Exclusive: Date Night Director Shawn Levy

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Shawn Levy has directed some of the biggest blockbuster comedies such as Cheaper by the Dozen, The Pink Panther, Night at the Museum and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. His new comedy, Date Night, stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey as a normal everyday married couple who are suddenly being chased by the mob when their identity has been mistaken for another couple who stole something from the ring leader.

We chatted with Mr. Levy in a private room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, where he invited ComingSoon.net to talk exclusively about the film that hits theatres April 9th.

ComingSoon.net: When you first heard you were going to work with Steve Carell and Tina Fey what was your reaction?
Shawn Levy: Super excited. I just felt like they were so well-matched together to each other and they’re so well-matched for a movie about a married couple, so it just felt like this great coalesces of good fortune.

CS: What was the hardest scene in this movie for you to shoot?
Levy: I guess the only scene that was really, really hard was the car sequence and it was because I wanted to do a car sequence that nobody had seen before. We had to come up with engineering for a car chase that had never been done. We were starting from scratch and figuring out how to rig it, how to drive it and how to do it all safely. It was just dozens and dozens of people – probably several million dollars on engineering and RND and vehicles until we could figure out a rig that could pull it off.

CS: Where did the idea for the car chase come from?
Levy: The idea came from my head and my memory because when I was 16, the day after I got my license I was going to the library. I pulled in to park and I clipped the car next to me. I backed up and I somehow hit it more. So I pulled forward and I was dragging it with me. I went forward back forward back trying to free myself from this car, but somehow I had gotten our bumpers hooked and the car ended up on top of my rear end of my car. It always stuck with me because it was such a weird random thing. That’s where the idea came from – that these cars would hit and get hooked at the bumpers and you’d have this car chase through the streets of Manhattan.

CS: Did you get in so much trouble for that accident?
Levy: So much trouble! Yes.

CS: In this movie, the characters Steve and Tina play aren’t in a marriage crisis. They’re just an average everyday married couple who I think a lot of people can relate to. Why did you decide to focus on that aspect of a relationship?
Levy: I just feel like we’ve seen a lot of movies about newlyweds and couples who hate each other, but the truth more often than not is couples love each other but are just worn down by the get things done of everyday life. I hadn’t seen a realistic portrait of a couple who is not in crisis but is not vibrant anymore. They need to kind of wake up and see each other afresh and appreciate what they have. That was very important to me and to Steve and Tina. The fact that that comes through in the midst of all the comedy is one of the most ratifying things that I’m hearing from people who have seen it.

CS: I know the idea of “Date Night” came about because you and your wife go out on weekly dates, but what about the twist of Steve and Tina’s characters being chased by the mob?
Levy: That was while working with the writer. The idea of taking someone else’s [dinner] reservation was the first idea we had. In trying to come through for his wife and trying to make this night different, they are responsible for everything that happens to them. They are responsible for the case of mistaken identity. I wanted them to kind of me on the hook for that. Then it just evolved over months and months of script talks and rewrites and development.

CS: Was it your idea for Mark Wahlberg to never wear a shirt in the film or was that his?
Levy: Oh no, no that was in the script and always my idea. I just always knew the character never put his shirt on. It just stuck me as really funny. Eventually the only swear word in the movie – the only “F” word would be in the joke that has to do with the fact that Wahlberg never puts a frigging shirt on. When I went to Mark for the part I said, “You understand this is you without a shirt on?” He showed it off for the first time in a decade. He was up for it and got shredded for me and he looked damn good. He makes the rest of his men feel scrawny and pathetic.

CS: Another great couple in the film besides Steve and Tina are James Franco and Mila Kunis. Can you talk about casting them?
Levy: I think I had seen a short that they had done before together on the Internet. I don’t remember what it was about, but Mila and James had done this short and I thought they looked amazing together. They felt real and I just thought they could play sleazy but passionate. And that’s exactly what they do. On one hand they’re a nightmare couple. Steve and Tina would be like, “I don’t ever want to be like them.” Yet, they have more alive passion than Steve and Tina’s characters do at that moment. I think Steve and Tina end up learning something from this dirtbag couple that they think they have nothing in common with. That scene with the four of them is such a strong scene and it’s really credited to the actors.

CS: I understand you like to take a break in between your projects, but this time you couldn’t because of scheduling conflicts so you were editing “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” while working on this film. What was that like for you?
Levy: Yes. Super crazed. I was working seven days a week and ended up doing the same thing now. While I was finishing up “Date Night” I was prepping for this movie called “Real Steel” for DreamWorks. Now I’m kinda hooked on the double duty, but Steve and Tina became available in a specific window that was not going to resurface for a year. I was not going to miss that opportunity. I sucked it up and worked really, really hard and took it all on.

You can read what Levy told us about Real Steel here.