Last year I visited the set of the Russell Brand/Jonah Hill comedy Get Him to the Greek on the Sony lot while they were shooting a scene set in Las Vegas. The gist of the film: record company junior exec Hill must get junkie rock star Brand from the UK to LA in three days to play a major concert at the famed Greek Theater.
It can be tough to get the director on a set visit – he’s the busiest guy there. Luckily Nick Stoller, who also directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall, managed to find some time to chat with our small group of visiting journalists.
Read my set visit report right here.
When you sort of conceived this, how did you decide what would carry over from the first movie and what would be reinvented or reimagined?
The movie is a spin-off, and Russell’s playing the same character but in Sarah Marshall he’s kind of took the moral high road and was kind of above it all, and in this one he’s fallen off the wagon and it’s a total disaster. So even though he’s playing the same guy it’s kind of a different character. And basically everything else is pretty different. I mean, we have some allusions to… [just then Russell Brand walks by] Would you say it’s different? The movie?
Brand: It’s different in that it’s worse, you know. Like Nicholas ruins the memory of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Remember Sarah Marshall, it was a good film.
Stoller: This is not good, it is not going well. So yeah, certainly for the most part it’s pretty different. It’s a road trip. It’s a road trip, crazy comedy, you know. Where Sarah Marshall was a romantic comedy.
I’m sort of confused about the core of this. You’ve got a guy who’s a drug addict trying to get a score.
How dark does the film get?
We have a lot of options where we could take it pretty dark and if audiences are not into that we can pull back on it. I mean, there is a dark undertone to it, certainly, because it is about this guy going on this crazy bender after being sober for a while. But I found with Sarah Marshall that we went to some dark areas romantically and we covered ourselves and shot stuff that wasn’t as dark and audiences loved it. They actually liked the dark stuff because it feels real and true to life. And we also always have the pouring drugs out of Jonah’s ass sequence, so there.
Which you’re going to be shooting–?
We shot that yesterday.
But you’re going to shoot an asshole POV on that?
We’re going to attempt to shoot the first asshole POV.
Please tell me you’re going to leave that in.
We’re going to see what we can do.
But that will at least be on the DVD.
That will at least be on the DVD.
What did Robert Yeoman, the cinematographer bring to the film? Because he seems –?
Way too good for this?
That wasn’t what I was going to say, I was going to be a little more diplomatic.
Yeah. He shot some of the most beautiful movies ever made, you know. All the Wes Anderson movies, Drugstore Cowboy. He also does big comedies. He did Yes Man, and he’s the best, he’s awesome. You want someone you can also personally connect with and he’s just… he thinks everything’s really funny. But visually I think he’s just made some of the most beautiful stuff. And we want this to have sort of a grandeur to it and an epicness to it because we’re going to all of these different cities and want to capture that.
Is there anything that you’re trying to be aware of given the fact that The Hangover is obviously about racing around Vegas as well. In terms of the geography that you’re capturing or just the artistic decisions–?
Since The Hangover came out we’ve done a shot for shot remake of it. So we’re literally doing everything—we’re doing Jonah as a baby, we’ve got the whole thing. We’re just doing it. Like I don’t care, I want this movie to make a lot of money.I can’t enter the sophomore slump so we’re just copying—we’re basically copying most of it.
You’re going to have Tyson–?
Actually there is a funny story which is we shot Carrot Top in Vegas, we were like it would be hilarious if Carrot Top did blow with our guys. Called him. Came to set. We very gingerly asked if he’d mind doing blow with Aldous at this club. He thought about it and was like okay. Never told us that he did blow in The Hangover, at the end of The Hangover. So we have footage that we accidentally stole from The Hangover without knowing. And it was, it bummed me out when it got a huge laugh in the theater because I was like we could have used that. But The Hangover did it first, and Carrot Top should have told us. Other than that, he was a pleasure to work with.
When somebody thinks of a big comedy like this, a big improv comedy, Sean Diddy Combs doesn’t really come to mind—
Came to my mind!
How did that happen? How is he sort of holding up in this improv environment?
He’s just crazy funny. He’s like a crazy funny actor. He’s a really funny guy. He was in Made, that really funny Jon Favreau movie, and if you watch even those reality shows, like I’m P Diddy’s Assistant, he’s funny in those. He auditioned for us, which was really cool of him, and I really wanted to cast him. And I really hoped that he would knock it out of the park and he did, he came in and he was just hilarious. He’s really game and loves improv and it’s really great.
How do you work with Jonah to get him to be the straight man here?
What’s exciting to me about this movie is there is no straight man. They’re just two completely different people. So it’s not like one guy’s neurotic and nervous all the time and the other guy’s crazy. It’s like one guy, Russell, is pretty nuts but Jonah’s just trying to keep up. It’s like a guy that’s trying to keep up. And I think Jonah does really well and I think he’s going to get a ton of laughs from it. That’s what’s exciting to me. It’s not straight man/crazy man. It’s more like they should not be in the same frame of the movie, it’s that kind of thing.
Russell’s dad is in this scene. Can you tell us about that relationship and what’s going on?
