After watching ten or fifteen exchanges in a row where P. Diddy berates Jonah Hill for being a killjoy while a drunk Russell Brand bemusedly looks on, one might think that the spontaneity and seeming perfect timing of silver screen comedy would be ruined, at least for the folks looking on from the edges of the set. And yet, thanks in no small part to director Nick Stoller, the jokes somehow still manage to be funny, and all three keep their energy and enthusiasm as he suggests they try multiple variations and combinations to maximize the humor.
In June of 2009. Cinematical visited the set of Get Him To The Greek, Nick Stoller's follow-up to the 2008 comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Fans of that film will be forgiven for assuming that both Hill and Brand reprise their roles: in fact, Hill plays a thus-far entirely unrelated character named Aaron Green, a record-label lackey enlisted by Diddy's character to keep Russell in line as the pair makes their way to a concert performance. Stoller, who wrote this film after directing Sarah Marshall, talked about the process of (selectively) resuscitating the characters and their world, discussed his own efforts to condense countless improvisations into something cohesive, and addressed concerns that his globe-trotting comedy might reflect a few others – if not Sarah Marshall, then '09's The Hangover, at least.
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?
Nick Stoller: Well I knew I wanted to, I mean it's, it's uh-the movie is a spin-off, and Russell's playing the same character but he's, in Sarah Marshall he's kind of the moral, he 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 so I knew I wanted to-and basically everything else is pretty different. I mean, we have some allusions to-would you say it's different? The movie?
Russell Brand: (walking by) 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. Um, so uh, so yeah, so I think that, 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.
Essentially in the film, you've got a guy who's a drug addict trying to get a score. How dark does the film get?
Stoller: 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 you know, 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 you know, true to life, so. So yeah. And we also always have the pouring drugs out of Jonah's ass sequence, so there.
Which you're going to be shooting?
Stoller: We shot that yesterday.
But you're going to shoot an *sshole POV on that?
Stoller: We're going to attempt to shoot the first *sshole POV.
Please tell me you're going to leave that in.
Stoller: We're going to see what we can do. That will at least be on the DVD.
What prompted you to enlist Robert Yeoman as your cinematographer? Because he seems-
Stoller: Way too good for this?
That wasn't what I was going to say, I was going to be a little more diplomatic.
Stoller: Yeah. He, I mean, he shot some of the most beautiful movies ever made, you know, obviously, all the Wes Anderson movies, Drugstore Cowboy, you know. And uh, and uh, but he, you know 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 and you know, so he's uh, yeah. But visually like you know, 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 have 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 you're making?
Stoller: 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. Like I can't enter the sophomore slump so we're just copying-we're basically copying most of it, right? Yeah.
You're going to have Tyson as well then?
Stoller: Actually there is a funny story which is we shot Carrot Top in Vegas, he was then recalled and 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.
Where are you guys filming and what places are we going to recognize?
Stoller: Well, we're shooting, you know, the movie, in order of the movie we go from LA to London to New York to Los Angeles. So and we're shooting in all those-sorry, to New York to Los Vegas, Los Angeles. And we're also shooting in update New York. I mean the movie opens in like a castle, basically, in London, so it has a lot of, we're seeing a lot of different places and that's pretty exciting. And now we're in a big suite in Vegas, so.
When somebody thinks of a big comedy like this, a big improv comedy, Sean Diddy Combs doesn't necessarily come to mind. How did that happen? How is he sort of holding up in this improv environment?
Stoller: Came to my mind. He, I mean, 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 uh, if you watch like even those reality shows, like I'm P. Diddy's Assistant, he's funny in those. And you know like I think uh, and when he auditioned for us, which was really cool of him, and I was uh, 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.
And he's playing like a record mogul, so is there some element of like satirization going on in there?
Stoller: Yeah, there certainly is a little bit of that definitely. I mean it's a little bit different than him, he's not quite as successful as him. He's not also a recording artist. But he can definitely, I really went through the script with him and asked him if it is all realistic, and he was like yeah, it's pretty realistic. So I was relieved by that too.
How do you make Jonah feel comfortable, given the fact that this character, as opposed to even the one that he was playing in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, was more sort of a straight man to what's happening?
Stoller: Well, I feel like 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. So I don't think it's a-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.
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.
Stoller: Well if they're intentionally making a joke, then uh, then people should laugh. Like I always think it's weird, like when you watch sitcoms, somebody makes a joke and no one laughs, they just take it as part of the patter. Like, that's always a little weird. But if it's, like 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. Like there's a lot of, you see Elisabeth Moss, plays Jonah's girlfriend, and she's fantastic and hilarious and they-their patter kind of has a jokey element to it and they certainly laugh when they're, you know, when they're riffing with each other.
What was the decision process behind having Jonah not playing the same character even though Russell is?
Stoller: Yeah. Well 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 like forty years of like fans to like 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.
Do you know whether or not there is going to be any kind of joke to allude to the fact that everyone knows who he was?
Stoller: 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.
Both Star Trek and Transformers have prequel comics.
Stoller: Oh yeah, right. We could, we could. We did toy around with like, I have a twin in Hawaii. Nothing works, nothing works. We're like screw it, you know.
With Sarah Marshall you had a film that you ended up cutting a lot out of. Coming on to this, is that something you want to avoid, having that much extra stuff? Or do you like having a ton of extra stuff?
Stoller: Yeah. I like having a lot of extra stuff. I think you know, I think it makes, you, because you have options when you get into the editing room. And you don't really know like 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 Bell 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 Segel's character, so. 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 of like Aldous's dad or not. You know, you don't really know until you watch [it in context].
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 and you know?
Stoller: It's seeing how the audience actually reacts. We record the audience with the, you know, with the laugh track. Or we record the audience laughing, um, with the movie, and then, 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, but uh, but yeah.
Is it easier to discover what's working and what's appropriate on set this time around?
Stoller: Um, I mean I have a little bit, I think I have a better idea, but I don't know. It's all, you just have no idea. So often like the maxim we have is that what's super funny on set or like in the dailies isn't funny in the movie. That's apparently sometimes true. Like 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 are you from London, or whatever, like that line, on the day I was like that's amusing, and it's like a giant laugh in the context of the movie, it's really funny.
As a director and as the writer, is there a certain sensitivity that you're concerned about going certain places with Russell's character that he may have gone in his real life?
Stoller: I just mine him. I just mine him. He's destroyed, personally, at least we got, we got it on film. I mean he's like very, as a stand up and in his book, he's a very, very, you know, autobiographical-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, you know. Like the relationships are different and stuff. So you know, it's definitely like he's an incredible actor and he's really bringing-like 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.