In 2007, Seth Gordon made King Of Kong, a documentary following one man’s attempt to etch his name in the record books by scoring big on the videogame Donkey Kong. It remains one of the most entertaining and heartfelt documentaries around, and for that reason, anything Gordon lends his talent to is worth a look, especially when it’s got Jason Bateman in it.
His latest, Horrible Bosses, has Bateman and a whole roster of comedic and acting chops lined up behind him, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx. The film’s so spoiled by talent it can afford to kill off Donald Sutherland after five minutes. It’s also brought him to England to do the promotional thing, which is how I ended up sitting in a hotel room with him for ten minutes earlier this week.
In person, he’s so laid back that I can’t tell whether it’s the combination of jet lag and a morning’s worth of press duties keeping him quiet, or if it’s his natural state of being. Although he does describe everyone he likes as ‘amazing’, making him sound more teenager than Hollywood filmmaker, and endearingly so.
Here’s what he had to say about working with that cast, why it’s good to make films that Vince Vaughan likes, and how he’d keep a game of tic-tac-toe in his War Games remake.
The film’s refreshingly coarse. Was that always on paper? Was that something the studio always wanted when you came on?
Yeah. I mean, there’s a character named Motherfucker Jones. There’s just not a hell of a lot you can do. It’s a really R-rated movie, especially in the language and the themes. There’s not a bunch of nudity and blood and guts, or anything, but there’s pretty advanced humour and dark, edgy stuff.
Is that easier now, then? Bridesmaids has just come out, we’ve had The Hangover. Are studios more open to that kind of thing?
It may not be fashionable to say, but I think The Hangover‘ssuccess paved the way for all of us right now. I don’t think those films would have gotten the kind of support they got if it weren’t for the amazing success of The Hangover.
And you’ve got a great cast in here. I thought Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis were great as a double act in Going The Distance. Did you always want both of them?
Charlie was the very first person I offered a part to. I think Jennifer was second. I think it was like that. But Charlie’s amazing. And my only concern was that maybe Sudeikis, because he had just worked with him, might not want to work with him immediately after. But luckily he was interested. I think the part’s different enough and they’re a bigger part of this movie than they were in Going The Distance, so I think it worked out well.
But I’ve been trying to find something with Sudeikis since forever. He’s amazing. And then it was Bateman who- his reps had read it and they approached us and we were thrilled because I probably wouldn’t have initially pictured him in the role, because, frankly, he’s already a movie star. But it was like, “Yeah. Hell, yeah!” [laughs] “If he wants to do it, that’s great!”
And there seems to be a lot of that, people who’ve worked together before. Jennifer and Jason Bateman on The Switch. You’ve got Julie Bowen in here, whom you’ve worked with on Modern Family. Did it feel easy to work on the film? Or as easy as it can be?
Yeah, I thought so. If you look around at people’s full filmographies, a lot of actors have worked with each other before. You know, Bateman was also with Jamie Foxx in The Kingdom. There’s just a lot of cross pollination. And that definitely makes it easier. There’s an instant awareness of each other and awareness of timing that comes from that.
And a lot of them are writers, performers, directors in their own way. Jamie Foxx having done stand-up, Kevin Spacey the director, Charlie and Jason writing. Did that add any pressure?
Well, you can’t get away with anything, right? They’re so smart and so experienced. There’s no sneaking anything by, so I really had to do my homework, and luckily, I was ready.
And this seemed a bit closer in tone to King Of Kong, in the sense of the characters, where you have this film awareness and geekiness, in a way, referencing movies and videogames. Was that something that appealed to you?
Yeah, I think the other thing it really has in common with King Of Kong is a real antagonist. You know, we have pure antagonists in these roles, and that’s something, obviously, I think about a lot, whether I like it or not. Characterising the antagonist is something I’m really comfortable with. We tried to make three really different bad guys here, and I think it worked. And I think Kong is definitely part of why.
