ComingSoon.net has spoken to director Seth Gordon a number of times over the years, going back to his documentary The King of Kong. We already had a chance to talk to him for his new comedy Horrible Bosses earlier this year at CinemaCon in Vegas, but with the movie hitting theatres on Friday, it felt like a good time for a follow-up, especially now that we’ve seen the movie. (You can read our review here.)
Horrible Bosses stars Jasons Bateman and Sudeikis and Charlie Day as the beleaguered employees of bosses played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston, whose abuse, idiocy and sexual harassment convinces them to turn to a killer named “Motherf*cker” Jones (Jamie Foxx) to help rid them of their problems.
We got on the phone with Gordon last week for the following interview:
ComingSoon.net: Since seeing the trailer at CinemaCon, it felt like months and months before I got to see it again, but the movie does live up to the trailer, which is very rare these days.
Seth Gordon: I know. Well, thanks a lot. That’s cool.
CS: I was wondering about the timeframe of when you received the script. “Four Christmases” came out roughly two-and-a-half years ago so when during that time did you get this script? I think you said when we last spoke that you got the script from your agent.
Gordon: Well, it wasn’t through an agent, it was from New Line. They were the ones that bought “Kong” and then they had been trying to find something to do this and they sent that script over and I read it and I laughed like crazy the first time I read it – to the point of tears actually about Aniston’s character. I just had to be a part of it because it was so funny, that honesty is just so rare.
CS: As you were reading the script, did you immediately start thinking about who might play each of the characters? Did you have to still do a lot of development and writing on it before you could start thinking about that?
Gordon: We did a little bit of work on it, not a lot, but I already was ready to send it to Aniston because she’s just such a great comedian and you haven’t seen her in a part like this and I thought that would be an exciting match. That was one of the first moves we made. Then, I’m a big fan of Charlie Day, and they knew he was great from “Going the Distance,” although I hadn’t seen it yet. So he felt like a great choice and it all kinda went from there.
CS: When you were working with New Line on “Four Christmases” was that pre-Warner Brothers or was that just as Warner Brothers was coming on board?
Gordon: It was exactly as everything was changing, so we were shooting “Four Christmases” as New Line was making a lot of fires actually, right? We were doing that and the writer’s strike was happening. There was a lot going on right then. It came out I think in November 2008, so I guess that strike was the winter of 2007. I think I’ve got that right.
CS: Did you feel the script was close enough to go out to the actors? What were some of the things you had to do to develop it?
Gordon: I thought it was pretty close. I thought that the Aniston character was always funny, so I wanted more of her. That whole thing with the car chase didn’t exist. There was a bunch of little stuff that I wanted to change throughout, just kind of little adjustments to character and when they commit to doing the plan and all that stuff was not yet dialed in. I helped shape it with Goldstein and Daley, who are the guys that did the rewrite.
CS: I was curious whether you were able to work with the original writer on it.
Gordon: The original writer was sort of long gone. He had sold the spec five years ago, a terrific idea based on real bosses that he had had. But, you know how it is, and studio movies, there’s a handful of writers that often take a crack at stuff over the years and that’s what happened here.
CS: From what you tell me, I assume Jennifer’s role was one of the easier ones to cast. What was the toughest character to cast and the hardest one to find?
Gordon: I feel the hardest one to find was probably Spacey. I mean, that was the last one we found. We actually thought that he was doing theater stuff because he’s so involved in theater, and he’s got his own theater in London. I don’t think we even realized he’s available. Then, he also eventually read it and was just perfect. It was a perfect role, perfect casting for him. We’d seen him do “Swimming with Sharks,” but this is kinda like “Swimming with Sharks” plus, in a way. I knew that Colin was playing a very different role for Colin and the same thing’s for Aniston, so it made a lot of sense to me to have one guy in the group where they’re doing something a little bit more familiar to audiences.
CS: Was there any hesitation on Kevin’s part to play the role because we had seen him play a rotten boss before?
Gordon: I think it was a long time ago that he played that guy from “Swimming with Sharks.” He always plays the guy you loved to hate, whether he’s a killer or a mastermind or whatever. He hasn’t been in a comedy in a long time and I think it was just exciting to go back to those roots. He’s such a wickedly funny guy and he doesn’t often get to play that.
CS: I really like the narration and some of the visual gags that introduces each boss. Was that something in the original script or something you developed as a director?
Gordon: Yeah, none of that stuff was in the script originally. That’s all just the creative process. Some of it we came up with before we shot. Some of it we came up with during editorial to help sort of key up the rhetoric of the movie. I feel like a lot of it speaks to where some of my friends are nowadays and they work so hard and so long and the rules of the American dream just don’t exactly apply to us, just that we’re getting to the point where career advancement or whatever… People were getting fired, the economy drops out from under us. I think that’s sort of the soil that the story was grown in and why it especially hurts nowadays with Kenny (a character in the movie played by PJ Byrne) and his getting fired by Lehman Brothers. That’s what it’s all drawing on.
CS: It’s definitely great timing for a movie like this, couldn’t be more perfect really. Also with R-rated comedies, I’ve talked to you about this before, but it’s just kind of crazy how many R-rated comedies are coming out now.
Gordon: Well, it’s the summer of R comedies.
CS: Is that just a factor of “The Hangover” doing well and studios being more daring? I think people forget that New Line was at the forefront when they did “Wedding Crashers” as an R-rated comedy.
Gordon: I just think “The Hangover” doing so well in 2009 gave places confidence that audiences really want to see this stuff again. I mean, it’s not like R comedy was invented in the 2000’s, I mean “Stripes” was an awesome comedy, “Animal House,” there’s a whole era of them. But it definitely feels like it’s come back around and it’s a trend right now that audiences love hearing and seeing stories where people talk the way we talk and behave the way we behave, and it’s not so safe.
CS: There’s definitely something nice about being unfiltered because it does feel that with PG or PG-13 comedy, it feels like they’re reading what’s on the page and it doesn’t feel natural, but they’re keeping it because that’s what’s there. When I spoke to Jason Bateman for his other R-rated comedy “The Change-Up,” he said that he and Ryan Reynolds spent a lot of time throwing around a football and coming up with alternate lines. Did you use a similar procedure on this one?
Gordon: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it was as formal as that may sound. When you got three guys like this who all have a background in writing, you can’t help but discover new and better ways to phrase things on the day. The script was really compelling, the plot was really surprising, so there was a lot going for it, but we would always play around. When you’ve got Charlie and Sudeikis and Bateman, it’s almost like lazy to just do what’s on the page, you know? (Laughs)
CS: When you’re working kind of unfiltered and not having to worry about the rating, is there any kind of danger of going too far? Did anyone ever say, “Okay, maybe that joke’s a little bit too much”? Or was it kind of already in that direction?
Gordon: We always would go too far and then figure it out in post how to mediate that line because I’d much rather have it.
CS: Who was responsible for all the “King of Kong” references because there was definitely one very obvious one and one very kind of subtle one?
Gordon: Oh, Sudeikis was always torturing me, because he loves that doc and he would always ad lib and throw references to the doc in, and that one stuck because the rest of that take was dead on like the best performances, so he won the battle. (Laughs) I don’t always try to avoid the references, but he won.
CS: I also saw a “Son of Kong” poster, which I thought might have been an inside joke from the production designer or set decorator.
Gordon: It is. It totally is. That’s a real poster from a real theater. My son was born just before we started shooting, his name is Drake, and that is a “Son of Kong” poster at the Drake Theater. So, we sorta had to put it in, and that takes place in Sudeikis’ apartment, so that kinda makes sense, since he liked the doc.
CS: I was curious, did you ever think of Colin Farrell playing Billy Mitchell by any chance while you were working with him? He seems like only a mullet away from being him in this movie.
