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There’s a lot of talk about shooting on location in New York and the idea of New York as a character. How do you feel that’s expressed in the film?
That was really important for me and one of the reasons I wanted to do the movie was if we shot it here, because I felt that this story really lends itself to a place that has a lot of different neighborhoods, a lot of different lifestyles, and New York certainly has that. That’s why I feel like this version of the movie is really a powerful thing because there are so many different places that you can get to that really logistically it makes sense but they’re very, very different worlds that you’re entering in, they’re completely different worlds, so I think that’s a big deal. Then of course just visually, the energy of the city is tremendous and it really infects the particulars of our family being from Greenpoint, culturally where we’re located, and then also David’s curiosity about the kids to travel to different places that he might not on a day-by-day basis go into.
When we spoke to Ken, he said that you kept fairly close to the story and there wasn’t a lot of improv that you normally do on other films. Was that difficult for you to not do that?
Not really. I think the improv thing has become misunderstood, it’s become this thing that’s this crazy thing but when I did improv in Chicago where Second City and all that came out of, where all those guys came out of before there was a Saturday Night Live. So it was a real craft that was understood that you were not just getting up and doing a scene and saying something crazy but that you were connecting concepts and telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s why if you look at a lot of the great screenwriters of our time, whether it’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding or something Tina Fey has written or Favreau, they all came from that same training. So there was a concept within that that you were playing characters but it was adding up to a story. So to me, improv is really listening, it’s really being in your character and committed to being able to react to what’s happening. I love to say the lines. I don’t improvise as much as people think, but our style would be that if you have what’s scripted, sometimes it’s fun to see if there’s a different way--a fresh way--to get to the same thing. But some people think that improv is “What’s the craziest thing I can say? What’s the most shocking thing I can say?” but it has nothing to do with the story. I hear there are these people that they film and they say they’ve shot so much footage—they just film and film and film—I don’t understand that. It’s like you’re just hoping to find something that’s weird or a moment that’s weird to put in there, and it’s a very different process whereas if you shoot what you have and then you play around a little bit or sometimes, you’ll even improvise that morning and then you’ll shoot what you improvise that morning. It’s more systematic I guess. But there’s a time and a place for everything.
But on this movie, a couple scenes I played around with because it was fun. I don’t know if it will be in, it’s not important. Sometimes the improvisation is just a way to get back to the lines or explore something that would happen afterwards that can inform later scenes. This script is excellent. The story makes a lot of sense and it doesn’t need a lot. It’s very well written. The character is very good, but I guess for me, I was really a trained actor as well. I did improv at a very young age. I was thankful they put me on stage, I performed. I moved up very quickly but I stopped after three months. I didn’t stay and it wasn’t my calling. I didn’t travel with troupes, I didn’t do that. I wasn’t interested, but I also studied Shakespeare and did a lot more traditional dramatic stuff. I always considered myself an actor first and foremost.
So I think what happened is that when we started doing these comedies in recent time and started doing stuff, younger generations and people started thinking “Oh, improv, improv” but I don’t think a lot of them know what they’re doing and I think a lot of these schools that have sprung up and teach it don’t really understand it. It’s more of a sketch in of itself where really it’s meant to be some of those games you play are meant to be tools that you use to tell a complete story. Not that there’s a right or a wrong way, but I think it’s used now as if it means “I don’t know what to say so let me just at crazy and we’ll have a scene together.” But really if you know the scene, for example, in The Break-Up, all the scenes that I shot with Favreau were improvised, about 90% of them were, so the whole concept of him thinking that I was trying to have him put a hit out and he was winking but he knew that in the scene, I had to come at a different place of getting a message and he wasn’t tracking that. He hadn’t grown to show my growth, so we did it many different ways and that just happened to be one of the ones that was funny but the reason it works so well is that it also tells the story and it’s what the story wants to be at that time. If it was just him rambling about a concept that was interesting but it wasn’t advancing the story, then it wouldn’t be as funny. It would serve a purpose.
Do you find that when people know you’re doing a role, they write more lines for you? I was thinking of your character in Lay the Favorite for instance.
Nothing’s improvised in that. I came late to that movie; it was already greenlit. I think a lot of people write characters that I don’t play that are in my voice. I hear people say that about lots of movies, “I wrote this in your voice” or “I used your voice to write this.” It’s flattering, but no, I think, for me, I always felt that acting is that you look like you’re not acting so you want to come off naturalistic. But I think a lot of people, if they overact, or if they do stuff that’s really crazy, people go, “That’s powerful.” The other big thing that I get a kick out of lately is this weight loss. Sometimes people will lose a ton of weight or gain a ton of weight, but they’re boring as fuck to watch. (laughter) But people go, “This is amazing. This person gained or lost a lot of weight, this is incredible!” I think there’s a time and place for it and there’s times I’ve seen it done where I thought it was great. I think some people go “That means they’re phenomenal. They lost all this weight or gained all this weight.” I mean, Chris Pratt’s a great actor and he gained weight for this part and it really works and he did a great job. And I’m sure there are other great examples of it, but sometimes, I think people do that because they want to have control over it, there’s something that they want to feel like they’re doing and they physicalize it. But then you get on set and they don’t know their f*cking lines. It’s weird. It’s like that’s what they focused on. I’m not saying that you’re not being committed and doing something great. I think it is and I think it takes discipline, and I think it’s really impressive, but sometimes I think that becomes what people think is great acting and sometimes it’s just that they made a real commitment, which is great, but I don’t know that always means that I believe them as I’m watching a documentary.
It’s subjective and then sometimes I think that people really overact and people go “That’s phenomenal, can you believe he did that?” But in real life you’d say that you wouldn’t be in a room with someone who did that. You’d go “that person is f*cking crazy.” (laughter) That’s amazing but it was acting like they’re normal and the other actors are talking to them. I just think it’s subjective. I think we were always rewarded in that we did very well with audiences and people could find a way to relate to some of the movies we made. They could say “That seems familiar or believable” but sometimes even with Swingers we didn’t get nominated for IFC awards and that kind of stuff. We didn’t get into Sundance. Same with Made. Made never caught on, then later as years gone on, they’re really well revered and considered to be very interesting. But at the time they said, “Well they’re just being themselves.” But John wasn’t to that extreme and I wasn’t saying “You’re money, baby” every four seconds. But we had to play that role and make it look like those characters are that character so I think in a way people take it granted and say, “Oh, that’s just them being them.” But really, there’s a real craft to making it look like you’re not acting. For me, the dramaticness or whatever, I think sometimes I think the tone just changes so if you’re doing a drama, sometimes all you have to do is not look fake and it comes off very good because you just have to be real in a scene. But comedy is so much harder on some level because you have to get that message across, plus make people laugh. So it’s just different. Sometimes you do stuff bigger or smaller, depending on the tone, whatever the director wants.
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