Todd Phillips’ last flick “The Hangover” went gangbusters, will “Due Date” – a road comedy starring Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis? – take a chunk out of the box office, too? Sure looks like it! Katie Crocker talks to the amiable Phillips, whose credits also include “Starsky and Hutch” and “Old School”, about his pants-wetting two-hander, “Due Date”.
“Due Date” had some slight serious undertones and a little bit of heart that I didn’t really expect.
TP: For me, it was what was interesting about doing the movie and I think for Robert Downey and Zach as well. It was about not doing a straight comedy but really trying to do manipulate the tone in the movie, which really is what the Directors job is, is to be the purveyor of the tone. So, I’ve done a bunch of movies, this was my seventh movie and I thought that maybe with a little bit of confidence you can do another comedy but really kind of walk the line between going from something somewhat touching and sad to something really funny and take an audience on that ride and just play with the tone a little bit. So, that was the challenge but also what made it worth doing.
At what stage did you realize that Zach was the perfect person for this role?
TP: When I was doing “The Hangover” the writers had been writing the first draft of this movie and something we were developing in our office. And I really wanted to find something to do with Zach right away, again. We started writing it for Zach and writing it for Robert, so then we went to Robert.
How did you sell the movie to Robert?
TP: Zach and I went over to his place and he had read the draft and we talked about the kind of things that he would want to address in it and sort of deepen it or whatever. But he liked “The Hangover,” he liked Zach, he liked me, so, it was easier than I thought it was going to be, quite honestly. He was into doing it.
How was it to work with Robert? I’ve heard he brings a lot of ideas.
TP: I wish everybody would be like that. For me, there are never too many ideas. I love it. Some directors get nervous and close up around it, for some directors its intimidating I think. For me, I love it.
And what about Juliette Lewis in there and yourself?
TP: That’s my girl, Juliette, I love her and she’s been in three of my movies and she’s somebody I always go to first for kind of these interesting parts. If I did a movie that had women in it throughout the whole movie, I’d still go to Juliette. It just happens that a lot of the time they are about men, but if I did a movie and maybe one day I will, with female central characters, I’d still go to Juliette, she’s just a tremendous actor, a brilliant comedian, funny and just real. I like her most because she’s real and she feels really real.
And what about yourself?
TP: I play the same character in every movie, this guy Barry who we also call Mr. Creepy and if you notice, Juliet in this movie is named Heidi and then Old School she was named Heidi and I show up at the door and if you remember, I say ‘I’m here for the gang bang’ so it’s really the same two characters reappearing. I think some directors like to put themselves in their movies as like a savior sometimes, like M. Night Shyamalan sometimes will do that. I like to be the most deviant guy; I mean it’s just more appropriate. And fun.
Is the mood of your set like the movies you make?
TP: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I’ve been on other people’s sets and I can’t believe how serious they take it. I once heard it’s really important to set the tone of your movie, on the set of your movie and we are making comedies and it is a little bit like the inmates are running the asylum. I like it really loose.
Do you ever have a moment on set, when you just know this is going to be a good?
TP: It feels like a crapshoot and whenever I think it’s going to be really good, I think it’s going to be the greatest line in the movie and then it never works. You don’t really know until you have it all put together. You have hopes and you think this is going to be a big scene and you show it to an audience and it just goes by and then you think there’s a little moment and it turns into a huge moment and that’s kind of the fun about it. And that’s why I kind of say its like a living, breathing organism, it’s always shifting and you’re always shaping it differently.
Most of your comedies deal with male relationships; do you think you’ll ever do anything with a female cast?
TP: For sure, there are so many female actresses that I’d love to work with in a real way, Juliette Lewis being one of them. And if I were to do a comedy, I love Sarah Silverman so much and I think she’s as funny as Zach, she just hasn’t been used right to the fullest potential in movies. I think there’s a ton of woman out there that I’d love to work with and I think there are a lot of premises that you can do that are still bawdy and real but involve women, yeah.
What’s the best thing and worst thing about being Todd Phillips at the moment?
TP: The best thing is that I really do have the best job in the world and I wake up every day and try to make Zach laugh, that’s my goal every day. The worst thing is the schedule.
How did it feel to make “Due Date” after all the success from the Hangover?
TP: It’s fun to dive into something and not to over analyze why something’s a success and then get gun shy about doing it again. So I never thought it had to be as big as “The Hangover” or it doesn’t work. The reality is we made a comedy film that stands up on its own and it works and that’s really the goal with each thing. With this it was its own thing.
And you’re shooting Hangover 2, how far are you into it?
TP: We’ve been shooting for about eighteen days and we are leaving for Bangkok in four days to complete the movie, which is about another forty days, so we’re only about a third of the way through.
Last Question, any advice for aspiring Directors or filmmakers?
TP: You have to write, you always have to write because that’s where it comes from. Nobody’s going to pay you to direct anything unless you control something, as a first timer. It all starts with the script.