Co-Writer JON LUCAS On Set Interview THE CHANGE-UP

     June 2, 2011


With the smashing success of The Hangover, screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have become a couple of Hollywood’s go-to guys for R-rated comedy.  The Change-Up will be their first R-rated follow-up to The Hangover, and expectations are high, but it looks like the duo have delivered yet again.  This time they’ve spun the family-friendly concept of a body-switching comedy into a R-rated comedy and they could very well have another hit on their hands.

On our visit to the set, we spoke with Lucas (unfortunately, Moore was unable to be there that day) about his R-rated take on traditionally PG material, the process of developing the script, what the cast brings to the table, and more.  Hit the jump to check out the interview.  The Change-Up opens August 5th.

the-change-up-movie-poster-01For those just tuning in, here’s the red-band trailer and the official synopsis:

Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman star in The Change-Up, from director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers), writers Jon Lucas & Scott Moore (The Hangover) and producer Neal Moritz (Fast & Furious, Click).  The R-rated comedy takes the traditional body-switching movie, ties it up tightly and throws it off a cliff.

Growing up together, Mitch (Reynolds) and Dave (Bateman) were inseparable best friends, but as the years have passed they’ve slowly drifted apart.  While Dave is an overworked lawyer, husband and father of three, Mitch has remained a single, quasi-employed man-child who has never met a responsibility he liked.  To Mitch, Dave has it all: beautiful wife Jamie (Leslie Mann), kids who adore him and a high-paying job at a prestigious law firm.  To Dave, living Mitch’s stress free life without obligation or consequence would be a dream come true.

Following a drunken night out together, Mitch and Dave’s worlds are turned upside down when they wake up in each other’s bodies and proceed to freak the &*#@ out.

Despite the freedom from their normal routines and habits, the guys soon discover that each other’s lives are nowhere near as rosy as they once seemed.  Further complicating matters are Dave’s sexy legal associate, Sabrina (Olivia Wilde), and Mitch’s estranged father (Alan Arkin).  With time not on their side, Mitch and Dave comically struggle to avoid completely destroying each other’s lives before they can find a way to get their old ones back.

The movie looks like it going to be a pretty hard R, enthusiastically so I guess. Tell us about the tone…

JON LUCAS: It will hopefully offend everyone here. I just wrote a dirty yarmulke joke. Doing a hard R… everyone in this room will heard this was a body-switching movie and there a little (bracing)… to take a movie like that that’s generally been done –really well –but in a Disney, teen type thing and take that and put it in a really unhealthy world of R-rated comedy — that was the whole pitch.

change-up-movie-image-jason-bateman-leslie-mann-01I can almost go now. I have nothing else to offer. [Laughs]

LUCAS: When Ryan and Leslie get going, they’re so much funnier than I am. And when the two of them get going – she’s insane funny, and Ryan goes toe-to-toe with everybody — I find that often our least funny lines on the page, they’ll take them, and Leslie will say them in a way that you never… and the jokes that I really worked on and slaved over, usually there’s too many words in there and too many ideas. It sucks that acting is so much better than writing is. Good acting always trumps.

Tell us about the relationships between those actors.

LUCAS: Ryan and Leslie look like they’re husband and wife, but Leslie plays Jason’s wife. Ryan, who’s single, and Jason have gone their separate ways in life. I’m very married with a kid. All my single friends are becoming a little dirtier and I’m becoming a little squarer so this attempts to bridge that divide.

So Ryan and Leslie are a little too friendly sometimes?

LUCAS: Exactly. There’s inappropriate… I have single guy friends who say horrible things to my wife. It’s sort of like, expected…

Does the R Rated comedy have a supernatural element?

LUCAS: How do you do this PG genre… these guys get hammered and then pee in a fountain. We didn’t want to do a fortune cookie like Freaky Friday.

It was originally based in Boston in the script, but you guys had to move it to Atlanta?

LUCAS: The Red Sox became the Braves, all that. That’s the greatest note a writer ever gets: Change it from Boston to Atlanta . Great, find, replace, Atlanta. That’s the easiest note. But then they’re like, “We want the girl to be a dog,” and I’m like, I don’t know how to do that.

