Dark and quirky comedies are hard to pull off, but two guys who have done a great job bringing that sort of comedy to the masses are Zach Braff and Jason Bateman, whose TV shows “Scrubs” and “Arrested Development” have found a sizeable niche audience. Now, the duo are bringing that brand of comedy to the big screen, this time facing off against each other in the new Weinstein Company comedy The Ex.
Helmed by music video director Jesse Peretz, the comedy stars Braff as Tom Reilly, the new father of a baby with his lawyer wife Sofia, played by Amanda Peet, who finds himself having to bring home the bacon by working at her father’s ad agency in Ohio. There, he works under Bateman’s Chip Saunders, a paraplegic who constantly challenges Tom at the office, a situation that only gets worse when Tom learns that Chip used to date Sofia.
ComingSoon.net attended a New York press conference with Braff, Bateman, Peretz and the writers of the film, David Guion and Michael Handelman. (Amanda Peet was also there but didn’t say very much, maybe because she’d been spending her nights caring for her real-life baby.)
ComingSoon.net: If we can start with the writers, what inspired you to write this movie?
Michael Handelman: We were in our early 30s, and I think for our generation that’s really a point where–because we sort of put off adulthood maybe a little longer than previous generations–we’re grappling with all these issues of marriage and parenthood and career and what it is to be an adult.
David Guion: I think we wanted to find out what it would be like for a couple to face that bunch of decisions and do it wrong, make the decisions that seemed right and that everyone was telling them were right, but that for them as individuals were dead wrong, and just sort of play that out and see if their relationship could weather that storm and see if they could find their own way.
CS: The movie reminded me a bit of the movies by the Farrelly Brothers or “Meet the Parents.” Were you trying to evoke that sort of humor?
Guion: We have a computer program that we use where you plug in elements from different films (laughter)
Handelman:: We saw it as being “Rocky” but instead of boxing, it’s office politics and Rocky is battling a paraplegic. (laughter)
Zach Braff: I’m going to use that today.
CS: Zach, do you consider this to be a comedy of emasculation in the way your characters is treated?
Braff: I don’t know. I think one of the things the movie does is challenge those ideas of what a Mom is supposed to do and what a Dad is supposed to do. My character fully wants to take on being the breadwinner for once and it doesn’t really work out as planned. I think in this day and age it’s an interesting thing to look at. My brother for example, for a long time, my sister-in-law was the breadwinner and he was taking care of their child. I think there’s no reason why that should be a problem in 2007.
CS: Jason, this might be one of the most unscrupulous characters you’ve played since “It’s Your Move.” Was that a type you were looking to play again?
Jason Bateman: No, I like playing a bad guy, because I dunno. Usually, when bad guys are written, the redeeming qualities are somewhat hidden so that sort of becomes fun to play as an actor to give you the boring actor answer. The fact that this guy is a paraplegic, you would think that maybe he might be able to well, how does one say this? He gets away with a little bit more I suppose, and he seems to be the kind of guy that’s taking advantage of that and revel in that, which makes him worse, so my responsibility is to make him even more redeemable. Yeah, he’s a fun character. I liked him a lot, and you’re going to love the spin-off. (laughter) We are deep into that. “It’s Still Your Move.”
CS: When you have such a great cast including Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Paul Rudd and Romany Malco, comedians who are really good at improv, is there any room to do that sort of thing while shooting the movie?
Jesse Peretz: It went up and down, but there was definitely room for improv, and I would say with every scene I have to say, I was totally enamored with Dave and Mike’s script, so to me, I never really wanted particularly to improv as a way to make things better. It’s not like I saw any problems and thought that we’d be able to bring it up when we’re actually shooting it because the actors will be able to fix these problems with improv, but of course, everybody I was working with was so good at improv that we’d play with things a little bit. Probably what you see on the final product is like 10% improv.
