Set Visit: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and more invite us to THE HOUSE!

As a viewer of the long running late night staple Saturday Night Live, it’s always great to see some of these talented folks continue to work together. Both Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell always brought a smile to my face back in their SNL days - even though they rarely did any skits together. Of course, they happen to be two of the biggest stars to come from that talented group. Funnily enough, even in feature films, they rarely work together. That is until now. In their latest, THE HOUSE, they play a husband and wife involved in starting an illegal casino in hopes to pay off the college education expenses for their daughter. This may not sound terribly funny, in fact many of you are fully aware of how expensive going to school can be, but I have a feeling there will be enough jokes and guffaws and plenty of R-rated language to satisfy fans of funny.

Near the end of 2015, we at JoBlo - along with a collection of other journos - were invited to visit the set of, what at the time was called the “Untitled Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler Comedy.” Although the second we arrived the title was obvious. Once we stepped inside THE HOUSE, it was an impressively gaudy realization of what someone would do to their home to create a working casino. There were slot machines, tables, and everything that you’d ever look for in Las Vegas, or wherever you prefer to gamble. We aren't talking one of those super classy joints in Vegas or Atlantic City, this is the bright and tacky place to gamble... and it looked amazing in person.

the house set visit will ferrell amy poehler jason mantzoukas brendan o'brien andrew j cohen comedy

The scene that we arrived to view involved Ferrell, Poehler and the very funny Jason Mantzoukas. The three have a few choice words for a customer they catch cheating. And as we all know, cheaters rarely prosper in a hard-R comedy. Watching both Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play pretend badass mutherf*ckers is a treat in itself so this was a blast to watch. If you check out the red band trailer for the film - you can find it above - you get a taste this particular scene. And yes, it actually gets bloody. We didn’t get to see the cut off finger bit on set however. Brutal.

In between watching a few takes, we were gathered together to chat with a few members of the cast and crew. This included Amy, Will and Jason, as well as writer/director Andrew J. Cohen and co-writer/producer Brendan O’Brien. Throughout the day the talent was pulled aside to talk about what we can expect from the duo who wrote NEIGHBORS. It didn’t take long watching filming to realize that there was nothing PG-13 about this R-rated flick; that was pretty obvious once the talent got around to play. Like many comedies today, the three actors improvised a ton, each take adding a crude layer every single time. I can’t wait to see what of the insane dialogue we witnessed that makes the cut.

Once we had a solid glimpse of the shoot, the journalists in attendance gathered together to speak with Mr. Cohen. He filled us in on taking on another adults gone bad feature - he and O’Brien previously partnered together on NEIGHBORS, NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING and MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES. For his feature film directorial debut, he certainly brought in some of the funniest actors around for THE HOUSE.

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What was the perspective on creating these characters and THE HOUSE?

Well, it’s a movie about adults doing dumb things, sort of NEIGHBORS was fun in that way. Like where my writing partner and I were looking at our own lives and feeling old, and being like, well, you know who we hate, and we also kind of are jealous of? Twenty year olds! Because we want to be them, so this was from our lives as well, just in terms of asking ourselves how far would we go for our families and our children especially. You know, this is about a couple who can’t get their daughter into college, and I was doing like a scholar share fund for my kid, and I was like oh my God, imagine if I blow this. And so that’s what we’re faced with in this movie, they blow it, and then what do you do, like you still have to get them into school, right? And so, it’s the lengths you would go to as a parent, and then also, in high school I did play poker, like at my friend’s house - Todd Grammar’s basement. Pop the Wu-Tang and like drink beer and smoke weed and like just feel, I don’t know, we kind of got our kicks in the suburbs. Just whatever ways we knew how, and that was one of the ways. It started out, like I really wanted to do something about high school kids who gamble, but then after NEIGHBORS, it was like, adults are so much more fun to watch make mistakes, because they should know better.

On dealing with adults in this comedy and the level of issues they have compared to teens and college kids.

There is so much more at stake, you know what I mean, having a family, an 18 year old daughter. I think essentially this couple also is dealing with being afraid of next year, losing their kid. Once you have an empty nest, what the hell do you do with your kid gone? Is it enough with just two people, or do you need that third one? So, I don’t know. All of that in our stupid comedy with dick jokes and you know gambling, and vice and excitement.

When it came to bringing a sort of Walter White/Breaking Bad situation with good people doing bad things.

