Kevin James and Vince Vaughn seem perfectly ripe for their roles in “The Dilemma,” Ron Howard”s forthcoming comedy with a twist of mystery.
The former has recently stuck with kid and slapstick comedies, like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Grown Ups” and forthcoming “Zookeeper”; he said in his interview with HitFix and others on the Chicago-based set that he was drawn to the more “serious” subject matter of “Dilemma.” The latter has churned through holiday and romantic comedies in the last few years, including “Couples Retreat,” “Four Christmases” and “Fred Claus” — but endeavored to take up this new role with a heavy dose of physical comedy and improvisation. He’s also a newly wed, a dad-to-be, and has a shift in his domestic “priorities” — which he says filming in his hometown inspires and nurtures.
[More after the jump…]
Vaughn and James play best friends Ronny and Nick, who”ve started their own car business together under immense financial and – more importantly – relationship pressures. Ronny is loath to propose to longtime girlfriend, played by Jennifer Connelly, but meanwhile has stumbled onto jolting information pertaining to Nick: Ronny secretly witnesses Nick”s wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) fooling around behind her husband”s back. “The Dilemma,” on the Big Picture level, is Ronny”s debate of telling his friend what he knows – and what he “knows” distorts as the story unfolds.
As Howard indicated in his interview with this small group of journalists, he and his cast take a lot of artistic license with the script, opening up the book to flourishes and ad-libbing. Sometimes the result is a handful of takes that leave the crew and co-stars laughing, needing to clap the board one more time, we swear.
The two actors sat down to discuss “The Dilemma,” free Chi-town hot dogs, “Swingers” and showering together. Below is the abridged Q&A.
How quickly did your rhythm kick in together, when you”re going to go off-script?
James: I mean, [Vince is] the best at what he does, you know that. You see him with [Jon] Favreau… So it was kind of like double-dutch for me to jump in with him, you know, to go with him. But it was seamless. It honestly works.
Vaughn: If a scene is well-written, you really don”t need the improv. But that being said, if something strikes you in the moment — if you know your character and, most importantly, if you know where the scene is supposed to go — it”s no different than method acting. It”s just listening.
James: That”s what happened. I went flat on that scene and he came over and said, “Don”t worry about the line.” So you just sort of concentrate on the lines and hitting your points and I”m staring at him and I”m losing it and I”m not in the scene. You just know you”re out of it. But he just said, “Remember your intent. We know what we”re doing here.” And once we went back to that, we had a better take for sure.
Has Ron kept you guys really in the framework?
Vaughn: Ron”s really great. Ron has a great understanding of comedy. And he”s very funny with stuff. He does a great job of setting up an environment to go. The other side of it is as you know the look of the film — they do such a great job that we”re getting a lot of coverage with multiple cameras. So we”re getting a ton of stuff but we do it very quickly. So for me, it”s helpful because it”s all momentum, so the faster we can go and keep it going it sort of helps it. I think it adds to the comedy in that it”s a real world with a real circumstance and it”s played very real so almost like a look that we had in “Swingers.”
James: Yes, that”s the downfall of a lot of comedies to me, is the look. A lot of the times it feels like it”s so bright and it”s so built and ready for comedy that it actually hurts the comedy and you lose where it doesn”t feel as real, you know, as connected to it.
What was about the script that both of you were into, to make this project?
Vaughn:Well it was more the concept. To me Brian Grazer came to me with the idea originally and said, “What do you think of this as an idea?” And I said, that could be a fun idea. That could interesting how it”s executed… As it came in, then you go through the script and everyone gets to contribute ideas and you sort of personalize it… Ron”s great at keeping his narrative and the story he wants to tell but being able to take the ideas from people and then sort of say, “Well, no, this one I reject, this one I take,” and come up with a story that”s taking the input of all the cast.
James: I probably still would have done it if I didn”t love the script, because I love these guys so much — but I did love the script… When we got in there and started working on it, I gotta say it was really Vince who spearheaded and changed it and every day. I remember going to sleep at night and going, Man, he made this thing better again… That”s something I”ve never done before, too… We had a process with Ron filming stuff with his little camera and just rehearsing things and you really get the feeling of working with the other actors and it feels like you just build that familiarity and then it felt great.