Bateman: The script was there and the characters were there to the point where we all got to really get specific with our characters and as a result of that, the scenes would kind of pop from us being these characters. Once it’s on its feet and you’re doing it, certain emotions end up working well and then you might want to plus the scene by going a little further with perhaps my character playing jealousy in that scene, and by virtue of it just coming off the page and you’re walking around and doing it, you might want to add a word here or there at a later take if he ever wants to use it in the editing room. That was really the extent of the improvisation, because it was all pretty much there.
Guion: That’s very polite of all of you.
Handelman:: I think you also by virtue of having such amazing people in small roles, some of the smaller roles that might have seemed rather thin on the page suddenly became these incredibly rich hilarious characters, people like Fred just became much more hilarious than we ever envisioned.
Guion: Yeah, I think what happened with this script is what you hoped that would happen, which is people enjoyed it enough to improvise off it, which is good for us. We see a script as a blueprint for a movie, not what the movie will ultimately be, so it was incredibly satisfying.
CS: Zach, was there anything you found difficult about playing this part?
Braff: The only thing I found really difficult was I never really held a baby before. I didn’t really know how to do it, and these guys had some experience, so they were like, “No, you have to hold the head.” I didn’t know about that part. Supposedly, you have to hold their heads, their necks aren’t strong. So the first couple babies, I injured them. (laughs)
Bateman: The baby you saw was #6.
Braff: Yeah, 1 through 5 they’ll be fine but they might walk funny. No, I don’t know. I’m not one of those actors that goes “I had to stay in character the whole film.” I really feel like in this movie, I’m kind of the straight man to all the wacky, different particularly Jason, who’s such a bizarre person in this movie that I’m just straight man to whatever crazy thing he’s going to come up with and Charles Grodin and everyone, people like Fred Armisen. I really like the audience’s eyes going into this world and not being very good at navigating my way through the world.
CS: Can you guys talk about the physical comedy in the movie, how much you did and whether this was more physical comedy you’re used to doing?
Bateman: I did all but falling down the stairs and the fighting on the ground. I think that was probably true for both of us. I had some great stunt guys. A comedy fight becomes a comedy fight when it gets heightened and silly, and that sometimes leads to injuries. A dramatic fight goes a little slower, and us pansy actors can do stuff like that, but when you want to be flopping around like a fish on the ground, it’s best to have your stunt guy.
CS: You’re not one of those actors who wants to do all their own stunts?
Bateman: I kind of was, and then a stunt coordinator took me aside a few years ago and said, “You know, guy, I know that you’re kind of game and everything, but for every stunt that you do that he doesn’t do? He doesn’t get paid for it.” And I thought, “Oh! Thank you for that.” So you actually take money out of their pocket by doing your ego, so I sit on the sideline.
Braff: Most of the hits and stuff, we did, we didn’t do flopping around on the ground or anything like that. My stuntman did an amazing the bicycle into the car was just amazing. We were all blown away. I mean, that’s real, he did that. It wasn’t like it happened on the cut. He sped into a car and landed on the windshield and destroyed the windshield.
Bateman: He’s actually at the same hospital as Babies 1 through 5, they’re sharing a room. (laughter)
Braff: So I love physical comedy, we do a lot of it on “Scrubs.” It makes me laugh, so I really enjoy doing it, but the ones that are like running into a car, no, I didn’t do that.
CS: Was there anything in the movie that you felt squeamish about doing?
Braff: The only thing I was nervous about was were we going to be able to pull off at the apex of this movie, I throw a paraplegic down the stairs, and it needs to be funny. Having read the script, I loved the script and I said, “Wow, on paper they have pulled this off. I’m at the point in the script where it’s happening, and I’m laughing, and I hope that we can execute this in a way that, by the time it happens, the audience will be with my character and ready for him to do it.” And I think that we pulled it off. I was semi-misquoted in Entertainment Weekly, but I’m going to quote what was quoted because the misquote was better than what I said. The guy asked me, “Are you worried about your nice-guy image (because) you throw a paraplegic down the stairs?” and I say, “Well, no, because he’s a d*ck. He’s a d*ck in a wheelchair, but he’s still a d*ck.” I think the audience will feel that way about Chip by the time he gets thrown down the stairs.
CS: And in real life?
Braff: Do I throw paraplegics down the stairs?
