The last time ComingSoon.net spoke with director David Wain, former ensemble member of “The State” and frequent member of “Stella,” we were talking to him about his biblical comedy The Ten at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival (Here’s that interview.) It was somewhat significant in that we talked to him along with Ken Marino and Paul Rudd, co-writer and producer respectively, since later that year, the three of them would go on to co-write Wain and Marino’s first big studio movie.
The result is Role Models, Wain’s most accessible comedy to date, starring Rudd and Seann William Scott as cynical f*ck-ups Danny and Wheeler. When they get into an accident that would normally get them jail time, Rudd’s lawyer girlfriend (played by Elizabeth Banks) instead gets them community service at the mentoring organization Sturdy Wings where they’re paired with two of the most dysfunctional kids possible, Danny with Augie (Superbad‘s Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a nerdy teen obsessed with LARPs (Live Action Roleplaying Games), and Wheeler with Ronnie (Bobb’E J. Thompson), a foul-mouthed fifth grader who gravitates to Wheeler’s partying ways.
While the movie is somewhat different from Wain’s normal style of comedy, he was able to bring many of his friends and long-time collaborators with him including “State” members Marino and Kerri Kenney-Silver as Augie’s parents and Joe Lo Truglio (also from Superbad) as a fellow LARPer. They’re joined by the likes of Jane Lynch (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and Ken Jeong from Knocked Up.
If making his first studio movie wasn’t keeping Wain busy enough, he’s also been appearing in indie movies like Amy Redford’s The Guitar, which also comes out next week, starring in his own award-winning web series “Wainy Days” and providing his voice for Adult Swim’s “Superjail.”
Wain was doing all interviews for Role Models in L.A., so we got on the phone with him to talk about the comedy that’s likely to break him into the big(ger) time.
ComingSoon.net: I guess this is your first big studio junket today, so how’s it going? Wain: Good. (laughs) I’ve done the junket part of it for my previous films and other things, but as far as a comprehensive marketing and publicity push, it bares no comparison to anything I’ve done before.
CS: This movie didn’t originate with you originally, so how did it come about that you ended up co-writing and directing it? Wain: The script had been through a million different iterations at different studios, and at a certain point, Paul Rudd had some very specific ideas about what he’d like to do with the script so they let him take a draft of it, and it came out really well. At that point, they needed a director and Paul introduced me to the studio and I met them and pitched my take on it. They wanted to shoot pretty soon after that, so Paul, Ken Marino and I sat down and really stripped it back to square one and rewrote the script from scratch, and then we shot it. (chuckles)
CS: I know you’ve worked with Paul a long time. I didn’t realize he had any kind of writing background. Has he always been writing and not taking credit for it? Wain: Well, you know, exactly. I think he’s done a lot of writing and he’s always very creatively involved in everything he does, and he also wrote a pilot that I think is going this year on some network. This was his first movie credit as officially being a writer, and you’d never know it. He’s definitely one of the smartest, most creative guys around, and so it wasn’t a surprise to me that he took to screenwriting pretty naturally.
CS: Where was the script at when you and Ken came on board? Was the story and characters there and you just had to bump it up? Wain: A lot of the characters were not there actually, but the four main characters were in the script, and the basic idea that they’re mentors, and then at the end, there’s this big LAIR battle. That was there, but other than that, it was basically the three of us really figuring out how to get into the situation, what they were doing before and then all the stuff that happens in the middle, and all that. Then a lot of the other characters and pretty much all of the dialogue was what we did in our drafts.
CS: And I guess Seann was already attached at that point, too, and did he want to be involved in the writing? Wain: Seann was involved definitely as an actor more, like we would talk to him about it. Every time we’d come up with a draft, we’d discuss it and he would say things he liked and didn’t like. He was helpful in fleshing out his storyline and his character.
CS: Would you say this movie is more mainstream than the stuff you’ve done before? Wain: Absolutely, I mean it is without question. My previous features had been somewhat absurdest in some ways, and very consciously undercutting the genre and making fun of themselves in many ways, and this movie in that way is at least a much more straightforward story, but I still like to lend my own voice and sensibilities and sense of humor to that.
CS: There definitely isn’t the type of humor we’ve seen you do with “The State” and “Stella.” All of this feels very real; I don’t think anything in this movie couldn’t actually happen. Wain: Yeah, I mean there’s no mail box walking down the street or anything like that.
CS: Did you and Ken have to hold yourselves back from adding that kind of stuff? Wain: Well, not really because that was always what this is. We were working within the confines of being true to this story and what this story is and it was actually a very satisfying experience to allow ourselves to go more to the truth of things and not rely on the completely non sequitur or the total fourth wall breaking kind of joke.
CS: Did any of you have any previous experience as Big Brothers or with LARPs or the other elements of the story or did you have to do some research to keep it realistic? Wain: All three of us have very little sons actually, and so we’re all three new fathers to boys, so we definitely drew from that new experience. Being in the entertainment business, you tend to be very self-involved and (have a) stunted growth in some ways, and then suddenly, you have a kid, and your whole life is not just about yourself anymore. I think that’s really what the theme of the movie is and it’s something that all three of usme, Paul and Kenreally related to.
