Due Date cast and crew members Robert Downey Jr. (Peter Highman), Zach Galifianakis (Ethan Tremblay), Michelle Monaghan (Sarah Highman) and Todd Phillips (Director) sat down to talk about the process of making the film.
QUESTION: Michelle, you’re reunited here with Robert Downey Jr. for the first time since Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. Did you stay in touch and were you excited to make this movie with him?
MICHELLE MONAGHAN: Yeah, obviously, I’m very, very excited and pumped at the opportunity to work with Robert again. I adore Robert. I had such an amazing experience on Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, so this was really exciting for me, and, obviously, I’m a huge fan of Todd. And Zach’s all right too. So, I was very excited and, yes, I do get to see Robert occasionally and it’s a nice mug to see.
QUESTION: Zach, is this character closer to your standup persona than the other film characters you’ve played?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: No, I don’t think that Ethan Tremblay is anything like me. God, I hope not. My standup is more like how I am in real life. I don’t really do a character thing in standup; it’s just a bunch of sentences that are supposed to be funny. This Ethan guy is a lot more complicated, I think.
QUESTION: Can you talk about your take on the character and how he makes random statements that end up being funny? What are his reasons for doing that?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Well, his reasons are not intentional, I think. I mean, when you’re doing standup, you’re kind of doing, ‘Hey, I thought of this. This may be funny.’ But Ethan has no idea he’s being funny. And I think people that are not self-aware and kind of a truck with no brakes are really kind of funny. He’s saying things, but he doesn’t understand why they’re funny, which I think is inherently funny.
QUESTION: This movie is really about fatherhood—about becoming a father and losing a father. Can you guys talk about that a little bit?
TODD PHILLIPS: Well, yeah. I think that’s exactly right. You know, while it is a road movie and it is a comedy, at its core it’s a movie about Zach’s character, Ethan Tremblay, who’s going through a trauma, having just lost his father, and Robert’s character, Peter Highman, who’s about to become the father for a first time. And about why they needed to meet at this moment, and why Robert needed to travel with this kind of man-child who was going through this traumatic experience but really is a purely loving creature, much like a child would be, who just needs some adjustments, I guess, and yeah.
QUESTION: Why did that story of fatherhood resonate with you guys?
TODD PHILLIPS: I think it’s just an interesting take on it. For me, personally, it was an interesting movie to make. I started making movies about college kids. I sort of grow with my movies. They’re always about my age range, it feels. And that’s sort of the next step in life, having a kid or what have you, and fatherhood. So, it just seemed like an interesting thing to mine, both for emotion and for comedy.
QUESTION: As a follow-up to that, Robert, were you channeling a bit of Todd in this, or the look for your character?
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: Oh, well, I’m actually glad you asked that, because I think that every time I feel that I really hit critical mass and I’m in the right place is when I feel like the director and I become a third thing, and that’s the character. And even though the central subject of the movie is Ethan, the person who you’re kind of seeing it through is Peter. And absolutely, particularly when he said, ‘This is just a lot of hostility,’ and there’s a lot of fear. His attitude and his anger are covering that fear. And we like to commiserate. We’re genuinely pretty happy guys, but we love just getting crabby together.
He is kind of like a hostage child that we’ve taken, who is watching mom and dad or dad and dad. They just hash it out. But you’re the first person who’s asked that, and I think it’s absolutely true. I always feel like I’m playing an aspect of the director, particularly when he’s an auteur. To me, it’s a way of almost making him a proud parent. I’m a bit of an appendage of some aspect of the director.
QUESTION: Todd, Robert and Zach, can you talk a little bit about how you worked out or developed scenes together on this and also, if it does resonate with audiences, would you like to get a franchise out of this or are your franchise dance cards full?
TODD PHILLIPS: Yeah, well, the way we work it out is the way I’ve done it on all my movies, but this film in particular had an interesting process because Robert has a very producer-like brain. He is basically another writer in the room. So, Robert and I had lots of spirited discussions every morning. We had the pages and he’d go, ‘Okay, what are we really doing?’ And not to discredit the writing process.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: It’s a script, which made me hate it all the more. Well done, by the way, fellas.
