Interview: Walk Hard Director Jake Kasdan

Jake Kasdan was working with Judd Apatow back in the days when they were just the guys who created cult classic TV shows like Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, beloved by fans and cancelled quickly by networks. Nowadays, though, Apatow is busy making only the kind of movies he wants, and busy bringing in teammates like Kasdan to make movies with Apatow’s completely unique, completely successful sensibility.

This month that movie is Walk Hard, the hilarious music biopic send-up directed by Kasdan and written by Kasdan and Apatow. Just nominated for two Golden Globes, it’s bound to be a huge comedy hit, featuring silly montages, amazing original songs, and more penis jokes than you could possibly know what to do with. Kasdan talked about all of that with us, along with his partnership with Judd Apatow and, on a more serious note, the writers’ strike. But don’t worry: mostly it’s about the penis jokes.

It seems like you could have had even more Cox jokes in the movie than you actually included.

I’m glad you feel that way! There could actually have been an endless number of them. There are a couple of scenes that are not in the movie that each had, like, six! Although we did have one screening where we got to be under it… and we’re like, “Is it possible that there’s only three ‘Cox’ jokes in the movie?’ Given how often they arise – so to speak? They’re the gift that keeps on giving.

All the cameos in the movie are like half the fun, especially for anyone who’s a fan of Undeclared or Freaks and Geeks.

Yeah… I’m glad that’s fun and not irritating, because we speculate about that a lot, whether it’s like, like this, like this annoying Where’s Waldo game. They’re all the funniest people to us, so we just keep bringing them back…

How did you get everyone in on this?

There’s a whole organization element of it that I only deal with a tiny little part of. It’s pretty much the simplest system you can imagine, which is, we come up with hilariously funny, in this case, way over qualified people to do every single line in the movie. And then we see how many of them we can get. In some cases, you know, you gotta beg ‘em a little bit… in a lot of cases, if they’re available, they’re sort of down – people like to be in a movie for a day. Comedians want to be rock legends for a day – that sounds fun to them. Like [Jack] McBrayer, for example, is just someone we love, and he was on the show [30 Rock], and we couldn’t figure out a way with the show to get him into the movie in a bigger way, so we called up and said, “You want to come do this little thing with us for a few hours?” And he was just great, you know, and game, and flew out on his day off. A lot of them, that’s kind of the case. If they’re free, well, we can pressure them into coming, or they want to. One of the two. They say they want to, regardless.

Like the Beatles… that worked so perfectly. How did you get them all back from the dead?

It wasn’t easy. It was very….

Amazing negotiation.

Yeah. Powerful casting department.

Did you have a favorite period of Dewey’s life?

I kinda liked them all. When we were doing it, we all got really focused on the 70s television show period. Apparently just because the clothes were so absurd, and his hair. I thought what he looked like was so funny, and then when we started coming up with ideas for sort of what the content of The Dewey Cox Show could be… that is something we could have kept going on forever.

Are we going to see The Dewey Cox Show on the DVD?

We were just afraid that it was something that we had tremendous appetite for, and like no one else in the universe would think anything other than that we were crazy. We wanted to do sketches. We could easily produce a season of The Dewey Cox Show. At one point we wrote a bunch of skits – you know, Knights of the Round Table sketch, goes to the doctor’s office sketch… We were watching all those shows like, Sonny & Cher, Donny & Marie. The Sonny & Cher show was unbelievable.

What is it about Judd that makes him so easy to work with and such a likeable person.

Who says he’s so easy or likeable? He’s a nightmare. [Laughter] We have a really good time together. It’s really about as simple as it seems, which is like, we both love doing this work, and he’s one of the funniest guys in the world. We’ve become really good friends over the years of working together. It’s a very open collaboration. It’s completely unthreatening, that I really enjoy and I haven’t found with anybody else, really. He’s also really interested in and excited by the part of [filmmaking] that I have almost no interest in. There’s a certain level of producing that he’s really brilliant at – like, as good a producer, I think, as there is.

How do you transition out of working on a project like this, that interests you so much and is such a gold mine for your imagination?

I don’t know! I had a blast doing this, [but] it’s been really hard work. I haven’t done anything else in the time that I’ve done this. I haven’t seen a movie, or had dinner with any of my friends, or anything. There’s definitely a part of me that will look forward to, like, not doing it for a moment, but I’m sure that I’ll miss it, because I loved making this movie. I’ve been working with John now for a very long time on this. It’s just longer than you’re usually working with your lead actor on a daily basis. Usually, you shoot for three months and it’s over. Here, we were working together for eight months before we started shooting, and working together every day. So, there’s no question that the Cox years will go down as their own thing.

So what was the genesis of Dewey Cox, where did it come from?

It was about as simple and thin as it seems. It was an idea to make a fake biopic about a fictional music legend, and treat it with all the kind of seriousness that you would a real person, if you were making kind of a ‘very important movie.’ He would have this insanely, impossibly dynamic life, and too many wives and too many drugs and too many ups and downs. The movie would be kind of wall to wall triumphs and tragedies. And then I went to Judd and said, ‘I had a funny idea the other night, what do you think of this?’ And I think that if he hadn’t been kind of excited about it, it probably wouldn’t have happened, because I think I would’ve given up on it. I would have never sat down and written this script on my own.

Like the way they did with This is Spinal Tap, you’re treating this as very real. Did you feel the pressure of that movie?

Yes, you feel Spinal Tap absolutely because that’s the best thing like this. That’s one of the great, perfect comedies. That’s kind of the gold standard that you aspire to. That was a little different because those guys actually wrote the songs--the Spinal Tap guys wrote the songs for themselves to play. Whereas we were leading this process, but working with song writers that had gifts that we don’t have. We can’t do that on our own, so we were working with this great group of guys to come up with this stuff. So, while there are similarities and certainly, there are connections between the movies obviously, and this follows in that tradition a little bit, we were careful to avoid any of the conventions that they’re doing in Spinal Tap. We just weren’t gonna compete on their ground. And the same with Tenacious D. We’re not doing songs about demons, and the devil. We’re sort of staying away from that hard rock joke.

With the D.H. Pennebaker Dylan homage, did you know that Todd Haynes’ Dylan homage was coming out at the same time. You both got dead-on Dylan impressions from totally different actors. It’s kind of remarkable.

It is! I mean I’ve known about that movie for a long time. I wasn’t worried about the conflicts, and I’m still not. I was a little bit concerned that someone else was making the definitive Dylan movie and I was going to have to forego that… thing… but between the documentary Scorsese had made and the movie that Todd Haynes just made, there probably aren’t any more Dylan movies to be made for at least 20 years or so.

What I want to see is John Reilly and Cate Blanchett do a duet as Dylan.

Yeah… or just a little “Dylan-off.” Like in Eight Mile, they can battle!

I went to the movies last night and there’s a ‘turn off your cell phone thing’ with John as Dewey saying, “I’m trying to win a Golden Globe here…” and now he’s up for a Golden Globe.

World’s weirdest ‘turn off your cell phone ad’…

Were you guys thinking Golden Globe when you were writing these songs and making this movie?

(solemnly) Yes. Absolutely. It’s all about the Globes.

Congratulations on that.

Thank you. It’s thrilling, and hilarious, all at once! It’s great that they get how brilliant John is in the movie. I think what he does is so incredible that I’m thrilled for that to happen. And we’re really invested in the music, John and I, and all the people who did and that we did it with a group of people who are like some of my closest friends, so, it’s really great to have that. It feels like the Hollywood Foreign Press planted a little flag on our song and on John and that’s nice.

Do you have any idea if the writers will picket at the Golden Globes?

I have no feelings about whether or not it will happen. I have no idea.

But will you cross it, if it does happen?


Will you be on it?

I don’t know. We’ll see. I mean, the Writer’s Guild…it’s really important what’s going on here, and I hope that this gets resolved quickly and fairly, like everybody does. It’s only going to get more painful and unpleasant as it continues.

Were you surprised that the strike happened?

No. We saw that this could happen. The whole town was bracing for it, but it didn’t happen at exactly the moment and timing that everybody was initially expecting. I’m not surprised by the solidarity and seriousness of the Writers Guild, because it’s very serious to a lot of people. So, it wasn’t shocking to me. I really, really and truly hope that it is over as soon as possible.

Any sense that the impending Globes ceremony will put any kind of pressure on the studios or on the union?

I don’t know anything about it… I don’t get those memos. I would have thought that the 2007/2008 television season was a big enough to worry about. So I guess it’s going to take a little more time than that to work out. But it will work out, and one way or another this will eventually be behind us, and all these people are going to have to work together, you know? And the irony is, everyone feels incredibly fortunate to do this work. Everybody that I know. It’s just like negotiations can get ugly sometimes but the, you know, eventually this will be resolved and everybody will go back to work. And I just hope it’s sooner than later.

Katey Rich

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend