Q&A: Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman on the hard 'R' for 'The Change-Up'
Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman obviously had no problem running with the raunchy script from forthcoming “The Change-Up.” Last year, upon entering a room of movie journos eager for a sneak-peak into the David Dobkin-directed film, they cranked out an STD joke of their own volition. Bateman brought a bag of M&Ms into the interview, and Reynolds grabbed some.
“Ooh, delicious, it's the pretzel kind!”
“Yeah,” the “Juno” actor enthused. “I brought that from home.”
“Worth a little herpes,” Reynolds shrugged.
“What's going on guys?”
It became obvious, too, that the duo won’t have any problems acting out their scripted friendship on screen. Because there was already a basis for a friendship there. Bateman said that the pairing had been at work for “a long time,” with “a mutual desire to want to commingle. We're lucky, really lucky that we got to do this particular film together,” he said, then turning to Reynolds. “I think the first time I saw you, when it kind of became pretty clear, was it the Oscars?” This, after a gay joke. “It was like that thing, [when] you see an old friend across the room [like] are we going to do this? It's been that great since.”
The hard-R-rated film features Bateman’s Dave – initially – as a straight-and-narrow family man, juggling three kids, a wife and law job. Reynolds’ Mitch is your typical struggling-actor, womanizing man-child who wouldn’t know what to do with a domestic life if landed in his lap. And it does. The body-switching flick features the two exchanging roles and the ensuing conflict of what it is to literally be in another man’s shoes.
“The Change-Up” is a script from Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, and is due Aug. 11. Below is an abridged Q&A with Bateman and Reynolds – who’s currently neck-deep in promoting “Green Lantern.”
Check out “The Change-Up” set visit preview for more background and details on our visit to the film shoot.
We haven't actually seen you guys “changing” yet. Are you [impersonating] each other when you change?
Bateman: It's not that. I told Dobkin early that my talents and skill set does not include doing impersonations, I'm just not that talented. If your plan for this film is to do basically, Ryan's going to do his version of a ne'er do well, I'm going to do my version of a conservative guy, and vice versa, then I think I can maybe…
Reynolds: It's also the most fun that way. We get to have the most fun, be the most free that way. There are certain elements that we definitely carry over from before, dialogue and physicality, but we're not doing spot-on impressions of each other. We don't want the audience to start to go, "He didn't do the perfect slow burn with the patented signature Bateman eyebrow raise!” Which is a very tough move to pull off.
Did you study each other beforehand?
Reynolds: We've known each other for a long time. But we didn't do too much of that.â€¨
Bateman: We've been mutually complimentary for a bunch of years. I initially fell in love with Ryan…â€¨
Reynolds: …this is our e-Harmony ad.â€¨
Bateman: …at the “Van Wilder” premiere. And watched his stuff ever since.â€¨
Reynolds: We've been trying to do something together for a long time. We've come real close on a couple of things, close to working together, and I'm glad those didn't work out because we might not be sitting here right now.
Can we upload this to “It Gets Better?”â€¨
Bateman: Is that another dating site?â€¨
Reynolds: Basically it's an ad campaign done targeting young gay youth who are subjected to bullying. â€¨
Bateman: You guys have a good scoop here today.
Can you talk about the level of humor in the film? We've heard it is a very hard R.
Reynolds: I hope it's R. I'm thinking maybe NC-17 at this point.â€¨
Bateman: There's stuff there that we could probably push it. I don't know if it was Lucas and Moore's intention, but there has been a few PG and PG-13 versions of the body-swapping movie. We've all seen them and they've been great. They've done a fresh version of that by making it R. It's a great, simple, easily relatable concept made fresh by throwing the whole fish-out-of-water conceit into deeper and rougher waters.â€¨
Reynolds: I don't think there's any point in making it any other way. The R rating is the reason that I'm here. [We] do all the things you wish you could have seen in those other movies. Also seeing these two guys, in their own way, take advantage of the situation. It's a hall pass. You get a day pass here, and what would you do with it? â€¨
Bateman: And they're really done a great job by putting us in as risqué and gratuitous situations as possible, but having the characters be charmingly underwater. Most of the time they're not driving these unseemly situations, they're a victim of them. It becomes a bit more palatable and doesn't seem like we're really pandering for, "Oh, it's a hard, edgy R laugh there!" If that happened to you, you'd say "[Expletive]!" as opposed to "Darnit." And "[expletive]" is going to get you an R and "darnit" doesn't. We're not forcing it.
