There aren’t a lot of comedies that delve into the psyche of male friendship. ”I Love you, Man”, from director John Hamburg and prolific producer Donald Deline take the buddy comedy in a new and realistically irreverent direction. In this exclusive interview, Hamburg and Deline talk about the film as well as some tidbits on future projects.
Question: John, you obviously had a great hand in the writing of this. What was it about the idea of doing a comedy about male bonding that really appealed to you?
Hamburg: For me, it was a very human thing that was in the culture, but nobody really talked about it. The idea of how hard it is to make a platonic friend as an adult. And how there’s no rules for it, and there’s so much awkwardness involved in this ritual of men trying to make friends with other men. And it appealed to my comic sensibilities, because I like to write about awkward relationships between people. Whether it’s son and a potential father-in-law, or a guy who’s just been dumped by his fiancÃ©e and meets what he thinks is the woman of his dreams. I just – just sort of missed connections, and people not quite being able to say what they mean, and how they really feel, just appeals to my comic sensibilities.
Question: When you write something like this, where’s the line between irreverent comedy and realistic humanity?
Hamburg: Well, you know, for me, I never think of it as irreverent comedy. I just try to write from character. So, I mean, even this Sydney character has a jerk-off station in his man cave. But actually, it’s a philosophical thing that fits into his character. You know, I didn’t think, “Oh, this will be really funny for the audience, and outlandish comedy.” I was like, “This character would have this in his man cave.”
Question: So, this movie is not autobiographical in any way.
Hamburg: I think autobiographical in that my wife and I have made a summer salad together. [LAUGHTER]
De Line: Did you watch Chocolat?
Hamburg: We did – I do think Chocolat is a pretty charming movie. But the Sydney character is more like my fantasy of the kind of guy I’d like to be from time to time.
Question: How does the relationship between those two men differ from the relationship between, let’s say, a director and producer?
De Line: [LAUGHTER] Good question. I don’t know how to answer that.
Hamburg: You mean, how to Peter and Sydney differ from a director and producer? Well, this is John talking. I mean, all I can say is, Donald and I have known each other for many years, but we’ve never made a movie together. And he and I, from the moment we decided to collaborate, always had the same vision of the movie. And it was a very supportive environment.
Question: In fact, Donald – Observe and Report notwithstanding, your track record is not in a lot of comedies. I mean, you haven’t done that many comedies as a producer.
De Line: Right.
Question: And I’m just wondering, what was the attraction of doing something, for you, as different as this is from all of your other projects?
Hamburg: Well, you know, first of all, I love comedy. But, 11 years ago, I’d been an executive for 13 years at Disney, so, right when I became a producer is when I heard the idea. And it resonated so strongly with me, I really was very, very passionate about it and obviously, stuck with it for a long time. It’s just that we really didn’t know how to crack it until John Hamburg came along and really kind of made it work, in one fell swoop. It was actually one draft of his version of the script, that we got it made. So we had talked about it over the years, off and on. But, you know, it’s hard. It’s like – it’s hard to get movies made as a producer. And I was starting out, coming off being a studio executive for a long time. You know, you kind of start from scratch. And some things happen quickly, some things take a long time. But I have a lot of comedies in my coffers, as it were. You know, things I’m developing. And it’s something that – you know, I have more fun doing those than anything else. And this was really satisfying, because like John said, we were very eye to eye. We had a great relationship. The cast was so great. It was one of those experiences that don’t happen very often, where just, everybody really kind of – at the right moment in their life – you know, collaborates.
Question: Clearly, when you’re making a movie like this, and you want to do it for a reasonable amount of money, you don’t want to go after a Mike Meyers on a Jim Carrey, or those $25 million-a-picture movie comedy stars. This is a movie where you really cast actors, rather than movie stars. Was that an important consideration, right from the beginning?
Hamburg: You know, it wasn’t so much, “Let’s not get movie stars.” It was more like, “Let’s get Paul Rudd and Jason Segal.” And I think what Donald and I both loved about those guys was that they brought a level of reality to the story. The script was very sort of loose and reality-based, and not – we didn’t want movie stars to bring all of their personas to the project. That can work in many movies, where you want the iconic nature of movie stars, to bring their back story, as it were, to their role. But this one, we just wanted you to watch a couple of guys becoming friends on screen.