TODD PHILLIPS: Yeah, Robert has an aversion to things that are typed, I’ve learned. [Laughs] So, even if we just rewrote the actual scene on a napkin, even though it was the same scene, he felt better about it. [Laughs] But no, we took it apart, and the great thing about Robert—and I’ve said this before—is that he made me a better director. And the reason for that is he’s constantly challenging what we were doing every day in the bigger picture of it. A lot of times you would hear about actors and they’re worried about their lines and their thing. And Robert thinks of the movie as a whole. He thinks of every character in the movie as a whole. And that’s what I mean by a producer-like approach to it. For me, it was an unequaled experience. I just never experienced anything like it and I don’t know, I think that was the process. You witnessed a lot of it.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah, I mean, just each morning there was a meeting. I would read the minutes from the last meeting. [Laughs] ‘Todd yells. Robert yells back. Let’s get on with the new meeting.’ [Laughs] There was a discussion for at least about an hour each morning, it seemed like. Sometimes longer.
TODD PHILLIPS: Sometimes three.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah, and it really helped. It really did. And as far as the franchise stuff goes, we were kind of fantasizing about it on the last day, certainly that I was working. I can’t remember. But it was towards the last scene, or it was the last scene at the hospital. There was a moment, and I don’t know if you recall, where Ethan says to Peter, ‘Call me.’ I’m like, ‘No, call me. Tomorrow. Whenever.’ [Laughs] And we were fantasizing, like I’ve never seen a movie jump genres. So, the sequel would be more like a Cape Fear thing. [Laughs] But my character is actually not dumb at all. It’s just been an act.
TODD PHILLIPS: An elaborate ruse.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: This whole time—
TODD PHILLIPS: I like that. I do.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: --to stalk Peter’s family. [Laughs]
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: What would be interesting, you just pick it up literally from the minute later, like instead of jumping a month or a year, it’s literally like from that moment you left.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Right.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: That would be fun.
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: That would be great.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: There you go. That’s how ideas work.
QUESTION: Robert, can you talk about the process and also the idea of a franchise?
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: Yeah, that’s what I need is three franchises. [Laughs] So I can utterly have a personality meltdown. But I would do it with these guys. I have to say too there was something so cathartic about it. And, as we all know, from the writers and Michelle peripherally, and our involvement in it, but I just think it was the most healing project I’ve ever worked on. I’ve never come up against anyone who is so confident and so thoughtful and so spontaneous that it’s not even daunting. He’s just in a class by himself. And I think Todd is the best director I’ve ever worked with, bar none.
TODD PHILLIPS: Oh. Did you all get that? [Laughs]
QUESTION: Robert, was it refreshing and a pleasure to play a character who had not been
watered down but had so many real, yet repellant moments in their arc?
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: Absolutely, and I don’t know why, but it was an invitation to me to get in touch with everything that annoys me about everyone, and all the fear I have about everything that everybody can relate to. So, in a way, I felt like I was a conduit to this. I’m not a method guy. I can’t be bothered to have a method. I just want to be part of a good movie, and I can’t stand being surrounded by morons. But we had such a great group of people, and the whole thing, it’s funny, because yeah, you could say this is a two-dimensional commercial comedy. I feel that this is the second greatest story ever told.
QUESTION: The first being?
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: Oh, come on! [Laughs] The Bible.
QUESTION: Todd, can you talk about casting Juliette Lewis. You mentioned Cape Fear, and she would be a natural for that.
TODD PHILLIPS: I love Juliette Lewis and she has been in three of my movies now or four. She’s one of those people, and Michelle’s the same way, quite honestly. This movie is about these two guys and the other parts in the film aren’t huge pieces. Robert said it best. Michelle did us a favor. She came in and she worked for those days and she brought what she brings and she’s amazing. And with Julie, the same thing. Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride, I like to think they’re actors, they like to play, you know? So, if it’s a two-day part for Juliette or a one-day part for Danny McBride, you call them up and say, ‘Hey, I’m doing this great thing with Robert and Zach. Would you come down and just screw around for the day? We’re going to have fun.’ I think, ultimately, that’s how it works. But Juliette, in particular, is just stupendous and she’s sort of sunshine to me when I look at her, and I think she brings so much to, you know, small roles and large roles.
