Director Rob Cohen turns a character-driven dramatic story into a roller-coaster ride of a movie that’s equal parts scary, disturbing, exciting and erotic in his new psychological thriller, The Boy Next Door. Jennifer Lopez plays a woman at the crossroads who finds herself at a low point in her life after separating from her husband (John Corbett) of 18 years. She makes an unexpected emotional connection with her new next door neighbor (Ryan Guzman), but things go awry when his intense desire for her suddenly turns into a dangerous obsession. Ian Nelson and Kristin Chenoweth also co-star.
At the film’s recent press day, Cohen spoke about tailoring the script to his sensibilities, why making a female-driven psychological thriller about obsession, sex and violence was too good to pass up, how helming this compared to an action-packed movie like The Fast and the Furious, his collaboration with Lopez who also produces, reshooting the pivotal love scene between Lopez and Guzman to make it edgier, wanting to make an entertaining popcorn thriller, the coincidental reference to The Wiz in the original script, his experience with Hollywood’s short-term memory and penchant for typecasting, and his upcoming film, The Adventures of Marco Polo. Check out our interview after the jump.
ROB COHEN: Oh yeah. It wasn’t just the action. It was the nature of the sexual obsession. The script was very asexual when I got it. The story was about it, but I read it and I said, “If you’re going to do a movie about a middle-aged woman and a younger man, then a) there’s got to be a love scene in it and b) it’s not just kissy/rolly in the sheets. You have to see what the primal purpose is. First of all, as (director) John Ford said, “Print the legend.” Right? This is the myth. The myth of it is that you get a young man in the perfection of youth, and he gets a goddess who’s in the absolute fullness of her womanhood. I had an affair when I was 22, when I first came out here, with an ABC executive woman who was 45 and a mother. I’m always grateful to her because she taught me a lot about sex and women and life. It was a magical mystery tour for me and she got a very active, eager guy. So, it was a good deal for everybody.
The thing that made me excited here is okay, let’s look at sexual obsession and its mixed up idea of love, and look at it as two people coming at it from completely different directions, finding out that it’s a disaster on Claire’s (Jennifer Lopez’s character) part, but she’s already tasted the forbidden fruit, and there’s no going back from that. And Noah’s (Ryan Guzman’s character) love of her at first is an all-encompassing thing, but he is a sociopath. His idea is, “Anyone or anything that stops you from being mine will be eliminated because I’m what’s best for you, and I love you, so I want you to have what’s best.” That’s why in the post we wrote that scene where she goes and demands the videotape back and says, “What do you think our life is going to be like? What is it that you really think?” And then, you realize he has no contact with reality by that point. It’s just somehow they’re going to go away somewhere and it’s going to be absolutely idyllic and passionate and perfect. He’s not going to take “no” for an answer, so it torques into the third act there.
COHEN: I did this movie because when they sent me the script and I read it, I’d always wanted to work with Jennifer. We had talked about working together in the early 90’s on a movie and that didn’t happen. So here was this opportunity again. But more than that even was the idea that you get typecast in Hollywood. People forget that I started out directing dramas. Then, when I started directing Miami Vice (the TV series), everybody went, “Oh that guy can shoot cars and guns.” Then, you go for a while and everybody wants you to shoot cars and guns. So, I did Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, a very male movie but a good love story, and Daylight and DragonHeart. Then I went and did The Rat Pack, for which I got a Directors Guild nomination, which was all character. It had no guns and no action. But once you do a film like The Fast and the Furious, obviously $3 billion later, that’s all anybody wants you to do again. So, the idea of doing a female lead, a movie that was about a woman as the lead, not as the love interest, but the central focus of the movie, and to try to work with a powerful actress like Jennifer and bring a performance home in which her vulnerability, her relatability, and her truthfulness were all part of the character, I jumped at it because you don’t want to keep doing the same thing.
