IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Jake Kasdan talks 'Bad Teacher'

Wednesday, 22 June 2011 16:43 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Jake Kasdan talks 'Bad Teacher'

Jake Kasdan may be the son of The Big Chill and Silverado director Laurence Kasdan, but he has certainly made quite a name for himself as one of Hollywood’s top comedy directors. Kasdan has helmed popular and cutting edge comedies like Orange County, The TV Set, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Kasdan now returns with his latest film, the R-rated comedy Bad Teacher starring Cameron Diaz (In Her Shoes), Justin Timberlake (The Social Network), and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

The film, which opens in theaters on June 24th, features Diaz as Elizabeth Halsey, an extremely attractive, foul-mouthed, pot smoking, alcoholic schoolteacher who is looking for a rich man to marry. Elizabeth soon meets Scott Delacorte (Timberlake), a wealthy substitute teacher who she thinks might be the perfect man for her. But in order to get the man of her dreams she’ll have to compete with perfect teacher Amy Squirrell (Lucy Punch), while fending off advances from slacker gym teacher Russell (Segel). Eventually Elizabeth decides that what she needs to attract Scott is breast implants and she’ll stop at nothing, including stealing from her own students, in order to raise enough money for the operation. I recently had an opportunity to sit down and speak with director Jake Kasdan about the new film; it’s hard R rating, casting Cameron Diaz, and getting Justin Timberlake to sing badly on film. Here is what he had to say:

To begin with, it seems to me that the most important thing you need to do when making a film like this is cast the right actress for the lead role of Elizabeth. Personally, I can’t imagine anyone else besides Cameron Diaz playing this part because she is so perfect for the role. Did you realize that right away after you first read the script and what was the process of getting her involved?

Jake Kasdan: As soon as we started talking about making the film I read it, and I just flipped out for the script. I got the job and started working with everybody on how we were going to do this. Of course the very first question was who was going to play Elizabeth. The very first obvious answer was that we had to try to get Cameron to do it. She's the best possible person for a number of reasons. She is brilliantly funny, her look is exactly right, and she is one of the only women in the world that people get really excited about the prospect of seeing them behave this badly. For a movie where the protagonist is behaving in a fairly reprehensible way a vast majority of the time, it's really important that the actress playing her be fairly delightful to watch. As we got more serious about making this movie, the first thing we did was go and get Cameron to play this part and we were just thrilled that she felt as we did that it had to be her. She got it right away. She completely identified the voice as being close enough to hers and she thought that it would be something that she could just destroy comically. She's amazing. She's as funny as anybody. She's a completely unique film and comedy presence.

Is there a lot that Cameron's bringing to the role? Is she adding things and figuring out things on the set with you or did she just take all her cues for the character from the script?

Kasdan: She takes it strongly from the script and I do too. Particularly in a situation like this where you read something and then say, I just have to make this, which is exactly what happened. It's not like the subject matter was inherently screaming out to me. I wasn't looking for something like this particularly, but it was just such a funny script. I wanted to go make it and there were a hundred and fifty jokes on the page that I just loved and she felt as I did about that I think. We're both sort of starting from the same place of, here's a piece of material that brought us all to the party. Then she brings an enormous amount because it's all just words until there's an actual person. She flushed it out in a way that was just phenomenal. Then there is a lot of improving and trying alternate jokes with the writers so we're all working on it together. Cameron brought a lot of really funny stuff. She has great ideas but also just the attitude that's in her approach, and her behavior. I mean she made it hers in every way.

The film really pushes the hard R-rating, did you have to fight with the studio a lot to get to make the movie that you wanted to make, or were they fully on board with you from the very start?

Kasdan: You know there really wasn't any fighting. They felt as we did about it, that the joy of this movie is in how outrageous it is. The people who we were working for at Columbia, I made another movie for them a few years ago called Walk Hard, and they're like the best people to work for. They're not afraid of a hard comedy. They encouraged us to go out and make the best possible version of the movie.

I wanted to ask you about the car wash scene that has been playing in all of the commercials and trailers. It seems like that would be a particularly tricky scene to shoot because if you don’t get it right, it could become completely cliché. Were you concerned about that at all and what approach did you take to make sure the scene was funny and not like anything we’ve seen on screen before?

Kasdan: The car wash is partly playing on a cliché, which is that she shows up to the middle school fundraiser, where they're raising money for their class trip, and she deliberately enacts this preposterous sort of music video image to get a bunch of money and be able to steal money from the kids. The joke acknowledges all of the sexy car washes of the past. In terms of approach we thought about a lot of jokes and how to kind of make sure that there was funny stuff going on to explore that idea. Then the huge X factor is just how Cameron does it in a way that acknowledges the whole sort of history of that idea and also she does it in a way that's just so sort of dry and funny. She's amazing. Ultimately there was a moment where I said ok, so now it's time to do the hot car wash scene and she's like, alright here we go! Start the music! She was just completely game. It was so funny doing it. I mean we were sitting there and she's like jumping all over the car and stuff. I didn't know any of that was coming. She just did it.

Can you talk about how you got Justin Timberlake, a man widely considered one of the best pop singers in the world, to sing really badly in a scene in this movie?

Kasdan: That was exactly right. That was our big idea, that it’d be really fun to have him do a version of someone who can't sing because he's got this monstrous, epic voice, which is like one of the great voices of his generation. He completely got what would be funny about playing someone who can't sing and did a really funny version of it.

Finally, you’ve directed mostly comedies in your career but some have been very over-the-top like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and others have been more subtle like The TV Set or Zero Effect, which do you prefer and can you talk about the differences between the two?

Kasdan: I mean for sure there's a difference. You know what, I guess when I'm writing I’m focused on making myself laugh as part of it and so even the one's that are less overt comedies are still sort of comedies. There just sort of different stories and different tones I guess. I think that doing these hard R comedies where it's supposed to be funny every minute is really hard. Technique wise, it's almost harder because it's a lot of pressure. It's hard to get the rhythm of it working the way you want to. But it's also very collaborative and really fun to do. Some of the other ones you mentioned like TV Set and Zero Effect are a little more like … I had a weird idea one night, wrote a script, and then just tried to make it. I love those movies too.

Bad Teacher opens in theaters everywhere on Friday!

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