It can be argued that comedy's being taken seriously as a cinematic artform nowadays thanks in large part to the Judd Apatow-produced Bridesmaids. With the film's Oscar recognition, Academy voters and industry elite, typically more in favor of transformative biopics and period pieces, are recognizing the heart of the funny genre, which lies beneath the enjoyable poop jokes and the shenanigans that, more often than not, ensue for the reward of coitus.
But the truth is: Bridesmaids wasn't the first laugh-out-loud film that could be credited for transforming the genre. Back in 2001, a rookie film director named David Wain, a sketch comedian of the NYC based troupes The State and Stella, made a little film called Wet Hot American Summer; today, it's a cult classic and one of the most quoted movies by comedy buffs and comedians alike. Not only did it originally showcase the humorous talents of Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Joe Lo Truglio and Janeane Garofalo, but the flick introduced us all to the funny side of The Hangover star Bradley Cooper and hilarious hottie Elizabeth Banks.
Over a decade later, after directing The Ten and Role Models, as well as co-creating Adult Swim's Children's Hospital and his web-series Wainy Days, Wain is re-teaming with his longtime friend and writing partner Ken Marino to release their highly anticipated, Apatow-produced comedy, Wanderlust. The film (in theaters tomorrow) follows a young couple (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) who are jaded by the city and decide to move into a community of hippies (including Justin Theroux, Malin Akerman, Lo Truglio and Jordan Peele), where, of course, Ayahuasca tea and free love practices make for ridiculous pee-your-pants hilarity.
Naturally, we've been eager to talk to the funny man behind it all. Complex recently spoke to Wain about the inspiration behind the unconventional ensemble comedy, the first time he met Paul Rudd, and how he manages to get Lizzy Caplan, Rashida Jones and other hot actresses to play his love interest for five minutes at a time.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
Wanderlust is set in a hippie commune/nudist colony. First of all, how did you get Joe Lo Truglio to stay naked the entire movie?
[Laughs.] It's a non-guarded secret that it's a fake penis. We had a very talented makeup guy make the penis so he would feel more comfortable walking around practically naked for the entire shoot. So we all felt more comfortable not having a real dick in our face.
I was going to ask how Paul Rudd felt waking up with a penis in his face.
Even with it being a fake penis, he felt pretty weird. [Laughs.]
What inspired you and Ken Marino to write a film like Wanderlust?
Ken Marino and I were in this group The State for so many years and it was kind of like a group of people that were doing something that we thought was different and hoping to rise above the rules of how you're supposed to do comedy. And, in some ways, we thought that was similar to working in a commune: to live life differently, and rise above human nature, and do things differently. In some ways, Role Models has a similar theme, and, in some ways, Wet Hot American Summer has a similar theme.
Something that has always fascinated me was making decisions about your life that isn't the obvious and going against the mainstream. So, that was one of the seeds that we worked with, and we decided to just build it into something that also would be a comedy that we could use a lot of our friends in.
Most of the film's cast is comprised of people you've worked with before, and it seems like you've always had an eye for choosing the best actors for their perfect characters, which contributes to a dynamic ensemble. Do you write the characters with the people in mind?
Generally not. We usually just write mostly in a vacuum. In this case, the character of George, played by Paul, and Seth, [played by] Justin Theroux, were somewhat written with those actors in mind. But otherwise, it was more of a blank slate. After we have a script, we then think about the best people to fit the roles. And, as they say, directing is ninety-percent casting.
When you approach your friends that you've worked with to do these comedies, are they generally open to it? Does it take a little bit of convincing?
We've been lucky that usually because we've worked together so much, there's a trust going both directions there. And so, more often than not, when we ask one of our friends to do something, they're up for it, which we're very lucky about. I'm so lucky to have met so many talented people over the years and so many talented people early on. It really is like having a family you can count on, who happen to be the funniest people in the business.
There's definitely this vibe in most comedies that all of the actors hang out behind the scenes.
There's definitely a real community of people in L.A. and New York, some of whom came up together, but all of whom seem very supportive of each other and are willing to work on each other's projects. It's really nice.
What kind of research went into writing Wanderlust?
There's this great website called Wikipedia. [Laughs.] That's where we did most of our original research, largely because, the truth is, a lot of it comes out of our own experience, sort of parallel experiences that aren't literally commune. But then, after we wrote the first draft, we actually did a fair amount of real research and we went and visited a couple communes, soaked up a lot of what goes on there and asked a lot of questions. We interviewed people who lived on communes as well.
What would you say was the most eye-opening experience you had at a commune?
Something that has always fascinated me was making decisions about your life that isn't the obvious and going against the mainstream.
We went to one where it was pretty strict, like a pretty strict sort of religious situation there, and I guess we were just really amazed at how different one's life can be and that these people were truly happy.
For example, we learned that if you want a new pair of jeans, you put your name on the list, and then when person who's in charge of going to town to get jeans gets to you, and enough money is collected, then you get your jeans. But not until then. It's very communistic in that way.
Was writing Wanderlust based on your life in New York City at all?
Very much so. [Laughs.] My wife and I currently live in an apartment that's way too small and expensive. It's not exactly a micro loft but it's close enough. The situation that the couple in Wanderlust is in definitely parallels my wife and I.
In fact, our earlier drafts were about a guy who was living with his girlfriend and unable to commit to marrying her. Then we worked on the script for so many years that by the time we got to writing later drafts, I was already married to her and we had different issues so we changed the characters to match.
Your wife, Zandy Hartig, played one of the hippies, Marcy, in the film. Did she visit the communes with you, too?
No, those times, I went with Ken. When we went to visit these places, we would get really caught up into their whole way of doing things and we would say to ourselves, "Wow, maybe we should change our life in some way." But then, usually once we get in the car on the way home, we're like, "No, we really want the creature comforts." [Laughs.]
As for your relationship with Paul Rudd, you've been working with him for years now. How did you two meet and start working together?
I think the first time we met was when he came to see a play we had done in 1999, in New York, called Sex a.k.a. Wieners And Boobs, and I think we just hit it off. We liked a lot of the same things, laughed at a lot of the same things. Then, Michael Showalter and I asked him to be in Wet Hot American Summer and that was the first thing, and it kind of went from there.
Did you know Jennifer Aniston back then, as well?
I only met Jennifer Aniston in the year before we asked her to do Wanderlust. I had met her just at a meeting one time. But Paul, of course, had worked with her on a couple of things and so that was how we were able to get the script to her. But it was still a long shot. We never imagined she would want to do the part, so we were thrilled when she was in.
We had a script that we always start from, but we also had a lot of written alternatives, lines and jokes for every scene. So we shot all of that and, in addition, we would let people on other takes improvise.
I work very collaboratively, in general, so actors could suggest things beforehand or just make up things as they go along. I kind of let people try to do whatever they want and then I try as a director to keep a cohesive voice and make sure that I'm getting versions of the story that make sense and then have a lot of choices in the editing.
There's one particular scene in which Paul Rudd has to psych himself up for free-love sex. What kind of direction did you give him going into that?
[Laughs.] That was our first day of shooting and we had talked about what the scene was earlier on and, you know, Paul's a producer on the film. But, ultimately, he just went in there and did the scripted lines, then just kept going by himself, improvising.
I have to give the credit to Paul. I think he really turned it from a little moment on the page to a truly memorable, comedic tour de force.
It seems like some of his lines are going to live on as quotables.
Yeah, I think so.
On another note, with Justin Theroux's character, Seth, he has this morning routine of "primally gesticulating," basically wailing away the negative aspects of his life while flailing like a loon. If you practiced it yourself, what would you wish away?
[Laughs.] I would wish away traffic in Los Angeles. I think the reason I live in New York is traffic in Los Angeles.
I know you're married, but thanks to Wainy Days, you're the biggest stud on the Internet.
Tell me about it!
[Laughs.] How do you get actresses like Lizzy Caplan, Rashida Jones and Elizabeth Banks to star in those five-minute episodes with you?
It basically involves a custom drug that I put together and I've ordered in bulk. I ask them out to a drink and say, "Oh, let's talk about a movie that we're doing." Then, when they go to the bathroom, I put a little pellet in the drink and then once they've drunk it, they do whatever I say.
That's really convenient. I can't imagine it's FDA-approved.
Yeah, but it's really cool. I'm thinking of marketing the drug and then I could retire on that.
Given the Oscar recognition Bridesmaids got, how do you think the influence of the comedy genre is shifting?
I can't really speak too much about the larger world. I live in the bubble of my own stuff in a way. I mean, I love the other things people do but I don't know its influence in general. I mean, our movie opens Oscar weekend. I have heard that they might be making an exception and giving it a last minute "Best Picture" nomination, which is really... I'm flattered. I'm flattered just to be nominated. [Laughs.]
I think you should prepare a speech just in case, or just ask your dad to do it. I know he accepted an award on your behalf for Wainy Days once.
Without question, he does a much better acceptance speech than I do. In fact, at the premiere of Wanderlust, he somehow got into the press line and was taking his own photos of Jennifer Aniston.
A lot of your projects have become cult classics and developed a cult following. Lady Gaga named her fans "Little Monsters." What would you name yours?
I would name them "The Kissing Army." It's the KISS Army, from the band KISS, but it's about kissing.
There'll probably be a lot of screen tees made by your fans with that logo after this interview.
Or maybe, then, "The Frenching Army."
Speaking of cult classics, I have to ask, will there be a Wet Hot American Summer prequel?
We're writing the script and making our initial plans on putting it all together, but it's in the initial stages.
Is anyone from the original cast attached yet?
Everyone from the original cast expressed positive interest in doing it, and that's all I know so far. As for how that works in the premise, we were 10 years too old in the original, so we'll be about 22 years too old in the prequel.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)