Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
When I met Peyton Reed at the San Diego ComiCon a few years ago, I thanked him for directing the bikini car wash scene in BRING IT ON. Even back then, he was an obvious comics geek, and with him being the man in charge of FANTASTIC FOUR, he’s someone that we’re going to be discussing a lot in the upcoming years.
Mr. Beaks did a great job of chatting Peyton up, and they talk about a wide variety of subjects in this really enjoyable interview:
DOWN WITH LOVE had me in its first five minutes when Renee Zellweger sets foot out of Grand Central Station, crosses the street, and finds herself smack dab in front of the U.N. (yes, you read that correctly) where she’s quickly surrounded by a phalanx of protesters carrying “Ban the Bomb” signs. Unfazed by this flurry of activity, Renee climbs into a cab, which, before speeding off, backfires, sending the protesters to the pavement in panic.
In other words, DOWN WITH LOVE isn’t looking to spoof the old sex comedies of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s; it’s celebrating them. Many critics have taken to wondering what the whole point of the movie is, when it’s right under their too-often upturned noses. Just have fun, guys.
The man behind this beautifully designed, impeccably choreographed treasure is Peyton Reed, who’s about ready to graduate from romantic comedies to full-throttle event filmmaking with THE FANTASTIC FOUR (we talk about that near the end of the piece). But while you’re waiting to see what he does with that highly anticipated adaptation of, perhaps, *the* definitive Marvel comic book, you should rush out to see DOWN WITH LOVE this weekend, particularly since you’ve gorged on MATRIX RELOADED, and need not bother with the limp BRUCE ALMIGHTY, which provides about the same amount of chuckles as a half-hour of “Happy Days” minus the possibility of hearing Potsie sing. (BRUCE ALMIGHTY is the ultimate wait-for-DVD rental, where, when you finish, you let loose a sigh of release that you didn’t have to squirm in your seat while the film devolved into its treacly “Be the Miracle” horseshit.) DOWN WITH LOVE, on the other hand, is unmitigated joy captured on celluloid. If you love movies, you don’t want to miss this in all its scope goodness.
What follows is my conversation with the man who cut his teeth directing television, including brilliant collaborations with the Upright Citizens Brigade, before giving us the GRAND ILLUSION of competitive cheerleading films, BRING IT ON. So, dig in because it’s good stuff, Maynard!
Beaks: Why go back to the sex comedy now?
Reed: Well, after my first movie I read a bunch of romantic comedies, and I went on record saying, “Man, that doesn’t interest me, I don’t want to do it… I don’t want to do it at all.” Mostly because the ones I was reading were just sort of variations on a theme, and, visually, there wasn’t much going on. And, then, I read this script, and… you know, from a directorial standpoint there was just so much going on… it was a chance to create this Hollywood version of the sixties. I thought it was really smartly written, and I thought it was… inventive and clever, and was a way into something approximating that genre. And I also liked that the bedroom comedy, or the sex comedy, of that period. It’s kind of this bastard child of a genre in a way. It’s either forgotten, or, if people think about it, it’s not treated with much respect. I liked that this thing took those really specific movies and kind of twisted it in a way that would really make it interesting.
Beaks: It’s interesting that you bring up the genre lacking a measure of respect. If you don’t mind my bringing this up, I’ve noticed with some of the reviews that people have been reacting to it in much the same way those films were received back in the day.
Reed: Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s really interesting. I mean, I’m someone who reads… I sort of obsessively read all of the reviews, you know. I, sort of, masochistically, love reading them all, good or bad. But, yeah, it has been interesting that it’s treated somewhat similarly. Ours obviously has the additional burden of people having to get into the vibe of it being 2003, and here’s a movie set in ’62. And that’s an adjustment that those movies didn’t have to make. But, yeah, it has been interesting to read those reviews.
Beaks: I’m really interested in the idea… the inclination nowadays would be to spoof it outright, and you just mostly work right within the parameters of the genre, which I find just utterly refreshing. Was there any resistance to that kind of approach?
