IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Will Gluck talks 'Friends with Benefits'

Wednesday, 27 July 2011 13:03 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Will Gluck talks 'Friends with Benefits'

If you’ve never heard of director Will Gluck, then learn his name now because he is one filmmaker that you will be hearing from for a very long time. Gluck first made a name for himself as a feature film director last year with his sophomore outing Easy A starring Emma Stone, which went on to become both a critical and box office success. His recent release Friends with Benefits, has received positive reviews and earned almost $20 million in its debut last weekend despite opening opposite Captain America: The First Avenger on the second weekend of Potter-mania. All things considered, Gluck is well on his way to becoming one of the most interesting and unexpected mainstream directors working in the industry today.

Will Gluck began his career on TV writing for such short-lived but popular shows as Grosse Pointe, and Andy Richter Controls the Universe, as well as creating series like Luis, and The Loop. He made the jump to the big screen by helming the collegiate comedy Fired Up in 2009 before producing and directing Easy A, and eventually Friends with Benefits. His newest outing, the “will they or won’t they” comedy Friends with Benefits starring Justin Timberlake (The Social Network), and Mila Kunis (Black Swan), hit theaters on July 22nd and features the two sexy stars as platonic friends who engage in the age old experiment to see if acquaintances of the opposite sex can sleep together with out letting their emotions get in the way of their friendship.

I recently had a chance to sit down with Will Gluck to discuss his latest project and the director spoke candidly about his career, his directing style, the new film and its controversies, working with his cast, and what new film genre he plans on tackling next. Here is what he had to say:

To begin with, your previous film Easy A was really a deconstruction of the classic high school comedy that we’ve seen so many times before, but in doing so it transcended that mold and in some ways created the quintessential high school movie. It seems like you are doing the same thing here with Friends with Benefits, deconstructing the romantic comedy mold and transcending that to create the quintessential film of that genre, is that an accurate way of describing your style as a director and the way you’ve created your last two films?

Will Gluck: Well if you liked Easy A … you know I took that and kind of deconstructed it and I'm doing that with my tone. That was exactly my first instinct. But the only thing you're missing is that I don't deconstruct it, the characters do. So instead of having the filmmaker do fourth wall, break into fourth wall stuff, I have the characters realizing they're going through a very classic thing here that everyone else in the world has gone through. Which my thesis in movies is that when people go through situations they don't talk about it in terms of anyone else ever going through it. They think that the only people in the world are themselves. It’s “boy meets girl and then they start fucking.” Then they say, "I don't think that anyone else has ever done this before, we're really Adam and Eve here, right?” They don't talk about it as happening before in any other movies. They live in a vacuum from pop culture. It always feels like Martians landed on the planet and decided to be in a romantic comedy. The way I talk about my life, and I'm sure the way you talk about your life is like, "Oh my god, look at that James Bond shit." I mean this is the way we talk and the oldest and the most cliché thing in the world is the idea of “boy meets girl, girl meets girl, boy meets boy, falls in love, marries, divorces, and finally death.” That's all we live our entire life right? It's the most cliché thing in the world. So why can't we see a movie about that and see how they do it. But at the same time, just make sure we're all aware that we know we're going through a situation. So many times in this movie, Justin's character and Mila's character are going, "really? We're going to do this? This is what we're going to do?” For me anyway, if I watched this movie I'd breathe the big sigh of relief and be like, okay these guys know they're not trend setters, so let's just see how they do it.


One of the things I loved about Easy A is that you reference classic ‘80s high school comedies like The Breakfast Club, or Say Anything, and then you actually show clips from those movies within your own film. In this movie, instead of showing actual romantic comedy footage you use a “fake” romantic comedy that the main characters watch, which stars actors Jason Segel and Rashida Jones. Can you talk about the choice to use that kind of a plot devise in your films and then why did you cast a fake movie within this movie rather than using a clip from a real film?

Gluck: Whenever I talk about something … if I talked about a scene right now from 48 Hours, I'd go home tonight and think, oh shit 48 Hours, and I’d stick it in my computer. That's what we do. Not doing that I think is unfair and false. That to me is false about certain movies that they don't reference anything else. That's the way I live my life. It's not spoofing it because they're watching it and they're commenting the same way I can guarantee you or your readers have seen a movie and said, "You've got to be kidding me?” Is that spoofing it? No, we're commenting on it. But I'm kind of conscious of it because people say, "You're spoofing romantic comedies" I'm not really. So then look at that scene where Mila and Justin are watching that fake movie. Mila knows every God damn word in that movie even though she says, “I hate you Katherine Heigl.” She hates that her life has not become one yet. That's what she hates about it. It's not making fun of Katherine Heigl movies, it's that this girl's life is not going to be as simple as they make it in the movies. 

