The comedy The House – written by Andrew Jay Cohen (making his feature film directorial debut) and Brendan O’Brien, who previously collaborated on Neighbors and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising – shows the lengths that any parents will go to, in order to ensure the dreams of their child. Desperate to ensure that their daughter can pursue her goal of attending a university, Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) decide to open an illegal casino inside of their neighbor Frank’s (Jason Mantzoukas) house, in order to earn back the money they lost from their daughter’s college fund, and there’s no way that that won’t be a bumpy but hilarious ride.
Back in November of 2015, Collider was invited out to the set, on Stage 23 at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif. to check out some filming and chat with the stars and filmmakers. On a break from shooting, we got a few minutes each with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, who were not only excited about the opportunity to get to work as a team, but who were clearly also having a great time doing so. During small group interviews, the two talked about what makes these characters different, why a casino seems like a good way to solve their problem, how this family gets caught up in all of the craziness, having fun improvising, and what they most enjoy about working together.
WILL FERRELL: I don’t know if it’s radically different. I think it’s in the same family as a lot of the things that I’ve done. If anything, the one thing that’s different is that Amy [Poehler] and I establish ourselves as the suburban family that’s so proud of their relationship with each other and their relationship with their daughter. She’s going off to college and life is great, and then, as we explore this premise and we get deeper and deeper into the lie of what we’re doing, the dark side of both of us gets to come out. That’s the fun turn. We dissolve into DeNiro and Sharon Stone from Casino. That’s probably the different part.
Amy, who is your character in this?
AMY POEHLER: I play Kate Johansen, and Will [Ferrell] and I are a couple who are dealing with the fact that we thought we provided enough of a nest egg to send our daughter to college, and then that gets taken way. So, the movie is about a couple who decide to turn their house into a casino, in the hopes that they can send their daughter to college.
Is that something you’d ever consider doing?
POEHLER: In real life? I don’t know. It’s that fun structure of a couple putting themselves in harm’s way and challenging themselves to see what kind of lengths they would go to for their kid. So, maybe.
How does Kate feel about the idea of this casino?
POEHLER: She’s into it. What I like about the movie is that my character is not the one who’s stopping the fun. Will and I just jump in pretty fast, as a couple. The characters actually really like each other, which is also nice to see. It’s a marriage that’s working and it’s a team where they embolden each other, along the way. They both lose their minds, together and separately. It’s a good example that it’s never too late to make a bad decision with someone you love.
How would you describe the dynamic between Scott and Kate?
POEHLER: We both get to be crazy, but the partnership in the movie is really sweet. I like that they are on each other’s side. They are members of the same team. That’s what you need sometimes, in life and in comedy. You have to take big risks and big chances, and they both act like maniacs. It’s really fun to be that way with Will. I will never be taller or louder, and that’s my cross to bear, but I can hide in more places and jump out and surprise him.
What can you say about the relationship between your characters and Jason Mantzoukas’ character?
FERRELL: He’s our friend, but since his wife has left, Amy’s character is not so much his friend. We were more friends, as a couple, and I’m still his buddy, but Amy is like, “Really? That guy?!” Our relationship with Frank is such that we feel a little sorry for him. We’re worried about him living alone, in this empty house, as a professional gambler. And yet, he’s the lightning rod to get us to go all-in on this idea of helping raise money for our daughter’s college education. He’s the crazy friend where, when we see him apply himself, we’re like, “All right, Frank, this is totally illegal, but you’re doing such great work. We’re so proud of you!”
POEHLER: Frank is an enabler. It depends on whose ear he’s whispering in.
A lot of times in comedy, you have the straight character to the ultra funny characters. Does this film have that?
FERRELL: Not really. Probably the straightest character is Ryan [Simpkins], who plays Alex, our daughter. She represents the audience, a little bit, in the sense of trying to figure out what we’re up to and why we’re behaving so strangely. And yet, even she gets to have fun by exploring, “If my parents are disappearing late at night and not explaining their actions, than I’m gonna do the same thing.” There was a moment, in doing some scene, where I was like, “Oh, my gosh, everyone in our town is crazy!” This cast has brought such funny twists to each person. It’s nice to have such a big ensemble, with everyone getting to be funny. It’s a very idiosyncratic town of Fox Meadow, with how weird everyone is. Everyone gets to be funny, in certain moments.
How has it been to work with this cast?
POEHLER: Jason and I have known each other for 15 years or longer. We used to work together at UCB. The cast assembled on this film, there’s a lot of UCB performers, like Jason Mantzoukas, Lennon Parham, Nick Kroll and Rob Huebel. There are so many, and we speak a similar comedy language, so there’s a lot of improvising. It’s a really incredibly funny cast. That feels like home. It feels familiar. It’s nice. That kind of chemistry, you either have it or you don’t, right away. Will and I definitely think the same things are funny and we really enjoy each other. Part of the process, when you’re making a big comedy like this, is that you have to enjoy it and each other, or you’re doing it wrong.
What’s your favorite part of changing things up and improvising?