Last year I got to speak to producer Jay Stern on the set of his latest comedy, Horrible Bosses. Directed by Seth Gordon (Four Christmases, The King of Kong) the movie centers on three hapless employees (played by Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis) who conspire to kill each other’s horrible bosses (played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston). And based on what I saw on set, the film looks very funny and I think audiences are going to love it.
During an intimate roundtable interview, Stern talked about how the project got made, the great cast, how much screen time each of the bosses gets, the tone, the freedom of knowing it’ll be rated R, Colin Farrell’s comb-over, why they wanted Gordon to direct, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the conversation.
Before going any further, I suggest watching the trailer:
As usual, I’m offering the interview two ways: you can either click here for the audio, or you can read the full transcript below. Horrible Bosses gets released July 8. I’m extremely confident it’s going to be very funny.
STERN: That’s a great question. I don’t really see myself as being the guy in charge because I know I got masters to serve, you know? But I’m sort of…I guess I’m one of the people in charge and you know when somebody asked me in another interview, what do you think about Horrible I said ask my assistant over here, you know, who I’m definitely putting through his paces this morning just so you know, so. I guess there’s a little irony there. I guess I sort of, and I may be deluded, but I don’t see myself as a horrible boss but I’m sure I have my moments but we’ll have to get my assistant in to…he’ll give you some good poop, I think. But that’s a good question.
You obviously have a great cast in this thing. Was this one of these projects that…how did the dominos start to fall to get the cast together?
STERN: Oh, it’s actually for me a long story. For the director and the cast it’s a relatively short story. But I started out over 5 years ago bringing this to New Line and saying this is a great script and a great idea and let’s make this movie. And they were pretty eager right from the start. But we had a bunch of stops and starts and for various reasons…one of the reasons being that it was very hard to do. At the time it was hard to do kind of up and coming—great up and coming cast—at New Line at the time because they were so internationally oriented. But for various reasons we didn’t get the movie made and then we had a re-write done which got people even more excited about it. And New Line got very serious about well, we need to make this movie. So it’s been a process over a number of years. Really the last 6 to 9 months New Line has been incredibly determined to get it going and because we had I think a really excellent comedy script the talent came to it and was attracted to it and we got lucky with some great, great…I think everybody in the cast is great.
I mean not to do a follow up…
STERN: So I mean you want the order when people kind of started coming in on it?
Well maybe like the first 2-3 people but I have a follow up on the script question.
STERN: Jason Bateman was pretty much in. And we were taking to Jason Bateman and Colin Farrell and Jason Sudekis was right in there and Charlie Day was right in there. And it was after getting those folks that we got Jennifer Aniston and the last piece of the puzzle and we also got Jamie Foxx pretty early on—sort of 6 months ago he was very, very interested. The last piece of the cast was Kevin Spacey, which we played with a lot of different ideas and he just seemed like the best possible pick for a really, really psychologically sadistic boss.
Generally speaking when you have this many characters, you have to make sure everyone has enough time to shine in the script or in the movie. Is one of the bosses, you know, are they all about the equal screen time or do some characters have a lot more time?
STERN: I think that Kevin Spacey’s character has more time. I don’t know about a lot more time when we actually edit the movie I don’t know that it’s going to be a lot more time than Jennifer and Colin. They all have a healthy amount of screen time. And I do…I credit…I can give myself and New Line some credit, but I think the screenwriters have been incredibly smart about how they’ve divvied up the attention paid to each character. The 3 guys—our 3 regular guys—I would tell you completely egalitarian in terms of their screen time.
Did Spacey have any reluctance to play a sadistic boss since he’s played one of the most memorable sadistic bosses maybe more for the film geek crowd but…
STERN: I don’t think he had any reluctance. Not that I heard about. I think he was eager to put maybe a slightly different twist on yes, he played an amazing, horrible boss in…you’re talking about Swimming with Sharks which is not a movie that was really widely seen.
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.
STERN: So, if that movie had been a big hit I’m guessing he might have had more trepidation, but that movie was really I think the two coasts and really this coast more than that coast.
Known by geeks like us.
STERN: Yeah. Geeks like you guys and me. So if that movie had done $100 million domestic box office, I think he probably would have had some hesitation but because it was so…I guess online people are probably seeing it now. Maybe there’s a couple of geeks around the country watching that movie right this second.
Can you talk about the tone of this because it’s easy to imagine it being a very zany comedy or a very grounded realistic dark comedy? So what are you shooting for?
STERN: I don’t see it as a dark comedy and I do see it as really anchored in reality but we definitely take some license. So I think we anchor it in relatively real situations and then I think we push the envelope a bit and I don’t believe we ever get cartoony. We certainly are trying to avoid getting cartoony, but we’re realistic with a flair, how’s that? With a comedic flair. I do think The Hangover is an example of something that accomplished that very well and even from the first script we had—literally the spec script that we first read over 5 years ago—it really, really aimed to have a real anchor in reality and have realistic situations and then push the envelope a bit.
