Nicholas Stoller made his directional debut with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the Universal Pictures comedy about a guy trying to get over the bad breakup with his girlfriend. He realized early on that Russell Brand and Jonah Hill, who both starred in the film, would be great together in their own movie and reunited with them for the spin-off Get Him to the Greek. In the film, Brand continues to play his character Aldous Snow, but Hill plays a different character. Instead of the overly excited fan of Snow, he plays an assistant at a record company who is given the task of going to London to bring back the rock star for a big show, something that doesnt’ go exactly as planned.
Q: How much of this concert is going to actually be in the film? You guys are filming three songs, but are you going to put all three in the movie? Nicholas Stoller: We could use them for ending credits certainly. And there’s a big chance that we could end up cycling one of them out and putting something else as our big hero song, but it’ll definitely all be on the DVD even if it won’t all end up in the movie itself.
Q: So you would do a like a 2 1/2-hour cut of the movie and have like… Stoller: A 4-hour cut. We’re doing the “Apocalypse Now” cut of the movie, not “Redux.” We can put it on the DVD as like the “Greek Concert Uncut” or something.
Q: Where did the idea of teaming up Jonah Hill and Russell Brand again come from? Stoller: It was actually the first table read of “Sarah Marshall” they were just hilarious together. They really had a good chemistry and from that moment I was like they should be in a movie together and I thought of this idea.
Q: So you knew back then even before the movie even started shooting? Stoller: I was like they’re hilarious. If I don’t like destroy my career by screwing this one up, then I’m going to try to pitch this as a movie.
Q: Were you reticent at all to make this second film a spin-off of the first? Stoller: I wanted to do something completely original so I thought a spin-off would make sense. I wasn’t actually because I think that it’s such a different film. It’s such a different movie like the first “Sarah Marshall” is really a romantic comedy in one place. This is a road trip, crazy. Crazy road trip adventure that it’s so different. I think I would have been concerned to do another romantic comedy right away vs. doing a spin-off.
Q: Is “Sarah Marshall” going to be referenced at all? Stoller: We shall see. Perhaps. There’s no plot point that is tied into her but there is definitely some like some little jokes.
Q: What’s the time line of these two films because it seems like he was pretty popular whenever “Sarah Marshall” takes place and this we hear that this is now and you shot some 1999 stuff this morning. Stoller: Yeah. This is a few years after “Sarah Marshall” I would say. Like two or three years after “Sarah Marshall” happened. And we’ve dated that the ’99 concert, but we actually aren’t sure if we’re going to reference the date. It’s just 10 years ago he did this awesome concert when he was like 24 basically, and now this is 10 years later.
Q: When and how did you decide that Aldous Stone deserved his own film? Stoller: Basically when Russell auditioned for us I was like, “this guy’s incredible. He’s just such a talent” and then at the first table read he and Jonah had amazing chemistry and I loved Jonah and I always wanted to work with him. And then when I realized I would be able to make one more movie after “Sarah Marshall,” I thought it’d be really exciting to get to have them to pair them up. But actually when we were in Hawaii shooting, I pitched Russell and Jonah this movie basically because I thought it would be a fun movie for them to do together. But it was pretty early on that I realized it would be fun to have them both in the big road-trip adventure.
Q: And how would you describe the chemistry between Jonah and Russell? Stoller: They spend the whole movie trying to figure each other out and what makes them tick. They cannot be more different. They’re both comedians, they’re both hilarious, but in terms of screen presence they cannot be more different. And I think they’re different in interesting ways. It’s not like there’s like a straight man and a crazy guy. There’s certainly an aspect of that, but they’re both hilarious and one is just totally wild. I think that Russell’s character is completely off the wall and a pretty dark guy. Jonah’s character is just trying to figure him out and [he’s] super positive and naïve and gets kind of punched in the face repeatedly through the course of the movie. So yeah, it should be fun. Figuratively not literally. And literally-once.
Q: Recently there’s been a lot of male nudity in a lot of films. Are you also going to be pushing the boundary of nudity for men and women? Stoller: We did in “Sarah Marshall” because he was laid-bare by and he was supposed to be completely laid-bare by the moment and by his girlfriend dumping him basically. So I felt appropriate to the scene and also was shocking and a cheap laugh. So those were the two reasons why we did it. I feel once you’ve done it, you don’t need to do it. I think if we did it again in this it would feel a little bit cheap and without reason. Cheap is fine, without reason is not cool.
Q: Is Jason Segel involved or was he involved in the writing process at all in this film? Stoller: He wrote songs for the movie. Yeah, he wrote songs for the movie and he gave some notes and he wrote some songs and he’s just genuinely awesome. Yeah, he wrote “Going Up” and he wrote “Bangers, Beans, and Mash” which are two of the big songs at the big final concert.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how Sean Combs got involved in this? Was he a tough sell? Did he want to do this immediately? Stoller: He wanted to do it for some reason. He auditioned which is awesome and was amazing. We cast him… I prayed… there are certain actors that like I really want in your movie and hope that they knock out of the park and I really hoped he would be awesome. And he was awesome.
Q: Jonah said that he’s purposely doing certain lines to make Sean angry. To get that kind of reaction on-camera, have you noticed that? Stoller: Yes. It’s funny. Sean is hard to read as a man. You don’t really know what’s going on except that everything he says is hilarious and he’s a super funny guy. When he’s on-camera everyone breaks. He never cracks. I’ve never literally seen him crack. When he’s off-camera, that’s when I saw that he was enjoying himself because he was laughing and I literally didn’t know he’s so deep in the character.
Q: Was it intimidating at first to be telling Puff Daddy what to do? Stoller: No. It’s just totally easy. He was so psyched to do a movie. He was definitely intimidating but just for my own reasons. Just because I’ve grown up knowing about him and knowing about his music and all the awesome producing he’s done, but in terms of working with him he’s just been awesome and really fun to work with.
Q: How is directing your second film different from the first? Stoller: I understand what coverage is. I literally didn’t understand what coverage was. I literally didn’t get it. I did not understand it. It’s a hard thing for my brain to understand and Brenda, our script supervisor, would be like, “he just jumped a line” and I’d be like, “I don’t know what that is. Just move on”. And I found out after “Sarah Marshall” kind of cut together and was alright. Jason was like, “Yeah, I was pretty worried about you the first week.” He wasn’t sold on me the first week. It’s easier because I understand, I really do understand filmmaking and not filmmaking as an artistic process but literally the act of making a film like how coverage works and what you need to watch for and different performance levels. But this movie’s so crazily ambitious that that definitely has made up for it being at all easy.
Q: For you as a director, are you cool about people putting stuff out there to get people excited about it or do you sort of want it all to be hidden until it’s time to unleash it? Stoller: I think in our day and age there’s no way to hide it all and keep it all under wraps. I certainly don’t love it when I see someone filming the stuff on their video camera or their cell phone or whatever, but at the same time I’m a realist. I know we did a big concert in London at the O2, which is a big concert venue thing in London, that Russell [did] playing Aldous. He did a big standup show–a 15,000 seat standup show–and we did two songs and people recorded it on their cell phones and put it on YouTube. It was kind of awesome that people were that excited about it and all the comments were really positive, but we’ll probably have to take that off YouTube until the movie comes out.
Q: Are you shooting a lot of extra stuff for the DVD? Stoller: Yeah, we’re shooting a ton of stuff.
Q: Like what? Stoller: In the script it calls for one song in the movie. Today we shot the original concert. We shot two songs. We were going to shoot three songs for the concert that was 10 years ago–the original Greek concert–and then at the new Greek concert we’re shooting four songs. We’re going to have seven songs that we’ll put on the DVD as its own thing, which will be cool and fun. I’m incredibly biased, but the music’s actually pretty good. It’s not parody music. We tried to play this cool rock star. And one of the songs is written by Carl Boratz, which is kind of exciting from Libertines and Jason Segel wrote a few of the songs. And these guys named Dan Bern and Mike Viola wrote some of our songs so it’s pretty cool. We’ll see if this actually happens but I want to ideally score the movie with Aldous Snow’s music. Ideally it’ll be wall-to-wall songs – Aldous Snow songs, which is kind of cool. Not as a joke, not as a parody thing, but just literally an emotional moment playing his songs.
Q: I assume there are other artists? Stoller: We’ll definitely end up using other artists but the majority of the music I think will be [his],
Q: So are you going to put out just a record of his music? Stoller: I think we are. We’ll see what happens.
Q: What other projects are you working on? Stoller: Well the Muppet thing. Right now because Jason and I have both been working on other stuff, we’re not working on the script, but we’re about to go back into [the] notes and about to do another draft of it because Disney’s very excited about it and wants to get that going. So that’s pretty exciting.
Q: Can you talk about that being an old-school style? Stoller: Yeah, old-school Muppet movie like harking back to “Great Muppet Caper,” you know those original ones. The original “Muppet Movie” like old-school kind of thing, yeah. So I’m very excited about that.