When you visit the set of a movie, you’re lucky to get ten to fifteen minutes with the main cast. It’s not because they don’t want to talk to you; it’s usually because they’re in every shot and they have limited time in between set-ups. However, when I visited the Atlanta set of The Internship last year with two other reporters, I did something I’ve never done on any movie set: I had lunch with the stars and director. When the production took their lunch break, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and director Shawn Levy came over to where we were sitting and for about thirty minutes talked about the movie, how it came together, improv, what it’s been like working with Google, script changes, and so much more. As a big fan of all three people, it was an awesome way to conduct the interview. Hit the jump for what they had to say.
Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the trailer, I’d watch that first.
Question: I’ll definitely start off by saying I’m a big fan of what you guys have done together in the past. Talk a little bit about how long you guys have been trying to work together again and how did this project come about?
OWEN WILSON: We were just talking about how it’s funny to think that it’s been so long since we did work together. I guess you kind of wait to find something that you both get excited about. So when Vince had this idea, it just seemed like something that would be kind of funny for us to work on.
VINCE VAUGHN: Yeah. We had so much fun working together. We’ve always stayed such good friends that there had been some things, but nothing that really made sense because you want it to be its own original thing. I knew we wanted to do something together again, but it had to feel like its own kind of fun, original idea that made sense. So I thought of the concept of, just in life right now, a lot of people were losing their jobs, things were tough. And then I saw this thing on 60 Minutes where I saw Google and I thought, this is so different from what we were raised for what a job to be. People have chefs around. They’re taking naps. They’re playing games on their campus. It looks like a fun college campus and being from the mid-West, you picture a job like you go to the office and they pay you as little as possible, try not to give you a lunch break, and so it’s very different in that kind of culture. So it seemed fun to take the concepts of Owen and I being two guys, like a lot of people in life right now, who’d fallen on hard times and get a chance to go to what seems to be the most fun place to work in the world. Also, guys who maybe missed the cultural experience now going and trying to catch up in that world without having the necessary skill sets. And Shawn was a big factor for me, getting a chance to hang out with him producing The Watch and being around him. I always liked his spirit and his energy. He’s very smart and fun. We would just laugh and get along. So I was really thankful when I asked Shawn if it was something he would be interested in, that he really sparked to the idea as well.
WILSON: It was like one of those things when you talk about — I didn’t see the 60 Minutes things but I remember visiting Pixar on Cars and it seems like the same kind of place like, “God, you see people skateboarding around and playing ping-pong” and it just seems like, “Wow! This would be the greatest place to work.” It’s like where you would dream for your kid to be able to get an internship. So it did just seem like a funny idea to have us there.
SHAWN LEVY: It’s also always good to put characters in a situation for which they are, at least on the surface, completely unequipped. So the idea of taking these guys into that culture and the conflict that would come out of that seemed like a good opportunity for funny.
Building on your question, since the last time you guys hooked up, what’s changed? What’s the same?
VAUGHN: We each have kids now. That’s true. I think we share a sense of humor that’s similar, Owen and I, and some life experience stuff that’s similar, but it’s fun to work with Owen because he’s creative. He has good ideas. We almost play tennis everyday. We’ll come and think of stuff. There are lots of times on Crashers and on this and in the rehearsal process where I would come up with a good idea or he would come up with a good idea or Shawn would. So it’s nice when you’re working with people that are enthusiastic and having fun with it and trying to come up with different ways, never settling, and always thinking of fun ways of doing stuff.
WILSON: We both have children but it doesn’t feel like things have changed that much. It doesn’t feel that different.
VAUGHN: We’re still bickering about who can beat each other at games and going back and forth.
LEVY: Getting inappropriately competitive over backgammon, ping-pong, Whirlyball –
WILSON: Whirlyball is the latest.
LEVY: It was our Friday night eve. This is a game in bumper cars where you have essentially like a lacrosse stick and a ball.
VAUGHN: Did you play it? I highly recommend it if you can. I mean, it’s awesome.
WILSON: I play in Chicago.
VAUGHN: There’s a place in Chicago I go play a lot.
WILSON: I have one game. We were shooting like 50%.
VAUGHN: — but I looked it up and they had a place down here. Just like a kid, you’re smiling the whole time because you’re in a bumper car bumping people but you’re trying to score with this ball. It’s so fun.
And there’s an open bar, as you mentioned.
