Shortly after watching Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie shoot that piano scene featured in the The Night Before trailer, I got the opportunity to participate in an on-set roundtable interview with producer James Weaver and writer-producer Evan Goldberg to discuss how the project came to be and their experience bringing the story to screen.
You can check out what they told me about the tone of the film, the casting process, what goes down at the Nutcracka Ball, the scale of The Night Before compared to past projects like The Interview and Neighbors, and so much more in the interview below. The movie is due in theaters on November 25th and also stars Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon and Mindy Kaling. In case you missed it, you can check out the film’s red band trailer right here:
Question: Can you talk about the impetus of the story? Where did this project start? How did it come together?
EVAN GOLDBERG: Jon Levine just kind of thought up the idea of making a holiday film. He just was talking one day watching one on television and then said that he thought we should do something that would get played every Christmas and that that’s kind of just a cool place to have a movie made because it kind of perpetuates it forever.
JAMES WEAVER: He pitched it to us on 50/50, or he started talking to us when we made 50/50 with him so it’s been for a while and I think he and his buddies did a version of what the story is, which is go out on Christmas Eve and have a night of debauchery, so he’s kind of basing it off that sort of idea, and it’s kind of turned into a movie about people leaving, totally leaving childhood, like for real. Anthony’s character is sort of at a professional moment in his career when he has to start maybe doing something new. Seth’s about to have his first kid, so that’s obviously a game-changer for him and then Joe is the guy who never figured it out as a 20-something, early 30-something, so it’s about that moment in your adult life when you’re like you better actually figure it out because now you’re really an adult.
Is this kind of like a spiritual successor to Superbad?
GOLDBERG: It’s definitely got a kind of similar vibe in some sense, like Superbad’s about going from high school to university and entering adulthood and this is about entering the journey through adulthood and this is about exiting that journey just like, you’re an adult. So there’s a bit of a similarity there and it’s about three guys, but it’s very different. It’s not like one of them has his own journey and it’s like McLovin. It’s just vaguely reminiscent, but definitely a little.
The overall vibe is positive and uplifting, but are there any dark comedy parts to it, like Bad Santa?
GOLDBERG: Oh, yeah. It’s not like mega-dark, but there’s some pretty dark moments. It’s mostly bright and funny and hilarious, but it gets a little crazy sometimes, but definitely not like a dark story, like the audience will never get really depressed during the course of the film.
WEAVER: What’s nice about making a Christmas movie is you get to hang your hat on a lot of understood, known Christmas tropes, which we have definitely woven into the story. There are certain things that people expect in a Christmas movie. They expect a little magic, they expect a family, they expect Santa Claus. There are some of these things that I think we have to deliver versions of that, but we’re going to do it in an R-rated sort of crazy version, essentially. But the movies we reference are like Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life or Love Actually, those are movies that we reference when we were kind of talking about the idea for making it.
Speaking of references, we’re coming into an obvious Big homage. Are there any others in the film?
WEAVER: Yeah, there’s definitely an It’s a Wonderful Life homage, like an angelic sort of homage about, you know, that sort of spiritual guide through life thing. We have a version of that. What else? That I think is probably the most overt one that you can make a direct parallel.
Obviously you and Seth like to bring your Jewishness to a lot of the projects …
GOLDBERG: We don’t really have a choice.
How does the Judaism enter the Christmas movie?
GOLDBERG: I feel like we’ve got a really fun take on it in that Seth is married to a woman and she’s not Jewish, and they’re doing Christmas, and it’s kind of a little awkward for him, and so you’ve got the Jewish character but he’s kind of alone this time whereas usually when you have a Jewish holiday character, there’s more Jews and they have their Jewish thing, but he’s kind of in a void of Christmas and he’s got some issues with his child coming and that child’s not technically gonna be Jewish and it’s just kind of a little whacky for him so I feel like we’ve got a weird new take on classic Jewish comedy.
WEAVER: You’ve seen the sweaters?
GOLDBERG: The sweater is all the Jewish comedy we need.
So their goal is to get to this Nutcracka Ball. We’ve seen some interesting parties on film. What’s going to make this one more interesting than what we’ve seen before?
GOLDBERG: We can’t tell you. It’s what goes down. It’s like the series of events.
