In The Dilemma, Kevin James and Vince Vaughn play best friends Nick Backman and Ronny Valentine (respectively) who, together, run an automotive shop and come face to face with an opportunity that could make or break their business. Just as tensions are already running high, Ronny happens to catch Nick’s wife (Winona Ryder) cheating on him with another man (Channing Tatum). Unsure of what to do, Ronny is torn between telling his friend or holding back the lie, balancing the friendship, the business and his own relationship and planned proposal to his girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly).
ComingSoon.net sat down to talk with James and Vaughn on the Chicago set of the film. Coming straight from a take, Vaughn was still covered in a red rash that his character suffers from in the film.
Q: I’m guessing the rash all over your face is for the scene and not actually from stress.
Vince Vaughn: (Laughs) It’s unclear. I can’t confirm or deny.
Q: We were just watching the scene. You guys were laughing a little bit. Does that happen a lot?
Kevin James: Yeah. I’m bad at that.
Vaughn: It happens a lot with us, yeah. It does.
James: Once I feel it start to come, too, I feel a sweat start to come on and it’s just very hard to pull out and the crew laughs for the first one or two and then they just sort of go, “Oh, boy.” I was able to pull out enough. I’m just concerned. I don’t want to lose it because it was so funny that’s what made me laugh in it and I don’t want to lose what we got. I’m always concerned that we have a single of Vince and I can be cut out and save that and I can maybe laugh some more.
Vaughn: He makes me laugh. Sometimes that happens when you’re doing stuff. What I like about Kevin’s stuff is that Kevin to me is such a great actor in that the reason why audiences always go so well with him is that he’s very honest. He’s very genuine. You really connect to him and, to me, that’s very funny. That’s always the school of where I came from, that schtick or being cute is okay, but if you really believe from the point of view that it’s really happening and you’re committed to it — and comedy is a sort of over-commitment to the absurd at times — so the more that you’re committed to what your intention is in a real way then, to me, that’s what makes me laugh. So a lot of times when Kevin is really dialed in and finds a way of really getting the point across, it really makes me laugh because this movie lends itself to coming from different perspectives.
Q: How quickly did your rhythm kick in together?
James: Well, I mean he’s the best at what he does. You know that. You see him with [Jon] Favreau. You see him with everybody and he does it. So it was kind of like double-Dutch for me to jump in, for me to go with him. It was seamless, though. It honestly was.
Vaughn: But really, I think with improv — and I say it all the time, because it’s become such a catch thing that you talk about improv — but if the scene is well written, you don’t need to improv, but that being said, if something strikes you in the moment and, most importantly, you know where the scene is supposed to go, it’s no different than method acting. It’s just listening so that you can respond appropriately if something happens that you don’t expect. But it’s important to know where the scene needs to end. If the scene needs to end with me and him no longer friends or upset at each other, it’s not about coming up with clever references to say that are just interesting for the sake of that. It’s really about finding a different way to get to the same end result. Sometimes doing a fresh thing is good because you can get burnt out on the way we all know it.
James: That’s what happened. We were getting flat on that scene and he came over and said, “Don’t worry about the line,” because you just start concentrating on the lines and hitting your points and I end up just staring at him and I’m not in the scene. You can feel yourself. You’re out of it. But he just said, “Remember your intent and remember what we’re doing here.” Once we went back to that, we had a better take for sure. It felt more alive and then you feel that you’re in it again. So that’s the only thing that you have to be aware of, I guess, just getting too comfortable and too numb to a scene sometimes.
Vaughn: Sometimes you do a free one because it kind of makes it fresh and then you go back to what’s written and it’s just a way to sort of break it up.
Q: Has Ron Howard really kept you guys in the framework of what you’re doing with that?
Vaughn: Ron is really great at that. Ron has a great understanding of comedy and he’s very funny with stuff. He does a great job of setting up an environment to go to. The other side of it is that you know the look of the film, and [cinematographer] Sal [Totino], they do such a great job that we’re getting a lot of coverage with multiple cameras. So we’re getting a ton of stuff, but we do it very quickly. So, for me, it’s helpful because it’s all momentum. The faster you can go, you can keep stuff going. That sort of helps it. It’s been amazing, that stuff and I’ve seen stuff that just looks incredible. I think that adds to the comedy, that it’s a real world with a real circumstance and it’s played very real. It’s almost like a look that we had in “Swingers”.
James: Yes. That’s the downfall of a lot of comedies to me. It is the look. A lot of times it feels like it’s so bright and so built and ready for comedy that it actually hurts the comedy. What Vince was talking about, that it doesn’t feel as real and you don’t feel as connected to it.
Vaughn: Especially for a tone like this.
James: Yes, exactly. Especially when it’s something that you have to buy into. This is a serious subject, but it makes it easier because you’re in it and you feel the real ebb and flow of the scene. You feel where the comedy would come naturally and it comes out looking so good when we see the dailies and stuff. So I’m excited. I really am.
Q: What was about it the script that made you want to do this for your next project?
Vaughn: Well, it was more the concept for me. Brian Grazer came to me with the idea originally and said, “What do you think of this as an idea?” I said, “That could be a fun idea and could be interesting in how it’s executed.” It was an original draft of the screenplay and then Ron liked the idea and came aboard and then the actors got added. Kevin was added, who was the person that we all really wanted to play this guy. We thought that it was important to have a person that was funnier than anyone, but also very real and a very good actor. As that came in, then you go through the script and everyone gets to contribute ideas. You sort of personalize it. For me, that’s always been our process on these comedies. We sit and rehearse. Then later [Jennifer] Connelly came in with great ideas and then we changed scenes based on that. Everyone sits around and starts to work from that point. Ron is great at keeping his narrative and the story that he wants to tell but then being able to take good ideas from people and sort of say, “Well, no. This one I reject. This one I take,” and come up with a story that’s taken the input of all the cast.
James: I have to say that this man is a savant at making the script better. From what we had, which I loved when I first read it, you add to that how excited I was to work with Vince, which I’d never done and had always been a big fan of his and then Ron Howard. It was a no brainer for me. Honestly, it would’ve been tougher and I probably still would’ve done it if I didn’t love the script, because I love these guys so much. But I did love the script. That was the base of it. When we got in there and we started working on it I have to say that it was really Vince who spearheaded and just changed it and everyday, I remember I’d go to sleep at night and go, “Man, he made this better again.” It was a process from everybody.
Vaughn: It’s really the process. Once you lay that foundation and then get things on it’s feet and improvise and try, that’s what rehearsal is for. You can say, “Okay, we have this. This works but what if we do this,” or “What does this do?” Once you lay that in most people have a good idea.
James: That’s something that I’d never done, too. I mean, three weeks before or a month before we were rehearsing and rewriting before the movie. Usually you just rewrite it and on the day you start shooting and going on it and you change things then. But we had a process with Ron filming stuff with his little camera and just rehearsing things. You really get the feel of working with the other actors and it feels like you just build that familiarity and it felt great. It just was really great and I felt that it really helped the movie.
Q: It’s insinuated that your characters have known each other for a long time. You work together. Your wives are friends. That whole dynamic. Do we get that kind of back story in the film? And had you guys met each other before starting rehearsals together?
Vaughn: Well, we did something a little different where we decided to shower with each other every morning just to get familiar with each other. (Laughs)
James: You have to do it anyway.
Vaughn: For the first week. Then the second week was, “Lets clean each other,” and then that way you really break down another wall. And then came the tubs. We take a tub at night.
Vaughn: “Come over for a tub? Do you want to come over for a tub?”
James: A lot of water was involved.
Vaughn: It is the back story that they’ve known each other for a long time. I mean the fun thing, the interesting concept with the movie, is that it’s not someone you just know. It’s not someone who’s sort of a friend, but it’s really your closest friend and you find out that the wife is doing things. But you’ve also known her for a while. So what is the appropriate way to break the news or tell the news? Do you go to her first? Do you give her a chance? Do you go to him? So the concept of the movie is do you tell or don’t you tell. The concept of the movie is how you navigate it and maintain the friendship. What’s the right thing to do preserve the relationship? So that really becomes the journey that the characters go on, and for me, I’ve known Kevin a little bit. I met him out once or twice, but I was always a huge fan of his stuff. I’ve always handicapped stuff so differently in that I’ve always approached things so differently. For me Kevin reminded me a lot of one of my favorites which was John Candy. John was very funny, but he wasn’t trying to be hip but as a result to me he was the hippest of them all. Like he says in “Planes and Trains”, “I’m the genuine article. What you see is what you get.” I feel that way with Kevin, a guy who’s got a real sincerity to him and an honesty and an integrity, but, at the same time is funny as hell and in a way that’s connected, that’s relatable. He’s not trying to be more alternative than now, just being very genuine and real. Over time that stuff always, everyone has their stuff or they campaign for what they like and what reminds them the most of themselves or whatever niche that they like, but as time goes on it’s an amazing thing that says as you look back. When you look to pop in a John Hughes movie, they are some the greatest movies expressed in that time. A lot of the female screenwriters that I’m close with will cite those movies and those lead female characters as the entire reason that they’re writers. But he did it in such a way that was very honest and genuine to what those circumstances were. Not with a bent on how clever or how cool I am. The clever and cool came from just, “My parents aren’t recognizing that it’s my birthday,” or “My father is a this and that.” So just by being in very real situations. I thought with his show he did that very well. What he did in “Hitch”, God, your heart just breaks. I thought, “I love this guy. I’m rooting for him.” In “Mall Cop”, it’s the same thing. It’s a great kid’s movie and a fun thing for little kids to go see and, as an adult, you laugh and it’s funny. He’s always had that quality. So I always felt when it came to this thing and to working with Kevin and building that friendship and stuff, I immediately — and I feel like I’m not alone. There are a lot of people throughout the country who feel it — that when you see him you feel like, “God. I know that guy. I like that guy. I root for that guy.” So it was very easy to sort of establish any repartee with Kevin as far as what’s a friendship and what is a history.
James: For me, it was one of the same things. Like when you look up to somebody. I’ve met a lot of people that I’ve looked up to that don’t pan out to be the kind of person that you want them to be. That wasn’t the case with Vince. He couldn’t be a greater guy and it’s always nice to have someone you really admire and look up to be such a great guy. Honestly, it sounds like we’re just kissing each other’s ass, but I mean it. Honestly, he took me into this city and his wife is great and our wives get together.
Vaughn: That’s how I can tell that I’ll like working with him on the set. He’s generous with the other actors, what their lines are going to be. “What’s this going to be and what’s this?” And usually guys that are really good at it, they come from that place where it’s sort of about making sure that you’re elevating the people around you. So it was really easy.
Q: Vince, you’ve shot a lot of films here. I think Ron said it was your idea to do the movie here. Do you get something extra out of doing movies here in Chicago?
James: All the hot dogs he wants.
Q: And Kevin, what has he shown you since you’ve been here?
James: First of all, for some reason — and I don’t know why — but I don’t think that I’m funny in California. So I always want to do my movies east somewhere. I’ve been in Chicago a few times to do press but for a couple of days each time and I’ve never gotten to experience the city. I’ve experienced it with him and his family and his friends and you just see that it’s really like what John Hughes does it’s a slice of life. It’s just such great people and it gives you such a great feeling and you want to shoot here and you want to be funny and you really feel like you connect with everybody here. It’s an amazing feeling and I’m not excluding California. People can do it. For some reason it’s just something in my head that I don’t feel as much there. This city has been great. I love it. I don’t know what you get for doing it but I’m so happy that you did make the choice to do it here.
Vaughn: For me, I love California. I feel like it’s my second home in that I moved out by choice at eighteen. It gave me opportunities that I didn’t have anywhere else. I have a lot of close friends out there and a big part of my life is out there. I still have a lot of close friends and feel connected to it. So we did do “Swingers” in California, which is so specific to those neighborhoods. So to me that was really the right place to film “Swingers” and to do that. I have worked in California recently and I will continue to do stuff there. I mean that honestly. I always say that I was born in Minneapolis and I was raised here in Illinois but I really feel like I grew up in California to a large degree. But for me this is home. So to come here and get a chance to film here means a lot to me. I feel that I’m shaped a lot from coming from this part of the country. I think it has informed who I am to a large degree. I have a family that I’m starting now. So for me I want to be able to come at night when I’m filming and my priorities have changed in terms of that thing. It’s where I want to raise my family. So something about the people from the Midwest, Chicago in particular, I think you know that there’s always a real fondness for it and a lot of Chicagoans, not just myself, always like to come back here and shoot and do stuff here. Chicago I think is a real city. There are a lot of real cities but it’s a place where people are going to work and they’re raising families. I like that energy of the place. It’s sort of the focus of the place and so this to me felt like that kind of story, like, “Okay, these guys can be in the car industry where Detroit is down the road.” They’re trying to keep their heads above water and they’re trying to figure out these things of life as far as relationships and stuff is concerned. It felt like this would be a good place to do that.
Q: Ron was saying that this is a Midwestern comedy but it’s not slapstick and it’s not a rom-com. Did you worry that the film would have those kinds of tones?
James: I was excited to do something [like this]. Immediately when I read it felt a little bit classier than the stuff that I’ve been doing. I love it. It’s just something different.
Vaughn: I think that’s crazy, because if you’re doing stuff that’s a family movie, or something that’s just a fun movie, what’s so bad about going and laughing and having fun. I hate that kind of labeling of it. It drives me crazy. That we feel we need to decipher what’s smart, what’s intelligent, what’s this and what isn’t. It’s ridiculous. If someone has the perspective of something that they like it’s great but if people are going, especially a kid’s movie that’s honestly something that’s making people laugh and having fun, then I don’t think that’s less classy.
James: I’m joking but what it felt in this one really to me was that it did have a serious, more of a serious tone and it’s a more serious subject that I loved. It didn’t fall off. Again, that can be a movie where you lose the laughs and you go, “Oh, my God, I’m in this little indie film with Ron and Vince ” and it’s not. There are huge laughs and I love it because they’re earned and you’re really invested, it’s emotional. You always get the best laughs in dramatic moments, when the tension needs to be released.
Vaughn: But the subject I think is also as a result more that kind of format. You’re dealing with more adult contemporary relationships and those kinds of dynamics. Whereas in other stuff it’s more kid’s stuff and more that type of thing.
Q: Kevin, you’ve got such a facility for physical comedy. Do you get to do any of that in this film?
James: Yeah, absolutely. There’s tons of stuff. That’s why I was concerned about going into it. Coming into it I thought, “Do I have to change any of that?” Then Ron brings that out and Vince says to go for things here and there. Again, as long as you remain true it’s fine. You can get big in moments if it’s warranted and it’s great. It’s great fun. We’ve both been able to do a lot of physical stuff. He does crazy physical stuff in this, a lot more than I do. It’s great and it all works. It’s always dangerous when you’re just doing physical bits to do them and it feels like a series of sketches where you’re trying to be funny and falling down, this and that. This is not that. That’s what I love about it.
Vaughn: Circumstances. It’s great stuff. Opportunities.
Q: Can you be more specific about the physical comedy that you’ve done?
Vaughn: Well, there are conflicts like that, physical conflicts that are played real and there’s some extreme stuff that happens.
Question: Can you talk about what kind of stuff?
Vaughn: I don’t want to talk about all the specifics. The thing is that we have a great cast. Queen Latifah is like my new favorite person. I love her. She’s just an amazing spirit. Channing Tatum could not be a more genuine kid. He came in and worked really hard and was gracious. He did great. Winona Ryder I think is one of the best actors of my generation and I’m just really thrilled to be working with her, what a great talent she is. Connelly obviously she is as well a great actor. We just have a huge cast and so the fun is like everyday, whoever is coming in is really talented and really good.
James: Just delivering.
Vaughn: Delivering. So it’s a real ensemble as well. There’s a lot of cool personalities and a lot of people that you come to see. I think the fun of the movie is that as much as the dynamic at the core is about this friendship, I think the people that we come into contact with that turn us in a direction or change the way that we think or give us a bad idea about how to go forward in doing something or a good idea are really talented. So for me my job is easy a lot of times because I get to sit back in a scene and sort of take in the information with the audience with these kinds of spectacular characters that were running into that are really specific.
Question: And Amy Morton is in it as well, right?
Vaughn: She’s phenomenal. She’s great. She’s a great Chicago actress. She’s actually Steppenwolf and all of that. She’s very big in that. She’s awesome. She plays my sister. She’s great.
Q: Do you think these are characters that you could’ve play ten years ago, since you talked about the adult situations and relationships in this?
Vaughn: My approach as an actor has always been the same in that the greatest gift that you’re ever going to have is your imagination because you’re not going to have all life experiences. So you draw on things that are sort of close to it but you spend your time expanding on it or drawing something specific on whatever your situation is. So, could we have played it? It would’ve probably felt different, but yeah. That dynamic, I think that people sometimes go through that in high school. What do you do when you know something about the person that your friend is with. I think it probably would’ve had different lingo and maybe different settings and a different business mode we’re running and that kind of stuff, but I think that’s what’s great. I do think it’s kind of a movie that crosses age in that it’s a dynamic that is unfortunately or just a matter of fact in life that crosses everything. Even with “Swingers” we did that. There were so many wise people who had so much advice for me and Favreau when we were trying to make the movie. One of them was to not make it specific to Los Feliz and Los Angeles and not to have that language be so specific but I think the more you are specific it becomes more universal to different ages and different groups because it feel authentic. So you can translate it into whatever language or however you’re speaking or whatever your setting is. I think the same is true here. The more specific that we are to these guys at this stage in their lives the more relatable I think it becomes to younger people as well.
James:. I agree.
Vaughn: It’s such a combustible situation to be in. It’s great extremes which leads to great drama and great comedy.
Q: I understand that you’re in almost every scene of the film and you’re almost done shooting, right?
Q: Are you exhausted? Were there any points in the script where you just felt it was overwhelming?
Vaughn: I guess for me, first and foremost, I’m always grateful to be working. I start from a place of really, truly everyday being thankful that I’m working. It’s just how I’ve always approached stuff. So there are days where you’re feeling physically taxed or run down but working with Ron has been amazing for me. Kevin has been amazing. I think that’s why I so quickly went to that other cast because when you have really talented people coming in and inspiring you and doing great it makes it really easy to connect and listen. It makes your job a lot easier. I feel like we’ve all worked really hard. We’ve all, on this movie particularly, invested a lot. So that’s rewarding. I can never think of a time in my life where I tried my very hardest and regretted it at anything. So to have that opportunity to do that, first and foremost I’m thankful.
Q: Ron mentioned that during the improv scenes and free takes that he was using that not just to open the comedy but also the more serious aspects of the film. How did you both take to that?
James: I think in doing that, in those free takes you just kind of lose it. You feel like you’ve gotten everything and so you just let go for a take. What can happen is that for comedy it can help because you feel free to do that but then he’s right because the dramatic moments are the same thing. The connective tissue between the comedy moments is usually dramatic or something that’s very serious. It comes off a little fresher sometimes. That’s just a problem of doing a lot of takes and sometimes you can get a little stale and feel a little numb to it at times, be surface with it.
Vaughn: But it puts the danger in it that you have in real life which is, “I want this in the circumstance, but boy, I’m afraid that this will happen in the circumstance.” There’s no planning on where it’s going to go. So when you say, “Okay, just go in there,” and you don’t know where the scene is going to end it kind of keeps you more off balance because you’re not quite sure what’s going to be thrown or said. Sometimes in doing that even just once and then returning back to how it’s scripted you created that feeling again of the uncertainty of where it’s going to go. But again I think it’s best used when it’s a good way to try and accomplish what the intention of the scene is and not as something that’s just for the sake of doing it.