I touched John C. Reilly’s underwear. They were tighty whities, and part of a whole rack of undies and clothes hanging in the wardrobe trailer on the Sony lot, where Step Brothers was being filmed. I had joined a group of my beloved fellow journalists to visit the set of the movie, to tour the stages, to meet the actors and director Adam McKay, and to touch underwear.
I’ve been on some amazing sets. The set of City of Ember was about five or six blocks of a real city. I stood in an ancient castle on a soundstage outside of London for Inkheart. The set of Step Brothers is not quite as amazing, since it’s just a suburban house. What’s sort of amazing, though, is how, after about two minutes on the set, you forget that you’re not in a suburban house – all of a sudden you catch sight of the painted translight outside the window, or you round a corner and find yourself staring at a blank wall leading off to the craft services table and a bunch of lounging Teamsters.
Step Brothers brings back the magic team of Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Adam McKay, the guys who made Talladega Nights (and of course McKay and Ferrell created the new century classic Anchorman). This time Ferrell and Reilly play grown men living at home with their single parents; when mom and dad get married, the two big children have to learn to live together, and possibly grow up. I know a couple of people who have seen test screenings of this movie (sadly I am not one of them), and they tell me that this is yet another home run.
After touring the house, including the step brother’s bedroom (with the remains of a destroyed bunk bed) and Reilly’s ‘beat laboratory’ (a room with his sacred drum kit), we watched a scene being shot. The set up was simple – Reilly and Ferrell had just been in a fight, broken through some dry wall, and were being grounded by their parents. They’re sitting on the couch in the living room, watching Shark Week, when dad – the great Richard Jenkins – tells them to shut off the TV. We saw them shoot the scene as scripted, and then we watched the collaboration and improvisation that makes the films of Ferrell, McKay and the whole Apatow crew so incredible. The improvs started slow – changing a couple of lines here and there, and they picked up steam as McKay would shout lines to his actors from behind the monitor. We were sitting not far from the actors, and keeping quiet while lines cracked us up was proving more and more difficult. Finally, they broke, and Reilly and Ferrell came over to meet us. Reilly had an ice pack on his head while Ferrell had Star Wars pajamas. Ferrell immediately noticed something all of the journalists had in common…
Ferrell: I want to make sure the online press only wears black today. [Laughter] Oh good, you guys got the memo.
Q: Will, the Star Wars sweat pants, are you enjoying wearing them?
Ferrell: Pajamas, yeah.
Q: John, hat happened to your head?
Reilly: It is for the scene. We got in a fight in the movie and we are in the recovery stage right here.
Q: Was this a drum accident?
Reilly: No, we have a big fight on the lawn and I hit Will with a baseball bat
Ferrell: It was a simultaneous knock out.
Reilly: He hits me with a driver, golf club.
Q: What did you guys do to the dry wall?
Ferrell: We slammed each other into it. This is all a fight over who touched John’s drum set. Whether I did.
Q: Did you?
Ferrell: I would say I didn’t, but you’ll have to watch the movie.
Reilly: I have forensic evidence. However, we have no witnesses.
Q: Does your character ever allow Will’s character back into the beat laboratory?
Reilly: He’s allowed to go back in there eventually, but never to touch the drums even when we become very close friends.
Ferrell: I can just hover in there, that’s it.
Q: Can you talk about how working on Talladega Nights possibly led to a more shorthand, comedic sort of thing?
Reilly: Yeah, well that’s where we developed the hand signals.
Ferrell: It is like a 300 page, Morse code like booklet that we pass out to the crew, to visitors, you guys will get it later on your departure.
Reilly: The movie is virtually indecipherable if you don’t have this book too so, the studio coughed up the cost to provide one to every audience member.
Ferrell: We are going to hand them out at the theater as well to decipher the film, but we think it will be a cool novelty item twenty years from now.
Reilly: We were friends before we did Talladega so we had some type of shorthand before that even, right?
Ferrell: Yeah. This whole… it’s funny, it’s been an interesting movie in that we kind of started out with a bunch of physical things and we hadn’t actually done scenes yet, so in terms of the way we responded with each other’s characters we were almost figuring that out a little after the fact. Which I think would have been a lot harder if we hadn’t known each other that well.
Reilly: A lot of the shorthand in this movie too comes from the fact that we all kind of figured out the story together, Will and Adam and I so we all told each other stories from our past.
Ferrell: And put it in the script, so by the time we filmed it…
Reilly: By the time it got in the script we all knew where the stories had come from and what the intent was.
Q: I understand you guys had this concept back when you made Talladega Nights, so where did this idea come from originally?
Reilly: It wasn’t that far back was it?
Ferrell: No, we just had the idea of trying to work together again, but in terms of a specific idea it wasn’t until meeting back in Los Angeles and pitching a bunch of things, we had settled on two or three options and I think Adam called us the next day and said “Here’s a totally brand new idea that we hadn’t thought about” and it was this one and we were, “Oh!”
Q: How did the writing work?
Ferrell: Actually, I shouldn’t even say this – we farmed it out to China. There are a group of writers, they are called the Omega Group and they are pretty close to our voice, there were some cultural things that were slightly different.
Reilly: All the script notes came from India. And they would just talk to the writers in China.
Ferrell: It was a very belabored process, but we didn’t have to do any of it, which was great.
Q: Do any of your friends make appearances, for example the people you have worked with in other films?
Reilly: When you say “friends” …
Q: I don’t want to drop any names …
Reilly: People we don’t really like that we call our “friends?”
Ferrell: I’m trying to think if any of the friends that you have on your list would be in this movie. There is, once again, an ensemble feel to this film.