It”s insinuated that your characters have known each other for a long time. You guys have this friendship and a girlfriend or wife… Do you get a lot of that kind of back story in the film? Had you met each other before starting this movie or were rehearsals the first time?
Vaughn: Well, we did something a little different where we decided to shower with each other every morning just to get familiar with each other.
James: You have to do it anyway.
Vaughn: For the first week. Then the second week was, ‘Lets clean each other,’ and then that way you really break down another wall. And then came the tubs. We take a tub at night.
Vaughn: ‘Come over for a tub? Do you want to come over for a tub?
James: A lot of water was involved.
Vaughn: It is the back story that they’ve known each other for a long time. It’s not someone who’s sort of a friend but it’s really your closest friend and you find out that the wife is doing things but you’ve also known her for a while. So what is the appropriate way to break the news or tell the news? Do you go to her first? Do you give her a chance? Do you go to him? So the concept of the movie is “do you tell or don’t you tell?” The concept of the movie is how you navigate it and maintain the friendship.
For me, I’ve known Kevin a little bit. I met him out once or twice but I was always a huge fan of his stuff. Kevin reminded me a lot of one of my favorites, which was John Candy. John was very funny but he wasn’t trying to be hip — but as a result to me he was the hippest of them all. Like he says in “Planes and Trains,” “I’m the genuine article. What you see is what you get.” I feel that way with Kevin, a guy who’s got a real sincerity to him and an honesty and an integrity but at the same time funny as hell and in a way that’s connected, that’s relatable… Like the John Hughes movies, a lot of the female screenwriters that I’m close with will cite those movies and those lead female characters as the entire reason that they’re writers. But [Hughes] did it in such a way that was very honest and genuine to what those circumstances were. Not with a bent on how clever or how-cool-I-am.
I thought with [James”] show [“King of Queens”] he did that very well. What he did in “Hitch,” God, your heart just breaks. I thought, “I love this guy. I’m rooting for him.” In “Mall Cop” the same thing. It’s a great kid’s movie and a fun thing for little kids to go see and as an adult you laugh and it’s funny. He’s always had that quality. So I always felt when it came to this thing and to working with Kevin and building that friendship and stuff, I immediately, and I feel like I’m not alone, that there are a lot of people throughout the country who feel it, that when you see him you feel like, ‘God. I know that guy. I like that guy. I root for that guy.’ So it was very easy to sort of establish any repartee with Kevin as far as what’s a friendship and what is a history.
James: For me it was one of the same things, like when you look up to somebody. I’ve met a lot of people that I’ve looked up to that don’t pan out to be the kind of person that you want them to be. That wasn’t the case with Vince. He couldn’t be a greater guy and it’s always nice to have someone you really admire and look up to be such a great guy. Honestly, it sounds like we’re just kissing each other’s ass, but I mean it. Honestly, he took me into this city and his wife is great and our wives get together.
Vince, you’ve shot a lot of films here. I think Ron said it was your idea to do the movie here. Do you get something extra out of doing movies here in Chicago?
James: All the hot dogs he wants.
And Kevin, what has he shown you since you’ve been here?
James: First of all, for some reason — and I don’t know why — but I don’t think that I’m funny in California. So I always want to do my movies East somewhere. I’ve been in Chicago a few times to do press but for a couple of days each time and I’ve never gotten to experience the city. I’ve experienced it with him and his family and his friends and you just see that it’s really like what John Hughes does — it’s a slice of life. It’s just such great people and it gives you such a great feeling and you want to shoot here and you want to be funny and you really feel like you connect with everybody here. It’s an amazing feeling and I’m not excluding California. People can do it. For some reason it’s just something in my head that I don’t feel as much there.
Vaughn: For me, I love California. I feel like it’s my second home in that I moved out by choice at eighteen. It gave me opportunities that I didn’t have anywhere else. I have a lot of close friends out there and a big part of my life is out there. I still have a lot of close friends and feel connected to it. So we did do ‘Swingers’ in California — which is so specific to those neighborhood — so to me that was really the right place to film ‘Swingers’ and to do that. I have worked in California recently and I will continue to do stuff there. I mean that honestly… But for me this is home. So to come here and get a chance to film here means a lot to me. I feel that I’m shaped a lot from coming from this part of the country. I have a family that I’m starting now. So for me I want to be able to come home at night when I’m filming and my priorities have changed in terms of that thing. It’s where I want to raise my family. So something about the people from the Midwest — Chicago in particular. It’s sort of the focus of the place and so this to me felt like that kind of story, like, “Okay, these guys can be in the car industry where Detroit is down the road.’ They’re trying to keep their heads above water and they’re trying to figure out these things of life as far as relationships and stuff is concerned.