I feel like when you open the door to the dark side you let in some shady shit or you let out some shady shit. That definitely is part of the story is, because it definitely cracked me up, just like what would I do, or what would we do, trying to run this operation. I’m not like a shady person. You guys don’t seem like shady people, but I don’t know. What are you capable of? Even watching Walter White turn into Heisenberg, I’m like, I still don’t know that I would do that. I feel the way he does sometimes, but like, there’s, like normal people, I think, are nervous when you have to commit acts of violence or intimidation. I wanted them to really muster up the energy or the courage to pull the guy off the table, just because that’s how I feel normal people would be.

The cheater in the sequence that had been filming that particular day.

The cheater problem was definitely a purposeful, you know, similarity, in the movie CASINO, I would not act the way Robert De Niro does, at all. The comedy would come from everybody from the audience, hopefully being like, wait, that’s more like me than CASINO is. So, hopefully that’s the kind of humor that I think this movie is going for, and it feels like we’ve got it. It’s like the mundane aspects of suburbia, trying to mix that with a gangster movie and how that’s, you’re not gangsters. You’re still suburban parents. [laughter]

Why the pairing of Will and Amy worked so well.

One is their chemistry, you know, them together, and their natural friendship and love for each other. As people and performers, it is amazing to watch and be a part of. They weren’t in a lot of SNL sketches together, despite, in my mind, they’re like fused together in SNL. So, they were so excited, right out of the gate, just to… like first day, they were magic, you know. There was just something about this natural chemistry between people, that you can’t fake, and to put them in the cage together is just so much fun. It was written with both of their voices, so it really helps to, in the writing phase, have them. At least just like so you know what the joke is, and you know, what their strengths are as comedians, and then you try to play against that. You say, ok, well, what situation haven’t you seen that in, like putting Will in the state of fear is always fun, but how do you do it in a new way. [laughter] Will yelling is fun, but how do you get him to yell in a new way.

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On her character.

I play Kate Johansen. Will and I are a couple who are dealing with the fact that we thought we provided enough of a nest egg to send our daughter to college and then that gets taken away. So the movie is about a couple who decide to turn their house into a casino in the hopes that they can send their daughter to college.

When asked whether she’d ever do that.

In real life? Well, I’m not a big, I don’t know, it’s that fun structure of a couple putting themselves in harm’s way and like challenging themselves to see like what kind of lengths they would go for their kid, so I don’t know.

Is her character in on the joke? Or is she against opening a casino?

She’s kind of into it. What I like about the movie is that my character is not the one who is stopping the fun. Will and I just jump in pretty fast as a couple. The characters really like each other, which is also really nice to see. It’s a marriage that’s working and it’s a team that they kind of embolden each other along the way, so they both lose their minds together and separately. I was saying the other day that it’s a good example of, it’s never too late to make a bad decision with someone you love. 

On her history with Will.

We’ve been friends for a very long time, and when I started on SNL, Will was captain, you know, the retiring captain, and I watched him very closely. I love how he works. I like how he treats people. He’s the king. He’s the funniest, and so you know, I am, I enjoy being next to the king, it’s nice, yeah.

Which character gets the craziest?

We kind of both get to be crazy and we also get, like I said, the partnership in the movie is really sweet. I like that they are on each other’s side. They’re members of the same team, and it’s kind of what you need sometimes in life and comedy to take big risks and big chances. So they both act like maniacs, and it’s really fun to be that way with Will. I mean, I will never be taller or louder, and that is my cross to bear, but I can hide in more places [laughter] and jump out and surprise him.

Working with Jason Mantzoukas.

Jason and I have known each other, I would say almost longer - maybe 15 years or longer. We used to perform together at UCB, and he’s just, the cast assemble on this film, there’s a lot of UCB performers, Lennon Parham and Nick Kroll, and Jason Mantzoukas and Rob Huebel, so many that are speaking very similar language, comedy language, so there’s a lot of improvising. There’s a lot of, it’s really an incredibly funny cast, that feels like home. It feel familiar. It’s nice, and that kind of chemistry, you just kind of have it or you don’t, right away. Will and I definitely think the same things are funny. We really enjoy each other, and it’s part of the process when you’re making a big comedy like this. You have to enjoy it, and each other, or else you’re doing something wrong.

When asked whether she enjoys playing characters that have a bit of darkness to them.

I think so, yeah. I mean, it’s, I like the challenges if you’re doing, let’s say network comedy and you have to have parameters to work within. I like that. And then I also like being able to get down and dirty too. That’s fun. It’s kind of interesting just to figure out which type of, which type of sandwich are you making and get into whatever that is. Certainly, working in an animated film  where it was all about, you figure out how to create a character that’s likable, but not annoying. With this kind of film, you have the freedom to really, I don’t know if you’ll see any of it today, but we get pretty [laughter] pretty gross. That’s fun too. 

