Set Visit: Talking TAG w/Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson & Hannibal Buress!

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

While it has a ton of action and stunts that might seem out of the ordinary in a comedy, TAG's main strength will still be its ensemble. Boasting a cast of heavyweights like Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones and Hannibal Buress, the film is going to be have a heavy amount of improv and pitch-black humor, which was clear when I (and a handful of other journalists) visited the set last year. The scene being filmed involved Helms, Hamm and Johnson's characters bursting in on Buress' therapy session (his therapist is played by Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein), tagging him, and enlisting him to go tag their old friend Jerry (Renner), who has never been "it" throughout all the years they've played. A plethora of ad libs were unleashed by the stars, and during some of the breaks we got to talk to Helms, Hamm, Johnson and Buress about what we can expect from TAG. (Sadly, Renner wasn't on set that day, nor were Fisher, Jones or Annabelle Wallis, who plays a reporter working on a story about this bizarre tradition.)

The TAG synopsis:

One month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running in a no-holds-barred game of tag they’ve been playing since the first grade—risking their necks, their jobs and their relationships to take each other down with the battle cry “You’re It!” This year, the game coincides with the wedding of their only undefeated player, which should finally make him an easy target. But he knows they’re coming…and he’s ready. Based on a true story, “Tag” shows how far some guys will go to be the last man standing.


On his character Hoagie and the relationship he has with his on-screen wife, played by Isla Fisher:

Hoagie is very much the sort of cheerleader. Really, his whole MO is to keep the game going and keep it fun for everybody … there’s a reveal at the end of the movie that kind of makes it clear why there’s almost a sense of desperation for Hoagie to, for this to be an extra special, fun round of tag. He’s super sweet and well intentioned, he’s kinda the one that gets along with everybody … there’s some internal conflict but Hoagie is sorta the peacemaker. And Hoagie’s wife, played by Isla Fisher, is super funny because she’s not part of the game but she’s very much, like, she’s arguably the most intense player/supporter. So she’s always helping strategize and there’s sort of this fun dynamic where she’s like, she’s not part of the game, but she’s frustrated by Hoagie not being competitive enough. And we’re sort of a team and her character, Anna, is along with us for most of the stuff. She sorta drives a lot of the insanity too.

On the importance of "tagging" Jeremy Renner's character, Jerry:

Tt doesn’t end if we get him, but he’s just the one guy who literally has not been tagged in 30 years, so he’s kind of achieved this mythological status internally. And so it does become very much about teaming up to get Jerry. But he’s still just a player in the game and if we get him it just presumably carries on, but it has really kinda reached a fever pitch and Hoagie is driving this story point — that I don’t really want to get into — that makes it timely and critical that we get Jerry. And that’s what heightens the stakes for this round of tag. They play one month out of the year.

On the true story behind TAG:

I got this script and said this just seems ludicrous and, like, too silly to build a movie on, and then I saw – actually I watched the ESPN segment about the guys, and then read the Wall Street Journal article and to make that’s what makes it a makable movie. It’s like when we see a biopic about someone extraordinary — half the time those stories wouldn’t resonate if they weren’t real, because they’re too extraordinary or they’re too absurd or they’re too crazy in some way, and I think this falls into the category of something that’s a little too absurd to just make up and pull out of thin air, but because it’s based on real guys who really do this and really love it, and it’s something that’s kept their friendships afloat through 30 years of life and love and loss – that to me is what suddenly names it a really poignant, meaningful story to tell because it is out there, like, we are pulling from reality.

On the film's underlying message about friendship:

I think if we do this movie right, and I’m pretty confident that it’s going that way thus far, that people will watch the movie and it will have a very aspirational quality of like either, "I wish had something like that with my friends," or, "I’d like to start something like that with my friends," or, "Thank god I have something like this with my friends." It’s ultimately not about the game, it’s about the friendships, and staying together and finding ways to connect.

