If you're a connoisseur of fine French filmmaking, you might be familiar with the concept of 'Dinner for Schmucks' -- a comedy of errors based around one disastrous evening meal -- from its first iteration as 'The Dinner Game,' (or 'Le Diner De Cons,' for those who can pull off the accent). In its simplest terms, the film centers around a group of arrogant executives who hold regular dinner parties, during which they each attempt to bring the biggest "schmuck" they can find to the party. The exec with the kookiest schmuck wins respect, admiration, and perhaps a coveted promotion.

The original French project was produced in 1998, and when Moviefone took a tour of the 'Schmucks' set before Christmas, screenwriter David Guion admitted that even at that early stage, a U.S. remake seemed almost inevitable. "When the original came out, Dreamworks almost immediately bought the rights," he said. "A lot of different people were approached to work on it; Judd Apatow visited the set not long ago and said, 'Oh, right before I started writing 'Freaks and Geeks' I was approached about doing this.' It's had a very long history."

If you're a connoisseur of fine French filmmaking, you might be familiar with the concept of 'Dinner for Schmucks' -- a comedy of errors based around one disastrous evening meal -- from its first iteration as 'The Dinner Game,' (or 'Le Diner De Cons,' for those who can pull off the accent). In its simplest terms, the film centers around a group of arrogant executives who hold regular dinner parties, during which they each attempt to bring the biggest "schmuck" they can find to the party. The exec with the kookiest schmuck wins respect, admiration, and perhaps a coveted promotion.

The original French project was produced in 1998, and when Moviefone took a tour of the 'Schmucks' set before Christmas, screenwriter David Guion admitted that even at that early stage, a U.S. remake seemed almost inevitable. "When the original came out, Dreamworks almost immediately bought the rights," he said. "A lot of different people were approached to work on it; Judd Apatow visited the set not long ago and said, 'Oh, right before I started writing 'Freaks and Geeks' I was approached about doing this.' It's had a very long history."

In its current incarnation, the man at the helm is 'Austin Powers' and 'Meet the Parents' director Jay Roach, a man with bonafide comedy credentials. The comedic caliber of the cast is equally undisputed. In addition to heavyweights Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, Roach has assembled some of the brightest talents from the world of movies, TV, stage and stand-up, from 'Little Britain' star David Walliams to 'Hangover' break-out Zach Galifianakis.

Below, we'll share some of the secrets we discovered on set -- and not just about how good the food at craft services was.

1. Steve Carell or Sacha Baron Cohen: Who's the Bigger Schmuck?

When Guion and his co-writer Mike Handelman started work on the script three years ago, they admitted that Sacha Baron Cohen was originally attached in Carell's role. After working with the British comedian on the script, the three mutually decided that Cohen wasn't the right schmuck for the job, and collaborated on 'Bruno' instead. Carell had originally tested for Rudd's role of Tim, but leapt at the chance to embody taxidermist Barry when the script came round again.

"There's a very different energy to Sacha as a performer," Handelman observed. "On the page, it didn't change it an enormous amount, but the performance style -- there's a sort of gentleness to Steve that really comes through in the character."



2. It's Carell and Rudd Against the Rich Guys
It's very clear from the outset that the executives and their game are far from relatable characters; Rudd's character, Tim, is an ambitious employee, desperate to climb the career ladder, and though it goes against his code of ethics, he's reluctantly drawn into the contest with his bosses, in the hopes of being seen as their equal.

"My character isn't necessarily a bad guy, but he has a moral compass and at the same time wants to succeed in what he does," Rudd explained. "He wants to have a decent living, he loves his girlfriend and wants to provide for her -- my character is always looking for a way to have it all."

Although the film obviously has moments of slapstick and laugh-out-loud comedy, it also has moments of genuine pathos too, mostly due to Carell's character, Barry, who makes dioramas of famous historical moments with taxidermied mice.


"It's not so much that he's concerned about being made fun of, but he's very concerned about Tim being honest with him, because he comes to see Tim as a friend of his," Carell mused, during a joint interview alongside Rudd. "His value system hinges on trying to help other people, and even in the face of being embarrassed or humiliated he always seems to be somebody who turns the other cheek and tries to see the good."

