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As a director, Seth Gordon isn’t a slave to format. Since breaking out in 2007 with his amazing documentary King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters, he’s done studio comedies (Four Christmases) and multiple television shows (ranging from Community to Modern Family to The Office). The man is flexible to say the least and this weekend he’s releasing his second feature film, Horrible Bosses.
Starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis, the film is about three friends who are having their lives ruined by their respective bosses, played by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell. Unable to take anymore, they devise a plan similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train where each one kills the other one’s boss. The problem is that a fool-proof plan cannot be devised by a group of fools.
Earlier this week I had the chance to sit down with Seth Gordon one-on-one to not only talk about his newest film, but also his remake of Wargames and the feature version of King of Kong. Check it out!
You have kind of established yourself as almost a bit of a renaissance man when it comes to format of projects, you’ve done documentaries, TV, features. When you’re deciding what project to do, how much does format actually play into that decision?
Not a lot. I feel like, for me it’s about good stories wherever you can find them. There’s just a lot of great stories in real life, so then it becomes just a matter of which ones are doable, executable, affordable. And then for features it’s just, there’s so few that are getting made, so just finding the one that actually has that promise.
And what was it that brought you to this project?
I never laugh, hardly ever, reading scripts, and this one I laughed so hard I cried. Specifically Aniston’s character that got me, just got me. I had to be a part of it if I could, so I came up with a plan and a pitch just to see if they responded, and they did.
I know the project has kind of been around for a little while. When you first got it, how much did it change from then on?
The biggest changes probably came on set. There were certain things I wanted to change before we got on set, obviously we tailored everything to the guys that would play the roles, but they also are so good and so creative that we invented a bunch of stuff when we were on set too. Always working within the boundaries of the structure of the story, because the script is so good, but the best stuff, I think, is what you discover in that real environment while you are shooting. There’s always gold that comes out of that when you have the right demeanor and the right environment.
When you were casting Jason, Charlie, and Jason, how much were you looking for that creative spark that they would be able to provide on set?
I think intuitively I always am. I wasn’t part of the interview process or anything. I have a background in improv, I don’t particularly like things that feel improv-y, but I do like playing around in the characters. Improv to me is like, “Oh, we’re in space,” and it’s random and kind of on focus. But these guys are so good and so talented, such writers, that they can create within the boundaries of the scenes that exist. That’s really where the best stuff is found.
They seem to have terrific chemistry together, you really do believe that these guys have been, I know Sudeikis and Day have worked together before, how much of that came with them on set and how much was developed in production?
Both. They started in a good place but we also, it got better and better. I feel like I, I try to create an environment where it’s playful and it’s safe to experiment and suggest ideas and come up with new things, and that is exactly their same instincts. It’s just synergy. You can’t plan that but you know when you have it.
Well for me, it was, let’s find out who our three guys are and then let’s start finding the antagonists. But I should say that from the moment I walked in the room, well from the moment I read the script, I just knew that Aniston was a great choice. She was my first instinct and I was just so glad that she saw that too. She’s a great comedian and people don’t, I think people don’t often give her a chance to show other skills and she has them, and she brought it.
On that same kind of note, it’s really unlike anything we’ve ever seen from her before. Although it’s extremely funny, was it ever kind of awkward on screen? Because what she’s saying is...
Well, it was shocking, but it wasn’t awkward in the sense that she was a total pro. She knew she was gonna say that stuff and she brought it. It was intense, it was intense to see her say that stuff for the first time. But she was awesome.
I’m also curious about Colin Farrell because, like, a rogue Irish actor who’s known for being handsome, and he kind of completely destroyed it. How did you come to, did you call him in?
We met right here at the Roosevelt and he, at that first meeting was like, “I’d just like to do something different.” At that first meeting he started talking about, “What does this guy do? Does he go to clubs? Is he out of shape? He definitely does cocaine, right? What else does he do?” We start talking about the bald, like, “What if he’s bald? What if he’s got a combover? What if he’s got a belly?” and then we had those prosthetics made, and that’s a bit of a process, and then the second he put them on, he just became Bobby. He really turned into him and it was awesome to watch.
Was all the kung-fu stuff, the nunchucks, was that in the script?
No, it came out of this notion that he lives in Koreatown, he loves going clubbing in Koreatown, he kind of always wanted to be Asian, and it’s always Korean hookers that he hires. Just kind of weird, creepy details that all added up to a wonderfully original character.
Yeah I mean, the production design, it’s like a tour-de-force, that place. It was not like that, obviously. We found the skeleton of that place but we really modified it and made it nuts.
When you’re coming to projects, as I mentioned before, you work in a lot of formats, do you find that your vision, are you able to take stuff that you learned from say, doing King of Kong into the making of this movie?
For sure, the King of Kong, I think there’s so many great lessons about character in having made that movie, and what makes for a compelling character. So I think that influences the way I help build this stuff with actors. I think that directly affected the way we portrayed Bobby, right? In terms of just his posture, his arrogance, his self-assurance, everything. And I think it was really handy having worked in TV some, some of the days where we really needed to move fast, that’s the essence of TV is that you don’t have enough time. And you just have to cover a lot of pages in a little amount of time.
Just on that kind of note, when you’re doing shows like, I know you’ve done episodes of Modern Family, Parks and Rec, and The Office, does that kind of lead-in more to the documentary experience?
Oh, for sure. I think those, those interviews, I try to obviously do what the writers wanted us to, but also interview those actors as, in character, and discover other weapons for editing.
Hollywood seems to have this weird thing where they are afraid of R-rated comedies because they think that by cutting off at age seventeen there’s no way they can make money. Was there ever any risk of this being a PG-13 movie or was it always going to be R?
No. I mean there was always a...Motherfucker Jones or whatever. It was always, there was such a hard R element in this movie at all times that I don’t think there ever could be a coherent PG-13 version. They’re gonna cut one for whatever, for TV or for the airplane version. I don’t know how they’re gonna do it.
The one I always go to, like The Big Lebowski, which they completely destroyed. Have you ever seen the edit of it?
That’d seem fun just as an exercise.
It’s insane. Also just, MPAA standards are just ridiculous. What is your stance on all of that?
I think it’s, you’ve gotta have entertainment for all ages, but I’m just glad that places feel comfortable financing movies that aren’t so safe. I think that having comedy where people talk the way they really talk, when you talk with your friends and whatever, it’s really, it’s important. Or else you’re making stuff that’s a little bit watered down and irrelevant.
Is realism always key?
I think so. For my taste, and I’m not, I’ve got lots of respect for robots that fight each other and everything blowing up. That’s an awesome spectacle, I just personally don’t respond to that the same way.
You do have an action sequence in this film, there’s the big car chase.
Yes, but it’s very real. It’s three buffoons finding themselves in a crazy car chase, and it was really important to me that they’re not, that it not all of a sudden be Fast and Furious, it had to be really real. They’re in a Volkswagon Jetta, you know? That’s funny.
Was that a hard thing on set? How complicated was that?
Oh, that was like two weeks. It was definitely the hardest part of the movie to shoot technically, and it was much harder than it might have been if we’d done any green screen or something. But I hate green screen, I hate what happens for performances when you put it on green screen. You can tell, it’s like “AHHHH,” but they’re not reacting to anything, and that’s not real. It’s much slower to do it the way we did it but I think it’s a lot better.
My favorite one is when their driver is going straight and starts turning the wheel from side to side
Yeah. I actually try to have them put their hands low, just so you don’t even see this crap.
Well the truth is that not everything, the amount of stuff that actually gets made is much lower than what actually gets made, and so I think there’s some of that going on. I feel those are indies that are hard to make for their own specific reasons.
And I mean, like what is the, do you prioritize? Do you basically put one, two, three on these projects?
Pretty much. And hoping...with some you have certain attached cast and you know that they’re committed to this project or that, so the next window that could be is that, so it’s just a matrix to solve.
Do you know precisely what’s going to be your next project?
No, I know War Games will be, once it’s written that’ll be. I’m hoping to do a smaller one before that.
I do want to ask about War Games, because it’s kind of an interesting concept to bringing that idea into mind. The original is so based in cold war paranoia and new technologies, but how exactly do you bring that into the modern age?
It definitely is rooted in cold war paranoia, it’s definitely rooted in fear more than anything, and I feel like that certainly hasn’t changed. We are very, very afraid, and we’ve taken all these steps to make our country more secure, more safe in ways that actually don’t make us more safe at all. Meanwhile there’s been a real change in hacking, where people can go and often the age of the people who have been going to those places. And you see it weekly, those stories of, NSA was hacked, the White House email was hacked, a LulzSec does it again. There’s all these crazy, I have to say I think it’s actually quite a bit more plausible that someone in this day and age, rather than someone on a modem on their desk at home, war-dialing to hopefully get in to the videogame manufacturer of choice, that someone with some intent goes someplace they don’t mean to go, and starts something they don’t mean to start, like, you can buy that now.
No, I’m just saying that’s a sign of the times. Current events have events like this all the time, unwanted intrusions basically.
One of the things about it also, with the original, is that it is an accident, he doesn’t know that he’s doing it. But with the way technology has kind of moved forward, is it possible to hack into something without knowing exactly what you’re getting into, you think?
Absolutely. It’s also possible to participate in something unwittingly. What’s critical is that he be innocent, not that the particular type of hack be what it was back then. I also don’t find it plausible anymore that the list of games you could play would be in the directory, you just know more than you knew then. The abstract story stuff totally holds.
Have you thought about casting at all?
Well, it’s a little early. I mean basically the goal will be similar to the original in the sense that you have a normal kid who gets himself into hot water, as opposed to other versions of it where you could imagine it to be a much older guy who does it or whatever. I think the same idea of like a normal kid who gets in over his head is definitely going to hold.
I guess I’m curious, because the original documentary is so fantastic, what is the latest on the King of Kong feature?
So about three weeks ago, a writer turned in a draft that’s really, really strong. It’s a little too long so we have to cut it down and then New Line will make a decision about whether they want to do it or not. Things have changed internally over there about that story and with that company, and how many movies they make every year, but I would love working with those guys, so I think, honestly this would be a really strong choice.
Do you think that, will the project kind of incorporate what’s happened since the documentary?
It should incorporate some of it, absolutely. Even in the last few weeks it’s gotten crazy. It sort of never ends, but Billy founded an arcade at the Orlando airport. Do you know this? “King of Kong” arcade and he sells King of Kong hot dogs and he stole all of the artwork from the movie. It’s just awesome. And he still claims he hasn’t seen the movie, so we’ll see.
Do you believe it?
No. It’s one of many political, like the worst diplomacy I’ve ever seen honestly. Carefully lying in a way that’s totally obvious to everyone.
The plan is for you to direct, is that true?
I don’t know, I mean, I know the story really well. I don’t know who else would honestly.
Would you be willing to take liberties with the true story? As a feature film, you have so much more freedom.
I think we’re trapped. But in a way that’s what’s great about it. We know the material really well, we know the story really well. Those that paid attention and saw the doc know the story really well, so you’re not gonna get away with fabrication. So then it becomes about exploring within the boundaries of that with talented actors to unearth some stuff.
And have you, just in that sense have you given any thought to any casting there? Because I mean, you have some truly rich characters, I have to imagine that anybody would want to get their hands on.
Yeah, I’ve thought about it. But I mean honestly, all of a sudden Colin seems like a pretty interesting Billy, doesn’t he? And I don’t know who would play Steve, there’s a lot of opportunites and Brian Kuh? How great is that character? And Robert Mruczek, Steve Sanders, Roy Awesome. So I don’t know.