Two Interviews with Writer/Director Greg Mottola & Martin Starr – ADVENTURELAND

     April 2, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Opening tomorrow is writer/director Greg Mottola’s new film “Adventureland”. Since I’ve already written about the movie a ton on the site and you all know I thought the film was great, let me get right to the reason you’re here – the interviews with Martin Starr and Greg Mottola.

While I usually only have one interview with the people involved in a movie, at the recent press day for “Adventureland”, I was not only able to participate in a roundtable interview with the two of them, but I also did a TV interview as well. Since some of you like video interviews and some like to read transcripts, I’ve decided to post both of them here so you can decide which to read/watch.

If you’re curious about the behind the scenes of making the film or you just want to hear why Greg wanted to make this movie, they’re great interviews. However, since Martin didn’t talk that much during the roundtable interview, I’d watch the video if you want to hear Martin tell a crazy story from when they were filming.

Finally, to watch some movie clips from “Adventureland”, click here. And here’s a link to my exclusive video interview with Jesse Eisenberg.

Again, “Adventureland” hits theaters tomorrow. I def. recommend checking it out.

Q: So they got you to join Twitter for that?

Martin Starr: Yeah.

Q: It’s a dangerous universe, man. You don’t want to …

Martin Starr: I’m not too worried about it.

Q: Are you going to be a daily Twitter updater or multiple times?

Martin Starr: I doubt it. I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen to be honest. I may get addicted to it.

Q: It seems like that happens a lot with people. They often start finding the power.

Martin Starr: I’ve heard crazy stories about Shaquille O’Neal

Q: With a movie that comes from a personal place as this did for you, where do you let go of your own very specific memories and let it turn into a movie and let performances turn into performances? Is that a hard thing for you to do?

Greg Mottola: Once you cast people and they have their own specific qualities that aren’t mine, like Jesse obviously is playing some version of my younger self, it was fairly easy to see it as a fictional story except for those moments that something would flash back to me. That was so horrifying, so deeply embarrassing, some realization about myself that would make me just cower. I think this is the most painful thing I’ve ever done. It’s like I’m thin skinned, I guess, but I thought I could never write about my youth for the longest time. It took getting to my forties before I could even look back on it. It’s kind of cringy to me, but having said that, when I got to a certain age and I was working on a TV show, “Undeclared,” that Martin did an episode of — that’s where we first met — I first had the idea of writing and my first desire was to write about young love and trying to do it in a more slice of life, not slick Hollywood way, but a more messy relationship. It was about the first messy relationship, the first girlfriend, making the decision to face up to oh, love is actually really complicated and requires you dealing with your fears and accepting a person for their flaws. I wanted to write that kind of story and one day I was telling stories. We were all getting drunk and I was telling stories about working in an amusement park. We were all comparing worst job stories. And then, I kind of had the Eureka moment of putting them together. But, I think it was also I was working around young people. All these guys are so young. Seth Rogen was probably 18 when we did “Undeclared” or something crazy.

Q: This is the story of a guy who tries to lose his virginity over the course of the summer or that could be one way to describe it. Could you talk about the difference between the story you wanted to tell and the traditional Hollywood studio summer comedy?

Greg Mottola: Let me put it this way. The reason why a lot of people when I would show them the script would say, especially post “Superbad,” they just wanted it to be more of a comedy. They didn’t want the characters to be as flawed. People would’ve preferred that it have a more clear relief. It’s going to be an indie movie. It still should have more of a wish fulfillment ending as opposed to a ‘what’s going to happen next’ ending. I just feel like there’s a place for a slightly different tone. I feel like I’m in kind of a strange place of really existing between indie films and Hollywood films because it’s a little of both. I think that it makes it a little hard to market it and describe it to people.

Q: But that’s very interesting because the marketing of this film is not like the film when you look at the ads and the trailer.

Greg Mottola: One could say that.

Q: Like “Superbad,” everything that might be a little gross is in that trailer and in that ad and yet we go to this movie, but when we look at the ads and the trailers it doesn’t look like something we’d be interested in. Yet it is.

Greg Mottola: Right. It doesn’t look like it is for adults.

