After getting her start at such comedic training grounds as The Second City, The iO West Theater and The ComedySportz Theatre, Kay Cannon received rave reviews for her debut screenplay Pitch Perfect, and wrote and co-produced Pitch Perfect 2 and Pitch Perfect 3. Now, she’s made her feature directorial debut with the outrageously funny Blockers, in which three parents (played by Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz) discover that their daughters (played by Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon) have a pact to lose their virginity on prom night, leading them to do whatever it takes to keep that from happening and ensure that these three smart, determined and empowered young women don’t make a decision that they’ll regret.
At the film’s Los Angeles press junket, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with Kay Cannon and chat 1-on-1 about what led her to direct Blockers, why she thought she’d direct TV before her first feature, the changes she wanted to make to the script, balancing the stories of the young women and their parents, casting these roles, how he got Gary Cole to do those scenes, the long process of putting the final edit together, and how she hopes to direct again soon.
Collider: Is directing something that you’d been thinking about doing for awhile?
KAY CANNON: Not in film. I thought the first thing I was gonna direct would be television. My dreams were to have my own TV show and direct episodes of that. So, the fact that I did this first, kind of blows my mind.
Then, what was it that made you decide to direct Blockers?
CANNON: Well, to their credit, Good Universe and Point Grey sent me the script with this offer to direct. Nathan Kahane at Good Universe, a couple years before, was like, “Hey, aren’t you tired of other people directing your material?” I had never really thought about it that way, but I was like, “Yeah, you know what? I am tired of that.” But, I have so much respect for that role. I hadn’t got to film school, so that’s why I wanted to direct television. I thought it was gonna be baby steps to this. But when I read the script, with this offer to direct, it was serendipitous that the themes within the movie were things I really related to. Having been a teenager who lost my virginity, and also being a parent of a girl, I was like, “Yeah.” I read it in the middle of the night and the next morning I said to my husband, “I think I really want to do this.”
As someone who’s handed your own written material over to someone else to direct, did it make you look at this script differently?
CANNON: I wouldn’t say differently. I knew that I was gonna take it and I had a bunch of things I wanted to do to it. I felt like I was coming in as a writer first, in my mind, and I wanted to rewrite it to what I wanted to direct, based off of the script I was given.
What were those changes that you wanted to make?
CANNON: Some big changes were that the girls really didn’t have as much going on. It was really driven by the parents, in the draft that I read, although butt-chugging had always been in that draft. So, I wanted the girls to be three distinct young women, and I wanted to make them funny and best friends. What was their world view? I wanted to really built those stories up.
The film has a great balance between the young women and their parents.
CANNON: Honestly, before shooting and even during shooting, I would have banked on leaning toward the parents because they’re just so funny. Those three actors are so funny, and they’re so funny together. They’re doing a lot of crazy stuff. It’s been so great to hear such great reactions about how people feel about the girls, and how they’re just as funny and people are just as interested watching what their storylines are. That’s really good. I’m glad for that.
Even the young guys, who are the supporting characters, are also really interesting, in their own ways.
CANNON: Yeah. I wanted them to not be stereotypical guys, where they’re just a bunch of horndogs. We’ve seen that before. It was nice. I wanted Conner to be someone where the audience wouldn’t know who to root for. You’re rooting for Mitchell because Conner does give drugs to people, but Conner is a nice guy, and he’s really respectful and fun, and he really likes Kayla. You’re not sure who you want to root for. Nobody is crazy applauding when Mitchell throws Conner into the wall, but you laugh really hard when Conner’s like, “I’m actually fine!”
How was the casting process for this, with the parents and their daughters?
CANNON: My daughter is going to preschool, and whoever she connects with, that’s who you end up having to spend all of these birthdays and Halloweens and graduation with. You’ve lived your life with these same parents, for all of these special moments, and then you end up becoming friends, but without your kids, you wouldn’t be friends. And I feel that way about Leslie [Mann], Ike [Barinholtz] and John [Cena]. If this movie hadn’t existed, those three are so different that I don’t think they’d be hanging out together, but when they come together, it’s really fun to see these three very different people joke around and laugh and have fun. They love each other and they’ve become friends.
What led you to the three parents and the three young women?
CANNON: The three parents are very distinct. We’d rewritten Mitchell to be a big guy who’s emotional. Ike was the first one that I cast because Ike and I have known each other for a long time and I felt like he was Hunter. I was like, “Ike, you’re kind of Hunter.” I sent him the script and it was a no-brainer. He was like, “Yes, absolutely!” And then, I had seen John in Trainwreck and Sisters and I thought he was super funny, but it wasn’t until I was watched him host the ESPYs, where he was just himself and telling a joke and laughing. I emailed the producers, immediately, when I was watching and I was like, “I think John Cena should play Mitchell.” John hadn’t done this big of a role before, so they had him come in and audition for me, and he nailed it. Leslie was sent the script. I thought of Leslie a lot, with that role. So, we sent her the script and she was actually dropping Maude, her daughter, off to college, so she was living through this, for real. I’m thrilled she said yes because I really felt like she understood it. Emotionally, when I watch her, I really feel like she brings you in and she can really feel those things. The girls just auditioned, regular style. I saw hundreds of young ladies, for those parts, and even tested a bunch and did chemistry reads. They were last-minute hires. Kathryn [Newton] came in, and when she left, I was like, “That’s Leslie’s daughter. I just feel like they would be great together.” Gideon [Adlon] and Geraldine [Viswanathan] were from tapes. The three of them hadn’t been in a room together until rehearsal, a week before we started. They just became fast friends.