Reed: I think the script was so specific in what it was and what it wanted to be, and anybody who read that script… it was very clear about what it was and what it wasn’t. I have no interest in doing a spoof. There have actually have been reviews that refer to it as a spoof or a parody, or something like that, and, to my mind, I feel like they’re missing the point. What’s interesting to me is a genre like the Western or something – you know, inevitably every few years someone attempts to make a Western – and it’s just sort of accepted as a Western. And here was the chance to sort of do this real thing; it was a period piece and in the style of those things, and it’s not really accepted in the same way. It’s sort of a different animal. It’s a really sort of tricky case.
Beaks: From which films were you taking your design cues? I’m kind of a fan of the Frank Tashlin films.
Reed: Me, too. Story-wise and plot-wise, it sort of pays homage more specifically to the Doris Day-Rock Hudson Universal movies. But design-wise, yeah, we took those movies, but also, in terms of the scale of the sets, and what we wanted to do photographically, it borrows more from the Fox movies of the 50’s. Design-wise, we really liked the idea that… if you go back and look at PILLOW TALK or LOVER COME BACK, there’s actually a kind of dinginess to those movies. They’re not as colorful as you may remember them being, and we really wanted to go with the idea of creating a look that was more our memory of those movies. And those Fox movies – the Fox Cinemascope movies – captured that look a little more. We also wanted to play with the idea (that) it was the early 60’s, but you’re still really feeling the 50’s; the squareness of the 50’s design-wise and attitude-wise. Of the Doris Day-Rock Hudson movies, PILLOW TALK fits that bill maybe more than LOVER COME BACK. But those Fox movies, design-wise, where you’d have these gigantic sets… and all of those movies have the costumes in common, these really colorful, bright costumes where there was actually a front-end credit for the designer of the gowns or the jewelry, or stuff like that. So it is sort of an amalgam of those things. And, again, yeah, the Frank Tashlin stuff, just how colorful it is, and how choreographed the comedy is, and that it kind of, in a way, borrows from animation in that way. It was fun because working with Ewan and David Hyde Pierce, there are scenes in there with those guys where it’s all about those looks. You know, David Hyde Pierce, to me, is someone who understands those kind of Chuck Jones eye glances that are so specific. And it was important for me to have that in the movie, as well.
Beaks: That reminds me, there’s one moment… well, I mean, David Hyde Pierce has so many moments in the movie, but there’s the one where he’s taking his glasses off, and he does this real show of whipping the glasses off in frustration, and it was just right out of… it was just positively cartoonish.
Reed: And that was… the writers and I decided early on that the word… it’s really interesting that you say “cartoonish” because we decided that we didn’t want that to be a dirty word. We didn’t want this to be so wa-wa broad that it was an annoyance, but that there was nothing wrong with the notion of “cartoonish” in the best sense of the word, you know, in the sense of color, and really choreographed and sometimes exaggerated movements, and also playing with the subtleties of those looks and movements and things. Some people will think it’s a little bit stagy or theatrical in that way, but that’s really what we were going for; to try and take that and make it work for a contemporary audience.
Beaks: When they break into a bossa nova during that early scene, was that something… who came up with that?
Reed: Again, all that stuff was in the script. Very specifically, where it was “How did you get that badge,” and he says, “Blame it on the bossa nova,” and in the script it said “cue the bossa nova,” and he starts doing this dance. That kind of appealed to me in a way, too. It was a movie that was played like a musical. It’s not a musical, but it’s not afraid to veer off into those directions for a minute. Just as in THAT TOUCH OF MINK, that Doris Day movie, the whole movie shuts down for about three minutes while Cary Grant takes her to a department store and says (imitating Grant), “Well, let’s get you some nice clothes!” And, then, she’s sitting there and it’s this parade of models just kind of modeling the latest fashions. And it keeps crosscutting between the women and Doris Day, who almost tearing up, she’s so into the fashions. It’s so crazy, you know, that those movies would shut down just to do that. So, we liked the idea that this movie would take these temporary sort of off-the-beaten-path stops, and maybe turn into a little fashion show, or an almost-musical number.