WEAVER: But we can tell you the inspiration for the party, which, this is something that Evan came up with when we were talking about how we were going to make it look, it’s Burning Man meets Coachella meets Tron, so I think that’s the look that we’re going for. We’ve shot some epic party things recently, so we definitely had to come up with something new. I definitely think there’s a few things that are gonna sort of blow what we’ve done out before. There’s a little bit of a bigger thing that goes on.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, like in Neighbors it’s a frat party and we did that kind of as big as we could within the boundaries of some kind of reality and this one it’s kind of like not as dumb, but the consequences are a lot more severe than anything that happens to anybody in Neighbors.
How big is this scale-wise for you guys? Is this a bigger budget than ever before? 35 days doesn’t seem like very much time.
WEAVER: Kind of in the middle, actually. We’re sort of in the middle between Neighbors and The Interview, sort of in the middle there.
GOLDBERG: When Seth and I are directing we have all the time in the world, but when we’re producing for someone else, we jam them into a hole. [Laughs]
WEAVER: That’s exactly right. But New York sort of gives its own scale and character to it and that’s where we put a lot of our resources and energy. New York has amazing crews and it’s a great place to shoot. It’s also, if you want New York, there’s no other place to get it so you have to come here and do it no matter what. So I’d say we’re sort of right in the middle of the two of those. Neighbors, it became public knowledge how cheap that movie was to make so now everybody kind of knows, this movie needed more money than that for sure.
It sounds like the story goes all over New York. Can you talk about that?
WEAVER: It starts at a nondescript toy store that may be inspired FAO Schwartz but will never be FAO Schwartz [laughs], and then you get sort of the classic Christmas [in] Rockefeller Center. They go to sort of their favorite karaoke bar.
GOLDBERG: China Town.
WEAVER: China Town. We get out to Brooklyn, sort of get like a nice New York vista.
GOLDBERG: Some subway scenes. Sword fight on the Empire State Building.
WEAVER: Yeah, so we got sort of a couple of the classic New York holiday places. We’re coming back in January also to shoot some more to kind of get hopefully Park Avenue with the wreaths and maybe some of the windows.
Can you guys tease any of the cameos?
WEAVER: Yeah, I mean, we’ve had a little bit of a history of showing some fun cameos. There’s a couple of fun cameos in The Interview that have yet to come out, so, I mean, we really can’t tell you. The big one we can’t tell you. You guys, everyone will be so psyched.
You mentioned Tron. Are you gonna get Bridges?
GOLDBERG: He was on a list for a while.
WEAVER: There will be some new cameos and you’ll get some old favorites, too. We can say that, right?
Can you tell us a little bit about how the character development came about? How much of these characters are based on the script going in and how much of it formed as you cast?
GOLDBERG: There was a script written before we went out to casting and it was pretty well formed for them, but the definition wasn’t there, the fine details kind of came to be after we got the actual actors. The way the development process went, it wasn’t the kind of film where we needed the script and the actors and all of it to be perfect to move forward. We’re making it with a studio we’ve worked with for a long time.
You guys just pitched in February? That’s when it got picked up, right?
WEAVER: Yup, but we’d written the script before. Joe was attached sort of from the beginning. We’d talked to Joe about it. He came up and officially signed on last year when we were filming The Interview and then Anthony was once we got going. This is the End is obviously the most unique because the guys wrote it for the guys, so it was about having those guys. This one, we know Seth and Joe and then Anthony was kind of about knowing that we wanted an athlete character and knowing that he was going to be the big gregarious personality in the group and that sort of informed that a little bit, but I’d say they all, of course, are bringing their own sort of schtick to the actual performance. We rewrote the script quite a bit in prep too, so it evolved quite a bit from February for sure.
And you guys have been on set the whole time too, so how much has it changed as you go along?
GOLDBERG: A lot more. Mostly the jokes. The emotional structure remains the same, but even that changes. If something isn’t working, we just change it.
Is it one of these things where you do a lot of improv and riffing?
GOLDBERG: The script is as good as we could have made it in our heads in the time we had and we always shoot that at least once or twice because that stuff we’ve mulled over and really thought about, and then we just try to beat it the whole time and sometimes that takes it in a divergent path, but usually not, it just kind of stays a long the same chorus, but we get more and more jokes and that will steer it one way, but it always kind of remains the same theme.
With the presence of a drug box, do we get any crazy visual effects sequences?