Reilly: But it is a smaller cast than Talladega so there is less room for people to come in.
Ferrell: There are cameos of other comedic actors that we all love and know.
Q: Can you guys talk about working with Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen?
Reilly: I have always admired both of them. I did a movie with Mary Steenburgen, and Richard I have always admired too, so I was thrilled. I wasn’t really part of the decision to get them in the movie because it was happening when I was out of town this summer but I was thrilled.
Ferrell: Yeah, Richard Jenkins was kind of a name we talked about a long time when we were writing the script, about how he would be perfect guy to play John’s dad and Mary kind of came later only because we didn’t think she would want to play my mom. She’s so young looking, but she was game. They are not only great actors, but great comedic actors in the style that we like, which is played as real as possible and to let the circumstance be the comedy of it.
Q: In the scene that we just watched, it appeared Richard was the hard ass of the two parents and Mary pretends like she is, but then she kind of softens up.
Reilly: You can’t make too many assumptions about what you see because we are literally completely changing stuff up not doing the script anymore. We are making a whole big pallet of things to choose from and they both – Richard[‘s character] is really upset because we just got in a fight in this scene but he is by no means the hard ass in this movie. Both parents…
Ferrell: …trade off at times.
Reilly: The reason that they are able to stay where they are at in their lives is because both parents let it go on.
Q: Can you talk about the freedom of working in R rated environment and not having to hold back.
Ferrell: We just kind of both came from doing R movies before this, but still I’ve never gotten to work with Adam in this setting. It is great to not have to edit yourself in that way just because Anchorman and Talladega we were always like “Is that too much? Do we need to find an alt for that?” That being said, we still find ourselves trying to do a couple takes that are a little less stocked with the F word just in case we have F word overload. We are like addicts who finally get to say bad words.
Q: Do you think the environment is changing in regards to R rated comedies?
Ferrell: In regards to comedy? Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think with the success of like every summer there has been a couple R rated comedies that have done so well I think it is so nice to see that people are turning out to see these movies and it doesn’t seem to be as big a stigma with the studios anymore. You know PG-13 used to guarantee a certain box office success and I’m sure they could pull up the statistics to still support that in a way, but it is nice that these other really creative movies that also happen to be R rated are getting a nice shot.
Reilly: You know the cable TV effect too – watch Bill Maher or Jon Stewart, these guys say basically whatever they want even if they beep it out; it used to be they couldn’t even say it to get beeped. I think that is part of it and I think also just so much of media in general is PG, like regular radio and regular TV. It is so controlled for so long and I think people have a craving for the truth or like honest expression and people swear more often than they did at least it seems like they do.
Ferrell: It is funny when you get comments back like “That was rated R? Why was it rated R? It didn’t seem that bad.” So I think it is a comment on the rating system as well.
Reilly: There is something too about the background of a lot of the people who are doing these kind of R rated comedies now, I know – this is probably true of the Groundlings. I don’t know them but… I say “Man, we go really dark sometimes with the language or the scenarios we just let our minds go wherever.” So that’s the rule of improv is not about limiting where you are going to go with it, you follow it all the way to the conclusion you are heading toward and that’s what he said: “Oh man, at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade] or whatever there isn’t a show that goes by without abortion or anal sex or whatever.” These are the taboo subjects that come up in comedy. That’s what people go for so it is not so much that we want to be more racy for that reason. We just start improv-ing and coming up with crazy scenarios and end up doing stuff that is more on the edge and it is not so family friendly.
Ferrell: Whether or not we ultimately have it in the movie, it allows you to explore and then come back to another area.
Q: We were talking to someone earlier who said the comedy in this is in general darker.
Ferrell: I’m not the best one to ask because I never understand. I will watch a movie that is quote unquote dark and not get the qualification of what is dark and what is not.
Reilly: It doesn’t seem dark to me [laughs]. It is about two guys who are sort of stuck in their childhood, you know. So it has a certain innocence to it, but I guess we do swear and stuff so if that is dark, that doesn’t seem dark to me. What is darker to me is a movie about dismemberment and taking people hostage and torturing them.
Q: There is none of that in this film?
Reilly: Dismemberment? No. Hostages? No.
Ferrell: No, I don’t think so.
Q: Well, you still have a few more days on the shoot so you could…
Ferrell: Yeah, we could add that in.
Q: Do you guys plan to work together again? Maybe Land of the Lost?
Reilly: You got something for John Reilly in that?
Ferrell: We are probably going to do a musical together. Fiddler II.
Reilly: Hello Dollies, or Two Dollies.
Q: Maybe you were just doing a bit at a press conference, but you had mentioned doing Anchorman II with like foreign correspondents. Is that a reality at all?
Reilly: Sounds like a bit.
Ferrell: Not as of yet, no.
Q: Did Land of the Lost come about because of your character’s name in Jay and Silent Bob or was that totally serendipitous?
Ferrell: Yeah, totally random completely. I worked with the same management who had the rights to – with Sid and Marty Kroft blah, blah, blah, yeah.
Q: Are you going to do that as an action comedy or straight comedy or maybe something more serious?
Ferrell: It is going to be very serious; it is going to be kind of on the tone of The English Patient, but with dinosaurs, horribly frighteningly realistic dinosaurs. In fact we only survive for 12 minutes in the movie the rest is mostly just action shots of dinosaurs communicating with Sleestacks. It is going to be more like a nature documentary.
Q: Is it going to be a parody or a spoof?
Ferrell: It is going to be kind of hopefully like Jurassic Park, it is not going to be a spoof in terms of the look it is going to be as real as possible and hopefully funny.
Reilly: Will Ferrell reacting to real dinosaurs? That sounds funny to me.