Interview: Hot Tub Time Machine director Steve Pink!
A long time ago, Steve Pink collaborated with John Cusack to bring us classic films like HIGH FIDELITY and GROSSE POINTE BLANK. You wouldn’t think that a time traveling hot tub would be the thing to bring them back together, but here we are, and as absurd as the concept sounds, they’ve combined to make a rather intelligent, low-brow comedy, if that makes any sense.
Most recently Pink was responsible for ACCEPTED, a college comedy with a heart, but in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, the jokes get taken to a new level, and the film is being called by most of those who have seen it, BACK TO THE FUTURE meets the HANGOVER, two movies it’s definitely worthwhile to be associated with.
Pink was very chatty with us at the HOT TUB junket in Lake Tahoe, and seemed genuinely interested in feedback about the movie. He shared with us how he balanced crassness with sweetness and even took a second to speculate on a possible sequel, should the film find itself an accepting audience upon its release.
What came first, the title or the concept?
I’d have to ask Josh Heald, the writer. I think probably when he said “Hot Tub Time Machine” it all kind of happened at once. I kind of remember him saying he was thinking Hot Tub Time Machine, and then, where would you go back to in hot tubs, in the 80s? I think it did kind of come as one idea.
Was it always the 80s, or did you possibly ever consider any other times?
I think so, Josh wrote the script before I was involved, but I’m only thinking it was the 80s because its Hot Tub Time Machine as opposed to “Black Limo Time Machine” or “Woodstock Time Machine” or I don’t know, hot tubs seem uniquely 80s in a way, I guess. Although they’re kind of 70s too.
How many 80s references did you want to put into the movie that didn’t make it?
I was trying to stuff that goose all the time, you know what I mean? Because there’s so many references, and dealing with the amount of references and what references are important to various cultures and subcultures of the 80s was difficult because you know, there’s the whole metal cultural influence right? So that’s a whole different thing then say New Wave kind of stuff, and also dealing with that like not everyone looked like a New Wave tragedy. Fashion has a broad spectrum of looks, and then there was music and hair and then the actual cultural references whether it was politics or entertainment or that kind of stuff. It was an embarrassment of riches, but also frustrating, because I wanted to figure out how most effectively deliver as many references as possible that would have some relevance to somebody.
Was it so deep that you would think “I want to shoot a certain type of style when I’m in the 80s”?
In terms of color for sure, I mean it’s much greener, darker, and de-saturated before they go back. It’s something you may or may not notice depending on what print you see. [In the 80s] it’s brighter, things pop more, it’s much warmer. But mainly you’re just trying to make it funny. I’m shooting to make sure the laughs are there and you’re cutting for comedy, which is the main thing.
Talking about comedy, there’s a comedic line with these raunchy films where some of them go over. There’s a couple parts in the movie where it’s like “It’s gonna go there, it’s gonna go there!” and then it gets pulled back in. Can you talk about not crossing that line?
Well, I have no idea where the line is. [Laughing] I don’t know. Sometimes there were things that I was like “Holy…Jesus…good God what are we doing?” I don’t know where the line is really. The whole soap face thing, I was like “geez, come on really?” but then I realized that like, the Something About Mary Poster, there’s cum in her hair. And that’s on the poster! So on the one hand I was like, we’re irresponsible crass assholes who are just trying to force the audience into being upset or outraged by our ridiculous comedy offerings. But there is this line in this kind of stuff, and I mean people like…spooge jokes. For me I would say, as long as you care enough about the characters and the stakes of the circumstances at least a little bit, then all that crazy over the top shit doesn’t become the focus of the movie. It only becomes the focus of the movie when you’re exploiting those ideas.
If everything is in service of the raunch and crudeness and crassness and frivolity, then the movie’s not as funny either. It’s just like “ehh you’re trying to get a reaction out of me.” So I tried to make the characters really authentic, and those are really authentic guys, the characters they play and the actors themselves. To me, they seem like legit guys where however ridiculous their circumstances are, seem sincere in some way. So that helps balance the absolute the ridiculous material in the movie.
Most people wouldn’t have though this is the type of movie John Cusack would do, like on his resume there aren’t these particular types of comedies.Did he get involved first, or did you?
He invited me to this particular party.
Do you know what got him excited about it?
I’m sure one night of boozing. [Laughing] He’s drinking, he might have been helicopter skiing somewhere and wakes up and his agent calls is like “did you read that script, Hot Tub Time Machine, and John is like “Yeah I read it! Of fucking course I read it, I’m a professional!” “You want to do it?” “Yeah I want to do it! What are you trying to say man? I wouldn’t do that kind of movie?”
You want a serious answer? I think it is actually the kind of movie he would do. Because at least, to the extent that we are, aware of the absolute ridiculousness of the premise, and without undermining everything in the movie, we can say we know how stupid this is, and the characters can say, we’re trapped in these circumstances and these circumstances are really dumb. I think it is a kind of John Cusack movie. John has always been able to deliver a darkly comic view of the world. He’s always been good at trying to manage the insanity. Like in Grosse Pointe Blank he does it really well, he’s the assassin, but he’s trying to manage all this stuff that’s going on around him. High Fidelity, same thing.
How’d you decide on [Karate Kid’s] Will Zabaka, from out of all the 80s villains you could have gone with?
Cause he fucking rocks, cause he’s the best. He’s the king, he’s number one! If it was an NBA movie would I have gotten Hakeem Olajuwon or would I have gotten Michael Jordan?
Was there anyone else you considered?
It was only about Zabka, because he’s just my favorite. I didn’t want to call attention to him being those characters, and he was concerned about that too, he was like “I don’t want to just be the guys I was in the 80s.” I could have had him come in and play exactly the Karate Kid dude, but to me it’s much more enjoyable this way and then people just know it's William Zabka.
Did you guys talk on the set at all about any ideas for a sequel?
Well it’s kind of superstitious to do that, because then you’re just a hack. I mean, we tried not to, but just riffing what I would do? I would say what’s up next, I would love to do what they did in Bill and Ted, like multiple centuries. Let’s have them jump in, be in fucking medieval times, jump in, be in the American Revolution.
[Craig Robinson walks in]
CR: Yo, get out of here, it’s our turn. [Laughter]
SP: Just a few more minutes, they have more questions!
CR: Nah Steve, you’re done.