Back in April I was able to give you a little preview of my set visit to Dinner for Schmucks, which took place last December at the Paramount lot. Now that the film is set to open in theaters nationwide this Friday, July 30, I can tell you all of the details surrounding my visit, which turned out to be one of the best set visits I've ever had the privilege to be a part of.
For one, we got to see more actual filming on this set than I ever had on any previous set visits. I don't get to visit comedy sets too often and many of the sets I do go on are big budget affairs with complicated set-ups that take up a lot of time. The most complicated thing I saw on the set was director Jay Roach rehearsing a split-second shot which involved a tray of champagne glasses spilling and breaking on the floor, and we also got to see Roach show off his juggling skills while they were setting up the champagne trays. A true multi-tasker, no doubt. Aside from that, we were able to see numerous takes of a hilarious scene towards the end of the film which features a blind swordsman (Chris O'Dowd) an angry Swiss man (David Walliams) a severed finger and a vulture. We actually saw two or three full sequences being filmed numerous times and, from experiences where I've been on sets for hours on end, just waiting to see one shot, it was a refreshing change of pace, to say the least. It was also one of the few times I've ever been on a set where I've actually had to restrain myself from laughing because just watching these scenes - some of which had very little dialogue - were just hilarious to me. But, how did this whole scene come to be? Let's go back to the beginning.
The film centers on Paul Rudd's character, Tim Conrad, one of those guys who seemingly has it all. He's got a great job, working as a financial analyst at Fender Financial and a smoking-hot girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) who he proposes to in the opening of the film. Of course, Tim wants to move up through the ranks at his job (egged on even more by his aggressive/hilarious secretary, played by Kristen Schaal) and, after he impresses his higher-ups (Bruce Greenwood, Ron Livingston and Larry Wilmore), he gets what seems to be his big chance to move up... even though it's not quite what he imagined. Tim is charged with the task to find some loser and invite him to dinner under false pretenses and, with the other executives bringing their own "schmucks," whoever brings the biggest loser wins and, in Tim's case, winning means a promotion. However, Tim isn't game for this, until he meets Barry Speck (Steve Carell) and by meet, I mean run over with his car. Barry's eccentricities like being a taxidermist for dead mice make him the perfect schmuck, although, along their way to that fateful dinner, both Tim and Barry end up learning more about themselves and each other than they ever planned.
The scene we were watching them film was towards the end of the movie at the dinner and, during breaks in filming, we were able to catch up with several of these so-called schmucks. One of my favorite schmucks was Marco The Blind Swordsman, portrayed to perfection by British funnyman Chris O'Dowd. I don't think he had more than a few lines of dialogue the whole time I was there, but just watching him blindly stab at the air while wearing this goofy track suit was simply hysterical to me, and he was just as funny when we got a chance to chat with him.
"This is the fourth or fifth blind swordsman I've played," O'Dowd told us with a laugh. "So this is old hat for me. Yeah, he's a blind swordsman who thinks he's going to compete at the next Olympic games as a fencer, so he's a little bit misguided, I guess, and for that reason is thought of as a schmuck."
He also elaborated on a hilarious scene where, when he discovers why he is truly at this dinner party, he tries to even the playing field, so to speak.
"His honor has been compromised, and he has been referred to as an idiot and a fool, and so he is trying to seek revenge for his name being diminished, but it's pretty indiscriminate, because obviously he can't see anyone," O'Dowd explained. "And I have goal - the scene we shot last night - I turn of the lights, or what I think I'm doing is turning off the lights, to make it a fair playing field, but I just turn off a single table light, and I think that I'm invisible. So during this whole scene, I think that they can't see me. In a world of darkness, everybody is blind. I think they can't see me, but they're just stepping out of the way as I thrash myself about the room."
It truly is a fantastic scene and it's made even funnier with actor David Walliams, who is probably best known for his various roles on the British TV series Little Britain. We got to chat with him briefly and he told us a bit about how much they were allowed to improvise on the set.
"Yesterday we were on set with Steve Carell and Zach Galifianakis, and they were both - it was hilarious, because there was no take the same, because they were trading these insults with each other, and they made it up all the time, so we're encouraged to improvise to a point, but at the same time you've got to drive the plot and not go too far off what's already there," Walliams said. "I think we normally do what's written and then we get a chance to improvise a bit around it."
He also talked about the scene we were watching him film... which is where he gets his finger cut off by O'Dowd's Blind Swordsman in one of his blind stabbing moments.
