Glenn Ficarra (on the right) and John Requa (on the left) established themselves as go-to screenwriters in Hollywood by being able to switch gears from family fare like Cats & Dogs to the absolutely raunchiest and filthiest type of humor in the surprise hit Bad Santa with Billy Bob Thornton. They’ve bounced back and forth over the years, but in 2009, they made the move to directing with the irreverent man-on-man romantic comedy I Love You Phillip Morris, starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. The movie got caught up in distribution lawsuit hell before finally being released last year, but it did show they were ready to direct bigger comedies.
Along comes Crazy, Stupid, Love., a romantic dramedy starring Steve Carell as Cal Weaver, a man whose life falls apart after learning that his wife (Julianne Moore) has cheated on him with a co-worker and she wants a divorce. Cal retreats into his shell until he runs into Ryan Gosling’s Jacob, a guy who is nothing like Cal, being able to approach women in bars and get them to leave with him. Jacob offers to help Cal up his game with the ladies so he can get over his wife. Meanwhile, Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has his own crush, on his older babysitter, played by Analeigh Tipton, who also has a crush on Cal.
Confusing? Maybe, but somehow Ficarra and Requa are able to integrate all these stories into a movie that’s likely to be dubbed as an American “Love Actually,” as they try to pull all the moving pieces together for a movie that tries its best to surpass the normal problems with romantic comedies. Maybe it’s the filmmaking duo’s proclivity for edgier humor that keeps Crazy, Stupid, Love. from feeling saccharine, but it’s also easily their most accessible movie for mainstream audiences.
ComingSoon.net sat down the guys at the New York junket a few weeks back and learned pretty quickly how closely they think, often finishing each other’s sentences without batting an eye, as we talked about their second film as directors, as well as reflecting back on their past work, including Bad Santa.
ComingSoon.net: You’ve said that you read this script while doing press for “I Love You Philip Morris” and decided to do it, so what was your pitch to get the gig? Did you have to pitch yourselves to Steve? Glenn Ficarra: Yeah, we got the script, we loved the script, but it was a huge sale that script. It was like a $2 million script sale and we were not really mainstream directors, so we didn’t think we were a shoe-in to get the job, so we did have to meet on it, but Steve’s the one who put us up for it. We had done work for Steve and he just suggested us because he’d seen “Phillip Morris” but we had to meet with the studio and discuss our take on the movie. John Requa: They were big fans of “Phillip Morris.” The studio, Warner Bros. and Jeff Robinov and Greg Silverman and Courtenay Valenti, are not only old friends that we’ve known for years as writers, but they were huge fans of the movie from early on, and gave us notes on “Phillip Morris,” so they were just sort of in our camp, so they were always comfortable with us directing. Jeff Robinov actually came to us after we directed “Phillip Morris” and said, “What do you guys want to do? We want to do something with you guys,” and we said, “We want to be writers again.” He said, “Well, I’ll offer you anything,” so we go, “How about Batman?” “Oh, it’s taken.” Ficarra: It’s actually a famous story now in Hollywood that the President of Warner Bros. took us out to lunch, offered us anything we wanted to do, and we said we didn’t want to do anything. And he said, “Really? You’re passing up on a golden opportunity” but when we said we wanted to do this–’cause that was the last conversation we had with him–he knew that we were really passionate about it, because we were going to get back in the ring.
CS: Were you influenced by some of the same movies as Dan when he wrote this? Richard Curtis’ “Love Actually” was a good touchstone for him, but you guys have been doing so much edgier stuff over the years, but were you fans of the sweeter romantic comedies? Requa: I love “Love Actually” and particularly the story with Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. I think it’s possibly the best exploration of infidelity that’s ever been done, because it really feels accurate and real. I’m a big fan of that movie and this movie is largely based I think on “Jerry Maguire,” which we’ve always admired. Ficarra: Yeah, to be really funny and really emotional. Requa: That movie is a male love story. Two guys working their stuff out and the women are a part of that. Ficarra: Right, but they’re not the ultimate goal. Requa: No, they are the ultimate goal, they’re not the process. Renée Zellwegger, it’s interesting when you watch the movie, because you think of “Jerry Maguire” as such a sweeping romantic comedy, but in fact, it’s a story about Cuba Gooding Jr. and Cruise and their relationship. How they work out their relationship is how Jerry teaches him how to be the man who can get Renée Zellwegger, so it’s an interesting thing.
