IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Seth Gordon Talks 'Identity Thief,' 'War Games' Reboot and 'Horrible Bosses' Sequel

Thursday, 07 February 2013 15:32 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Seth Gordon Talks 'Identity Thief,' 'War Games' Reboot and 'Horrible Bosses' Sequel

Seth Gordon first gained attention as a documentary filmmaker for his directorial debut - the critically acclaimed film The King of Kong: A Fistful of Dollars, which chronicles gamer Steve Wiebe’s attempt to take the record for highest score in Donkey Kong away from reigning champion Billy Mitchell

He would eventually go on to direct the holiday comedy Four Christmases starring Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, as well as episodes of such popular sitcoms as Parks and Recreation, Community, The Office, and Modern Family. But his biggest box office hit to date came in 2011 with the workplace comedy Horrible Bosses, which featured Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, and two-time Academy Award-winner Kevin Spacey. Now, the director teams up with Bateman once again for the new road trip action-comedy Identity Thief, which also stars Oscar-nominee Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) and opens in theaters on February 8th.

The film centers on mild-mannered businessman Sandy Patterson (Bateman) who travels from Denver to Miami to confront the deceptively harmless-looking woman (McCarthy) who has been living it up after stealing his identity. In addition to Bateman and McCarthy, the film’s excellent cast of actors and comedians also includes Jon Favreau (Iron Man 2), Amanda Peet (The X-Files: I Want to Believe), T.I. (Takers), Genesis Rodriguez (Casa di me Padre), Morris Chestnut (Think Like a Man), John Cho (Total Recall), Robert Patrick (Gangster Squad), and Eric Stonestreet (Bad Teacher). 

I recently had a chance to sit down with Seth Gordon to talk about his work on Identity Thief, as well as a reboot of the '80s classic War Games, and a sequel to Horrible Bosses. The talented director discussed his new film, working with the comedic duo of Bateman and McCarthy, their instant chemistry, why he thinks Bateman is the best straight man of his generation, balancing the different characteristics of McCarthy’s unique role, improvisation, the film’s fast-paced production, directing action sequences, the inspiration he took from Midnight Run, and two of his possible upcoming projects – a War Games reboot, and a Horrible Bosses sequel.  

Here is what the funny director had to say:

IAR: To begin with, as a director, is there really anyway that you can go wrong with a movie when you have a comedy pairing like Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy?

Seth Gordon: No. They're amazing and it's really about staying out of their way. Then in the sort of “Jordon/Pippin” of it all maybe helping with a triangle offense but not hemming anyone in because it's like they're amazing together. So it's just about creating the situation, the circumstance, provoking some variations, finding some embellishment and departing occasionally from the script, but the script is obviously great. So it's just about bringing aspects of it to life that weren't necessarily pre built. 

How much improvisation was there on set?

Gordon: A lot. I love it. It's my background. It's why I think documentary film, as a genre is comfortable for me because you cannot control it. I think improv is that same spirit where you're open to change, and you're open to new ideas, left hooks and stuff. Some of my favorite stuff in the movie wasn't written. I mean everything from the guitar hit, to the throw punch at the prison, to the elephant belt, to the Bermuda Triangle, all that stuff wasn't in the script and I think it's memorable moments from the movie. 

Was the chemistry between Jason and Melissa immediate as soon as they first got together? 

Gordon: For sure and I think they found each other before this process even began because Jason saw Bridesmaids, loved her in it, and was trying to figure out a way to unlock a script he'd been developing for a while. He was like, “What if it was her? Let's rewrite it for her!” Then he found (writer) Craig Mazin, who I think he worked with before on something and Craig nailed it, I mean nailed it. You can hope that a script shows up and it's shoot ready, and that's what it was. I mean it was a page one total overhaul that he did. I mean it's dated December 9th, 2011. So barely Thirteen months later we're releasing it. I mean that speaks to the power and the quality of what he did.

So needless to say it was a fast production for you as a director, was it even faster than Horrible Bosses? Was it the fastest production you’ve ever been a part of?