Was that part of the appeal? When you started reading the script, it seems like you're supposed to be a straight-shooter, and then it flips.
Bateman: Yeah, I think for both of us, it's an actor's dream. It's Jekyll and Hyde, you get to play both sides of it. We both spent time playing this guy, but when you play this guy and switch back and do the other guy and vice versa, it kind of allows you to spread out your bookends a little bit more, the borders, the goalposts. It's a great challenge comedically. â€¨
Reynolds: And when we first started talking about the film, we both put our hands up into the air as to which role we wanted to play. I was easy either way, you were easy either way. "I don't know, I'll play Dave for the bulk of the movie I guess. I'll play Mitch. Ok, great!" â€¨
Bateman: And during rehearsal we swapped quite a bit.
Reynolds: Just to see what it would sound like.
Bateman: A research thing, you know.
Reynolds: And as a way to shame me.
We saw you guys shooting a bunch of different alternate takes and different ways. Do you do that a lot with the script? â€¨
Reynolds: We spent a few weeks throwing a football around in a big hall out here, before shooting-- quite literally-- just coming up with alts and making each the laugh. We wrote them all down, and some of them happen, we put them in the script-- it actually says "alt"--just so we'll remember it
Bateman: You actually warrant a bit of a writing credit. You should get at least a cast bump.
â€¨Reynolds: I don't think the Writer's Guild works that way. Jason and I both… I wish he could be up by the monitor when he's not working. The thing that he and I both love doing is throwing out alts and jokes while sitting behind the monitor.
â€¨Bateman: I owe you a dozen.
Reynolds: Yeah, I owe you. You actually do owe me, because you always come up with them after I've finished the [expletive] scene.
And your characters are best friends for how long in the movie?â€¨
Reynolds: We've been friends since I was in school. In this scene we're about to do we talk about how we had the same social studies teacher in school. But we're friends that have drifted apart too. There's quite a polarization at work. I've never grown up, really, or achieved anything remotely resembling responsibility. And he's missed out on a lot of his life. Our logline is about integration… They're too different now to really spend a lot of time together. I'm trying to reconnect with him at the beginning of the movie.
How do you do R-rated humor when there are kids on the set? Obviously the kids are part of it.
Reynolds: Well the child abuse has already started. It's showbiz. All I'm really doing is helping I think at this point. No matter what I do, they're going to leave better people.
We get the sense that there are no real effects in the movie. It's entirely up to you guys to sell the switch.
Bateman: Yeah, yeah yeah. There's no PG “me” looking like him or him looking like me.
Or the voice or anything?
Reynolds: No, it's old-fashioned in that sense. It's a real ‘80s premise, it's just executed in a different way than we've ever seen it before. We're not doing anything new in terms of that stuff. You go along with the conceit at the beginning, that's the hope.
Bateman: We're assuming, we're hoping, based on the material and the concept they're going to go, "These guys are going to switch bodies." So let's have them just piss in a magic fountain and we'll be done with it. Who cares? It's what happens after that that we have to earn, and Lucas and Moore did a great job with it.
So, it's not a quest to get back, like “Big” -- the quest to find the magical thing?
Reynolds: Well it's a wish-fulfillment thing, it just turns out to be the worst wish ever. There is a question of that for sure. These guys are exposed to things they're not comfortable with. It's not a joyride. That's the whole point.
Was there any part of the script you were uncomfortable with initially?
Reynolds: I don't have that button. I don't have that thing. I don't possess it.
Bateman: That's a good question. Was there anything?
Reynolds: There were a few things that we both really had to talk about, in a healthy way.
