In This Means War, which opens on Valentine’s Day, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy portray the world’s deadliest CIA operatives who are also inseparable partners and best friends…until they fall for the same woman (Reese Witherspoon). Having once helped bring down entire enemy nations, they are now employing their incomparable skills and an endless array of high-tech gadgetry against their greatest nemesis ever – each other.
We sat down at a recent press conference with Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Handler and director McG to talk about what happens when a longstanding personal and professional bond is put to the test. Reese and Tom revealed why their paint ball scene turned into a real ice breaker. Tom talked about working opposite Chris Pine and what happens when two actors with very different fighting styles face off on screen. McG revealed that the DVD will be a Chelsea feast because her raciest jokes had to be dropped to get a PG 13 rating. He also discussed directing a film that’s part comedy, romance, action and thriller and how he had three alternative endings in mind, including one with a homoerotic finish.
McG: We got an NC17 because of the world according to Chelsea Handler, because if you ask her about men or you ask her about sex or you ask her about dating, she has a strong take on these things.
CHELSEA HANDLER: I have a strong take that I don’t want them to happen with you.
McG: It’s the aggravation that creates the pearl.
HANDLER: We have a very volatile relationship. But no, I don’t feel like I’m being censored. I’m a troublemaker. Everybody knows it, so it was bound to happen, and he egged me on.
McG: I did.
HANDLER: He had me saying some very, very dirty things that I even thought were dirty. So I wasn’t surprised that they were taken out.
McG: But they’ll be on the DVD.
So when the MPAA said they were racy, you even thought they were racy?
HANDLER: Well some I don’t really remember. It’s all a blur. It all happened so fast. I don’t really remember what would have been taken out. I have to see the movie first to see what was taken out.
HANDLER: I wish someone would show it to me.
McG: I’d be delighted. I’ll make that happen.
What did you have to cut then? Do you remember?
McG: One of the things that made it strange…it’s funny. It’s the prudish, uptight MPAA that’s fine with the violent components, but anything that has to do with sexuality… I had to open up my veins and bleed to get the [lesser rating]. Well you need to be a better liar because you have to say “Your boyfriend’s penis is so big he’s getting a penile reduction. Everytime it lands in my urethra it’s like a poltergeist.” First of all, who thinks that way? Urethra is a term of art for something being sexy. Poltergeist… Chelsea’s out of her fucking mind and that’s why we love her. The MPAA tried to take out all that stuff and we got it back in, but we had to take out a few things, but we retained the authentic comedic stylings of Chelsea Handler.
Why isn’t Chris Pine here today?
McG: Chris Pine was supposed to join the press conference but he was teleported back to the Enterprise. He was up ‘til four in the morning shooting the Star Trek picture and he had to go back and shoot because they’re on splits.
REESE WITHERSPOON: It was fun to shoot although it’s hard to go in on your first day of shooting and I didn’t know Tom (Hardy) really very well.
TOM HARDY: That was our first day.
WITHERSPOON: That was our first day of shooting and I had to shoot him in the crotch which is a good ice breaker it turns out.
Reese, you have the image as the girl next door in a lot of your films but in this one you’re very sexy. Was that part of the appeal of the material for you?
WITHERSPOON: It’s all McG’s fault. It’s his cajoling, his constant texting.
McG: Do we all understand that Reese Witherspoon is a capable, intelligent woman and devoted mother of three. We know all these things. I don’t think any woman who is beautiful should apologize for being so beautiful and it’s clear that she’s so good. Her goodness precedes her and she’s talented. She has a gold statue to back that up. I find her to be so sexy and so foxy, that it was a thrill to work with Russell Carpenter who shot Titanic. He shot some beautiful girls in his time and he knew how to shoot her in a special way and we created a platform of comfort. I defer to the crowd. Do you guys think Reese looks sexy in the picture?
[Chorus of yeses]
WITHERSPOON: Thank you.
McG: Tom, what do you think? I want to hear about Tom’s paintball experience.
As a married woman who’s no longer on the market, what kind of artistic stretch do you have to make to play a single girl who has two hot guys after her?
WITHERSPOON: Well I was a single girl when we made the movie. It wasn’t much of a stretch. This wasn’t a hard job to make. It was made very easy by McG’s enthusiasm, by having two amazing men in this movie that are very talented actors and very funny in their own right, and obviously being with Chelsea who is…
HANDLER:…is a horrible influence on everyone.
WITHERSPOON: (laughs) …uncontrollable and genius.
How’s that marriage thing going?
WITHERSPOON: Great. Thank you for asking.
