Run, Fat Boy, Run - David Schwimmer interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
DAVID Schwimmer talks about the challenges of directing his first feature film, Run, Fat Boy, Run, and the effort that was required just to get it completed…
He also talks about the cost of filming in London, working with Hank Azaria and why he’d gladly reunite with any of his former Friends cast members – but never to do that show again…
Q. In terms of coming to direct a movie, what appealed to you about this film and why now?
David Schwimmer: I’ve always wanted to direct a feature film. I’ve directed a lot of theatre and then some episodes of Friends. I’d always wanted to direct a feature but it takes more than a year of your life, so I kind of had to wait until the show was over. So, I started looking for scripts and read many, many, many of them and this was the funniest thing I read. But I was also surprisingly moved by it. I was really excited by the challenge of trying to capture the tone of that script on film.
Q. Was there ever a moment when you regretted not being able to make it in New York, as the original version intended?
David Schwimmer: Yes, sure. I had been attached to the script for a while as director. It was supposed to take place in New York around the New York Marathon and I was pitching actors that they were saying “no” to – like “no, we can’t make that movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti”. I just thought that they didn’t want to make the movie, I couldn’t understand.
Suddenly, the script was optioned by a company called Material Entertainment and their mission is to make films in London. At that point I was already a year and a half into trying to get the movie made and I thought now I had to find someone to re-write the script to Anglicise it and then find someone to star in it. But all of this was going on while Simon [Pegg] and I were working together on Big Nothing and having a blast. I don’t know if it was me or someone else who suggested Simon but as soon as the idea occurred I thought it was a perfect fit, so I called him and said: “Take a look at this, what do you think about re-writing it, Anglicising it and starring in it and working together?”
I think we’d had such a good time working together that we thought it would just be fun and kind of easy. But I’d spent four months doing a play in London and then I’d shot a movie in the UK – on the Isle of Man – with Simon, so I was not excited about spending the next year of my life also in the UK. It was just being away from home. But the only way I got my head around it was by thinking that if Simon were to do it, then it would be worth the time.
Q. Did you know Simon Pegg initially from Band Of Brothers?
David Schwimmer: Yes. But because of the character I was playing I was really anti-social during that time. I didn’t really make an effort to kind of bond with anyone [laughs nervously].
Q. What changes did you make to Anglicise it?
David Schwimmer: We changed the nationality of the landlord character to [actor] Harish Patel and his daughter in the film used to be his wife. We thought it was a more interesting dynamic.
Q. You had already worked with Harish Patel, hadn’t you?
David Schwimmer: Yeah, we became friends when I directed him in a pilot for NBC. He’s like the Indian Walter Matthau. His timing was the funniest timing I’ve ever seen.
Q. What did you find were the main differences between the American and British film industries?
David Schwimmer: Well, I haven’t made many films so I can’t speak to that. I didn’t notice many differences. I thought in both instances the crews were top notch. I’ve mostly worked in Los Angeles, a little in Chicago and again on that side of the camera everyone’s just great. I think it depends on the tone set by the producers and the director and the star of the movie. A lot of that the crew really picks up on and they all feel like we’re all having a good time and are getting along. There are certain actors that aren’t and some directors that aren’t – but I think Simon, myself and Thandie for sure are all crew friendly. I think I try and make it a team effort and that’s why I’ve had good experiences on both.
Q. How film friendly did you find London? Was there more red tape?
David Schwimmer: London’s an expensive city to shoot in mostly because of location and for our film we were on a very modest budget. We had over 50 locations throughout the city and each one we had to deal with security, police, traffic and tourism… Each location cost a fortune, especially when we were shooting in the city. The unions are incredibly strong – rightly so – but because of that even the supporting workers union, the cost of having 10 extras here was the same as getting 50 or 100 extras outside the city for the same price. There were challenges throughout but the producers were great and they tried to keep as much of it out of my way as possible. They dealt with most of the red tape but every day there were problems involved.
Q. How did you go about changing Hank Azaria’s character?
David Schwimmer: It was definitely part of the re-write to make two of the characters a little more complex – and one of those was Hank’s character so that he wasn’t an outright ass. Obviously, he would seem like a viable option for Thandie’s character. And we also gave Libby her own business, which was a huge step to showing she has independence and choice in the matter. We didn’t want it to appear that she had to go with one of these guys; she could quite easily go with either of them. She could afford not to.
Q. And establishing a believable bond between Simon Pegg and young Matthew Fenton?
David Schwimmer: From the beginning Simon and I were very aware that the only way for the film to work was if you absolutely fell in love with and believed in him as a father, otherwise the film falls apart and he’s not forgivable. The way in for people to forgive this character was to see how good a dad he is. So, we talked a lot about films like Kramer vs Kramer and the relationship that Dustin Hoffman established with that character and the little documentary that goes along with that film. I think the bar was set pretty high in that film with the father-son relationship.
But we did everything just to get to know Matthew and make him feel comfortable – we played with him and made him a friend. Again, it’s all him really because he’s wonderfully mature. He is a kid but at the same time he’s a professional. He showed up knowing every single one of his lines and everyone else’s lines too. He was a pro and he could turn it on and turn it off, which was kind of miraculous to watch. He knew we’d like to play with him but as soon as we had to work, he took direction and was immediately focused.
Q. You’ve been quoted as saying that at the end of the day Friends was just a job. Does that mean you don’t have any plans to work with them again?
David Schwimmer: I wouldn’t rule out working with any of those guys again. They’re all incredibly talented and I wouldn’t hesitate because we all got on great and I directed all of them on the show as well. We would never do that show again but they’re terrific and I would never hesitate to work with them again.
Q. How do you think the film will play when it opens in America?
David Schwimmer: It’s interesting because we’ve tested it twice in the States and the audience response has been fantastic. I think the trick will just be how it’s marketed and getting people in the door because as you know there’s a lot of competition every weekend in the States. There’s just an over saturation of product. But I think once people sit down and see the movie the response has been fantastic.
Q. Would you like to direct again?
David Schwimmer: Oh yeah, absolutely.