I have to ask you, obviously there are going to be comparisons between this film and ...

Gluck:Inception? Yeah, we took the top out of the ending.

Well, I was actually going to say No Strings Attached. I understand there was an issue with the title because at one point No Strings Attached was going to be called Friends with Benefits, is that right?

Gluck: Yes that’s right, but it was originally called Fuck Buddies. Elizabeth Meriwether (the screenwriter) wrote it as Fuck Buddies. But everything is great, there's no animosity and I'm very happy with how it all turned out.

I bring it up because I noticed that you actually cast Catherine Reitman, the daughter of No Strings Attached director Ivan Reitmen, in Friends with Benefits.

Gluck: Oh, you noticed that, did you?

I did, and I was curious if that was a bit of quid pro quo? Did you say, “Hey, I’ll cast your daughter in my movie if you don’t give me any problems with the title?”

Gluck: No, not at all. They were Fuck Buddies, then these guys who wrote the original draft before I got it called our movie Friends With Benefits. Sony owned the title and actually, Sony bought it from Warner Brothers. But I wanted to do the script. Someone just bought the title and script for me from Warner Bros and let me do stuff to it. There was no quid pro quo. Catherine came into the casting sessions. Really I was like, you're Catherine, right? I mean I've heard of her because she's an actress. You know, I remember saying to her in the casting, you know how weird this is, right? She was like, “Yeah I know but I’d still love to do it!” Everyone's aware of everything in Hollywood. We all know, just like you know everything, and your readers watching in Vermont know everything. We know everything so of course we were all aware of the connection when we cast her. But there was never any animosity on my part about the title situation.


Since No Strings Attached opened in theaters several months before Friends with Benefits, did you have a lot of concerns about comparisons between the two movies even though they are completely different?

Gluck: Yeah, I was very concerned. We just want people to know that Justin and Mila are much different than Ashton (Kutcher) and Natalie (Portman). Our tone, and our plot are completely different. The tone is … well if you like Easy A, if you like Justin, if you like Mila, and if you like Woody Harrelson, then you’ll like this. It’s that type of movie.

You have some terrific cameos in the film from actors like Emma Stone, Andy Samberg, Jason Segel, and Rashida Jones, and I was curious about the casts “six degrees of separation.” I’m assuming Emma agreed to do her role based on her relationship with you after making Easy A, but was Andy cast because of his friendship with Justin from Saturday Night Live? And for that matter, Justin just appeared in Bad Teacher with Jason, and of course Jason just finished making The Muppets, which co-stars Rashida. Were those actors hired because of their connections to other cast members or did you fill those roles the same way you cast the rest of the film?

Gluck: Everyone kind of knows each other especially when you’re doing comedy. Jason I met before, and Justin does know Andy, but a lot of times in casting you just say, do you think Andy might do it? Everyone says things like, “He would never do it.” So no one ever asks. My whole thing is, well let’s ask him. Because a lot of people they just don’t get asked. I think that it’s the same reason why the hot girl never gets asked to the prom. You know because it’s just like, “Just ask me!” That’s the thing for all the cameos. With Rashida, I kind of knew her through other people. I think it was my agency. So it’s not hard to get with them, I just ask them and pitch them.

Olympic Champion Shaun White plays an exaggerated version of himself in the film, which depicts the extreme sports athlete as kind of an a-hole. Was he concerned at all about taking on the role and having his public persona skewed in that way?

Gluck: Shaun White could not have been more excited. First of all, he’s nicer than you can even imagine. He was so happy with goofing out his image and he was so game for this, it was so fun watching him do the scenes. There’s another scene we cut that will be on the DVD with him and Woody Harrelson.

Was that role in the script specifically written for Shaun or was it sort of written for any internationally recognizable athlete of celebrity?

Gluck: No because I write constantly, so I was writing in real time with Justin and Mila. I was writing twenty pages at a time with Justin and then I’d come back and maybe do all the other stuff. Then write with Woody and get Patty back and write in real time. I really feel that the actor’s voice has to come out in a movie like this. So I really structure it towards their voice. I knew I wanted Mila to run into somebody in the scene, and I wanted him to come back later. I wanted it to be a celebrity because I wanted Mila to have … well she’s a mover and shaker in New York City. I also wanted Justin to be like, “Wow! You know him?” I really thought about whom we could get? Who can we get? And then someone said Shaun White and I was like, yes! We called him and talked to him, quickly wrote pages for him, sent them and he did it.

Woody Harrelson is in the film and plays a homosexual man who is very comfortable with who he is and his own sexuality. Harrelson is very funny in the film and seems to be having a lot of fun with the role. Did he just sort of go for it from the beginning or did you have to really work with him to create the character that you were looking for?