Is there any making fun of the genre, because this kind of movie has been done before…?

LUCAS: You’ll see today, we don’t take anything super seriously, The second you get super precious with the genre is to turn it around. But you do need heart in the movie, so how do you maintain… you can’t do jokes for two straight hours. The fear is – and this is always an instinct that happens in development – but there’s always a fear that these movies become a little more dramatic, like, What’s he really learning? We want everyone to learn a little lesson, but no one goes to an R-rated comedy to learn how to learn their life better. You go to get away from your life for two hours and have a great time. So if you learn anything in this movie, we’ve failed.

change-up-movie-image-ryan-reynolds-jason-bateman-02What was the impetus, were you all watching “Vice-Versa” one day?

LUCAS: I actually like Freaky Friday. I know a straight 35-year-old dude should never say that. We work with Mark Waters. Lindsey Lohan’s great.

My partner and I pitch each other all the time, on high concept stuff or cranking out an interesting take on ideas. After The Hangover success, the R-rated thing is an area we felt pretty comfortable in, what people wanted from us. It’s so much easier to be funny in R, you grow a lot of respect for a PG-13 movie that’s funny because of all the rules, or sitcoms like Seinfeld because he’s funny and he’s clean every week. We have terrible jokes in this movie because they’re so dirty and people may laugh because like, “It may not be funny but because it’s outrageous, I’m so offended that I laugh to cover it up.”

We have these dinners, once a month or so, a bunch of guys go to dinner and have steak and talk about stuff. At first it was me and another guy who were the two married guys, and all the single guys would laugh at us – I got married young –we’ve won a few over to our camp. The conversations we’d have – it’s like the people they pull out of the jungle who don’t understand how electricity works – I’m asking question that are so dumb about being single like, “What do you say, how do you do it? That sounds so crazy!” and they’re like, “You’re married, do you have sex like once a day? Or twice a day?” and 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. There’s a scene in the movie where [after the body switch] Jason’s like, if I’m gonna impersonate you, how many times do I have to have sex with your wife? And Ryan’s like, it’s Tuesday. And Jason’s like, I don’t understand, you don’t have sex on Tuesdays? And Ryan’s like No! We never have sex on Tuesdays. You’re completely safe on a Tuesday, it’s not even gonna come up.

So the stuff that feels real like that hopefully everyone else in the audience will be like, “Yeah.”

How’d you hook up with Neal Moritz, cause he’s not really known for working on comedies? How did that work?

LUCAS: I don’t often know how things happen, we love Neal, he came on later in the process. He gets things everything over the goal line, and has this gift of getting movies made, which may not sound like an art, but there’s something he knows that we don’t. [Executive Producer] Ori [Marmur] is here, and he helps the comedy a lot. It’s good to have funny producers around, on the set. Ori gets funny and enjoys telling a joke.

Did you seek out David Dobkin?

LUCAS: Yeah. Scott and I did a little work on Wedding Crashers, I think one of our jokes made it in. And it was Scott’s too, which sucks.

jon-lucas-scott-moore-01Which joke?

LUCAS: Remember the dinner scene? There’s a joke about the families getting together… and Owen makes a joke about the Klingon Revolution. It’s a Klingon joke. Like, our only joke is a Star Trek joke? I feel filthy about it.

So we met David that way, and we all had three-year-old kids. And he read the script and he’s like, I get it. The opening scene is about waking up in the middle of the night and feeding your kid and there’s a lot of stuff about parenting young children. So I think he was a perfect choice, because I think you have to know a little bit about how ferociously tough it is in the first year or two to raise kids to get the movie.

Given the crazy success of The Hangover – it just scratched an itch that no one ever expected and R Rated comedy to make that kind of money – do you feel like you learned something about what people want out of an R-rated comedy?

LUCAS: Ha, no, sorry I wish there was.

Anything more specific, then?