On the movie's dark humor and how TAG compares to THE HANGOVER:


There’s some stuff that is scripted that is super dark and weird, and sometime you discover things, but I think that’s part of what pushes the comedy envelope a little bit in this movie, and in some ways there’s some more truth to it – the inside jokes that people have, the things that are like OK within a friend group but probably aren’t OK to the general public. This whole experience on making this movie has been very evocative to me of that very first Hangover set. It became clear so quickly that, as much as that plot was like a freight train of story, that these guys loving each other and kind of bickering and also the support and the need to be together is what glued it together and made that movie work. And that they’re good guys. At the end of the day like as much crazy shit as they did – they’re horrified by it, they’re ashamed of it. But they’re good people. Even with all the crazy jokes that bubble up in this, I genuinely believe – I don’t ever question the integrity, the underlying love these guys have for one another.

Jon Hamm

On how his character is introduced:

He's being interviewed by this Wall Street Journal reporter, played by Annabelle Wallis, and this crazy thing happens, where Ed Helms runs into a board meeting and chases me around the table. Which I gathered actually happened also. The person was like, 'You want to explain what just happened there because that's really weird." And he's like, "Oh, I play tag with some friends of mine." For one one month of the year since we were nine. And the guy's like, 'Yeah, that's not normal.' So it's a good place for movie to start off. And I make the running joke throughout the movie they're writing arc on me. It's like no they're not. They're writing about the game. But my narcissism says that it's really about me.

On "taking the piss out of Don Draper":

It's you know it's a fun version of that guy to play. It's kind of taking the piss out of Don Draper a little bit. You know, this kind of very buttoned up guy that ends up getting in these crazy scrapes. But it's a pretty hard-action movie. I mean, there's heavy duty stuff that's that's real stunty and coordinated and ramped up and the camera and all this other stuff. So there's a really good sensibility of what they want it to be is an action comedy. But I think the fact that it's based on your story is gives it a little bit of a heart to it. It's not cynical. It's very adult but it's not cynical at all.

On what drew him to the role:

The cast is a big time part of it, and the story, which I think is really funny. I just thought it was a funny idea. You know when I tell people that it's sort of the beginning five minutes of the movie, they're like, 'Wait, that really happened?' It really happened. People really do this crazy shit. We've got a great cast of like-minded comics, people with similar comedic sensibilities. That's always a challenge to find that recipe, where one guy's not 'Oh he's the crazy one and he sticks out like crazy!' Between Ed, and Jake and myself and even Renner and Ilsa, and the whole gang, everyone's a similar side of the polygon. So there's not one side that juts out too far it kind of throws the recipe off.

On his character's relationships with the other guys:

The bur under my saddle is Jake's character because he's kind of the proto-stoner, and I'm kind of proto-businessman. That kind of creates friction in a delightful way. Ed [Helms] is the cheerleader of the guys, the one that motivates the whole thing. And he's the one that comes and tries to tag me the first time, and it ends up getting this reporter dragged along in the wake. And so yeah, that's probably true. Ed's wife played by Isla Fisher is another unrepentant fan of the game. She's just so gung-ho about it to the point where we have to be like, 'You got to calm down. Like you're causing a scene here, causing some trouble."

Jake Johnson

On his character:

My character is going through a divorce, he owns a weed dispensary in Denver, he's making good money on it, he's part of the boom, he wants marijuana to be legalized throughout despite what our attorney general might say. He loves playing tag with his buddies, and he's having some fun.

On what attracted him to the role:

I know Jeff Tomsic (director) and he said he was trying to put this thing together and the idea of a movie about a group of adults who play Tag seemed ridiculous, and how he wanted to shoot the action, and he wants to do the action sequences as if it's an action film. When they found out Renner was in it playing the “untouchable” one, and he was gonna play Jason Bourne-esque, I thought 'That's weird enough that with this ensemble, we'll see what we can do with it.

