The Knockturnal had the opportunity to exclusively interview director Rawson Marshall Thurber about the details surrounding his upcoming action comedy film, Central Intelligence, as well as his hopes for the future.
How’d you get involved with the project?
Rawson Marshall Thurber: Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen wrote the original script which I read and thought was super funny. That was like 2010 and then I went and made We’re the Millers and after We’re the Millers I wanted to make an action comedy because I love action movies and that’s kind of where I’m heading which is action-adventure, action tent-pole. So I knew I wanted to do an action comedy in between that because I knew I wouldn’t mess up half of it. I knew how to do half of the piece, right? I remember loving the script and did a little rewrite then Dwayne came on board then Kevin.
What originally drew you to comedy?
Thurber: I’ve always liked comedy. I think my mom had a really kind of infectious laugh growing up and she would always laugh at my jokes even when they weren’t funny. I think I grew up thinking I was funny even though I probably wasn’t. You just build confidence that way and I liked making my family laugh and that was it.
Thurber: The best. It was the best directorial experience I’ve ever had. Those guys were incredibly professional. Two of the biggest movie stars in the world, no ego. It’s never going to be that good again.
You also got to work with Aaron Paul.
Thurber: It was so interesting on this one because there literally were no assholes on this movie which is never the case. There’s always at least one where you’re like “this guy” and Aaron Paul was a dream. He came in, absolutely nailed his part. He was so excited because he got to get in a fight with the Rock and kick The Rock’s ass and Aaron Paul weighs like 145 pounds after lunch. That’s never going to happen except in a movie and he beat the Rock’s ass and that’s a pretty good deal.
What were your expectations coming into the project?
Thurber: I guess I was planning on making a really good movie and I had the right team to do it. Look when you have the biggest action star in the world and the funniest guy in the world in your movie as a director, you’re sort of starting with pocket aces right? You’re sort of born on third base and you think you hit a triple and you’re like “look at me.” But no. it was great. I highly recommend it to anyone directing a movie to put those guys in. It’s a good first step.
Did anything go almost tragically wrong on set?
Thurber: We actually didn’t have any like “way wrongs.” I know that’s boring but no, it was pretty buttoned down. Great crew, great cast.
You said you read the script in 2010 but how long did this take from start of filming to finished project?
Thurber: Well I read it in 2010 and then I went and made another movie and I rewrote it in 2014, shot in 2015 and it’s coming out now.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Thurber: I mean, any director’s job, there’s really only one job which is tone. A director’s job is tone, in the simplest one word form. So a great example of tone is if you think about Batman. There’s Tim Burton’s Batman, there’s Joe Schumacher’s Batman, There’s Chris Nolan’s Batman, there’s Zack Snyder’s Batman. All very different in terms of tone. So that’s the job. With an action comedy like this you need to make sure that the balance is correct, the tone is right. If it’s too funny and too silly then the action falls apart because nothing’s real and it doesn’t matter and when the action starts people just check out because there’s no jeopardy and conversely if your action is too hard boiled or gritty or grizzly than the comedy, nobody wants to laugh, the comedy goes away because it’s too dangerous. People can really get hurt here and that goes away. It’s about finding that balance where the action has enough energy and peril that you sort of care and enough laughs so that you’re still enjoying the ride.
To that point, my favorite scene in the movie was at the high school, the day before the reunion where they talk about being the hero of your own story. It’s both a funny thing with some real life aspects so I was wondering what was your favorite scene?
Thurber: Thanks for saying that, I really love that scene. I think Kevin is really good in it. I think Kevin is really good in this movie. He does something I’ve sort of never seen him do before which is play the straight man, play the center, play the audience’s perspective. It’s very hard to do and he’s also funny. I guess for me, my favorite scene is … with the bully at the end. I just thought that was so wickedly fun. That was really fun for me. This movie has a lot of things going for it but mostly I’m proud of the greater anti-bullying message that we have in this movie.
It’s very timely.
Thurber: It really is. It’s so hard now with social media and cyber bullying. Gosh kids are mean, people are mean man. It was really important for us to shine a light on that and say that one it’s not ok and two it can have really hard long term consequences on people. So I guess my favorite scene is probably Bob’s speech at the end where he sums it all up – this is actually Dwayne’s line, he came up with it- which is “At the end of the day, the most important thing that you can be is yourself.” … I don’t know, maybe it’s corny but that really meant something to me.
And that was Dwayne’s line?
Thurber: Yes, he came up with it.
So how much creative freedom were the actors given?
Thurber: As much as they wanted as long as it was good. You know, I get all the credit at the end anyways. But no, we had a script and we shot the script and we let Kevin play and we let Dwayne play. Kevin Hart, it’s like having Steph Curry on your team. You would never ask Steph Curry to not shoot a 3, so Kevin is just banging 3’s all day. So probably like 5-10 percent was improv in the film which is a lot.
So the premise of the film was sort of an inverted one with the Rock playing the smaller funnier character, was that something that was done purposely from the beginning?
Thurber: Yes. Good eye. 100 percent. That was a big part of what we thought would be really fresh for the movie. We take the biggest action star in the world and we make him the funny guy and we take the funniest guy in the world and make him the straight man. I thought it gave the movie something you wouldn’t expect.
Did they adjust really quickly? This is Kevin hart’s first time not being the comedy guy.
Thurber: This is true. But the thing about Kevin is he can score whenever he wants. He can get a joke off whenever he wants. Literally, everything he says is funny and the audience will laugh at everything he says which takes a lot of discipline in the editing room because if you put it all in because they’re laughing then suddenly you have the Kevin Hart standup movie. It’s not a movie, it’s just Kevin Hart doing schtick. It takes a lot of discipline. You can’t put it all in. And then Dwayne, it meant a lot to me that he trusted me with his comedy. I think that’s what people are – I hope they have a good time, I think they will- but I imagine one of the first things they will say is “oh my god, The Rock’s funny” and he is and if you seen him in Saturday Night Live, you know that.
Absolutely, even back to his first wrestling days, he’s always been an entertainment person.
Thurber: He’s so charming and so funny in real life which is different than being a comedian. He’s not a comedian. Kevin Hart is a comedian. He is a precision guided joke machine. There’s no doubt about it and Dwayne is not that but he is very charming and very funny.
To that point, with both of them being on set, there was the commercials of the shananigans on set, so was that real or was that just for TV?
Thurber: 100 percent real. Yeah definitely, all that stuff, the Instagram stuff, that’s just them. Obviously they come in very different packages, ones a foot taller than the other – I won’t tell you which- but they’re the same. They’re both incredibly smart, incredibly hardworking, unfailingly generous and gracious with the people they work with and the cast and crew. They take the work seriously but they don’t take themselves seriously which I really appreciate and is very refreshing as a director. They’re cut from the same cloth. They’re the same guy. There’s that saying, “real recognizes real” and that’s what it is. Those guys recognize each other and as the director I’m the beneficiary of that. I’ve got these fantastic global stars who couldn’t be better people in my movie. Like I said at the top, I’m never going to be that lucky again unless we do a sequel.
Now that the works done, when someone says Central Intelligence to you, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Thurber: For me, in terms of Central Intelligence, I break into a smile because I know how good the movie is.
Lastly, what’s next for you?
Thurber: Personally I’m having a baby girl on June 7th and then I’m looking for a bigger action picture next, hopefully I find the right one.
The film hits theaters June 17, 2016.