On the Red Carpet with Jay Roach and His Schmucks

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Let’s say you were invited to a dinner, but not just any dinner. This is a dinner for idiots and at the conclusion of the meal, you’d have to stand up in front of the entire party and give a presentation to prove the superiority of your idiocy. What would you do?

Stephanie Szostak would resort to her ability to magically raise the corner of her lip with an invisible string. Lucy Punch would take it up a notch and do a little something that would involve her whole body. “I might demonstrate how extremely flexible I am and do some weird contortionist body shapes,” she revealed. “Eating with my feet, through my arms, over my head.” Larry Wilmore would take his show in a completely different direction, “I am going to anti-schmuck it. That’s how I become the schmuckiest cleverest schmuck. They think I’m going to do something schmucky, but then I fool them and I don’t do anything.”

It’s a good thing none of them play a schmuck in Dinner for Schmucks because none of that could compare to a woman who has a conversation with a lobster, a blind swordsman, a ventriloquist with a flirty puppet or a guy who spends his time with a live vulture.

Loosely based on the French film The Dinner Game, Dinner for Schmucks focuses on Tim and Barry (Paul Rudd and Steve Carell), the businessman and his schmuck. Tim makes a nice living; he lives in a beautiful apartment and drives a Porsche, but it’s not good enough. Tim is a sixth floor analyst at Fender Financial, but he wants to be on the seventh floor with the boss man, Lance Fender (Bruce Greenwood). When a “seventh floorer” gets the axe, Tim makes a bold and gutsy play for the vacant spot. He just about nails it, but has to do one last thing before the position is his. He’s got to impress Lance by bringing a winner to his dinner for idiots.

Tim’s conscience kicks in immediately, but the only thing that completely keeps him from joining in is his girlfriend Julie (Sostak), that is until he literally crashes into the perfect dinner guest, Barry. Barry’s an IRS employee by day and a taxidermist in his free time. Barry enjoys scooping up dead mice and giving them a second chance by making them part of his ‘mouse-terpieces.’ When Tim invites Barry to dinner, Barry doesn’t just take the offer as an invitation to a meal, but as an invitation into Tim’s life – 24/7.

During the Dinner for Schmucks red carpet premiere in New York City, director Jay Roach explained, ‘I liked taking a really annoying guy, the Steve Carell character, and trapping him with a guy who thinks he’s got it all figured out and making him completely unravel that guy’s life.’ And that’s certainly what happens to poor Tim.

Of his character, Carell said, “He’s sort of a conglomeration of people I’ve met or known or imagined through the years.” Carell must know some pretty irritating people because within hours of their first encounter, Barry is at Tim’s door and from then on the two are attached at the hip. Not only does Barry’s behavior in front of Julie completely give away that Tim has opted to go to the dinner, but he also creates a whirlwind of problems that cause even more of a rift between Tim and Julie, most notably, bringing Tim’s crazy ex into the picture.

Punch is Darla, Tim’s old flame who isn’t ready to sever the ties. Tim may have zero interests in swapping his nice and normal lady for the more eccentric Darla, but Punch certainly prefers the opportunity to step out of the quintessential girlfriend box. She recalled, “When I was in school I always used to play the Wicked Witch. I never played the Cinderella parts. I was always the ugly sister or the Wicked Witch.” Darla doesn’t exactly go into wicked territory, but she does do quite a number on Paul’s apartment during a wacky battle scene with Carell. “That was epic and completely exhausting. I was covered in bruises and cuts, but it was worth it. It was a lot of fun, but it was tough. It was like falling over and slapping myself.”

Perhaps it’s a good thing Punch was so exhausted after this sequence with Carell because her character misses out on all the fun of the film’s climax, the dinner scene. One comedian playing with dead mice or two in the midst of a chase scene is one thing, but imagine managing 16 creative minds to create simultaneously. Roach explained, “You try to just let them run and play and give them a world to do their best stuff in and hope that at the end of it, it kind of still makes sense for the story.” Lucky for Roach he assembled a band of particularly talented improvisers. But it was also lucky for those actors, like Carell, that Roach was so forgiving when it came to being flexible with the material. “Jay Roach is such a very kind and generous director,” Carell said. “He’d always allow for improvisation, if nothing else just to kind of explore the characters.”

And this moment has a ton of eccentric characters to explore. Of the dinner scene Roach recalled, “It was probably the most difficult because it was 16 people around a gigantic table, a vulture, a real vulture, a guy with a puppet, a lady who talks to pets.” But none could compare to the colossal force of amusement that is Zach Galifianakis who portrays Barry’s mind controlling adversary, Therman. “Zach kind of came late in the process,” Willmore recalled. “We were doing the dinner scene. It took us like two weeks to do and about maybe the last few days, Zach came to do this thing and we were all kind of bored at this point with all this stuff, then he comes in with this cape and everything,” Roach explained. “Zach came in and took over that dinner in such a fantastic way and it just kind of gave Steve and Paul something to go up against. When you’re doing the kind of comedy where you want conflict and suspense, Zach is the greatest adversary to kick into that.”

The fun of this dinner scene will likely go way beyond the film itself. “We shot hours of stuff and most of it is something crazy going on,” Roach said. “I like it when they try to make each other ruin a take.” Hopefully Roach’s appreciation of seeing his cast have a little fun on set will translate into a hysterical blooper reel for the DVD. Odds are, if that happens, it’ll be packed with moments initiated by Carell because according to Roach, “The best at keeping a straight face is probably Steve. The worst at keeping a straight face is Paul. Steve made him laugh so hard sometimes that we’d just let the film run.”

But now that the movie’s about to hit theaters, it’s back to business and just about everyone involved in Dinner for Schmucks has a heavy schedule ahead of them. Not only is Wilmore heading to the small screen, but the White House as well. “I’m working on a show at NBC called ‘Love Bites,'” Willmore revealed. “I’m doing a little writing on and working on my stand-up. I’m going to be doing something at the White House next year, so I’m getting ready for that.”

As for Punch, she has a handful of particularly high-profile projects coming our way. First up will be Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. In comparing that to Dinner for Schmucks she explained, “Both comedies, but different in tone. Woody’s it’s like a bit more natural and it’s just a different pace and tone and this hopefully real characters, but camper.” Earthbound stars Kate Hudson as a woman who’s diagnosed with cancer right before meeting a great guy. Of that one Punch said, “Yes, she has cancer in the movie so I can’t really say it’s hilarious,” but it does have its funny moments. It doesn’t even end there. Punch will attempt to break the male-centric comedy mold with Bad Teacher. “I just finished a movie called ‘Bad Teacher,’ which is with Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake. It’s two females as kind of the leads really. In comedy now, quite often it’s the guys who get to do everything.”

Bruce Greenwood returns to his more serious roots in a film set in 1845, the early days of the Oregon Trail. He said it’s “called ‘Meek’s Cutoff,’ directed by Kelly Reichardt with Michelle Williams.” As for Roach, there are a number of possible projects with his name attached, but we focused on just two, Austin Powers 4 and Used Guys. As for the former he explained, “It’s up to Mike. I always hear rumors about it just like you do. It’s going to happen, but it’s not scheduled.” While it doesn’t seem like that one’s coming to theaters anytime soon, Roach seemed much more determined to make the latter a reality. After dropping the Used Guys question he enthusiastically replied, “That’s a great project! Women run the world and men have made themselves obsolete and how’s that going to work? I love that story so much. I’m determined someday to make that.”

Hopefully that’ll happen sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, you can catch Roach’s latest, Dinner for Schmucks in theaters on July 30th.