Q: It’s a different film, a film like American Graffiti, a film that we would want to see and that’s one that spanned the generations in terms of its nostalgia because it could be set anywhere. It’s a very good film. Do you feel uncomfortable about that?

Greg Mottola: Well thank you. I feel like it’s partially the times we live in. The Holy Grail audience are young people and, at the end of the day, that’s who gets courted. In a strange way, the fact that it’s about young people is something that I didn’t realize would kind of hijack the marketing to some extent. When people passed on the film, they’d always say, we would have made it if you were willing to make it contemporary because the fact that it’s an 80s film means young people are going to say it’s not my generation and old people are going to say it’s about young people, I don’t give a shit. I’m hoping that people who actually lived during the 80s will hear about it and find it later because I think you’re right. They’re not going to go necessarily based on how it’s being sold.

Q: But those are people that read articles too and they’ll probably…

Greg Mottola: That’s where you can help, if you want.

Q: How did you get to the project and were you based on anyone? Was there a discussion like that?

Martin Starr: I said this last time.

Greg Mottola: He was sort of based on various people I’ve known in my life who I’ve always thought like that person’s smarter than me, more talented than me, why are they so stuck? Why are they not moving ahead? Some people I knew in film school, at art school, people who had real intelligence, something to offer, but just had some fatal fear of life that was holding them back as a psychology. Essentially Jesse’s character is supposed to be surrounded by people who are stuck and limited by their own psychology like Ryan’s character and his parents, and he has to make up his mind. Do I continue to be the floundering, fearful person I am or try and take a step in the right direction? So, I have a real affection for those people. Those are people who’ve taught me a lot over the years. Those are people who turned me on to music and books and stuff. So Martin, I wrote the character as that. Martin likes to say in interviews that he gave a terrible audition but literally everyone else who came in and read for the part, and I had some very talented people who were even worse. [laughs] So, by attrition, Martin got the part.

Martin Starr: I didn’t want to sound arrogant and say that I was smarter than Greg so I let him tell that whole story.

Q: What made the part difficult to read for initially?

Martin Starr: There were a lot of words. [Laughs] I don’t know. I think it was… I don’t know if I think I fully got it during my audition and I think that’s what made it difficult and that’s why I felt so bad afterwards because I didn’t know if that was even remotely on the path of what Greg was looking for and I guess it was at least on the right track ‘cause I got cast in the movie.

Q: How much explaining of the 80s did you have to do to the young cast so that they understood things?

Greg Mottola: There was a bible.

Martin Starr: There was a giant bible.

Greg Mottola: There was a giant bible. [laughs] No, there wasn’t.

Martin Starr: There was. You gave…

Greg Mottola: Oh that’s true. We did have a research bible of the highlights.

Martin Starr: It was massive.

Greg Mottola: We researched the incredibly boring…

Martin Starr: …like who was the President and what happened. What happened in recent months before this or years before this?

Greg Mottola: Yeah, we did make some poor assistant put that together.

Martin Starr: It was great. I still have it.

Greg Mottola: [whispering] It’s like “Who’s Margaret Thatcher?”

Q: Do you guys each have a particular favorite movie or music from the 80s or some other pop culture touchstone that you will always love?

Greg Mottola: I have so many and I’ve obviously crammed… For me, a lot of it is the music that Jesse’s character and Kristen’s character are listening to. A lot of it is the music that kept me sane in college. I have alopecia. My hair fell out when I was in college and I didn’t take it so well. Back then, people weren’t shaving their head when they were young. I set the trend. So I had my self-pitying moments listening to The Smiths. When you’re a young person, the solace one can get from popular music is something I just have tremendous nostalgia for, affection for. I still have it. I even thought of the movie as a pop love song and I would play music while we were doing scenes. Music definitely is so much of it and a lot of it is also things like bands like The Replacements and ?? that meant something to me then. I’m nostalgic for how one would hear music. It was different listening to college radio in the middle of the night. I grew up on Long Island and I would listen for Fordham University’s radio station — I could only get it in the middle of the night — and hear bands coming out of Minneapolis and things that wasn’t the classic rock that I heard elsewhere. And, culturally speaking, I was also the nerd who was going to see “Zelig” opening day. The 80s were “Full Metal Jacket” and “Zelig” to me as much as it was “Pretty in Pink.”