Beaks: In particular, the “Fly Me to the Moon” crosscutting. Now Renee was doing this after CHICAGO, and, I mean, I guess wasn’t afraid to jump back into the whole musical thing.
Reed: Both Renee and Ewan had that thing where, she was coming off of CHICAGO and he had done MOULIN ROUGE, and, you know, they’re both actors who are really… they’re physical actors who are really in tune with their bodies in terms of the way they move whether it’s dancing or musical, or not. And it was kind of fun in that way – that stuff was always in the script – but it was fun her having just done CHICAGO, and, then, doing this sort of naÃ¯ve, silly dance in front of her apartment window. They were really game for that stuff, and really excited. We all kind of agreed on this one point: we wanted this movie… we never wanted to poke fun at the genre. I mean, I love those movies… *unabashedly* love those movies, but we did want to play with the sort of conventions of the period. But in terms of the performance, I love the idea that the movie ends with sort of what’s one of the most ridiculous images: they’re flying off hanging from a ladder on a helicopter. They don’t bother to climb the ladder to get in the helicopter. It exists only to be a movie moment where they can be on this ladder with the Manhattan skyline as they swoop into the frame, and kiss, and go out of frame. There’s no logic to it whatsoever, but it was all about the exuberance of the image.
Beaks: That reminded me of the final shot of GREASE.
Reed: Yeah! Or, even, when you cut to the wide shot, you know… MARY POPPINS, or something, where there’s this really fake little figure going off into the sunset. We liked sort of embracing the fact that that period of movies was more concerned with having a good time at the movies. It was before the gritty realism of the late-60’s and early-70’s, and it really went with that. It was much more theatrical in that way.
Beaks: I read that you guys were working on a tight $35 million budget, and that the construction of the sets was specifically to fit the widescreen frame, and not much higher.
Reed: We had four stages at Hollywood Center Studios, and we built fifty-five sets. Some were these giant four-wall sets, some were three-wall sets, and, then, two-wall… things like a barber shop, where you build two or three walls. I worked really closely with Andrew Laws, the production designer, and Jeff Cronenweth, the cinematographer. In pre-production, we knew exactly what we wanted to see in those smaller sets, so we had to be really specific about the shots, and board things out before we started because it was a challenge to all of us since we were building everything, and there are so many different looks in the movie. We really wanted to make it feel as rich as possible on that budget.
Beaks: One moment… I think the moment that’s going to be a tricky part for most people, but the monologue that’s one long take with Renee explaining her whole scheme to get Ewan to fall in love with her. Your decision was to keep the camera on her for… I don’t know how long that take is…
Reed: It’s about two minutes-plus.
Beaks: Was there any kind of… idea to cut away?
Reed: Obviously, that was something that everybody talked about. When you read the script, it starts with that speech, and it’s close to two solid pages of dialogue. What I wanted to do was… the movie has a lot of movement, and I wanted to set it up where there’s a static shot on Renee, and she says, “I’m not Barbara Novak, there is no Barbara Novak,” and, then, it cuts to a static reaction shot of Ewan, and he says, “Huh?” Then it cuts back to that same static shot of Renee when she starts to explain. So I wanted to set it up as if, “Oh, okay! They’re going to be cutting back-and-forth and back-and-forth and so on.” So by the time you’ve cut to Ewan and you’ve cut back to Renee, it doesn’t cut after that. It keeps going, and people gasp at the revelation. And, then, this tension starts to sink in because it’s just this uninterrupted shot, and there’s not even a slow creep-in or a zoom; it’s just this static shot. I did it really for two reasons: I wanted to build the tension off the ridiculousness of the length of that speech, and, also, I just wanted her performance to stand on its own, and be unaided. And, so (laughs), yeah, I’m sure it’s probably a polarizing moment for people, but I love it. It was always in the script, and I really wanted to do it in a way that really stopped in its tracks in that way.
Beaks: Another idea I wanted to talk about was the idea that… going back to the sex comedy… we’ve seen AUSTIN POWERS, in the last few years, taking on that mid- to late-sixties “free love” era. But you’re right on the cusp of corruption.
Reed: Exactly. And that was something script-wise and design-wise that we were all very specific from the beginning. I love AUSTIN POWERS, but this was not that. It had to be different, and have its own distinguishing features. The idea was to have, design-wise, to really still feel the 50’s, and start to feel the zoominess of 60’s design just starting to creep in just as these ideas of equality or the sexual revolution were just starting to bubble to the surface. It was really important in all aspects of wardrobe and production design and story-wise for that to be driving it. Because that kind of sex comedy only took place in those specific years – roughly ’58 to, maybe ’64, or something – and, then, the sex comedy became something else. It became the rollicking, freewheeling sex comedy of, like, WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT. But these were predicated on a woman guarding her virginity at all costs, and I liked that they had twists on that, but that it really, really works, and there’s something that’s added to it. We didn’t randomly set it in 1962. It’s very much a product of that era.
Beaks: In particular, the moment I really felt it butting up against the latter ‘60s was with the Beatnik sequence. It reminds me of watching those films as a kid. Whenever they’d have a Beatnik sequence, it always seemed as if they were high off of, rather than the bongs, the bongos. You get them around bongos, and they just get far off and zany.
Reed: Yeah, exactly. And there is, in some of those earlier movies, like FUNNY FACE, where there’s all of this disdain of Beatniks. You know, “Who are these trashy people?” But, in fact, they’re always clean “Hollywood” Beatniks with a perfectly manicured van dyke, and a beret at just the right angle. Again, it’s more a comment on how Hollywood saw those things at the time.
Beaks: And they’re always drinking coffee. I just love that they’re far too relaxed. They should be so over-caffinated by that point.
Beaks: I mean, c’mon! There’s something going on here. Also, snagging Tony Randall seemed kind of key. Was that pretty easy getting him to jump back into the era?
Reed: Well, we had this role of Theodore Banner that was a small role, but a crucial one because he kind of represented the old guard that was going to be toppled. We had some casting sessions in New York, and while we were there, we had sent Tony Randall the script and had a meeting with him. I’ve just always been a huge fan of his work. All of it. I just think he’s fantastic, and one of those guys who, you know, in any of those movies, if he’s speaking his lines are just pitch-perfect, and even when he’s not speaking, you can always see him in the corner of the frame with some amazing reaction. So, we didn’t know what he’d think of the script when we met with him, and he said (imitating Randall), “Well, this reminds me of PILLOW TALK or LOVER COME BACK!” And I was, like, “Yeah, that’s the point!” He was really game to do it, and saw what we were going to do. Fortunately, he agreed to do it, and came out to L.A., and we shot with him for one day, which was amazing because, yeah, to me it was like the seal of approval on what we were doing. And, you know, he was eighty-two when we shot the movie. He’s eighty-three now.
Beaks: Still kind of ageless, Tony. Maybe it’s all of those years I’ve been watching him sub (as a guest) on Conan and Letterman.
Reed: Yeah, exactly. When he does those walk-ons on Letterman, it’s so great.
Beaks: Somebody cancels, and it’s… “Here’s Tony Randall!” So, since this is Ain’t It Cool, I’m sure you’re expecting this segue to your next film potentially.
Beaks: THE FANTASTIC FOUR. Now, last I heard, Mark Frost is working on a draft.
Reed: Yeah, actually I just came from a meeting with Mark.
Reed: So, we’re really *just* getting started with Mark on the draft. Today was actually our first day of really getting down to work. It’s exciting because I think Mark is a really, really smart writer. Here’s a guy who wrote TWIN PEAKS, and before that did episodes of THE SIX MILLION MAN, and, then, he’s written novels. He’s just a smart guy. And he’s a longtime fan of THE FANTASTIC FOUR. So, to me, he has a healthy respect for the source material, but he also, like myself, is really, really concerned with making FANTASTIC FOUR relevant, and interesting, and exciting now.
Beaks: Is the idea, as far as you can say, is there still an idea of going retro with it? Has that decision been made?
Reed: There was talk at one point of making it retro, but I think we’re probably not going to do that.
Beaks: I read about the HARD DAY’S NIGHT idea, which I loved, but that might alienate some comic book fans that want something a little more serious.
Reed: I mean, there’s elements… the things that make FANTASTIC FOUR different than other characters in the Marvel Universe is that idea that they’re daytime superheroes. There are no secret identities, and they’re part of the cultural landscape of New York and L.A. But we didn’t want to make a movie that was *all* about that. The trick with these movies, too, is that you’re working from forty years of source material, and it’s really kind of distilling down the heart and soul of what the movie is, so it’s satisfying as an origin story, but also it stands on its own as a movie. *And* the fact that all the things that made the comic so innovative in the early-60’s – that made it so different – all of those things have become clichÃ©s now. So you can’t always rely on those things.
Beaks: Is there any truth to the Clooney rumor?
Reed: No, that was something that I actually heard on the internet first. We’re not to the point of casting yet.
Beaks: I do have suggestions. I think Ian Roberts as Reed. Matt Walsh as Ben.
Reed: (Laughs) I can get Ian Roberts with one phone call! Do you know that Ian Roberts was the model for the Nick Fury action figure?
Beaks: (Now I’m laughing my ass off.) No, I didn’t know that!
Reed: Did you know it?
Beaks: No, I didn’t. That’s great!
Reed: He has a friend who’s one of the sculptors for, whoever it is, ToyBiz or Marvel, who does the figures. And, you know, the guy was a friend of Ian’s, and had seen Upright Citizens Brigade. And, obviously, his character on UCB lifts heavily from the Marvel Universe, and Nick Fury in particular. So, they took these photographs and sculptings of Ian’s head, and that’s Nick Fury.
Beaks: So, that’s good. And I think Amy would be a good Susan. Go with Besser for Johnny. I lived in New York for five years, and I’m a huge fan of the UCB.
Reed: Oh, they’re great! I was just there for the Tribeca Festival, and the only thing that was a downside of that trip was that they did the 500th performance of “Asscat” at the theater, and I had to miss it. But I did see them all. I saw everyone but Besser because he’s here. They’re incredible as performers and as writers. I love ‘em.
Beaks: Any idea of reuniting with those guys for a comedy at some point, maybe getting something off the ground?
Reed: Yeah, I’d love to. It’s interesting now because they’re all doing such different things: Amy’s on SNL, Besser’s out here doing television stuff, and Matt Walsh has been doing “The Daily Show”, and, then, also I think he did a thing in Todd Phillips’ new movie, STARSKY AND HUTCH. And Ian’s doing his thing back there. I know that there’s always talk of doing something, but I would always love to find a place for them in movies because they’re just hilarious.
Beaks: EAST BOUND AND DOWN was something I heard about a while back. Is that something that’s fallen by the wayside?
Reed: No, I think that’s a goner.
Beaks: I just love the idea of doing a SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT-type thing.
Reed: It’s an idea that Owen Wilson and I had talked about. What if you took… you know, there was a script that existed at Universal that was kind of a straight remake of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. Owen and I met a couple of times and were talking about, “What if you could do sort of a revisionist, smart, thinking man’s redneck chase comedy?” Something that sort of took advantage of the Old South and the New South. We talked about it a few times, and we actually had a writer do a draft, and it wasn’t quite what we wanted. And, then, he was off doing things, and I was off doing other things, so it kind of collapsed.
Beaks: Well, to put a bug in your ear: remake HOOPER.
Reed: Yeah, there you go.
Beaks: Terry Bradshaw’s still around, so…
Reed: So, yeah, there it is. Or STICK.
Moriarty’s favorite movie. Be sure to email him about it.
In the meantime, get out and see DOWN WITH LOVE.
STICK? You tell these nice people my favorite movie is STICK?! Dude, somebody’s gonna break your thigh if you keep that sort of monkey business up. Otherwise, though, great piece.