On the action sequences:

This movie feels like a bunch of scenes getting to the next big thing of Tag, because Renner's character has never been tagged is I guess the bit of it. So when we get close he out thinks us and out maneuvers us so he never gets touched. We're shooting stuff in slow motion, he's jumping through windows, he broke both his arms on the first day of shooting, so the stunts are actually kinda lit.

On the cast and improving:

It's fun, each scene has a totally different feeling. Isla Fisher is in the movie and she's adding a lot to it, and Annabelle Wallis, Leslie Bibb, Rashida Jones, it's actually quite an ensemble when we're all together. So these feel a little tonally different even though there's like five of us in there because every scene has about this many people in it doing coverage, it's fun. It's one of those movies that is really going to be on Tomsic in post because he's got a ton of options. So tonally what the movie will turn into…this is one of those movies that they'll find in editing because we're just shooting and giving options, options, options, and he's going to have to do a lot of work.

On who makes him laugh the most:

Everybody kinda, everybody's kinda swinging. Isla is the craziest. She will get mad if you print the word “crazy” but she makes me laugh really hard but everybody's really funny. I really wanted to do scenes with Rashida Jones for a long time so I didn't sign on until she had signed on, so when I saw the ensemble I really liked the ensemble, but her character was a little underwritten, as in a lot of female characters in these kinda movies where they're in for five days, and if you got the wrong female actress there is nothing to that part. So I kept talking about the part and then I realized, I don't want to pitch jokes and options for this character because I can't really write her. So I talked to Jeff and I said 'If you can get Rashida Jones…' and knowing how smart she is not just as an actress but as a writer, so then I started texting her and begging her. So she said it all worked in and when she came in, I came in. My character is obviously into the tag, that's the fun of the movie, that's the engine, but without that kind of love story in there, as an actor, I didn't see my way into the story until she was in it.

On the crazy stunts the film has:

Honestly it's the stunts. We did our first stuff in a church and we did all this stuff in there and the director goes into slow-mo on certain shots and it's really funny. It's just one of those devices that really works. When your character jumps into the air and you see every facial expression. We've done I think four big set pieces, so I personally think if people like the movie they'll like it because it's shot like an action movie but it's ridiculous, but you're still watching Jeremy Renner parkour up a wall and jump through a stained glass window. While there that's impressive. When you've done stunts in a movie you'll see either Jeremy or a real stunt guy is doing stuff. We were in the woods the other day and my character gets hit by a log, it's an awesome stunt, it's an action movie, but we're talking about tag so I think we'll either win or lose on that idea.

Hannibal Buress

On improving with his co-stars:

It’s fun. I mean everybody has been doing, you know, TV and movies for a while so they’re very experienced. So it’s always fun when somebody just says some stuff that they might have been doing something the same way a few takes and then they just switch up and you just try not to break up on camera. It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, most of the shit probably won’t even make it. Like I said, it makes for good bonus features.

On his character, Sable:

Sable is pretty much me, but his name is Sable. I’m not doing Daniel Day Lewis shit over here. It’s really just saying words. I mean he’s neurotic and he’s just a neurotic overthinking type of person that sounds a lot like Hannibal Buress.

On his favorite sequence to shoot:

The golf cart stuff. The golf cart chase scene was really fun just because we were in a pretty fast golf cart. I didn’t get to drive, but I would drive them in between takes and it was just really fun, you know, usually because if you’re filming something a lot of times set ups are kind of stagnant, whereas you’re just here and you might walk up two steps and say more words and then walk five steps and then you’re done. Where this was just we would kind of drive around the golf course like mad, it was chaos, not chaos but it was just exciting so that was as far as just filming it was the easiest day I think.

On his character being the "worst" at tag:

He’s apparently the worst at it, which is great because in real life I’m faster than everybody else. There was one scene where I got up and ran and Jake Johnson was like, “Oh shit I didn’t know.” I still have some athletic ability; I just don’t have the cardio to use it. So I can run really fast but I absolutely shouldn’t be. It takes some recovery time.


About the Author

Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.