Director Jake Kasdan’s new hard-R, “naughty girls hurt so good” comedy Bad Teacher (starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake) opens in theaters this weekend. We had the chance to speak with Kasdan at the Los Angeles press event for the film and discussion included actors working against type, why we love the bad girls (and boys), and the loveable ladies of comedy.
The interesting thing about our Bad Teacher interviews was that twice my name opened the dialog. First with the hilarious comedic actress (and co-star in the film) Lucy Punch, and second with Kasdan himself, who has (as it turns out) a special connection with the name Roth. I introduced myself using my go-to clarification “Roth, like David Lee.” When Kasdan looked momentarily quizzical at my response, I mentioned that I would be needing new references as it seems fewer and fewer people know who David Lee Roth is.
Jake Kasdan: “Your kidding me!”
SR: No, really at the coffee shop they rarely know who I’m talking about when I use that line to clarify my name.
“My wife is a musician and her band has a song about David Lee Roth and I directed a video for it, actually. Extensive, extensive David Lee Roth referencing. He sent us trademark hats to use. For people who are fixated on or even aware of the fact that people are loosing touch with David Lee Roth it’ll resonate. You can look it up when you get home, it’s called ‘Diamond Dave’ by the bird and bee.”
We did indeed look it up, and have provided it here for your viewing pleasure:
But I digress.
SR: In terms of the casting in Bad Teacher, and this is fairly obvious even from the trailers, the tree main characters (Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake) are all to greater or lesser degrees working against type (Jason Segel far less so than the other two). We’re so used to seeing Cameron Diaz as the lovable sweetheart. Was the turn a conscious choice for the sake of the comedy?
“That’s interesting, I mean that’s certainly true of Cameron and Justin. It’s unusual to see Cameron be someone who’s behaving in despicable ways the whole movie and it’s shocking to see Justin…”
SR: Being a total tool?
“Yes, being not cool. And Jason, you know, that’s…”
SR: Yes, that’s a little…
“It’s a different thing. It’s a little looser and I think that there is a part of his…There’s an aspect of his persona that we are using. The way that he’s funny, the way that he’s hugely likable and you just want to be around him is a part of Jason.”
SR: He’s often kind of the lovable mook, but here he seems a bit more like the really likable cool guy, who sees everything and gets it all.
“I hope it’s a different use of him. I do think that. But I don’t know if I would characterize it as being radically against type. Whereas Cameron is radically against type.”
SR: Was that a conscious choice?
“It wasn’t designed in that way, but getting Cameron to play Elizabeth was the essential defining decision of the movie in some ways because I think that her unique range of gifts and skills as a comedian, as an actress, and as a persona make it possible for people to enjoy this movie. I think that she is one of the only people where just the idea of watching her behave this badly is delightful to a lot of people. That’s what we’re hoping, and that people who respond to the movie that’s a big part of what they’re responding to.”
Diaz, Segel and Timberlake in ‘Bad Teacher’
SR: So that part of the comedy is the shock of seeing Cameron Diaz behaving in this manner?
“Right, and at the same time her body of work had prepared people that she is one of the only actresses that consistently will be this edgy and fearless about the kind of comedy that she wants to do, and that is a part of her sense of humor certainly. So the choice to have her do this is a different application of her. But I do think it’s a natural continuum sort of with the kind of comedy that she’s interested in.”
SR: We as an audience love to love these kinds of characters, and Cameron spoke about this, that what we like about her is that she’s honest. How much, and often, are we lying to ourselves, and lying to each other in our every day lives that this is so damn cathartic?
SR: It feels so good to see someone simply tell the truth for once.
“Yeah. I mean I hope that’s true, you know, and I think that for Elizabeth part of it is born of laziness. Which is that in the moment that she’s at in her life, she’s kind of run out of patience for the effort it takes to project anything other than exactly what she’s thinking. And the character is like a really smart lazy person in a way that is kind of a shocking combination in a protagonist in a comedy – especially a female protagonist in a comedy. She’s a person with sort of tragically bad values and no inhibitions about letting them hang out.”
SR: And the opposite of course is Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) who really is a total liar; in her smiles, and her gestures she is so fake and insincere. Not to make too much of it, but again, I think a big part of the appeal is that we, in our own everyday lives, just really long to tell the truth. Are we not sort of constantly lying a little bit, or at least holding things in? I mean, in that way, she does what we want to do.
“I think on some level there is a fantasy or wish fulfillment aspect of the character, for sure. It’s attractive. I mean she’s actually really attractive for somebody who’s…the character is herself attractive for someone who is behaving so horribly. Obviously a lot of that is the combination of things that Cameron brings.”
SR: How did the script evolve from when you came on board and then when you cast? Did you make adjustments with the casting in mind?
“It changed in small ways. There was a little bit of process that I had with the writers who were then present throughout the entire production and really a lot of post production. We worked really closely together and the movie is, as much as anything I’ve ever worked on, it just generated from a very clean and simple writer’s impulse, which was that the two guys (Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg) had this idea and they wrote it in a way that was really, really funny. As a spec script, you know, it was just something they came up with and decided to write. Over its life it has a little bit of process, including a little bit of process while we were shooting and stuff like that. It morphed in subtle ways but I think that the final movie is actually very, very close to what they originally came up with.”
SR: So not a lot of improv?
“A lot of improv in the process, and a lot of them and I playing with different jokes. There’s a lot of experimentation to it, and there is certainly a lot of improvisation, but like I said I think the final movie had jokes that weren’t scripted, it has moments, but the gist of what it is, is really very close to the original script. And a lot of the jokes are from the original script.”
SR: Did anything surprising come out of the improv?
“We have really great improvisational actors working on this movie, partly by design, because it gives you enormous depth of material. A lot of the Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) and Principal Snur (John Michael Higgins) material starts with what was there and then Mike Higgins and Lucy had a great improv chemistry and there’s a lot of it that was extended into larger ideas while we were doing it.”
Kasdan worked with director/producer Paul Feig (who makes a brief cameo in the car-wash sequence in Bad Teacher) on the television series Freaks and Geeks. Feig directed one of this summer’s comedy hits, Bridesmaids, which (among other things) sparked a public conversation about the availability of good roles for women in comedy. This film offers several meaty parts for the ladies to bite into like a nice juicy apple for teacher. When I asked Kasdan why there is such a spotlight on the ladies of comedy right now, he responded thusly:
“I think on some level it’s a coincidence that there are a couple of movies that you can look at right now and say, ‘these are the kind of female comedy characters that we haven’t seen a lot of.’ But I think that it’s a coincidence partly born out of the fact that we need a greater range of female comedy characters and it happens that there’s a few movies right now that are trying to do that.”
SR: Well cheers to that!
We appreciate the minds behind Freaks and Geeks continuing to stretch the boundaries of standard comedy fare.
Take a look and see if you can spot Paul Feig in the aforementioned car-wash sequence below (we’ll understand if you need to watch a few times).
For the remainder of Diaz’s breaking-with-type performance you can see Bad Teacher when it opens in theaters this Friday, June 24th, 2011.
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