"It's one of those quite odd things to do, because they ask me do I mind having my finger cut off," Walliams said. "It's a quite difficult shot to do, because you can see the sword, and it's not the right length - they're gonna put it on in post - and we've already done a shot of my looking at my finger flying off. It's sometimes quite technical."
While we weren't give a lot of time with the "schmucks" in the film, we were able to sit down for an extended chat with two of the "bad guys" in the film, Bruce Greenwood, who plays Lance Fender, the head honcho of the company Rudd's character works for, and Ron Livingston, who plays Caldwell, one of Fender's underlings who doesn't like seeing Rudd's character succeeding. Take a look at what they both had to say about this film below.
What did you like about the script? It seems really hilarious so far.
Bruce Greenwood: Well I'd heard about it before I'd read the script. I heard who was involved... you know, Steven [Carell] and Paul [Rudd] and Jay [Roach], and a host of these other funnymen that you know, it's kind of like, 'Gee, maybe I'd better... hmmm... think twice... okay, sounds great.' And then I read the script and it was just laugh out loud funny. And then when you get on the set, they're inventing stuff all day long and I feel like I should be buying a ticket to be here... working.
Ron Livingston: Well I'm sure you guys know about the set up by now, but its your basic predatory, capitalist... um, the guys that work there, throw a dinner every month where they each bring somebody... it's a contest to find who can bring the biggest idiot. And then they spend the whole night surreptitiously making fun of these people It's kind of a... it's a great script and it kind of functions as a metaphor. Like everybody has a great fear of being made fun of and so I think this movie is a little bit about that. And by the end of it you're not really sure who the idiots are, the people that are being made fun of, or the people that kind of seem to have this need to be finding someone to make fun of.
Do they have this need to find people so that they're not made fun of? Do they have to make fun of other people so that it doesn't happen to them?
Bruce Greenwood: That's a very deep question. (Laughs) I think the answer is clear.
So is there a prize for whoever brings the biggest schmuck?
Bruce Greenwood: Well there is a notch up the corporate ladder if you manage to impress the boss with the most raging half-wit you can find.
Ron Livingston: Mostly I think it's bragging rights. You get the bragging rights for the month.
What kind of company is it?
Ron Livingston: It's a financial company. The idea is that they do, you know, the old school leverage buy outs. You know, find a perfectly good company, buy it and carve it up. Which, in a way, is the same thing that they are doing to the people that they are bringing in. Just bringing 'em in and carving them up.
How do you guys find these idiots?
Ron Livingston: It's all set up pretty hysterically.
Bruce Greenwood: Most of them are journalists aren't they? (Laughs)
Ron Livingston: Yeah, that's pretty much act one of the movie, you see how they find these people, they just sort of fan out and they turn up.
Bruce Greenwood: They're everywhere. And some of them are us. You know, I think I have great ideas sometimes... I just don't share them. (Laughs)
Is the story supposed to be in New York, or L.A?
Ron Livingston: It's set here in L.A. And then, of course the idea is, you know, the story sort of follows Paul who's kind of caught in the middle of this whole thing. It's not quite to his taste but of course, he has ambitions and he wants to fit into the company. So sort of, against his better judgment, he's going along with it and he finds Steve Carell and at which point, hilarity ensues.
So we're told that you are kind of the rival to Paul.
Ron Livingston: I'm one of the rivals. Paul has a lot of rivals, I'm probably jackass number four. Yeah, he's got... Jemaine Clement plays [one]... I think he's got a love interest rival. I just basically play the insecure, threatened guy at the company that sort of makes it his business to try and take the new guy down. I don't know if Paul actually sweats when he calls... (Laughs). But that's my angle.
So what's Jay Roach like to work with?
Ron Livingston: Jay's fantastic! He's one of these guys that comes from the operator side of it so he knows the lens and he knows the frame. He's also, you get the feeling like, he's a great big kid with the imagination of it all. It's always great to work with a director that seems like he's having fun all day long. Especially in a comedy because it makes it a lot easier for you to have fun all day long. That seems to be Jay's approach.
Bruce Greenwood: He's just so easy going and the vibe on the set is just so relaxed, and you never feel pressured to do something quickly, and we're just free to kind of play around and find stuff that works. He creates this environment where everybody feels as though time doesn't exist. So it's not what you usually find on a set, it's a lot of people looking at their watches, and if they are not looking at their watches, then you can see them grinding their teeth wishing they could, you know. And this isn't like that at all. And yet, we're still making the dates, we're not behind or anything its just, he creates that really balanced, safe environment where there's tons of enthusiasm and no pressure.