When you have to make a choice, who do you consult? Do you have a decision guru?
WITHERSPOON: Do I have a decision guru? Well, I consult Chelsea about most decisions in my life.
In real life too?
HANDLER: It’s kind of the opposite because in real life she’s a mother and she has children and she’s married and I’m single. So it was kind of fun playing opposite roles. I’m single and I sleep with a lot of men so it’s perfect.
Tom, the two guys remain friends through a lot of really strong stuff. For you personally, what could a friend do to you that would be the last straw?
HARDY: I don’t have any friends. I don’t keep them or entertain them so I don’t have any kind of problem. I like to keep to myself. I have a dog at home and a son.
What would your dog do?
HARDY: My dog couldn’t do anything to upset me and neither could my son.
What’s your take on internet dating, and in this day and age, do you really want to do it? Do you relate to dating two at one time and do you recommend that for a guy?
WITHERSPOON: For a guy? I don’t have any recommendations for a guy. For a girl? I think a lot of people internet date. That’s what the commercials say. Right? One in five people meet each other online.
HARDY: Where are you supposed to meet someone?
McG: I know. At least you can say “Hey I’m really into going to bed at 9 o’clock and I like zebras and role playing.” And then, you can get after it in that regard and you narrow it down to some freak.
WITHERSPOON: Get after it.
HARDY: Narrow it down.
Do you think internet dating two at once is okay?
HARDY: I think it’s abhorrent. I think the whole thing is abhorrent. I think online dating is a way of procuring people. Like Facebook and Myspace, it’s the way that people connect now and procure small children and sometimes dodgy relationships. I don’t think it’s very healthy. Online dating is cool but I think Myspace and Facebook is a little bit off key.
Tom, you and Chris have a great rapport in this. Was that there from the beginning? Did you rehearse a lot?
HARDY: No, that was just acting. I’m very alpha and he was just the other actor in the film so I did my best to help and to accommodate that.
McG: I think put simply, there’s a great old Robert Altman adage that the best thing you can do as a director is to cast the film properly. If you have Reese and you have Tom and you have Chris driving that triangle and then you have Chelsea to come in and steal scenes, it makes everything very, very simple and it flows from there. We talk about how the picture is so pretty and the costuming or the sound or the explosions are fun. That’s all easy. We can handle that. But I cannot fabricate chemistry. And the chemistry these two girls have from a place of buddy dynamics. I would just listen to them walking back to video village and go let’s cherrypick that and use that in a scene because it’s incredible. And, as far as the chemistry that Tom and Chris had, they are indeed both very alpha and they respect each other, but one would never acquiesce to the other.
McG: It was a healthy, competitive spirit that I think is in the service of the picture.
HARDY: Yeah, but I do really like him so I was just teasing. He was good fun to play with. I wouldn’t work with him again, but that fear that we were working together, that was good. Yeah! Next question!
For McG, this film combines a lot of genres and does it so effectively. Was it a unique challenge for you to hit all those notes of comedy, romance, action and thriller?
McG: It’s so funny because, to me, that comes very naturally. I would imagine like you, like most of us, I love action pictures. I love comedies. I love romantic pictures. I’ll sit around and watch Singin’ in the Rain and then go to sleep to Chelsea Lately. I love Nirvana and I love Christopher Hitchens. It’s just like there’s an amalgam of a great many influences going on in my mind and then I just sort of interpret it and say I think this would be a compelling way to do the scene today. Here’s what’s on the page, Chelsea. Here’s what we’re talking about, Tom, Reese, etc. But what’s the story point? Your character is a mother of three. You’re living vicariously through a girl who’s dating two foxy guys. What’s that really sound like in your original voice? Chelsea, let’s talk about that and bring that in. And then, Tom’s very confident in action capacity. I would imagine he’s killed people somewhere along the way. Pine’s done his thing in Star Trek. They’re ready to do it so today’s an action day. Tomorrow’s an intimate romantic day. The next day is a comedy day. I just find that to be very natural. I don’t look at them and say hey, how do you …? The tone dances on the head of a pin. And let’s face it, this movie is not about the human condition. This movie is about ‘hey I can’t put it in a box.’ I think that’s the one achievement of the picture. You can go hey, it is funny and there is some action. The girls are great. The guys are great. And it’s not just like this or just like that. If we’re successful in doing that, then we’ve certainly done what we set out to do.
HARDY: I agree with that totally and I think I’m worried about the DVD release now. If we can’t put it in a box, we’re fucked.
McG: The DVD release is going to be a Chelsea feast. Let’s just call it that. It’s the world according to Chelsea Handler, so it’s kind of interesting.
In a film that’s pure entertainment, how important is it to cast for diversity with the rest of the cast?
McG: Listen, that’s a huge concern for me. I can answer that in good faith because I put Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels. I don’t like lily white movies with lily white people bouncing around, but you also just gotta do what you gotta do in the spirit of Benetton ad rainbow coalition. The most empowered character in the film is indeed a Black woman. I enjoy that the most powerful person in Hollywood is indeed a Black woman in Oprah Winfrey. I’m hoping to just transcend beyond that. I love ethnic diversity all over the place, but I just felt like Chelsea was the right one. I had a singular vision for Tom Hardy. I chased him all the way over to London.
HARDY: I’m ethnically diverse, aren’t I?
McG: You’re right because I’m doing the color correction and I’m like Jesus, everybody’s eyes are popping off the screen. They look like these interior lit blue mongrels. It’s a bit of a concern but you just gotta do what’s right.
McG: So, it’s important to me. But it isn’t the most ethnically diverse picture which is on my mind.
One of the strongest aspects of the film is the chemistry between Chelsea and Reese and the conversations that they have. How did you meet?
HANDLER: Well I’ll start. So you have to top it.
HANDLER: Reese and I had met a few times but we really got to know each other over the film. She met with me. We met at breakfast and she asked me if I would want to do this. And, of course, I did because Reese always makes good decisions with movies so I figured if I was going to do one, it would be my best bet to do it with her. We’ve become great friends. I learned a lot by working with her. We did. We actually had great chemistry immediately. It was so much fun because she’s a professional. I’m completely unprofessional and I have nothing prepared. I mean, I’m not even sure I read the script. So, working together and bouncing off each other in that regard was really fun. I mean, McG doesn’t help really. We worked a lot. We improvised a lot and it was super, super fun and we’re good friends because of it, a lot I think probably.
Can you talk a little bit about getting to know her?
WITHERSPOON: I first met you at a party. I feel like I met you at a party maybe at somebody’s house.
HANDLER: Jen’s house.
HANDLER: She came up to me and said “I love your show” and I go “You do?” Oh my God, I didn’t think Reese Witherspoon watched my show.
WITHERSPOON: I saw you on your show in an airport once and I literally was mesmerized. It was like you’re just brilliant off the top of your head, a comedic genius. But, at the same time, being a person in the public eye, I was terrified of you. I think I told you that. You were like “I’m just harmless.” So, when we came around to ideas about who would play your character, McG and I…I was singular…He pitched it first and I was like “Of course, Chelsea Handler is brilliant.” We were just lucky you wanted to do it.
HANDLER: Thank you, McG.
McG: Thank you!
Did you have to rehearse the chemistry? Did you go out drinking together?
HANDLER: We rehearsed after the movie was done. Then we started drinking together.
WITHERSPOON: We’ve been drinking a lot.
How long ago did you guys meet?
WITHERSPOON: I don’t know, maybe two years ago?
McG: Just one more thing in regard to that question, the reason Chelsea gets away with everything is because she’s got a giant heart.
WITHERSPOON: She does.
McG: Chelsea’s a good person and that’s why you have Reese attracted to that and letting her in and that’s where the chemistry lies. They felt comfortable and we just tried to create an environment where they could do what they wanted to do and be off book and succeed wildly and fail on occasion.
WITHERSPOON: I think what really endears you to Chelsea’s character is in the first scene that you really see her talk to me. I say “I think I’m going to move away. I feel really bad.” And she says “I would miss you.” It was so sweet and tender and you just sort of said it on the day and it was like that’s how she is. She’s just a very loyal friend.
McG: She is a loyal friend.
Reese, out of all the dates that your character goes on, what were some of the most fun for you to shoot?
WITHERSPOON: I would say probably, and I think Tom (Hardy) would agree, the trapeze scene. He practiced for at least a month ahead of time.
HARDY: It’s true I did.
WITHERSPOON: He did. He rehearsed and sometimes he’d just go out of his way, and he’d get up super early in the morning, and he had a trapeze installed in his hotel room.
McG: It was all that Burt Lancaster viewing.
WITHERSPOON: That’s actually a trapeze accident.
HARDY: Yeah. It got caught. I was on a chain trapeze at the time and I caught it in one of the links. I lost my grip and I fell and it pulled my finger. It was terrible. It took a lot of guts to get back on the trapeze and I thank you.
WITHERSPOON: And hypnosis.
HARDY: Forgive me.
WITHERSPOON: But he did a great job. We’re very proud of him.
HARDY: I also want to thank McG for that.
WITHERSPOON: No, it was really fun. I wish I could’ve done more. I kept saying to McG, “Give me the gun. Make up a scene where I can do the guns.”
McG: Yeah, but she was in a harness and raised fifty feet off the ground, hanging from a wire. You ripped your finger wide open. You went for it. She’s fearless and she did her thing. The film had a lot to do with everybody to some degree being gracious to the other one, and I think what you see is it’s no doubt that Reese is a very gracious actor and she sets up Chelsea to steal a lot of scenes. That’s wonderful. Tom is in the service of Chris and Chris is in the service of Tom. And, from an action place, the boys are very proficient in that regard and they took Reese with them. But, from a place of leadership, as I said earlier, Reese was the sun around which the whole production orbits. It’s her leadership. She’s just on her mark, very professional and ready to go. That’s how you get away with Chelsea’s style. I know she says “I don’t prep. I don’t do this, that or the other,” but from the bottom of my heart, I wouldn’t want it any other way. We hired Chelsea for a reason. I don’t think she’s done that character in a film yet. I think a lot of people are going to chase her now to do it, and I’m delighted that you made your big debut in that capacity. I’m looking down there at Tom. He’s a good sport to play along in a decidedly Americana pop film. The guy is a monster. We know what he can do with his acting ability.
WITHERSPOON: In a good way!
HARDY: (kidding) It was monstrous acting!
McG: Well we all saw Bronson. We all saw Warrior. We know he’s going to be Mad Max and here comes Bane. I turned onto Tom with the Handsome Bob character and most particularly from just discussing filmmaking with you and knowing that you had a very active mind, and you’re a brilliant guy, and we could show the world a side of you that they hadn’t seen before.
Reese, was there anything stunt-wise that McG wanted you to do that you didn’t want to do?
WITHERSPOON: No, not really.
McG: She’s fearless. She’s given birth twice. She can do anything.
With a film like this, you basically have five options for the end of a love triangle. Did you give yourself some wiggle room to choose that ending?
McG: Yeah, I think the film only works if you’re rooting for both the guys. I defer to the room. Did you feel empathy for both characters? Did you go out saying “I really like Pine and I really like Hardy. They’re both interesting for different reasons.” We wanted to have flexibility. We even talked about two endings and releasing it … I mean, if it were on 3,000 screens, 1,500 have this one and 1,500 have that one, and just not saying anything. But, it felt a little gimmicky in the end, because I think the film’s very clean in the absence of that, so we went with what you guys have seen. There’s even an ending where the two boys end up in each other’s arms, a homoerotic finish.
HARDY: It would have really been a groundbreaking ending to do that.
McG: It would have.
HARDY: We should have gone for it. We should have really gone for it, McG.
McG: I know, I know. I pussed down on the ending of Terminator 4 so I should have gone for the dark ending of that one. Maybe I’ll do a dark ending on this one.
Tom, can you tell us about the fight scenes that you had with Chris Pine and if there were any injuries and how well you handled it?
HARDY: There were two fight scenes really, weren’t there? There was one in the restaurant and the rest of it was just hanging onto a car…and the beginning with the helicopter.
McG: I think she means when you fought him.
HARDY: Oh, it was good fun. Chris is a good fighter. He’s got this kind of jazz hand style which is kind of scary. It’s like going up against someone from Westside Story. You’ve gotta keep your eyes well peeled because they can come from any angle, especially when you have that much of the dancer naturally in you. So, to work with that kind of skill set, I have because I’m more used to a different kind of form of boxing – Muay Thai. I had to look out for myself because he’s got fast hands. But it was safe.
McG: There was a fun moment where… Listen, again, Tom is very gracious. You know from the fight scene at the end, he goes “Where you going?” and you smacked the hell out of Chris’s character.
McG: And that was a big moment because you can’t hurt Tom. You can throw him off a truck and you just kind of tumble along and you bend the other finger.
HARDY: That’s not true. It hurts but I won’t show it.
McG: And we had to create a world in which everybody was comfortable moving forward with that and smacking each other up a little bit and falling off second tiers and smashing into tables and doing everything you went through. But he’s a fighter by trade.
HARDY: Obviously Chris is much better with a weapon than I am. If you look at him technically in the film, he’s actually much more adroit with the pistol work and the weapons, if the truth be told. And, he’s a lot tougher than he looks.
McG: That’s for sure.
HARDY: If that even matters, which it does in a row [fight].
This Means War opens in theaters on February 17th.