Posted by Mr. Beaks
Following his supernova turn as the boisterous
But, as Vaughn discusses in the following interview taped on a lazy Sunday mid-June afternoon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, his circuitous ascent had nothing to do with an aversion to the genre instead, it was a reaction to a paucity of workable material. According to Vaughn, it’s all about character, and, in the late 90’s, the characters he preferred to play – conflicted men with gray-shaded morality – largely lurked in drama or horror.
Though Beanie, his character in Old School, was perhaps the least conflicted character in the whole movie, the role did allow Vaughn room to riff off of two equally gifted co-stars, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, resulting in a film that, two years later, is as eminently quotable as Caddyshack, Animal House and Scavenger Hunt. It was Vaughn’s first hit in years, but he wouldn’t truly reestablish himself as a leading man until last year’s Dodgeball, which surprised everyone, including the studio that released it, 20th Century Fox, by hauling in $114 million at the domestic box office.
Vaughn’s performance as Jeremy Klein in The Wedding Crashers, which opens this Friday, will only bolster his cause. Playing the wild-man counterpart to Owen Wilson’s less demonstrative John Beckwith, Vaughn consistently generates the film’s biggest laughs as a conscienceless cad who meets his match in the clingy, possibly psychotic Gloria Cleary (a brilliant Isla Fisher).
Vaughn had already weathered a marathon series of roundtable interviews by the time we convened our one-on-one later in the day. Though not necessarily exhausted, he certainly was more subdued than he’d been earlier, which led to a more reflective chat than I’d expected. Still, he was plenty game, and brutally honest with his take on the development of the screenplay.
You’ve ended up in this group that Sharon Waxman termed in a recent New York Times article “The Comedy Cabal”, with Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, etc. How does this work? Is it just a likeminded sensibility that brought you guys together?
I never really saw it like that. Really, some of these people I haven’t been in any scenes with. I think the real link has been Stiller: Ben put me in Dodgeball he put Owen in a lot of stuff earlier he put Jack Black in a lot of stuff earlier he put Will in Zoolander. I think the real kind of thread line is Ben Stiller.
In The Wedding Crashers you get to work in Will. How did you get him involved?
Oh, we just asked him to come in.
The course of your career since Swingers is interesting. Your role in that film was so epochal, but then you did a hard 180 and started doing dramatic work.
And while the work was really steady, the acclaim kind of gradually fell away. I thought Made was your real resurgence, where people were reminded of how explosively funny you could be. Since then, you’ve been on a real roll.
It’s interesting. The best reviewed movie I was ever in, though, was a drama called Return to Paradise. It’s just that the movie was never seen by that many people. It was a small movie, but it was a really good movie, and a really well reviewed movie – and one of my favorites. But it was one of those movies that was smaller in budget it was made by a company that went bankrupt at the time, the same company that made Clay Pigeons—
Gramercy, yes. And Clay Pigeons was another movie that I did with David [Dobkin] and Joaquin Phoenix that I was really proud of. But that movie never really saw the light of day. It never had a chance, but, again, it was well-received by people who did see it. But I was choosing more roles… I was interested in roles that I wanted to do. I wasn’t necessarily looking to be successful I was looking more to kind of do something I was interested in. And still am. The best material I’ve seen lately has been these comedies: Old School, Dodgeball, this movie, The Wedding Crashers, is my favorite of all of them.
Has the climate for comedy simply changed? Is the material just that much stronger than it was back in ’97 or ’98?
No question about it, for my taste. I like character-driven stories that’s just more my taste.
You seem to be one of those guys… I was interviewing Don Cheadle a while back.
I like Don. He’s a good actor.
He’s tremendous. But he talked about how he’s cast because they want him, even though they don’t necessarily have a role for him. And the understanding is that he’ll come in and either write or riff himself a part. I imagine that you get a lot of those kinds of offers.
Sometimes. More so now than before.
Are you cool with that?
I don’t have a problem doing it in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It depends on the situation. It depends on who’s involved.
Was the Mr. and Mrs. Smith thing just a favor to Doug Liman?
Kind of, but I had fun. Doug asked me to come in and do it, and I had a good time working with Brad and Angelina. They were both great.
But, then, with this film, which the writers say was about eighty percent scripted and about twenty percent riffed… (Vince squints) does that sound right to you?
I don’t know. I mean, “scripted”, yeah, but me and Owen went through it and wrote a lot of our lines as well. But the writers definitely did a good job, and we wouldn’t have been there if it wouldn’t have been for the screenplay. It’s so collaborative. How do you draw the lines?
I kind of wonder if there’s ever a pressure on you to show up on the set and riff – make comedy and make it work.
Yeah, but I usually write it before I get to the set. “Eighty percent scripted?” That seems a little high.
Yeah. Like that whole dating rant, or what I say to the priest, or “pimps from
But toes aren’t being stepped on? They want you to do that?
Oh, yeah. Anytime you’re successful with this, people are collaborative and not really concerned with who takes credit.
Talking about what it is specifically that you do, are there any actors that you look to who are a real influence?