CS: What about the LARP game in the movie? Wain: I think that’s also again something that the three of us haven’t done ourselves, but we three related to being outcasts and really doing things in a fantasy world, but then we went and really researched that world of Live Action Roleplay and learned so much about it and went on this journey, just like Paul’s character does, where first we were sort of thinking it was silly and worth making fun of and then we were like, “Wait a minute, it’s actually kind of totally awesome!” Then we were like, “Let’s not make fun of it, let’s have a great time with it.”
CS: I was curious about that, because LARPs tend to clearly define whether someone is cool or not cool in some minds, but if you went from doing LARP to being a famous actor, it might be considered more cool. Wain: Yeah. Where else can you go and be the king and kill people?
CS: This is your first real studio movie as a director, yet you got a lot of the same people you’ve worked with in your indies – really only Seann and Bobb’E are new people. Was the studio really open to letting you get who you wanted to work with? Wain: Yeah, they were really great about that. To my great pleasure and to their credit, they brought me in to really do what I do, and I brought in a lot of my so-called rep company of actors that I’ve worked with over and over again over the last two decades. That was part of what made a comfort zone for me to be funny and to do the things that I do well.
CS: Was it important for you to reclaim Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks back to your fold a little bit? Wain: Ahaha… yeah, and Joe Lo Truglio, too, and be like “I found them first!” (chuckles)
CS: There are so many people in this who’ve been involved with your entire career and others who they’ve met along the way, such as Jane Lynch. Wain: Right. Jane Lynch is someone who I can’t believe I’ve never worked with before, because I just find her to be so f*cking hysterical.
CS: She’s also a really good ad-libber from her time doing movies with Christopher Guest. Did you write differently for her character or for the different actors? Wain: Well, it wasn’t necessarily writing differently for the different actors, but knowing that on set, you had different actors who had different strengths to offer. You knew that with Jane Lynch and most of the actors actually, you knew that you could if you wanted to or cared to throw the script out the window and let them just go off, and you knew it would be really funny and organic.
CS: Did you generally know who was going to be playing each part as you were writing? Wain: Really, the only one was Jane, she was the one we wrote the character with her in mind, and the rest, no. We just sort of came up with the types and then once we had the script, we were like, “Who would be good to play that?”
CS: As far as working with Seann, he was one of the newer people coming into the fold surrounded by all these people you’ve worked with before. Was it different for him to come into that sort of thing? Wain: Yeah, he’s a big fan of alternative comedy, and he loves “The Ten” for example. He just told me today that he’s watched it five times, and I think he’s been pigeonholed in some ways in these much more so-called “straight comedies” – I don’t know what you would call them, but “American Pie” and so forth, and I think he was very excited to work with this other side of it, this other group, and the combination I think is what makes the movie so cool.
CS: He did this movie with John C. Reilly (“The Promotion”) which seemed to be leaning more in that direction, and for whatever reason, nobody saw it. Wain: Yeah, well I think he was frustrated, understandably so, because when he breaks out of what we expect of him, those movies haven’t done well, so that’s the curse that any actor does who creates such an iconic character as he did with Stifler.
CS: I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie with an audience yet, but Bobb’E kind of steals the movie, at least at the screening I saw here in New York. I was amazed that he actually has done a lot of previous work. I don’t know how old he is but how did you find him? Just the normal audition process? Wain: Well, he was 11 years old and he’s done so much. He was a stand-up comedian, he’s done a ton of TV shows, movies. I hadn’t heard of him but he came in and did an audition and just blew the roof off the room, and everyone was completely blown away. There just didn’t seem like there could be anyone else. I don’t know who the hell else in the world could have done that role in the way he did.
CS: Because he’s 11 years old, I assume he has a mother who goes through the script and knowing that he’s playing such a foul-mouthed character, were there any worries about that at all? Wain: It was definitely something that we needed to talk about with the parents and with the teacher on set. It wasn’t a small issue. We had to make sure that everything was okay, and we negotiated things.
CS: What was involved with negotiating? Wain: Sometimes the teacher or his mother would say “He really can’t say this, we don’t want him to say this, but it’s okay if he says this…” and we’re like, “Well how about this? This works for our story but is a little bit pulled back.” That kind of thing. (chuckles)
CS: I assume you also had to deal with the normal limited working hours issues. Wain: Oh, yeah, that’s definitely a thing where he has to take a break and go to school during the day and he can only work so many hours. That just goes into the mix with all the various things you’re working with when you’re making a movie, when you’re for example, in ours, Christopher Mintz-Plasse was traveling around Europe promoting “Superbad” during most of our shoot.