CS: Knowing that there are so many different moving parts in this, similar to “Love Actually,” what did you feel you had to do as writers to develop and get it ready to shoot? Requa: We just added a bunch of stuff. We felt that the script was really strong… Ficarra: …and it was ready to go. Requa: Ready to go, so we just added some things. We thought it needed a big ending with the notion of night-gardening. We just wanted to visualize his pull to home. Ficarra: He’s always referencing how much he misses home. Requa: And that’s manifested by him sneaking in and doing the gardening at night. That kind of stuff was added and then we tailored it to the actors. Ficarra: But we did all that in concert with Dan. We never touched the script as writers. We talked with him, we sat in a room with Dan, but we never touched the keyboard. Dan did all the work. He was there every day. We had a great time. Requa: There were several scenes we wrote with him in the room, and then there are scenes we’d send him off to write.
CS: Did you watch any of Richard Curtis or James Brooks’ movies before shooting this to get the right feel? Ficarra: Yeah. We screened “Jerry Maguire.” We talked about “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually.” We’re big fans of “Muriel’s Wedding” ’cause it has kind of a balanced tone. Requa: And (Frank) Capra, but the one we actually screened at Warner, “Jerry Maguire,” brought in a bunch of filmmaker friends… Ficarra: To kind of take it apart… Requa: And just talk about it, why it worked. Everybody had read the script and we watched the movie and we kind of used it as our touchstone. Ficarra: But mostly, it was the idea of just rooting everything in reality whether it was funny or emotional, and see how far we can go, and Steve is all about that. Steve loves to do things that come from the heart, approach it from that place what’s real and not just go for the laugh. He’ll get the laugh, but he doesn’t take the easy way to it. He’s always approaching it from a place of reality and feasibility, so you’re never scratching your head. It doesn’t take you out of the movie.
CS: It’s kind of ironic that in a summer full of R-rated comedies, the only one doing a PG-13 comedy is you guys. (they both laugh at this) Ficarra: I didn’t think about that. (laughs)
CS: Was the film ever edgier and you toned it back? Ficarra: It was an R-rated script but mostly for language. Requa: It was a soft R, and we just toned it down a little bit to get it to PG-13. Ficarra: But I think we were definitely hired to maintain an edge on something that could have easily been steered into sap territory. I think we were there to unsentimentalize it. Requa: Now that the movie’s finished, I can’t imagine it as an R-rated movie, because it’s not committed to being an R-rated movie. Ficarra: Well, not like those kinds of movies. Requa: But it’s heart is definitely for everybody, and it speaks to all generations, and particularly there’s older people who don’t go to R-rated movies who would really love this movie. But I mean it’s for all audiences. I mean, not little kids.
CS: It deals with a lot of the same things as those R-rated comedies, sex and relationships and romance, and it doesn’t water it down but it just manages to do it within the constrictions of a PG-13, basically by having only one “f*ck” instead of two. Ficarra: Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s the thing. You can use “f*ck” more than once, but it can never be sexual. It’s such a byzantine process of approval and you work your way around it pretty much by feel. We got it on the first time out, right? Requa: No, we had to resubmit. We wanted it to be right on the edge of PG-13. We didn’t want it to be a soft PG-13. We actually wanted to deliver an R to the MPAA and then back into our PG-13 rating, so that’s what we did. It needs to feel adult, because that’s ultimately the emotional truth of this movie is that we’re talking about real things and we wanted it to feel that way. Ficarra: But also, there’s lots of edgy jokes.
CS: Again, you do have many stories you’re telling here, and you mentioned before that the movie was three hours long at one point? How do you figure out how to take things out and not have one of the stories suffer and get the same weight as the others? Ficarra: Trial and error. Requa: You kind of start with, “Okay, what entire scenes can be lifted out entirely?” and then it’s a matter of condensing, but you’re always readjusting the pacing when you’re condensing. You’re always knocking your pacing off, and as far as we’re concerned, movies are made with the tone and the pacing, that’s the editing, so it’s really this infuriating process of going back, cutting down and then watching and realizing that your pacing is off and has destroyed everything about the movie and fixing the pacing, cutting down again. We would get fatigued and unable to understand what we were doing and if the movie was working anymore, and we’d show it to friends and they would scream at us.
