Perhaps the funniest and craziest thing about this weekend’s MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES is that it’s based on a true story of two brothers who decide to advertise for dates to their sister’s wedding and end up with two of the worst-possible dates imaginable even after making some effort to find “nice and respectable” women to take to the Hawaiian event. I’m not sure how much of what’s in the movie is true (likely not much), but it doesn’t really matter since I wasn’t aware of its real-life roots when I saw the film or did this interview with two gentlemen who have made long and successful careers in comedy, particularly short-form comedy.
After years of tooling around making shorts for Funny or Die, “Saturday Night Live,” and other outlets, as well as helming a few sitcoms (including “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), Jake Szymanski made a fantastic HBO movie calling 7 DAYS IN HELL, starring Andy Samberg and Kit Harrington, detailing a fictional marathon tennis match. MIKE AND DAVE marks Szymanski’s first feature film, and it stars Adam DeVine and Zac Efron as the Strangle brothers, and Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza as the trashy dates.
As a performer, DeVine has also been making comedy shorts and popping up in supporting roles in sitcoms for years before Comedy Central picked up “Workaholics” (recently signed for its seventh season), which seemed to jumpstart his career with a recurring role in “Modern Family” as well as sizable roles in the two PITCH PERFECT films, NEIGHBORS, THE INTERN, and the Cartoon Network animated series “Uncle Grandpa.” After MIKE AND DAVE, he’s set to co-star in the Christmas Day release WHY HIM? with Bryan Cranston and James Franco.
I had a great time talking to these two, and because of the film’s Hawaiian setting, the powers that be who set up the interview decided to hold it in a tiki bar, in the bowels of a trendy Chicago restaurant. On a fairly hot summer day, it was actually kind of nice to be in a setting with no windows and lots of air conditioning. With that, please enjoy my talk with Adam DeVine and director Jake Szymanski…
Capone: I was watching the movie, and near the end I’m thinking “Wait, you have Adam, you have Anna, you have Zac…”
Adam DeVine: And Aubrey.
Capone: Well, I mention those three in particular, because I don’t know what Aubrey’s singing and dancing abilities are. But I was most of the way through this movie and I’m thinking, “How has there not been any singing and dancing yet?” But thank god, you pull it out at the end. It would have seemed weird that you would hire these three in particular and not have any.
Jake Szymanski: [laughs] Well, it was not in the script originally, and I think it’s because of our cast that we were like “Hey, we should probably try and do something like this.”
AD: Yeah, me and Anna looked at each other when we got the news like “We can’t escape it.”
Capone: And why would you want to? At this point, there’s a certain expectation, especially since both of you are in it.
AD: So far, I literally haven't done a single—well, I’ve done an independent movie that I didn’t sing in—but as far as studio movie, of the four or five that I’ve done, I’ve sang in every one of them. Even in THE INTERN. Nancy Meyers makes me rap in car alone.
JS: I forgot about that. Just to do it.
AD: Yeah, just to do it.
JS: I like to think we turned it on its head a little bit with the way we did it. I was nervous about doing it too, because I was like if I was seeing this, I would just feel like “They forced these guys to sing.”
AD: You feel like the characters Mike and Dave would put on a big production number.
JS: Exactly. I think it fits into the story naturally.
Capone: Adam, you come out of standup and improv; Aubrey had done a lot of improv; Zac comes from a song-and-dance background; and Anna will do anything for a laugh. It’s like you hired people who all come from different comedy backgrounds. Was there a getting-used-to-each-other period?
AD: I feel that, especially in comedy, people come up in classes, and this is our graduating class. I’ve known Anna for a long time and I’ve known Aubrey through friends, and I’ve known Zac through other friends, so we’ve all known each other, but haven't worked together. As soon as we started looking together, we clicked. You all speak the same language, because even though we didn’t come from the same exact background, you all speak the same language just from your generation of actors that are coming up. You talk to people like Jake, and there’s a shorthand of how you speak that we were able to jump on and make sense of.
Capone: Does it also help that you’re all around the same age and you’re pulling from the same pop-culture references?
JS: Yeah, I think so, for sure. Also like Adam said, everyone was friends, but we were also trapped in Hawaii, so everyone was getting along and everyone was seeing each other on and off set, 24-hours a day for three months. I think the chemistry between everyone is great, and it’s because of all that stuff.
AD: Yeah, if you shoot a film in L.A., you shoot it and you have fun and you go home and you see your regular friends and the regular people in your life. But on that movie, you’re in a hotel room next to Zac and Aubrey and Anna, so you’re just like, “Hey, do you guys want to hang out?”
Capone: I’ve heard a nasty rumor that some people write stories set in Hawaii so they can go to Hawaii for free.
JS: Our writers did that, actually. I think it was originally set in a vineyard in upstate New York. This was before I came onto it, and then with the second draft, they go, “We should make this set in Hawaii so we can go there.” And it worked.
Capone: Is there something about being there that loosens things up a bit?
JS: I don’t know about shooting there. I think everyone was excited. It definitely didn’t hurt to get our cast in this movie by saying “We get to go spend time in Hawaii.” I think it’s an audience thing. I think it’s like a nice wish fulfillment we get to give to the audience to be like “It’s a Hawaii wedding, a destination wedding.” I think that’s what was important story wise for me is I think its fun to go see that.
AD: After you get done watching the movie, you feel like you just went on a little vacation. It feels good.
Capone: You had to make the ultimate sacrifice as an actor by downplaying your good looks…
AD: This is as good looking as I get.
Capone: There are a lot of jokes made at your expense about your looks. I’m sitting there going “Am I seeing something different? They don’t look that different.”
AD: Well, compared to Efron, I am a human troll.
Capone: That’s everyone. We all except that status about ourselves compared to Zac Efron.
AD: I know. I was working out so much because I just wanted to look like I was in the same gene pool as him, so if you looked at the two of us, you’d be like, “Yeah, they could be brothers, but this one likes cheeseburgers.” So I was working out all the time, and then Jake called me one day and was like, “You’ve got to stop. What are you doing? Why are you working out so much?”
JS: “Don’t go too far.”
AD: “Have a cheeseburger. Chill out.”
JS: I did. I said that. “Go eat a cheeseburger.”
Capone: Were you afraid that he would get so pumped that the jokes at the expense of his looks wouldn’t land?
JS: It’s funny because I don’t think the jokes at the expense of his looks were even in the script. I think that was us playing around on set. That was never important to me. I think it was really like”Why isn’t Aubrey’s character having a good time and going to sleep with this guy?” I don’t know. “So, insult him, say you don’t like him.”
AD: Say, what was it? That I look like a funhouse mirror?
AD: Which, after she says that, I was like, “Yeah, I do.” I was a little insecure. “Wait a minute, I kind of do look like that.”
Capone: Were there things about Mike that you did identify with, especially the insecurities?
AD: Totally. I think it’s like…
JS: I think more of the hard partying, but he’s also a fun guy. He puts on a show.
AD: Yeah. I have insecurities like anyone has. But it is one thing where I’m not like Zac Efron, Ryan Reynolds, that type of handsome. So as an actor, you’re like “Yeah, I don’t look like that even though I’m not a disgusting little troll monster,” as an actor you’re like “I’m not that guy.” Anything other than that, you’re a beast.
JS: I think that Adam and Zac absolutely play as brothers, no problem in the movie.
AD: Yeah, I think it ended up being A-okay.
Capone: I think it’s fair to say that some people watching this, it might take them a while to like some of these characters? How important is that to you, or is it important at all that we like them?
JS: I personally hope that you like everyone by the end, but definitely part of the fun of it was giving Aubrey and Anna some characters with some meat on the bone. For me, it was “What's the most fun?” If they’re going to pretend like they’re nice girls, the most fun to me is a real big switch, so let’s make them crazy New York rat people first [laughs]. Yeah, it’s a big swing, and some people might not like them at the top, and I think that’s okay.
AD: I think it is that thing where you definitely are like “Oh they’re horrible, shitty people.” And the same thing with Mike. You know he’s good, loving person, but you don't really feel for him until like everyone shits on him. When I see the movie with people now, after he gets in the fight in the sauna, and when he’s drinking alone and he looks up, it’s a laugh, but I went to the screening at UCLA and I heard girls be like, “Aww.” [laughs] “Poor guy.” I’m a puppy that might bite ya, but you’re like “Aw, little guy.” “Careful he bites.”
Capone: Pity works as well as good looks sometimes.
AD: That’s really what I’m working towards across the board.
JS: I think as long as you connect and come around to them by the end, it’s okay.
Capone: You mentioned the screenwriters [Andrew Jay Cohen & Brendan O'Brien] earlier, and I just saw NEIGHBORS 2 [which they co-wrote] last night. With their screenplays, are they written in a way that is both solid as a standalone screenplay but also leaves a little room for the actors to work things in?
AD: I think Andrew and Brendan do such a great job with building the bones and the structure of a really good screenplay, but also dialogue can be cut and pasted where you’re like “This whole scene and all this dialogue, you can add to it, you can improv on it,” and Jake did such a great job of adding extra lines and going like “What if you took it this direction and this direction and this direction.” Some screenplays are so tightly written that it’s hard to improv around it, because every line is like pushing story, but this, you really had fun with it.
JS: They’re really good at setting up the game in every scene, so getting every word right wasn’t so important, but it was like “Here’s the joke we’re going to play and where we need to end up.” If you’re going to play around with words, do a little improv, they’re really good at setting that base for you.
They come from the Apatow school of things, and come from the McKay/Ferrell school of things, and McKay and Apatow together on ANCHORMAN did a lot. So we worked very well together when I was working with the writers before we started shooting, and they were like, “Yeah, you wanna change that? Let’s change this.” They would even send other jokes to try for every scene. They wrote a great script, but they also weren’t precious. “Try five other jokes here.”
AD: That’s so refreshing.
JS: It’s really great, it really helps, actually.
Capone: You said some scripts are so tightly written that it’s tough to work around them if you want to, but are there sometimes examples of scripts that are underwritten to the point where improv might not even save it, or improv is the only thing that can save it?
AD: When things are underwritten like that, you really have to have a—the director just can’t go, “Alright, now improv it. Save the movie.” You have to have somebody who’s really steering the ship, and it’s hard to do. It’s much better to have a very funny script that you’re able to go off of.
JS: And we would always get what’s in the script. We would always get the scripted page, then play around. But I don’t think improv can ever save a movie. I think you’ve always got to start somewhere great, and then you can play with it. I think improv might give you the best three scenes in a bad movie, but it will never save the movie if it’s not set there.
AD: If the story isn’t there, then the movie is not going to be there.
JS: The movie is not going to work, yeah.
Capone: A lot of what you’ve done before this has been shorter comedy bits. Although, 7 DAYS IN HELL is phenomenal. What do you learn from that process that helps you in making a feature-length film?
JS: A lot. The shorter stuff is a really good way to know how to shoot, how to work with actors, how to play with the story. The transition to a feature is making the story work and the characters arc over a longer period of time, and holding it together, and I definitely tried to shoot a lot of options to make sure I was able to do that, and a lot of it is done in the edit. I think I learned just as much editing the movie and making it work as a whole movie as I did in shooting it and trying to make it work as a whole movie. You just have make sure you’re keeping the audience with you and feeling for the characters the whole time you go. Some of the scenes in our movie, I’ll treat like a sketch, and that’s where we would improv and be like “No, the game is Adam and Aubrey whispering crazy things in each others ear. Let’s play around with that.” That could easily be a two-minute sketch. And it’s a seen in a movie. So in a way, some of those scenes are exactly what I’ve been doing for a while.
AD: What is cool about doing internet stuff is you really get a sense of what type of comedy makes you laugh and what you’re the best at, and I think with you directing, I’m sure it really helped knowing like what your strong suits are, and when you’re directing scene, what you can give to the scene as opposed to shooting something and being like, “I’m not equipped for this.” You were able to really go in and know what you could do, as opposed to going like, “I think I can do it.”
JS: Yeah, they’re all stepping stones, and it helps you hone all of your skills, and what he’s saying know what you know works because you’ve done it before, but you haven't had the risk of doing it in a movie, so you get to make a good movie and get there hopefully.
Capone: Adam, this is your first above-the-title, leading role. Do you internalize that pressure in any way when you’re making the film? Do you feel “Man, I have to nail this one.”
AD: I feel like I would have felt more pressure if I didn't think it was super funny, because sometimes you go into a project and you’re like, “I hope we pull it off. It could go either way.” But I really sought this role out and bothered Jake a lot, calling him, texting him.
JS: “Wanna go to a Clippers game?”
AD: I wined and dined him a little bit. I really, really wanted it.
JS: I specifically kept not telling Adam he had the part, because I was waiting for more dinners. “I can wait another week to tell him.”
Capone: I’ve heard that you’re really good at not breaking character and laughing the way some people do when shooting a comedy. Is there a secret? Are you thinking about dead puppies?
AD: Constantly. Literally, that’s all I ever think about. They’re everywhere!Aw, the Dotson.” Is that a dog, Dotson?
JS: Dotson? You mean dachshund, yeah. I can’t say that word, and my wife’s family has dachshunds. I always say “Dashunds." My wife’s like, “Do you know English?” I’m always like, “I don’t know. It’s a phonetics thing.” Please don’t put that in.
AD: Print it! Print it! Put in a couple more S’s. I think it comes from really committing super hard. As an actor, you don't want to know you’re being funny. No one wants to see a guy who knows he’s being funny, unless you’re playing the character of like a comedian or something. So that’s where I take it from, I’m just trying to not know I’m saying funny stuff, even though intellectually I know what I’m saying might work, or I know that I’m cracking the other actors up.
JS: He’s also making the other actors laugh. You can hold it together pretty good, but you caused a lot of laughs, which is fun to watch.
AD: It’s fun. Zac made me laugh a few times with his commitment to saying dumb stuff. The dumbest stuff always makes me laugh the hardest.
JS: There are takes where I’m with our editors and I’m like, “Use that take.” And they’re like, “Jake, we can’t use that take without ADR. You’re laughing in the background. You’re on mic laughing.” I was the worst about it. I was fucking so loud.
AD: Oh yeah, he’d have a microphone and he’d be like a room away and a God mic would come in, and sometimes he would forget to put the mic down, so he’s just like, “Hahahaha!” into the microphone.
Capone: Isn’t there a little bit of that in the outtakes in the end?
JS: Oh, yeah. When Aubrey and Anna are on the couch? And I’m like, “Alright, guys.”
Capone: Gentlemen, best of luck. Great to meet you.
JS: Good to meet you, man. I love your publication.