To be perfectly honest with you, when I first heard about the upcoming Universal Pictures comedy The Change-Up, I was rather skeptical, even with some A-list talent attached in front of and behind the camera. It's a body-switching movie, which evoked 1980s memories of movies such as Like Father, Like Son, Vice Versa, and even Big, to a certain extent. It's a genre we haven't seen explored in years, with the last prominent example being the Disney remake Freaky Friday, which launched Lindsay Lohan into the stratosphere of stardom. The folks at Universal Pictures invited me to the set of The Change-Up back in January of this year, and, despite my initial trepidations about the movie, which opens in theaters nationwide on August 5, I was sold on the comedy after leaving the set.
For those who might not be familiar with The Change-Up, or who haven't seen the trailer (or the fantastic red band trailer), let me break down the story for you. Dave (Jason Bateman) and Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) are two lifelong friends who grew up to lead very different lives. Dave is a successful lawyer with a lovely wife Jamie (Leslie Mann) and three kids. Mitch is a consummate bachelor who is making a meager living as an actor in Atlanta, mainly performing in small TV commercial roles. Although they lead vastly different lives, each secretly pines for the other's life. Dave dreams of a carefree bachelor's life after being tied down by the wife and kids, while Mitch would die to have a loving wife and three kids who adore him. Dave and Mitch hit the town in Atlanta one night, and they both end up making drunken wishes that somehow come true: they both want the other's life. When they wake up in the morning, Dave finds himself in Mitch's body, and Mitch in Dave's, which, naturally, freaks them both out. They find a way to work together so both of their lives aren't destroyed, while learning that neither of them has the ideal life they imagined, before they can figure out how to switch back into their own skin. Olivia Wilde also stars as Dave's alluring legal associate while Alan Arkin appears as Mitch's estranged father.
When we arrived on the set, Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, and Leslie Mann were shooting a scene inside the set of Dave's house, which is in the affluent Dunwoody neighborhood of Atlanta. The scene is before the body-switch where Mitch comes to pick up Dave before their night on the town, with Jamie greeting Mitch at the door. There is an exchange where Jamie says she likes his new haircut, which Mitch replies, "I had to cut it for a fucking tampon commercial." Awesome. We watched a few different takes of this small scene, and Ryan Reynolds even stopped by to say hello to our assembled press group. Before we could see another scene being shot, we had our first interview of the day, with executive producer Ori Marmur, who surprisingly recognized me from my December 2009 visit to the set of another movie he produced, Battle: Los Angeles. Here's what the executive producer had to say.
Executive Producer Ori Marmur:
There seems to be a lot of movies shooting in Atlanta these days.
Ori Marmur: The people are great, the restaurants are nice, the food is awesome. When we got here, there were two other Universal films which were wrapping up and a Paramount film which was wrapping up, so a lot is going on. Fast Five finished as we were starting here. They are all over the place though, Rio, Puerto Rico. I don't know how much you guys know about the movie, but I will tell you that Ryan, Jason, Leslie, and Olivia, that group has been so awesome to work with. They're so funny, they have such amazing chemistry, and it's just one of those things where you're just so psyched every day, because they're bringing everything. The writers are great. They did The Hangover and many other things. You'll meet one of them here, but what's terrific is they've been coming to the movie, and normally you always hear that when movies have writers coming to set, it's because they never finished the script (Laughter). These guys are truly there because they will workshop stuff with (director) David (Dobkin) and the actors. A lot of the funniest lines are either scripted or some variation of what was scripted or in rehearsal.
How much rehearsal time have you had?
Ori Marmur: Well, David has been very efficient, in the sense that he comes to the set with this big board with his handwritten storyboard drawings, which are really stick figures. They are funny, and we give him a lot of shit for it, but it's his blueprint of what he sees in his head, all the different pieces and frames, and, in his pocket, he'll have all these different colored Sharpies. Throughout the day, he'll walk over and mark off his territory. The actors will come by and see that and they'll know the plan. At least you know when you get here, that so much thought and energy has gone into those things. It's really going really good and everybody is super happy, but we're not finished yet.
