With Zoolander 2 opening this weekend, a few days ago I spoke to screenwriters Justin Theroux and Nicholas Stoller about the Ben Stiller helmed film. As most of you know, the sequel stars some really, really, ridiculously good looking people and it follows an investigation into the killings of the world’s most beautiful people with all of the victims dying with one last Zoolander look. The sequel stars Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christine Taylor, Billy Zane, Justin Bieber, Fred Armisen, Olivia Munn, Ariana Grande, Kristen Wiig, and Cyrus Arnold.
During the interview Stoller and Theroux talked about how the story changed during the long writing process, deleted scenes, why they set the film in Rome, the cameos, Kristen Wiig’s unrecognizable character, the marketing, what they learned from friends and family screenings, the Space Jam website, if Theroux is involved in Space Jam 2, and a lot more. Check out what they had to say below.
Collider: I absolutely loved the second season of The Leftovers. Did you know when you were making the second season just how good it was turning out?
Justin Theroux: Oh thanks man. I am a fan of the first season too, I know that it had a couple of little hiccups but I actually am very proud of the first season as well. But I did have a sense that once Damon [Lindelof] go unchained from the source material — and I don’t mean that in a bad way — like once he was able to move in omnidirectional places, that he and Tom [Perotta] really started to soar with the scripts.
I’m not knocking the first season at all, and I hope I didn’t come across that way I just the second season was just so well done.
Nick Stoller: I did too, I thought the scripts were incredible for that season, for both seasons but they were really, just a cool, he did some big swings for that season.
I agree, so six years ago I interviewed you Justin for Iron Man 2 and I asked you about Zoolander 2 and one of the things you mentioned was that Mugatu could be in a fashion jail of some kind. And it got me wondering how much has this story changed along the way and how much and what was being thought about six years ago?
JT: It was even longer than that, there were so many drafts I think Nick you did the first draft in 2005.
NS: So I flew to Hawaii just a few weeks before my wedding to work with Ben [Stiller], and in September I will be celebrating my 10 year wedding anniversary. So that’s where most of the ideas came out of, my wedding. And I had been working on it before that, but I can’t really remember, and my wife was like “wait, our wedding is in two weeks … why are you going to Hawaii right now?” And I was like “bye!” and I flew to Hawaii.
JT: So Nick had done a draft and somewhere in between that trip me and Ben did Tropic [Thunder], and then I went to Hawaii to work with Ben. Everyone got a trip to Hawaii out of it! Did you go jogging with him?
NS: Yeah I think I went jogging with him barefoot on the beach, I think I had shin splints and deep bruises on my feet, but he had already been doing it for a month, so.
JT: So I think a lot of it came out of everyone, I think Nick smartly didn’t … one of the first drafts was, let’s not begin this a week later, and then that joke even got funnier as the years passed. And it became 15 years … so it wasn’t that kind of movie where you could go “oh yeah, we’re doing a sequel that begins the very next day.” But I think we just get together and just pitch ideas, and I don’t think anyone is feeling huge pressure to make this movie unless there was some real reason to, and a good idea at the core of it.
NS: I think what was cool is that it was very different than most, especially the development process taking 10 years. There weren’t a hundred writers — it was, me, Justin, Ben, and John Hamburg and we kind of like just did it back and forth, for like 10 years (laughs)
JT: It was like a mad lib
NS: Yeah, the voice never got diffused. It was stayed pretty pure. And when you are thinking of something and 4 or 5 people are thinking of something for over 10 years, it gets better generally.
Well I am definitely curious if any big deleted scenes or any deleted story lines that came close to getting made, but was ultimately removed.
JT: I can’t think of anything, maybe I am having amnesia or something. I don’t think anything got cut
NS: There were so many drafts and so many goofs, and amazing scenes and stuff that ended up not making it into the script eventually.
JT: I don’t even remember what I wrote and what you wrote I don’t even know where …
NS: And I think Ben, he runs a tight ship so, once we were shooting it that was pretty much what the movie was going to be, and it was just trimming it after that. I am sure there is a directors cut somewhere down the line. It’s gong to be two hours long that Ben is going to release, because he always shoots a ton of great material and then somehow whittles it down. Also, Owen and Ben and Will would riff off of each other and do alternate jokes to scenes that would just crack us up but you can only use one version of them. There was a lot of that. There were big long riffs that Will would do, or Kristen.
