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Director Peter Segal Interview: Second Act

Jennifer Lopez Second Act Screenshot

 

Second Act tells the story of Maya (Jennifer Lopez), who creates a fake persona for herself in an effort to climb the corporate ladder in an effort to prove that it takes more than a fancy degree to make it in the world of business. Of course, once her lie begins to unravel, chaos and hilarity inevitably ensue. Co-starring Leah Remini, Vanessa Hudgens, and Milo Ventimiglia, Second Act was a strong performer at the box office, grossing $72 million worldwide, more than four times its budget of $16 million.

While promoting the home video release of Second Act, director Peter Segal spoke to us about making the film, the comparisons to Working Girl, building off the real-life friendship between Lopez and Remini, and why he dislikes when the film is called a "rom com." He also shares stories from his earliest days as a film director, working under comedy legend David Zucker for The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.

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Jennifer Lopez Stars in Second Act

Screen Rant: I'm such a huge fan of your movies. You make dramatic movies funnier than the audience is expecting, and you make comedies with more heart than the audience is expecting.

Peter Segal: I appreciate that, it's a nice way to put it!

Screen Rant: It's balanced, but that balance is having an imbalance. I don't know if that's what you're setting out to do when you're making movies, but I love that approach.

Peter Segal: I appreciate that. You put that in a way I've never heard, but I like it. I like straddling tone. I think that, my first movie, Naked Gun 3, I would call a "Joke Book Movie." You're not trying to have a lot of heart in a movie like that. You have to take the story seriously, but you're really all about the jokes. There are other comedies that I've done, like, for example, my second movie, Tommy Boy, had a lot more heart mixed with the comedy, and I think, you know, those are the kinds of movies that I've gravitated towards in different forms, whether they're political comedies or romantic comedies. Things that have a little bit more of an emotional spine to them. I think those movies resonate a little bit more.

Screen Rant: A lot of people have been comparing Second Act to Working Girl. Was that intentional when you were putting the movie together?

Peter Segal: It wasn't intentional, but I definitely resembled the similar DNA when I read the script. Working Girl is from Mike Nichols, a director who is one of my favorites, and I felt like we could live in that world. It's a kind of movie that has not been done recently. Right now, we were categorized as a rom com, but I don't really think that's as accurate as it could be. We're more of just a comedy that has some romance in it because we're about more than just the male/female relationship in this story. I definitely felt, like I said, there was similar DNA to Working Girl, and that kind of story, combined with Jennifer Lopez, who I have loved in light comedy fare that she hasn't done in a number of years; I thought it was a very fun opportunity, plus the fact that there are definitely differences in this story from Working Girl. I think Working Girl is almost a Cinderella-type story. There are many like that, where you have to assume an identity under false pretenses to enter a new world, and then those relationships are always balancing on the unraveling of that lie as you're getting an opportunity that you wouldn't otherwise have had to explore.

Screen Rant: I love that you said it's not a rom com. I love how female-centric this movie is. Yeah, we've got Milo Ventimiglia, he's gorgeous and fantastic, we love This is Us, and, ooh, Rocky Balboa, a Grudge Match connection!

Peter Segal: Yes, exactly.

Screen Rant: But I'm so happy that it doesn't turn into that, quote-unquote, "typical rom-com," since, you know, Jennifer's already done that. The closest you've come to that is Fifty First Dates, but nobody would call that "typical." Can you tell me a little bit about being a man directing a female-led movie and not falling into any of the traps I imagine might be so easy for a male director to fall into?

Peter Segal: I think, because I'm a fan of rom-coms... And they have not been as present recently, I wanted to steer clear of any of the typical tropes. As you referred to Working Girl earlier, had we gone down the more typical path, we would have been way too similar. We knew there were certain mile markers on our journey on this story that set us apart from that movie and from other romantic comedies in general. My thing is to always try to subvert expectations. When you think you're about to hit a trope, you either have to recognize it and own it, or you have to steer clear of it. I think, sometimes, people can fall into a trap of just running right over the trope as a speed bump and the audience, I think, senses that familiarity, and that's where you've got to be careful.

Screen Rant: I think the X-factor in this movie is the chemistry between Jennifer and Leah Remini. I know they're best friends in real life, and you can just see that in Second Act. I think there are so few opportunities for female actors to be paired up the way they are in this movie. I mean, there are some, but not nearly as many as for guys. Can you talk about the energy on set with their scenes together, directing them together?

Peter Segal: First off all, with Leah, we got built-in equity of a relationship that already existed. There's no way you can teach chemistry. It's either there or it's not. So, the fact that Leah, who primarily lives in television, wanted to come play in the sandbox with Jennifer in this feature, was an opportunity. When I really understood what that meant was when I went over to Jennifer's apartment in New York to read through the script with her and Leah. That's when I saw that chemistry in full force, right before my eyes. They act like sisters. Actually, like pretty juvenile sisters at times. Leah would poke her and push her and, you know, tell a lot of jokes that were kind of tough! Jokes you wouldn't hear around the dinner table, but they were hilarious! Seeing Jennifer kind of getting picked on by her big sister, so to speak, I thought was a really interesting dynamic. I thought, hey, we need to bring this to the story, bring this to the set. This is awesome! I don't think Jennifer is as used to ad-libbing as much as Leah is, because Leah lives in the comedy world. Leah asked me if it was okay if she improvised a little. I said, absolutely. Let's get one as scripted for my editor so he doesn't kill me, and then let's have some fun! She kind of, I think, threw down the gauntlet to Jen, who said, alright, come on, bring it! Almost every scene, we played. I would always hesitate to say "cut," because they're kind of like an engine. They keep sputtering and sputtering, and then something funny would happen, and then funnier, and then the other would pick up on that. Sometimes I just would wait until they'd go, "Alright, are you gonna yell cut, Pete?"

Naked Gun

Screen Rant: I want to ask you about going way back to you ZAZ days. Working with Zucker/Abrams/Zucker. They're iconic in comedy, and you're part of that pantheon. How did you get involved with them and what did they teach you that you've carried with you since directing Naked Gun 33 1/3?

Peter Segal: I owe my start in this business to David Zucker, one hundred percent. He had seen some HBO specials that I did with Judd Apatow, with Chris Farley and Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey, and he gave me a shot. I had no idea what I was doing. I never dreamed I would become a movie director. The first couple of weeks on the set of Naked Gun, there was this guy sitting behind me in a chair. Very nice guy, but we didn't really speak much. I said to David Zucker, "who's this guy that's been sitting behind me these past few days?" And he tells me, "Oh, that's Peter Farrelly. He's about to direct his first movie, and he wanted to observe what it's like to direct." I introduced myself, asked what he was working on, and he says, "I'm doing this movie called Dumb and Dumber." I thought, ooh, that's cool. I thought to myself, I don't think he's gonna gain much from watching me; it was my first movie, I was just stumbling through it. But David Zucker taught me everything. People don't realize how hard it is to do a movie like The Naked Gun. It's such a ballet of foreground jokes and background jokes. It's so disciplined, there's almost a math to the storytelling. Those movies, in particular, like I said earlier, are all about the jokes. The scripts are very thick. The script for that movie was about 135 pages, and yet it had a very short running time. That's because there's no such thing as comedy omniscience. Nobody knows what's going to work every single time. We in the business might have a slightly better batting average than an uncle at the dinner table telling jokes, but we still can't be one hundred percent. So, the jokes that don't work, we cut them out. That kind of discipline, I brought to all my other comedies. That was really "comedy boot camp," working under David.

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Second Act is out now on Digital, and releases on Blu-ray and DVD March 26.

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