Director Shawn Levy talks about Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Google, and the young supporting cast of The Internship, in theaters June 7th
Not many people graduate from Yale with honors, but filmmaker Shawn Levy did, and at just 20 years of age. In fact, if Google had been around in the mid-80s, those impressive academic credentials may have even landed him in the coveted internship program, which is showcased in the director's latest comedy The Internship. Vince Vaughn (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jared Stern) and Owen Wilson star as two aging salesmen who, after losing their jobs, decide to reinvent themselves by becoming interns at Google, competing with brilliant youngsters half their age while dealing with contentious teammates (Dylan O'Brien, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael) who want nothing to do with them. I recently had the chance to speak with Shawn Levy over the phone about The Internship, hitting theaters nationwide June 7th. Here's what he had to say about shooting in the actual Google facility (a.k.a. The Googleplex), finding his young supporting cast, and much more.
I really loved your last film, Real Steel, but you've been very much steeped in this comedy world for some time. Were you looking to jump right back into comedy after Real Steel, or were you looking to stay in that more dramatic world at first?
Shawn Levy: It's a legitimate question, because I love Real Steel too. In fact, my plan was to roll right from Real Steel right into a movie called Fantastic Voyage. The truth of it is I really loved flexing different muscles with Real Steel, and it was not my intention or plan to go right back to comedy. After that, I was going to do something of an even bigger, visual, sci-fi nature. But, the nature of those huge films, is it only makes sense to spend that kind of crazy money, when the script is fantastic. We have yet to get Fantastic Voyage to that stage. It was in that movement when Vince pitched me this idea. I know and like Vince very much, and I adore Owen, who was in my Night at the Museum movies. There was something about this clean, big idea of Vince and Owen as interns at Google, that I thought was interesting. I also thought it could be timely, just because, we're in this moment where you've got a generation of 40-year-old's having a certain amount of economic anxiety, and feeling potentially obsolete, at the same moment you have 21-year-old's coming out of college with no certainty of their job prospects. That's why I did it, and that's hopefully what came through.
I did enjoy it. I was looking forward to seeing more of what Google is all about, because I knew you shot up there. That whole facility looks phenomenal.
Shawn Levy: I'm sitting here right now, and, the truth is, when I first came here, I wondered if it was going to be as far out and quirky and as amusement park-esque as I had heard. The crazy thing is, it is. It's really great for this new notion of a workplace. Based on their success, I think we have to conclude that it's working.
When Vince pitched you that idea, did he have the script already written?
Shawn Levy: He had written a script. It was written by him alone, so he had a script, but he knew that the script needed a lot of work, and he knew that the script didn't do justice to the enormity of the idea. There are scenes from the script that are still in the movie, but the two things that needed to happen was, one, we needed to lock down Owen, and, two, we needed to lock down Google. Those were two things that happened very shortly after I became involved with the movie, and that's when we really started to revise the draft, me working very intensely with (co-writer) Jared (Stern) and Vince together, incorporating everything we learned in our scouting trips.
Shawn Levy: I agree. If I were writing a story about the movie, I feel like everybody is writing the Google story and everyone is writing the Vince and Owen story, but honestly man, what is really interesting and enjoyable about the movie are the things that are unconnected to those two things. I really wanted to surround Vince and Owen with those who could exploit the awesomeness of that duo, but didn't rely exclusively on the awesomeness of that duo. What I did to accomplish this is something that I've never done on any other movie. Before I cast anybody, I made them come in and do an improvisation session with Vince or Owen, because I knew that however good our script was, there was going to be a lot of riffing. That's how I work, that's how Vince and Owen work, and I knew that I couldn't cast an actor who was just good at doing the lines. I needed to cast actors who could hit the ball back and forth, both reactively and actively. People like Aasif and Max (Minghella) and Dylan and Tiya and Tobit, who plays Yo-Yo and had never done a damn thing, I made them all come in and do improv sessions with the leads, to make sure they could roll with that flow. That's how I ended up casting the movie, basing it on the people who were the most improvisationally deft.
That's really interesting. I've never heard of that approach before.
Shawn Levy: What I find that's cool is, a lot of the best stuff in the movie, came about in the improv auditions, and I wrote it down. For instance, the entire "Exchange-a-gram" online scene, that was an improvisation that Vince did in Dylan O'Brien's audition. Similarly, the Flashdance scene, was improvised in his audition with Aasif. He kept talking about a little Steeltown girl who had a dream to dance, and it was so classic.
You talked about how one of your first objectives was to lock down Google, but were they reluctant to come on board at all? They're never really been out there like this.
Shawn Levy: You know, this was a big risk, and, in retrospect, I'm still kind of amazed. I wouldn't say that they were reluctant, but they were definitely not like, 'Choose us, choose us!' It's so funny and, frankly, stupid to me, when I read stuff like, 'Dude, did you do a commercial for Google?' I'm like, 'Dude, Google doesn't need a movie. Google is doing fine without Shawn Levy's help.' They were open to the idea. I told them straight up, 'The movie might be R rated. It might be a very dicey PG-13.' Whatever it's rating, it needed to be irreverent, there was certainly going to be a major sequence in a strip club, it's going to have to have enough audacity to be funny. To their credit, they said, 'Just make it funny, and make it good-hearted.' As long as I did those two things, which, frankly, are the hallmarks of everything I've directed, I'm going to make it funny and I'm certainly going to make it fundamentally warm-hearted. Those were the ground rules and, beyond that, they were really, impressively, cool with me calling the shots, and me making the movie in the way I saw fit. There were some early meetings where I needed to assure them of those baseline qualities, but once we got through that, they were really laid-back and excellent partners.
How close would you say that the real Google internship program is to the version you have in the movie?
Shawn Levy: Here's what is real, and here's what is completely not real. What is real is that only something like 10% or less of the interns get jobs. It is real that they are put in teams, and that they spend their internship doing tasks that mirror the jobs of real Googlers. It is real that they wear those crazy beanies. What is not real, is it is not a hyper-competitive, team vs. team structure. The interns are observed as individuals, and they don't compete in this mental Hunger Games-like war.
Shawn Levy: You know, crazily enough, I'm actually shooting my next movie right now. I'm shooting a movie called This Is Where I Leave You. That's a movie for Warner Bros. that's like a Silver Linings Playbook-scale-and-toned movie, based on the novel. It just felt time for me to do something really different, and either I wanted to go much bigger, or much smaller. So, I'm doing this small character movie, with an insane cast, and I'm really loving it. After that, it will likely be Night at the Museum 3 next year.
With comedies, this new drama, Fantastic Voyage, is there anything else specifically you want to conquer? Westerns, perhaps?
Shawn Levy: You know, Real Steel whetted my appetite in two major ways. One, it really pointed out to me how comfortable I am and how much I adore a dramatic character story line, and it also was really satisfying in building a world. Those are two things that I want to keep doing, so I suspect we haven't seen the last of me in both a science-fiction space, a grounded fable of sorts, which I guess Real Steel kind of was, but I really feel privileged that I get to do whatever I want to do, and mix it up in ways that are interesting to me. So, as long as they're going to let me bob and weave like this, that's what I'm going to keep doing. I want to keep working on different muscles and avoid complacency.
That's my time. Thanks so much, Shawn. It was a pleasure talking to you.