Russell’s dad is played by the wonderful Colm Meaney, and Russell decides he wants to visit his dad, who lives in Las Vegas and plays at the Rat Pack show—he plays bass at the Rat Pack show, which is at the, I believe it’s at the Plaza Hotel at Old Vegas. Things are going really well, he hasn’t spoken to his dad in a while, things are going really well, and then things go awry, as they often do with dads you haven’t been in touch with. I don’t want to spoil what’s going to happen.
When you’re on set and you’re encouraging them to improvise, do you encourage them to also sort of react to the jokes? Because there are a lot of comedic directors who sort of decide that the audience is going to laugh so that the characters shouldn’t necessarily react if like Jonah makes a one-liner or something.
Well if they’re intentionally making a joke, then people should laugh. Like I always think it’s weird when you watch sitcoms and somebody makes a joke and no one laughs, they just take it as part of the patter. That’s always a little weird. But a lot of the improv has to do with weird, awkward reactions to situations and stuff, so they’re not actually making jokes. But if it’s like supposed to be a joke then they laugh. Elisabeth Moss plays Jonah’s girlfriend, and she’s fantastic and hilarious and their patter kind of has a jokey element to it and they certainly laugh when they’re riffing with each other.
What was the decision process behind having Jonah not playing the same character even though Russell is?
It was based on the fact that Star Trek decided to reinvent their universe, so I thought we could too. There you go. It’s an official reboot, but we don’t have forty years of fans to explain ourselves to, so I felt like we could do it. I mean, the character he played was hilarious in Sarah Marshall, but it was totally wrong and crazy and you would—I don’t think that character could sustain a movie.
We’d asked before about whether or not there was going to be any kind of joke to allude to the fact that everyone knows who he was.
We’ve been trying to figure that out. It will either be awkwardly, completely ignored, or we’ll have some nod to it.
We were just saying that both Star Trek and Transformers have prequel comics—
Oh yeah right.
You could do—
We could, we could. We did toy around with, “I have a twin in Hawaii.” Nothing works, nothing works. We’re like screw it, you know.
All of the obviousness of that could be funny.
The idea that he works with [Aldous] and sends his brother music and his brother has become dangerously—
I’m going to write that down. Do you mind if I write that down?
Yes, yes, as long as I’m credited. His last line in the movie could be “Don’t you recognize me from Hawaii?”
Thus ruining the entire film.
It’s like Time Cop.
With Sarah Marshall you had a film that you ended up cutting a lot out, like the whole Kristen Wiig character.
Is that something you want to avoid here?
I like having a lot of extra stuff. Because you have options when you get into the editing room. And you don’t really know whose story is going to be interesting and whose story the audience is going to want to watch, you know? Like those scenes with Kristen Wiig in Sarah Marshall are hilarious when you watch them separate from the movie, but when you put them in the movie, people just want to know what’s going to happen with Jason Segal’s character. We discovered that when we were cutting the movie. And with this one they’re visiting a lot of characters, you don’t really know—like everyone’s awesome and you don’t know if the audience realizes and wants to see a lot of Aldous’ dad or not.
In tests, are you paying a lot of attention to the cards or is it being in the theater and seeing how the audience actually reacts?
It’s seeing how the audience actually reacts. We record the audience laughing with the movie so we know exactly where everyone’s laughing. And then we can track it that way. And if everyone on the cards is saying the same thing—
–then yeah. But usually the cards can be all over the place. But it’s certainly helpful. You know we read them, read the cards.
Is it easier to discover what’s working on set this time around?
I think I have a better idea, but I don’t know. You just have no idea. So often like the maxim says what’s super funny on set or in the dailies isn’t funny in the movie. That’s apparently sometimes true. There was stuff in Sarah Marshall that was hilarious on the day and then not really, and then there were other things on the day I didn’t even notice, like when Rudd says [to Brand] are you from London. That line, on the day I was like that’s amusing, and it’s a giant laugh in the context of the movie, it’s really funny.
The always accurate IMDB has a ton of stars listed doing cameos.
Who is actually doing cameos?
Right now I don’t know who’s going to end up in the movie, but we’ve shot everyone who’s listed. Or are planning to. So it’s actually accurate.
Oh my gosh.
Yeah, we’re trying to make this a movie about the music business a little bit.
So if it isn’t people actually in a scene you’ll have them on the MTV Music Awards red carpet or something.
Like Russell being a drunk disaster in front of Christina Aguilera, that kind of thing.
We know that a lot of the Aldous stuff is based on Russell himself. Are you ever concerned about being sensitive to…
I just mine him. I just mine him. He’s destroyed, personally, but at least we got it on film. I mean he’s like very – as a stand up and in his book — he’s not scared to be autobiographical, to talk about everything. There are obviously similarities between his personal life and this movie, but there’s also a lot of stuff that’s not the same. Like the relationships are different and stuff. He’s an incredible actor and he’s really bringing — I think his performance is, and Jonah’s too, everyone’s performance, but his performance is astounding, and I think he’s really going to some dark places to create this character. And sometimes I feel bad for him. And then I yell action.