Interview: Hot Tub Time Machine Director Steve Pink
Steve Pink had his hands full on the set of Hot Tub Time Machine, in a good way. Not only was he working with a brilliant concept Ė four guys traveling back in time via hot tub Ė but he also had four downright hilarious lead actors at his disposal. Pink and John Cusack go way back and share a production company called New Crime Productions. By uniting his buddy and business partner with the likes of Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry and Clark Duke, then tossing in some Chernobyl, booze, a squirrel and, of course, a hot tub, Pink established a recipe for comedic hilarity.
But thatís not even the least of it. Pink also had a fantastic list of supporting cast members including Crispin Glover, Chevy Chase and, his leading ladies, Collette Wolfe and Lizzy Caplan. Top that all off with a set saturated with 80s nostalgia and youíve got a seriously entertaining throwback.
The guy behind Accepted is back and with an R-rated vengeance nonetheless. Who knew a notch up on the MPAA ratings scale could make such a difference? And thatís coming from someone who truly enjoyed Accepted. Pink delivers big time with Hot Tub Time Machine. Between the movie, this roundtable, some one-on-one time and a chance to party with Pink at the junket in Lake Tahoe, Iím eager to see what the director has up his sleeve for the future. In the meantime, Iíll be going for a second helping of HTTM.
Crispin Glover said you never spoke to him about casting him as an homage to Back to the Future. Was that part of why you cast him?
Well, itís both right? Heís a great actor and heís hilarious and iconic. Not only Back to the Future, but all of his other work from that time was really important to me. So heís just one of my favorite actors, period. It did not escape me that heís in the most famous and successful time travel movie and the idea of bringing him in to do this movie was a really great concept. That being said, the way we treated most of the characters in the movie, we just didnít call attention to it. He gets to play an independent character of his own and itís not important to reference the past. The past takes care of itself, right? Itís Crispin Glover in the flesh. Thatís William Zabka too. We could have had him come in and play the Karate Kid kid and then you would have really known. I didnít want to put all my chips on people knowing who he was because what if heíd come in as Johnny and Ė I donít know how many people saw Karate Kid that many years ago. And heís a good actor, right? For him to just play his own version of Rick the fucking club douche and then not call attention to his other characters. If you get that itís Zabka itís great, if you donít, then great. Thatís not important because I still have to make the scene work on its own.
We tend to juggle a lot, like these references, but most importantly, of course, it just had to be good and funny on its own, period. If it had just been a parody movie in which weíre like, ĎHey, please enjoy and laugh at all of these references,í you would have been bored out of your fucking skull.
The film embraces the 80s, but, in a way, pokes fun at modern times particularly with all of the Ďsillyí things we have now, like Chernobyl. As far as the 80s, there are some ridiculous things, but itís not a constant parody.
To me, always the most important is you want to really like the characters because the more you like the characters, the more everythingís funny. Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles, I watched it recently with family and I hadnít seen it in a long time and heís incredibly annoying for the first 40 minutes of the movie. And then, without changing a single thing heís doing, you start to laugh at everything he does. So youíre an hour into that movie and he hasnít changed anything and heís suddenly extremely funny because youíve grown to like this weirdo whoís extremely annoying and he kind of grows on you. And because he grows on you, heís just more enjoyable. If you donít go along for the ride with the people who are having to manage these ridiculous circumstance theyíre in, then youíll be bored out of your mind because then youíre just relying on something to be funny and as soon as itís not funny anymore, youíre bored. Thatís a bummer.
Also embracing the 80s, I was kind of like, letís embrace the 80s but letís let the characters decide what they think about the 80s themselves. Obviously, some of them liked them more than others. Lou liked them, Johnís character, Adam, hates being in the 80s. That was a terrible time for him apparently. But for Robís character, Lou, it was a great time. So I want to say that about all decades too. Itís not like all the decades are one thing. You canít look back and say as a country, it was one thing for everybody because itís not. And I liked having Clark. Heís a smart dude. Having him as an actor and as a character in the movie to be the commentary that lets us see the distinctions between the present and the 80s, he just did really subtly and really well.
What about casting Chevy Chase?
We all wanted him. The idea came up and weíre like it would be an incredible thing to have him and I think John had known him from just being out and about in Hollywood and called him up and asked him. And thatís how we got him to do it. Thatís my understanding. [Sarcastically] He auditioned and he didnít win the role in the room really. He had to come back a couple of times. I had him work on some things and eventually he got it. [Seriously] I actually think heís a little underutilized in the film because you really want more set pieces. The role as written had all of this promise and then we just had such little time, so I actually think heís a little underutilized. As great as he is in the movie, I want more Chevy, frankly.
The film leaves you with an interesting question because when they return to the present everything is changed, for the better. The problem is, they didnít really earn it. Is it satisfying to walk into a brand new life like that?
Thatís an interesting moral question. First of all, you have to adjust the paradox of time travel because you canít just say he didnít earn it because he was living it paradoxically in real time, while he was time traveling, right? So if he looks back at the pictures you see him married, so he was living and his parallel self was living in real time. So, in fact, he did earn it, so you canít say he didnít earn it because he did earn it. You always existed in two places at once. Thatís the paradox of time travel, right?
But he doesnít remember anything.
No, right. He doesnít remember earning it, so thatís what Iím saying. Itís just kind of a paradox. You said moral. I didnít say moral, you said moral. So from a moral point of view, if Iím the guy who walked into these new circumstances, I canít say I didnít morally earn it because my parallel self did, I didnít. So now youíre saying, okay, could you argue that morally or from an earning point of view, as you put it, did I earn the life that Iím walking into? The version of myself that time traveled, I guess you can argue did not, but the version of myself that lived it in real time did. So that would be my answer. I think I wrote the line where he says, ĎWas it wrong to exploit my knowledge of the future for personal gain?í No! Am I saying in this movie that if you become rich, the only way to be happy is to become rich so you should go back in time and become rich? No. For Lou, yes. For Lou, he needed to be really rich to be happy. Iím not making a general statement; Iím saying that that character Lou who was out of his fucking mind found satisfaction and, in this case, was a better person. He has a family, heís nice to his family. Heís a better person and he likes the riches that decision brought him. Craigís characterís not that way at all. Heís morally conscious of the piece. He just wanted to have the kind of satisfying life that he deserved.
Have you given any thought to the possibility that this film could be a huge success? Would another one come next?
Iím superstitious so I donít. I said in the other room that if I was just riffing, they went back to one place, so I thought, well, Bill and Ted-ing. Wouldnít it be great if they could jump in and then be in medieval times and then jump in and be in the American Revolution or jump in and be in the future? A lot of time travel movies do that, right? And so they exploit that framework of a time travel movie, you know? I donít know. Whatever. Iíd have to think of one. Louís medieval self possessed the secret orb Ė I donít know! Itíd just be really great to exploit the other time travel structures that are available that we didnít really get to because we only got to one period of time and then what stories can come from that. And I was far more interested in this time travel stuff than I was able to express.
Time travel is really big lately because of Lost and some other stuff. Is time travel just in the popular conscious now?
Yeah, I guess. It kind of always has been though, right? Youíre right, itís because of Lost itís so big I think and many people are embracing it in mainstream ways as opposed to just thinking of it as a gimmick. Twilight Zone did it beautifully as well. Youíre right in terms of today, popular ideas from time travel. God, I wish I could remember this book Ė Rob Corddry gave me a book to read, which was really really good about time travel and the NPR happened to have a segment about time travel when we were shooting and there was this guy who had mathematically proved you can time travel and stuff like that. He had written a book about it and written this equation.
How often does the mechanics of time traveling get in the way of the comedy? Do you ever have to just forget the facts and stick with the funny stuff?
All the time. It always gets in the way of the comedy so, you know, when in doubt, throw out the fucking time. Whatís gotta go? Weíre thinking somethingís gotta go and itís not going to be the comedy. So youíve got to throw out the time, but for sure, all the time. Comedyís king. And then you can say, who knows anyway? Like time travel, are you kidding me?
What was the balance between the script and the improv done on set?
I think thereís this myth of improv that goes like this: Hey, weíve got all this money and we got a camera, letís put on a show! Right? Letís just fucking make a movie because weíre so smart and so funny that we can just fucking say whatever we want and itís going to be awesome and the audience is going to enjoy it because we are comic gods. I read in the paper all the time, they say, ĎThe film was largely improvised.í Like, no it wasnít. ĎLargely improvisedí means theyíre like we have a ball of string and we have some old gum wrappers and weíre going to fly to the moon. You donít MacGyver it, so basically the answer is, once you have a very specific set of circumstances that tell all of these little things, the character beat, the story beat, plot beat, whatever it is, right? And then the comedy that expresses those ideas in each scene telling the story, then you have the dialogue that tells that story and then you take off from there. And because those guys are such brilliant improvisers, theyíre able to embrace whatever circumstance theyíre in and play that circumstance and then it becomes improvisation.
How much of the budget went to the soundtrack? You have a lot of fantastic and iconic songs on there, Iíd imagine thatíd cost quite a lot to put together.
The studio supported the music budget really really well and they knew that it was going to be significant. I think we still were able to make it affordable because a lot of people, like the musicians, were really good about giving us the music and not killing us either. Believing in the process to a certain extent always helps make things more affordable and we knew we had to deliver that. Iím a music geek, I still miss a lot of stuff that could be in. I think we have a really good spectrum from Public Enemy to The Replacements to New Order to David Bowie to the Bunnymen, Motley Crue and Poison. Thatís a pretty full spectrum of genre from the 80s, but thereís still some left out. Hopefully people will go, ĎOh, I remember that songí and then go listen to it.
Howíd you settle on the song ĎLetís Get It Started?í Itís sort of the ĎJohnny B. Goodeí in this movie like it was to Back to the Future.
ĎJohnny B. Goodeí rip off? Is that what youíre saying? What were you referring to sir? [Laughs] I just loved the song. You try and find a song, in my view, that youíll listen to next year and like. So it had to be a current enough song and have a different enough production in terms of the way music is produced and I think Black Eyed Peas is unique in the way they produce their music and theyíre really great at the way they produce their songs and the songs sound very current. Itís not the sound that you heard then, so that was one aspect of it. And then the other aspect of it was that it was a good enough song to last a little while. I personally think itís a genuinely good song and will have legs for a long time because itís just a great song. So, to me, they were a good choice.
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