Bateman: Yeah, execution-wise. Like we were talking about earlier, there are some graphic, raunchy [expletive] things in this movie, and if it's not executed in a tasteful, semi-sophisticated way, it just becomes poor taste. And hopefully we're on the side of that. And that's a combination of multiple departments -- the camera, the writing, the music, the editing. There's a thousand ways to shoot every joke, and a bunch of ways to perform them. It has to be a proper cocktail. I don't mean to make this sound like highbrow science, but it takes a conversation between all the creatives.
Was there a specific instance where you thought, execution is everything here?
Reynolds: A lot of the set pieces in the film are kind of that.
Bateman: There's more than one. It's a bit of a minefield in this sense.
Reynolds: The big comedy pieces have to be played with utter reality, because otherwise you're watching “Airplane.”
How far are you going with the sex and nudity? In “The Proposal,” you took it about as far as you can go in a PG-13…
Bateman: Sandy had to abort that baby, didn't she?
Reynolds: Yes, yes. We got very very close.
Bateman: It's on the DVD extra.
Obviously there are fewer limitations this time. How far does it go this time?
Reynolds: It goes all out. We don't pull a single punch in that regard. But it's not there for the sake of being there. It's there because there are all very real and scary things. If you were married for 16 years, and you got to be your buddy who's this wild, single guy, it sounds very appealing until you're in the lion's den. And then it's very scary. Suddenly this is very real, and yes it's not my body, and yes it's not technically me doing this, but I'm here and that's what's happening. The moments where there's nudity, it really just becomes a lamb and a lion together.
Bateman: And conversely, when that guy gets put inside this shell and is turned loose inside a domestic haven, with a wife and three kids—
Reynolds: Equally scary.
Bateman: Yeah, talk about fox in the henhouse. That presents a problem.
Does the R rating make it even harder to know the limits of the a broad comedy?
Reynolds: We do versions. You can do everything, as long as you're not making big faces and trying to be funny all the time. [During our set visit, Dave’s young daughter in the film asks Mitch if he’d like to go to her dance recital] With [Dave’s] little girl, I just try alts with it, but they're all things that this guy would be feeling. Do I want to go to a dance recital? Absolutely not, unless it's an exotic dance recital. But he's that guy. And vice versa, I think.
Bateman: Sometimes the R is represented in the tone of the comedy, the amount of cynicism of sarcasm. When she says "Will you come to my thing?" in a PG film, he can't say no. He'd have to sort of awkwardly fumble for, “How do I…” Here, he can just straight up say "No."
Or push her on the stairs.â€¨
Reynolds: Yeah. Hitting kids is always funny.
How does Olivia Wilde fit in? She's a coworker of yours?
Bateman: Yes, we are colleagues at a law firm. She's somebody who is distracting to my character in a fairly pure way. But when he's put in a different skin, there's almost an OK there. He's not sure, and then when this guy gets in his ear it's like "Dude, don't be an idiot."
Reynolds: Use my body!
Bateman: That's just one of the conflicts.
With the kinds of movies you've been doing before this, is this a fun break to do a hard R film. Why did you choose this particular film?
Reynolds: Well I wanted to work with Jason. And the script I read when I was shooting another fill that was very difficult to shoot. I remember reading it and sitting in bed and crying laughing.
Bateman: You read this during Buried?
Reynolds: Yeah, and crying laughing. "I've got to do this somehow, or just get it on a loop in my house if someone else does it?" I really, really was attracted to it. And it came through on all levels. You get scared if you're working on a movie that you have a really good time on, because you think how can this be good if I'm having so much fun. It's been that from day one. Since our first day of rehearsals throwing the football around in that hall, it's just the greatest job for me that I've done in a long time. It's just what I needed. It's like a vacation, but creative.
[Producer] Neal Moritz doesn't do a lot of comedies. Has he been hands on?
Bateman: Listen, this guy is one of the-- are there 12 vertebrae? He's one of the 12 in the town that makes things happen, so we're lucky to have him part of this thing.
Reynolds: He works really, really hard. I've never seen him blink.
Bateman: Titanium eyeballs.
You have about three weeks left. Is there anything you're particularly looking forward to shooting?
Bateman: I discover something in my carriage region that will be interesting to shoot. It's just after a shower…
Reynolds: It's not an STD.
"The Change-Up" opens nationwide on Aug. 5.