Question: Because in fact, these guys embody or exemplify the everyman in a lot of men within that age group. Is that fair enough?
Hamburg: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, for me, my favorite kind of comedy is relatable comedy. Where the audience is sitting there, going, “Oh, those guys remind me of my friends.” Or, “I’ve been in that situation.” And when you get – people can embody those Everyman qualities, it’s really exciting. Especially when they can make it funny.
Question: Now, it appears now that with comedy, pushing the envelope is the name of the game. With this movie, you didn’t quite go as far as you maybe could have gone, I guess. Where do you draw the line? Where is the line drawn, between being outrageous, and being over the top, in terms of what you can get away with? And I know that – I haven’t seen Observe and Report yet, but I believe I’m seeing it on Thursday. And I heard that that definitely goes a little bit over the line. But with this one, you go a bit below the line. So, what kind of discussions do you have, either as filmmakers or with the studio, in terms of where you draw the line, with comedy?
De Line: I would say, this is – like John was saying, it’s a reality-based piece. So, I think what John said, he writes from character. That wasn’t the world that this lived in. This is something, I think, that presents real characters in a real world. Would you agree with that? So, I think “over the line” doesn’t really become an issue. You know?
Hamburg: Yeah. We never talked about it, because it was simply – what would one of these characters do? How would they behave? What would they say? And I think you know when it’s not working, is when you write something just to be funny, but the characters wouldn’t really do that. And that – you know, if we had a scene like that, we would have cut it. But we never really had those kinds of scenes.
De Line: And I think also, in terms of things that might have been in the script, and might have made the studio a touch nervous if they were maybe a little toward the raunchier side, or what have you, I think the audience will obviously tell you. And there was nothing that John wrote, or that was tried in the movie, that they didn’t completely go with, and buy, in the context of the movie.
Hamburg: Yeah, I can’t think of anything, no. Look, we take a swing, when Jason Segal’s character said, “Oh, this is where I jerk off.”
De Line: And they love it.
Hamburg: And they love it. But, you know, that’s because he’s also, as a character, self-aware. He kind of knows that not everyone has a jerk-off station. So, I mean –
De Line: Oh, come on. Everyone does.
Question: Really? I thought that was part of our mantra.
Hamburg: Yes. They just hide it. His is in plain sight. But I think that the fact that these guys are self-aware allows us the freedom to go to certain edgier places with their characters.
Question: Is there any stuff that didn’t make it in the movie that might make it on the DVD?
De Line: Oh, yeah, great stuff.
Hamburg: A lot.
Question: Such as?
Hamburg: Well, there’s a whole sequence on the DVD called “Clavenisms: The Curious Language of Peter Claven.” Which is Paul Rudd’s character. And all the different, weird things –
De Line: The malapropisms.
Hamburg: Yeah. I mean, there’s many in the movie, and hundreds more that we shot. There’s a whole run through Barry and Denise’s marriage. Favreau and Pressley.
Question: Did Favreau come on the set with his ego and check? And said, “Look, I’ve made the biggest film of last year. You treat me with respect.”
Hamburg: That’s exactly what he said. And that’s why I had several takes of Rudd throwing up on him. [LAUGHTER] No, just to say it, Favreau was absolutely amazing. Because Iron Man had just opened, and he was literally the biggest director in the world at that time, in terms of having a huge commercial hit, that was also really well–
Question: But it’s nice that he comes back to his comedic roots, as an actor.
Hamburg: Yeah. But he loved, I think, the idea that he – there was no pressure on him. He could just show up, put on a wig, and be funny.
Question: Oh, that was a wig?
Hamburg: Oh. [LAUGHTER] No, kidding.
De Line: A Jew-fro.
Hamburg: A Jew-fro.
De Line: He was quite the opposite – like what you were saying. It was funny, because as the producer, he’d be sitting kind of over off to the side in a chair, sitting in the sun, and I’d say, “Would you like a bottle of water?” I was always a little bit nervous. He was so quiet, and so unassuming and non-demanding, it made me a little nervous. And he was – it was kind of amazing, actually.