CS: “You cut my favorite scene!” Ficarra: Yeah. (laughs) Requa: “I don’t understand this or that.” We’d go in and fix it again and that’s the process you have to go through when you have an overly long movie. You have to make sure that you’re constantly screening it and showing it to people and making sure that you’re not cutting into the meat, that you’re just cutting the fat.
CS: Let’s talk about the casting. Obviously, Steve was on board very early on, and a lot of the actors said that having Steve there was what interested them in doing the movie. What was the hardest role to cast? You have someone like Kevin Bacon playing a fairly small role. Requa: Kevin was great, because Kevin’s a filmmaker and we offered him the part, and he called us and said, “I just love that you guys offered me this part, because you want this guy to be a threat. You don’t want him to be just some stuffed shirt guy. You want him to be a real threat.” Ficarra: A real viable candidate… Requa: …for Julianne to go with, and he says, “I’ll do it because I love that you came to me with it.” Which is great. When you have an actor who is also a filmmaker, to have that level of understanding. Ficarra: Marisa, too. It’s a powerhouse part, but small, and she sensed it was a great character and she wanted it. It’s a great script, you want to be associated with it. Requa: She wanted to be funny. Marisa wanted to be funny. I mean, she was just “I want to be funny again.” Ficarra: She’d just been in too many downer movies. Julianne (Moore) felt that way, too. It’s been a long time. You have kids and you feel bad when you make depressing movies (chuckles) but the kids were the hardest to cast. Requa: Clearly Robbie, Jonah Bobo, was very difficult. We looked at thousands, THOUSANDS, of kids. Ficarra: Yeah, and you just want to make sure you’re not getting… that’s one of the third rail things for a movie like this is keeping the kid too precocious and it just makes you sick and you just don’t want to watch it.
CS: I’ve seen him in a lot of movies when he was younger and I did not recognize him as Robbie as I was watching this. Requa: Wait until you him now, he’s morphed again. Ficarra: Yeah, he’s a man. Requa: He’s a completely different looking kid now. We just got him in time. Ficarra: Before the big change.
CS: But he is clearly a good actor because he was able to give such strong performances when he was younger. Requa: Yeah, I’ll be interested to see if he sticks with it ’cause he’s real. He understands that it’s about being real, and his instinct is to underplay, and if you have to direct him–which you don’t have to do that much–it’s about getting more out of him instead of less and that’s always the place where you want to be with actors, that they’re instinct is to underdo it and then you push them even more. Ficarra: And Joey who plays the little girl. She doesn’t have a lot of scenes in the movie but she’s amazing and she’s going to be in five things. Requa: She’s in Batman. Ficarra: And she’s going to be in something else and she’s great. She’s one of those Dakota Fanning-like eerily talented built-for-it kind of people.
CS: So you guys passed on Batman, but she took it. Ficarra: Yeah, there you go. Requa: There’s your lead! Ficarra: And Analeigh Tipton, the babysitter, this is her first big role and she just knocks it out of the park, she’s amazing. That was one we were concerned about, too. We really wanted a real feeling 17, not one of these “Gossip Girl” they’re ahead of their years kind of thing, the awkwardness and all that was really important.
CS: I remember seeing “I Love You Philip Morris” at Sundance and writing that it was probably the most mainstream movie at the festival. Then it didn’t come out for two years and I was like, “How did that happen?” Ficarra: It was such a mess with legal limbo. Requa: It was a tricky movie subject matter-wise but we always got good reviews and people always liked it. We actually test-marketed it and it was very impressed… Ficarra: It tested like a mainstream movie. Requa: But then we got in business with some bad guys, and they didn’t have any money and they didn’t pay anybody and we had to take it away and got in legal trouble. It got kind of a stink on it because that’s what happens. Ficarra: But fortunately, it made its money in Europe. Requa: It was a success in Europe, yeah.