PAUL LINDEN: Having done a couple of these with the guys, the greatest thing about working on any of their movies is not knowing at the beginning. There’s always going to be something where I never in a million years thought I would build that image. There are probably four or five in this movie where I get to be part of shaping it with them, but there’s some stuff where I’ve never seen anything like that and so I’m pretty psyched to build some of the images that are coming. I think they might surprise even some of the stuff we did. Interview has them, this has them, Neighbors had a couple. There’s always something.
Anything that will get you a lot of angry Christmas cards for years to come?
WEAVER: That should be the goal, Paul!
LINDEN: I know, that should be the goal, some kind of hate mail from my family. I’ve already gotten a few. [Laughs] No, I think in a weird way when you’re in, you’re in. There’s something about these movies, it’s so inclusive to the design of the movie that it’s almost like there’s no wrong answer once we get there. We’re just building wild shit that fits to what is appropriate for the script. And so, given how the range of that and how far they go, we get to build stuff I just never thought I’d get to. It’s a blast. It’s an absolute blast.
GOLDBERG: What’s nice about one of the big Christmas tropes is that you can do something magical and weird and sort of crazy, and so we’re sort of playing around with the title, but X-MAS, which has been kind of a fun one for us to think about, that feels like it sort of speaks to what the movie is and so it’s gonna give us permission to sort of go nutty and crazy, but all under this umbrella of in Christmas movies there’s usually some magical, mystical, sweet element that we can kind of play around with.
What’s been the hardest thing and the most unexpected thing about the shoot?
GOLDBERG: It’s been pretty smooth.
WEAVER: It has been pretty smooth, I think. Making a movie in New York has its own challenges obviously, and that’s just about the reality of New York City. You know, you hear the stories and New Yorkers, if they’re walking down the street and you’re trying to close off the street, they’re still gonna come and they don’t necessarily care. I think that making sure that we have all of the resources and stuff that we need in New York City has been a little bit of a new challenge, but honestly, Anthony Mackie was saying today, I take this as a compliment because I teased him, he’s been in a thousand movies, he said this is one of his favorite movie experiences he’s ever done, and we do take a lot of pride in trying to create an environment that’s relatively casual, at least casual feeling and gives people the opportunity to kind of improv, pitch ideas and no idea’s too silly and nothing is too precious to think about changing, and I think we were able to bring that to this movie. It was fast, definitely. To your point, 35 days. It felt fast, but yeah, we have two days left. Honestly, we think it’s gone pretty smooth.
You just came off This is the End and The Interview, and now you’re sort of taking a backseat to Jonathan. How does your skill set change when you’re in that collaborative mode?
GOLDBERG: Oh, it’s great. It was just like with Nick Stoller on Neighbors. He just has to make a lot of the choices and I don’t. On the movies that we direct, we have to be integral to every decision that’s made, but with Jon, we just provide five options and we’re like, ‘Good luck. Make the right choice, man!’ It’s nice, and normally on our movies, we have guys helping us write jokes that we just feed to the director on these little yellow pieces of paper, and the only difference now is I’ll say maybe this character’s emotional arc should something, something here at the end of the scene instead of just he should say this dick joke, but beyond that we kind of just support him with the comedy. We went over mostly emotional stuff in the writing process. So, a lot of the time, when we’re sitting back there, we’re just comedy writers for Jon, but we also watch his back a little on emotional stuff.
Is it hard to find the balance between doing the dark comedy and the sweet Christmas stuff?
GOLDBERG: No. I think we’ve misrepresented the movie. It’s not dark comedy. It’s like much more like Neighbors than most of our other films. It’s like a Neighbors, Superbad, somewhere in between those two. Tons and tons of comedy and the Christmas stuff just ties in well, and some adult stuff happens, but I wouldn’t call it dark.
More like wild than dark.
GOLDBERG: Yes! Right, wild.
What are the biggest changes that have been made in the script since you guys started working on it?
GOLDBERG: It got wilder. It got a lot wilder. Everything kind of went down, then Neighbors came out and then we came back at it, and then at that point we were like, ‘We should probably just make everything crazier.’
So, Neighbors made this movie wilder?
GOLDBERG: Yeah, definitely.
WEAVER: People seemed to like Neighbors, we noticed. A lot of people went to go see it.
