You talk about infusing the comedy into the drama and that’s actually one thing that really struck me about this film - the blend of tones is absolutely incredible. There really is this inherent darkness and sadness in the subject, but there are lighter moments that are meant to have the audience laughing. Where do you start creating that that balance, makinsg sure the comedy doesn’t undercut the drama and the drama doesn’t remove some of the comedy?
Well, you’re right. That’s tricky, and trying to find that right blend was the hardest thing for me. At some point you have to leave it up to others to decide if you hit that mark, but I grew up on Billy Wilder films and Hal Ashby films and those guys were the masters of finding that right blend, and I think of Alexander Payne as being in that lineage of people who can find that right blend, so I got very lucky in Alexander attaching himself to the project and finally making the film, because if anybody can do it these days, like Billy and Hal did, it’s Alexander.
I’m curious about that collaboration also, because this is the first film that Alexander Payne has done where he doesn’t have a credit for the screenplay. How did the two of you work together? Where did your collaboration start?
Well, after he became attached, he gave me notes and I did a rewrite and after that it was basically in his hands. So, even though he doesn’t have a writing credit, he did do a lot of work on the screenplay as well. As an example, in my draft, David’s character works in a cubicle. You don’t even know what he does, and his brother’s an insurance salesman, so Alexander gave them different professions, so they would have a little bit of sibling rivalry going on. So he helped create more of a story between the brothers. The only real conflict I had between them was how to deal with their father. He put another layer on that, that there’s also a little bit of, so when you have that scene where they collaborate with the air compressor, I think it gives that a little bit more meaning. So, that’s the kind of thing that Alexander did with the script and watching it back now, his lines, a lot of the lines came from him. A lot more than I remembered the first time I saw it. Now I’m going, "That’s Alexander there."
But honestly that’s a great sign, the fact that your authorship kind of melded together and created this film.
Yeah, I mean, when he sent me back his rewrite and said, "Let me know what you think," I thought it was great. Mine was, I would say my draft was probably just a little softer. I think he toughened it up. He made it a little more earthy and I think that was the right thing to do. In doing that, he did what I was hoping he’d do. He turned it into an Alexander Payne film. I knew to do that, he would have to believe in every line, so if he felt that he needed to substitute one of his own lines, that’s what he did and I thought that was the absolute right thing to do.