CS: Barring all the distribution issues, how was this process different from “Phillip Morris” working with a studio? Was there a lot more testing and making changes than you had to do with “Phillip Morris”? Ficarra: We had more resources which was great. It made things a little easier. The shoot was really hard on “Phillip Morris” because we had so many locations and not a lot of time, so we were constantly moving and up against the clock. We were just talking about the oddest things is this music issue we had, which was in “Phillip Morris” we had no money, we couldn’t afford a lot of great music, so we thought when we do a studio movie we’ll get a lot of money and we can get whatever we want. We got money. Warner Bros. was great and gave us a blank check and then getting the clearances and a lot of these nouveau folk artists refused to let us use it, because we were a corporate movie, not an indie. Requa: We said, “Come see the movie, you’ll want to be in the movie,” but wouldn’t come see the movie just because it was a Warner Bros. movie. Also, I don’t necessarily know if it’s the fact that it’s a corporate movie but also they’re young, they’re in the middle of their careers and we’re using contemporary music and they’re just very aware of how they’re perceived in the world whereas on “Phillip Morris,” we were using classic (music) and because it was a gay love story, we wanted to fill it with clichéd music, and this one because it’s a straight love story, we wanted to fill it with interesting unusual music that’s sort of out of the genre, so we were playing cliché in one and trying to play against cliché in this one. Because it’s contemporary artists, like Johnny Matthis in “Phillip Morris,” we wrote him a letter and he said “Yes.” They’ve had their music in movies for a long time and it’s not new to them so it was an easier process. Ficarra: And also, the composed music was a really big challenge because that guy has the same problem we do is that you don’t want to get too maudlin and sappy and you don’t want to be too comic either. It’s a really tough balancing act, so that took some time, but those guys did a great job.
CS: I have to imagine that balancing the comedy and drama in a movie like this must be tough, because you have very specific laughs but in the middle of some really serious situations, such as when Cal is being told about his wife’s affair and he jumps out of the moving car. Ficarra: Based on a true story by the way. Did you talk to Dan? It happened to a friend of his, and that’s what inspired the scene. (His wife) wasn’t cheating but they were having a fight but he said, “If you keep talking I’m going to get out of the car” and he did. He’s in the movie, too. He’s one of the bartenders.
CS: Still, trying to do something like that, having a serious conversation then having something like that which makes you laugh even though it’s sad in a way… Requa: That’s what interests us, the tone shifts… Ficarra: True melodrama. Requa: That’s what we’re into right now. We just love movies that move back and forth between the two tones. We call them emotional comedies. We just think it’s the most interesting form. Instead of having what has become in comedy the norm, you have to have some sort of emotional thing tacked onto the end that hasn’t been worked on throughout the film. To actually work the emotion into the film from the very beginning as you’re working the comedy at the same time and figure out how you move the pieces to get to the end. It’s basically shoot a lot and have a lot of options and figure it out in the editing room. (chuckles) Ficarra: Yeah.
CS: Do you guys have any idea what you want to do next? Do you have other scripts you’ve been developing that you’d like to tackle next? Requa: We have too many. Ficarra: We have a lot of projects. The great upshot of this is that we’ve gotten a lot of interest from parties, and we have a lot of things. I don’t now what we’re going to choose next or what’s going to go. It’s always dependent on people’s schedules and things, but we just wrote a script for Steve Carell’s production company that was based on an idea that Steve had, and it’s about these middle-aged guys that go on a backpacking trip to Europe they never did in college, so it’s all this middle-age stuff coming into play while hitchhiking across Europe.
CS: I remember when I spoke to you for “Bad News Bears” which was years ago. At that point, you’d already been thinking about a sequel to “Bad Santa” and there’s word coming out that Dimension is getting writers to work on scripts for it. Do you feel like you want to be part of a sequel to it or do you feel that was something in your past and that you’ve moved onto directing. Requa: I think we talked about it and then “Phillip Morris” happened. Ficarra: We were never available. Requa: And then we kind of lost interest in it. We wish them luck. Ficarra: Yeah. Sequels are weird because it’s the riskiest thing you can do, because you want to reverent to the source material and remakes are hard that way, too. You’re kind of bound in, and doing a sequel is a lot of pressure and a lot of work. Requa: And I don’t think Terry (Zwigoff, original “Bad Santa” director) is interested. Ficarra: No. Requa: So I don’t think we’re interested, because we’re interested in doing it with Terry and only Terry. We’re trying to find something else to do with Terry.
CS: I was curious what he was up to, because I feel we haven’t heard from him in a while. Requa: Yeah, we keep trying to get something going. Ficarra: I heard he’s doing a documentary, but we hear from him from time to time and we’ll definitely find something, because he brings such a great sensibility to things. To that script, without really changing anything, he just added this funk that we loved. Requa: The thing that Terry did and how you show what he brought to the script is the idea of having Tony, the African-American elf, but with the white points (on his ears)… That was Terry’s idea. Ficarra: It was like a stroke of genius. Requa: When we came to the set and we saw that, we were like, “Oh, we’re in good hands.”