We haven't actually seen you guys changing yet. Are you "doing" each other when you change?
Jason Bateman: It's not that. I told (diretor) (David) Dobkin early that my talents and skill set does not include doing impersonations, I'm just not that talented. If your plan for this film is to do basically, Ryan's going to do his version of a ne'er do well, I'm going to do my version of a conservative guy, and vice versa.
Ryan Reynolds: It's also the most fun that way. We get to have the most fun, be the most free that way. There are certain elements that we definitely carry over from before, dialogue and physicality, but we're not doing spot-on impressions of each other. We don't want the audience to start to go, 'He didn't do the perfect slow burn with the patented signature Bateman eyebrow raise!' Which is a very tough move to pull off.
Did you study each other beforehand?
Ryan Reynolds: We've known each other for a long time. But we didn't do too much of that.
Ryan Reynolds:... This is our E Harmony ad.
Ryan Reynolds: We've been trying to do something together for a long time. We've come real close on a couple of things, close to working together, and I'm glad those didn't work out because we might not be sitting here right now.
Can I upload this to It Gets Better?
Jason Bateman: Is that another date site?
Ryan Reynolds: Basically it's an ad campaign done targeting young gay youth who are subjected to bullying.
Jason Bateman: You guys have a good scoop here today.
Can you talk about the level of humor in the film? We've heard it is a very hard R.
Ryan Reynolds: I hope it's R. I'm thinking maybe NC-17 at this point.
Jason Bateman: There's stuff there that we could probably push it. I don't know if it was (screenwriters) (Jon) Lucas and (Scott) Moore's intention, but there has been a few PG and PG-13 versions of the body-swapping movie. We've all seen them and they've been great. They've done a fresh version of that by making it R. It's a great, simple, easily relatable concept made fresh by throwing the whole fish out of water conceit into deeper and rougher waters.
Ryan Reynolds: I don't think there's any point in making it any other way. The R rating is the reason that I'm here. You do all the things you wish you could have seen in those other movies. Also seeing these two guys, in their own way, take advantage of the situation. It's a hall pass. You get a day pass here, and what would you do with it? There's a lot of things that happen both nefarious and fun, and they're both kind of the same actually, that you couldn't do in a PG-13.
Jason Bateman: And they're really doing a great job by putting us in as risqué and gratuitous situations as possible, but having the characters be charmingly underwater. Most of the time they're not driving these unseemly situations, they're a victim of them. It becomes a bit more palatable and doesn't seem like we're really pandering for, 'Oh, it's a hard, edgy R laugh there!' If that happened to you, you'd say 'Fuck!' as opposed to 'Darnit.' And 'fuck' is going to get you an R and 'darnit' doesn't. We're not forcing it.
We hear that about a third of the way through the movie, you get on the fuck train, you go crazy.
Jason Bateman: That's a possible title.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, fuck train. That's the Bulgarian release.
Just in time for Christmas. Was that part of the appeal? When you started reading the script, it seems like you're supposed to be a straight shooter, and then it flips.
Ryan Reynolds: And when we first started talking about the film, we both put our hands up into the air as to which role we wanted to play. I was easy either way, you were easy either way. 'I don't know, I'll play Dave for the bulk of the movie I guess. I'll play Mitch. Ok, great!'
Jason Bateman: And during rehearsal we swapped quite a bit.
Ryan Reynolds: Just to see what it would sound like.
Jason Bateman: A research thing, you know.
Ryan Reynolds: And as a way to shame me.
We saw you guys shooting a bunch of different alternate takes and different ways. Do you do that a lot with the script?
Ryan Reynolds: We spent a few weeks throwing a football around in a big hall out here, before shooting-- quite literally-- just coming up with alts and making each other laugh. We wrote them all down, and some of them happen, we put them in the script-- it actually says "alt"--just so we'll remember it. And others happen when they're here. You see that look of innocence in that little girl's eyes and you say, 'I need to push her into the stairs. I need to quiet that innocence.'
Jason Bateman: You actually warrant a bit of a writing credit. You should get at least a cast bump.
Ryan Reynolds: I don't think the Writer's Guild works that way. Jason and I both, I wish he could be up by the monitor when he's not working. The thing that he and I both love doing is throwing out alts and jokes while sitting behind the monitor.
Jason Bateman: I owe you a dozen.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, I owe you. You actually do owe me, because you always come up with them after I've finished the fucking scene.
And your characters are best friends for how long in the movie?
