Wednesday, 25 July 2012 10:25 Written by  iamrogue
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What if the last, best hope for humanity in a summer movie wasn't a superhero, a fighter jet-flying president, or even a ragtag group of oil drilling roughnecks on an asteroid?  What if the only group of heroes ready to stop an alien invasion of Earth was instead a quartet of bored suburban males comprising a half-assed neighborhood watch.  That's the idea behind The Watch, this Friday's new comedy starring Ben Stiller, Richard Ayoade, Jonah Hill, and Vince Vaughn as the hapless guys whose suburban safety group improbably becomes our last line of defense against extraterrestrials.

Written by Jared Stern, along with Superbad and Pineapple Express duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, The Watch combines the foul-mouthed shenanigans of an R rated summer comedy and a raucous alien adventure with unexpected adversaries.  The film is second directorial feature for Akiva Schaffer, the Lonely Island member who had a hand in many Saturday Night Live digital shorts and made his first film with 2007's Hot Rod

For the new movie, Schaffer recruited a sort of comedic all-star cast, with Stiller, Vaughn, Hill, and Ayoade starring as uptight Evan, freewheeling Bob, impressionable Franklin, and libidinous Jamarcus respectively.  Both director and cast were on hand at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons recently for the comedy's press day.  IAR was there in order to share their thoughts on improvisation, characters who don't evolve much, acting opposite tennis balls, hanging out with funny actors, and balancing aliens with comedy.

Over the last decade, with the rise of Judd Apatow and Adam McKay to cinematic ubiquity, improvisation and spirited riffing have become increasingly common.  Unscripted non-sequiturs and extending improv is now a part of the audience's vocabulary, and any movie with a comedic cast as accomplished as this one is expected to provide such spontaneous moments.

Balancing improvisation and story is an interesting challenge, as Schaffer explained, "We kind of went into each day where we would start with the script and encourage them to be as natural with it as possible because we wanted the performances to feel really natural and grounded and everything."

"Anyways," he continued, saying that after several takes the actors have properly relaxed into a rhythm. "At a certain point we owe a free one, and these guys could just honestly do anything. That’s all we get the best stuff."

Asked if any of the riffing that did not make the final theatrical cut will appear on the inevitable Blu-ray and DVD, Schaffer answered, "Yeah, quite a bit of it."

Each of the four lead characters are immature in their own distinct ways that lead to their involvement in the eponymous neighborhood watch.  Though they encounter no shortage of strangeness, none of them particularly grow into more mature, adult men.  Instead, they retain their preoccupations and general immaturity, but that's part of the point, according to Ben Stiller.  "In terms of the structure, I think that these characters were who they were," he explained. "And I don’t think it was about having it all sort of tied up in bow. It was more about, again, these guys hanging out and how they affected each other, but it wasn’t like about teaching lessons or anything. I do think there is an emotional connection these guys do have by just ending up being together and do show up for each other again."

Schaffer chimed in, saying, "They’re their better selves. It’s the same guys, just better version of it. They are doing the same things, but they are kind of a better version of the same thing."

Characteristically fast-talking Vince Vaughn also opined, "I think the fun of it is that all the characters are kind of unique in their own ways struggling with their own things, and this kind of larger circumstance will kind of bring them all together. You kind of earn more of the friendship with that the characters were all kind of conflicted first, or they were all seeing differently, but, ultimately, I think you really earned a friendship or an understanding between the characters. So it’s more about them kind of being faced with something extraordinary versus just them growing some sort of personal lives."

So far, most of The Watch's marketing has shied away from showing off the science fiction elements of the movie, but they're definitely present onscreen.  In creating an extraterrestrial threat, Schaffer opted not to rely too heavily on CGI creations.  Legendary but rarely recognized actor Doug Jones, familiar to moviegoers for creations including Abe Sapien in the Hellboy films, the Faun in Pan's Labyrinth, and the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, is once again underneath extensive makeup in the film.

The practical approach to the aliens enabled comedy, Schaffer said, explaining, "I liked the idea just going in with that just to have everybody to have the alien not disrupt the comedic flow basically. So you guys had something to look at and we weren’t just playing against the tennis ball and trying to act like it was an alien. So, I was like that having somebody really there, really doing the things that these guys could. You know, once again, they just need all help that they can get. I was just trying to throw them on."

Richard Ayoade added in a deadpan, "I still use tennis balls in my process, though."

"Even when I acted with Richard he would tape a tennis ball my forehead," Jonah Hill added. "Even though I was an actual person."

Ayoade joked, "Yeah, I find it weird to not looking at people if they don’t have tennis balls attached to them in some way. I just…it didn’t feel true."

After receiving an Oscar nomination for his performance in last year's Moneyball and snagging a pivotal role in Martin Scorsese's next film with Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street, Hill's work in The Watch sees him once again indulging in gleefully profane shenanigans.  Asked if he prefers drama or comedy, Hill replied, "I really like doing both. I really like doing dramas, I really like doing comedies, and they are both really different. This was, I can say, the hardest I’ve ever laughed just being around the group of people while you are making a movie. On a drama set that doesn’t generally is not the case. These guys are people who have made me laugh for a long time, people who I’ve learned a lot from watching their movies before I was ever in movies."

The movie marked reunions between several actors, including Hill and Stiller, who said, "Jonah and I did a scene in the Night in the Museum together, which is we had so much fun doing that. We were really looking forward to work together again."

"I love working with these guys," he continued.  "It’s great to work with the people who make you laugh and who are funnier. Vince and I had a really fun time working on Dodgeball together and it was exciting to have a chance to do something...it had been a while for us, so it was exciting to have a chance to do something new together and being in a totally different kind of relationship, too. I’m just a fan of these guys and Richard, I met a little bit because we had been able to be executive producers of Submarine.

"You know, they are all just really funny guys," Stiller concluded. "So and when you’re a fan of somebody that really helps. Especially, a movie like this because a lot that I felt it was going to have the ability for us to have fun with each other and feel like you want to hang out with these guys. So we were actually enjoying it, the process. I hope that will translate."

For Hill, the youngest member of the quartet, it was an experience to suddenly be acting alongside familiar comedic actors. "I really love these guys," he shared.  "Ben and Vince are very important people to me from learning about comedies growing up and stuff. So, get to work with them was great. And Akiva, Richard, and I were friends beforehand, so it was a great experience."

Of the four, Richard Ayoade is probably least familiar to American audiences.  The actor is beloved by UK audiences and Anglophiles for his signature role as Maurice Moss on the British series The IT Crowd, and he wrote and directed his first film, the wonderful, Ben Stiller-produced Submarine last year.  Like Hill, he was very aware of how surreal it was to be a part of this cast, saying, "My wife said, and she’s right, it’s going to look like I won a competition to be in a film with movie stars. And there were several days when I was like, 'Why are Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill looking at me? Oh! I’m in a scene with them. I ought to start trying to act back.' But yeah, that didn’t happen until late in the film. Until then it’s just a record of my bewildered face."

"Richard is so funny," Vaughn said.  "It was so fun, he brought such an original voice and great ideas and is just funny in the movie. The great thing about comedies is that. That’s the thing in life that we all remember. Sometimes it’s just really good to go and not take things seriously and get a chance to laugh. This movie does that really well. You get a bunch of guys together from different walks of life and at the end of the day there’s a lot of laughter and a lot of camaraderie. For me, what I love about comedies is that it helps us laugh and brings us all closer together."

The Watch arrives in theaters nationwide this Friday, July 27th.

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