Is this PG-13 or R?
STERN: This will definitely be an R. This will be an R.
Character named Motherfucker.
STERN: There is a character named Motherfucker Jones and he earns that name. He earns that name.
Once you know you’re going to be an R, what kind of liberties does that mean for the cast for improv, for what you’re doing on-set, I mean are you guys pushing the “R” boundary or are you sort of teetering the line?
STERN: Oh I think we’re pushing the R boundary. I mean, I’d like to think that we never get really cheap and cheesy with it. I mean I’d like to kind of avoid that and I think everybody sort of has in mind that they don’t want to….but we definitely push it and we have I mean we’re blessed with 3 guys that are amazing. When you Colin Farrell’s performance I mean you’re going to…I think you’ll be amazed. I think you’re going to be amazed.
He has a little bit of a comb-over.
STERN: He does. I’ve been trying to not imitate it. He has a great comb-over. I think he has a world-class comb-over that will be remember for years to come. But he created a character. There was a great character on the page, but he took it in a really wonderful direction. I’m going to give you just a little….he’s a guy that nobody would doubt of sort of has a kind of pretty strong sense of his masculinity. He plays this character as somebody that doubts his manhood all the way along the line, but compensates all the time for it. So I think it’s a masterful comedic performance and I hope you guys agree. I think it’s great. Everybody else is great in the cast as well but I mean, Colin had his 6 days and he will have a bunch of screen time in his 6 or 7 days on the movie. He did a spectacular job. As did Jamie Foxx as Motherfucker Jones.
STERN: By the way, you say that Motherfucka, not Motherfucker. That’s one of the things he says.
Another movie this brings to mind is Office Space with the idea of revenge on bosses and now sitting at TGI Friday’s. Tell me are there any comparisons there or is it kind of in there?
STERN: Well, it is a work…I think there are comparisons. It is a workplace comedy. I mean again, I think we pushed the envelope quite a bit more than Office Space did and I do think that because we have this sort of triumvirate of 3 regular kind of schlemeles that…there are 3 regular guys and then 3 kind of outrageous bosses. So you have 3 regular guys really sort of in really outrageous circumstances and going on this outrageous adventure together. And so I think we’re…I’d call Office Space a great movie. I think we’re hopefully going to be a great movie and I think we’re going to be in certain ways a more commercial movie because we have the 3 guys and these 3 outrageous bosses. We sort of like tripled everything up.
Does this stray a little darker is seems in terms of like black comedy area?
STERN: I don’t see it as a black comedy. I mean listen the premise of the movie is the 3 guys decide that their bosses are so amazingly horrible that they have to kill their bosses. Partly to help themselves but also to help the world because these…if you had the chance to kill Hitler at the right moment, would you kill Hitler? So there’s a darkness to the sort of premise but I don’t think the movie really…I don’t see the movie as very dark. I see it as a mainstream comedy with 3 regular guys who have decided to do, for themselves, an outrageous thing.
So we will hate their bosses so much that their murders seem justified?
STERN: Oh I think you’re going to hate their bosses. I think you’re going to hate their…each of their bosses in very different ways but I think you’re going to despise each one of them.
What’s the relationship between the 3 guys? Do they meet in the film or are they friends?
STERN: No, no. They’ve been friends for a long time. They hang out together. They hang out at this TGI Friday’s…obviously it’s not called that in the movie but…It’s called Ravetti’s.
Do you have any horrible bosses in your past that maybe drew you to do something like this?
STERN: I’ve had some horrible bosses. I think one of the strengths of the movie just from a commercial appeal prospective is that I think everybody’s had at least moments with bosses that were pretty horrible. You might not go so far as to say, “that boss was a really horrible boss” but I think a lot of us have had horrible bosses and we’ve all had bosses who acted horribly at moments for sure. So I think it’s very easy for everybody in the world to identify with our 3 regular guys. So that’s one of the reasons I love the script as much as I did aside from the fact that it was just outrageously funny.
Isn’t a little apprehensive having so many known cast members in the movie? Do you get worried that it’ll get a little overwhelming to the audience?
STERN: You know what? The truth is I think a couple of years ago I would have been more concerned about sort of the ensemble of it. But then when….New Line has made a couple of movies recently—She’s Not That Into You and Valentine’s Day—that we full-on more ensembles than this is. They all had sort of various stories running through it. This has one story. It’s the 3 guys on an outrageous adventure together. So I might have been concerned a couple of years ago but I’m not at all. I’m not at all.
I’m curious that you ended up filming here in L.A. There’s a lot of tax incentives in Detroit now, New Mexico, Louisiana. Could you talk about why Los Angeles and did it help with the cast by filming in Los Angeles?
