The comedy Vacation, written and directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, follows the next generation of Griswolds, as Rusty (Ed Helms) follows in his father’s footsteps and takes his family on the road for an ill-fated adventure. Hoping for some much-needed family bonding, Rusty packs up his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their two sons (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) for the Walley World theme park, but as more and more mishaps and misunderstandings happen along the way, they all begin to wish they’d just stayed home.
During roundtable interviews and the film’s press day, co-stars Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins were joined by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley to talk about showing respect to the original film while doing something new, that the actors playing the Griswold family all developed their own family dynamic during the shoot, how much input they had into their characters, CGI puke, designing the family vacation car, getting the entire family involved in the action, getting Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo involved, all of the hilarious cameos, and signing on for possible sequels. Here are 18 things you should know about what went into making Vacation.
This script incorporates the old and respects the original while doing something entirely new and fresh. They wanted to pay homage without copying what has been done previously, and they also wanted to modernize for 2015. They wanted to be their own franchise, yet still provide a tone and feeling that the people who loved the original can hold onto while still getting a new experience.
- The actors playing the Griswolds all became super close on the film and developed a real family dynamic that grounds the movie. The first time Ed Helms and Christina Applegate got together for the film was the first time that they met, and they weren’t sure if it would work until that moment. It instantly felt like a marriage and that they’d been together for a long time. Helms said, “I met Christina at a table read for the movie, a few months before we started. I’d never met her before, but we’re both a little sarcastic and we both started making fun of each other, right away. I think that our comfort just clicked, instantly.” Added Applegate, “The four of us spent a great deal of time together in that car, so if the personalities didn’t jive, it would have been a tedious process, but it wasn’t. We were a little family and we all had our place. We had so much fun. I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any other people than the ones that I got.”
- In talking about their process as directors, John Francis Daley said, “We pretty much do it all together, in the same way that we write. It’s always in the same room. We don’t go off and do separate scenes. We find that the advantage of that is being able to test the comedy and seeing if both of us like it, which is generally a good sign.” Jonathan Goldstein added, “When it actually came to directing, it was just that much more preparation to make sure that we were on the same page, and we were telling the crew and the actors everything that we’d want.” They would make their decision at the monitors, before they would go to the actors to give them notes. And every weekend, they would get together with their D.P. to plot out every shot they were going to do for the week ahead, so they could go in knowing that ahead of time.
When asked if he went back and watched previous performances of Rusty Griswold, Helms said, “I didn’t do that. I watched the old films just for fun and to get into the spirit of the Griswold mythology, but I didn’t look for acting cues in those performances. I just felt like adult Rusty is a different character, and each of those iterations of Rusty were pretty different from each other, as well. They just reflect the actor portraying Rusty. So, I looked at this as a pretty blank slate and an opportunity to just bring Ed Helms to Rusty Griswold, and had a hell of a good time doing it.”
- Applegate was thrilled that her character was not passive, but was instead a part of all of the action. “It happens for women, quite often, that we play the straight man, and I’ve done it for many, many, many, many moons. I love being on a set and I love working, and I like having fun. It’s just fun, being funny. But, I also need a character to have a life. The thing [that you find out about Debbie’s past] was not in the original script. We had a pow-wow and sat down and I said, ‘I really need Debbie to have a life. I need her to have a skeleton because we all have one. We are kids of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and we were exposed to a lot of things. Most of the moms I know have had a past, and they’re great parents because they’ve had a past.’ So, I really, really wanted to have that. I wanted Debbie to surprise the audience with her being game for things that are not the norm. It was collaborative to get Debbie to where she ended up being.”
- For her scene where her character had to puke a lot, Applegate admits that most of it was CGI. “The first initial vomit was coming out of my shirt. The rest didn’t work, so they CGI’ed puke.”
Steele Stebbins was a little shy with the more adult language his character uses when he started on the movie. But once they started throwing him lines, he would just say them because he got more and more used to it. Goldstein said, “Steele Stebbins was so perfect because he is such an adorable little angelic kid. To hear those things and see those nasty actions coming from him was all the more surprising. Nobody, to our knowledge, had done the joke of the younger brother who picks on his brainy older brother.” They wanted to turn the younger-older brother dynamic on its head.
- When asked whether he felt bad about all of the horrible things that his character did to Skyler Gisondo’s character, including trying to suffocate him with a plastic bag over his head, Stebbins said, “I felt so bad doing that. After every take, I was like, ‘Are you okay?’ With the punching and the slapping, and everything, he took it so well, which was nice. I did some pretty crazy stuff to him.” Gisondo added, “I heard it was a plastic breathable safety bag. I was like, ‘That makes sense. Why would you put a real plastic bag over somebody’s head? That couldn’t possibly be real.’ And then, when we were on set, I was like, ‘That looks so real. You’d never know it was a breathable plastic safety bag.’ John [Francis Daley] and Jonathan [Goldstein] said, ‘What are you talking about? What do you think this is? It’s just a plastic bag.’ But, we had fun with it.”
- The car the Griswolds take on vacation did drive and has a gas tank, but none of the buttons in the car were working features. They designed extensive detail inside of the car, much of which you never actually get to see. There was even a week-long fight with the studio to decide on the color of the car.
Stebbins and Gisondo learned a lot from working with and watching their co-stars Helms and Applegate. Said Stebbins, “Christina is very real and she goes for it. If there’s a joke that she’s going to do, she’ll do it with perfect timing.” And Gisondo added, “Christina and Ed are both just so ridiculously funny. And Ed is one of my favorite comedians. Watching the way he really breaks down every scene, his mind is always racing. He’s always putting so much work into how we can make a scene the best it can be. And Christina would just do it and let it flow.”
- In explaining why they wanted to get the entire family involved in the action, Goldstein said, “Because a road trip movie is inherently episodic, we wanted to make sure that the audience is keying into other things that are happening. It wasn’t just going to be Rusty’s story. We wanted to make sure that Debbie had her story.” Daley added, “And we wanted there to be a pay-off to the conflict that the two boys are having.”
- As a family, the Griswolds have to go on a roller coaster and in the rapids, among other things, and have a number of big stunts. For the roller coaster sequence, they went on the real coaster, and then they took two cars and put them on a rig, so they could turn it upside down and hold it there. For a car sequence, where they have to flip around, they had the car hooked up to a thing that slowly rotated it three times, while they were inside, and they had all of these random objects falling in the car.
- Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo are back for this installment in the franchise, and they had a three-day shoot with them. Said Daley, “We knew we had to have them in the movie, just to pay our respects to the foundation that they set with the original and because of how talented and funny they both were. We also knew that to establish this movie on its own, we couldn’t spend too much time with them.”
Because the original Vacation is one of a handful of movies that are the reason he does what he does, Helm said being on set with Chase and D’Angelo was a dream come true for him. “I just love those movies and that world so much, and Chevy and Beverly are a huge part of that. Meeting them was a huge thrill. And then, being able to work with them and be collaborative and funny, and find humor with them, was incredible.”
- There are a lot of hilarious supporting and cameo performances in the film, but the one that most stands out for everyone was Chris Hemsworth, who plays a successful weatherman with a very large appendage. Dallas Raines was the archetype that they were imagining for him, and he was very willing to do whatever it takes. He even hired a dialect coach to get the Texas accent. They even had conversations about the size and shape of his prosthetic appendage that they then tested out on the day of the shoot. Applegate said, “And then, we all saw his abs and there was a bit of silence in the air. It wasn’t lascivious, in any way. We were just all so damned impressed that a body could look like that. What exercise does one do to sculpt out the abdominal area in such a way that is unique to anything I’ve ever seen before, except for The David. We were all just freaked out by that. Men, women and children’s mouths were agape.”
- Helms very much enjoyed working with Keegan-Michael Key. “Keegan is a genius. I’ve known those guys, Key and Peele, for awhile and I think their show on Comedy Central is some of the sharpest sketch comedy that I’ve ever seen, in my life. There is so much on the cutting room floor from that day of shooting. It just was so funny. The things he did with his son to express too much love and familiarity and comfort, in a way that makes Rusty uncomfortable, was so funny. A lot of takes were unusable because I was laughing too hard at Keegan. He is brilliant.”
- Even though Stebbins and Gisondo both enjoyed working with Norman Reedus, neither of them watch The Walking Dead. Said Gisondo, “He was so awesome to work with. He’s a super cool, down-to-earth guy. He was really, really funny, and perfect in that role.”
- The actors playing the Griswold family are signed on for possible sequels, should that come about.
Vacation opens in theaters on July 29th.