Rawson Marshall Thurber not only takes home the award for being the greatest named director I’ve yet to interview – but also one of the very nicest, as we sit down to talk comedy with the man behind the upcoming picture We’re the Millers.
Out in cinemas on August 23, and starring Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston in the lead roles, Marshall Thurber discusses the brilliance of his lead duo, and his love for improvised cinema. He also talks about finding much needed heart in a comedy, and explains the reasons for only making two films in the past decade, since his success with Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, in 2004.
The script for We’re the Millers has been floating around for roughly 10 years – you must be thrilled to finally bring it to the big screen?
Yeah, though I’ve only been involved for a couple of years, so for me it was pretty fast, but I know that the original writers and producers who had been working on this for 10 years are pretty thrilled, yeah.
You rewrote the screenplay, how much did you have to change? Were there many jokes as topical know as they may have 10 years ago?
Great question, and yeah I came on and there was already a really funny draft, but I just tweaked with a bit of the plot and the structure and added a striptease scene with Jen, before she was on the picture. I also worked on the storyline with Kenny, to give the movie a little more heart. But yeah, whenever you take over a script as a writer/director you want to put your stamp on it, but this one was in such good shape I didn’t have to change much.
You talk about the heart in the movie, was it difficult to strike that balance between being a explosive, raunchy comedy, yet ensuring there is some heart that runs all the way through it?
Absolutely, I mean that’s the whole ball game. If you don’t have heart in your movie, and you don’t have characters that people will care about, then you have a disposable comedy, one that people will laugh at in the theatre, and then forget about before they get to their car – and those aren’t my kind of comedies. So yeah having heart was almost more important than having laughs.
Was is it about the comedy genre that appeals to you?
I don’t know… Those are some of my favourite movies growing up, the likes of Trading Places, Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds…
[Laughs] Sure! Jesus, that film is a classic. So yeah, those type of movies were formative for me, so that’s why I love it.
You’re dealing with two great comic performers in Jason and Jennifer… Did you leave them to their own devices at all? Was there much room for improvisation?
Yeah there’s improvisation in the film, which is what I wanted, so I hired actors who had that background. Jen doesn’t really, but Jason does and Kathryn Hahn and Nick Offerman too. That was something I wanted – so the approach was this: we made sure we had the script and we’d write different punchlines for the same setup, so some of the outtakes we see at the end are alternate lines we had written, and then we decided to figure out what worked the best for the audience and the scene and we’d pick that. But improv is something I always encourage, sometimes we’d try things for fun, which is what is so great about working with Jason, because after take two I could say to him, ‘look, in this scene you want this but you can’t say that’ and he’d go ‘yep, yep, got it’ and then the next take, bang – he’s a genius.
Would you say Jason is an underrated actor?
I think he is wildly underrated. I knew how funny he was just watching him work, but having the chance to actually work with him, I didn’t know how talented he truly is. He can do anything, he could be the next Tom Hanks if that’s what he wants, he is that gifted.
Another performance I enjoyed was by Will Poulter, who of course hails from Britain. How did he come to your attention?
I knew Will from The Son of Ranbow, that’s when I first saw him. You know, he was like 11 years old and four and a half foot and our casting brought him in to read for the Kenny role, and in walks this six foot three 19 year old beanstalk. I didn’t even add them together. He did his audition in a flawless American accent and I didn’t know he was British until after the audition, and he said, “thanks” and I was like, woah, he didn’t look anything like I thought the character would look but as soon as he finished I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the part.
You say he didn’t look like the character you envisaged, and there is something very innocent looking about Will – did that shape the dynamic to the role at all?
It absolutely did. That’s another good question – Will brought something to that character that was not on the page, a real sweetness and naivety, while he’s incredibly endearing. What’s fun when you watch the movie is as soon as Will comes on screen everybody loves him and you can’t direct that, it’s just who Will is, and without him in our movie we’d be in real trouble.
You’ve only made three films in the last decade – what’s the decision behind that? Do you just enjoy a nice long break, or are you quite particular over the material you take on?
[Laughs] It’s funny because there is this big struggle that goes on behind the curtain, where you’re trying to get movies made and it’s tough to get a studio to write a multimillion dollar cheque on a piece of art. So what people don’t see is this dance that goes on behind the curtain where you can get close to a movie, and then move on and get close to another one, and suddenly you get one and it works and the curtains part and it’s been five years and everybody goes, ‘where have you been?’. And it’s like, I’ve been working! I’m trying! I’d like to make movies more quickly than I have, but it’s not for lack of effort.
So will we have to wait five more years for the next one?
Heck no! Hopefully five months, I’m gonna get going.
We’re the Millers is released nationwide on August 23, and you can read our review here