STERN: It definitely helps with the cast. I’m not 100% sure, I mean we established that we were filming in L.A. before we cast certainly Jennifer and Kevin and I think the cast knew we were shooting in L.A. or certainly trying to. So I think that helped us get the cast. It’s completely hypothetical whether we would have gotten everybody if we had been shooting in Detroit. I don’t know if we would have or wouldn’t. It’s really helpful to shoot in Los Angeles. It’s incredibly….it’s just a great experience shooting in Los Angeles and we do…they’re limited but there are tax incentives that we’re taking advantage of in Los Angeles. We are getting a tax rebate.
Was there ever a talk though of going to one of these other states?
STERN: Oh yeah. We talked about it. We talked about Canada. We looked at a couple of different scenarios. A few different scenarios.
Does the story take place in L.A.?
STERN: No it really is a sort of…it’s sort of any small city anywhere. So it could be in the Midwest, it could be Northern California, it could be Southern California. We’re not specifying where it is, so it’s sort of the …as our 3 guys are sort of every-men, there’s a sort of every-city. We want to keep it open for anybody to identify with, so.
Did you get a good budget for this film?
STERN: I think we have a very kind of solid reasonable budget. In other words, I think it’s by Hollywood studio standards is very modest. But we have everything we need. We have some crane shots. [laughs] We have crane shots. We have a great cast, you know? Craft services is really good.
STERN: Catering is quite excellent, you know? Kudos all the way around. But that’s ….we have a great line producer, Diana Pokorny, who’s doing a great job and her team is doing a spectacular job. I have to single out Shepherd Frankel who did the production design who’s doing an amazing job. He’s not being given the resources that Hollywood movies…this isn’t Transformers, but he’s doing an amazing job.
Some people could say if this was a Transformers budget you might be overspending.
STERN: I think we would be in fact. I would tell you that if we were…I don’t know what…we’re not overspending and I’m trying to think of comedies that have cost a lot of money. I can’t bring one up right off the top of my head, but we’re not overspending on the movie. I feel very happy about what we’re doing on the movie budget-wise. But I don’t feel like we have to sacrifice the quality of the movie because of the budget.
Can you tell me about finding your director for this?
STERN: We met with a number of directors. And Seth [Gordon] was very, very articulate and smart in the room. When you meet with him you’ll see how he’s a very smart guy. And he had done one movie for New Line called Four Christmases and they were…they liked the experience they had with him. They thought he was a good guy and smart. And I was convinced because he had done a wonderful documentary called King of Kong. And he was also very smart about how he wanted to do the comedy and he brought in ideas for cast members. He actually….something I had not seen before, he brought in kind of a mix and match type of a thing where he had 8 characters for each one of our roles and he said how about mix and match these? He did a great presentation and I think he really solidly understood the script, so. And there were other very good directors that were interested in the movie but I’m very happy that we chose Seth.
The big question of course as fans of King of Kong, will there be in any of the restaurants or locations we happen to walk by a Donkey Kong machine?
STERN: That’s a great question. And that’s where you’re going to have to see the movie. You can ask that then.
I think that would be a great meta joke.
STERN: I think that’s right because we might have to pull that off. We could also get together and talk about other meta jokes and the 2 of us could laugh really hard.
I think that would be a great little thing, though. My last question for you is obviously you must have other things bubbling up to the surface as far as other projects, could you sort of talk about what else is happening for you?
STERN: Yeah. Well, I started a company with a couple of partners called Route 1 Films.
Are you from New England?
STERN: I’m from New York City originally.
STERN: But Route One is actually the state name for Highway 1 out here. I think there’s a Route 1 in many states and I think it’s also the term that a British soccer player uses for the fastest way to a goal. If you kick the ball down the…that’s Route 1 right down the middle, so kind of the idea is we’re trying to keep the bullshit to a minimum. We want to go from Point A to Point B. I have 2 great partners and we have a great lead investor and we have about 12 projects in development and we’ll be bringing those soon. We’ll be bringing a few of them to New Line soon. I’m not sure if you knew but Brett Ratner’s producing this movie with me. I was Brett’s partner for about 8 years and I just got lucky and found a great guy that was willing to put up a chunk of money just to start a film company, so I brought a couple of partners in and we’re working hard on that. But for these couple of months while we’re shooting I’m not working that hard on that.
STERN: But the movies that we’re trying…by the way this would be a perfect movie for us. I wish…we’re trying to make movies that are highly marketable and that audiences love, so anything from Taken to Horrible Bosses to The Hangover to The Blind Side, we’re trying to do thrillers, comedies, romantic comedies, contained action movies but hopefully crowd pleasers that you guys will love. A year from now we’ll be talking about a Route 1 film. But for now I’m basically 100% on Horrible Bosses and I have to say I love it and I think you guys are going to love it.
Here’s more coverage of Horrible Bosses: