Actor discusses the film, working with Matthew Broderick, and his illustrious career
In his long and illustrious career Danny DeVito has been able to do comedy and drama with equal ease. From the iconic Louie De Palma in Taxi, to other notable turns in such films as Throw Momma From the Train, L.A. Confidential, and the very underrated Death to Smoochy, Danny Devito has shown himself to be a highly diverse performer.
In his new film Deck the Halls, Danny De Vito and Matthew Broderick are neighbors with dramatically different personalities and contrasting approaches to celebrating the holidays. When they clash over Christmas decorations - the season of goodwill evaporates and all out war is declared. De Vito's gaudy, flamboyant lights drive the rigidly controlling and highly traditional Matthew Broderick into a frenzy. The two men come to blows with hilarious consequences.
What was the attraction of playing Buddy Hall in Deck the Halls?
Danny DeVito: I really love this guy and he has a definite character arc. Buddy is a man who works hard to make a living but he has never stuck at one job, he's done all kinds of sales jobs, he can sell anything and now he's selling cars. He is happy with his wife and kids and loves his family, they are all doing well. But he's never had that 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol talked about - that little bit of self esteem that he thinks will give him something to be proud of.
What leads to the conflict with Matthew Broderick's character Steve Finch?
Danny DeVito: Matthew Broderick and his wife (Kristin Davis) and their family are very well positioned in society. They have a really nice home and the guy is a smart optometrist. He does Christmas 'by the book'; according to the rules and everything is done in exactly the right way. One day my kids are looking at a computer satellite image of our neighborhood and they can see everyone's house but ours. Then I go outside and suddenly get an idea that it would be really great to see our house from space. I think it would be a fantastic achievement. So I decide to decorate my house with tons and tons of lights. It is very annoying to Steve Finch who has a neat and subtle approach to Christmas. My house looks dazzling and crowds of people come to see it, because it has the brightest and biggest lights display in the area, which is fun for people, and they clog the cul-de-sac, nobody can move. Unfortunately I have to invade Matthew's space, which I also enjoy by the way and he gets very angry.
What are your criteria for making films?
Danny DeVito: I make whatever appeals to me. I love Deck the Halls because it is a pure family film, great entertainment for everyone, adults too. It is enjoyable to see the conflict and the comedy. If you're out shopping with kids and you all need an hour and a half break, you can go and see Deck the Halls, the kids will be happy and you'll have a very enjoyable time.
What was the essential appeal of this story for you, does it have anything to say about family life and the holidays?
Danny DeVito: I don't think I've ever done a film for the whole family, so I loved it. It is about a guy who has dreams, he's a sympathetic character, it is a success story and I think kids just 'dig it', they enjoy stories like this. Children want you to succeed, they are truly pure and this has a very good message, I really think that we need this kind of film more than ever just now. I spend a lot of time and energy doing all kinds of films and I certainly love being a bad guy in movies and I love to do all different genres, horror, comedy and meaningful dramas like Erin Brockovich or something like Pulp Fiction, I enjoy crime drama. But family movies are the most rewarding experiences. I love to watch the delight on children's faces when they engrossed in a film like this. It is magical.
What was it like working with Matthew?
Danny DeVito: I only knew him from afar and always admired his work. We really had synergy and a great rapport; we play an odd couple and immediately liked each other from the first moment we met. We worked together really well in terms of improvisation, we fell into it the very first day we were on the set; he is such a nice guy, a really great guy. I think we have the same rhythms although I am a little bit more extreme.
Have you ever had an annoying neighbor like Buddy?
Danny DeVito: The worst was when we were having a birthday party for my daughter Gracie, years ago in our back yard and the woman next door called the cops. I said, "Wait a minute what's wrong with this picture, this is a little kids' party?" The Beverly Hills cops arrived at the front gate and said they had a complaint from the neighbors because there was a wild party going on. I said, "Oh really - I'm sorry it's my daughter and her friends, would you help me control them?" We walked all the way through the house into the garden and there were seven and eight year-olds playing by the pool with moms and dads chatting and two lifeguards. The cops shook their heads in disbelief and laughed and said, "Oh God sorry lets go."
