Sunday, July 10, 2011

'Horrible Bosses' Director Seth Gordon


After the breakout documentary "King of Kong" -- about the surprisingly vicious rivalry between the world's top Donkey Kong players -- Seth Gordon made the jump to fiction filmmaking with the misfired "Four Christmases." After a brief pause, he's back with "Horrible Bosses," starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as three working guys who just might be plotting to kill their upper management in the name of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Coming from the world of documentary filmmaking, the affable Gordon is very aware there's a different level of craft and cash in play. "Yeah, any day on any of these sets would have paid for the entirety of 'Kong,' so that puts everything in perspective for sure. The budgets for the films are so much higher and it's so stratospherical that it's hard even to have much perspective on it. $50 million is a lot of money. It's hard to put your arms around that figure. I'm grateful to have gotten the chance to have a studio believe in me in that way, and I hope we get that money back for them. ..."

Based on early reviews, the odds are pretty good that Gordon will. Gordon didn't take any easy outs, however -- including not only finding room for his actors to improvise but having them do so during stunt sequences. What percentage of the film was what was on the page and what percentage was made up on the day? "I'd say 85-15. Sounds about right. It's almost always an ornament or an aside that is improv, or the button of the scene will be improv --  it'll be some funny thing they came up with. The script was really well-crafted: It's full of surprises, and we kept all those surprises but found a few more along the way."

An example? "We decided as we were starting that car chase that they needed to be angry ... but also panicking about what to do next. That hadn't been written in the script, so Bateman's notion was, 'I feel like we'd be debating --should they go north or south? That's our only decision: Canada or Mexico? In that debate, we can have some fun with it.' That was completely improv'd, that zone. It was very funny dialogue." It also had to fit into a full-on car chase -- which Bateman, Sudeikis and Day made happen. "I had to sit them down the week before the car chase and say, 'This is so dangerous, this work, and so slow that you guys are going to have to commit to the dialogue here, and do it again and again and again in very dangerous situations.' There's this one part where we can say whatever we want, and that's what that part was. "

As lucky as Gordon felt to have a cast that could improvise inside a VW Jetta doing 180-degree turns with a stuntman on top driving it, he also felt lucky to have the actors playing the bosses -- Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell -- there to up the level of the film by their presence. Was it, I asked, hard to find actors willing to play along and look foolish? "It's surprisingly easy in the sense that the script was so funny. (Aniston)'s the one I first sent it to, and I think she really liked it. There was a moment of, 'Gee, should I really go for this?' on her part, and then she did, because it was so compelling to have the opportunity to play something different. It wasn't as difficult as it might seem. A comedy, well-written, is among the favorite kind of project for people to be in, because it's fun to make; it's fun. You're laughing every day on set in between takes and everything."

Less fun? Informing Aniston she'd have to spend entire days on-set in panties, stockings and naked under a lab coat. "The only thing that made me nervous about that day was because it's already vulnerable to be an actor and to be out there in front of the camera ... It can be a very lonely job in a way, and I felt like this was asking even more. That was the only thing that made me nervous, but she's such a pro and is very comfortable. She said yes to the role; she's going to do it. It wasn't as crazy as it might have seemed. I was panicked, because I wanted to really make it a safe environment. That was the day that the behind-the-scenes crew showed up, and were like, 'This will be a good day to cover.' I was like, 'Get the f**k out of here.' You know what I mean? Really, guys? You're really going to do that? That was a tense day in anticipation, but the actual experience wasn't bad at all. She's an amazing talent, and she brought total professionalism to all of that."

Gordon also looked at plenty of classic thrillers to get the tone right -- and to help him shoot some of the comedy's more wicked surprises. " I revisited 'Strangers on a Train.' Another one I love is 'Shallow Grave': It's not the definition of a thriller, but it was emotionally relevant to me, at least for the characters' state of mind when they're in the middle -- people who can't quite commit an act and someone goes ahead and does it, and then they're all dealing with the consequences. Love that film. I definitely revisited some of those particular stories. I watched 'Throw Mama from the Train,' too, because anything we say out loud, we better at least refamiliarize ourselves with. I did watch some of those thrillers, and I reconnected with, psychologically, why those stories work so well, because that's got to be connected to what happens to our guys, too. You really believe they're good guys in over their heads."

While the endgame of "Horrible Bosses" might seem to obviously pave the way for a sequel to the film, Gordon's less interested in that possibility than he is in seeing Day, Bateman and Sudeikis -- which sounds in many ways like a law firm -- reunited in the service of an entirely new comedy. "(The) same chemistry -- that's what I would imagine would be really fun, just for right now. This script was phenomenal, and that's why all of us said yes. I would rather, right now, find another whole world for these three guys to animate. That's a more engaging premise to me than trying (any) rehash."


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