First, there was the play, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” written by David Mamet. Then, there was the 1986 feature film, About Last Night, starring Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins. Now, a modern re-imagining of the classic romantic comedy, which follows new love for two couples as they journey from the bar to the bedroom and are eventually put to the test in the real world, is hitting theaters on February 14, 2014. And back on October 25, 2012, Collider was invited, along with a handful of other press, to the set on the second-to-last day of shooting.
At the Broadway Bar in Downtown Los Angeles, a Halloween party was in full swing, with Kevin Hart as Channing Tatum’s character in Magic Mike, Michael Ealy as Ike Turner, Joy Bryant as Tina Turner and Regina Hall as Nicki Minaj. Find out more about the film, what the actors were doing and why after the jump.
Out for a night on the town, Danny (Ealy) and Debbie (Bryant) were joined by Bernie (Hart) and Joan (Hall). While we were on set, we got to see various snippets of a longer scene set in the bar, but it easily illustrated the balance of comedy and drama that they’re clearly going for in the film. Both Kevin Hart and Regina Hall were throwing out hilarious improvised lines, exchanging quips and barbs with and at each other, while Hart and Michael Ealy were sharing a bit of a heart-to-heart moment.
While on a break from shooting, director Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine) took some time out to talk to us about what attracted him to the project, what it’s like to work with someone who’s as adept at improv as Kevin Hart, Regina Hall’s skill with comic timing, shooting with a tight 30-day schedule, what made About Last Night due for a new spin, actually shooting Downtown L.A. for Downtown L.A., and why he’s drawn to comedies or stories with a comedic angle.
Question: What attracted you to this project?
STEVE PINK: Well, it was the script, first and foremost. I got the script and it was incredibly well-written. Leslye Headland had written a great script. And the opportunity to do a romantic drama/comedy was really appealing to me. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet on the project and try to persuade them to give me the job. But, it started with the script ‘cause it was so well-written. That was it.
As a director, how do you deal with someone like Kevin Hart, whose talent is so big? Do you feel like you have to reel him in, or do you just let him go?
PINK: You know, he doesn’t listen to a thing a say. So, there’s some tension between us, but we’re going to get past it, I hope. I’m kidding! Like guys of his level of talent, he makes it look easy. He gives you that comic energy. He brings all that comic energy and it seems totally unhinged, but he’s really prepared. He knows where he is in the story. He knows where his character is. He responds specifically to the dynamics of the scene. He’s playing Bernie, so he treats Danny differently than he treats Joan. He has a very specific approach to his character, and his character has a very specific approach to how he treats the other people in the world of the movie. He makes it look easy. When you’re looking at takes, he’s just popping off and being hilarious, funny and energized, but there’s a lot of thoughtful work that’s gone into that moment that you see. Out of context it seems like crazy chaos. It just appears like it’s comic chaos and it’s funny, but that’s how great he is. He’s a really prepared guy. It’s either that, or he’s just skating by on pure, raw talent.
How is Regina Hall and her comedic timing fit with Kevin Hart?
PINK: He’s met his match, that’s for sure. Kevin will tell you that. She’s so brilliantly in the moment, and she’s such a talented actor that it doesn’t feel like she’s having to compete with him from the standpoint of, “He’s a comic and I have to compete with him.” She’s so good at being inside her character that she just reacts naturally and sincerely to what he gives, as his character. What he puts out, she’s able to swat it back at him inside the world of her character, and she’s world-class. She’s so funny. He’s met his match. As actors, they work incredibly well together and they have incredible chemistry, and that works for their characters. Bernie and Joan are a pair. Man, they really are. People are gonna be just blown away, I think, by their relationship.
PINK: This is a pretty tight script, so everyone’s been keeping pretty tight to the script. But, there’s always room for it. It’s not the desire for more or less, it’s really time and space. We’re doing this in 30 days. It’s a very tight shoot. We’re working very hard to get everything that’s actually scripted in the lens. If we had time to do more improvisational stuff, we would do it. We have as much as we can handle without having to keep moving down the road. Certainly, it’s always welcome.
Out of all the romantic comedies in the world, why is this one right for a new spin?
PINK: It has a peculiar structure. First of all, I always sound like a pretentious idiot when I try to actually describe it with any ability to be articulate about it, at all. I sound like an idiot, so I get very insecure when I start talking about genres, in general. They usually rely on a big device, like mistaken identity, or a big lie involved in the movie. Weddings Crashers is one of my favorite movies, but they can’t reveal that they’re wedding crashers, so they lie and they get into a hilarious romantic adventure by virtue of a big lie. This is a very grounded story. I don’t know if it’s low-concept, but there is no high-concept. People meet. It’s boys meet girls, boy gets girl, and girl gets boy, in a really grounded way. You naturally see the evolution of their relationship, and how it grows and breaks apart.
Ultimately, what their relationships are about determine how and why they love each other. It’s very simple and grounded, in that way. The trick there is to keep moving. Mamet’s original play, and the original writers of the first film, knew that. Structurally, the movie moves quickly. You’re moving through a pretty big emotional story in a short amount of time without a lot of high-concept devices. I think that’s always welcome. I don’t see a lot of those kinds of movies being made. Big hooks have always been a part of American movie-making. So, to make a movie where you’re just driving story through the characters without a high-concept is a challenge. That’s why it’s great that we have world-class actors. What’s compelling you besides the circumstances is your connection to those people. We have to figure out how to invite you into this world, warm you up to the characters quickly, and then get you invested in their stories, and I think that we’ve done that. That was the challenge, and I think we’ve done it well.
How was it to come onto this with a group of actors who have all worked with each other and have a history on other films?
PINK: Well, they make you feel comfortable. They made me feel welcomed. When we talked about what we were going to try to achieve, we got on the same page very quickly. They’re just such friendly, warm and talented people that I was grateful that they brought me into it. I don’t know. Maybe I’m mistaken in the belief that I feel that way. Maybe they don’t feel that way. You’d have to ask them. They could be like, “He’s the worst!” I don’t know.
PINK: Everyone has talked about pranks more than we ever execute them. We’ve had such a tight shoot that we’re here to work, as hard as we can, every day, all day. And then, we wake up the next day and do it all again. It hasn’t been a very luxurious schedule, so we haven’t had a lot of time to do pranks. Pranks have been discussed. There is talk of one today, but I can’t reveal it because I don’t know if it’s going to work or not. You can get back in touch with me and I’ll tell you if we pulled it off. There is one tonight that I’m gonna try to pull it off, but I can’t say. I can’t talk about it. So, feel free to get back in touch, next week or whenever, and I’ll tell you if we got it done or not. It will be funny, if we get it done.
What’s it been like to shoot on location in Downtown Los Angeles?
PINK: My brother lives down here, so I’ve gotten more familiar with Downtown, by virtue of him, over the last few years. There’s this growing, vibrant city going on here, that people may or may not know about. I certainly didn’t know what was happening. It’s a really vibrant world to explore and be in. So, to show that our characters exist in this world was great. I was like, “Wow, there’s a whole part of Los Angeles that I haven’t seen.” We haven’t seen it that much. Usually, Downtown L.A. doubles for other cities, like New York. So, to play Downtown as Downtown, it was fun and exciting. Seeing what the angles were and seeing what we’re showing, it was about capturing this world, with the loft spaces they live in and the streets they walk down. You can’t just come down and say, “Oh, let’s shoot anywhere.” In the city of L.A., you have to dig in and found out where and how this world exists, for the camera to see it. There’s not like six blocks, in both directions. It’s not like Greenwich Village or Soho. It’s a little more spread out and pocketed. We still had to draw it out and find it and shoot it, and we did.
PINK: I’m drawn to more than I’m allowed to do or asked to do, or probably should do. My whole career has been comedy, of a kind. Grosse Pointe Blank is an action romantic comedy. So was High Fidelity. Hot Tub Time Machine is super-broad comedy. I guess I’ve always existed in that world. And this is really funny. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to deal with characters where there’s a dramatic component. There’s a really strong dramatic story being told, as well as it being extremely funny.
Being given the chance to make this movie and execute it well is just a great opportunity. I’m not just in broad comedy, and that allows people to maybe see that I can do other stuff. Although I probably will always be funny, in some form. I probably shouldn’t do a straight drama. I’d probably ruin it. I don’t know. But, I’d love the opportunity to try. I’m sure that every kind of filmmaker feels that they can do other genres of film and want to, and I feel the same way. If someone said, “Would you like to do this period drama?,” I’d say, “Hell, yeah! I’d love to do that!” To dig into history and do a story in some period would be great. But then, they’d be like, “Why didn’t Joe Wright do that film? Why did Steve Pink do that film?”
About Last Night opens in theaters on February 14, 2014.