How much do you have left to shoot?
Ori Marmur: We are less than three weeks away from finishing. Since weekends don't really count, I think we have like 12 or 13 days left. At times, I catch myself where I wish I wouldn't have said things like that because we'll have times when it's raining really hard. I look over at one of the other producers and say, 'This thing is holding up really well.' He'll go, 'Oh yeah. Tomorrow it's going to end up looking like the (Minnesota) Vikings' stadium.' (Laughter). It's really been a joy working with these guys and girls.
Can you talk more about Alan Arkin's role?
Ori Marmur:Alan plays Ryan Reynolds' father. He was terrific. It was one of those things where we're like a bunch of kids and here comes Alan Arkin, you know. His wife is also in the movie, not a major role, but it was really nice. The dailies we've shot so far have been really funny and the look of the film is great. A lot of times you'll see comedies that look kind of flat and cold. I think that Eric Edwards, our DP, and David have done a really good job making the film look crisp and colorful and cool. I felt the same way in Wedding Crashers. It didn't look like another comedy which might be kind of choppy. It's almost like shooting a coemdy film in the way a lot of people shoot dramas. Shooting in Atlanta is going to look great, because we've shot all over Atlanta. Restaurants, real restaurants, and parks and the whole thing. On the other movie that I met a lot of you guys on (Battle: Los Angeles), we were shooting for Los Angeles and we were in Shreveport and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Often times, you're shooting something for something else, and it's nice when you're shooting for what it is.
Can you talk about the places where you have shot in Atlanta?
Ori Marmur: We were at Turner Field (home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team), we shot Piedmont Park, we shot at three or four restaurants in town. We shot in a couple of different neighborhoods and we found this abandoned space, which I think was a furniture manufacturing company. It was empty and we were able to build all these terrific sets here. The weather can be bananas. We were shooting outside and we had scenes with rain.
This is supposed to take place in the summer, though, right?
Ori Marmur: That's why the planning was so critical. We were able to get so much footage by the way we scheduled, right from the get-go, when it was still sunny. It was sort of a race to document as much as possible before every leaft on every tree vanished, or before the snow came in. We were just really fortunate and, unlike maybe shooting in places that I love, and I don't mean this disparagingly, like L.A. or New York, people are pretty cool here when you need to move stuff in and out or close a street or two. It's been really great, but I can't say enough about everyone we're working with. They've gone so far above and beyond expectations. We came in with a great team and a concept we were really confident in, because it's a very relatable thought or idea, that the grass is always greener thing, coveting something you don't have, or fantasizing about something, maybe if things went differently. I think the idea of a married guy who loves his wife and has his three kids, who wants to provide and wants to be successful, but it all kind of gets lost in trying to make partner. He's the guy that can't enjoy what he has in front of him, because he's always thinking about how much happier he will be when he gets here. Regardless of what you do or how much you make, that's a relatable thing. Jason plays that character and Leslie plays his wife and the kids are terrific. The cast is always fascinated by how these super-young kids are like aliens (Laughter). I have kids and I'm always like, 'I'm not sure if they'd be able to memorize these lines.' Ryan plays the buddy who have kind of drifted apart over the years. On the surface, the married guy thinks that women are just throwing themselves at him. He thinks it must be so amazing and suddenly, this guy is in his body and the other guy is in his body and you see, very quickly, what you think things may be like, sort of aren't. The idea of body-switch his historically been a PG kind of movie. I don't even know if they're even PG-13. They're usually very soft. One of the things that makes this experience so fun and enjoyable, maybe this not a good reflection on myself for saying this, but this is a really hard R, in the best possible sense. Even though we can look at the sides, and we know what lines are going to come out of these people's mouths, seeing them say them on film and actually acting them out, is unbelievable.