CS: Wait, that was last year? Wain: Yeah, it was last fall that we were shooting most of the movie, and so we had to work around that, then Elizabeth Banks was shooting something else. We had to really jigger the schedule so we’d get it all done plus we shot the movie all on location, and you’re dealing with locations and light and you know, all of the things.
CS: Was this the first time you filmed extensively in L.A.? “The Ten” you did a bit in L.A., right? Wain: We actually just did one day of “The Ten” in L.A., and you know, I’ve done little things. I’ve done a pilot or two in L.A. and some random, various other work in L.A. but this was certainly my biggest and longest trip to L.A. Having gone back and forth a lot over the years, I’m comfortable with the city and I know the city fairly well, and I was able to be part of helping figure out locations, but the one big difference was that I didn’t really know the crews here very well. I was very much trusting. It’s not like I had my guy in any department, so I had to meet the people and they were great.
CS: You did get Craig Wedren (singer of Shudder to Think, musophiles) to do the music, which is the one constant from your previous films. Wain: That and I also had Eric Kissack come from New York to be the editor.
CS: The last time I talked to you was Sundance in early 2007 and since then, R-Rated comedies have really taken off especially last summer. Did that make this movie easier? I think I read a quote from Elizabeth saying you weren’t capable of making a movie that wasn’t R-rated. Wain: Heh, right… No, I mean it was nice; the R-rated thing is definitely a little popular thing now, so I think that’s how this movie got a greenlight, but they were always embracing the rating for this, so I was never reigned in at all, so that was nice.
CS: There definitely doesn’t seem to be anything really excessive in this. Some swearing and a little nudity, but it’s not even remotely close to some of the harder R comedy we’ve seen. Wain: Yeah, and at it’s heart, it’s still basically a family film. I think it has this warm-hearted, sweet core to it.
CS: It definitely does. I’ve seen “Superbad” and other movies with an audience, but they really responded well to this and it won them over. I saw the premiere of “The Ten” at Sundance, which went over well with your audience, but I don’t think that would be received quite the same. Wain: Yeah, obviously they’re very, very different types of things. “The Ten” was never intended at any point to be a wide crowd-pleaser. That’s more of a particular kind of comedy.
CS: I’m really interested in this “Wainy Days” web series you did and the whole concept of doing things just for the internet; it definitely seems like things are going more in that direction. You don’t have to create a pilot and try to get on TV, and you can do these shows more independently. I was curious how that came about and how you became interested in doing those. Wain: We had done basically almost the same thing with “Stella” years before YouTube existed where we made all these short films and just put them on the internet, a bunch of them, then that sort of led to the series, but those on their own are their own thing and people still watch those. With “Wainy Days,” this guy was starting the website MyDamnChannel, Rob Barnett, and he came to me and sort of made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, which was, “I’ll give you a few thousand bucks so you can produce these shorts, and I’m not going to give you any notes. You can do literally whatever you want, just deliver me a short and I’ll put it on the internet and give you a check.” So I was like “Well, sh*t. Okay.” I committed to doing like three I think and never in my wildest dreams did I predict that it would sort of take off and get so many people talking about it, press and awards and stuff, so I ended up doing so far 26.
CS: Are those going to be an ongoing thing you do when you have time and ideas? Wain: Yeah, I think so. It depends on… there’s no particular plan. It’s just each one is fun to do, and yeah, whenever I have time, I’ll do more I guess.
CS: Before talking to you, I was just catching up on “Wainy Days” and that’s some really funny stuff. Are you still doing those or do you just do those in between other projects? David Wain: Oh, cool. Thank you. I actually did all 26 episodes of that while I was doing “Role Models” so it was a pretty insane year. We shot them mostly in L.A. faked for New York.
CS: Really? That’s surprising, since it looked so much like Brooklyn. Wain: Well, it’s supposed to be Brooklyn and we shoot the exteriors in Brooklyn and some of it was shot in Brooklyn, but I just happened to be stuck here in L.A. making “Role Models” so most of it we just shot here and pretended it was Brooklyn.
CS: I saw them out of order because I watched the most recent one and then went back and watched the first one, and I would assume you just did these to make out with Elizabeth Banks. Wain: That was one of the MAIN tenets of the whole series is how can I, a guy like me, ever make out like a girl like Elizabeth Banks?
CS: And it worked! It’s inspirational for anyone who wants to be a filmmaker. What else do you have going on? There’s a movie called “Seniors” you were developing? Wain: That’s just sort of a weird vestige of IMDb. I had worked on that movie for a few years, but I’m not involved in that anymore, but I have a bunch of things that I’m working on, both writing and developing with other people.
CS: Are you going to try continuing with the team of you, Paul and Ken Marino? Wain: Yeah, definitely working with Ken on a few things and there’s some things that are not with Ken. As you sort of have to do, I have a bunch of balls in the air and we’ll see which one lands.
You can keep up with everything David Wain at the appropriately named DavidWain.com. Role Models opens nationwide on Friday, November 7. Look for video interviews with the cast next week.