Every once in a while you get a neighbor who is ridiculous and irritating. Years ago, Rhea and I had a house with a little swimming pool at the back, with beautiful trees bordering the property. They were big and lush and one day I came home and the neighbor bought a chain saw, he just went crazy and hacked the trees, he just chopped them down. I said "What possessed you to do that? They were healthy and beautiful?" But he did not have an answer and the result was that we lost the privacy and the barrier between our house and his. Most of our neighbors have been great though.
Is it fun for you to do a straight acting job like Deck the Halls - so often you are involved as a director or producer?
Danny DeVito: Oh yes, I think it is a great thing to act in a film without doing everything else. I felt very good about working with John Whitesell the director, because he knows exactly what he's doing so it was a joy making this film, it was really good fun. It's a different life, a 'camper life' that you don't get when you're an actor/ producer. You can be off the set for a little bit while they're lighting, you can make a phone call or you can watch a movie, it's a break, it's a respite.
Do you have any fond Christmas memories from your childhood in New Jersey?
Danny DeVito: We loved Christmas in our family, we didn't decorate in an extreme gaudy way like Buddy Hall though, we decorated the tree and the house and my mother put out candles in the windows. There were people in the neighborhood who did put up elaborate lights and we always used to get in the car to see them. It was exciting. But in general I love Christmas, it's a signal to get together as a family - bring the uncles and aunts over to the house - even the ones you do not like. And then you just eat. In our house there was always big time eating. We would start with anti pasto, meat and cheeses. My mother cooked amazing lasagna and eggplant Parmesan, we'd also cook a ham or a turkey or both and we'd have chestnuts, broccoli, fennel with salt and pepper and olive oil - oh my god it's so good.
Do you still enjoy Christmas?
Danny DeVito: I love the holidays, you look forward to this time of year. I don't love the commercial aspect, but I love the fact that it signals a time when families get together and have a nice dinner. A lot of it revolves around food with me because a lot of my life does in a way. Christmas is a good excuse to eat everything. In my house we always have Italian food but also traditional Christmas cookies and some kind of meat, turkey or whatever. I've always decorated the tree but we don't go overboard. My wife is Jewish so we celebrate all the holidays. We're working a lot and so it is great to relax for a few days and be together.
Were you interested in films growing up?
Danny DeVito: We had no video or DVDS of course and there weren't a million TV channels. But I loved going to movies. On TV they had what they called The Million Dollar Movie. They played the same film every single day for a week and I would watch every night. In December they would have Scrooge with Alastair Sim and then a couple of times a year they'd play King Kong the whole week or Key Largo or maybe The Front Page, mainly American movies from the 30s and 40s. If you stopped watching one night, you picked up where you left off the next night. Also there were a lot of movie theaters in Asbury Park where we lived and I would go with my sisters and friends as often as possible.
How much do enjoy going to movies yourself?
Danny DeVito: I love going to all kind of movies, I screen DVDS in my house, but I go to the theater a lot in the afternoon, I don't get bugged because there aren't many people around. I often go to a one o clock show, get myself some popcorn and watch a good movie. It is great entertainment. I think the best film of the year is Little Miss Sunshine.
Do you have any favorite films of your own?
Danny DeVito: I've been very fortunate working with people I really care about. I've enjoyed most of the films I have made. The experience of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was unique, a once in a lifetime project, to be a part of a movie that's so moving and so much fun. I can't call it my favorite but I love it. All the movies you do are such a part of you, I loved Matilda and I loved Hoffa and L.A. Confidential.
You seem to be involved in so many projects, are you still passionate about your work?
Danny DeVito: I like to work, I don't like to be idle, I like to lie on the beach and have a rum drink and have some peace once in a while, but I really prefer to keep busy. I think when I'm working I'm happiest, so I'm always working. Everything has to do with the film business whether it's producing or writing or acting. Whenever I'm involved in the movies in some way, I'm a happy guy. I do other things in a happy way, going out to dinner with my family and friends. I like to enjoy myself - that's the thing in life; you've got to be happy.
Deck the Halls opens in theaters November 22 from 20th Century Fox.