Set Visit: Keeping Up with the Joneses with Zach Galifianakis and Jon Hamm
Humidity is a given in Atlanta, Georgia, but thanks to the warehouse-turned-makeshift set for KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES, I now know what microwaved popcorn feels like. I quickly attribute this to the fact that no building can contain Jon Hamm's massive charisma and continue my tour. It's not something you really think about when watching a film, but not every indoor scene you see is shot within a state-of-the-art, air-conditioned sound stage. The on-set guide leads me through a maze of props and carpentry until we finally board a ramp that takes us onto the set proper. I'm now walking through a hotel hallway, lined with stunt doubles, production crew and other equipment. 18 turns later and we're in the main suite, where today's action is taking place.
The set of the Odyssey Hotel Suite looks about as lavish and expansive as you'd expect given the Greek moniker. This is the temporary home for the villain of the film, referred to as The Scorpion. My vantage point is from a dining area off to the side that's now littered with monitors, crew and their various equipment. Filming begins and I notice that two of the film's stars, Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher, are seated in the living room with their backs pointed my way. Fantastic! Just as well, as their coverage has already been shot. They are surrounded by henchmen in black and in front of them stands the actor portraying The Scorpion (a surprise for the time being). As the scene begins, the two have just been captured and now The Scorpion is reveling in his monologue, as most villains do. My mind wanders towards the henchman who wait patiently nearby with weapons at the ready. I can't imagine many henchman are in the habit of saying, "No," to their bosses when they really should. How many of these scenes in cinema could we be spared if only they stood up to their employers and weren't a bunch of "yes" men? I digress. After all, if The Scorpion wasn't so busy monologue-ing, he may have noticed Isla's character hiding a knife behind her back.
The villain's name is revealed to be Bruce Springstein (you can probably work out the "Boss" joke on your own). The Scorpion then brings out Galifianakis' character's "cohorts". Sadly he did not say, "Get over here!" More henchmen march into the room with Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot in tow. If you ever wanted to know what Archer would look like in the flesh, he is probably as close as you're gonna get. The duo sport black gear. Hamm with an empty gun holster at his side and Gadot with black mesh down the sides of her arms and legs. The magnitude of their combined sex appeal has raised the temperature of the room by about 20 degrees.
The Scorpion threatens to kill both Gailifianakis and Fisher, but not before a roughed-up Hamm steps forward and pleads with him to let them both go. In a panic, Galifiankis dives to the floor with Fisher, trying to protect her. Isla manages to get up (knife still hidden) and makes her way over to Gadot. Gadot looks confused for a moment, but her eyes only widen as Isla steps forward and . . . well, let's just say that words don't do it justice. After the distraction, Fisher passes the knife into Gadot's hand. Without hesitation, Gadot dips Fisher back and throws the knife into the henchman across from her. The scene cuts one moment before all hell is about to break loose.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES follows an ordinary suburban couple (Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher) as they find that t’s not easy to (you guessed it) keep up with the Joneses (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot) – their impossibly gorgeous and ultra-sophisticated new neighbors – especially when they discover that Mr. and Mrs. “Jones” are covert operatives. This is the type of film where the cast absolutely sells it, and I sat with anticipation to speak to our first cast member of the day, Zach Galifianakis. It's always interesting meeting a comedian, as most of the time you're used to seeing them, they're funny. They're on a mission to entertain because that's their job. Whether it be film, television or stand-up, comedians make a name for themselves by providing the laughs and generally not much else. Galifianakis has dabbled in drama, of course, but meeting the man in person was a welcome change of pace, as you'd be hard-pressed to find someone as nice and as respectful as he turned out to be.
Zach Galifianakis on his character in KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES:
It might be surprising but he's a bit goofy [laughs]. It's kind of a more subtle approach to comedy than your usual Hollywood affair, I hope. The character's just a really nice guy. He kind of has a guidance counselor mentality - nice, eager, wants to please everybody. Nice lovely wife and life and then they meet this couple that turns their life upside-down. The antics of two worlds coming together.
On working with Jon Hamm:
I've known Jon before Jon was Jon Hamm. He's a comedy guy - really funny. A lot of leading-type guys like that don't have humor. They think they do, but they don't. It's really frustrating because no one's ever gonna [say], "God, Zach does handsome really well!" He's funny like a comedian is funny, not like an actor is funny. Jon and I have a friendship that I think helps when you work together. I never thought I'd have such a cool friend. All my friends are just...just not cool!
Regarding the ratio of comedy to action:
For this one, I'd say...1% comedy [laughs]. It's a tricky balance, because you want to give action. I like the idea of this being more of a thriller than a comedy. [Comedy's] too hard! You run out of tricks! There's only so much a clown can do!
If the cast does a lot of ad-libbing or mostly sticks to the script:
We do both. You stick to the script to get the story points across, then you kinda get bored with that and you try to throw in your own jokes when you can. Sometimes it's not even to be in the movie. It's hot in there and to do a funny scene in 90-degree [heat]...no one's gonna laugh. It shouldn't all be business. That's boring.
