In The Dilemma, Kevin James and Vince Vaughn play best friends Nick Backman and Ronny Valentine (respectively) who, together, run an automotive shop and come face to face with an opportunity that could make or break their business. Just as tensions are already running high, Ronny happens to catch Nick’s wife (Winona Ryder) cheating on him with another man (Channing Tatum). Unsure of what to do, Ronny is torn between telling his friend or holding back the lie, balancing the friendship, the business and his own relationship and planned proposal to his girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly).
ComingSoon.net sat down to talk with James and Vaughn on the Chicago set of the film. Coming straight from a take, Vaughn was still covered in a red rash that his character suffers from in the film.
Q: I’m guessing the rash all over your face is for the scene and not actually from stress.
Q: We were just watching the scene. You guys were laughing a little bit. Does that happen a lot?
Vaughn: It happens a lot with us, yeah. It does.
James: Once I feel it start to come, too, I feel a sweat start to come on and it’s just very hard to pull out and the crew laughs for the first one or two and then they just sort of go, “Oh, boy.” I was able to pull out enough. I’m just concerned. I don’t want to lose it because it was so funny that’s what made me laugh in it and I don’t want to lose what we got. I’m always concerned that we have a single of Vince and I can be cut out and save that and I can maybe laugh some more.
Vaughn: He makes me laugh. Sometimes that happens when you’re doing stuff. What I like about Kevin’s stuff is that Kevin to me is such a great actor in that the reason why audiences always go so well with him is that he’s very honest. He’s very genuine. You really connect to him and, to me, that’s very funny. That’s always the school of where I came from, that schtick or being cute is okay, but if you really believe from the point of view that it’s really happening and you’re committed to it — and comedy is a sort of over-commitment to the absurd at times — so the more that you’re committed to what your intention is in a real way then, to me, that’s what makes me laugh. So a lot of times when Kevin is really dialed in and finds a way of really getting the point across, it really makes me laugh because this movie lends itself to coming from different perspectives.
Q: How quickly did your rhythm kick in together?
Vaughn: But really, I think with improv — and I say it all the time, because it’s become such a catch thing that you talk about improv — but if the scene is well written, you don’t need to improv, but that being said, if something strikes you in the moment and, most importantly, you know where the scene is supposed to go, it’s no different than method acting. It’s just listening so that you can respond appropriately if something happens that you don’t expect. But it’s important to know where the scene needs to end. If the scene needs to end with me and him no longer friends or upset at each other, it’s not about coming up with clever references to say that are just interesting for the sake of that. It’s really about finding a different way to get to the same end result. Sometimes doing a fresh thing is good because you can get burnt out on the way we all know it.
James: That’s what happened. We were getting flat on that scene and he came over and said, “Don’t worry about the line,” because you just start concentrating on the lines and hitting your points and I end up just staring at him and I’m not in the scene. You can feel yourself. You’re out of it. But he just said, “Remember your intent and remember what we’re doing here.” Once we went back to that, we had a better take for sure. It felt more alive and then you feel that you’re in it again. So that’s the only thing that you have to be aware of, I guess, just getting too comfortable and too numb to a scene sometimes.
Vaughn: Sometimes you do a free one because it kind of makes it fresh and then you go back to what’s written and it’s just a way to sort of break it up.
Q: Has Ron Howard really kept you guys in the framework of what you’re doing with that?
James: Yes. That’s the downfall of a lot of comedies to me. It is the look. A lot of times it feels like it’s so bright and so built and ready for comedy that it actually hurts the comedy. What Vince was talking about, that it doesn’t feel as real and you don’t feel as connected to it.
Vaughn: Especially for a tone like this.
James: Yes, exactly. Especially when it’s something that you have to buy into. This is a serious subject, but it makes it easier because you’re in it and you feel the real ebb and flow of the scene. You feel where the comedy would come naturally and it comes out looking so good when we see the dailies and stuff. So I’m excited. I really am.
Q: What was about it the script that made you want to do this for your next project?
James: I have to say that this man is a savant at making the script better. From what we had, which I loved when I first read it, you add to that how excited I was to work with Vince, which I’d never done and had always been a big fan of his and then Ron Howard. It was a no brainer for me. Honestly, it would’ve been tougher and I probably still would’ve done it if I didn’t love the script, because I love these guys so much. But I did love the script. That was the base of it. When we got in there and we started working on it I have to say that it was really Vince who spearheaded and just changed it and everyday, I remember I’d go to sleep at night and go, “Man, he made this better again.” It was a process from everybody.