At that point, screenwriter Jon Lucas came into the room and relieved Ori, who had mentioned at one point that he only came in to say hi to us, although he answered our questions graciously for 12 minutes. What a good sport! Jon Lucas, along with his writing partner Scott Moore, seem to get better and better with each movie they write. They first teamed up with the Martin Lawrence comedy Rebound and went on to write such comedies as Full of It, Four Christmases, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past before hitting box office gold with The Hangover, which made a whopping $277 million at the domestic box office. The comedy set a new record for the highest-grossing R-rated comedy, breaking the 25-year-old record set in 1984 by Beverly Hills Cop. Sadly, Scott Moore wasn't on the set the day we visited, but we did get to speak with the hilarious Jon Lucas at length. Here's what he had to say below.
Screenwriter Jon Lucas:
Can you talk a little bit about the tone of the movie?
Jon Lucas: It's going to offend everyone here, in some way. I just wrote a dirty yarmulke joke in there. I don't know if that will make it in, but it was exciting in the moment. We're going hard R. I think doing a body-switching thing, presumably everyone in this room hear body-switching and there's a little bit of uncertainty. It's cool. Our idea is to take an idea like that, which has generally been done before, often in more of a Disney teen type thing, and take that and put it in an unhealthy world of R-rated comedy. That was the whole pitch, really. I can almost go now (Laughter). You guys will be watching today, and when Ryan and Leslie get going, I know writers always say this, but they are so much funnier than I am. You've seen Leslie in all of her movies, and she's insanely funny. Ryan, he goes toe-to-toe with everybody, and they're so fast that there are times that I find our least-funny lines on the page, they'll take them and will say them in a way which is so much better than I wrote it. Jokes I have worked and slaved over. The funniest thing is just them reacting. It sucks that acting is so much better than writing (Laughter). Great acting will always trump the great lines.
What's the relationship like between their characters? It seems they get along pretty well.
Jon Lucas: When you're watching today, it should be pretty alarming. It will look like they are husband and wife, but Leslie plays Jason Bateman's wife. Ryan and Jason are sort of best friends who have gone their separate ways in life a little bit. I don't know if you guys are married or single, but I'm married with kids and my single friends and I are increasingly on a track where they're becoming a little dirtier and I'm becoming like square. This movie is supposed to bridge that divide.
So he gets along with Jason's wife maybe too much?
Jon Lucas: Exactly. I definitely have single guy friends who say horrible things to my wife.
Usually in a body-switching comedy, it's something like 'Oh no, the gypsy switched us.' How does it work in this movie?
Jon Lucas: That's a good question because one of the trepidations we had was how do we do this very sweet PG genre? Our way is these guys get hammered together and they pee in a fountain. It sort of makes sense, because you make a wish in a fountain, with a coin. You're usually not peeing in it, but when you're drunk you sort of pee in public places. We didn't want to do the fortune cookie like Freaky Friday. Our goal is to do a gross version of that.
Was your script set in Atlanta, or did you modify the script at all for Atlanta?
Jon Lucas: Yes. The (Boston) Red Sox became the (Atlanta) Braves, all the heroes are baseball fans and The Change-Up is a pitch. That's the greatest note a writer ever gets. They said, 'Guys, we're changing it from Boston to Atalanta.' When they go, 'We want the girl to be a dog,' I don't know how to do that one (Laughter). City changes are good.
Is there a lot of making fun of the genre too? Do you poke fun at it at all?
Jon Lucas: We tried to, because, you'll see today, we're not taking anything super-seriously. We don't want to get too precious with the genre, but you do need heart in the movie, so that's the trick. It can't just be jokes for two straight hours, because people do get exhausted from those movies. But yeah, we're not trying to reinvent the wheel here. There is always the feeling, when these movies are in development, that maybe they might get a little too dramatic, and we want everyone to learn a little lesson, but nobody goes to an R-rated movie to learn how to live their life better. You go to get away from your life for two hours and have a great time. If you learn anything in this movie, we have failed.
Can you talk more about the whole impetus behind this? Were you guys all just watching Vice Versa one day?