On his experience with BIRDMAN and its affect on the future of cinema:
I thought it was going to be the end of superhero movies! I think it just magnified them! That director [Alejandro Inarritu] is going to be so fun to watch - [to see] what he has for the future. He is a filmmaker that I think is trying to tell people, 'There's so many other ways to tell stories!' Movies are very 'the same' and Alejandro is fighting that. I hope the movie industry takes that away. There's a lot of stories to be told. It doesn't have to be all big and explosives and guns and super heroes. KRAMER VS. KRAMER would never be made right now! I'm 45. I'm not liking the super heroes, but that's just me.
Most of us have seen Jon Hamm in AMC's Mad Men, and indeed he does look like the product of another era. You get a sense that he would have been leading man material in the 1930s and 40s among the likes of Cary Grant. The charisma and cool just emanate so effortlessly from him. That's why I got such a kick out of discovering how f*cking funny he was. Sitting down at the press table, Hamm acknowledged that he looked like Archer, and then continued to mumble his way through his best H. Jon Benjamin impression ("Lana!!!") before acknowledging that he did provide his voice for an epiosde of the show. Everyone at the table was grinning ear to ear at this point. Hamm not only broke the ice, but he melted it down and made margaritas with it.
Jon Hamm on the film's action:
It's fun, actually. It's the fun kind of action because it's funny. It's not so overly earnest. It's a good group of people, so that part - apart from being the most innocuous quote ever - it's the fun part of making movies. Being as ill-informed on action sequences as I am, I know how incredibly taxing they must be to people who actually do that for a living, but man-oh-man, it's been fun.
On working with the cast:
I've known Zach for almost 15 years now and really wanted to do something NOT on the internet with him. This came up and it was just a great fit. I've worked with [Greg Mottola] before and he's such a wonderful guy and a great director. It seemed to coalesce into this serendipitous experience. It's really great -really fun - it's one of the reasons why I jumped at the chance to work with [Zach] because I thought that we could be very funny together. When I did Between Two Ferns it was very early on in the Mad Men thing and I don't think that people A) Knew who I was B) Cared or C) Kind of thought that the guy from Mad Men would be funny. I had a blast. We shot 90 minutes that we culled down to 2 1/2 and it was fun. When I saw the group they were assembling for this movie, it was definitely one of things that I sparked to. Value added, so to speak. Greg has been remarkably effective at bringing that kind of humanity to all of his films. Even within whatever genre he happens to be working in.
Regarding his spy character:
There's certainly a straight man function to it - obviously when you're in a frame with Zach [Galifianakis] - but there's been ample opportunities to play and be fun. That's one of the things that drew me to it. My character's NOT just this straight-laced action figure. He has a sense of humor and as we find out in the movie, he's sort of a reluctant spy. He's really good at his job, he just doesn't really like it because it's not fulfilling to him. That was the place we jumped off with this character. He's the reluctant action hero. That was the spice that stirred the soup for me, anyway.
Regarding the level of improv used for the humor of the film:
It is very scripted. We're not just making stuff up as we go along although there has been a fair amount of improv. As a screenwriter you write something down, you think 'okay, it's the bad guy's lair. What's in the lair?' On the day you go, 'Oh! There's all these fun things to f*ck around with! What can we actually do with this? ' Everyone has been pretty good at really being present and saying, 'Well, that's something we can do.' Greg has been super amiable to that.
Whether or not he would take part in a comic book film:
I really do think it just depends on the material. I've been...I don't want to say "misquoted" because it's things that I've said, but "misconstrued" is maybe a better way to put it. I love a lot of those movies and I don't like a lot of those movies. I think that's a fair assessment of a lot of those movies because there are a lot of them now! Some are good and some aren't as good. I guess what you hope is that everybody is learning and taking the good parts of the genre and building on that, and I think that's how you get the movies that we hold up now as excellent examples of the genre. If the right thing came down the way and it was something that I could get my head around - coming up with a take on - that I felt like I could spend a decade of my life giving over to, which is what you have to do, and attend in other movies that you have to be in. I think it's genius what they've done. I really do. We have one of the biggest comic book nerds in the world on-set today and I was going toe-to-toe with him talking about stuff because it's what I read growing up.
Regarding the comics that influenced him:
The ones that really turned my head - I pulled 'em off newstands when I was in grade school and junior high - the ones that I think turned a lot of people's heads. The Frank Miller stuff with Elektra Assassin and the Dark Knight and Bill Sienkiewicz and all of his crazy artwork that really elevated the genre. Those are the kinds of lessons that I think they're starting to translate into films, now. They're saying, 'Okay, it's not just straightforward action. It's not just straightforward good guys and bad guys and boobs up to here and crazy capes and superpowers.' It's the characters. It's how they're portrayed. How they're brought to life with some kind of artistry and elegance that can really elevate it.
I don't know if it comes off in just these interview tidbits, but I can't stress out charming and fun the cast of KEEPING UP THE JONESES is! Fortunately we also have the trailer so you can check out some of the film in action! Take a look at the teaser below and then CLICK HERE to check out part 2 of our set visit where I see some gun play on-set and speak with Isla Fisher and Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot!