It’s an all-too-rare coincidence when a holiday celebrated in a movie is actually taking place while that movie is being filmed. But when we visit the set of director Steve Pink’s About Last Night the upcoming remake of the 1986 romantic comedy starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore we find ourselves smiling at this occurrence. It’s late October in Los Angeles, and we’re in a downtown bar during the last week of shooting; in which a scene is taking place at a Halloween party, appropriately decked out in orange, black, and purple. Bernie and Joan (actors Kevin Hart and Regina Hall) are in costume, as Channing Tatum (in Magic Mike) and Beyonce. But the bloom is apparently off the two lovers’ relationship, as they trade barbs that quickly erupt into a shouting match, ending with Bernie stammering in frustration while Joan marches off. She pauses for just a moment to tell loudly enough for Bernie to hear several girls seated at the bar that “There ain’t no magic in that mini Mike.”
Hart and Hall’s characters were played in the original film based on David Mamet’s 1974 stage play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” by James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins. They’re the more comedic of the film’s two couples. Their best friends are Danny and Debbie, played by “Almost Human’s” Michael Ealy and “Parenthood’s” Joy Bryant. As in Think Like a Man in which Hall, Hart, and Ealy also starred Ealy plays straight man to the off-the-wall insanity found in Hart’s stand-up comedy (seen in his recent concert film Let Me Explain). But as Ealy tells us during a break in shooting, About Last Night is quite different from Think Like a Man.
“Danny is a restaurant supply guy, just like Bernie,” says Ealy, dressed in Danny’s Halloween costume that of soul icon Ike Turner. (Debbie is, appropriately, dressed as Tina Turner.) “A blue-collar guy who’s looking for a little more out of life and also trying to get over his ex. I think where we separate ourselves from ‘Think Like a Man’ is In this particular film we get into the minutiae of a relationship. There’s good and bad times. You start to understand more about how a relationship can go awry when two people spend too much time together, you know what I mean? They tend to overlook all of the red flags that are popping up early because they want to make it work. They want to believe that it’s right. And ultimately timing, this movie is all about timing. Is it the right time for Debbie and Danny? Is it the right time for Bernie and Joan? ‘Think Like a Man’ was a bit more neat, definitely a bit more neat. A bit more like a comedy. This one has much more drama.”
“Not tonight,” he quickly adds, laughing at the sequined outfit he’s wearing. “As I sit here and ask you to take me seriously.”
Ealy says he’s not seen the original About Last Night or Mamet’s play, and doesn’t plan to do so until shooting is complete.
“I know that there is a movie called ‘About Last Night’ out there. I know who’s in it. But it’s important to me to approach it as kind of as fresh idea. I find that if I look at the old one I may try to repeat that. Whereby if I just take it as fresh script then I’m gonna put my best foot forward Some actors, they can watch that stuff and do what they want to do. But I like to do that stuff afterwards, and it all started when I first started acting actually. In my first acting class I did a scene from ‘Frankie and Johnny’ in the ‘Clair de Lune,’ which is the play. The movie was ‘Frankie and Johnny’ with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. And there was a play. It was just a habit that I picked up. I said, ‘I’m not gonna watch it.’ For that particular performance we just did a scene from the play and it was what it was. It stood on its own. When I saw the movie I said, That’s great. That’s their interpretation.’ There’s gonna be multiple interpretations of what is ‘About Last Night.’ We definitely have a much more comedic version, but at the same time we get into the minutiae of each and every relationship When you’re redefining a project like this for a whole new audience A lot of people who were born after ’92, who have no clue about what ‘About Last Night’ is, for them this is going to be their version, so I think it’s important to have a fresh take on it.”
Some may find that part of this version’s freshness lies in its all African-American cast, though Ealy says the production is color blind.
“Just like ‘Think Like a Man,’ this script doesn’t have character descriptions of race. So you read it independently of race, and ultimately if it’s cast predominantly black, so? Are you gonna say the original was cast predominantly white? No. It was movie. So is this one.”
Director Pink joins us to explain why About Last Night of all 80s romantic comedies is ripe for a remake.
“It has a peculiar structure,” says Pink, no stranger to film comedy having helmed Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity and Hot Tub Time Machine. “I sound like a pretentious idiot when I try to describe [it] I sound like an idiot when I talk about genres in general, but They usually rely on a big device, like mistaken identity. There’s a big lie involved in the movie. In ‘Wedding Crashers,’ which is one of my favorite movies, they can’t reveal they’re wedding crashers so they lie and get into the hilarious romantic adventure by virtue of a big lie, which is they’re finance guys or whatever. This is very grounded. I don’t know if it’s low concept, but there is no high-concept. It’s boys meet girls, boys get girls, and then you kind of see the evolution of the relationship, how it grows and how it breaks apart. Then ultimately what their relationships are about determines how and why they love each other. It’s very simple and grounded in that way. The trick there is to keep it moving. It’s in Mamet’s original play, and the writers of the first one knew that. So structurally the movie moves quickly because you’re moving through a pretty big emotional story in a short amount of time without a lot of high-concept devices. I think that’s always welcome. I don’t see a lot of those kinds of movies being made.”
And how does Pink find collaborating with motor-mouth funnyman Hart?
“You know, he doesn’t listen to anything I say,” laughs. “So there’s some tension between, but we’re gonna get past it I hope.”
“He makes it look easy, because when you’re looking at him you’re looking at takes and he’s just popping off and being hilarious and funny and energized. But there’s a lot of thoughtful work that’s gone into that moment that you’re seeing. It appears like comic chaos, but he’s a really prepared guy It’s either that or he’s just skating by on pure luck.”
“There’s no version of Kevin really catching me off-guard with his comedy,” says Ealy, having worked with Hart before. “If he says something that’s just unbearably funny I just laugh. I can’t try to hold it back. But what we discovered on this one is that we have a familiarity, a certain rhythm, we know how to set each other up. I consider myself Chris Paul and he’s Blake Griffin, you know what I mean? We just kind of set each other up and we play well together. We’ve had even more fun on this one than we did on ‘Think,’ because we’re much more familiar with each other this time around.”
Though Danny is the more serious of the two men, Ealy explains that “We try to keep it somewhat light. I think Danny and Debbie’s storyline is a bit more romantic, especially in the beginning. [There's] a lot of sex. The comedy just kind of comes. With Bernie and Joan, they are written funny, they act funny, they are funny pretty much non-stop. We bring a bit more gravitas to the entire story, and reality. There’s comedy in that. But obviously the breakups, the fights, all that stuff that we go through, it can get pretty intense.”
“We did a breakup scene the other night,” adds the actor, before running back to the set. “Unlike my character in ‘Think Like a Man,’ I’m highly flawed in this movie. That’s actually part of the appeal of this role, and it’s so interesting to see this guy haphazardly wrap himself up in this relationship, and then see that’s he’s terrible about getting out of it. He’s sloppy about it. It’s so much fun to play, and it’s compelling because he ignored everything. He should have seen it. He’s caught up in the glow of love, and he wakes up and things are different. There’s a lot of people that can relate to that. I know I can. As you get older you learn not to make those same mistakes. You learn to be more careful and to pay attention. Especially in the early stages of the relationship. He just drives a truck into a wall and then talks about it. That’s the scene we just did. It’s like, how do you explain what just happened? His excuse is somewhat pathetic, and at the same time he’s finally being honest. What I’ve learned, being in a relationship, is the most precious commodity you can have is honesty. Good or bad.”
For Pink, About Last Night‘s blend of comedy and drama is the perfect mix after the lowbrow laughs of Hot Tub Time Machine.
“My whole career has been comedy of a kind. ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ is an action-romantic-comedy of a kind, so is ‘High Fidelity.’ Certainly ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ is super broad comedy, so I guess I’ve always existed in that world. And that’s why I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to deal with characters where there’s an extremely strong dramatic story being told as well as it being extremely funny. To be able to execute that, and to be able to make this movie and execute it well, it’s just a great opportunity. Because I’m not just into broad comedy, and that allows people to see I can do other stuff. Although I probably will in some form be funny about it.”
“I probably shouldn’t do a straight drama. I’d probably ruin it,” laughs the director. “I don’t know. I’d love the opportunity to try. I’m sure every kind of filmmaker feels like they can do other kinds of genres of film. So I feel the same way. If someone said, Would you like to do this period drama?’ I’d say, Hell, yeah! I’d love to do that.’ To dig into history and do some story would be great But they’d be like, Why didn’t Joe Wright do that film?!’”
About Last Night opens in theaters on February 14, 2014.