CS: No, are you squeamish? Do certain things bother you?
Braff: Not really. I’m okay with most of that. Guts. I don’t love dead people and guts, but other than that I’m okay.
CS: How do each of you feel about doing series vs. doing movies? Is one more satisfying than the other?
Bateman: I like the steady work of a series. I like the in-town of a series. If you’re doing really well doing movies, you’re not at home, and if you are unemployed and struggling, you’re at home, so there’s never really a happy medium there, while with television, you can be doing really, really well and still sleep in your bed at night. Having said that, I think I’ve pretty much worn out my welcome doing television. (laughter) I’ve been there a wee bit too long five years ago, so I’m enjoying a little bit of access to movies right now, and I’ll see how far that will take me.
Braff: I love TV. I think it’s a great medium. When it’s great, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, it’s really bad, but sometimes, the really bad shows are great. Like “I Love New York”, that’s a piece of art to me. I will do TV in some capacity, directing or producing. I think I’ll probably take a break from acting on a show when ‘Scrubs’ is over, just because it would be fun to do more in film.
CS: As far as upcoming projects, will you still be making “Open Hearts”? I know that Susanne Bier has said that she probably won’t see it or have anything to do with it.
Braff: That’s nice of her. No, I can imagine if someone remade one of my movies, I wouldn’t necessarily want to see it. The original is amazing, but American audiences don’t go see Danish Dogme films, so it seemed like an amazing story that could be told in a more American-palatable way, if that makes sense. I want to do it. It’s just tricky because don’t know my fate. I was trying to squeeze it in before an August 1 start date and that just became ridiculous. It’s all set up at Paramount and everything. If “Scrubs” happens, then I’ll do it next spring and if it doesn’t I’ll probably try and direct it next fall.
CS: Jason, you seem to be keeping busy with a comedy, a war drama, and a bunch of other movies. Has life been good since “Arrested Development”?
Bateman: Well, it looks like many, many, many people did not watch “Arrested Development,” but the few that did are handing out some nice jobs in L.A. I’m trying to keep that going because careers are slippery little things, so I’m trying to make the right choices. I’ve been fortunate to have some nice little opportunities. I’m trying not to screw them up.
CS: You’ve been doing a lot of comedy lately, so do you have any thoughts about doing drama?
Bateman: Truthfully, it hasn’t been until the last, really, 12 months that I have even been able to make a choice when it comes to roles, so there is really not some great high-brow strategy in play here. I’m simply taking these things that have these incredible pedigrees to them. This Jamie Foxx-terrorism thing is obviously not something you’d expect to see me in. So, yeah, I’d much rather be number four on that call sheet than be number one on some crappy piece of popcorn comedy thing. I don’t know. I’m trying to have a long career, so if I can be relevant in multiple genres I think that’s a good strategy. I’ll get back to you on that. I am a bit of a wiseass in “The Kingdom,” but I do get kidnapped, so there’s some tears. There’s a little bit of tears. There’s some rat-tat-tat. I dodge a couple of bullets. I say, “Oooooh…”
CS: David and Michael, can you tell us what’s happening with “Used Guys”?
Guoin: Well, you know, it’s tricky to say. It was sort of a spectacular ending to a project. The plug was pulled on that project three weeks before we started shooting. As writers, you’re always sort of hoping that something is going to happen. You’re very much the low man on the totem pole and you’re hoping that the right elements will come into place and you’ll see your movie get made. We had Jay Roach and Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey and the studio pulled the plug.
Braff: They were waiting for you guys to get more marketable actors in the movie? (laughter)
Handelman:: There does seem to be remaining interest in seeing that movie be made. It’s one of those things where it’s just a question of whether the stars will align again.
Guion: It was interesting because it was a comedy, but it was also a sci-fi movie. As a business investment I assume the studio is trying to keep its costs down and they have these very strict categories. They say, “Well, if it’s a comedy, so it can’t cost more than this, but it’s a sci-fi, so it can’t be funny.” It’s a perfect project not to get made.
The Ex opens nationwide on Friday, May 11.