Ryan Reynolds: We've been friends since I was in school. In this scene we're about to do we talk about how we had the same social studies teacher in school. But we're friends that have drifted apart too. There's quite a polarization at work. I've never grown up, really, or achieved anything remotely resembling responsibility. And he's missed out on a lot of his life. Our logline is about integration. These two guys, if you could just combine them they'd be one great person But that's the idea, that they've been friends forever but sort of drifted apart. They're too different now to really spend a lot of time together. I'm trying to reconnect with him at the beginning of the movie.
What's the experience been like shooting in Atlanta, shooting in various places around the city?
Ryan Reynolds: We're using Atlanta for Atlanta. I hope it comes out to be a bit of a postcard to the city, because they've really made great use of the sights and sounds of the city, really captured it.
Jason Bateman: A lot of movies have been filming here.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, but a lot of them don't set their movies here. They're just using this great city.
Jason Bateman: It's been fun. People have been really nice to us, and the locations have been really beautiful. Selfishly, the restaurants have been great. The sports have been fantastic. I think i've got the grand slam going. I've been to a football game, baseball game, basketball, hockey. It's been a really, really, short three months for me so far.
How do you do R-rated humor when there are kids on the set? Obviously the kids are part of it.
Ryan Reynolds: Well the child abuse has already started. It's showbiz. All I'm really doing is helping I think at this point. No matter what I do, they're going to leave better people.
So the little girl won't be scarred for life by what you're saying to her?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, probably. She's not listening to me. She's waiting for her cue line, which keeps changing. Poor little girl. I really threw my back out tossing her around.
Yeah, you threw her really high.
Ryan Reynolds: That's the idea. They actually had wires here today to assist in that, but we didn't end up using them. That's why the stunt guys are here. They were going to wire her so I could throw her dangerously high in the air, spin her around and catch her in weird ways. But I just thought that was a great way for me to break my nose.
Jason Bateman: It's a stretch, but it's almost a good example of the R vs. PG version. In the PG version he'd throw her up, turn to Leslie and say three lines, and then the kid would come back down. The R joke is actually having the frame wide enough that you actually see how fucking scary it is.
Ryan Reynolds: And the idea is to plant in the minds of the viewers that this person should never be left alone with this child, which of course happens later. Way too much exposure to Mitch.
I get the sense that there are no real effects in the movie. It's entirely up to you guys to sell the switch.
Jason Bateman: Yeah, yeah yeah. There's no PG me looking like him or him looking like me.
Or the voice or anything?
Ryan Reynolds: No, it's old-fashioned in that sense. It's a real 80s premise, it's just executed in a different way than we've ever seen it before. We're not doing anything new in terms of that stuff. You go along with the conceit at the beginning, that's the hope.
Jason Bateman: We're assuming, we're hoping, based on the material and the concept they're going to go, 'These guys are going to switch bodies.' So let's have them just piss in a magic fountain and we'll be done with it. Who cares? It's what happens after that that we have to earn, and Lucas and Moore did a great job with it.
So it's not a quest to get back, like Big? The quest to find the magical thing?
Ryan Reynolds: Well it's a wish-fulfillment thing, it just turns out to be the worst wish ever. There is a question of that for sure. These guys are exposed to things they're not comfortable with. It's not a joyride. That's the whole point.
Was there any part of the script you were uncomfortable with initially?
Ryan Reynolds: I don't have that button. I don't have that thing. I don't possess it.
Jason Bateman: That's a good question. Was there anything?
Ryan Reynolds: There were a few things that we both really had to talk about, in a healthy way.
Jason Bateman: Yeah, execution-wise. Like we were talking about earlier, there are some graphic, raunchy fucking things in this movie, and if it's not executed in a tasteful, semi-sophisticated way, it just becomes poor taste. And hopefully we're on the side of that. And that's a combination of multiple departments-- the camera, the writing, the music, the editing. There's a thousand ways to shoot every joke, and a bunch of ways to perform them. It has to be a proper cocktail. I don't mean to make this sound like highbrow science, but it takes a conversation between all the creatives.
Was there a specific instance where you thought, execution is everything here?
Ryan Reynolds: A lot of the set pieces in the film are kind of that.
Jason Bateman: There's more than one. It's a bit of a minefield in this sense.
You talked about the real emphasis, where married guys think about being single, and single guys think of being married.
How far are you going with the sex and nudity? In The Proposal you took it about as far as you can go in a PG-13.
Ryan Reynolds: Yes, yes. We got very very close.
Jason Bateman: It's on the DVD extra.
Obviously there are fewer limitations this time. How far does it go this time?
