Todd Phillips on Due Date, Mel Gibson and Why He Hates Snarky Blog Headlines
Todd Phillips, as I found out, is not afraid of confrontation. And maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that the director of The Hangover and this weekend's new release, Due Date, wasn't afraid to push the boundaries, even in an interview setting. Phillips makes it clear from the start that he's not particularly a fan of Movieline. And to be honest, knowing this now, I actually respect the fact that he went ahead and did this interview, even though, yes, we did get off to a rather rocky start.
As you know from the incredible marketing push, Due Date stars Robert Downey Jr. as Peter, a man who just wants to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles to witness the birth of his new child. Zach Galifianakis, a Phillips favorite, stars as Ethan who is on his way to "Hollywood" in an effort to fulfill his dream of staring on Two and a Half Men. These two unlikely travelers find themselves driving cross-country together after an unfortunate kerfuffle that lands both of them on a no-fly list. I spoke to Phillips (after some initial, well, let's just call them, unpleasantries) about his love of Galifianakis, why Malcolm X jokes can be polarizing, the sequel to The Hangover and what really pisses him off about this Mel Gibson situation.
Thanks for taking the time to do this.
This is for Movieline?
This website's the worst, but, all right, let's do it.
Oh, no. Why do you say that?
No, honestly, I'm teasing, but you guys just hate every movie. So it's like, "Ugh, really, I have to do this and open myself up to some snarky, clever title?" You know what I mean? There are movie sites that love movies and there are movie sites that are just bitter people that just hate movies. I find Movieline to be in the latter. The tone is bizarrely hateful.
Really? I wouldn't call it hateful at all.
In print. You're right, in person I've only had great experiences with [the writers]. And I'm not even talking about my own personal things, I'm saying that when I go on that site and read about other movies, it just seems like one of those sites.
Would it make you happy to get Mel Gibson out-of-the-way early? I'm not really sure what you can add at this point. Do you have a favorite Mel Gibson movie? I'm a bit partial to Bird on a Wire.
I think Apocalypto, probably. Have you seen it?
I mean, the guy is a masterful filmmaker. That's easy.
Where were The Dan Band?
In Due Date? Yeah, we didn't use them in Due Date. You're right, they do not make an appearance. That is correct.
I didn't think about it until after the movie, but it always a treat to see them.
I love those guys.
Why did you make Peter and Ethan each so individually frustrating? The second you start to like one of them, one of them does something like spit on a dog...
I think that's a good question, that's kind of what made the movie interesting for me. To not take that studio note mentality of, "OK, let's make them likable." I think what Robert Downey brings to a role is the ability to spit in a dog's face, lose the audience for five minutes, and then win them back. Quite straight with you, not kidding, that was what the challenge was of the movie and that was made me want to make the movie with the guys. And I think what made them want to do the movie was kind of f*cking with the tone of it in a way -- it's not a very linear tone. The structure might be a linear story but, tonally, we go from really f*cked up stuff to sometimes sad stuff to sometimes something way out of line. It's just shifting of the tones that made it interesting and I think the same thing goes for the tone of each character. Ideally, to me, that's what makes the movie special. Like you just said, we didn't make one guy the good cop and one guy the bad cop or one guy the straight man and one guy the crazy man.
You make a good point about Downey. He spits in the dog's face and I hated the guy, but I forgot about that pretty quickly.
That dog was a total as*hole, too, don't forget that. You know, I was spitting in his face between takes.
Has Zach Galifianakis become your go to guy? Is he to you like DiCaprio with Scorsese?
(Laughs) I was trying to think of a funny one, what immediately came to my head was Pesci for him, but I couldn't think of something funny for me. You know, people work like that -- in no way are we comparing ourselves, you said that one -- but people find each other and you find the shorthand as a director and a filmmaker and a writer, I find myself, when I read scripts, working on an idea, my head goes to Zach because he's just somebody that I have such a shorthand with. Somebody that I know can do anything. And I'm talking about stuff that he hasn't done yet in any movie yet that I still know he's capable of.
Where did this movie come from? Is this from a personal experience? I will say that a road trip when you're 21 is a lot more fun than when you're in your 30s.
Right! Yeah, it's a little more of a hassle. But to me, really, the road trip element is the structural element. But what the road really represents is the ability to take your main characters out there and put them out there without a safety net. They don't have their family or friends or personal belongings. When that element shows up in movies, that's what it represents.
Were you at all inspired by other movies with similar themes? I sensed a little Planes, Trains and Automobiles in there except, like you said, the characters aren't quite as likable as Neil and Del.
Well there was a lot of movies -- and Planes, Trains is, of course, a movie I've seen many times and loved -- but we talked about Midnight Run. We talked about Rain Man. Rain Man we talked about all of the time. The road trip element of Rain Man was something that we talked a lot about that relationship and that kind of tension and a weirdness that those two guys had.
No offense to Mr. Creepy, but I enjoyed your cameo in Due Date.
(Laughs) Thank you. I'll tell him when he gets back from the peep show.
Please do that. You share that scene with Juliette Lewis. I interviewed her for the first time a few weeks ago. There's a lot of crossover, in a good way, in her personality to what you see on-screen. Does that make sense?
That makes absolute sense. She's a live wire and she brings so much energy and so much sunshine to every role that she does. I have no other way to explain her, she's just like sunshine when she shows up on set. Everything changes, I love her so much.
In a movie you can never have enough masturbating jokes.
(Laughs) That's funny.
In college, when you have a roommate, you get used to falling asleep with those kind of noises in the background. The scene in the car reminded me of that.
I actually never had to deal with that. For me, that scene is about representing how unaware Ethan is and unaware of the social norms.
And the Malcolm X scene caught me off guard. I let off an embarrassingly loud laugh.
I know, it's such a bizarre joke out of nowhere. Yeah, it's a little ridiculous but I'm glad that you dug that one. Not everyone loves it (laughs).
I can see that one going both ways.
Well, you know, that's how all comedy is. Comedy is so subjective. You could be in a room with 400 people laughing at a joke and you could just not think it's funny. You're just sitting there like, "Am I in the twilight zone? Why is everyone laughing?" It's such a personal thing. People have such a personal visceral response to comedy.
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