David Wain, 'Wanderlust' Director, On Dirty Comedies And 'Wet Hot American Summer 2'
The new comedy "Wanderlust" (opening this weekend) stars Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd as a busy New York couple that bottom out on their demanding, fast-paced lives, and retreat to the Elysium Bed and Breakfast in the Georgia countryside. While there, they are embraced by the B&B's owners, a hippie commune (populated by Alan Alda, Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman and a cast of weirdoes) that tries to help them adjust to a new lifestyle filled with psychotropic drugs, farm animals, free love and a lot of casual nudity.
Comedy geeks are excited for the the creative team behind-the-scenes; the film is co-written and directed by David Wain, whose last project was the surprise hit "Role Models." Wain has been an influential voice in comedy since the '90s when he starred on the cult MTV sketch show "The State." Since then, he created one of the Internet's first big web series, "Stella" (which even got a short-lived show on Comedy Central), and directed "Wet Hot American Summer," an '80s spoof that didn't light the box office on fire, but became a huge midnight movie and and gave an early break to stars like Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler.
Poised to take a big step forward with "Wanderlust," Wain spoke with Moviefone about the best way to direct naked actors, the dirty jokes that have shocked him, and revealed more info on the recently-announced "Wet Hot" sequel.
David Wain: I subscribed to AOL in 1990 before anyone knew about it; can I get a credit on that or is that not your department?
I can only handle showtimes.
Well what time is "Journey 2" playing at Westwood?
What's the zip code?
I don't know. [Laughs]
Talking about your own movie, it's got a lot of full frontal nudity; was that a hard sell to the studio?
It was definitely controversial and even test audiences had some issues with it. Quite honestly, the cut that you'll see has way, way less than we shot.
So there's an extended naked edition?
When the DVD comes out, you'll see much more extensive nudity.
What's the most effective way to direct naked people?
Say "action" and close your eyes.
With Jennifer Aniston involved, you're attracting a whole different audience who aren't used to your style of comedy. How far did you want to go making an R-rated comedy for a mainstream audience?
We shot everything we could think of. We shot things that went way farther in various points. And it's in the editing process and testing process where you see how far you can go before you lose the audience; in some cases we lost the audience, so we took some things out.
It seems like the biggest challenge in making a comedy is finding a balance between moving the story along while still giving the actors a chance to actually tell jokes and be funny. How do you find that balance?
That's a huge, huge part of the editing and directing. Ideally, you're hoping that every moment in the movie is both on story and funny. And when you have those digressions that are really just for jokes, you have to really pick and choose. There's no science to it, you just have to follow your instincts and look at screenings and try to make the right decisions. But it's a very difficult part of it. Especially in a comedy like this where there are so many areas where we could have left in so much genius riffing from so many of the cast people, but we don't want a movie that's two hours long.
You're also really good at getting great foul-mouthed performances out of children; what's your secret?
It's always awkward with the parents. You have to do a lot of stuff that's not foul-mouthed, then you have to say "Just for this one take, we're going to have him say something a little bit risque." And everybody's comfortable, we're all having a good time, so they're like "sure, do whatever you want." And of course, we use that take.
As a big "Role Models" fan, I'm just glad that a recording of "Love Take Me Down (To the Streets)" exists now.
That was totally improvised by A.D. Miles as the camera was rolling. And then we recorded the song for the end credits, during the editing process.
Now you just need to get it to Paul McCartney's ears and the journey will be complete.
He said to Paul Rudd in his opening monologue on "Saturday Night Live" how much he loved "Role Models." But then I heard it was a written joke that the writers told him to say.
Switching gears, the other big project fans are talking about is the "Wet Hot American Summer" sequel. Will this be an indie affair like the first one or will you attempt to make it more of a blockbuster considering the cast?
From a "creating it" point of view, we're going to do it the same way; it's going to be very low-budget and very quick and it will be the same situation as the first one. It would be silly to make a 30 million dollar movie for that. We're writing the script and we're just figuring out how to get everybody in one place at one time.
Will this specifically be a reunion of the original gang or are you hoping to get new characters into the fold?
Um, now we're into areas that are classified.
When did you start to notice that your work was catching on with a generation of fans?
From "The State," we had a pretty devoted following, but because it went away, I think it strengthened the cult following, and I remember people coming up to me in the late 90s going, "Oh my god, you guys are my favorite comedians." And I was like, "Great, can you buy me a sandwich because I have no money and no job?" I think "Wet Hot American Summer" really solidified it because it did so poorly and it was something to discover; the people that found it really felt ownership over it.
If you had the chance to change the path to success that "Wet Hot" took, what would you change?
I wouldn't trade it for anything. On some level we suspected it would go something like that; when we were shooting, we were like "I can't believe anyone is letting us shoot this." I remember a conversation on set with Michael [Showalter] saying "I don't know if this is going to come out, but I do think it's going to reach the people that want to see it, at some point." That's happened a thousand-fold.
Is the "Wet Hot" sequel your next priority after "Wanderlust"?
Well I'm always multi-tasking. I'm working on that as well as the next season of "Children's Hospital" and the first season of "Newsreaders," which is a spin-off of "Children's Hospital" on Adult Swim. And we're making the third season of "Superjail" right now and the DVD of "Wainy Days" just came out.
Are you going to concentrate on filmmaking, or is web comedy something you'll still actively pursue?
"Wainy Days" is open-ended enough that I can put almost anything I could think of into that. I couldn't possibly predict how the web is going to change, but if it resembles how it is now, then yeah it's a great way. We shot a little short with CollegeHumor that just went up.
Will we ever get a "Stella" movie in our lifetime?
There is a "Stella" movie in early gestation... "Stella," "The State," "Wainy Days" -- these are things I have no intention of ever stopping, we'll just see what the schedule looks like.
You always seemed to have to have the darkest, filthiest jokes at your expense in "Stella"...
Is the question have I ever really had sex in real life?
Have you, for the record?
This is definitely the year I'm going to go all the way.
Anyone in mind?
My wife probably.
Does she know?
Not yet, I'll spring it on her.
Well now that you have a family, are there any jokes from your projects that make you shake your head?
There were so many in the "Stella" shorts. Most of the jokes we did in "Stella" were for the audience at our nightclub show at Fez in New York, assuming that it would show there and that would be the end of it, and no one would ever see it again, no adults would ever see it. That those shorts are still on the Internet, it's like these little sketches that you thought were personal. The fact that we were sucking Mrs. Claus' dick was like, "What the hell is going on?" (Link obviously NSFW) So often we would pull each other off a ledge saying, "Why are we rolling on this?" And then one person would go, "Just do it, it's okay, just try it." I'm just scared that my son is four and someday he's going to be Googling his dad.
Have you already prepared the talk you're going to have with him?
I don't know what the fuck I'm going to say.