From director Kay Cannon, the outrageously funny comedy Blockers shows the hilarity that can ensue when three parents (played by Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz) discover their daughters (played by Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon) have a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. Determined to do whatever it takes to keep that from happening, the well-meaning trio will stop at nothing, even if that includes car chases, butt-chugging contests and party crashing, to ensure that these three smart, determined and empowered young women don’t make a decision that they’ll regret.
At the film’s Los Angeles press junket, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with actor Ike Barinholtz and chat 1-on-1 about the appeal of Blockers, his longtime friendship with Kay Cannon, how sweet and heartfelt the movie turned out, along with all of the laughs, why he was personally rooting for redemption for his character, and the most challenging scene to shoot, along with making his own directorial debut with The Oath (starring Tiffany Haddish, John Cho, Carrie Brownstein and Billy Magnussen, among others) and whether he’d like to try his hand at directing again soon.
Collider: You were friends with Kay Cannon, when all of this happened, right? Haven’t you guys known each other for awhile?
IKE BARINHOLTZ: Since 1997, I believe.
So, if she hadn’t sent this your way, would you have been upset?
BARINHOLTZ: Oh, my god, if this [role had been] Jake Johnson, do you know how mad I would have been at her? I would have been like, how could you do this to me? When they first told me that they were looking at Kay to direct it, I was like, “Oh, my god, that’s so great!,” ‘cause we had been friends for so long. We came from the same theater in Amsterdam and Chicago. It was always one of those things where we were like, “Maybe we’ll work together, one day.” And then, as she was quietly crushing it across the country, I was like, “I’m still around, Kay!” Right when she came aboard, we talked and I loved the direction that she was pulling the story. She was taking what could be a comedy that we’ve seen many versions of and really making it different, relevant, funny, nostalgic and just checks all these little boxes of things that I want to see in movies.
I have to say, I’m pretty hard on comedy and I laughed, a lot.
BARINHOLTZ: That’s good! You just have no idea because you’re shooting in a vacuum. When the crew laughs, you know it’s funny, but how is that gonna work? Are people gonna care enough about it? Do people care enough about the relationships between the adults and between the children? And then, I saw a screening and I was so happy. It was like, “I’m laughing, and I’m not stress laughing! This is funny! These are real people!”
The last time I laughed really hard in a movie was Girls Trip, and now you’ve cast Tiffany Haddish in The Oath, which you also wrote and directed.
BARINHOLTZ: Haddish in [Girls Trip], my friend described her performance as revelatory, and he was right. My advice to people is, if you’re gonna make a movie, put Tiffany Haddish in it. If you can get her to be in your movie, you’re off to the races because she is amazing and utterly incapable of in-authenticity. She cannot make a false moment, which I love.
What was it like to be a director?
BARINHOLTZ: It was pretty intense. It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I loved it.
It seems like no matter how hard you prepare for it, you can’t ever possibly fully understand it until you’re on the set.
BARINHOLTZ: You cannot. I luckily had a line producer, named Kristen Murtha, who was such a warrior and so amazing at her job, and she really pushed me and protected me. Having her run point and having me just worry about the creative aspect was a really, really, really big reason why I’m still alive.
Was directing something that you’d been thinking about doing for a long time?
BARINHOLTZ: It was, but I had not one idea for a movie, though. I was like, “I can make this movie. It’s a small movie, I can make it.” And then, after Donald Trump was elected, I had this different idea for a movie and wrote it very quickly, and I was like, “Okay, I can direct this.” It’s small enough for my first movie. Kay is an A-student. She is able to take however much money [Blockers] cost and manage it, and then turn out a really good product. And even though I’ve directed mini-projects and stuff, I was still a little nervous, so the size of it made sense. I found amazing producers in Sean McKittrick and Ray Mansfield, who did Get Out. They had faith and they were like, “You’ll do it!” And then, right away, we started casting and got lucky with some people. We’re finishing editing it now, and it should definitely come out by next Thanksgiving because it’s a Thanksgiving movie. It was a bit like being in a submarine, which I’ve never been in, but you can only see forward. You can’t worry about stuff that you’ve done. The most important thing is just to surround yourself with people who are into it and want to help, and can do whatever they can to help make it go smoothly.
The thing I loved about this movie is that it has such a real heart to it. Some of the moments between your character and his daughter are just really beautiful.
BARINHOLTZ: They’re sweet.
Are you surprised at how sweet and heartfelt the movie ultimately turned out?
BARINHOLTZ: I kind of was. I knew when we were shooting it, but it’s hard to tell when you’re reading the script because it’s such a vacuum. When you’re shooting it, it helps if you have an actress as good as Gideon [Adlon], who I think is so exciting and great. When you have her looking up at you, you have this feeling of, “Oh, god, I disappointed her.” It also helps having Kay, who trusts the actors and gives them that space and was very differential to how they wanted to prepare for it. It felt good when we were shooting it, in the moment, and then when I saw it, even though I have a very young daughter, I was like, “I don’t want her to go to college, yet!” I’m so happy that people are getting a little bit of emotion, at the end, because in some of those big R-rated comedies, I do like those moments, at the end. Like in Superbad, when the guys are going away and they realize they’re going their separate ways, it’s about friendship. It’s so resonant.
Did you really want that moment of redemption for your character, or would you have been okay, if he had never really gotten to have that?
BARINHOLTZ: I wanted to protect the character, the whole way, because if he’s just a scumbag, non-stop, it’s not as fun or as rich. I was definitely someone who was like, “Can we, in his messed up mind, justify why he slept with the babysitter?” I wanted to try to find ways to give him a little bit of humanity. If you’re a side character, like my character in Neighbors, because it’s about Rose Byrne, Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, the tertiary characters are there for comic relief and you can have a character, like Jimmy, just be like an unrelenting scumbag. That’s fine because he’s a side character. But if you’re asking an audience to root for one third of the story – and me and Gideon are one third of the story – you can’t have him just be flippant and a party dick, all the time. He has to really have a little bit of depth and at least the realization that he’s messed things up. He’s always going to feel like it’s his fault and that he blew it. So, I was overjoyed that we were able to have a place for that, and then I was really happy to see how it played out.
Could you ever have imagined this great buddy comedy situation with you, John Cena and Leslie Mann?
BARINHOLTZ: No! It’s so weird, Leslie is just one of those actors who I have been obsessed with, for so long. My wife and I love her so much. She’s so funny in Knocked Up. She was always someone who I was like, “God, I’d love to work with her one day!” And Cena and I were in Sisters together, for a second, and I thought he was a really cool guy and funny and just so different from me. Right away, I knew that I was gonna be really annoying and talk non-stop, and they were gonna constantly be telling me to shut the fuck up, but then I was also gonna be able to make fun of John, a lot, and Leslie was gonna be able to physically hit me.
Who doesn’t want to make fun of John Cena, when he can’t actually hurt you for it?
BARINHOLTZ: It’s the goal of goals! And John Cena is so great. He has no ego, so you can say whatever you want to him and he’s like, “Okay.” It’s just a dream. It was three people that I would have never assumed would make sense together, but the minute we started rolling, we were rolling. For people who are 30-plus, I think they’ll connect more with the parents’ story, but they were smart to be like, “Let’s make sure that we’re touching the kids side, too.” I think young women are gonna go see this movie and be like, “That’s me!” And young men will look at Miles [Robbins] and be like, “That’s me!”