There are actors who I respect, a lot of them, that I think are great, but there’s no one I ever patterned myself after. I mean, there are types of characters that I like. I like characters that Matthau’s played, or that Eastwood’s played, or Nicholson, Robert Duvall, Sidney Poitier… I like real people with flaws or dignity, stuff that rings true or honest – more flawed characters, I would say. Struggling characters that have very clean lines drawn in the screenplay. But as far as my style of acting, I think I’ve learned from everyone that’s come before me, that I’ve had a lot of respect for, but I’ve never said, “God, I want to be like ‘so-and-so’.”
What is it about flawed characters?
I just find it more truthful to life. I find it more interesting as an actor to investigate those things. I prefer the westerns like The Wild Bunch or One-Eyed Jacks, which Brando directed. Shane is a really complicated character he’s attracted to the wife, but he’s got too much of an ethical code to go there, wishes he had a more peaceful life, but it’s cost too many lives as a gunfighter to ever go back. [I preferred that more] than I did the more traditional westerns where this guy’s good, this guy’s bad, he’s perfect and he’s totally wrong, and here we go. I was really a fan of a lot of the films that came out in the 70’s in
You mention those more complex westerns, I guess you see yourself more as a Victor Mature “Doc Holliday” type than, say, Henry Fonda’s Wyatt Earp.
Yeah, although I love Henry Fonda. The Ox-Bow Incident he’s great in. A lot of movies he’s great in. But he was in a time… well, Grapes of Wrath – he was a guy, too, who started doing some flawed stuff.
Right. And Fonda, you know, was a guy who wasn’t afraid to dirty up his image, like he did in Once Upon a Time in the West.
Exactly. With Bronson. Was that Leone who directed that?
That’s a great movie. The harmonica. I used to go down to the New Beverly and watch all of those movies.
Owen had a funny quote at the junket today he called you “The Terminator model for comedy”, which, I guess, means something along the lines of relentless, unstoppable invention.
Well, that’s very gracious of him. I’m a huge fan of Owen’s it was very inspiring for me to get to do this. Owen is very bright. But, you know, we’re more alike than we are different in a lot of ways. He’s highly intelligent his mind is very quick. He’s also very unique. I find myself, when I’m around him, imitating him, picking up ways he does stuff because it’s so kind of charming and interesting. He’s got a real kind of interesting thing where he’s funny, but, also, girls really like him he’s got a real kind of ease and peace to him. He’s a very unique individual. He’s like the sex symbol of comedians.
Well, don’t sell yourself short there. I’m sure girls dig on you—
But, you see, when you’re around Owen, he’s got a warmth to him. He’s got a genuineness to him. And I think he does a great job in this movie of being funny – taking this romantic journey in a way that’s charming.
I was surprised by Isla Fisher in this movie. She’s an amazing comedic talent. How much was this a matter of casting versus, again, molding the role around the actor?
We worked on the material. We took the script and kind of customized it, changed a lot of it. I did a lot of writing on those scenes I kind of, in my mind, knew what I wanted the arc of my character to be. In the original screenplay, we end up crashing Bradley Cooper and Rachel McAdams’s wedding. That was the scripted version.
That’s the conventional ending.
Right, and that’s what the screenplay was. When we came in, we all knew we had to change it, and the direction it goes, without giving too much away, it was the fresher way of doing it. How do you get there? Well, you start off as a skeptic, take the journey, become the ultimate romantic, and you’re forgiven for any of the stuff you did earlier because, at the end of the day, you changed. So, we really pushed the envelope with Isla, writing the thing about her imaginary friend… a lot of the stuff that’s said between us arced that character to the point of buying that turn at the end.
Those are the kinds of uncommon touches that help elevate the film. Also, the Chazz appearance (Chazz, played by Will Ferrell, is the godfather of wedding crashing) wasn’t in the original script, right?
That was more from David and Owen’s idea to put him at the funeral. That was Owen’s idea: crashing funerals.
The third act of this film is interesting, because it doesn’t do anything that’s expected.
And it’s interesting to see how it hits the audience. Not that it doesn’t work, but it’s not set-up/punch line anymore it gets really dark when Owen starts going back to the weddings solo and sort of flames out.
But it works. In a way, you want to have the audience process stuff in a way they’re not used to. You have to buy the turns you want the turns to be believable, but also unexpected. And I think it’s more interesting the way we ended up doing it.
The David O. Russell project sounds interesting. Is that going to happen?
You’re going to play a talk radio host, and I read a comment from him where he said this was going to be an unabashed mainstream comedy for him.
We’ll see. We’ll see what becomes “mainstream”. What does that mean? I think it’s a mainstream film because it deals with mainstream concepts, but I think David O. Russell is a great filmmaker. There’s nothing common about him. I’m excited to take the journey with him.
Just hearing about the experience of I ♥ Huckabees, and how he’s… well, when he’s making a film, he’s making a film.
I respect that, though.
You’re ready for that?
I’m ready. I’m excited by his talent, and I’ve really enjoyed the process with him so far.