One of the TV shows you’ve been involved in is Community, which I think is one of the funniest, most film-savvy programmes out there. That kind of thing came into the film, I thought, with references to films like Snow Falling On Cedars and Throw Momma From The Train.
Yeah, yeah. The pop culture awareness in this film is a lot like what it is in Community, where they’re always having the reference and then the meta-reference on top of that. It’s sophisticated. It’s just good writing, for both this script and that show. Dan Harmon’s [the show’s creator] amazing.
And the film goes to some extreme levels. There’s a dream sequence in there, and you think, “Oh, okay, a dream sequence.” But it goes really far with it, and quite graphic.
Very fast, too.
Yeah, you think you see it coming, but it ups it a little bit. Were you trying to shock, or see what you could get away with?
I just like the idea of that thing, of moving that fast. If people have those moments of reverie, it does move quickly, and you’re like one thing to another, bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! And then you’re snapped back to reality. I think that’s just the funnest way to do those.
Do people still come up to you about King Of Kong? Because it’s one of those films where those that see it instantly love it.
I’d say, five to ten times a day. It’s just amazing the impact that movie had, given how we made it, you know? It was just me and a friend travelling round the country with a camera and a mic and a light. That’s how we did almost all that movie. That it’s had any kind of lasting impact, cultural or otherwise, is just amazing.
And after that, did studios come to you and say, “We want you for this?” Or was it still a struggle to get your next project off the ground?
No, Vince Vaughn saw King Of Kong and he opened the door for me to Hollywood, really. Some other places were interested in me being a director, but Vince just has a kind of power and a kind of force that he can just make it happen. And he did. And that was Four Christmases, and that’s how I got situated in narrative feature filmmaking.
Do you see yourself staying here now, then?
Absolutely. The blunt economic truth is that you can’t make a living- and I’ve got a family. I just can’t. If I just did documentary, I couldn’t feed anybody. [laughs] So, it’s got to be a little bit of both. Documentary’s much closer to my heart. I’d rather do that. But you can’t- It’s not really an option to have that be the only thing.
The two things you’re probably getting a lot of questions on right now are two films you’ve got in development, a King Of Kong remake and a War Games remake. Is there one of those that you think will come first?
Well, War Games isn’t a script yet, so it will come second [laughs] no matter what comes first. Kong‘s, well, the script that came in a month ago that was too long is a terrific script. It’s just a matter of shortening it and finding out if the studio has an appetite for it. Obviously, that’s a great story, and I think telling that story with actors would be really fun. So, who knows? [laughs] I don’t write the cheques, you know?
Would you want to work on that yourself? Would you want to direct it?
I don’t know. I mean, I love the script that was written and so that’s really an important piece, obviously. Without that you’ve got nothing. And so that’s really compelling. I could see doing it, but I think a determining factor is really if the studio can see doing it. There’s no point in asking any other questions until that’s a yes.
And on War Games, that’s a different type of film. People from my generation grew up on that. And Project X, actually. Are you tempted by a remake of that at all?
I haven’t heard that brought up since it first came out. The Rise Of Planet Of The Apes probably steals the thunder there.
Or it could snowball after that. We could have a lot of monkey films.
There could be, there could be. [laughs]
But on War Games, a lot of people will still love the original and perhaps think that this remake’s got to have a game of tic-tac-toe at the end. Would you follow online forums? What’s your feeling about that kind of thing?
I definitely wouldn’t seek anyone’s advice on that. But my instinct would be tic-tac-toe would be earlier in the film. Because I feel there was a message in that film that suited 1983, but if that was the message of this film, people would fall asleep. I just think we’re beyond that. So, I think tic-tac-toe was a great metaphor, but maybe in act one.
And it’s still relevant now. There are big hacking events all over. Sony the other month and we’ve just had a group breaking into The Sun’s website.
Oh, daily. And there’s so much more than gets reported in the press. The stuff that’s been hacked in the government and the military, it’s truly unsettling.
Seth Gordon, thank you very much.