Gluck: Every time he was on set it was incredibly funny. You know how crews are. I don’t know if you saw the movie to the very end, but we had the fake bloopers during the end credits. There’s a thing at the very end, which are bloopers from our fake movie, but they’re really terrible bloopers. Mila says, “Hey, they’re watching the bloopers.” Then Justin says, “Look the crew’s laughing. If the crew were laughing it must’ve been a good movie, right?” They’re terrible bloopers but the reason I put that in is because crews don’t laugh. Crews don’t care what they’re doing. They don’t laugh because they’ve seen it all. Woody had them dying, I mean had them dying and so much so that the camera would shake. He’s such a funny guy. He connects so much with the audience. Woody would love trying to make Justin laugh. With Woody and the scene with him and the photo shoot, it was towards the end of the movie, so everyone was already friends, but it got so funny that someone said, “Will you have to wrap the sun’s about to come up!”


Justin Timberlake is the real deal, isn’t he? He seems to be just as talented as an actor/comedian as he is as a musician, was that your experience like working with him on this project?

Gluck: Yes he is the real deal, and he can do anything. He’s an incredible actor. It’s not just people saying, “He’s just being funny.” No, after about five minutes of the movie you forget who he is, and he’s a character. For me, working with him and Mila I still forget because we’re friends. I still forget he’s Justin and then either someone will come up to him or he'll just sing a song and I’ll be like, oh I forgot.

Well you do let Justin sing two classic ‘90s songs in the film, Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” and Kris Kross’ “Jump.” Was that deliberate?

Gluck: Yes, but he sings them goofily. He WAS Kris Kross and he did it as well as they did. That's so funny because you know he was naked (in that scene) and Mila was just in her underwear but the crew, all these older guys, were just transfixed on Justin doing this rap. In every take he was just amazing! He's amazingly talented.

You’ve worked with Oscar nominated actress Patricia Clarkson twice now on back-to-back projects. First with Easy A, and now again with Friends with Benefits, so what is it that you enjoy most about working her?

Gluck: She is just a good actor. People say, “Oh she's just a mother.” No! She's an amazing actress. She has the amazing ability to take kind of wacky stuff and make it emotional without even realizing it. I'll do everything with her, I mean as long as she'll have me.

Another Oscar nominated actor in this film is Richard Jenkins who gives a great performance as Justin’s character’s dad, who is dealing with the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Can you talk about juggling such a heavy storyline in what is otherwise a pretty light comedy?

Gluck: The way I did it with him is like, and again this is the way I do all my stuff, he uses humor to deal with his sickness. If I ever get sick or when I get sick, I'm going to deal with it with humor. That's the way my dad lives his life, that's the way I live my life, so Richard has never done a character I don't think where he has Alzheimer's, and he's joking about it. That scene at the airport when he says, "who's Annie," half the audience laughs immediately because they know it's a joke, and the other half of the audience laughs even louder when he goes, "I'm kidding. What else am I going do with this?" That's another way of dealing with this, which is through humor. The trick with that character was just you know Alzheimer's, what stage was he in? Because we've all been touched by Alzheimer's. That stage of Alzheimer's when you know it's coming but you're still kind of there, and I think that is what Richard liked and also he has a lot of funny stuff to do in this movie.

Justin and Milla have a great chemistry with each other in the film, which was absolutely necessary in order for the film to work. Was that chemistry between the two instant or something that they had to work at?

Gluck: Yeah! I mean it started in the rehearsals and then the re-writing of the script. You could just tell that they were kindred spirits, they had the same sense of humor, and all they wanted to do was make a good movie. Everyone asks, were the sex scenes hard to shoot? They were, but we all wanted it to be funny and real, so the only agenda was making it good enough so they would do anything. It was so fun and nothing was off limits. I think that's what shows in the movie.

Finally, it seems to me that as a director you have now made two great films in two completely different genres between Easy A, and Friends with Benefits. Are you interested in trying to deconstruct a completely new genre with your next project by making an action movie or a sci-fi film, or do you think you’ll stick to just directing comedies?

Gluck: I do want to do an action movie, and I am developing an action-comedy now. I'll do a serious movie too. I love doing emotional stuff. I mean the second half of this movie is pretty serious. My next movie, the one I'm officially attached to, the guy that wrote the book that The Social Network was based on, Ben Mezrich he also wrote the book that this project is based on. It's about the twenty-three year old NASA intern who stole all the moon rocks from NASA for his girlfriend. He was eventually caught and spent many years in jail. I'm doing that. I'm writing the movie right now and there's comedic elements to it, but there's deep reasons why this guy who has everything, he's a NASA intern, he blows it. He steals all the moon rocks from NASA for his girlfriend, allegedly. There are a lot of interesting things about that movie. So I'm working on that. I don't know if I'll do that next, but I'm definitely working on that.

Friends with Benefits is playing in theaters now!

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