Ryan Reynolds: It goes all out. We don't pull a single punch in that regard. But it's not there for the sake of being there. It's there because there are all very real and scary things. If you were married for 16 years, and you got to be your buddy who's this wild, single guy, it sounds very appealing until you're in the lion's den. And then it's very scary. Suddenly this is very real, and yes it's not my body, and yes it's not technically me doing this, but I'm here and that's what's happening. The moments where there's nudity, it really just becomes a lamb and a lion together.
Jason Bateman: And conversely, when that guy gets put inside this shell and is turned loose inside a domestic haven, with a wife and three kids...
Ryan Reynolds: Equally scary.
Jason Bateman: Yeah, talk about fox in the henhouse. That presents a problem.
How many scenes do you get to perform together? I get the sense there's a chunk of the film where you're each on your own path.
Ryan Reynolds: It's a bit of both.
Jason Bateman: It's an interesting construction they did, because you'd think that, but somehow they manage us to pretty much check in with one another. There are some phone calls. But we do organically end up in the same place a lot.
Ryan Reynolds: And we're the only ones who know what's happening. Otherwise it would be very episodic, each go off and this happens, then this happens. It's the two of them really trying to control the other's situations. I need you to do this properly, or I'm screwed when we switch back. And it works both ways. Most of it is motivated by something.
Does the R rating make it even harder to know the limits of the abroad comedy?
Ryan Reynolds: We do versions. You can do everything, as long as you're not making big faces and trying to be funny all the time. With the little girl, I just try alts with it, but they're all things that this guy would be feeling. Do I want to go to a dance recital? Absolutely not, unless it's an exotic dance recital. I'll bring some singles and we'll have a picnic. But he's that guy. And vice versa, I think. It's just a matter of tagging what the idea at the beginning of it, the reality at the beginning of it.
Jason Bateman: Sometimes the R is represented in the tone of the comedy, the amount of cynicism of sarcasm. When she says "Will you come to my thing?" in a PG film he can't say no. He'd have to sort of awkwardly fumble for, how do I... he can just straight up say "No."
Or push her on the stairs.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah. Hitting kids is always funny.
Like in True Grit.
Ryan, how much of your character's background do we know? Has he ever had a long-term relationship?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, we establish that early on that the guy has just kind of always floating around. He's living the life of Reilly in his eyes. And in my eyes, he's kind of got it all. He's got a beautiful house and food and people that give a shit about him. There's a bit of a pull on both sides. We learn the backstory quite quickly on both of these guys.
Jason Bateman: It's the grass is greener.
There seems to be an inappropriately friendly relationship with Dave's wife too?
Ryan Reynolds: I think it's pretty clear early on that Mitch thinks she's a hot little number.
Jason Bateman: He doesn't have an edit button.
Ryan Reynolds: I don't do it when he's not around. I'm sexing her up while he's in the kitchen, and they're just shaking their heads at me.
Jason Bateman: We all have one of those in our lives.
Ryan Reynolds: We all have a guy like that. I have a Mitch...
How does Olivia Wilde fit in? She's a coworker of yours?
Ryan Reynolds: Use my body!
Jason Bateman: That's just one of the conflicts.
With the kinds of movies you've been doing before this, is this a fun break to do a hard R film. Why did you choose this particular film?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, and crying laughing. 'I've got to do this somehow, or just get it on a loop in my house if someone else does it?' I really, really was attracted to it. And it came through on all levels. You get scared if you're working on a movie that you have a really good time on, because you think how can this be good if I'm having so much fun. It's been that from day one. Since our first day of rehearsals throwing the football around in that hall, it's just the greatest job for me that I've done in a long time. It's just what I needed. It's like a vacation, but creative.
Jason Bateman: It really is the combination of a lot of great elements, both on the page and on the set.
Did you guys both come on to the project at the same time?
Ryan Reynolds: Nobody's ever really doing a movie until you break for lunch the first day, and then it's iffy.
Jason Bateman: The elements were floating around for a long time, and people smarter and richer than us have to decide when it all can come together. There's somebody stirring that big pot. There's a friendship that's been there, and there was certainly a mutual desire to want to commingle. We're lucky, really lucky that we got to do, like you said, this particular film together. I think the first time i saw you, when it kind of became pretty clear, was it the Oscars?
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah.
Jason Bateman: That thing, you see an old friend across the room. Are we going to do this? It's been that great since.
You have about three weeks left. Is there anything you're particularly looking forward to shooting?
Jason Bateman: I discover something in my carriage region that will be interesting to shoot. It's just after a shower--
Ryan Reynolds: It's not an STD.
Jason Bateman: That's about it. My only remaining minefield.
