Sisters set visit interviews with Ike Barinholtz, John Leguizamo, Bobby Moynihan, Samantha Bee and Greta Lee
During our day on the set of Universal Pictures’ comedy Sisters, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, we got to talk to a lot of their supporting cast, which is quite vast because there are a lot of roles to fill when half of your movie is a party sequence, something screenwriter Paula Pell found out while developing the script.
“Having a party, you don’t realize when you’re writing something that ‘Oh it might happen’ so you write ‘a big party’ and this is a huge monster,” she told us on set during our visit. “It has had times when I was like ‘Oh, boy.’ You never know when you put in something, one little line that makes it much more complicated or time-consuming in terms of just writing a party is hard. We found that writing all the stories that are happening in a party is hard. If it was just just one scene and they’re at a party and something happens, but when you have the whole second act be the party, it’s been a challenge for the story. I’m like the George Foreman grill for jokes ’cause that’s what I do, I shoot them out and do that for other movies, but working on story and weaving it in and knitting it together has been a challenge. I’m hopefully getting better at it.”
“The part I’ve been worried about is this, because when they’re all in a room together, they’re all just going to mow right over me,” director Jason Moore confirmed about the craziness of having so many funny people on set at once. “Actually, they get it. A lot of them, because they perform live, they understand the importance of getting something right and precise so they’re willing to do the scripted version, and then Paula gives me these Post-Its with all these different kinds of jokes and then we do scripted ‘alt jokes’ and then we do ‘fun runs’ where they get to improve and in some cases, I’ll even cross-shoot them where they can improv together. We decide ahead of time how we’re going to do it, so it’s actually thus far been pretty ordered, but we’ll see as the party scene gets crazier.”
So let’s get to some of that cast, many of whom we talked with on our visit to Gold Coast Studios in Long Island.
Barinholtz is likely to be one of Sisters’ breakout stars, although he’s already had great roles as Seth Rogen’s friend in last year’s Neighbors and was a regular on Mindy Kaling’s “The Mindy Project.” In Sisters, he plays Amy Poehler’s love interest James, who becomes the catalyst for the sisters reversing roles so Amy’s Maura can have fun having been divorced for two years.
“I’ve known Tina and Amy for almost 20 years,” Barinholtz told the collected journalists gathered around him during the crew’s lunch break. “I had started doing improv and they were already legends in Chicago. I met Amy, and she had just moved to New York to do UCB and Tina was on the main stage at Second City. I was a huge fan of theirs and when I found out I get to play Amy’s boyfriend in this, I thought ‘That’s great. I’ve pretended to be your boyfriend for 18 years so I’ll just keep doing that now.’”
“I’d heard about the movie months ago and I said to my people, ‘That’s it, these two are literally the two funniest people out there so whatever they’re doing, I want to get in on it,” he continued. “I met with Jason Moore and then I came back in and had a chemistry reading with Amy and then I sent Amy some photos of her sons and said ‘I have your sons. They will be released on my wrap.’ I went in a few times and it just kind of worked out.”
“There hasn’t been a ton of projects that I’ve been really excited about after ‘Neighbors,’” Barinholtz admitted. “This was kind of the one where I was alike, ‘Oh I don’t know if it’s going to work cause I have to go back to The Mindy Project’ and luckily, Mindy was so amazing about releasing me for two months that I don’t think it hurt.”
“James is such a nice guy, that he would never say anything racist, but he’s thinking it,” he said when asked to compare his Sisters character to the one he played in Neighbors. “A little more of a straight man, a little more trying to bring out something deep inside Amy’s character. She’s really someone who has really had bad luck with men and spent her whole life helping other people and the person she hasn’t really helped is herself at all. Through the course of this night and this party, she realizes, ‘Hey, I have to live a little bit’ and my character’s job is to really pull that all of her. There’s a little more of a conventional straight man but I get to do a couple really crazy setpieces and really get to do some really funny stuff.”
Barinholtz suggested that Pell added the scene in the trailer with him falling onto Maura’s childhood music box and it going into an uncomfortable place after learning that he was going to play James. Otherwise, they’re mostly staying on script despite their improv background. “There isn’t a ton of improv between me and Amy because our scenes are really supposed to be more romantic,” he explained. “There’s not a lot, but there’s been some stuff we found. The Post-Its are the greatest gift in the world, because it’s just a tiny hilarious joke that you would never have thought of. I’m going to start doing it in my everyday life.”
When asked to compare working with Tina and Amy to appearing on “The Mindy Project,” Barinholtz replied, “They’re three people who have all been the stars and produced their own shows and write a lot of their own shows and are very confident, very funny and have great, dirty senses of humor. It was very similar, I would say.”
Probably one of the funniest people at the party scene was the “SNL” vet who was blurting out ridiculous things in a really abrasive high-pitched voice that made it hard to keep from laughing each take. He was also hitting on Greta Lee’s Korean nail specialist at one point. Moynihan actually had a somewhat similar role in the recent indie comedy Adult Beginners as an old school buddy that Nick Kroll runs into on returning home, but like Barinholtz, he already was well-connected to everyone involved with Sisters.
“Paula Pell actually had the office next to mine at “SNL” and I just auditioned for it,” he told us. “I play Alex, I’m a guy that Tina and Amy knew from when they were younger, kind of a guy who doesn’t know when to stop doing jokes. I’m just kind of an annoying joke guy. I do a lot of bits constantly. Yeah, I’m the annoying guy at the party, but it’s been a blast so far.”