What's it like to improv with these guys?
Bruce Greenwood: (Laughs) Watch and learn, you know. I'm at school here.
Ron Livingston: Yeah, I don't think it is so much improv[ising] with them, as trying to keep up. Yeah, when Steve and Zach and Paul... Paul is fantastic at improv. When those guys get going, you just kind of hang on to your chair and try to not drop the ball.
Bruce Greenwood: It's like a different smoke for me, for sure, yeah. Generally I'm reasonably serious. This can't be considered too serious. The characters of course, take this deadly serious, but I'm just used to much straighter fare so it's been a real joy for me.
So would you say that your character is... are there any other characters that threaten him beyond Paul? What's his relationship with Bruce's character? Does he sort of live in fear of him or is he a suck up to him...?
Ron Livingston: I think that its kind of fun to play about this whole environment in that, these guys are all sort of vultures, they'd eat each other for lunch given half a chance. So they get along swimmingly, but you always get a sense that if the chips are down, nobody's got anybody's back.
How do you convince these people to come to dinner? What do you say to them to get them to come?
Bruce Greenwood: We tell them we're having a "dinner for winners" and they seem like an outstanding, unique person with incredible attributes that we'd like to share with the world.
Ron Livingston: That's the idea, that none of the "schmucks", none of the victims of the whole thing have any idea that they are there to be made fun of. They are sort of told that it is a dinner for extraordinary people and they are invited on their own merits.
So once they get to the dinner though, is it clear that they are going to be made fun of?
Bruce Greenwood: No, it's not intended to be clear at all. They think they are being feted, you know, and in a sense they are, we are just sort of laughing up their sleeves at them. But Paul's reluctance to sign on to this mean-spirited thing is what kind of begins to undo the charade and it all goes bad.
Now how dark does the comedy get? Are we looking at an R rating?
Ron Livingston: No, I think it's going for a PG...
Bruce Greenwood: No we're ducking profanity for the most part. Which is difficult (Laughs).
Ron Livingston: I think they want to make it into a fun, family movie.
Bruce Greenwood: Yeah, it's got a big heart.
Ron Livingston: You know, that teenagers can see.
Our last stop of the day was to chat with the two big stars of the film, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, who, sadly, we didn't get to see film any scenes, which was more than made up for with this extended, laugh-filled chat with these brilliant comedic artists. Take a look at their chat with our press group below.
What would you say the message of the film is if you had to nutshell it?
Steve Carell: Oh I love nutshelling
Paul Rudd: You do love nutshelling, I do notice that.
Steve Carell: I guess, fools are in the eyes of the beholder, in a way.
Paul Rudd: That was kind of nice. That was a little nutshelly.
Steve Carell: I think, clearly, the people you perceive to be fools are not necessarily that, and there can be great depth and-- I don't know. I guess you can-I don't know.
Paul Rudd: No, I think you said it.
Steve Carell: But it's so hard because I don't want to say something that sounds over sentimental. Because it's really--There's so many funny people in it. There's so many funny scenes and just great situations that I don't want to make it sound like it's a morality tale.
Paul Rudd: Yeah whenever we say that, you know, Steve and I are also really aware of that too and when we start talking that, all of a sudden we sound so--
Steve Carell: We hate ourselves. Cause we keep talking about it. That's the thing. It does sound so pretentious to talk about it. But I hope people, if this movie could get one person to vote (laughs) I don't know. It's really funny, but I think it does say something about friendships, and about misconceptions that people have.
Paul Rudd: Judging people.
Steve Carell: Yeah. All of that in a light-I think it's done with a light touch though. I don't think it's too heavy handed because I don't think it needs to be, I think that comes through the story itself. I hope.
You both work with obviously very strong kind of directors. Jay has a big reputation coming into it. Is this the first time for both of you working with Jay?
Steve Carell: Yeah
What is it that makes him unique as a comedy director? What is it that he brings to the set?