LEVY: So, that was our fun Friday night on The Internship.
Are you planning on incorporating this into the script at all?
VAUGHN: Whirlyball will only be incorporated from the point that it put a smile on our face and that energy will carry over to the same way.
LEVY: And you’ll feel it. You’ll feel that joy on the screen.
I feel like I already felt it.
LEVY: There you go. Good!
VAUGHN: For me, it makes it less of a focus, I think, when you look at something like Wedding Crashers. Some of the scenes are R because of the situations and the dating situations or that kind of stuff. This movie has adultness to it because we’re in the workforce, but it doesn’t necessarily have as much sexual stuff going on. So it’s not really important. We just go to each scene, like you saw even today, and try to just be funny for what the scene calls for. We don’t want to have to try to be extreme just to be extreme because we’re trying to earn some kind of an R rating, and maybe the scene wouldn’t warrant it.
By the other end, we don’t want to dance around what would be adult fitting language if the scene would call for it just because we’re trying to avoid it. So the fun of it is we’re just kind of playing around and having fun and giving ourselves some options and then, ultimately, we’ll be able to see which one makes sense. But I don’t really feel it’ll make that much of a difference. It’ll sort of organically come to whatever makes sense. It’s just a rating system. It’s nice not to be pigeonholed to say, “We’ve got to try to be as crass as we can be” or “We have to be as clean as we can be.” We can sort of have fun in a real way with the scenes and see where we sort of land –
LEVY: They saw a good example of that actually in that scene. We did five, six takes and angles where really, there is nothing particularly R rated and then Vince found a seam, started exploring it and if that all ends up in, that’s probably an R-rated movie. So it’s that kind of freedom, like, whatever is the funny idea, we’re going to get it and we’re going to let the movie kind of reveal what it wants to be.
How did those funny ideas grow? Where does it start and how does the go?
VAUGHN: Well, like today, it was based on the scene. We write a script. We’ve all worked on it and then we have a rehearsal. We think of new ideas. We bring in actors. I want to hear their ideas. They come up with ideas and suggestions. We workshop it. Then we always, to the day, we’ll shoot what we have, but sometimes we’ll just shoot what we have which is what it felt like to me today. I just thought of that in that moment. It may not even make it in but even if it doesn’t, it’s still fun and it allows us to keep it fresh and to do different things.
WILSON: What was nice on this was there was a really long rehearsal process. So all the guys playing the Googlers, like they came in and you guys had a chance to sort of improvise and kind of rehearse and it was like a fun casting process and you’re kind of able to play around with the scenes.
LEVY: You’re welcome to ask the kids about this but for instance, before — you can’t cast someone in an Owen-Vince movie who is uncomfortable with improv, because some actors are really good but they cannot deal with looseness. They know their scripted lines and they can do that. On this movie, I knew that it would only work with an ensemble of people who are comfortable being fluid. So when possible, Owen would come in and read with the contenders to the roles. Vince came in a bunch of times and we would improvise in the auditions, and some of what’s in the movie is the improvs that came about in the auditions of these kids, because they came with strong personalities and choices about their characters. So really, the final movie and screenplay definitely has the result of everyone’s contribution, not just us three but all 15 of us. When you have people like Aasif Mandvi playing that kind of hard-ass drill sergeant Googler, he’s a source of great stuff. We have Max Minghella playing the antagonist, just a lot of talent in all directions.
WILSON: But you guys were like what’s the difference since we last worked together– I was thinking, like, was the internet around when you were doing Wedding Crashers?
VAUGHN: It was.
WILSON: But we weren’t like — you’re definitely one of the last holdouts, to even have like a computer, a cell phone.
VAUGHN: That’s right.
WILSON: So like all that stuff.
VAUGHN: The internet had more than a heartbeat in 2005, yes.
WILSON: This has given us a chance to sort of discover this world.
LEVY: That’s your gold mine. Right there is the bold header for the article.
I am curious though and I don’t want you guys to reveal too much but I figure this is the beginning of the film. You guys clearly are not coders. You’re not people that you would think to be Googlers, yet you’re both interns there. So how do you guys end up with the gig?
WILSON: Well, even Google has to be able to sell stuff. So there is room for people that aren’t necessarily great at coding but do have the gift of gab and can sell people on a dream and I guess that’s where our characters come in.
LEVY: It’s that. They have sales background as characters –
WILSON: It might be some sort of affirmative action.