QUESTION: The two characters in Due Date strike an unlikely friendship. What’s the definition of friendship for you?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I think Robert and I formed a friendship on this movie, albeit a very antagonistic but fun relationship. He’s really very, very funny, and he makes fun of people a lot. And for some reason I like to be made fun of. [Laughs]
QUESTION: For the actors, which of you would be more likely to break up laughing in the middle of a take, and I’d like Mr. Phillips to weigh in as well.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: Let me put it this way. I’m 85 times more professional than Zach. [Laughs]
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: Yeah.
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: I was hoping that we’d have some good gag reels, so maybe I’d chuckle a little bit more. He might not actually know how funny he is sometimes, too.
TODD PHILLIPS: Yeah, and Zach doesn’t really break up. He just goes over his line half-way and then makes this choking sound, right?
ROBERT DOWNEY JR.: He has a ghastly tic. It’s my favorite thing about him, to tell you the truth, particularly when we’re doing press and it takes him 45 years to answer one question, when he’s trying to think about what the answer is, and then he stutters and then he judges himself and then starts over. [Laughs]
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: I know my face is turning red. I don’t want you to interpret it as being embarrassed. It’s rage. [Laughs] The color of my face is rage.
QUESTION: Zach, can you talk about the opportunities that have been opened up for you with the success of The Hangover and how your character has become something of an icon to the degree that it’s a Halloween costume?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: We were shooting Due Date in Albuquerque last year for Halloween and I went to a Halloween party. I didn’t really know anybody, and I went with a couple people from work. And I was just dressed like this. And there was a guy there dressed as the character from The Hangover, and I thought it would be interesting to walk up to him and say, ‘Hey, you’re dressed as me. I’m the real person.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, right.’ And he just walked away. [Laughs] So that’s a little bit freaky.
And, as far as opening opportunities, well, Todd has told me of late that I’ve never thanked him for anything and I’m here just to say that probably he’s not gonna do it today. [Laughs] Todd helped me. He took a chance, I think, and plucked me out of the standup scene. Nobody knows a movie’s gonna be so big and we just got lucky. I got lucky and I’m thrilled that it happened.
QUESTION: Zach, we all knew you were a comedic actor, but you’ve got a pretty powerful scene in this film in particular. Was it hard to switch gears to play that scene?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: No. It’s not. It’s fun to do. If you can make people a bit emotional watching a scene and then make them laugh prior to that, you don’t see it that often, and I think Todd got it right. But the whole thing about that scene—the bathroom scene, I guess—is what you’re talking about. To me, it’s not so much what Ethan does, it’s the look on Robert’s face that I think sells that, as Robert told me yesterday. [Laughs]
TODD PHILLIPS: Well, it’s true. It’s not the action, it’s the reaction, and Robert is watching this all happen. I agree with that. It’s just all on Robert’s face as he realizes, ‘Wait a minute. This guy’s actually going through trauma, having a breakdown.’ So it’s very cool to watch.
QUESTION: Well, in summary then, Todd, do you think your actors left their comfort zone?
TODD PHILLIPS: Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t know that Robert leaves his comfort zone, ‘cause I think Robert’s capable of anything, quite honestly, as an actor. And I think even Zach has so much that we haven’t even seen yet, even in Due Date or in his other roles. I don’t know if left our comfort zone. I do think what Zach just touched on is the key to Due Date, which is that the movie takes these tonal shifts that I don’t think you see in a ton of comedies, which for me was the fun part of making it, the challenging part of directing it. And, I think for these guys, possibly the challenging part of doing it—where you’re in a bathroom scene and he has a breakdown—this guy’s actually feeling emotional. And for the audience to stay with us and stay on that ride is what makes the movie connect and work. So, that’s what I’m most proud of with Due Date.
INTERVIEW SUPPLIED BY ROADSHOW PICTURES