Nicholas Stoller talks 'Neighbors,' Rose Byrne gets nasty in NSFW clip | EW.com

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Nicholas Stoller talks 'Neighbors,' Rose Byrne gets nasty in NSFW clip

NEIGHBORS

Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, Old School—all classic college comedies that inspired generations of devoted fraternity idiots. But Neighbors, the summer blockbuster that pitted Zac Efron’s fun-loving Greeks against the yuppie couple next door—Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne—realized something new and important: a woman—a mother, even—can be just as outrageously funny and asinine as a dude. When the loud fraternity parties into the night and leaves condoms for the neighbors’ darling baby to play with, Byrne’s Kelly proves to be just as formidable as the guys in the tit-for-tat war that ensues.

In an exclusive—and extremely NSFW—alternate scene from the Blu-ray, which arrives on Sept. 23, Kelly uses her feminine wiles and shrewd negotiation skills to convince a harassed pledge with an unfortunate nickname to turn against his brethren. For those of you yet to see the film, I believe the bleeped-out word is “cherry tomatoes,” judging by Byrne’s  suggestive gesture. He wants infinite cherry tomatoes, and who can blame him.

Director Nicholas Stoller, already known for his work with the Judd Apatow company of players and the revitalized Muppets, was personally responsible for amping up Byrne’s role and making the couple’s marriage the essential element of the story. He spoke to EW about how the film drew from his own personal life, his theory on the growing clout of R-rated comedies, and, of course, the dildo duel between Efron and Rogen.

EW: I was going to ask what it was like to shift gears from the Muppets to an R-rated comedy, but then Seth took his shirt off and I think I saw the direct link to Fozzie Bear.
Yeah, exactly. They’re basically the same person, the same character. Neighbors is basically the Muppets but with curse words and sex. There’s a lot of characters in both. It’s very silly what’s happening in both. I guess only the Muppets have a diva; there wasn’t really a diva in Neighbors.

You have some experience with—gosh, it’s an odd way to say this—with male nudity in your comedies.
It’s a trope. When my movies are released on Criterion Collection, I’m going to mainly talk about that.

Well, what makes male nudity so funny? When is it funny, and when is it not funny?
Well, you have to be out of shape. I think that’s part of it. Or, not in great shape. I mean, every time Zac has his shirt off, it’s more of like a, “Oh, my god!” than a laugh. And I think that goes for any kind of nudity. Awkward. Shooting it from an awkward angle makes it funny, I think. It needs to be appropriate to the moment because if it feels gratuitous, it will feel extraneous and not funny. I think the best use of male nudity I’ve sort of enacted was in the opening of Sarah Marshall, because [Jason Segel] is at his most vulnerable but he’s naked. And the audience totally went along with it. It’s a character-driven d–k joke.

Did Seth have to get in shape to play Mac? Did he have to purposely get out of shape?
Seth is just always at dude weight. He never really goes up and down. So I didn’t really tell him much. Usually, with movies, when I’m like, ‘We’re going to do a sex scene” or something, it’s like a closed set and everybody gets kind of weird and you have to walk around with kid gloves. But on Neighbors, no one cared—and this goes for Rose too, by the way. Literally, I was like, “Okay, we’re going to do the sex scene,” and they both just quickly took off their clothes. No one flinched.

For the 40th anniversary of Blazing Saddles, I chatted with Mel Brooks, and he talked about the screening process, how he almost systematically edited the film based on test-audience reactions and how that influenced the rhythm of his comedy and where he positioned the next joke. Do you do a lot of screenings to figure out where those beats are going to be?
Yeah, a ton of screenings. Because if you’re swinging for a joke, the audience has to laugh. If they don’t, you need to cut it or change it, because it’s failing its mission. So I do a lot of screenings. I do a bunch of screenings internally. Then I’ll do a friends and family [screening] which is usually in front of a lot of comedy writers. I actually get a lot of false information, false data, from that one because comedy writers laugh at different stuff than the regular audience. But I’ll get some feel for what’s working and what isn’t. And then I do about four or five test screenings, and sometimes I’ll do a screening where I’ll have two screenings happening at the same time—one which is like the tight version that I want to release, and the other one I try a bunch of strange jokes and see if anything really works. I usually discover stuff in that screening that I normally wouldn’t have put in the movie that I then put in the final version. And I record the laughs, and we’ve started filming the audience to see visual reactions and what the audience is experiencing.