After that wonderful chat with Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman, they were still setting up the next scene so we were shown around some of the sets. We saw the very spacious and posh home of Jason Bateman's Dave, and, in a wonderful contrast, the bachelor pad loft of Ryan Reynolds' Mitch. While Dave's home is immaculate, with not a thing out of place, Mitch's loft is incredibly cluttered, with a slew of pop culture references peppered throughout the pad.
We headed back to the main set where they were shooting the next continuation of the first two scenes we watched. This scene takes place in their enormous kitchen, where we see a bit of the Mitch's flirtatious nature with Leslie Mann's character, Jamie, until Dave enters with both his twin toddlers in each arm. Right after this scene is where they head out for the night, which is when the big "Change-Up" occurs. After watching numerous takes of this scene, they broke for lunch, when we conducted our last interview of the day with director David Dobkin.
After making his feature directorial debut with the 1998 comedy Clay Pigeons, David Dobkin went on to direct the sequel Shanghai Knights, the enormously-successful R-rated comedy Wedding Crashers, and the holiday-themed tale Fred Claus. Despite a four-year break between movies, David Dobkin appears to be in top form, based on everything I saw on the set. Take a look at what he had to say below.
Director David Dobkin:
You did Wedding Crashers awhile ago and did a PG movie after that. What made you come back to R-rated material like this?
Had The Hangover already came out when you got it?
David Dobkin: I think The Hangover had already come out when I got this script, when they sent it to me.
There were some great, visual shots in Wedding Crashers, some great visual gags. Do you have a chance to play with that in this one as well?
David Dobkin: Yeah. This is very visual and, yeah, there is the opportunity to do that. I tend to not be able to resist a little bit of that. I like the R-rating to be really out there and to push things, but I think the language of the camera is a broader sensibility. It makes you feel a little more safe sometimes, sometimes a little less safe, but I can't help myself. If someone is going to sit on someone's face, you have to be there at the right place to make it funny.
Can talk about treading the line between high-brow and low-brow humor? From a directional standpoint, how do you find yourself trying to get there?
David Dobkin: I think I always look for ideas that are really far out there, but I'm always trying to tell the stories of these characters. In Wedding Crashers, for example, there are two stories that are happening in that movie. One story is about a friendship that is splintered because one of them is growing out of something that the other one hasn't yet, and the other is the love story that Owen has with Rachel. He's kind of growing up and he's a little bit ahead of his friend, but you're very much following his wants and desires to get close and know more about this girl, and what that's all about. I think when you're following the characters closely in every scene, it really informs the comedy and the drama and everything else. I think that's where the tone comes from. You put them in some absurd situations, but they're always challenging them on some sort of character level. You always want them to be challenged to take a step forward or two steps back, out of any situation.
So far, what we've seen from Ryan's character, he's kind of a live wire, kind of an asshole and selfish. What's the thing that's grounded about him?
David Dobkin: Well he's sweet, but he's not grown up. The thing that makes him so forgivable, everything that he does, is he doesn't know any better. This movie is actually very much a coming-of-age story for him. His side of the movie is that he's a child who is thrown into a domestic situation. Imagine that guy getting inside your body and running your life. That's the fun of it. He completely doesn't understand children, or relationships, or how to have a daughter. That inherently becomes his journey.
Wedding Crashers and The Hangover set the mark for R-rated comedies because they made so much money. Do you have ambitions to push things even further?
David Dobkin: That's a very good question. Let me answer it in two parts. One part is, I think there's a conversation out there among the people who do this kind of comedy, and the fun of it, to me, and I'm a kid who loved Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, is the stuff that seems to be pushing boundaries, on the edge of what's acceptable and not acceptable, I don't think that going in and doing R-rated comedies, especially since so many are succeeding at such a high level with it, if you're not trying things and pushing things, I don't think you're in a position where people are going to laugh, or you're legitimately in the conversation. I think that's part of the dialogue among the filmmakers and the actors and the writers who do this kind of thing. As far as the studios go, it depends from studio to studio. Obviously, this studio is really letting us run with it and they're very supportive of it. I'm always surprised that, no matter how it works, it's always looked at as a fluke. It's just something within the system where they just don't fucking believe it. As you get close to production, most of the time, they will start to question or backpedal and you feel like you're in the 1950s. It gets a little bit mind-numbing at times and it's a bit of a drag. Fortunately, it's a bit of a good sign, if you're doing anything that you hope is worth doing, that you hope it will make some people uncomfortable.
Do you think the R-rated nature of this helps sell this as a comeback of sorts for the body-switching movies?