Jon Lucas: (Laughs) I actually liked Freaky Friday. I know a straight, 35-year-old dude should never say, 'I liked Freaky Friday,' but I've seen it a few times and it totally works. Lindsay Lohan is great and it's a good movie. My writing partner and I are always pitching ideas to each other and we're always working through high concepts. It's all about the idea. I'm sure a lot of writers say that, but it's all about finding an interesting take on it. After The Hangover's success, obviously the R-rated thing was an area we felt comfortable in, what people wanted from us. It's so much easier to be funny in R, yet you gain so much respect for a PG-13 movie that is funny, because there are so many rules. With Seinfeld, it's like, 'God, he's clean and it's funny every week.' We have terrible jokes in this movie, but since they're so dirty, you're going to laugh and go, 'I'm not sure if this is funny or if it's just outrageous or offended.' The R-rated arena really opened it up. The idea basically came from I have a dinner every few months where a bunch of guys just eat steak and talk about stuff. It used to be me and this other guy were the two married guys and everyone else was single and laughing at us. Gradually, we won a few over to our camp. The conversations we have, it's like people who have never been in our world, like people they pull out of the jungle and don't understand. I'm asking them questions that are so dumb, about being single, like, 'What do you say? How do you do it?' And they'll go, 'So you're married, so you have sex like once a day or twice a day?' I'm like, 'Are you out of your fucking mind?' Some of that stuff got into the script, and that's some of the funniest stuff, I think. There's a scene in the movie where Jason says, once they've switched bodies, 'OK, if I'm going to impersonate you, how many times do I have to have sex with your wife?' Ryan's like, 'Well, it's Tuesday.' Jason goes, 'What, you don't have sex on Tuesday's?' Ryan goes, 'No, we never have sex on Tuesday's! There's no way that's even going to come up!' The stuff that feels real like that, hopefully the audience will like it.
How did you get (producer) Neal H. Moritz on board? He doesn't usually do comedies.
Jon Lucas: Our first person attached was (director) David Dobkin. As a writer, I often don't know how these things happen. We've both worked with Neal before, he came on later in the process, but he's great. He's the guy that gets everything over the goal line. He has a real gift for getting movies made. That might not seem like an art, but there is something he knows what none of us do. You get him a movie and, somehow, you're sitting here at Atlanta. He has that special thing that gets it over the goal line. You met Ori and he helps the comedy. It's good having funny producers because a lot of times, you don't have people like that. Ori gets comedy and loves to laugh and enjoy it, telling jokes.
Did you seek out David Dobkin?
Jon Lucas:Scott and I did a little bit of work on Wedding Crashers. I think one of our jokes made it in, and it was Scott's too, which sucks. In the dinner scene, there's a joke about the two great families of Washington will be united, and then there's a joke about it and the Klingon revolution. So we worked with David for a couple of weeks on that and we met him that way. I have a two-year-old, Scott has a six-year-old and a three-year-old, David has a three-year-old, so he read the script and said, 'I get it.' The opening scene is about waking up in the middle of the night and feeding your kid. There's a lot of stuff about parenting young children, and I think he was the perfect choice because you have to know a little bit about how ferociously tough it is in those first few years.
With the success of The Hangover, nobody expected an R-rated movie could make that kind of money. Were there things you learned about what people want from comedies? Do you think they want more R-rated comedies?
