“Last night, we were having dinner with Derek Jeter…”
So begins a story that Damon Wayans Jr. would be telling countless times as we sat and watched a scene play out in all sorts of unexpected and disturbing ways, leading up to what nearly turns into a spontaneous make-out session between him and comedian Rob Riggle.
But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
We’re sitting in a constructed office set on the 28th Floor of the New York City comedy landmark 30 Rockefeller Center, home of NBC Studios where years earlier, Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights) would make names for themselves as the star and head writer for “Saturday Night Live.”
The long-time collaborators have returned home to 30 Rock, renting out an empty floor and dressing it up to be the Security and Exchange Commission for a scene in their new action comedy The Other Guys, which teams Ferrell with Mark Wahlberg. It’s a buddy cop comedy that shows what happens when New York City’s top supercops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) are taken out of the picture, leaving the city’s other police officers trying to fill their shoes. These aren’t cops that chase after bank robbers or drug dealers but those who enforce white collar crimes like the ones that have been all over the headlines over the past decade.
The production had been shooting all over the streets of New York City for the past few months, but with just six more days on the shoot, they’ve moved indoors. As we arrived at the location for today’s shoot, we were brought into our own special viewing area in an adjoining room to the one in which they were filming. It had also been dressed up as the waiting for the Securities Exchange, the walls lined with various executives. From the other room, we could hear Ferrell and the other actors preparing for a scene we’d watch many times in different incarnations over the next few hours, and it sounded like some sort of altercation was going on.
The scene opens as Wahlberg and Ferrell walk into an office as their characters, Detectives Terry Hoitz and Allen Gamble, and begin to examine the crime scene where a dead man named “Urshan” had been found. Wahlberg puts on gloves and immediately notes the cracked picture frame, knocked over chair and the signs of a struggle, as well as a half-empty bottle of alcohol that makes the death look like a suicide. Ferrell then finds receipts on the deceased man’s desk for two massages and a cucumber facial, and notes that those were not the purchases of someone who planned on offing themselves, since the dead man clearly “viewed the future with optimism and was concerned about staying young.”
The unlikely partners haven’t gotten very far into their investigation when their boss, the police captain comes in, fuming… it’s Michael Keaton! He has clearly had enough of Hoitz and Gamble’s antics, and he tells them that Urshan was targeting the lottery and “banging the Powerball girl” and he shows them the pictures to prove it. He reminds them of some of their previous mistakes and how they continually did the opposite of what they were told. After giving them a full dressing down, he tells them to turn in their badge and gun because they were both being demoted.
We watched this part of the scene filmed a number of times and each time, Keaton was just getting angrier, playing it differently each time and times going off-script for long stretches, even letting out a few expletives at the duo. Whenever Keaton loses control of his temper to that point, the scene gets even funnier.
Finally, he tells them to get the BLEEP out of there as he storms out but before they can react to his demotion, they’re joined by two other plain-clothes detectives, Evan Martin and Rick Fosse, played by Riggle and Wayans, respectively, also officers trying to fill the void left by Johnson and Jackson’s absence. Wayans’ Fosse immediately starts in with the taunts, telling them how they were having dinner with the Yankees’ star baseball player and referring to a scene shot earlier in which Wahlberg shoots Derek Jeter. The relatively weak punchline to the joke is that Martin and Fosse were “doing shots with Derek Jeter, but you (Wahlberg) SHOT him!” Even though it’s only remotely funny, all the background actors let loose a long sustained laugh that seems completely over-the-top compared to the mild joke. McKay told us later that exaggerated laugh was a running gag throughout the movie.
As everyone laughs, Ferrell is clearly getting madder and madder and finally lashes out at Wayans, something that really upsets his partner who had been enjoying the put-downs but not the violence. “You don’t hit Rick Fosse in the face!” he screams, as Wahlberg pulls Ferrell away and takes him out of the room. As they walk out, Riggle is still worried about his partner but his attention to Wayans’ condition after being attacked starts to get more and more touchie-feelie and far more inappropriate. By the second or third take, Riggle is lovingly massaging Wayans’ face… and McKay’s cameras keep rolling almost to the point where it starts getting awkward as the two seem close to making out… but not quite.
This scene was being shot in a fairly straight-forward style, doing two or three takes with the cameras on each actor, the oddest one being the “Wahlberg-Cam,” essentially a close-up on Wahlberg’s face of him reacting to Riggle and Wayans’ shenanigans. As they moved the cameras around between set-ups to catch different angles and close-ups of the scene, all five actors, McKay and his co-writer Chris Tenchy came into our room to field questions, interviews you can read below.
For the most part, Wahlberg and Ferrell seemed to be playing at least this scene fairly serious and deadpan but Wayans and Riggle are clearly bringing their A-game, turning it from something we may have seen before in other police comedies–Dragnet comes to mind–to something far more outrageous and over-the-top. Riggle’s improvisations between different takes were sometimes very subtle, but quite genius, like one time where he picks up one of the evidence markers, looks at it and puts it back down, something which would be a clear no-no in normal crime scene procedures.
When we watched a few of the rehearsals, we were surprised how stiff Keaton tended to be whenever the cameras weren’t rolling, but then as soon as McKay called “Action!” Keaton was right in step with the other comic actors with his ad-libbing, reminding us how funny Keaton was back in the ’80s when he appeared in comedies more regularly. We were also a little surprised how foul-mouthed everyone was between scenes, making us wonder how much of that might end up in the final movie. In between takes and interviews, the visiting press killed time playing a guessing game with the portraits that lined the walls, trying to guess which of the executives in the pictures were real and which were clearly actors from central casting.
Who knows how much if any of what we watched them filming on that day last December will get into the movie though, since McKay is known for hiring funny actors, letting them do their thing on set, then crafting the laughs in the edit. For all we know, what we saw will end up being a pass scene of a minute or less once it’s cut down, but if that’s the case, let’s hope some of the Wayans/Riggle stuff at least gets into the DVD extras, because it was very funny… and mildly disturbing as well. After McKay felt like he had enough takes, they began to film some of the boring stuff… close-ups of various objects and an establishing shot of the forensics guy dusting for prints on the window sill, etc.
You can check out the full interviews we did on set by clicking on the appropriate link below:
The Other Guys opens on Friday, August 6.