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On whether this character is different from some of his previous work.

I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s, if it’s radically different. I mean, I think it’s in the same family of a lot of things I’ve done. If anything, it’s fun, the one thing that is different is that Amy and I establish ourselves as the suburban family who is so proud of their relationship with each other and their relationship with their daughter, who is going off to college. Life is great, and then as we explore this premise, and we get deeper and deeper into the lie of what we’re doing. The dark side of both of use get to come out, so that’s kind of the fun turn that we basically kind of dissolve into De Niro and Sharon Stone from CASINO, yeah. So, that’s probably the different part. 

When it comes to having the “straight man” and why THE HOUSE doesn’t necessarily go there.

Probably the straightest character is really Ryan [Simpkins], who plays Alex, our daughter. She represents the audience a little bit, in the sense of trying to figure out what we’re up to, why we’re behaving so strangely. Yet even she gets to have fun by exploring, like my parents are disappearing late at night and not explaining their actions, then I’m going to do the same thing. For everyone, yeah, there was a moment, we were doing some scene, where I’m like oh my gosh, everyone in our town is crazy. This cast has brought such funny twists to each person, and it’s just nice to have such a big ensemble, with everyone getting to be funny. It’s a very idiosyncratic town of Fox Meadow, with kind of how weird everyone is, but yeah, you’re right. Everyone kind of gets to be funny in certain moments.

How he has developing a shorthand with his co-star.

Everyone just kind of assumed we’ve worked together before, and we overlapped a little bit on the show. We were laughing because I think we were on SNL two years together, and it wasn’t until the second half of my last season when we realized we’d never written a sketch together. So we finally wrote a sketch. We only wrote one sketch together, and I think because everyone wanted to cast Amy in their thing, and I got cast a lot, we were always kind of separate sometimes. And then we have Blades of Glory, which once again, we were two different storylines, and really didn’t do scenes together so much. So this has been the first time we’ve gotten to really be one on one and be a team together, and it’s been great. I mean, just from knowing her, we immediately had a shorthand from day one of filming, and I think just being comfortable, being around each other, leads you to believe that we really are a couple and that we kind of have each other’s back, which is kind of the one of the fun things about this movie.  Despite the high concept, and the funny premise, it’s really about this couple who is going on this misguided adventure together. Despite how maybe [it is] the total wrong decision, but they have each other’s back, and you know, it’s really about them kind of rediscovering why they like each other so much in their marriage. To get to that place on screen, it was totally beneficial that we know each other that well, and have wanted to work together for a long time.

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Who is Frank?

Well, you know, I don’t know how much you guys know, but the movie is essentially is, Will and Amy have lost their daughter’s college fund. I am their degenerate gambler friend, who kind of comes up with this scheme for them to all make money, which is to open a casino in his house, because his wife has left him. He has no furniture. He has nothing in there anyway, so why not turn it into an underground casino. And so, I’m like the kind of that terrible, bad idea friend that everybody has, and it’s just they’re susceptible enough to the situation they’re in, so that they listen to him, which is, of course, a huge mistake.

How is the characters relationship different with both Amy and Will seperately?

The way it’s set up is he’s old friends with both of them, so it’s pretty consistently, Frank is a mess, you know, a disaster, a person in front of both. The difference is that Will’s character is a lot more sympathetic to Frank, and Frank’s situation and Amy is a lot more, Amy’s character is a lot more kind of sharp with him. This creates a funny dynamic, where Will’s character is always apologizing for Frank’s bad behavior, and Amy is always calling him out on it, so it becomes a very funny kind of, almost familial dynamic between the three of them.

Considering the subject of financial concern affects most people, how heightened is the humor and how did they deal with the seriousness of it?

I wouldn’t say too heightened. What I like about this movie and what I think is also true about Andrew and Brendan’s NEIGHBORS movie and stuff is that it really, truly is circumstantially something that I believe would happen. You know, a frat would move next to a young couple, they’d be miserable. I get it. It might escalate to insane proportions, and that happens here too, but nothing so far as to be insane. Comedically there are some beats that are pretty extreme, that you’re like oh my God, I can’t believe it went there, but I think each of those is still within the context of suburban America, small town, small town people who all know each other, all of that kind of stuff, so yeah.

Is there a sense of trying to one-up each other when it comes to the improvisation?

