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Date Night - Shawn Levy interview

Date Night

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SHAWN Levy talks about working with Tina Fey and Steve Carell on the movie Date Night, why he likes to tackle family comedy in so many of his movies (Cheaper By The Dozen, Night At The Museum) and why one of the movie’s big car crash scenes was based on one of his own experiences!

Q. What is the appeal of marital themes in your work?
Shawn Levy: I kind of think of Date Night as the movie that’s about what happens once the kids are in bed, or once we leave the kids behind, because I’ve certainly done a fair bit with the kids. I wanted to really make a movie about the things that are on my mind, as someone who’s married and has kids, so I wanted the movie to be funny and I wanted it to have action but I wanted it to feel very grounded and relatable and real, and Steve and Tina, in addition to having two of the sharpest comedic minds around today, I just find them always realistic and grounded. They’re funny but not at the expense of naturalism, and that was a combination I thought worked well for this movie.

Q. How much was improvised, and was it difficult to get the funniest takes?
Shawn Levy: The way we did the movie was having spent at least six or seven months going through drafts of the screenplay, sharing it with Steve and Tina, getting their input, we started filming with a script that all of us had contributed our voices and stories to. And pretty much the way we made the movie was we’d do three or four takes as scripted and then I’d generally say: “Does anyone have anything new, anything on their mind?” And generally they did.

So, we would do a few additional takes, pretty much every scene [laughs]. And I think that there’s no scene in the finished movie that you all saw that doesn’t have some improv. No one ever got a great comedy from being rigid and tight. So, it was a very fluid set, a very collaborative process, it just forced me to go through all the versions and cherry pick the funniest bits. And a lot of them are in the movie.

Q. You’ve cast two leads who are best known for their work in TV comedies The Office and 30 Rock. Is there less of a stigma attached to TV success now?
Shawn Levy: That old dividing line has more or less evaporated, partially because I think much of the most interesting comedy is being done in television rather than on film. The Office and 30 Rock are great examples, every week they’re as good if not better than most comedies we all see [at the movies] so I think there’s more cross pollination.

Q. What were your most fun scenes to film? And how was it casting the supporting roles in the film?
Shawn Levy: When we first started working together my memory of it is that we had a dinner and I remember sitting around when we had an early draft of the script and were saying: “Wouldn’t it be cool to get someone like [Mark] Wahlberg to play Holbrooke, or someone like James Franco to play Taste?” It was kind of pipe dream ruminations, and I just decided – and it’s something I started doing on those [Night At The] Museum movies – where you just call the person and take the shot. Maybe they’re going to say “no”, but sometimes they say “yes”, and on this movie we got very lucky because they almost all said “yes”. I credit in large measure the fact that pretty much everyone else who acted in the movie is a huge fan of Tina and Steve’s, and talent wants to work with talent. So, we got very lucky, and they’re so bolstered. I love that around every corner is a surprise for the Fosters, but also a surprise for us as an audience, with the casting.

Q. And what were the most fun scenes to direct?
Shawn Levy: As far as fun scenes, I’ll go with stripper role because that was an interesting day. We didn’t do it that many times, and the question came up of who we wanted to choreograph it, and we pow-wowed it the three of us, and we said: “No choreography, no choreographer!” The actors were going to be as awkward as the characters. So, we played that song which Cee-Lo from Gnarls Barkley recorded for us before we even shot the movie. And they started doing their thing!

Q. How about the scene between Steve, Tina, James Franco and Mila Kunis. I gather that was mostly improvised?
Shawn Levy: That scene was like a clinic on the benefits of improv, because it was always scripted that Steve would say: “Zip your face!” But nobody, none of us, expected James to respond the way he did [with “zip your vagina”]. It kind of triggered an entire day and a half of a scene that became very like doubles tennis, where you have four people batting around new ideas. Much of that scene is the result of improv.

Q. This could popularise the concept of date nights here in the UK – does this happen much in the States?
Shawn Levy: It’s actually a bit more of a used term in the US. I always knew it was going to be called Date Night, it’s kind of a familiar concept, but I think as we’ve been travelling around Europe it’s not only not popular here, it’s almost anathema to a European sensibility, the whole idea of scheduling romantic connection time is so anti European. It flies in the face of all the ideals of spontaneity and passion. But we were developing it for many months and then the Obamas came into office and people started referring to their, the Obamas’, date night and that was a gift. Suddenly it became even more in the American zeitgeist.

Q. Is it true that the car crash scene [involving the sports car getting attached to the taxi bumper] is based on your own experience?
Shawn Levy: Yeah, in a much less dramatic version. When I was 16, when I was working on the script initially I wanted a car sequence that we hadn’t seen in a movie before. I suddenly remembered, when I was 16 – the day after I got my licence – I went to the library. I was parking there and I kind of clipped the car parked next to me. So, I backed up to get out of the way but the car was coming with me, I went forward to get away from it and I was pulling the car. I went forward-back, forward-back and I was baffled as to why I could not extricate [myself]. I got out of the car and saw that somehow, through some freak of bumper height and physics I had jacked the entire car onto the ass-end of mine. It was just such a weird thing that happened, and it came back to me when I was working on the script. So, the idea of weirdly conjoined bumpers came from that experience.

Q. Will there be a sequel to this film?
Shawn Levy: Well, you certainly never think about sequels when you make a movie, you just make the thing in front of you. But we certainly had a really good time making it, so we’ll see if audiences have a good time coming to it and we’ll go from there.

Q. With the outtakes at the end, does that suggest there are more that will be seen on the DVD?
Shawn Levy: There are a lot more, and I think only some of you guys – understandably – saw [them all, because] there’s outtakes, then there’s the end credits and the outtakes stop. And at the very, very, very end are some more outtakes. I’m realising as I’m talking to a lot of press today that it’s a lot to ask people to hang in for three and half minutes, I get that, but there are some further funnier ones at the end of the outtakes and on the DVD there are more and an entire featurette I’ve edited of a far more vast collection. Although still, some of the best were so dirty, and I’m looking right at Tina. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to put them on the DVD. Maybe over here I am!

Read our review of Date Night

Read our interview with Tina Fey