Whether you know him as that dude from The State, that dude from Stella, the director of Wet, Hot, American Summer and Role Models, the guy who played Rabbi Jewy McJewJew in Children’s Hospital (which he also writes and co-exec produces), or as the director and co-writer (with the brilliant Ken Marino) of Wanderlust, chances are you’ve probably laughed at something David Wain has created. I was lucky enough to catch him by phone on the eve of the release of Wanderlust, Universal’s commune comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and surprisingly he did not immediately hang up on me. In fact, Wain (second from left, with Marino, Rudd, Justin Theroux, and Judd Apatow) even answered my dumb questions, be they about Jo Lo Truglio’s penis (it was fake, thank God), Kathryn Hahn’s armpits, Hollywood’s male infidelity taboo, and whether Jennifer Aniston is legally required to appear in her underwear. Enjoy. (And yes, before you ask, this was supposed to go up weeks ago, but daddy drinks, and transcribing is hard. Nonetheless, Wanderlust is in theaters now).
I’m a huge fan of Children’s Hospital. I was just wondering what the difference is between doing a studio movie like this and something like Wainy Days or Children’s Hospital?
No difference. Next question.
Just kidding. No, I’m kidding. Very different, obviously, the budget, time is another huge difference, the length. Wainy Days is 5 minutes. Children’s Hospital is 11 minutes, you know, so it creates a whole different feeling and different needs, and different subject matter and everything, but some of it’s the feel of things. Still just trying to figure out the funniest, truest ways to communicate a moment or whatever at each juncture. And of course, the way I work, all those things overlap with the personnel and people working on it, and, so, that’s the great pleasure of it.
What’s the difference in creative oversight?
Well, I think in anything in this business the lower the budget the less oversight there tends to be. Although, that’s not the always the case. I think I’ve worked on independent projects where as long as you’re not the one writing the check there is always somebody who’s going to be having a say, and you need to make sure they’re happy. In the case of Children’s Hospital and Wainy Days, those are both done for entities that are incredibly supportive of the division [of business and creative]. We do have an enormous amount of freedom, which we’re very lucky for. But a studio movie like Wanderlust, from the get-go you know a lot of money has been spent on, and has to reach a wide audience. Ken Marino and I had such a good experience professionally on Role Models with Universal that we purposely sought out going back to Universal because their help, feedback, and guidance made it the movie that had our voice, and at the same time was able to reach a far larger audience than anything else we’ve ever done.
Did you do a lot of testing? Was there a test audience? How much of that did you guys do on this movie?
A lot. I think that’s par for course for any studio movie. There’s a lot of testing. It’s just a different animal in some ways. You learn a lot when you do the test screenings, so I embrace the process.
What were the weirdest reactions you ever got from test audiences?
So many. So often you read some of the surveys or listen to people speaking after the screening you’re like “Did we watch the same movie?” I found a few in the case in every test screening I’ve ever done, which is, for every scene that is listed by many to be their favorite scene just as many list it as their least favorite scene. Totally makes you feel like “Why are we even bothering here?”
So what’s the process of trying to incorporate that feedback into the finished product?
I think the trick is to just be smart about it, and not to think of it as to take literal notes from random audience members and slip it into your edit, but to just try to get a sense, or if there are trends, if a lot of people are saying the same exact thing try to figure out why they are saying that. It might not be literally what they think it is. They might say, “There’s too much nudity.” But what they are really responding too is the attitude of a certain character in a certain scene. It’s just a matter of looking at it and trying to use as one tool in context of the editorial process along with any other tool.
To help find you what you were trying to say?
Exactly, if you try to second guess an audience too much or try to kowtow to what you think an audience might want it can really get yourself in trouble.
I also wanted to know, Ken Marino, he looks like he’s been working out. Does he have a secret? Does he have any fitness secrets?
I think it’s that he works 24 hours a day, and so he doesn’t have any time to eat. You have to ask him. I don’t know.
Just a starvation diet?
I’m in good shape too!
In the movie there’s a scene where Paul Rudd runs out of the room, basically, when Kathryn Hahn is trying to seduce him. I was just wondering what the thought behind that was? I always thought she seemed very doable.
[laughs] She is very doable. She’s a hottie, Kathryn Hahn. In our movie she was playing a somewhat unattractive personality. So we were going with that direction.
So you have to play up the unattractive qualities of her personality to make her less doable, is that how you do that?
She definitely, I think, did a great job of making herself come off as a little bit, uh, unattractive in any way she could. In fact she did her own hair on the movie, and she didn’t shave her armpits and so forth.
She went method.
Although some people are into that, which is fine.
The penis, Joe Lo Truglio’s penis, it looked kind of rubbery. Was there any CGI or practical effects going on?
It was a fake dick.
I didn’t want to be that obvious in asking.
Well, I figured I’d be obvious in answering so we could just get the truth out there.
Thanks for that. I appreciate that. So, I was at the Children’s Hospital panel at last year’s Comic-Con, and I really enjoyed the end part where you played actual surgical footage. I talked to Rob Huebel and he claimed that was his idea.
I’m going to have to say I think that’s correct. That was his idea.
So he wasn’t lying.
No. Well, not this time he wasn’t.
Is there a studio mandate about how often Jennifer Aniston has to be in her underwear?
No. [laughs] The simple answer there is no.
A lot of the actors in the movie have written stuff with you in the past, is there a point where you have to stop them from improvising during scenes?
Generally what we try to do is get the written text from the script that Ken and I wrote in the can once, at least, or twice when we’re shooting, and then afterwards we, the whole point of having these people on set is because they’re so funny and so good improvising in part, so not only are we okay with it, that it’s part of the whole formula for us to let them be funny outside the boundaries of scripts as well as within it.
I’ve notice there is a trend in a lot of comedies lately where the woman can sort of cheat and it’s usually because the guy wasn’t been paying attention to her and he has to win her back. But then when a guy cheats, it’s usually because he’s a jerk and she has to leave him or else she doesn’t respect herself. Do you think there’s a male infidelity taboo in comedies?
I think you might be right. I haven’t exactly thought about it that way. We definitely talked a lot about over the course of it, and studying the test screenings, where peoples’ lines are. Like what kind of infidelity is forgivable in a character in a movie and what’s not, and so I think your observation is founded and interesting.
One of the scenes that came out of it was that scene where Paul Rudd is talking to himself in the mirror, which I thought was great. Did you just let him go basically once he started?
Yes, the first section of that scene is basically what was on the written page and then we just encouraged him to keep going, and kept the camera rolling and then that’s when amazing stuff came in.
How long did that scene take to shoot?
Actually not that long because it was our very first day of shooting actually and I think it was end of day and we were kind of running out of time and only did two runs of it, and then had to keep going.
What’s the process of casting naked extras, and where did you find them and how did you do that?
The naked extras running from the car were put together by our stunt coordinator and second unit director, Jack Gill, who’s this incredible dude, and he essentially called all his buddies in the stunt world and said hey “You want to run from a car and be completely naked,” and they were all like “Sure, let’s do it.”
In what world did you say? Stunt?
Stunt world. Those all had to be stunt people because they were running from an actual car.
Have they done anything like that before?
I don’t think they’ve done nudity before.