Neighbors Interview: Ike Barinholtz

Mindy Project star Ike Barinholtz helps Seth Rogen battle his frat-house enemies in Neighbors.

In Neighbors, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play new parents with a new home in the suburbs who have still not quite adjusted to leaving behind their days of partying. Not helping matters is the college fraternity that has moved in next door, and when the relationship with frat president Zac Efron goes sour, Rogen and Byrne go into battle to defend their turf.

Director Nick Stoller’s comedy has it all: sharp comic moments, gross-out jokes and even heartfelt themes about responsibility and getting older. Along for the ride as Rogen’s divorced and somewhat unstable best friend Jimmy is Ike Barinholtz, a Chicago native whose resume includes MadTV, Eastbound and Down and, most recently, The Mindy Project, where he is both a writer and also stars as Morgan Tookers. Barinholtz shines in Neighbors — as does the entire cast — and Den Of Geek got on the phone with him to talk about his own neighborly experiences, doing improv with Seth Rogen and more.

Den Of Geek: Let’s get this out of the way first. What’s the worst neighbor experience you’ve ever had in your life?

Ike Barinholtz: I’ve been pretty lucky with neighbors. But back in 1998 I lived like literally next door to Wrigley Field in Chicago. And I had like 50,000 bad neighbors spread out over the course of one summer. I’m a diehard Cubs fan but living right next to the ballpark it’s just — as you’re trying to go to sleep, you can just like hear urination. You can hear like, you know, just like big fat Chicago guys f**ing with each other, you know what I mean? Just constantly having an influx of incredibly drunk Cubs fans was pretty intense.

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I can’t even imagine what that must have been like.

It was rough. It was brutal.

How would you rate yourself as a neighbor? Did you ever intentionally mess with anybody?

You know, I do feel like you want to keep close quarters comfortable. And if you have bad neighbors and you exacerbate the situation you’re gonna make yourself miserable. They’re gonna get you back. So I am very Games of Thronesian about it. That way if I do have a party or are too loud one night they instead of calling the cops will just kind of be cool and knock on the door. Keep your enemies close.

There’s something about every character in this film that viewers can relate to. Did that stand out to you when you first got the script?

Yeah. I think that the writers, Andrew (J. Cohen) and Brendan (O’Brien), did such a great job at taking what could be kind of generic characters like a married couple with a baby — we’ve seen versions of that and we’ve seen frat boys. And it would have been easy to make them all just kind of one note, but they made them all really singular. You have Efron’s character, who on the surface is just like this alpha male party boy but as you scratch away the layers it’s like, oh, he’s scared. He’s very scared of what’s gonna happen to him in two months. And then you have Dave Franco’s character, who likes to have fun but underneath it all he’s very smart and he’s probably gonna be in politics. Do you know what I mean? So I think they’re really did a good job with that. My character, at first he’s just kind of like a divorced dips**t. But then you’re kind of like, “Oh no, he’s like a really damaged version of me.” So yeah, I think those guys did a great job at creating the base. And then I think Nick did a great job at casting and also giving us freedom to discover a lot of stuff on set.

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How did Jimmy evolve from the first time you read the script to the point where you were shooting the film?

Well at first when I read the script he really kind of seemed just angry. And I think the thing Nick Stoller wanted to make sure to layer in was not just anger but sadness with him. Nick was very hands-on with my wardrobe — all my clothes were incredibly torn and stained and just like, you know, you’ve seen the character in movies where the guy gets divorced and he’s hooking up every night and he’s got a bachelor pad. But this is another aspect of it where it’s like, “Oh, I’m living in this insanely sad studio apartment and I’m really lonely.” So I think it was kind of just creating layers for him and making him not your angry guy but also sad.

He’s kind of romantic in his own twisted way with his ex-wife.

Yeah, he is. He loves her very much and definitely is trying to overcompensate for the fact that she’s gone. But yeah, they still are very much in love.

[related article: Interview with Christopher Mintz-Plasse about Neighbors]

I read a quote from Evan Goldberg in which he said that you blew him away on the day you came in for your audition. What do you remember about that day and what you did?

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I remember coming in and being really excited. I had known Seth because we had met when he did Eastbound and Down and also he had done an episode of The Mindy Project. I’d never met Evan or Nick and I’m a huge fan of both of them. I remember getting there and I did a good job of preparing when I got there and they were like, “Hey, we have totally new sides (pages) for you to read. I’m really sorry.” So I remember there were some pretty different scenes than I had been rehearsing. So right away I read them and I thought okay, I’ve got a handle on this. And very quickly I started improvising with Seth and just playing Jimmy, very vulnerable and damaged but at the same time aggressive about it. I just started getting really big laughs in the room. And I remember Adam at one point after I had done my first two scenes, he was like, “You should just leave now. (laughs) The going’s good, just leave now.” And I left the thing very happy. Still not expecting that I would be in the movie but, you know, it was good.

How did the improvisation process develop on the set?

We had such a great base with the script that a lot of it was there. And the way you do it is you get there and you do the scripted lines as tightly as possible two or three times. And then you kind of start deviating a little bit and going into different areas and improvise. And then Nick and Seth have that kind of whole Apatowian feeling where it’s like oh, some friends of ours are on set today and we’re going to just throw crazy lines at you. So you’re just having to kind of work on the fly, but they’re very supportive and really love moving into crazy areas.

Is it easy to bring other actors into that who maybe don’t have an improv or comedy background?

You know, at first I feel like an actor, like, say, Chris Messina on The Mindy Project who is not used to that crazy improv world, has some trepidation and at first is maybe like, “That’s not the way I kind of worked on it and I’ve done my job and I’ve rehearsed these lines perfectly.” But right away they kind of fold into it and accept it and love it. I mean there’s always gonna be actors that are like, “Yeah, I don’t work that way,” but I feel like great actors — ones that have comedic ability, understand that a big part of comedy is spontaneity and have the willingness and ability to work on the fly and adapt is what separates people like Chris Messina and Rose Byrne from other actors who aren’t as agile.

Have you seen the final cut of the movie and any scenes of yours not make it in?

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I have seen the final cut. They shot many hours of film and at the end of the day Nick’s correct theory is 90 minutes is a really good length for a comedy. You know, after that you’re pushing your luck with your audience. So a lot of kind of little weird tangents and little B-story points ended up just getting left on the floor because we just didn’t have time. I’m sure a lot of them will be in the Blu-ray and stuff. But there was a kind of subplot that was kind of a war between me and Chris Mintz-Plasse’s character. It’s still in the movie but it was a lot heavier when we shot it and it kind of culminated in this really grotesque three-way sex scene between me and his parents who were played by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman. It was so gross and so funny but it ended up just not making the cut because it was a little too off-story and too intense.

You are a relatively new parent and I guess maybe that’s something that you could relate to in the film. How has that maybe changed you a bit?

When we were shooting the film my wife was pregnant and there were scenes about the parents that I knew were funny because Seth and Rose were being funny, but it didn’t resonate as much with me. And now having a kid, a little 10-month-old baby, and going to the premiere with my wife there were scenes where we were like, “Holy s**t, it’s like watching a documentary.” It’s like, “We’re gonna go to a cafe for one hour so I’m gonna pack two suitcases.” (Note: he’s referencing a scene where Rogen and Byrne are packing all kinds of gear to take their baby out) So I do feel like that’s a great thing. This movie, I think, really does appeal to young college kids who just like to get fucked up and party, but I also think it does appeal to those people who are 37-year-old parents that are like, “Okay, my baby just ate a condom. Obviously she’s going to die.” So I feel like they did a great job showing both sides of this coin.

Neighbors is in theaters now.

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