Vaughn: It’s really the process. Once you lay that foundation and then get things on it’s feet and improvise and try, that’s what rehearsal is for. You can say, “Okay, we have this. This works but what if we do this,” or “What does this do?” Once you lay that in most people have a good idea.
James: That’s something that I’d never done, too. I mean, three weeks before or a month before we were rehearsing and rewriting before the movie. Usually you just rewrite it and on the day you start shooting and going on it and you change things then. But we had a process with Ron filming stuff with his little camera and just rehearsing things. You really get the feel of working with the other actors and it feels like you just build that familiarity and it felt great. It just was really great and I felt that it really helped the movie.
Q: It’s insinuated that your characters have known each other for a long time. You work together. Your wives are friends. That whole dynamic. Do we get that kind of back story in the film? And had you guys met each other before starting rehearsals together?
James: You have to do it anyway.
Vaughn: For the first week. Then the second week was, “Lets clean each other,” and then that way you really break down another wall. And then came the tubs. We take a tub at night.
Vaughn: “Come over for a tub? Do you want to come over for a tub?”
James: A lot of water was involved.
Vaughn: It is the back story that they’ve known each other for a long time. I mean the fun thing, the interesting concept with the movie, is that it’s not someone you just know. It’s not someone who’s sort of a friend, but it’s really your closest friend and you find out that the wife is doing things. But you’ve also known her for a while. So what is the appropriate way to break the news or tell the news? Do you go to her first? Do you give her a chance? Do you go to him? So the concept of the movie is do you tell or don’t you tell. The concept of the movie is how you navigate it and maintain the friendship. What’s the right thing to do preserve the relationship? So that really becomes the journey that the characters go on, and for me, I’ve known Kevin a little bit. I met him out once or twice, but I was always a huge fan of his stuff. I’ve always handicapped stuff so differently in that I’ve always approached things so differently. For me Kevin reminded me a lot of one of my favorites which was John Candy. John was very funny, but he wasn’t trying to be hip but as a result to me he was the hippest of them all. Like he says in “Planes and Trains”, “I’m the genuine article. What you see is what you get.” I feel that way with Kevin, a guy who’s got a real sincerity to him and an honesty and an integrity, but, at the same time is funny as hell and in a way that’s connected, that’s relatable. He’s not trying to be more alternative than now, just being very genuine and real. Over time that stuff always, everyone has their stuff or they campaign for what they like and what reminds them the most of themselves or whatever niche that they like, but as time goes on it’s an amazing thing that says as you look back. When you look to pop in a John Hughes movie, they are some the greatest movies expressed in that time. A lot of the female screenwriters that I’m close with will cite those movies and those lead female characters as the entire reason that they’re writers. But he did it in such a way that was very honest and genuine to what those circumstances were. Not with a bent on how clever or how cool I am. The clever and cool came from just, “My parents aren’t recognizing that it’s my birthday,” or “My father is a this and that.” So just by being in very real situations. I thought with his show he did that very well. What he did in “Hitch”, God, your heart just breaks. I thought, “I love this guy. I’m rooting for him.” In “Mall Cop”, it’s the same thing. It’s a great kid’s movie and a fun thing for little kids to go see and, as an adult, you laugh and it’s funny. He’s always had that quality. So I always felt when it came to this thing and to working with Kevin and building that friendship and stuff, I immediately — and I feel like I’m not alone. There are a lot of people throughout the country who feel it — that when you see him you feel like, “God. I know that guy. I like that guy. I root for that guy.” So it was very easy to sort of establish any repartee with Kevin as far as what’s a friendship and what is a history.
James: For me, it was one of the same things. Like when you look up to somebody. I’ve met a lot of people that I’ve looked up to that don’t pan out to be the kind of person that you want them to be. That wasn’t the case with Vince. He couldn’t be a greater guy and it’s always nice to have someone you really admire and look up to be such a great guy. Honestly, it sounds like we’re just kissing each other’s ass, but I mean it. Honestly, he took me into this city and his wife is great and our wives get together.
Vaughn: That’s how I can tell that I’ll like working with him on the set. He’s generous with the other actors, what their lines are going to be. “What’s this going to be and what’s this?” And usually guys that are really good at it, they come from that place where it’s sort of about making sure that you’re elevating the people around you. So it was really easy.
Q: Vince, you’ve shot a lot of films here. I think Ron said it was your idea to do the movie here. Do you get something extra out of doing movies here in Chicago?
Q: And Kevin, what has he shown you since you’ve been here?
Vaughn: For me, I love California. I feel like it’s my second home in that I moved out by choice at eighteen. It gave me opportunities that I didn’t have anywhere else. I have a lot of close friends out there and a big part of my life is out there. I still have a lot of close friends and feel connected to it. So we did do “Swingers” in California, which is so specific to those neighborhoods. So to me that was really the right place to film “Swingers” and to do that. I have worked in California recently and I will continue to do stuff there. I mean that honestly. I always say that I was born in Minneapolis and I was raised here in Illinois but I really feel like I grew up in California to a large degree. But for me this is home. So to come here and get a chance to film here means a lot to me. I feel that I’m shaped a lot from coming from this part of the country. I think it has informed who I am to a large degree. I have a family that I’m starting now. So for me I want to be able to come at night when I’m filming and my priorities have changed in terms of that thing. It’s where I want to raise my family. So something about the people from the Midwest, Chicago in particular, I think you know that there’s always a real fondness for it and a lot of Chicagoans, not just myself, always like to come back here and shoot and do stuff here. Chicago I think is a real city. There are a lot of real cities but it’s a place where people are going to work and they’re raising families. I like that energy of the place. It’s sort of the focus of the place and so this to me felt like that kind of story, like, “Okay, these guys can be in the car industry where Detroit is down the road.” They’re trying to keep their heads above water and they’re trying to figure out these things of life as far as relationships and stuff is concerned. It felt like this would be a good place to do that.
Q: Ron was saying that this is a Midwestern comedy but it’s not slapstick and it’s not a rom-com. Did you worry that the film would have those kinds of tones?
Vaughn: I think that’s crazy, because if you’re doing stuff that’s a family movie, or something that’s just a fun movie, what’s so bad about going and laughing and having fun. I hate that kind of labeling of it. It drives me crazy. That we feel we need to decipher what’s smart, what’s intelligent, what’s this and what isn’t. It’s ridiculous. If someone has the perspective of something that they like it’s great but if people are going, especially a kid’s movie that’s honestly something that’s making people laugh and having fun, then I don’t think that’s less classy.
James: I’m joking but what it felt in this one really to me was that it did have a serious, more of a serious tone and it’s a more serious subject that I loved. It didn’t fall off. Again, that can be a movie where you lose the laughs and you go, “Oh, my God, I’m in this little indie film with Ron and Vince ” and it’s not. There are huge laughs and I love it because they’re earned and you’re really invested, it’s emotional. You always get the best laughs in dramatic moments, when the tension needs to be released.
Vaughn: But the subject I think is also as a result more that kind of format. You’re dealing with more adult contemporary relationships and those kinds of dynamics. Whereas in other stuff it’s more kid’s stuff and more that type of thing.
Q: Kevin, you’ve got such a facility for physical comedy. Do you get to do any of that in this film?
Vaughn: Circumstances. It’s great stuff. Opportunities.
Q: Can you be more specific about the physical comedy that you’ve done?
Question: Can you talk about what kind of stuff?
James: Just delivering.
Vaughn: Delivering. So it’s a real ensemble as well. There’s a lot of cool personalities and a lot of people that you come to see. I think the fun of the movie is that as much as the dynamic at the core is about this friendship, I think the people that we come into contact with that turn us in a direction or change the way that we think or give us a bad idea about how to go forward in doing something or a good idea are really talented. So for me my job is easy a lot of times because I get to sit back in a scene and sort of take in the information with the audience with these kinds of spectacular characters that were running into that are really specific.
Question: And Amy Morton is in it as well, right?
Q: Do you think these are characters that you could’ve play ten years ago, since you talked about the adult situations and relationships in this?
James:. I agree.
Vaughn: It’s such a combustible situation to be in. It’s great extremes which leads to great drama and great comedy.
Q: I understand that you’re in almost every scene of the film and you’re almost done shooting, right?
Q: Are you exhausted? Were there any points in the script where you just felt it was overwhelming?
Q: Ron mentioned that during the improv scenes and free takes that he was using that not just to open the comedy but also the more serious aspects of the film. How did you both take to that?
Vaughn: But it puts the danger in it that you have in real life which is, “I want this in the circumstance, but boy, I’m afraid that this will happen in the circumstance.” There’s no planning on where it’s going to go. So when you say, “Okay, just go in there,” and you don’t know where the scene is going to end it kind of keeps you more off balance because you’re not quite sure what’s going to be thrown or said. Sometimes in doing that even just once and then returning back to how it’s scripted you created that feeling again of the uncertainty of where it’s going to go. But again I think it’s best used when it’s a good way to try and accomplish what the intention of the scene is and not as something that’s just for the sake of doing it.