My favorite role model director, not that I’m of his level, but my admiration is for Howard Hawks who could direct a Western, a stylish comedy, a thriller, a horror film, and whatever he did, he did really well, but he never got typecast. That’s one of the reasons that I think he has suffered behind other directors like John Ford who did do films in a certain type arena, not just Westerns, but his whole look at the world was extremely restricted, whereas Hawks was off doing Bringing Up Baby one minute and then the next minute doing Red River. The fun of Hollywood is when you can have some choices and when you can try different things. Making a $4.5 million movie that starred a woman and that had a good deal about obsession and sex and violence was too delicious to pass up.
COHEN: She never put on the producer hat on set. She had a big job to do. Her job was to come as Claire every day and create some aspects of Claire which were not native to her. I kept saying, “If she feels invisible, she feels invisible.” I don’t think Jennifer has ever felt invisible a single day of her life. It’s hard to look like that and then say, “No one notices me.” So it was working against the JLo archetype and she was very dedicated to it. I never had a more cooperative actor who really came to play every day. She came prepared, knew her lines, and was there to create and to make it happen. There are ten producers on this movie. It cost $4.5 million. It seems like the smaller the budget, the more producers these days. Her company was involved, and she brought Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Benny Medina in as producers, and they represented her. That’s what I think it was.
I really enjoyed this movie. It was so much fun to watch, and the audience I saw the movie with was clapping and cheering and laughing.
COHEN: Thank you. I heard someone yelled “Rewind!” after the sex scene. (He laughs)
Was it your intent as a filmmaker to make a really fun popcorn movie that audiences can watch over and over again and laugh and enjoy, even though it has some serious, dramatic issues that you’re dealing with?
COHEN: Yeah. I wanted to take people on a ride. I’ve always tried to do that. I might not have always succeeded, but I always set out going me as a viewer. I want to get into a movie and I want to feel the filmmaker grab me by the hand, and then we go running through this crazy world for two hours or 90 minutes. Then suddenly, you’re left out and you’re breathless like, “Wow! I didn’t look at my watch. I didn’t go to the bathroom. I didn’t know what was going to happen next.” That’s why my films are always short compared to the films of the moment. I think this movie is 89 minutes long as opposed to the 2 hour and 15 kind of variety. It’s because I just want everybody to have the ride and then not overstay and get off stage while everybody’s feeling it, as opposed to, “Oh, now we’re this. Oh…” and you can feel the air being let out like a pinprick in a balloon just going away. So I’m very happy you said that because that was my whole intent here. Get ‘em on the ride. Never let ‘em go. And deposit them safe and sound, a little breathless and maybe a little eroticized, and maybe people go home and have great sex. That would be good. You could say to your boyfriend, “That’s how you do it. Not this other thing. This!”
COHEN: Believe it or not, it was in the original script. I wish! It was so funny because nobody knew it. One of the things that happens with a long career, and I’ve had a very long career, which I hope I’m in midstream of it, but it’s already been over 40 years long, is that people forget what you did. It’s like 20 years ago is more than Hollywood can comprehend. So, the years of running Motown and making The Witches of Eastwick and making The Wiz and making these films, people forget that. You sort of were born when you did The Fast and the Furious, which was 12 years ago. One very wonderful person, Marcia Nasatir, who was like my movie mother, wanted to name her autobiography “A Town without Memory” because that’s what it is. It’s like your last movie, your last hit, your last flop, you grew, you suddenly appeared on the scene when this happened, and all the work that led up to that is completely forgotten. So, when I say, “Yeah, I ran Motown for five years,” there are some people who go, “Huh? When did you do that?” And I’ll go, “Well, I was 23.” It’s seemingly ancient history, but to me, it’s all one continuum. So no, there are other Easter eggs in there, but they’re not The Wiz. I just laughed when we did the table read and everybody said, “You know, The Wiz,” and I go, “You all do realize that I produced The Wiz. And they were going, “Huh?!”
How was it to work on the love scene when they’re making love and to make it look natural, sensual and classy?