Jon Lucas: No, I wish I could. I think, first of all, (director) Todd Phillips did an awesome job. Not everyone can direct those kinds of movies. There is a very specific skill to direct that and keep it from going from too silly or too dark or too mean. He did everything right. I think what we're trying to do more of is really focusing on reinventing comedies and classes. When we were writing The Hangover, it was like, 'Oh, we're writing a bachelor party movie in Vegas.' I'm sure, when you first heard this was a body-switching movie, you felt the same thing. This idea of really trying to find new ways in to old stories, and really focusing on structure. So much worked in The Hangover that had nothing to do with us, but I think the one thing we contributed was the idea of having a mystery, basically doing Jason Bourne inside a comedy. It was a new idea and I think people saw that, I think, in the trailer. You can't just do 'funny guy goes to summer camp' anymore, like those great movies we grew up on. You really need to bring a different structure to movies to get people to go, because there is so much entertainment out there. There used to be a thing where some people would go to the movies every weekend. It didn't matter what you put up there. Audiences, particularly young people, are smarter now and if you don't put something in front of them that really isn't that new, you're kind of dead. I think it's great, to be honest. I don't mind that we have to work a little bit harder to get people to go. Hopefully it will make the movies a little better.
Does that also kind of free you up though? Maybe 20 years ago you couldn't tell these jokes. There is so much stuff out there now.
Jon Lucas: It's harder to shock people, for sure. There are very few words left anymore that make people go, 'Whoa.' There are a few, though, thank God... and they're all in this movie.
Are you worried about marketing for this though?
Jon Lucas: I have a really weird theory on trailers and marketing, and that is they just have to be funny. They have to make you laugh. A lot of trailers will go, 'Oh, sell the father-son relationship.' I would almost see any movie if the trailer made me laugh. Obviously what's funny is very subjective, so what I think is a funny trailer may not be what you think. I think we've all seen the trailer to a comedy where we've said, 'Was that a comedy?' That should not be your first question coming out. It is going to be a challenge. We were saying last night that every movie has something about it you're not sure of. With The Hangover, it was like, 'Does anybody want to go to Vegas again?' In that case, they did, because they sold the idea more than they did as a Vegas movie.
When you're writing, is there ever the temptation to write stuff you know could be specifically used in a trailer down the road?
Jon Lucas: Absolutely. Certainly when you pitch ideas... that's a cheesy writer movie. I shouldn't be letting you in on all my secrets. when you're pitching an idea to a studio, you're always selling the marketing in some ways. Sometimes you even say, 'Here's the poster.' It's a tacky move, but if it's a good idea, they'll go, 'Write that down.' We're always pitching trailer moments. Trailers are great because they really get you to think about a movie, like what is the most important things. I wish novels would have trailers, because I think there would be far better novels. It really helps you to focus on what your movie is about.
Do they have a poster for this yet?
Jon Lucas: No, they're shooting one this weekend, and I'm curious what they're going to go with. Your question is spot-on though. There is the fear that they're going to do something like a Freaky Friday poster. Posters are hard though. The Hangover poster was awesome though. That was one of the greats. I've been working in comedy for about 12 years now, and the classic poster is just a white background with big red letters. It kills me.
With a script like this, obviously you have to have the right actors. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Jon Lucas: It's interesting because we've worked on movies where the casting has definitely upped it, and we've worked on movies where the casting has definitely hurt us. It's easy to blame the cast, but it's everybody's fault. It's not mine, really (Laughter). It's who's interested, who's available, who's affordable, the list gets pretty small of who wants to do your movie. These two guys are awesome, and the worst thing is I would probably say that anyway, even if I hated these two guys, because I would never say I hated them. It sucks because I lie all the time and now I'm telling the truth. I don't know what you guys think of them, but they're still fresh. The Hangover was written where it could have been Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Steve Carell. It could have been those three. The big guy, the clown, and the scoundrel. Or, it could have been three guys that nobody quite knew so well, and I think part of its success was it's three guys who you didn't quite know who they were, and these guys might kill a hobo in this movie. You never know. Will Ferrell is never going to kill a hobo. It's like, 'He's a great guy, but he has to do another movie after this and he's not going to do that.' This movie benefits from some of that. We know Jason and Ryan. I'm not sure I've seen them in hard R. Trust me, there are some things in here where it's like, 'Oh my God! They're saying some dirty stuff.' I think that's part of the appeal. Audiences get a little tired of the really big comic movie stars, and it can start to be a negative. Frankly, the online group is hipper to this than the old-school critics. They're like, 'I like my old-fashioned movie stars.' I think audiences don't mind a guy that hasn't been in every comedy. That's a long way to answer it, but I will say they've been awesome together. They're so funny together and they're friends. It's so hard to manufacture that. It's like in a romantic comedy where you can tell that they just hate each other. This is a hard-R and Jason doesn't get called on to do these. He's the nice dad who is struggling for a little bit, and he gets to do that for the first third of this movie, and then he gets to be just an animal. I think that was the appeal for him. I think he read this and went, 'Finally, I can shed this thing I'm always being asked to do.'
