Adam McKay, the man behind Anchorman and Talladega Nights, takes us behing-the-scenes on his latest Will Farrell/John C. Reilly pic ‘Step Brothers’.
He may be best known for ‘Anchorman’, but Adam McKay is no one trick pony. Aside from ‘Anchorman’, the former ‘Saturday Night Live’ writer went on to co-write and direct ‘Talladega Nights’ and co-found the hit website ‘FunnyorDie.com (he recently co-wrote the hilarious Parish Hilton for President sketch circulating the interweb). Now McKay is reuniting with Will Farrell and John C. Reilly for their latest comedy venture ‘Step Brothers’, with Farrell and Reilly playing two middle-aged fanboys stuck in a state of arrested development. Here, Movies.ie chat to the writer-director about the film, Anchorman 2 and opening the week after the ‘Dark Knight’ cometh.
Q: How did ‘Step Brothers’ come about?
We had so much fun with ‘Talladega Nights’ and Will and I were just blown away by John C. Reilly. Really John was the catalyst for this project. It’s one of those things; in films you always say lets all work together again because you all like your co-stars. The case of John, he was just so collaborative and smart, we really weren’t going to let the opportunity pass by.
Q: How did you first meet him?
John? He actually did a read through for ‘Anchorman’; he read the sports caster role. He was so funny, we went to do the movie but he was cast in the Scorsese’s ‘Aviator’. So obviously he had to do that and we were lucky enough to get Dave Koechner, who was frikkin’ hilarious. But still we never forgot John. Will was friends with him through Molly Shannon from Saturday Night Live. So for ‘Talladega Nights’ right away we said we got to get John C. Reilly, he’s perfect, he’s perfect.
Q: What does each of you bring to this comedy triad?
John brings a preparedness and a meticulous acting style, which is unbelievable when applied to comedy. I think as a director, I’ve a good sense of the shape of the film and I’m pretty good at helping with the improv, guiding it, throwing out suggestions. Honestly at this stage I have no idea what Will brings to the process… He’s certainly enthusiastic but beyond that I’m at a loss; he’s difficult, he’s very pompous, there’s not a lot of skill there. This might seem petite but he’s not a clean person (laughs).
Q: You cast Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen – two series actors in a comedy – what was your thought process?
We knew if these guys were going to be completely immature, we’d need the parents to have a certain amount of gravitas or weight to anchor the film. Really if you look at the film, it’s their story: they fall in love and these two beasts interrupt their love affair. So you really needed to believe in these two characters. We’d seen Jenkins in ‘Flirting with Disasters’ and ‘I heart Huckabees’ and just loved him. He’s quietly been one of the best actors working in Hollywood for the last ten years. We just got very lucky to cast him before people realised it, it was just before the release of ‘The Visitor’. As for Mary Steenburgen, she’s like Hollywood royalty and I don’t just mean the Oscar. It’s the way she carries herself, fortunately she’s cool as hell. She’s really funny, she’s game and very collaborative.
Q: Do you always rely on improv as a director?
I wouldn’t do it any other way. If you just shot the script, you are so limited when you get into the editing room. This way I get into the edit room and for each set-up I have 20 or 30 different options: extra lines, different tones and on top of it all, it’s a great way to work. Everyone stays sharp, it makes the actors bond together – they become very supportive of each other because you can’t be judgmental of each other with improv. You have to let each other explore and try whatever they want.
Q: Why did you decide to make this an R-rated movie (16s in Ireland)
We knew it would need a higher certificate than ‘Anchorman’. It just wouldn’t be funny without adult humour. These are two adult men living as children – they curse, they’re filthy and sexual. Words like “crap” or “BS” just felt too childish. We didn’t want it to come off like ‘Daddy Day-Care’.
Q: Why did you start the film with a George W. Bush quote?
It was my assistant who found the quote. It’s such an amazing quote – as far as a guy trying to express the beauty of families and just failing miserably. In a way, that’s sort of what the movie is. I thought it was perfect, it’s like he has all the best intentions to talk about how great families are and yet, really not enough experience to do it.
Q: You’re known for being somewhat political; are you looking forward to seeing Oliver Stone’s George W. Bush biopic?
I’m very curious. Part of me thinks by virtue of giving him this big film, with this big director we are already giving George W. Bush too much credit. I feel at best he deserves an ‘E! True Hollywood Story’ (laughs). I hope Oliver Stone doesn’t pull any punches. I hope he goes right at it, because I really think Bush has been the most disastrous President in US history.
Q: In the States the film opened the week after the ‘Dark Knight’, were you nervous about box office takings?
(Laughs)I know, I know! It was the same for ‘Anchorman’, that opened the second week of Spider-Man 2, so I was like “what the F*** man”. We considered changing it but in the end we decided summer was the best time. We knew we’d get creamed by the Dark Knight but it was a strong opening and it was consistent for the next few weeks. It’s taken around 93 million since its US release, so I’m delighted.
Q: Do you think TDK lived up to the hype?
I didn’t love it. I thought it was good but repetitive. Like some of the hero-villain philosophy, “You need me, I need you” was just too much. I thought Ledger was amazing as the Joker and I’d certainly never say it’s a bad film but I was just slightly underwhelmed. I preferred ‘Iron Man’, I found it more entertaining. Downey Jr. was just so fun to watch and the action was so great in it. I think. maybe if they cut the whole Two-Face story arc from TDK I would have left saying “oh my god that was incredible” but overall I prefered ‘Batman Begins’.
Q:Would you ever do a comic book film?
I was the biggest comic book fan and had such a giant comic book collection. I had considered doing something but there’s none left! I wanted to do Silver Surfer but obviously that’s not an option… What might be interesting is to develop my own superhero movie; maybe that’s the way to go. I loved ‘Unbreakable’ – something along those lines.
Q: Is Anchorman 2 ever going to happen?
Yeah we want to do it! I think we all want to do it. We’re sort of kicking around ideas now. We’ve all got commitments for the next two of three years but after that. We’re looking for a part for John C. Reilly too. I’ve already come up with the tagline “Get ready for the incredible disappointment that is Anchorman 2” – cause there is no way it will do as well as the first!
Q: So what’s your next project?
Well I’m doing some stuff for HBO, but I’m also rewriting a comedy sci-fi script in the style of ‘Brazil’. It’s called ‘Channel Three Billion’. It’s set in a future world, where there’s billions of TV Channels, so many in fact that resources are being taken away from other industries like medicine and food. So they create a class of workers called “cancellers”, who travel around cancelling shows. Our hero cancels religious fishing shows. The other part of this world is that you never leave your apartment; everything is done via the television. So him leaving his apartment is a big part of the story. I’m thinking of filming over in Europe.
Q: Over in Ireland maybe?
Maybe! Any excuse to spend time in Ireland; I’ll get on to the Irish Film Board (laughs).
Step Brothers is in Irish cinemas from August 29th.