s a lot of rumors. There was rumor also that it was going to Mexico or something and neither are true.
Which is a comedy from the past that you love?
Phillips: “The Blues Brothers”.
Comedies you can see again and again.
Phillips: I love it. “Stripes”, “Blues…”….I have a lot, but “Blues Brothers” is…John Landis made some amazing films in the 80’s, you know? Just blew my mind but “Blues Brothers” I love.
Robert Downey and yourself are pretty funny guys. I wonder how serious it gets on-set or is it crazy every day?
Phillips: It’s crazy like I was saying because we like to inspire…often I say I make movies about mayhem. So to make a movie about mayhem, you sort of have mayhem on the set. And I don’t know how many times have been to movie sets, but if you’ve come to my movie set, you’d be like…it’s a little bit different. You feel like the inmates are running the asylum. It’s a very loose kind of atmosphere. So, yeah. I think that’s something that we just…my point in it is…I forgot what your question was?
How crazy it gets.
Phillips: It gets pretty crazy but we’re still professionals and we’re still there to make a movie and shoot the scene but you know it does get pretty crazy, but I want that there, that kind of element under there.
Have you been an actor or not? You?
You seem like a comedian too, so.
Phillips: No, no. I like being funny. I like being around funny people, but no I’m not.
You’re testing “Due Date” this week in Los Angeles. I was curious what the running time is right now? Is it a long movie? Is it tight?
Phillips: Why? Are you coming? Do you have something to do after?
Phillips: We will not let you in.
I don’t think I’m getting into that screening. But you do test your movies a lot.
Phillips: Of course.
And I’m just curious…
Phillips: Right now it’s 98-100 minutes probably. That’ probably what it’ll end up as.
When are you starting to film “Hangover 2”?
Phillips: November 1st. That’s what we’re trying, but you know a lot of it has to do with Ed Helm’s Office schedule, Bradley Cooper’s other movies, Zach. Right now our goal is to start shooting November 1st.