Did anything surprise you this time through that process? Did a certain scene emerge or was there one that you thought would kill that bombed?
I had a sequence that was just horrific that got silence at the friends and family screening. There was a sequence when Seth and Rose are at the party when they’re doing their heist kind of thing, where she’s going to make-out with everyone, that there’s a babysitter at their house who’s drinking all the breast milk. It was this whole sequence of him drinking the breast milk and then using the pump. I actually thought it would work, but it was just horrible. The casting was strange, like, I think the actor seemed like a serial killer, so the audience was like, “Why are you leaving your baby with a serial killer?” It was like, suddenly the movie became Saw in the middle. That actually shocked a room full of comedy writers so I knew I had to cut that out because they’re usually unshakable.

And then there’s things where you re-time a joke, and it can actually make a huge difference. Like the amazing Jason Mantzoukas joke which he wrote, where he goes, “Your baby has AIDS… is how bad this could’ve gone.” The first time we screened it, I had a really long pause between him saying that and then saying, “…how bad this could’ve gone.” And it kind of destroyed the next 10 minutes of the movie; the audience was still recovering. Everyone was like, “Cut the scene out, you have to cut it out.” And I was like, “No, I think if I re-time it and just shorten the pause, it will work,” and it turned out that that worked. So that stuff is very scientific in terms of how you’re kind of calibrating for the audience.

For years, it seemed like the studios did everything they could to drag their comedies down to a PG-13 rating, but recently, the only comedies that perform are R-rated. Did you have many conversations about the film’s rating?
I think it’s completely changed now, so there isn’t really any conversation of, “Will this or won’t this be R?” I think the studio sees that R is just as financially viable. It’s my theory that you need a real motivation to get people to go to the theater, and really the motivation for a comedy is that it be insanely shocking. It has to be something that you haven’t seen before and that you want to experience with a crowd. And we don’t have the budgets to create spaceships crashing into planets or whatever, so our spectacle are dildos made out of Zac Efron’s penis.

They weren’t really modeled after his…
No, no, no. But we did talk to the actors. We were like, “Is this size okay?” There was a lot of size conversations about which dildos were the right size.

When you came aboard, the script was more about Seth and his buddies, but you emphasized the notion of the marriage and Rose and Seth’s relationship became the kernel of the story. How did that evolve?
Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’ Brien wrote the original script and it was really funny, but it was three guys—Seth and his two buddies—versus the frat. And the wife character wasn’t really part of it. And I was like, “You know, my wife gets really angry about noise and this would be her fight as much as your friends’ fight.” And I always come in with an emotional take, and what really made this movie something I really wanted to make was the two times that I had a breakdown in my life was when I had my first kid and when I graduated from college. It was a very similar feeling of losing all sense for control. So I thought we needed to bring that out, and part of that was reducing the role of the friends and making the wife a bigger part of it, making her part of the battle. To me, if there isn’t a dramatic, emotional story underneath the hijinks, then the movie won’t be funny and it won’t be interesting, and about halfway through, the audience will get bored and they won’t know why.

As a parent myself, I knew someone with young children was responsible for the breast-feeding scene, because I was watching with my wife and she was like, “You have no idea how painful that is!”
Yeah, it’s a nightmare. My wife had, like, engorged situations, and it was horrible. She had ice packs. She has a very high pain threshold—she’s like Rambo—but she was actually crying. Even during childbirth, I’ve never seen her like that. But one of Brendan’s friends, his wife, she went to Bonnaroo or something—which already is funny—and her pump broke, and her husband had to milk her. As we were revising that scene, Seth remembered Brendan’s story and was like, “Clearly, I have to milk my wife’s breast.”

