The Other Guys Set Visit Interview: Writer Chris Henchy And Director Adam McKay
Hopefully you've already read our report from the set of The Other Guys and the interviews with stars Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr.. Now it's time to hear from the writer and the director, Chris Henchy and Adam McKay. McKay has made three previous films with Will Ferrell starring-- Step Brothers, Talladega Nights and Anchorman-- but this is the first he and Ferrell didn't write together. The co-writing duties this time went to Henchy, an experienced TV writer who also did scripting duties on last year's Ferrell vehicle Land of the Lost.
We witnessed McKay encouraging his actors to improv and go with the flow when they came up with some truly crazy stuff (see the Riggle and Wayans interview for more on that), and then it came time for him and Henchy to answer a few of our questions. They talked about their relationship with the classic buddy cop comedies of the past, the action scenes that make up a good part of the film, and how when you film in New York, things can get a little crazy on the set.
Were there any classic buddy cop movies that you guys were inspired by?
Chris Henchy: We kind of looked at them all.
Adam McKay: But the idea, I guess, it came out of it in a sense that we were always saying that there hadn’t been one in a while. They kind of went into Hollywood jail for a little bit, ran out of gas, and we liked the idea that we hadn’t seen one in a long time. We also liked the idea that with with Madoff stealing 70 billion dollars, the idea of “What is crime anymore?” Busting drugdealers is almost quaint at this point.
Henchy: We went back, like Freebie and the Bean even looking at French Connection and those kinds of partnerships and then all the big ones from the ‘80s, the Lethal Weapons. It was interesting going back. We hadn’t watched them in a while, but they definitely had a style of their own back then.
McKay: We were shocked at French Connection, which I’d seen a couple of time but I hadn’t seen in a bunch of years. God, that’s still a really good movie. We looked at some of Lumet’s stuff, too, as far as how he shoots New York ‘cause I sort of love that ‘70s look of New York. Browns are sort of highlighted and that slightly dirty feeling we love. Now it’s actually pretty clean compared to the ‘70s now, but we sort of liked that look.
There had been so many police comedies over the years, so what did you think you could bring to it? You’d think that most of the funny jokes had been used already. Where there more places you could go with it?
McKay: I’m not sure. As far as cop comedy, it’s been awhile. The Police Academy stuff was all hyper-slapsticky. We certainly can do slapsticky but in a different way.
Henchy: I think if you go to the Lethal Weapons they were all sort of heightened and so confident about everything they were doing and able to do. That’s one thing we went against, is the confidence in the sense…
McKay: I guess the truth is that the idea didn’t come from, “Let’s do a cop buddy movie.” The idea came from the “other guy” idea, the idea that there’s these superstar cops that die or there’s an accident, whatever, and then you have to have these other guys come in. We just liked the idea that it was the background guys from a cop movie that become the stars. That’s really where it came from, and the next step was, “Oh, I guess we’re doing a cop buddy film” and then kind of looking at that. But we didn’t feel crowded by much comedy. Otherwise, what’s really nice about the cop genre is it’s a genre that’s so exhausted that it puts the emphasis on character. “Barney Miller” is one of my favorite all-time shows and it was almost incidental that it was a cop show at that point. We were kind of able to do whatever we wanted with it.
Will said that working on your set is that you allow a lot of open ideas and you want to hear from everybody. Is there anything sacrosanct that you take from the script that you say, “ No matter what we do, we have to film it this certain way and this has to be in the scene for comedic purpose”?
McKay: Is there anything like that?
Henchy: I don’t think anything… There’s certainly story points you have to hit, but I don’t think Adam or myself are precious about anything, just whatever has gone on in that scene that these guys bring. We encourage everybody to have these “alts” and if there’s a funnier line, that’s going to get noticed and stay in the script and stay in the movie.
McKay: In filming, too… once you shoot it, you have shot it and then you can shoot it again and do different stuff. I’d say there is never anything we wouldn’t try an alt on. We always get the “as written” every single time ‘cause we know we at least have that, and then you can see what’s going on with this. We’re just starting to play with it at the end. It keeps getting bigger and bigger and we keep finding stuff everytime so that’s usually what happens, so the answer is “yes and no.” We shoot everything as written and then we change every single line.
What percentage of improv do you think winds up in the final movie?
McKay: People always ask us that. I think it’s like 25%, 20%, that’s about right, but it does more than just the actual words because it also makes the actors looser, so what you’re getting is more personalized reads out of people. When you see movies that are word-for-word, it tends to be almost be more stylized kind of leaning towards Mamet, whereas when you get people improvising, it just has a flow and rhythm to it, and that allows you to be stylized about other stuff, which is good.
The homoerotic stuff that Rob Riggle is doing with his partner, is that something in the movie that’s a recurring thing or is that just something going on today?
McKay: No, this is new. I mean, they have this ambitious partnership where they want to be the next star cops that keeps heightening and heightening, so it makes sense that this would be the next step, that it would get weird, but no, I didn’t know anything about that until they start doing it.
Henchy: But then the big reactions to the “shooting Derek Jeter but you didn’t have a big shot glass,” the big laugh? That’s something they discovered a few weeks ago shooting and coming in with a stupid joke and really going overboard with the laughter and we said, “It’s great, let’s keep doing that.” So they reprised it here. That’s stuff they found there that continues to go through the rest of the script. When we’re in the school in the scene when they’re talking to the kids, we threw a line in, “Oh, grab a girl and say, ‘Who wants to go on a ridealong?’” and this girl raises her hand and this 8-year-old girl going on this crazy shoot-out ride-along and we go, “Oh, that’s a funny joke” but something that happened on the spot there was never in the script is playing in three more scenes.
McKay: So we have this 8-year-old girl in every single set-up and it made us laugh too much so we always do one take with the 8-year-old girl. (laughter)
Henchy: She’s just standing in the background.
McKay: I don’t know if it will stay in but it sure makes us laugh.
Henchy: But she had a good time. From doing one afternoon…
McKay: She had a terrible time. She was scared and we put her in some very unsafe situations, but don’t put that in… no, no. She had the best time.
Can you talk about the action scenes? Will and Mark said there were a lot of big action scenes, so are they going to be over the top on purpose or are they going to be normal big Hollywood blockbuster type stuff?
McKay: We’ll see how it turns out and then I’ll claim whatever makes us look the best so if it’s shitty and over the top, I’ll say “Oh, yeah, it’s the Sam Raimi joke” and if it’s really really good, we always meant that. [laughs] You can sort of compare it to what we did with Talladega Nights where we did the race scenes and we said, “We can’t do joke race scenes. We gotta make them look as cool as we possibly can,” and then cut them to the point where they never get boring, hopefully, and that’s what we’re doing with this. No, the action stuff we’re shooting as best we possibly can. We have a lot of people from the Bourne (movies). You can literally say, “Well, how would you do this in Bourne?” and you’d get kind of some ideas to get going. Dare I say, there are actually a couple scenes that look kick-ass. We shot a giant shoot-out in a conference room that looked kind of amazing, actually.
Did you try to make it look very different from your other movies or make it look like one of those movies?
McKay: You know what’s odd? The movie we watched was Michael Clayton because we kept talking about this Bernie Madoff financial thing going on. We wanted it to be a sophisticated, boring jeopardy plot that we then make interesting. As soon as we started shooting, we realized that New York dictates your look. If you shoot in New York then New York is your look. Just by virtue of shooting in New York, it’s easily the best-looking film we’ve shot, there’s no question about it.
Can you talk about some of the best and worst parts about shooting exteriors here in New York? Will kind of touched upon it a little bit with Mark.
McKay: I remember Staten Island.
Henchy: Staten Island (laughs)
McKay: Oh my God.
Henchy: We were in a neighborhood in Staten Island and a school had just gotten out and we probably had like 200 people around the house and then going into the backyard between scenes, these kids just trespassed into the neighbor’s yard, climbed onto their deck and were just hanging over the deck going “Will! Will!”
McKay: “Look at me!!”
Henchy: “Look at me!!!” (laughter) And he would be driving home with cars following you towards the Verazzano Bridge, driving next to you, “Just look at me!!!”
McKay: That’s the craziest, the people that just go, “Look at me!” That happened a lot. (Laughter) But then in New York City, Manhattan, there’s people who are pretty cool. They really don’t give a shit and sometimes they go, “Get out of the way! I can walk down this street, I don’t care.”
Henchy: We had cab drivers, like on our first day, yelling at us to go to Canada. (Laughter)
Are you trying to create funny lines for Eva and Michael considering they don’t have the funny bones of the rest of the cast?
Henchy: Michael Keaton’s very funny. You can go back to “Night Shift” and Mr. Mom. We loved that he has a great personality and with Mendes we have such a funny storyline for her that it’s going back to that character stuff, she’s just really funny reacting to her character, which is she’s incredibly hot but Will doesn’t acknowledge it.
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