Gordon: Oh, I think he’d be really good. Yeah, I think he’d make a great choice. He actually hadn’t seen “Kong” when he decided to be in “Horrible Bosses.” So I showed it to him and I think it may have had a little bit of an impact on the way he played Bobby with all that posturing and even that color of his shirt was certainly informed by Billy. That’s one of his classic go-tos. Obviously, Billy doesn’t do any kung fu or anything.
CS: When it was announced you’d direct “Four Christmases,” it was kind of interesting that you were doing a big comedy with big name actors, and you’ve stuck with comedy, even directing a few sitcoms. Was comedy a genre you always wanted to get into or was that just the way things happened?
Gordon: Well, I love comedy obviously and “Kong” has a lot of comedic elements. I think it’s something that comes naturally and it’s something I really enjoy. I would’ve dreamed of doing comedies at this scale, but I never thought it would actually happen, you know? (laughs)
CS: I was one of the critics who actually liked “Four Christmases”, and I just saw it again a couple of days ago. I’m amazed by how many moving parts there are both in this movie and that one, but also how many big name actors who in theory could be hard to work with for a relatively new director. How did you make that transition and did you learn from docs in terms of getting as much footage as you can and then spend the time in post making sure all the moving parts work?
Gordon: Well, no, I mean, I think that doing a documentary you have to have a really strong point of view that’s really focused and when you have that kind of focus and you’re dealing with actors of any size and level of fame, I think they all respond to someone who has a focused point of view. So I think that’s really what was key and that’s what really overlaps between the two.
CS: I was kinda surprised when I heard you were going to develop a “WarGames” remake, not because I didn’t think you could do a great job, but also because I was kind of surprised that MGM was back doing productions again. They’ve had “Red Dawn” done for a while. Did they come to you, did you pitch it to them, how did that actually come together?
Gordon: Well, John Glickman runs MGM, he was a producer on “Four Christmases,” and I had done “Four Christmases” with Spyglass, who now is MGM. It’s just us wanting to find something else to work on, and I’d done a lot of work in the world of hackers and hacking and I know quite a bit. I revere the original film like so many people, but because technology and politics has changed so much, I think it’s rife for an update.
CS: Oh, absolutely. The closest the thing to come to it has been “Eagle Eye,” and I know that D.J. Caruso was definitely influenced by “WarGames.” Are you going to tackle it in a fairly reverential way or just take the idea in a different direction? The original movie was also special because it introduced actors like Matthew Broderick.
Gordon: Well, yeah, him and his chemistry with (Ali) Sheedy was exceptional. I think it’ll just be a version of what that story would be right now. I mean, if you are checking headlines, the frequency with which hackers attack the NSA or Pentagon or whatever, even for sport, is sort of extraordinary, so the notion that one of those could actually lead to something bigger is actually a lot less farfetched now in 2011 than it was in 1983.
CS: You’ll definitely have to update the graphics a little bit I think from the original. It’s hard to believe that there were computers with such crappy graphics back then, and having been around then, I know it’s true. It’s funny seeing it now.
Gordon: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah.
CS: Are you developing something that you might direct in between?
Gordon: Yeah, there’s a couple of independent films that I’d love to try to get made in that pocket while we’re developing the script, so we’ll see what happens, a couple ones I’m trying to work on.
CS: Have you been approached by any doc filmmakers looking for a producer or someone to help with their projects? I’d assume that would happen, so is that something you’ve been more involved in?
Gordon: Yeah, I mean, I love supporting documentary, particularly filmmakers that I believe in who for one reason or another are finding fundraising difficult, as it is in documentaries. There’s been a few of those I’ve supported. There’s one called “Make Believe” about young magicians and then there’s one called “Undefeated” that’ll be out in the fall about a high school football team in North Memphis. I love documentary, and I plan to keep doing it.
Horrible Bosses opens everywhere on Friday, July 8.