It totally takes the sexiness of breasts and just throws them out the window.
That’s what I thought was funny. In this kind of frat movie, you tend to have hot girls who are naked. I was like, “This could be really funny.” And what’s funny too is all of the kids in the audience are so grossed out and horrified, and all the adults in the audience think it’s just hysterical, especially women. It’s like the top scene that people either hate or love. Whenever that happens, I’m like, “Okay, I’ve done my work.”

The one scene that demands some kind of behind the scenes dissection is the dildo kung-fu fight. Obviously, you studied all the masters to get that just right?
We actually did it on the fly. We had three days of re-shoots, and that was one of our re-shoot days. We basically had the fight between Seth and Zac on that landing, where they punch each other and then he smashes him through the door. And it worked fine. But you really want to see a big fight between these guys. We had organically laid in dildos throughout the movie—if the dildo just shows up at the end of the movie, it’s dumb. But it you’re already laid it in, it’s fine—it’s a plot-driven dildo. And the great thing about dorm rooms or frat houses or any rooms in college is you can literally have anything in it. You could have a trampoline, Christmas lights, you could have all kinds of sh-t. And the dildo just seemed funny—it was so obvious that we had to have them fight with dildos, and obviously, Zac was going to put the dildo in Seth’s mouth. Of course.

You and Seth are planning to work together again soon, correct? A buddy comedy with Kevin Hart about the first white cop, black cop pairing in history?
Yes, it’s going to be with Seth, and we’re thinking about who we’re going to pair him with right now. That is what I want to do next. Rodney Rothman wrote the script—it might be the funniest script I’ve ever read actually. It’s so funny and crazy and awesome and shocking. No one has seen this, so I’m very excited about it, and hopefully we can get it going.

It’s set in the 1940s?
Yeah, it’s set in 1949, but in a weird way—it’s like a Tarantino world. It’s not a period piece, even though it takes place then. It’s like a kind of pushed reality, like Baz Luhrmann, the way he does that kind of world. So it’s definitely a stretch for me as a director but that also appeals to me. And it’s a very racist, very anti-Semitic world. It’s just hysterical. And they have to infiltrate the jazz scene to bust jazz musicians for weed for the FBI, and then they discover all kinds of stuff as they do it.

My son is more impressed that you’re writing the script for Captain Underpants, based on Dav Pilkey’s books.
I wrote the script over a few years for DreamWorks. Rob Letterman is going to direct it. It’s in production right now, so they call me in every once and awhile to rewrite stuff. It has a great cast, and the early stuff I’ve seen is really funny. It’s Muppet-y, it breaks the fourth wall a little bit, it’s really silly, but it has a really nice story at the center of it. I’m just trying to capture the spirit and craziness of those books.

It would be ignorant of me to call the book’s unique artwork crude or simply, but it does feel rudimentary in a way. How does it translate to the screen?
They’ve kind of just taken those figures and turned them into 3-D animation. The closest stuff that I can think of is The Simpsons. We’re trying to do some stylization because I do think that it has to be be stylized, just to make it pop through—there are so many animated movies. To make it pop, it needs to have that extra stylization. But it’s really funny, and it has a lot of poop humor, which will appeal to kids, as the books do. But it’s also a great story about two friends and what it means when your best friendship is challenged.

Are you finished with the Muppets?
I’m not sure what Disney’s plan is. I know they had some idea to do some TV thing, but I’m not sure. For now, I feel like I’ve told the Muppet stories I needed to tell. But of course, if they wanted my help with something, I’d be psyched to do it, because those characters are awesome and I’ve had such a good time working on them.