The screenwriters clearly agreed. "The whole story is about going from just making fun of people from the outside to seeing them as human beings and empathizing with them and siding with them," Guion said. "Paul's character eventually makes a choice to side with Barry and be his friend instead of siding with these rich guys and putting Barry down."


3. Lobsters Have Feelings, Too
Among the assortment of eccentric schmucks brought to dinner, audiences will be introduced to a blind swordsman, a champion beard-grower, a vulture wrangler and a pet medium -- which leads to understandably unpredictable dinnertime conversation. Octavia Spencer was thankfully on hand during our set visit to explain the clearly distinct differences between those totally fake pet psychics and the entirely legitimate pet mediums, like her character, Nora.

"As a pet psychic you have make up the words, 'Oh, your cat is feeling this'; but as a pet medium, you allow the animals to come out and talk to their owners themselves," she clarified, warning that a particular conversation with a lobster might prove a little disturbing for some viewers -- and some dinner guests. "And fish are very talkative," she added. "You can't get a word in edgeways with fish." We always knew that 'Finding Nemo' was based on a true story!



Jeff Dunham and 4. If You Want the Truth, Ask a Dummy ...
Jeff Dunham, he of the Comedy Central specials and stand-up ventriloquism tour, is best known for creating the inspired (and deliciously offensive) character of Ahmed the Dead Terrorist. On 'Schmucks,' he was given the singular opportunity to sculpt a new character to play his "wife," Diane.

According to Dunham, Roach explained to him that "this character that you're going to play is this creepy sad guy, that went home to his garage and made this dummy, so we don't want it perfect, we want it kinda creepy hot." Mission accomplished -- Diane looks like a cross between Joan Rivers and Sharon Osbourne, and, according to Dunham, she's also anatomically correct.

"There could be a wardrobe malfunction that could cause us to get a higher rating, it could turn into a PG-13 or R," he laughed. "When I sculpted the body, I thought it was artwork, and then when the art department painted it, it turned into pornography ..."

Diane will make for one of the most outrageous dinner guests -- not bad, considering that she's an inanimate object. Dunham reasons that dummies get to have all the fun; "I just make fun of things that most people can't talk about; there's some sort of acceptance there and you get accolades for that, an unwritten rule that allows inanimate objects that become animate to get away with things that mere humans cannot," the ventriloquist observed.


5. Stay Downwind of Vultures.
We think we've said all we can say on that subject -- Carell and Rudd are still scarred for life.


Dinner for Schmucks6. The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
While on set, screenwriter Handelman pointed out that the crux of the story wasn't so much about mocking the schmucks or watching the machinations of the executives as it was about "the sweet friendship that forms between Tim and Barry as Barry systematically dismantles Tim's life."

"The key to Steve's character is that he's not trying to destroy Paul's life, he's trying to help him at every moment," Guion concurred. "They both have difficulties with women; Barry styles himself an expert in these matters, so everything he does is trying to help Tim and he just could not be worse at it."

"I think my character's very trusting," Carell mused, when asked to reflect on the relationship between the pair. "And he gets invited to a dinner party, and it's an enormous event for him, and Paul expresses an interest in my mice, which probably doesn't happen all the time either. I just infuse myself into his life, whether he wants me to or not and I make it so bad, it's terrible."

"Or do you?" Rudd queried enigmatically, hinting that rumors of Barry's life-ruining may be greatly exaggerated.


7. Fools are in the Eye of the Beholder

Carell said as much during our set visit, and it sums up the theme of the movie itself quite succinctly: "Clearly the people you perceive to be fools are not, necessarily ... The movie says a lot about friendship and the misconceptions people have."

The comedian then paused, realizing how deep and meaningful that sounded for a Jay Roach comedy. "I don't want people to think this is a morality tale, which sounds so pretentious." Affecting a dignified air, Carell said wryly, "If this movie could get one person to vote ... No, I think it's done with a light touch that comes through with the story itself, it doesn't need to be too heavy handed."


Putting a whole new spin on the question "guess who's coming to dinner," Roach's 'Schmucks' promises to be a hilarious, hallucinogenic ride through the minds of those who are committed to being crazy, or perhaps just crazy enough to be committed. If Carell and Rudd's banter during our interview was any indication, watching the pair verbally spar on screen will be an experience you don't want to miss. Check out 'Dinner for Schmucks,' which opens nationwide on Aug. 30.

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'Dinner for Schmucks' Unscripted