Ron was saying that this is a Midwestern comedy but it’s not slapstick and it’s not a rom-com. Did you worry that the film would have those kinds of tones?
James: I was excited to do something [like this]. Immediately when I read it felt a little bit classier than the stuff that I’ve been doing. I love it. It’s just something different.
Vaughn: I think that’s crazy because if you’re doing stuff that’s a family movie, or something that’s just a fun movie, what’s so bad about going and laughing and having fun? I hate that kind of labeling of it. It drives me crazy. That we feel we need to decipher what’s smart, what’s intelligent, what’s this and what isn’t. It’s ridiculous. If someone has the perspective of something that they like it’s great but if people are going, especially a kid’s movie that’s honestly something that’s making people laugh and having fun, then I don’t think that’s less classy.
James: I’m joking but what I felt in this one really to me was that it did have more of a serious tone and it’s a more serious subject that I loved. It didn’t fall off. Again, that can be a movie where you lose the laughs and you go, ‘Oh, my God, I’m in this little indie film with Ron and Vince –’ and it’s not. There are huge laughs and I love it because they’re earned and you’re really invested, it’s emotional. You always get the best laughs in dramatic moments, when the tension needs to be released.
Vaughn: But the subject I think is also as a result more that kind of format. You’re dealing with more adult contemporary relationships and those kinds of dynamics. Whereas in other stuff it’s more kid’s stuff and more that type of thing.
Kevin, you’ve got such a facility for physical comedy. Do you get to do any of that in this film?
James: Yeah, absolutely. There’s tons of stuff. That’s why I was concerned about going into it. Coming into it I thought, ‘Do I have to change any of that?’ Again, as long as you remain true it’s fine. You can get big in moments if it’s warranted and it’s great. [Vince] does crazy physical stuff in this, a lot more than I do. It’s great and it all works. It’s always dangerous when you’re just doing physical bits to do them and it feels like a series of sketches where you’re trying to be funny and falling down, this and that. This is not that. That’s what I love about it.
Can you be more specific about the physical comedy that you’ve done?
Vaughn: Well, there are conflicts like that, physical conflicts that are played real and there’s some extreme stuff that happens. I don’t want to talk about all the specifics. The thing is that we have a great cast. Queen Latifah is like my new favorite person. I love her. She’s just an amazing spirit. Channing Tatum could not be a more genuine kid. He came in and worked really hard and was gracious. Winona Ryder I think is one of the best actors of my generation and I’m just really thrilled to be working with her, what a great talent she is. Connelly, obviously — she is as well a great actor. We just have a huge cast and so the fun is like everyday, whoever is coming in is really talented and really good.
Do you think these are characters that you could’ve played ten years ago, since you talked about the adult situations and relationships in this?
Vaughn: My approach as an actor has always been the same, in that the greatest gift that you’re ever going to have is your imagination because you’re not going to have all life experiences. So you draw on things that are sort of close to it but you spend your time expanding on it or drawing something specific on whatever your situation is. So, could we have played it? It would’ve probably felt different, but yeah. That dynamic — I think that people sometimes go through that in high school. I think it probably would’ve had different lingo and maybe different settings and a different business mode we’re running and that kind of stuff, but I think that’s what’s great. I do think it’s kind of a movie that crosses age in that it’s a dynamic that is unfortunately or just a matter of fact in life that crosses everything. Even with ‘Swingers’ we did that. There were so many wise people who had so much advice for me and Favreau when we were trying to make the movie. One of them was to not make it specific to Los Feliz and Los Angeles and not to have that language be so specific but I think the more you are specific it becomes more universal to different ages and different groups because it feel authentic… It’s such a combustible situation to be in. It’s great extremes which leads to great drama and great comedy.
Click here to read HitFix’s interview with Ron Howard and Jennifer Connelly on “The Dilemma.”
“The Dilemma” is out Jan. 14.