Q: Not Judas Priest?

Greg Mottola: I liked Judas Priest. We had a weakness for Judas Priest.

Q: Not so much nostalgia for you but discoveries?

Martin Starr: There was a level of nostalgia only because when I did “Freaks and Geeks,” that was based in a similar world so a lot of the …

Greg Mottola: Culture…

Martin Starr: Yeah. Culturally and also musically, because I started listening to the music that was put into that, I got into a lot of other things of that era and …

Greg Mottola: Mostly Angel Dust.

Martin Starr: Mostly I started in drugs of the era.

Greg Mottola: Defunct drugs of the 80s.

Q: On “Freaks and Geeks,” are you amazed at the fact that the show is still so popular and made such an impact on so many people?

Martin Starr: I’m not amazed. I guess it’s amazing. Sure. It was something that I always thought I would be proud of but no one would ever know about and that’s not the case anymore.

Q: Talk a little bit about this character that wants to go to Columbia and can’t afford it. You ended up going to Columbia. You studied film with some great filmmakers. You ended up doing a film that a lot of critics loved, “Daytrippers.” Then you did “Superbad.” Is that a wicked left turn that, given the campaign here for “Adventureland,” you were concerned might pigeonhole you or stereotype you away from where you wanted to go?

Greg Mottola: Yes. I mean, I did a low budget indie purposely trying to build a fantasy career being able to do low budget indie stuff and mainstream studio stuff. Luckily for me, Judd Apatow became so successful he could kind of let me make an indie film at a studio level. “Superbad” was by design kind of rough and tumble and we wanted to not be slick. But I’ve aspired to do other kinds of movies and I made a rule to myself, I’m going to stay away from movies with people all under the age of 21 for a little bit just so I’m not in the young adult section of Netflix for the rest of my life. There was a long period of floundering that probably informed my writing of “Adventureland” between doing the low budget indie and doing “Superbad.” Part of it was coming to the point of realizing that I’m my own worst enemy. I’m the person that had fantasies of being an auteur. I’d only write and direct my own stuff. I’m not a fast enough writer. I find filmmaking actually a little more intuitively. It makes sense to me working with actors, the collaborative process. Writing alone in a room is really, really scary. Obviously I owe a lot to Judd but it surprised my agents when I called them up and said, after all those scripts they’d sent me that I passed on, that “Superbad” was the one I actually really wanted to make. It’s a sincere movie clearly. It’s not corporate teenage product #731. Those guys started it when they were teenagers. It has a real authentic feeling to it.

Q: You used the word ‘floundering’ for those years, but you did a tremendous amount of television and some really great television.

Greg Mottola: Well, before the TV, I was floundering for awhile and saying I don’t want to direct TV, I only want to make features. I don’t want to give up the dream and all that and then realizing that it’s stupid. I’m really turning away from great opportunities to learn and grow and sure enough, once I said yes to it, it’s paid incredible dividends. I’m enormously lucky to have hooked up with someone like Judd who’s so loyal and supportive and has taught me so much. So doing television was the best thing I could have possibly done.

Q: When you direct something like “Adventureland” or “Superbad,” is it tough to capture that authentic feeling or tone? Are there any particular challenges you face?

Greg Mottola: Yeah. I try not to overthink it to the point of putting myself today, for instance, in Jesse’s character and really trying to let him make it his performance but also live through the cringy moments. Okay, maybe there’s a little bit of artistic license by casting someone as beautiful as Kristen Stewart as the love interest. She didn’t work in the amusement park when I was there in 1985. It’s trying to let it be using just your internal bullshit detector. I have to say I learned a lot from the way Judd works because Judd, for as much of a comedy master as he is, I remember very distinctly on “Undeclared,” we’d do table reads, there’d be really funny jokes and Judd would cut them out of the script and he would say no, that’s stepping on the emotion and we can’t. We have to protect what’s authentic. We’ll try to be as funny as we can but we need to also get to the heart of that. You know, he’s kind of the comedy Cassavetes. He really loves actors so much. At some point, you do cast them and let them do what they do.

Q: Can you talk about the evolution of Apatow’s group? It seems like slowly but surely everybody has kind of found their way to success from those early collaborations. Can you talk about that middle period and getting from there to here?

Greg Mottola: In Judd’s case, with the casting, he has an amazing eye for talent and so all those people have just continued to work because they’ve got something. It’s an unlikely and amazing thing to me. I was just saying in another interview, it feels like being part of a theater company.

Q: Apatown.

Greg Mottola: [laughs] Apatown. Because you get to come back and work with your friends again. It’s sort of what I imagine it would be like to work with a theater company and say, okay, we’re putting up “The Seagull” this year. Start picking your parts.

Q: Can you talk about why you cast Kristen Stewart and Ryan Reynolds?

Greg Mottola: Kristen was one of the few people I cast without auditioning, and my only hesitation was she’s obviously younger than the character. She’s supposed to be about 19 or so in the movie. She’s got a quality. I personally find her very fascinating to watch. She’s someone who makes thinking dramatic. There’s a lot going on. And it was important to give the movie some dramatic ballast to make her somebody who’s in the throes of some tragedy and hasn’t processed it yet. Hence, that makes her a scary person to fall in love with. One of my favorite scenes of her is she tells this awful story about how her mother is dying and her dad’s having an affair with the woman who is now her stepmother and she tells it in this very matter of fact ‘here’s this screwed up thing that happened.’ You know she instinctively knew that someone who hasn’t processed those feelings yet wouldn’t know how to talk about them. Other people auditioned for that role and made that into the most melodramatic monologue I’ve ever heard, which sort of makes sense because it’s such a sad tale she’s telling, but Kristen knew that, no, that person’s not at that point yet. They’re so far away from knowing how to express those feelings that they’re cut off. And I wanted the character to be flawed that way because I think that we’ve all got our baggage. We’ve all got the pain we carry around. Ryan, I’m very lucky he agreed to do it. He gives a very dry, kind of quiet performance in an archetypal character of the studly bad boy but he does his own thing with it and I really like that he got inside the guy’s psychology enough to make him feel like someone you’d meet and not just like the villain of the movie, I hope.

Q: How old is he supposed to be?

Greg Mottola: You know, 30 or so.

Q: You mentioned Ryan’s quiet performance but Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are both very big in the movie and they’re sort of the more obvious comic moments. Can you talk about finding the balance in those characters in particular?

Greg Mottola: Well interestingly, particularly in Kristen Wiig’s case, the character was different in the original script. Their relationship was more troubled. They were a troubled married couple. And Kristen said, you know, I’ve just played characters sort of similar to this. I want to do the movie, but the way it’s written, it’s kind of similar to the last few things I’ve done and what if they actually get along well? What if they’re a good couple? And it really got me thinking. I found it amusing that the best example of a relationship in the movie are these two ridiculous people. I also liked the idea of shooting them in the same frame all the time and putting them together. Kristen has an amazing timing and a great way of playing a quietly insane person. It was always a question — is this a different movie or not? — but I think those guys can really pitch it at a very nice level. You know, we meet crazy people in life and maybe I just love them so much. It was hard. We shot stuff that I ended up not using, sort of the Apatow rule. It’s funny but it was a different movie. It’ll be on the DVD, of course. I look forward to doing some real dramatic stuff with them. I optioned a book for Bill to star in. It’s a book called “The Dog of the South” which was written by Charles Portes who wrote “True Grit” which the Coen Brothers are remaking coincidentally and it’s a great 1970s weird road movie for Bill. It’s a very funny character but it’s not a comedy per se.

Q: Did you get the rights for “Rock Me Amadeus”?

Greg Mottola: Falco is no longer with us so we had to ask his estate and they’re clearly very cool people with a sense of humor.

Q: Why did you pick that particular song for the music?

Greg Mottola: That was the first one I thought of as from that [era]. It’s also one of those movies that if you were there, you remember it. It hasn’t quite been canonized like other 80s songs. I remember being tormented by it though.

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