LEVY: But also at Google, when we met with them, when Vince and I went up there and we interviewed the kind of brass, they have the layover test. It’s something they actually have in their interview process and it is at the end of the day, beyond what school the kid went to, beyond GPA, etc., who would you rather be stuck in an airport bar with on a six-hour flight delay? They call it the layover test.
WILSON: We scored very high (laughs).
LEVY: These two, there’s actually a scene where we see the Google application admissions committee deliberating, like – you’ve got some people like, “What? Are you kidding? No way” and yet, when you think about the layover test, these guys would probably pass with flying colors. So Google often accepts people employees and interns with kind of outside that Silicon Valley box way of thinking and it’s one of the reasons that these characters get in.
WILSON: Yeah, even when we went to Google, like we met some — I mean, everyone is like kind of interesting but we met some kind of odd balls there. There’s one guy who was like kind of like a spiritual person. I think he actually was like a physicist also but –
VAUGHN: At the end of the day, the movie’s really about still having a dream, whatever that dream may be. Wanting something in life, to try something, to try to reach your potential. I think that that’s the world of Google and it’s a really fun world. Really, overall, this will be interesting. It has a lot of fun components about it. So, that’s really the genesis of it. You take two guys from somewhere in America and they get to go to this place that is really kind of interesting and fun. It’s a fun way to get into the world and sort of see how it works and what goes on there, but it’s fun to see it from people’s perspective who aren’t from there. It is also that nice thing where you still want to try to have things in your life, not just professionally, but personally and those kinds of things. It’s just a really fun backdrop for that theme.
LEVY: Because really, it’s that story of two guys trying to write the next chapter when it seems like their story is done. They cannot get a new job. Their business has folded. It’s about that turning a corner and it’s professionally, as Vince says, it’s also romantically. We have Rose Byrne as our female lead who plays upper executive at Google and there’s a story line between Owen and her that is completely lovely and similarly about these themes of reinvention and maybe the possibility of a second chance.
WILSON: There’s that famous Fitzgerald quote, “There are no second acts in American life” and so, that’s what this movie would be. I mean, we are looking for a second act.
That’s well put.
WILSON: A second chance.
I’m curious about, if you don’t mind, Easter eggs. You guys have some classic movies. Is there ever a chance of, like, even a throw away line about earmuffs or stereo city or anything that could just be like — do you know what I mean? Like even if it’s a throwaway in the background or do you not believe in that?
VAUGHN: Well, it’s not that I don’t believe it. I think there are some new ones in this one. I think that this is its own movie with its own world and it’s got some pretty cool themes and things that have just kind of come up. I mean when we went into Crashers, we were really making that movie. We weren’t homaging Swingers or Bottle Rocket or other things that were from the past. That became fun in its own thing. This one here definitely has its own engine in its own sort of world and discovery to it that’s fun and fresh.
Did you have to teach Will Ferrell anything about electronic sales?
VAUGHN: I cannot discuss anything that’s going on between me and the big cat at this point, but I will say the big cat will not disappoint.
What is it like for you to call up Google and say, “I kind of want to visit and I’m interested in possibly making a movie”? Do you go right to the head or it’s like all of a sudden you’re on with like the VP of everything?
VAUGHN: Well, it’s a journey I started early on when I first had the idea and one of the people that works with me, Sandra Smith, is from that culture. She worked up north so she knew some people in relationships, and they were very open to me. I came in right away and I just said this is the concept. They really laughed. They thought it was very fun. I sort of talked them through it and we just started a nice relationship and right away, I think they got the concept and thought it was a fun idea, and they were really supportive from the beginning. Then once Owen and Shawn fell into the mold, I made the introductions to them and they like these guys as well and it’s just been — since that point it’s been kind of open arms and a lot of support and a lot of fun. Even for me going in there, there are a lot of things they’re doing there that are interesting and cool. And the movie sort of, while staying on our story, it feels like going into the chocolate factory. You’re still getting an insight and seeing a lot of interesting cool stuff. That’s a pretty unique look into a world that not everyone gets a peek into.
The film is about internships. If you could intern for anybody and have them be your mentor, who would it be and why?
WILSON: Well, what I was saying earlier was that was my feeling when I went to Pixar is that, “God, this would be an incredible place to work.” I mean even the way our set is kind of reminds me of that sort of open—even like John Lasseter’s office isn’t removed from the everything else. So like everything seemed sort of connected. It just seemed like an incredibly creative place with great energy. So it made you want to be a part of that. So I guess that’s what I would pick.
No dream internship, Vince?
WILSON: A sports team, I guess, would be really cool.
LEVY: Well yeah, we’re all a little sports obsessed so that would kind of be a dream.
WILSON: That would be –
VAUGHN: Oh, I don’t know. Sport themes are fun. What else would be interesting to internship? [To Shawn] How about you for the museum? You felt you did an internship at the museum.
LEVY: Yeah. That part of the fun in this job is you learn just enough about the thing you’re making a movie about. So in a way, I had a museum internship, a boxing internship, now absolutely, it’s like a Google internship because I’m no expert but I know just enough to sound knowledgeable at a cocktail party.
WILSON: Mile wide, inch deep.
How much did the script change from your original, initial idea to what you guys are actually filming right now?
VAUGHN: It changed quite a bit. Most scripts, especially in comedies, always change a lot, especially depending on who the actors are and especially in comedy, you sort of custom it to who those people are. Shawn is a great filmmaker and has great ideas and put his marks on the movie as well, and I think what I had with Owen and what I had with Shawn separately when we worked is we have a good relationship and a good team where it becomes a good environment where the best idea wins and everyone’s driving towards the same thing. So we had that on Crashers and I knew that that would carry over here with Owen and I knew that I have that with Shawn, and between both of them and myself and Jared and Dan, the other producers and Sandra, there’s just been — we’ve had a good system of coming up with ideas because part of it is, when you write the first draft, I don’t really know Google. I was writing it more from what I thought an internship would be which would be a traditional internship, but what I realized is the kids who are top in their class from Harvard going into Google, they aren’t getting coffee for people, they actually kind of start the job right away and they actually are put on teams and they’re asked to do stuff. So it’s not a traditional internship. As we got informed and wanted to be authentic to what the journey is and then tweak it for comedy as the information came in, there’s this story that came from a better place of knowledge and strength to sort of shape the character journey that you take.
Talk a little bit about what the change has been like for both of you.
WILSON: Yeah, because I have no sense of it. It doesn’t feel any different at all. I mean, I guess for you — does it move faster?
LEVY: Would you feel it guiltless? It does move a little faster.
WILSON: I mean, I guess you don’t change. So you’re able to do a lot of takes, I guess, but –
LEVY: Without cutting.
WILSON: Without cutting.
LEVY: I used to always to feel the guilt, maybe you guys too.
WILSON: Or replacing the mag, open on a big mag.
LEVY: And also like every time, you just keep going.
WILSON: Yeah. Right.
LEVY: When it’s film, I would always be conscious of “Okay. We’re rolling. We’re wasting film. Let’s go.”
LEVY: On digital, I find for comedy the upside of not cutting, like I always think of that line like “Never get off the boat,” Apocalypse Now.
WILSON: Yeah, Apocalypse Now.
LEVY: Like never in comedy, never cut. If you can avoid cutting, don’t cut because everyone –
WILSON: We’re filming right now (laughs).
LEVY: I’m still rolling right now. But I find that digital allows me to roll guiltlessly without cutting so that once these guys, whose job it is to find inspiration, get worked up into that lather because eventually, that’s what you hope, is if someone will find a scene and hit it, every time you cut, it’s like everyone lets down.
WILSON: It doesn’t seem like it’s made movies less expensive or save time. It still seems like the same length of shooting schedule.
LEVY: You’re right. Yup. It has not changed in those ways.
VAUGHN: I sort of like film, just the nostalgia of it but I haven’t shot a lot on digital. We’re doing it now, but it’s been nice. I’ve seen very good stuff that looks very high quality on digital. I think people do a good job of making it look good.
VAUGHN: I have a preference for film just because of the familiarity. It’s what I know and I sort of have nostalgia for it. That being said, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like shooting on the digital. I’m enjoying it, but I think anyone who’s forced would change, myself included. It’s a process we’re getting comfortable with.
It’s almost like you’re interning, heartbeat, on digital film.
VAUGHN: Yeah. I mean, I think we shot a couple of others on — the last one was on digital. So I’ve done it, but yeah, I think whatever — you get nostalgia for something when it’s going away. I think that’s something normal about that.
For more on The Internship, here’s “20 Things to Know About the Film” from our set visit, and new images.