LUCAS: I think of a few things. I think Todd Phillips did an awesome job. Not everyone can direct those kinds of movies. It’s a very specific skill to direct a movie like that, to keep it from going so silly, too dark, too mean. He did everything right. What we’re trying to do more of, is trying to reinvent comedies… When we were writing Hangover, it was bachelor party in Vegas, and — just like body-switching movie — you were probably like “Really, another dumb-guys-go-to-Vegas movie?” So we’re trying to find new ways into old stories. The one thing I feel we contributed to Hangover was the mystery element, basically doing Jason Bourne in a comedy was a new idea. People saw that in the trailer. You can’t just do funny-guy-goes-to-summer-camp anymore, those great movies we grew up on. You really need to bring different structure to movies to get poeple to go, because there’s so much entertainment out there.  There’s people who still go to the movies every weekend. Audiences — particularly young people — now are smarter and have other options. If you don’t put something new out there, you’re kinda dead. So I think it’s great to be totally honest that we have to work harder to get people to go.

There’s so much entertianment out there. Used to be a thing where people would go to the movies every weekend, didn’t matter what you put out there. But audiences now are smarter, especially young people, and they have other options. If you don’t put something that’s really new up there, you’re kinda dead. I think that’s great, to be totally honest. I don’t mind that we have to work harder to get people to go. Hopefully it will make movies be a little bit better.

Do those options free you, in the sense that fifteen years ago you couldn’t do certain jokes because the comedy landscape was more constrained? Now there’s so much out there that some things don’t seem as unusual as they once were.

LUCAS: It’s harder to shock people, for sure. There are very few things out there that make people go ‘whoa!’ There ARE a few, thank god. And they’re all in this movie!

change-up-movie-image-ryan-reynolds-jason-bateman-01Are you worried about marketing this movie?

LUCAS: I have a weird theory on trailers and marketing, which is that if they’re just funny…and that’s an easy thing to say. But if they make you laugh [you’re fine]. Trailers want to sell, like, the father/son relationship, but no. It’s thirty seconds long, and I would almost see any movie if the trailer made me laugh. Obviously what’s funny is very subjective, but I think we’ve all seen the trailer to a comedy and then at the end been like “Was that…a comedy?” Which should not be your first question. So that’s going to be a challenge. And every movie has something about it that you have to… With The Hangover the big issue was “does anyone want to go to Vegas again?” In that case people did, because they sold the idea more than they did “it’s a Vegas movie.”

When you’re writing, is there a temptation to write stuff specifically for the trailer down the road?

LUCAS: Absolutely. I think you always need, certainly when you pitch ideas, and it’s a cheesy writer move, but when you pitch an idea to a studio you’re always selling the marketing in some way. Sometimes you even say, “here’s the poster.” It’s a tacky move, but if it’s a good idea… we’re always pitching trailer moments. Trailers are great, because in some ways they get you to think about a movie like, “what is the most important [element]? I wish novels had trailers, because we might get better novels. Not “oh, I’ll just write about my family for 700 pages.” It really helps you to focus on what the movie is about.

Is there a poster for this?

LUCAS: No, they’re shooting one this weekend and I’m kinda curious to see what they’re going to go with. The fear is they’re going to do like [mimes characters standing back to back] and it’s “No! don’t go back to back!” Posters are hard, though, they really are. The Hangover poster was awesome. The classic bad comedy poster is always…I’ve been working in comedy for twelve years and it’s always “Guys, I got it! White poster. Big red letters.” No! With every comedy, it’s the same!

the-change-up-movie-image-jason-bateman-ryan-reynolds-02How does casting affect a movie like this? How does casting change things?

LUCAS: It’s interesting because we’ve worked on movies where the casting has definitely upped it, and we’ve worked on movies where casting has hurt us. It’s easy to blame the cast, because it’s everyone’s fault [when something doesn’t work.] But casting is “who’s available, who can we afford, who’s interested?” The list gets pretty small when you’re down to who wants to do your movie. I think these two guys are awesome. The worst thing is, I would probably tell you that anyway, even if I hated them, because I’d never tell you I hated them, and it sucks because I lie all the time and now I’m actually telling the truth. I don’t know what you guys think of them, but… they’re still fresh. The Hangover had this thing where it could have been Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Steve Carell. It could have been the straight guy, the clown and the scoundrel. Or it could have been three guys you didn’t know that well. And part of its success, I think, came from the fact that you didn’t quite know who they were, and these guys might kill a hobo in this movie. Will Ferrell is never going to kill a hobo. He’s a great guy, but he’s got another movie to do after this one, and he’ll never go that far. I think this movie benefits from that. We know Jason and Ryan, but I’m not sure I’ve seen them do hard-R. I think that’s part of the appeal. I think audiences get a little tired of the big comedy movie stars. It can start to be a negative. I think audiences, especially for comedy, don’t mind a guy who hasn’t been in every prior comedy. Anyway, long answer, but they’ve done great, they’re awesome in this. They’re really friends, and it is really hard to manufacture that, it’s like a romantic comedy where you can tell they hate each other. And this is great because it’s hard R, and Jason Bateman doesn’t get the call very often to do dirty material. He’s always the nice dad who’s struggling a little bit. And he gets to do that in the first third of this movie, and then he’s just an animal. I think that was the appeal for him.

When writing, did you leave room for improv and changes based on the casting?

LUCAS: The truth is… in a script, it would be awesome to leave room. Like, “This page is going to be a great improv scene.” I would love to do that. But it’s all written out. And, honestly, I think all writing is just the starting point for good improv. And I don’t know if you saw everything we were doing this morning, but the scene started off as a three-pager, and it’s up to five, because they can just bang it out. [he switches gears here a bit] Leslie’s been doing this forever, obviously with Judd’s movies… and comedy’s a tough environment, too, particularly for women. You need to push back, especially in these scenes, too. My wife is happy, because the women almost always win every scene in my movies. In this movie in particular, Leslie kinda grounds the whole thing. You need someone in the movie who is ‘us.’ She’s the one who kinda has to carry the movie in a sense, because she’s reacting to it, and if she’s not reacting the way WE would react, the movie [loses it.] Then we’re in a weird, silly place.

How is Alan Arking doing…

LUCAS: When you think of the first name for a body-switching comedy, it’s “Get me Alan Arkin! Where’s Arkin!?”

change-up-set-photo-jason-bateman-david-dobkin-ryan-reynolds-01Is this edgier than he’s used to?

LUCAS: He’s got this great delivery, and he’s this revered actor, so he comes in… all of us are about the same age, and we’re in rehearsal, throwing the football around, and Arkin comes in, everyone is kinda like [mimes snapping quietly to attention]. He’s like the dude! He’s an Oscar-winning actor! And he’s got that voice, we’re all, “Mr. Arkin,” and the football goes away, we’re talking about Cashiers du Cinema. He’s got this way of delivering lines. It’s like, my line wasn’t funny, Scott’s line wasn’t funny, and then he just hits it in that way he has…it’s not Walken-esque, but it’s got a very funny patter. We were lucky to get him.

Can you explain to us what this room is?

LUCAS: Welcome to the glamour of filmmaking! Oh, this is the tattoo parlor, it’ll be in the movie. There’s a tattoo scene. The joke is, after they’ve switched, he’s going to fuck his friend over and get a tattoo. I won’t tell you what it is.

Ryan Reynolds is an interesting choice as well, because he’s got a leading man thing, plus comic timing, and he’s not over-exposed.

LUCAS: He’s a goldmine. It’s kind of frustrating when someone is cool, good-looking, hard-working and really funny. Could you just not have been funny? Leave me something! It was jogging in the gym this morning, and I looked over, he’s working out. If you ever want to feel horrible about yourself, work out next to that dude. I’m just going to go back to my room and eat donuts. But he’s great. And the improv thing is really dangerous, because you’ve got to stick to a schedule, but he’s got a great way of… every day he comes in with five funny lines, and he sticks with them, tries them out in different ways, or you can throw him something in the middle of a scene and he’ll just work it in.

For more The Change-Up coverage:

Collider Goes to the Set of THE CHANGE-UP

Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds On Set Interview

Director David Dobkin On Set Interview

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