COHEN: I like to think of it as classy. I’m pro-sex. The only people I don’t trust are the people that aren’t pro-sex, the shriveled up little people that we all know who they are. I like people who really see it as a big part of life. The problem was I felt that the whole movie turned on that scene. We shot one version of it. Jennifer came really covered up giving me almost no options. I cut that version. It was poetic, but it was milk. It had no edges. It had no provocations. It had no stimulation. It was just what you’d expect from a Lifetime movie. I kept saying to everybody, “This is a Lifetime movie. You gave me no options, so this scene belongs on Lifetime.” There’s nothing in it that couldn’t be shown on Lifetime. And then, I had just said that to Blumhouse and to the millions of producers when this African American couple came walking out of the theater, and one of the producers said, “Hey, what did you think of the movie?”, and the woman of the couple went, “There’s nothing in there I couldn’t see on Lifetime.” I turned to everybody and went, “See! The audience has spoken.”
So, we went back, and I had a long talk with Jen away from the managers, away from the producers, and I said, “Here’s how deeply I believe in this scene being pivotal to everything that comes after. We’re going to get to shoot it again because Universal feels the same way I do.” We did it twice. There are parts of both of them in there. Things like her sinking below the couch in the last shot, that’s part of the first version where you couldn’t see anything. So, I went back and I said to Jen, “Look, the thing about this is we’re going to have half a day to shoot this one scene. I’m going to give you my final cut on the scene. I’ll put it in the letter. I’ll give it to your lawyers.” The first time there were three lawyers on the set making sure I didn’t show too much, “How much of her breast is showing? Is there a bulge? You can’t see the nipple!” She had pasties on that were *that* big. I said, “I have final cut. I’m giving you the final cut. Do the shots I want. Let’s get into it and really bring it home. Then I’ll cut it. You come to the editing room, just you, and on my children, I swear if you say, ‘I want that shot out,’ out it goes. I won’t argue. I won’t politic. I won’t betray you. Look me in the eyes. I’m telling you, whatever you’re comfortable with, the end result will do. But, give me the shots, because if I have the shots, we can [choose to] not use them. But if I don’t have the shots, we can’t have them. We can’t make it up because we go, ‘Gee, I wish we had something more specific.’” She went for that and Ryan went for that.
We did the whole appearance of everything because I wanted it to be a love scene where his worship of her was what was sweeping her away. She’s been jilted by the husband. She feels like a non-entity. She’s been passed over for a younger woman. She married young. So, she’s only known Garrett (her husband played by John Corbett) pretty much and she doesn’t even know where to begin. That’s why there’s the double date scene and how awkward it is when you’ve been married for 18 years and dated the same man from before that, and now suddenly, you’re out on the market. There’s a guy who looks great. The first hit of him is like, “Yeah. Okay. Good blind date.” He’s a handsome guy, but the more he opens his mouth, the more vile he is. I’m sure the women in the audience very much know that experience. Looks good, but is really terrible, and sometimes you get that in life. And then too, you get beautiful women who are nightmares. So, she’s got all these doubts and fears and vulnerabilities, and all he wants to do is love her and tell her she is the greatest, most beautiful, most amazing woman in the world. And who doesn’t need that? Who doesn’t hunger for that? And then, in the love scene, he’s not like her slave in a kinky way. All he is there for is to give her erotic pleasure. That’s all that gets done. He’s not asking her to service him. He’s really there to treat her like a goddess and worship her in a way.
What would you like to do next? Is there something you feel like you haven’t done yet that you want to do?
COHEN: Well, although I got to produce a fantasy film like The Wiz, I’ve never directed one. The next movie I hope to do, and I’m very close to getting done, is a film called The Adventures of Marco Polo at Paramount, which is a fantasy version of the story, not the Netflix version. Thank God! It’s historically accurate, but it involves a great deal of magic and mysticism and martial arts. It’s a co-production with the China Film Group, which is the government film arm of China, and Paramount Pictures. So, it’s close. We’re just at the final stage before a green light. I hope that is what’s next.
The Boy Next Door opens in theaters on January 23rd