“Tina’s been so wonderful to me,” he continued. “She put me on ’30 Rock’ a couple times and Amy was my boss at UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) for a while. It’s weird. I started UCB six months before Amy got ‘SNL’ and I started ‘SNL’ six months before she left. I feel like they’re my older sisters, still looking at them in the scene and going ‘It’s them!’ but they’re nicer to me now.”
He addressed his “signature laugh” that was cracking everyone up during the party scene. “If I open my mouth it’s coming out. I turn it up a little and make it as annoying as possible, which is just a little more than it is now.”
Moynhihan confirmed what Barinholtz and others were saying about the use of improv in the scene. “The best is being able to improvise these guys ‘cause they’ll just come over and give you an awesome line and then you just get to play around. They’re like ‘Just walk by in the background and do weird things. You’re just supposed to be annoying.’ ‘I can do cartwheels!’ Pretty much telling them all the annoying things I can do and then at some point, they tell me to ‘Do that in the background.'”
There was an odd focus on Alex’s awful ugly socks in the scene, which he keeps bringing up whenever he can. “When I went for costume fitting, they were like a, ‘This guy is kind of a (pardon my French) little sh*thead.’ They put out a bunch of socks and said, ’Which one makes you angriest?’ ‘Those.’ I can’t believe someone made these and I keep bringing it up. ‘Hashtag socks’ because I think it’s one of the weirdest jokes. Every other thing I improvise I end with ‘Hashtag socks!’”
Although Samantha Bee may only be known to regular watchers of “The Daily Show” as the show’s senior correspondent for many years, she’ll probably become even better known after her TBS show “Full Frontal” debuts in February. She actually didn’t have the connections to Tina and Amy that some of the other actors did, but she sat down with us in the lunchroom during a break from shooting what was her third day on the film.
She plays Liz, another high school friend, now a mother, who comes to the party with her husband Rob (Matt Oberg) and they end up “cutting loose in a very big way.” Although she also said that Liz is normally cautious and uptight and is looking at the party as explore another side of her “with the help of copious amounts of liquor.”
“I don’t want to say I’m topless for two-thirds of the movie, but I am,” she teased, confirming that she did know that would be the case when she got the role. “I knew that right before I definitely said ‘Yes.’ I was like, ‘This will be an opportunity to explore the top part of me.’”
“You do some scripted takes, but then you also get an opportunity to add onto it a little bit,” she said about the amount of improv on set. “They’re extremely generous with those opportunities, and it seems like a very collaborative atmosphere in which people are seeking to make it funnier than it already is. It’s a hilarious script.”
Another one of the film’s breakouts is likely to be actress and comedian Greta Lee, who has been featured on “Girls,” “New Girl” and “Inside Amy Schumer.” For the party scene, she was wearing a flashy red cap and jacket and tight glittered shorts, and after a few takes where she berated the film’s stars, she came over to talk to us about how she got involved.
“I shot a pilot with Amy Poehler earlier this year for NBC which did not go, which was disappointing, called ‘Old Soul’ and so I got to know Amy,” Lee told us about her own connection. “Jason Moore went to Northwestern and he was someone who I hadn’t worked with directly but I had auditioned for him a bunch and we were mutual fans. I read the script and I love these people so I thought, ‘Yeah… please.”
She told us a little more about the character she plays. “Hae Won’s a nail technician that Maura and Kate meet early on in the movie and they give her a pity invite to their party, thinking she’s one type of person and then finding out later that maybe she’s not that person that they thought.”
Apparently, Hae Won has a romance with Bobby Moynihan’s character Alex, which Lee thought was an interesting decision, even if Moynihan wouldn’t talk about it earlier. “I like how unexpected that is. I think that’s something in movieland, you wouldn’t see, but in lifeland, I think that would make sense. She thinks he’s funny, whether that’s because of the cultural difference or not, who knows? But it’s fun for us to play with that.”
We’ll finish off with the actor who might be best known among the cast outside Poehler and Fey. John Leguizamo is someone who does a lot of comedy as well as drama, but it sounds like his character in Sisters might allow him to cut loose a bit more than he’s used to.
He plays Dave, a stoner who works at the local liquor store, a “douchey guy” (in his own words) who is kind of a loser who peaked in high school, and apparently Tina’s character Kate was his first in high school. “And I haven’t recovered!” he joked. “She’s not having me, but she invited me to the party because she needs to fill up the house. I do whatever I can to get into her pants again.”
As one might expect, Leguizamo had a lot of great things to say about the film’s stars. “Tina and Amy are so unbelievably easy going and fun and they’re hilarious 24-7 and just beautifully generous with no conflicts,” he told us. “I find that people with talent are always the easiest to deal with and the most fun. It’s the insecure, untalented people that always have issues, won’t come out of their trailers, have beef with you—they’re just very contentious. They’re funny all the f*cking time. You can throw anything at them and they usually have a funnier comeback—their brains are wired like that, it’s ridiculous.”
Although John Cena hadn’t been on set yet, Leguizamo mentioned they’d be shooting their scenes together the next day with Cena playing the drug dealer that Dave visits to score drugs for the party.
Sisters writer Paula Pell probably put it best when she told us how it felt seeing such a wide-ranging cast playing the characters she created and saying her jokes. “Yesterday I just had this moment of just so many people here that I’ve worked with for years all on the same set in a different scenario, so it was really great. I’ve been having an amazing summer.”
Sisters opens nationwide on Friday, December 18.
(Photo Credits: FayesVision / Joseph Marzullo / Kyle Blair / WENN.com)