Gordon: It was staggering. Yes, the fastest I've ever heard of. I mean maybe like Scary Movie 3 or something happened faster, but this was harrowing. I'm very proud of the product, but it was a combination of an undeniable script, a studio who loved the pairing of those two actors, and on the horizon, this release date, which was sort of in the valley between comedies here in the late winter. After everyone has seen a lot of dramatic films, they're hungry for reprieve. Everyone needs to laugh, right? I think specially in the current climate. 

Jason is so good at working off of Melissa in this movie. Do you think he is the perfect straight man in a sense?

Gordon: Totally. I think he’s the best in his generation for lots of reasons, but it all kind of comes down to listening. In every environment no matter what you throw at him, no matter if it’s a curve ball, slider, or whatever, he'll hit it and he'll hit it far. He can keep up with anybody and set the pace himself too. I mean he’s got thirty years of acting under his belt. It's so second nature for him too. She’s the perfect foil for his straight man in the sense that she's inherently a double personality character. She's so evil and so innocent at the same time and that's a perfect foil for a guy who's lived his life by the rules. 

In the scene where they are driving and she is singing to the music on the radio, did he ever just loose it and crack up during a take? 

Gordon: If you notice in all those car scenes he drives with one hand and it's because he's using the other hand literally to pinch somewhere to create enough pain so he won’t laugh. There were so many takes that were broken because she was doing something insane and it was killing all of us. He just was unfortunate enough to be on camera at the same time so he had to completely control it. Comedy is always about reaction and he's just the best because he's always present, he's always in it and he’s a great audience representative in that respect. He’s there on our behalf taking in how bananas it all is. 

For a comedy there are a lot of action sequences and car chases in this movie. As a director, what was it like for you orchestrating those scenes?

Gordon: I loved it. It's a big thing that I asked Craig to put in and emphasize when we did a little polish pass. For me, I have had the opportunity to direct movies where people stand around and are funny but just sort of react and stuff. I love that, but I wanted to go somewhere new and that was it for me. I try to think just like my three year-old with his Hot Wheels and I love to smash and crash. I mean we did some pretty adventurous stuff flipping that van, jumping that car and blowing things up.

In addition to the comedy and action, a large part of the film is also about a road trip. Did you draw any inspiration from classic road trip comedies or action films?

Gordon: Yeah. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and Midnight Run are two of my favorite movies. I took inspiration from any film where there are two true opposites at the core and also where the antagonist turns out to be quite relatable too. You know, someone you're rooting for along the way. So that's something that I think we learned lessons from that works in those movies, and we did our best to try to honor that. I love that she's someone you're really rooting against when she's hit with a guitar and then someone you love when you learn her real story.

Was that switch in her character difficult to balance in the editing process, or was it easy to pull off because Melissa is just such a lovable performer?

Gordon: She made it easy. I mean it could've been really hard, but she played it wonderfully. Even when she's wicked at the beginning, underneath that you're rooting for her oddly even though she's doing very, very bad things. I don't know how she does that. There were actually earlier scenes that we ultimately cut were where we were setting up her vulnerability, but you just don't need it because she's automatically inherently someone you're rooting for. So we just ended up letting those scenes go.

Finally, I’ve heard that you are developing a reboot of the classic Matthew Broderick movie War Games, and also a sequel to Horrible Bosses. Which project do you think you’ll direct first?

Gordon: I’ve got to say that the heart and the action in this movie have wet my appetite to find something that's got that along with hopefully a little bit of historical truth over historical integrity. But we have been working on a script for a reboot of War Games. I feel like a hacker now breaking into the department of defense and getting in over his head is plausible in a way that wasn't even in '83. There's also a chance for a Horrible Bosses sequel and we're kind of ironing out a concept for that. I mean that was a very, very fun film to make so getting that group back together would be great. But I’m not sure which one will come together first. 

Identity Thief starts stealing theaters on February 8th.

To watch our exclusive video interview with screenwriter Craig Mazin about Identity Thief and The Hangover Part III, please click here

To read our coverage of the Identity Thief press day with Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, please click here

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