A sort of thematic sequel to his 2010 hit, Valentine’s Day, director Garry Marshall reteams this Friday with screenwriter Katherine Fugate for another ensemble holiday celebration, New Year’s Eve.
Boasting a cast that includes Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Jon Bon Jovi, Abigail Breslin, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Zac Efron, Hector Elizondo, Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher, Seth Meyers, Lea Michele, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Til Schweiger, Hilary Swank and Sofia Vergara, New Year’s Eve offers intertwining narratives that focus on work, friends, family and lovers, all playing out in New York City over the final night of 2011.
ComingSoon.net caught up with Marshall, Fugate and much of the all-star cast at the film’s official press conference where, not unlike the holiday itself, thoughts were both about looking back at a year of production and forward to the film’s December 9th release.
“You can’t imagine New Year’s Eve without the ball drop,” says Swank of the Times Square setting and her role as the woman tasked with making sure that the celebration there goes off without a hitch, “and the idea of this woman who takes her job so seriously and is responsible, I felt very in touch with. I take a lot of things pretty seriously. I love the speech that I have. It’s so universal. I can’t imagine one person not thinking about the year that just passed and the optimism for the next year. The idea of having a second chance. Another chance to be a better person. To love more and to forgive. Essentially, that’s life in a nutshell.”
A longtime friend of Fugate, Swank had her character written specifically with the actress in mind.
“We really know each other on a spiritual level,” explains Fugate, “I knew that the words I gave her are her belief system and I was really proud of enabling people to see Hilary as clearly as Claire, because that’s my girl.”
Swank wasn’t the only one whose casting began during the writing stage. Fugate also wrote Lea Michele’s role based on her fondness for “Glee.” In the film, Michele plays a back-up singer on the way to a performance at the ball drop, but who winds up getting trapped in an elevator with Ashton Kutcher’s holiday-hating curmudgeon.
“I got to be stuck in that elevator with Ashton for two weeks, which was awesome,” Michele laughs. “He’s hilarious and I got Punk’d a couple of times… He opened the door with a towel on when he was supposed to have all his clothes on.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Michelle Pfeiffer was interested in the project specifically because it was so far from the type of role she’s normally associated with. In the film, she plays a woman who, in her early 50s, suddenly realizes that she’s never been brave enough to go after what she really wants.
“One of the things I love most about acting is just disappearing in the role as much as I can,” she says. “I think that’s one of the things that intrigued me about it. Figuring out, who is this woman who has lived in New York City all of these years and has never been to any of these places? That’s kind of where it lead me.”
Teaming with Pfeiffer is Zac Efron, playing a courier who promises her character, Ingrid, that he can get all her year’s resolutions checked off in a single night. The two previously worked together on “Hairspray.”
“[I] had a huge crush on her since day one,” he admits, “Back then I was very, very young and very bashful. Around her, I tended to put my foot in my mouth a lot. I didn’t know what to say to her and everything just came out wrong… Then I got to talk on the phone with [her] about this part and she said, ‘I think we should take this to the next level and really push it. Let’s get a kiss in there.’ I was like, ‘I’m in! I’m in this movie! Put me in! Sign me up!'”
“I’m the envy of every girl across the planet, I think,” smiles Pfeiffer of her co-star. “I got a kiss in there with Zac Efron, which was pretty clever of me at the ripe old age of 53… I think he was a little disappointed when he opened up my trailer door and there sat Ingrid. His little face just kind of fell and I felt really bad. But I think, probably, the sweetest thing about him is that he never let on and that he still won’t admit how disappointed he was.”
Of course, Pfeiffer wasn’t the only big name talent that helped draw some younger faces. 17-year-old Jake T. Austin was most excited for the opportunity to be in a film alongside one of his personal heroes, Robert De Niro.
“As an aspiring actor, that’s someone you emulate,” he explains. “That’s someone you want to follow in the same footsteps of. For me, that was incredible.”
Naturally, Austin wasn’t the only one who was excited to be in De Niro’s presence.
“He’s at the top of my bucket list of people I have to work with before it’s all said and done,” says Swank. “I got to check that off. On my very first day… Halle Berry and Robert are in the room. They’ve been working all day and they’ve got their thing going. I’m the outsider here. I don’t even know the crew or anything. I walk in and am trying to get the sense of the vibe. Robert’s in the bed. I’d heard he was so method. You hear all this stuff about Robert De Niro and him being method. This is a comedy, but he’s dying. I don’t want to get in anyone’s way… I’m thinking, ‘Wow! He’s going. We’re connected here. Me and De Niro, we’re method!’ I start getting a little emotional, but we’re just getting into the mood of father/daughter and father dying. I’m feeling it and going deep with De Niro. The next thing I know, he’s [sitting up and opening his eyes] ‘Anyone got that coffee?!’ I’m like, ‘Oh my god! He was just sleeping!'”
On another level, Josh Duhamel came up against a very different (but nonetheless intimidating) sort of celebrity.
“Yeardley Smith!” he laughs of one of his co-stars. “I kept thinking, ‘This is Lisa Simpson!’ She’s playing the Pastor’s wife and there were a few takes where she was playing it kind of frisky. I was telling her this story about a girl that I had met the year before. She started playing like she was getting all hot and bothered. I kept thinking, ‘I’m making Lisa Simpson all hot and bothered with this story!’ There was something really wrong about that.”
Hector Elizondo, meanwhile, faced his own challenges playing an electrician tasked with repairing the enormous lighted Times Square ball with just hours to go before midnight.
“The ball, 40 feet up, that was an experience,” he recalls. “…I’m a fella who gets dizzy licking an airmail stamp. For me to be on the ball, 40 stories above the ground at 2:30 in the morning with a windchill factor below 0, looking like I was doing my job and not being able to go to the bathroom, that was a big challenge. That’s what builds your character. It’s not the other stuff, it’s the endurance of it a lot of the time.”
Marshall was on hand, though, going above and beyond a director’s duties for his cast.
“I think the biggest thing I had to do was to hug them,” he laughs, “Not because I was so attractive, but because they were freezing. We all hugged each other a lot.”
As for the real New Year’s Eve, none of the cast expects the actual night to play out quite as elaborately as it does for their on-screen counterparts. In the case of 15 year old Abigail Breslin, especially, a Times Square celebration is out of the question for a few more years.
“My parents are cool and they let me do things,” she says, “But I was saying in an interview the other day that I’m not really sure if my parents would let me do Times Square on New Year’s Eve. [My Mom] was like, ‘You’re right, I wouldn’t!’ I don’t think that’s going to be happening anytime soon.”
Swank offers the best advice, however, and it’s an idea echoed in the film. That no matter how much you plan the perfect start to a New Year, the night is going to go its own direction.
“I stopped trying to chase the perfect place to be,” she explains, “and realized that the perfect place is with your friends and loved ones around the dinner table over a good meal, talking about the past year and the year to come. Things to want to change in your life, hearing their stories and what you’d like to see happen in the world.”
“And I never make it to midnight,” she adds, “Ever.”
New Year’s Eve hits theaters on December 9th.