Talk a little bit about Rome. It was a big part of this movie. Was it always from 10 years ago, was it always going to be Rome?
JT: It has a lot of locations, at one point it was Miami, and at one point we had Paris, and London then New York. And once it kinda hit on the theme of this unwinding of this historical, this kind of — without giving too much away — this adam and eve type stuff, the fountain of youth, Rome became this de facto place to go because that was the city that city had those layers of history.
NS: It also had this dumb, DaVinci Code …
JT: We thought it would be funny to have this DaVinci Code-esque riddle that, of all people, Derek and Hansel have to solve, and they are just going to drag through Rome trying to solve it. I think that was the first kind of idea that we thought we could hang stuff from.
NS: Like how the the first one was kind of like Manchurian Candidate, this one is like the DaVinci Code.
JT: The first draft that I worked on was a series of the funny scenes, but the story didn’t totally make sense, and that’s with any first draft. And then I think maybe 5 years into the process? When we all got super motivated, like 5 years later …
NS: The characters are so fun to write for, you don’t even want to think of a story, you just want to write funny scenes.
JT: A lot of times we would just do that, get together and just kind of do bits with each other just for the laughs. “Wouldn’t it be funny if?” Then you strike on a theme like the prison scene with Mugatu, and then you riff on that. And then it’s about stitching things together and giving it a cohesive through-line.
You guys might have set the Guinness Record for the most amount of cameos, or let me rephrase that, great cameos in a movie. Was that always something that was designed from the script phase, or was it something with people saying, “ I absolutely love Zoolander and I want to be a part of this.”
JT: It was a lot of the latter. It wasn’t like we were being barraged. It was like, I would casually mention, “what are you working on?” and they were like “I’ll play a waiter or whatever you guys want,” just to be involved. And then some of the cameos were definitely baked into it. (Justin) Bieber was in an early draft, but that was when he was 14 years old, and that would have been a totally different joke, we would have been killing a child! And then Sting — again, spoilers — he was always in it, and then the others were just catch as catch can, and we would work with people schedules to get them in. But I don’t think we got any firm no’s, like absolutely not, but it was most people going, I would love to if my schedule works out.
NS: And also the advantage that very few movies are made about the fashion industry, a lot of fashion people were like “sure!”
JT:The opposite was true in the first one, because no one wanted to be apart of it! And then we had to go and steal a bunch of shit from the red carpet from the VH1 awards. And who knew when we got Donald Trump he would become what he became. I don’t anyone in the fashion world wanted to be apart of it, either.
One of the things I was blown away by was the way that Kristen Wiig looks in the movie. We are talking about unrecognizable, was the character written that way?
JT: Yeah, we needed new characters, and that was the fun of doing the second one, and Kristen was always the person. And we created that character and we wanted her to play that part, and again, it was one of those things with everyone’s schedule where it was so hard to get all the people together in one place. But her look and her accent and everything was scripted, and then we weren’t sure if it was going to work with her voice — there was this sort of accent from nowhere and everywhere. And her face that can’t move. She’s had so much plastic surgery that she can barely open her mouth.
NS: I will say that I wasn’t there for production because they were in Rome and I couldn’t be there, but I watched the first cut and I was like did they — like for the first moment, for the first minute of her performance — did they recast Wiig? I didn’t even recognize her. Then I was like oh it is her, that’s amazing. When we did the screen test for her in Rome, we are all laughing so hard at her, and then she would laugh and completely ruin the makeup. She would like rip her bottom lip off, and she’d laugh. She would be like, “seriously, seriously stop,” and then she would put her hand over her mouth to stop laughing, but then keep laughing through this dead face … [Laughter]
JT: She does look like she’s had a face transplant. [Laughs]
I will say when I saw the film, it did take me a while to realize it was her. I couldn’t believe it! I want to touch on the marketing. It does seem like no matter what they do everyone seems to cover it, Ben’s been everywhere — how involved are you guys at all? How much of this is organic? Like announcing the movie at a fashion show.
JT: I think clearly it is by design, but it’s also to make it fun and enjoyable. And they would blast an email to all of us and say, “hey we are going to be in Berlin what should we do?” Or maybe we help pitch an idea like “when we’re in Rome …” and then just pitch jokes on the fly, and it’s not unlike the shooting. We didn’t know Cara Delevingne was going to be in Paris, so we got her to come and take pictures with us, and she did, and that turned into a dopey little storyline about how we had a three-hour relationship with Cara Delevigne.