Not that we’re necessarily trying to one-up each other as we’re always trying to find funny bits, either for ourselves or for each other, like heighten beats, find more specific versions of lines that might be generic. I think a lot of times, improvising comes out of, if something is a little general, you can maybe hone it and make it a little bit more specific, and in specificity find something funny. I think we’re always trying to. I don’t think we’re ever trying to one-up each other, but I definitely think we’re always trying to make each other laugh, which is a real triumph. If you can crack up your people in a scene, like that, I think it’s a moment where everybody can go, oh, that’s funny. 

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On the concept and the origin of THE HOUSE.

It originated from, you know, Andrew and I grew up in the same town, and we spent a lot of times in high school, gambling in our friends’ basements. And we sort of got interested in the idea of doing a suburban crime movie, like a movie set in the suburbs about good people that kind of end up opening the door to the dark side and like all the implications that come with it when you make one crazy decision, and yeah, then it just kind of turned into it being about a couple trying to get their daughter into college. We thought that was a good jumping off point for people to end up doing really insane stuff. We got really interested in the idea of parents who were like really, really good parents, but maybe their whole identity is wrapped up in being parents and before their child goes off to college, they kind of need to reconnect with each other, and figure out the next chapter of their life is going to be. I don’t know, that’s kind of a long way to answer, but yeah, that was sort of the genesis of the idea, just because we like movies that are emotionally grounded about real people, but that end up just going to the craziest place possible. That’s what hopefully this movie is going to be.

What made Amy and Will the voices for these characters?

I mean, the simple answer is that they’re the two funniest people in the world. And I mean, I don’t say that like glibly. They really are two of the funniest people alive, and Will was always the guy we were thinking for the husband. One, he’s insanely funny, but two, you really believe him as a father, and you believe him as somebody who would care about his daughter and want to help the daughter. Then when we started  thinking about him and Amy together, it just got us so excited, because they obviously both were on SNL, but we’ve never really seen them kind of do anything in a big way together. The minute we saw them work together and hang out together, we kind of could tell that they just had so much respect for each other and liked each other so much, and that was the big thing that we really wanted. We didn’t want it to be a married couple going through some sort of malaise, necessarily, like they like each other, they love each other. They’re just sort of dealing with this very relatable thing of what happens next year when our kid is gone and it’s just back to us, and seeing how playful they were with each other and how much they really get a kick out of each other in real life, made it so much easier to write the script around them.

Are you trying to not follow the stereotype of having one character that is a buzzkill?

I mean, I think it really just comes from our own lives. Andrew and I are not the kind of guys who sneak out of the house to go play poker with our buddies, you know what I mean? We hang out with our wives. Our wives are kind of like the coconspirators in our lives, and we sort of share everything with them, and if we had major problem, we wouldn't be going behind their backs to solve it. We would need their help, because they’re way smarter than us, and you know, have way better ideas than us. NEIGHBORS definitely sort of helped make that very clear, how much the audience loved when Rose and Seth were on the same team. And with this movie, it was an even easier thing to figure out, just because it’s their daughter they’re trying to help and to kind of shut the wife out of it seemed kind of boring. Then also, you wouldn’t cast Amy Poehler, and then not have her in every scene that you can. And they’re so funny together. I think that hopefully that’s the place that we’re leading in a general kind of comedy sense. I think everyone knows that women are just as funny as men and there are some insanely funny female comedians and we have a ton in this movie, you know, like Lennon Parham is amazing and Jillian Vigman. [We have] so many funny people that we have in the movie, so we’re really psyched about it.

How often do Will and Amy inspire a script change?

All the time, yeah, that’s the genius of having really, really funny people. They make everything better and then we get to look smart by having them around. Yeah, it’s fully the most open collaborative process we can imagine, and that goes for everybody. The best idea wins and we hire people, bring people aboard that are really smart and funny. So, we don’t see the point in telling them, you know, do it exactly this way. Just let them kind of bring their own thing to it.

How hard of an R are we looking at?

I mean, it’s going to be hard R. You’ve got to earn your R, if you’re going to go for the R. You know, it’s funny. We do it like we do, did on NEIGHBORS. When we shoot it, we push it as far as we can, and then when we see the cut, we can dial it back based on kind of what we need. I don’t think the movie is vulgar or dirty for just it’s own sake. It is certainly is a movie for adults, but at the same time, we hope it has a sweetness about it, and it’s a good natured movie. It’s not, you know, like in a similar way, NEIGHBORS was. It was really crazy, but I think at the heart of it, it had something sweet at the core, and that’s what we’re trying to do here too.

THE HOUSE opens this coming June 30th at a theatre near you!

Source: JoBlo.com

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