Paul Rudd: Jay is kind of-I've always felt Jay's been somewhat omnipresent, omniscient over the last few years. You always see him around and he's so involved with movies that are made-comedies that are made. Everyone knows Jay. Everyone really respects his opinion because he's super smart. He's stealth smart and stealth funny in ways I think a lot of people aren't. He's so easygoing and his reputation is that he's like the nicest man you'll meet, and it's true. He really is. He's very clever and immediately, I think, I felt really comfortable in trusting. We would do several takes and he would play it back and there would just a moment. He'd say, "that right there," and he would point out something, a moment in playback from the scene we just shot. "Yeah, I think that's the right thing too" - I don't know, I just felt really comfortable with him kind of steering the ship. And because he's so kind of even keel, there's a--
Steve Carell: There's another ship.
Paul Rudd: I'm all nautical (Laughs) He's really the captain. I consider myself a seabee.
Steve Carell: He navigates the scene by looking at the stars.
Paul Rudd: Really, he can rough waters depending on (laughs)... whether or not we're crossing the Atlantic and what time of the year it is. And let's face it, it's winter. (laughs) The tides are really-anyway, I'll be in the mess hall.
Steve Carell: That's absolutely accurate though. I think we both, everybody, I think all the cast trust him implicitly and within that, you have this freedom to fail. You have freedom to try things and they could be way off base or they could be better than what you've been doing. But you get the chance to try and experiment. And you trust that if you're trying something that doesn't necessarily work, it won't go in the movie. He's not going to fall in love with something that's horrendous and put it in. So you do have that freedom. You don't censor yourself.
Paul Rudd: He's concerned with story and character and he wants it to be funny wants and wants the jokes to be good but it's not at the expense of keeping the story on point, and that's good.
Steve, it seems like once all the schmucks find out that they're not there for the winner dinner, they all kind of bond together and team up against the execs. Do you bond with them or do you stay out of it?
Steve Carell: No, we bond, but we're out of there pretty fast because we're on to-we have some other things to deal with regarding Tim's girlfriend. So we need to evacuate and get my tower of dreamers on his car quickly, but yeah, there's a definite coming together of these people and understanding. My character thinks these are the greatest people he's ever met because they're kindred spirits. They're people who sort of live on the fringes and dance their own music, and I love that. I love the fact that these people are so unique and so completely committed to whatever their vocation is.
Did you get to sit next to the vulture?
Steve Carell: I do.
And what kind of things did you do?
Steve Carell: I tried to avoid him pooping on me.
Paul Rudd: Which is all the time, by the way.
Steve Carell: Do you want to tell them about the vulture flatulence problem?
Paul Rudd: Yeah, the vulture farted right in the middle of our scene.
Steve Carell: It was disturbing, it was a disturbing sound, because for a second we didn't really know what it was. It didn't sound like it came from a human being. Clearly, it didn't. I don't even know how to describe it. It was a release of air that I've never heard in my life.
Paul Rudd: When you think about what caused it, what does a vulture eat but dead stuff, and then farts. It's just weird to hear a vulture fart, I guess. (Laughs)
Steve Carell: If we had gotten one thing from this experience, it's that. (Laughs) He's been very good though. He did a bunch of vulture stunts yesterday. He did everything they asked him to do. I don't know how they do it. I don't know how these trainers get these animals to do these things.
Paul Rudd: Isn't it a crazy thing, you know David and Michael, the writers, ...(inaudible)... there's a vulture lover. And he has a vulture and the vulture does this. There are people that "Oh yeah, no, I can get you a vulture." (laughs) There are people that train vultures to do this!
Steve Carell: Can you get the vulture to walk down a table and eat a finger? (Laughs)
Paul Rudd: Sure. No problem. And there's two guys. One guy's got a stick with a piece of meat on it. The vulture runs down a table and it takes a while but it works.
Steve, your character's under the impression that you and Tim are really good friends. Is that because you're misleading him to think that?
Steve Carell: I'm very trusting. I think my character's very trusting, and he invites me to a party, so I assume that immediately. And he expresses-- I don't think my character necessarily reads him very well, or chooses not to read him. And he gets invited to a dinner party. It's an enormous event for him. And he expresses an interest in my mice, which probably doesn't happen all the time. I think that's pretty natural, if you meet someone and they invite you somewhere or express interest in you, you feel like there's an immediate connection and I just infuse myself into his life whether he wants me to or not. And I make it so bad or terrible.
Paul Rudd: Or do you?
Steve Carell: We'll see. We'll see at the end. You may be happier.
That about wraps it up from my day on the set of Dinner for Schmucks, which arrives in theaters nationwide on July 30. It was by far one of the best set visit experiences so far and the movie itself is a lot of fun as well.