Exclusive Interview: Seth Gordon Talks Horrible Bosses, Wargames And King Of Kong
As a director, Seth Gordon isnít a slave to format. Since breaking out in 2007 with his amazing documentary King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters, heís done studio comedies (Four Christmases) and multiple television shows (ranging from Community to Modern Family to The Office). The man is flexible to say the least and this weekend heís releasing his second feature film, Horrible Bosses.
Starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, the film is about three friends who are having their lives ruined by their respective bosses, played by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell. Unable to take anymore, they devise a plan similar to Alfred Hitchcockís Strangers on a Train where each one kills the other oneís boss. The problem is that a fool-proof plan cannot be devised by a group of fools.
Earlier this week I had the chance to sit down with Seth Gordon one-on-one to not only talk about his newest film, but also his remake of Wargames and the feature version of King of Kong. Check it out!
You have kind of established yourself as almost a bit of a renaissance man when it comes to format of projects, youíve done documentaries, TV, features. When youíre deciding what project to do, how much does format actually play into that decision?
Not a lot. I feel like, for me itís about good stories wherever you can find them. Thereís just a lot of great stories in real life, so then it becomes just a matter of which ones are doable, executable, affordable. And then for features itís just, thereís so few that are getting made, so just finding the one that actually has that promise.
And what was it that brought you to this project?
I never laugh, hardly ever, reading scripts, and this one I laughed so hard I cried. Specifically Anistonís character that got me, just got me. I had to be a part of it if I could, so I came up with a plan and a pitch just to see if they responded, and they did.
I know the project has kind of been around for a little while. When you first got it, how much did it change from then on?
The biggest changes probably came on set. There were certain things I wanted to change before we got on set, obviously we tailored everything to the guys that would play the roles, but they also are so good and so creative that we invented a bunch of stuff when we were on set too. Always working within the boundaries of the structure of the story, because the script is so good, but the best stuff, I think, is what you discover in that real environment while you are shooting. Thereís always gold that comes out of that when you have the right demeanor and the right environment.
When you were casting Jason, Charlie, and Jason, how much were you looking for that creative spark that they would be able to provide on set?
I think intuitively I always am. I wasnít part of the interview process or anything. I have a background in improv, I donít particularly like things that feel improv-y, but I do like playing around in the characters. Improv to me is like, ďOh, weíre in space,Ē and itís random and kind of on focus. But these guys are so good and so talented, such writers, that they can create within the boundaries of the scenes that exist. Thatís really where the best stuff is found.
They seem to have terrific chemistry together, you really do believe that these guys have been, I know Sudeikis and Day have worked together before, how much of that came with them on set and how much was developed in production?
Both. They started in a good place but we also, it got better and better. I feel like I, I try to create an environment where itís playful and itís safe to experiment and suggest ideas and come up with new things, and that is exactly their same instincts. Itís just synergy. You canít plan that but you know when you have it.
Well for me, it was, letís find out who our three guys are and then letís start finding the antagonists. But I should say that from the moment I walked in the room, well from the moment I read the script, I just knew that Aniston was a great choice. She was my first instinct and I was just so glad that she saw that too. Sheís a great comedian and people donít, I think people donít often give her a chance to show other skills and she has them, and she brought it.
On that same kind of note, itís really unlike anything weíve ever seen from her before. Although itís extremely funny, was it ever kind of awkward on screen? Because what sheís saying is...
Well, it was shocking, but it wasnít awkward in the sense that she was a total pro. She knew she was gonna say that stuff and she brought it. It was intense, it was intense to see her say that stuff for the first time. But she was awesome.
Iím also curious about Colin Farrell because, like, a rogue Irish actor whoís known for being handsome, and he kind of completely destroyed it. How did you come to, did you call him in?
We met right here at the Roosevelt and he, at that first meeting was like, ďIíd just like to do something different.Ē At that first meeting he started talking about, ďWhat does this guy do? Does he go to clubs? Is he out of shape? He definitely does cocaine, right? What else does he do?Ē We start talking about the bald, like, ďWhat if heís bald? What if heís got a combover? What if heís got a belly?Ē and then we had those prosthetics made, and thatís a bit of a process, and then the second he put them on, he just became Bobby. He really turned into him and it was awesome to watch.
Was all the kung-fu stuff, the nunchucks, was that in the script?
No, it came out of this notion that he lives in Koreatown, he loves going clubbing in Koreatown, he kind of always wanted to be Asian, and itís always Korean hookers that he hires. Just kind of weird, creepy details that all added up to a wonderfully original character.
Yeah I mean, the production design, itís like a tour-de-force, that place. It was not like that, obviously. We found the skeleton of that place but we really modified it and made it nuts.
When youíre coming to projects, as I mentioned before, you work in a lot of formats, do you find that your vision, are you able to take stuff that you learned from say, doing King of Kong into the making of this movie?
For sure, the King of Kong, I think thereís so many great lessons about character in having made that movie, and what makes for a compelling character. So I think that influences the way I help build this stuff with actors. I think that directly affected the way we portrayed Bobby, right? In terms of just his posture, his arrogance, his self-assurance, everything. And I think it was really handy having worked in TV some, some of the days where we really needed to move fast, thatís the essence of TV is that you donít have enough time. And you just have to cover a lot of pages in a little amount of time.
Just on that kind of note, when youíre doing shows like, I know youíve done episodes of Modern Family, Parks and Rec, and The Office, does that kind of lead-in more to the documentary experience?
Oh, for sure. I think those, those interviews, I try to obviously do what the writers wanted us to, but also interview those actors as, in character, and discover other weapons for editing.
Hollywood seems to have this weird thing where they are afraid of R-rated comedies because they think that by cutting off at age seventeen thereís no way they can make money. Was there ever any risk of this being a PG-13 movie or was it always going to be R?
No. I mean there was always a...Motherfucker Jones or whatever. It was always, there was such a hard R element in this movie at all times that I donít think there ever could be a coherent PG-13 version. Theyíre gonna cut one for whatever, for TV or for the airplane version. I donít know how theyíre gonna do it.
The one I always go to, like The Big Lebowski, which they completely destroyed. Have you ever seen the edit of it?
Thatíd seem fun just as an exercise.
Itís insane. Also just, MPAA standards are just ridiculous. What is your stance on all of that?
I think itís, youíve gotta have entertainment for all ages, but Iím just glad that places feel comfortable financing movies that arenít so safe. I think that having comedy where people talk the way they really talk, when you talk with your friends and whatever, itís really, itís important. Or else youíre making stuff thatís a little bit watered down and irrelevant.
Is realism always key?
I think so. For my taste, and Iím not, Iíve got lots of respect for robots that fight each other and everything blowing up. Thatís an awesome spectacle, I just personally donít respond to that the same way.
You do have an action sequence in this film, thereís the big car chase.
Yes, but itís very real. Itís three buffoons finding themselves in a crazy car chase, and it was really important to me that theyíre not, that it not all of a sudden be Fast and Furious, it had to be really real. Theyíre in a Volkswagon Jetta, you know? Thatís funny.
Was that a hard thing on set? How complicated was that?
Oh, that was like two weeks. It was definitely the hardest part of the movie to shoot technically, and it was much harder than it might have been if weíd done any green screen or something. But I hate green screen, I hate what happens for performances when you put it on green screen. You can tell, itís like ďAHHHH,Ē but theyíre not reacting to anything, and thatís not real. Itís much slower to do it the way we did it but I think itís a lot better.
My favorite one is when their driver is going straight and starts turning the wheel from side to side
Yeah. I actually try to have them put their hands low, just so you donít even see this crap.
Well the truth is that not everything, the amount of stuff that actually gets made is much lower than what actually gets made, and so I think thereís some of that going on. I feel those are indies that are hard to make for their own specific reasons.
And I mean, like what is the, do you prioritize? Do you basically put one, two, three on these projects?
Pretty much. And hoping...with some you have certain attached cast and you know that theyíre committed to this project or that, so the next window that could be is that, so itís just a matrix to solve.
Do you know precisely whatís going to be your next project?
No, I know War Games will be, once itís written thatíll be. Iím hoping to do a smaller one before that.
I do want to ask about War Games, because itís kind of an interesting concept to bringing that idea into mind. The original is so based in cold war paranoia and new technologies, but how exactly do you bring that into the modern age?
It definitely is rooted in cold war paranoia, itís definitely rooted in fear more than anything, and I feel like that certainly hasnít changed. We are very, very afraid, and weíve taken all these steps to make our country more secure, more safe in ways that actually donít make us more safe at all. Meanwhile thereís been a real change in hacking, where people can go and often the age of the people who have been going to those places. And you see it weekly, those stories of, NSA was hacked, the White House email was hacked, a LulzSec does it again. Thereís all these crazy, I have to say I think itís actually quite a bit more plausible that someone in this day and age, rather than someone on a modem on their desk at home, war-dialing to hopefully get in to the videogame manufacturer of choice, that someone with some intent goes someplace they donít mean to go, and starts something they donít mean to start, like, you can buy that now.
No, Iím just saying thatís a sign of the times. Current events have events like this all the time, unwanted intrusions basically.
One of the things about it also, with the original, is that it is an accident, he doesnít know that heís doing it. But with the way technology has kind of moved forward, is it possible to hack into something without knowing exactly what youíre getting into, you think?
Absolutely. Itís also possible to participate in something unwittingly. Whatís critical is that he be innocent, not that the particular type of hack be what it was back then. I also donít find it plausible anymore that the list of games you could play would be in the directory, you just know more than you knew then. The abstract story stuff totally holds.
Have you thought about casting at all?
Well, itís a little early. I mean basically the goal will be similar to the original in the sense that you have a normal kid who gets himself into hot water, as opposed to other versions of it where you could imagine it to be a much older guy who does it or whatever. I think the same idea of like a normal kid who gets in over his head is definitely going to hold.
I guess Iím curious, because the original documentary is so fantastic, what is the latest on the King of Kong feature?
So about three weeks ago, a writer turned in a draft thatís really, really strong. Itís a little too long so we have to cut it down and then New Line will make a decision about whether they want to do it or not. Things have changed internally over there about that story and with that company, and how many movies they make every year, but I would love working with those guys, so I think, honestly this would be a really strong choice.
Do you think that, will the project kind of incorporate whatís happened since the documentary?
It should incorporate some of it, absolutely. Even in the last few weeks itís gotten crazy. It sort of never ends, but Billy founded an arcade at the Orlando airport. Do you know this? ďKing of KongĒ arcade and he sells King of Kong hot dogs and he stole all of the artwork from the movie. Itís just awesome. And he still claims he hasnít seen the movie, so weíll see.
Do you believe it?
No. Itís one of many political, like the worst diplomacy Iíve ever seen honestly. Carefully lying in a way thatís totally obvious to everyone.
The plan is for you to direct, is that true?
I donít know, I mean, I know the story really well. I donít know who else would honestly.
Would you be willing to take liberties with the true story? As a feature film, you have so much more freedom.
I think weíre trapped. But in a way thatís whatís great about it. We know the material really well, we know the story really well. Those that paid attention and saw the doc know the story really well, so youíre not gonna get away with fabrication. So then it becomes about exploring within the boundaries of that with talented actors to unearth some stuff.
And have you, just in that sense have you given any thought to any casting there? Because I mean, you have some truly rich characters, I have to imagine that anybody would want to get their hands on.
Yeah, Iíve thought about it. But I mean honestly, all of a sudden Colin seems like a pretty interesting Billy, doesnít he? And I donít know who would play Steve, thereís a lot of opportunites and Brian Kuh? How great is that character? And Robert Mruczek, Steve Sanders, Roy Awesome. So I donít know.
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