Question: Let me ask you, Donald, going back to the DVD thing for a little bit. As a producer, how much hand do you have in the DVD facet of the process? And since you’ve been producing for a while, how much are you aware of the way technology’s changed, and Blu-Ray, in particular, has impacted the industry?
De Line: Well, you know, for me, I’m not really a tech guy, so I can’t really speak to the Blu-Ray part of it. Obviously, DVDs are very, very important. And obviously, we’re going through a moment in the business where the revenues on DVDs are down. I will say, though, in terms of my involvement – like, for instance, on this movie, John and his editor, Bill Kerr, you know, they were so fastidious and compulsive in pouring over every single foot of film that was shot. And there were so many really, really beautifully-made choices, that they went off into an editing room, and for a week, or two weeks, or whatever, really culled through everything, and just beautifully put it together. So, you know, I was just happily standing in the shadows watching what they handed over. And it was great.
Question: Let me ask you about upcoming projects. Obviously, Donald, this will take at least another 20 minutes with you. [LAUGHTER] But, John, do you see yourself going in a similar direction as a writer-director, or do you want to do something very different next time around?
Hamburg: Well, you know, I really loved making this movie. I loved the tone of it, and the crew, and the actors. So I’d be very happy further exploring this kind of reality-based R-rated comedy for a long while to come.
Question: Do you have anything in mind?
Hamburg: Well, I have an idea that I was developing before I wrote I Love You, Man, that I may go back to.
De Line: He doesn’t know I have about 30 things that I’m going to try to get him on.
Hamburg: That’s right.
De Line: So, who knows?
Hamburg: But I’m about to do a movie called The Little Fockers, which is a follow-up to two movies I co-wrote, Meet the Parents-
Question: Oh, really? I’ve never heard of those two movies.
Hamburg: They’re charming. They’re in the independent section of your DVDs.
Question: I know the last one. You had a couple of unknowns playing the parts of the parents.
Hamburg: Yes. Check the Employee Picks section of your DVD store, you might find it there.
Question: [LAUGHTER] Is Little Fockers a go movie?
Hamburg: I don’t know if it’s officially a go movie, but I know everybody wants to try to make it some time in the next six months.
Question: And you’ll try to get Barbra and Dustin and Bob DeNiro and everybody back?
Hamburg: Try? We have dinner once or twice a week. So, we’ll all just maybe get together – just kidding.
Question: [LAUGHTER] Now, Donald.
De Line: Yes, sir.
Question: You have a number of films in development that I’ve got to talk to you about. So, let’s start off with Green Lantern. What’s the status on that?
De Line: The status is, funnily enough, we are leaving for Australia Wednesday night with Martin Campbell, our director, to go scout in Sydney and Melbourne, and we plan on starting to shoot mid-September in Australia.
Question: Do you have a complete cast, as yet?
De Line: No. We don’t have a soul cast.
Question: And the focus going to be on what aspect of the original – you know, are you going back to the roots of the TV show? Or, where do you start with that movie?
De Line: Well, you know, there have been many variations of The Green Lantern, and different characters. Our story is the Hal Jordan version of The Green Lantern.
Question: The Jetsons. Is that a go? Is that still happening?
De Line: Yeah. In fact, Robert Rodriguez, who lives right here in Austin, has done a great draft of the script and we’re all talking with Warners right now about getting that together.
Question: Yogi Bear?
De Line: Yeah, very hopefully. That’s also on the tarmac. And Karen Rosenthal’s my partner on that, and we hope to be making that one at the end of the year.
Question: And anything else you can tell me that you’re doing next, that you’d like to –
Hamburg: Anything else? This guy’s a friggin’ mogul. I mean, how much more can he do? He’s only one man.
De Line: [LAUGHTER] It’s all I Love You, Man, all the time.
Question: But Guardians of Ga’Hoole-I’m dying to see that.
De Line: Oh, yeah. Well, that’s in Australia, too. Animal Logic’s making it, so we’ll be checking in with them next week.
Question: Cool. Well, I look forward to that. He’s a genius director, Zack. I mean, my God.
De Line: Amazing. He’s no John Hamburg, though.
Question: No. But then, let’s face it, who is?
Hamburg: I can tell you, Paul, I tried to get the advertising campaign for this movie to say, “From the visionary director of Along Came Polly.” [LAUGHTER] But they didn’t. I don’t understand.