Is there by chance a gross out gag on level with the breast gag in Neighbors?
GOLDBERG: I don’t think anything’s on level with that.
WEAVER: Oh, I disagree. The thing they might see today there might be something.
GOLDBERG: I don’t think it’s comparable that.
WEAVER: Okay, we’ll agree to disagree.
GOLDBERG: We added an element that kind of makes it more – yeah, I don’t know. It depends. Depends what you’re sensitive to.
WEAVER: Was that the grossest scene in Neighbors for you?
I have to say, the three of us reviewed it together and we laughed, but we were also horrified.
GOLDBERG: Shit got real.
WEAVER: More than the dildo fight? More than the dildo in Seth’s mouth?
GOLDBERG: That’s just good humor.
You guys have had some huge successes recently. Are you at the point now where you have carte blanche?
GOLDBERG: With Sony we’ve always had their faith when it comes to the comedy. They’ve kind of always have let us get away with pretty much anything so making this movie with them is pretty smooth sailing. They’ve come to set for two days. It was a tone that Judd set way back on Superbad and Pineapple Express where he was kind of like, just let these guys do their thing and kept the studio back a bit and it’s kind of just lasted ever since where the studio hasn’t seemed to have lost faith in us in that regard.
For you personally, where’s the line between what’s wild and works and what doesn’t?
GOLDBERG: Well, you never know and that’s why you have to go too far and then fix it in editing, essentially. We always say, if we don’t go too far, then we definitely don’t know if we went far enough. And you don’t go too far in some insane manner, but you push a boundary and you’re definitely bound to cross that and then you edit it out and there you go.
Were there any scenes that got cut that you’re sad about?
GOLDBERG: From this movie? Yes, I don’t know if I should say it. We’ll put it in another movie. I can’t say it. [Laughs] There was a joke with Seth that was one of my favorite jokes ever, but it was just like five pages that had nothing to do with the story.
Can you give us a slight hint so that when it makes it into another movie, we can refer back?
GOLDBERG: It involved …
WEAVER: I think there’s a hint to give.
GOLDBERG: It involves consuming too many drugs. That’s a terrible hint. I don’t want to give it away. You’re not gonna make me ruin my next movie. I’m not doing it! [Laughs]
WEAVER: Going back to what you were saying about carte blanche, it is very hard to get a movie made still, always, and you have to get studios to believe in your process and all that stuff. At the end of the day for us, we keep trying to be smart about the amount of money that you make the movies for.
GOLDBERG: Shortchange Paul all the time.
WEAVER: Paul is here for free, which is nice. No, because that’s when people, in our experience, people get up in your sauce when you’ve spent more money than you should at the end of the day. We have friends who produce Avengers and Spider-Man and things like that and they’ve gotta talk to the studio about five times a day because they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars. For us, we’d rather say, ‘We’ll stay down here and make sure you guys like the script and the cast and the concept, and we won’t spend more than this.”
GOLDBERG: If we’re their fifth biggest problem …
Do you guys have a beta or someone you go to to show the first cut to get an out of the box, out of your group idea of whether it’s funny?
GOLDBERG: Our wives.
WEAVER: We learned this on The Interview, actually. We separate the smart comedy, the sort of comedy community and the regular people community. You have to kind of marry them together.
GOLDBERG: Because comedy people are completely jaded.
WEAVER: Comedy people are jaded and snobby, and they think that certain jokes are, you know, low brow or whatever.
GOLDBERG: But they have way better opinions on how to fix the emotional structure of the film.
WEAVER: And then you have the regular people who are gonna get off their couch and go spend $10 or $12 on a Friday night. You have to make sure you know what they’re looking for. The airbag gag in Neighbors is like the classic example.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, who thought it’d be that funny?
WEAVER: Who thought it would be that funny and it’s in every commercial and you watch the trailer in the theater and people would just like lose their mind. It’s a dummy that hit up into the ceiling. It’s like simple Buster Keaton stuff, but that’s what worked really well.
For more of my The Night Before set visit coverage, browse the links below:
- ‘The Night Before’ Set Visit Interview: Jonathan Levine Talks Dick Jokes and Magic
- ‘The Night Before’ Set Visit Interview: Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie
- ‘The Night Before': 23 Things to Know About the Nutcracka Ball, Magical Weed and More