David Dobkin: I can't tell yet. I mean, it's a PG concept, it really is. When I first heard the idea, a single guy and a married guy switch bodies, I thought it was really kind of clever. I definitely haven't seen it. It was one way to address men, and how fucking weird men are about stuff. I thought it was kind of cool, and it's treating it in a very R-rated point of view. It's got a punk rock thing to it that I really dig but, as far as selling it, we'll see. You guys know. You saw a scene today. Until you see it, who knows. I'll show you a couple of scenes where you start to see what it is when it happens, but I can't tell, man. It's a premise that's so familiar in a PG world, that I'm not sure if people will be resistant to see it in an R-rated movie. I don't know.
Ryan is so quick with his lines. Is that something that you're consciously going for, or is that something that just comes out of his delivery and his style?
David Dobkin: It's his style and his character. I like to up-pace my movies. Leslie can do it, and Jason. You kind of put together the people you're fans of. I can't be a bigger Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson fan. I remember watching Freaky Friday, the remake that Mark Waters did, and loving that movie, and Mean Girls as well. Those movies kind of excited me. I know they're kind of in the back of people's minds now, but there was really aggressive pacing which was interesting and energetic. This screenplay had it too. I just moved through this screenplay so quickly, and you laughed out loud so much, it was a little bit shocking. Once you got in, the actors had to ground it, as far as making it look believable. You realized how much sleight-of-hand these guys needed to feed it at. It was like, how much are we going to get away with when we shoot it, and how much are we going to have to fill in the blanks and justify it. The script was so fast on its feet, there were things that were happening before you could realize that they could kind of put it together. It's quite a tightrope and it's been really interesting.
Is that pace reflective of what's going on in comedy now? People are really ingesting comedy on the internet and thing, in short bursts.
David Dobkin: It's interesting. I watch comedy on TV and I think it's too cutty for me. I get a little jarred. I look at certain things, and it's not like I would make terribly different cuts, but some of these move to fast for me.
When did it actually come together for both Jason and Ryan to make it work?
Can you talk about casting Olivia Wilde? She's one of the only people here who hasn't done much comedy.
David Dobkin: She does have some funny moments. It wasn't a necessity for her character, but she found it anyway. She's really interesting. She's done so much and she's so young, and this was something very different for her. It wasn't necessary for her to have moments where you're going to laugh, but she found stuff for her character and she really played it through. She's the center of a lot of things that happen in the movie. She's certainly the dream girl in the film, you know.
Can you talk about their friendship and how it changed?
David Dobkin: I think we all, in life, as you get older, you have friends you are really tight with. It's very specific to this situation. Some friends get married, some friends stay single, and the dynamic shifts. The deeper you get into marriage and kids, it's not that you don't hang, but if they're out chasing tail, it gets weird and you start to drift apart. You do reach these crossroads moments where you don't see each other much anymore and you say, 'Am I holding onto a chapter that has ended? Can we go out and drink? Is there something new to talk about?' I think that's a very real moment for people. I mean, I'm 41 and these characters are in their late 30s and they start to realize that they're not in the same station in life. This movie is about them re-finding each other and they learn through that journey about each other. A lot of these movies right now are about men who still haven't grown up, they're good dudes who are still behaving badly and still need to be taught a lesson. For some reason, it's very funny.
After our chat, the director took us back to the video village where we watched two scenes that they had already cut together, to give us a better glimpse of the movie. The first scene is shortly after the body switch, where Jason Bateman as Dave (with Ryan Reynolds' Mitch inside him) is experiencing a family dinner for the first time with Leslie Mann and the kids. He doesn't quite know how to react in such an environment and finds himself cursing a lot, much to the chagrin of his wife. It is rather hilarious, especially seeing Jason Bateman with a dirty mouth, something we have rarely seen before. The second scene is also after the switch, and both Dave and Mitch are meeting up at a bar to talk about their first day in each other's lives. We also discover another side to Mitch's "acting" career. Both scenes were completely hilarious, filled to the brim with naughty language, and incredibly fun to watch.
We saw writer Jon Lucas just before leaving the set, and told him how much we all loved the scenes. I could be wrong, but he seemed noticeably relieved when we told him that. Although, I would probably be nervous about releasing a movie like this too, because, despite a fantastic cast, writers, and director, it's taking a bold, potty-mouthed step into a PG genre, a move which isn't made every day in Hollywood. It is a big risk, but from everything I saw on the Atlanta set back in January, it looks like a risk which should (and hopefully does) pay off big time.
That's about all I have from the Atlanta, Georgia set of the Universal Pictures comedy The Change-Up, which arrives in theaters across the country on August 5. Be sure to stay tuned for any and all coverage regarding The Change-Up as we near closer to its release.