NS: We are probably just doing it for our own enjoyment as well. Just to keep a good party going I guess.
What did you guys learn from friends and family screenings that possibly impacted you — I am not talking to Ben so I am asking you guys this — but what did you possibly learn from those screenings that possibly impacted the finished film?
NS: I only watched stuff at home so I’m not sure. But I know that there was this ending where … there was a gruesome ending, and they changed it based on some of the screenings, just because people really want those characters to succeed, they actually love those characters. And so to kind of end it with this really gruesome thing would have been a bummer.
JT: We really were surprised because obviously we love the characters there’s insane characters but when you are screening it for normal people, well not normal people but just, people who don’t just think that they are funny and ridiculous, but really like these characters.
NS: And the great thing about how Ben shoots is that he really stacks jokes in an interesting way and creates alternate jokes, and so we’ll shoot many versions of the same scene with like a Hard R, a PG-13, and a G rating, so that if something didn’t fall well, in the edit he can figure out what is working, and he can fly in and out of jokes, and choose alternate takes to make it tight as possible.
I have an individual question for each of you for Nick, tell people how the edit is going for Neighbors 2, and what people can look forward to. And Justin there are these rumors that you are involved with Space Jam 2, is that true?
JT: Someone is trolling my IMDB I have no idea what’s going on with Space Jam 2, but I am interested if that helps. [Laughs] No I am not. So yeah, I think honestly someone is manipulating my IMDB page. I haven’t heard anything about it. I got asked that question about a week ago, that was news to me.
I actually saw an article even on Wired about it.
NS: Oh, really?
NS: Oh, wait, Justin are we not supposed to talk about Space Jam 2? [laughs]
JT: Shut it.
NS: The Space Jam project we’ve been working on for years? We’ve only worked on sequels that take 15 years to do.
JT: That’s it, yeah.
NS: The original Space Jam website it is still up.
Oh, sir, I am well aware it’s amazing.
NS: It’s amazing. It’s just being transported back to the 90s.
JT: Lots of flying posters.
NS: It is really not that kind of thing and they’ve kept it up for some reason.
JT: Hysterical. I’m googling it now.
NS: Just Google “Space Jam website.”
What’s amazing is that they did a very in-depth article about the making of that website and if you remember, back in the 90s, most people had no idea what the internet was, so they had basically creative freedom to make that site. But what’s shocking is that it’s still up.
NS: Yeah, it’s still up, they forgot about it.
Neighbors  is going great. We’re starting our test screening process, we’re going to pick up a few days of additional photography, but yeah, I’m really excited about it. It feels, kind of in a weird way … the first one was dumb, gross, R-rated Toy Story, the second one is dumb, gross R-rated Toy Story 2. [Laughs] I think that’s what we’re reaching for. We’re telling a different story. It’s a new emotional story for the characters, but we’re still delivering what people liked about the first one. I’ve learned comedy sequels are hard, that’s the main thing.
JT: I’m on Jam Central right now, I’m on Planet B-Ball. [laughs] I love the tiles. They invented HTML to create that. It’s so good. Weird when you write out “space” in Google, “Space Jam” is the first thing that comes up. [laughs] Like above “space heater” or “space mountain.” You would think “Space Jam” would be much lower down.
NS: Maybe we should work on this. Maybe it’s a good idea.
LeBron has talked about being a part of Space Jam 2, this is the interview that leads to you guys working on Space Jam 2.
NS: Oh, my god. Let’s make a blood pact right now.
JT: We’ll do like a pre-trilogy and go back in time. Much like the website, let’s use the same technology we used in the first one.
NS: Exactly, whatever they did to [Jeff] Bridges Tron is what we’re going to do to [Michael] Jordan
Real fast, Nick, what is the secret to throwing a movie party since you’ve done about 70 of them.
NS: I’ve thrown way more movie parties than real parties. My real life is so much more boring. You keep the camera low and you put a lot of people in front of the camera. I think you have to shoot digital, personally. Because you can turn the lights really low and make it dark which is a big thing with parties. Which you can do with film, I think it’s just harder. And, I mean, Brandon Trost is kind of a genius cinematographer, who can work around neon and crazy decorations everywhere. And then turn the music really loud until even the audience can’t hear the dialogue. I think is the key. [laughs] Those are the things I’ve learned over the movies I’ve done.
Zoolander 2 arrives in theaters February 12th.