Do you leave room for improv in your scripts?
Jon Lucas: In a script, it would be awesome to leave room, like this page is going to be an awesome improv scene. But I really feel like all writing is just the starting point of good improv. These guys are great. I don't know how much you saw this morning, but this scene started out as a three-pager, and now I think we're up to five. They can just bang it out, and Leslie has obviously been doing this forever in Judd (Apatow)'s movies.
Can you talk about the female parts as well? I don't really think of Olivia Wilde going toe-to-toe with them.
Jon Lucas: She's everywhere. I drive around my neighborhood and it's like, 'There she is.' She's great too. It's a bummer she's not here, but I thik she's wrapped. Everyone usually gets along on comedies, because you have to keep that fun atmosphere, but it is a tough environment, particularly for women. You need to really push back. My wife is always happy with it, because the women always win every scene in my movies. In this movie in particular, Leslie is the one that grounds the whole thing. It's been done before, but you need someone in the movie that's kind of like us. I've never body-switched. I don't know if you guys have. She's the one that kind of has to carry the movie, in the sense that she's the one who's reacting, and if she doesn't react like we would react, it seems like we're in a weird, silly place.
Ryan Reynolds is an interesting one as well, because he's not quite overexposed yet and he has this leading man thing and comic timing. He has an unusual combination of qualities. That must be like a gold mine for you guys.
Jon Lucas: Yeah, we got so lucky. Half of this is from David's hard work and the producers' hard work, but this movie could have been cast with two bozos and then there's nothing you can do. Ryan is great. It's kind of frustrating when someone is good-looking, cool, hard-working, and then really funny. It's like, 'Couldn't he just not have been funny? Can you just take that one thing away, for the rest of us?' (Laughter). I was jogging in the gym earlier and if you ever want to feel horrible about yourself, work out with that dude. He's just talking to people and being nice. It's like, I'll just go back to my room and eat donuts.
Or spread a rumor about him.
Jon Lucas: Yeah, something horrible. Call TMZ and say something horrible. But, honestly, he's a great dude and he's killing it. The improv thing is really dangerous, and we are on a schedule. He's got a great way where every day he comes in with five funny lines. He sticks with them, tries them out in different ways. You can throw something at him in the middle of a scene and he'll just work it in. We got really lucky on this one.
After that awesome interaction with Jon Lucas, we went back to the set where they were shooting the scene that takes place right after the first scene we saw. This time, after Jamie welcomes Mitch at the door, he walks into the house and sees their young daughter Cara (Sydney Rouviere), who asks "Uncle Mitch" if he is going to her dance recital. What follows in the several takes we saw is a number of humorous responses from Ryan Reynolds as Mitch. It isn't clear which version will make the final movie, but the DVD will certainly be chocked full of these alternate takes. Here's a sampling of the lines responded with, when asked by an adorable eight-year-old if he will attend her dance recital:
- "I'll bring some singles."
- - "The only dancing I like involves a big shiny pole and a broken woman with daddy issues."
- - "Not at all."
They also shoot the same scene from the little girl's point-of-view, and after every line, Ryan Reynolds playfully slaps her on the butt and she falls into the stairs. That may sound really bad, just to read out loud, but trust me, when you see it happen, it's hilarious.
Well, that about wraps up the first part of my set visit coverage for The Change-Up, which hits theaters nationwide on August 5. Be sure to check back in the very near future for more coverage from the set, including our interviews with Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, and director David Dobkin.