Stingy tippers, demanding customers, incestuous gossip-mongering and ritual humiliation - anyone who's experienced the vagaries of waiting tables will relate to the behind-the-scenes antics at ShenaniganZ, the all-too-familiar chain restaurant in Lions Gate Films' WAITING… For the talented cast of Rob McKittrick's comedy, playing a group of frustrated waiters was by no means a stretch. Like too many actors, many had already experienced the drill first-hand. HOME
"I waited at this chi-chi restaurant in Connecticut and I hated every minute of it," admits Justin Long, who plays Dean, a frustrated waiter who's running out of patience with his job. "I was such a terrible waiter that it's ironic I'm playing a good one in WAITING… I really can't relate to that at all."
"When I was in college, I worked at a retirement home restaurant," remembers Anna Faris. "I got $5.70 an hour with no tips, and I had to do weird things like clean out the buttermilk refrigerator. Those old people love their buttermilk."
"The only restaurant I work in is my own kitchen," announces Luis Guzman. "I can cook anything. And I do not drop steaks on the floor and put them back on the plate."
Faris confesses that she once "went to work stoned" in order to make her boring job more entertaining. "I took an entire order from four people and when I got back to the kitchen, I looked at my pad and I had just written down scribbles," she says. "I had no idea what anyone ordered, and I just broke into this cold sweat. I think I quit right after that."
It should come as no surprise that writer/director Rob McKittrick was once just like one of his lost characters in WAITING… He worked for years in an Orlando, Florida restaurant much like ShenaniganZ, and his experience there provided the basis for the film.
"I was 23 years old. All I had was a community college degree, and I was basically shaping up to be a loser," remembers McKittrick. "But after working at a few different restaurants, I realized that the same types kept showing up: the hostess everyone wanted to sleep with, the asshole manager, the burnt-out waitress. I started to see the possibilities of turning that world into a script."
Admiring films like CLERKS and DAZED AND CONFUSED, McKittrick wrote the script for WAITING… with the intention of shooting it on an ultra low budget. He partnered up with a local producer he met while waiting tables, scraped together approximately $20,000 and started planning his production. But Hollywood came calling - and McKittrick began a long process of waiting himself.
"I sent the script to anyone and everyone who would read it, and met with anyone who seemed remotely interested," including a meeting with a local Orlando producer who had space on the Universal Orlando lot. He says the meeting "went horribly;" but on his way out of the office, his partner began flirting with the receptionist. This receptionist went to High School with Jeff Balis (Project Greenlight), so she sent him the script and got the interest of Chris Moore's production company. Eventually, McKittrick landed an agent, and his script was optioned by Artisan Entertainment. For two years, the film languished in development, only to be subsequently mired in the legal fall-out of Artisan's sale to Lions Gate Films.
Now, seven years of waiting later, McKittrick has finally made his directorial debut with a cast that first-time directors only dream about. "This is probably the greatest cast of all time," says Ryan Reynolds, who plays Monty, a sarcastic waiter with no ambition. "You could look at any particular cast member and say they stole the movie. It's just an amazing ensemble, with no weak link. I don't think I've ever experienced that on a movie."
"One of the selling points of doing the movie was working with the cast that Rob got," says Long. "It always elevates your own game when you're around people like that. It makes you better."
Reynolds attached himself to WAITING… over three years ago when he was completing VAN WILDER. Since that film, Reynolds has emerged as a rising star, with memorable leading turns in BLADE:TRINITY and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR; yet he remained steadfastly committed to McKittrick's project throughout its lengthy development. "Ryan read the script and loved the role. And he stayed with it the whole time," says McKittrick. "I can't thank him enough."
"I spent three years working on this with Rob, and it was worth it," says Reynolds. "I think we made an amazing, amazing movie."
A lovable loser and an incorrigible smart-ass, Monty is a role that seems tailor-made for Ryan's gift for dry sarcasm. Even after seven years of anticipating Monty's on-screen incarnation, McKittrick was overwhelmed by Reynolds' performance. "Ryan is Monty," avows the director. "He'd either nail a line exactly the way I heard it in my mind, or he would make it far better than I had imagined. No small feat considering I had almost seven years to imagine it. He's the single easiest person to work with."
"Ryan is one of my most favorite people in the world. He's much nicer than Monty, but he does share that alpha-male personality," says Faris. "He just brings so much to a role, and he adds all these great, funny ad-libs. He's very professional. He works hard. It was really a pleasure to work with him."
Adds Long, "Ryan just brings natural comedic timing to everything he does. It's like the part was written for him. He underplays it perfectly."
Like Reynolds, Anna Faris read the script years ago and attached herself to the project on the basis of McKittrick's writing. "I thought the script was really raunchy but also really true, "she says. "I thought it was the kind of thing people would recognize and relate to."
Faris was originally cast as Amy, Dean's girlfriend, played in the film by Kaitlin Doubleday. But three years later, when the film was finally entering production, Faris convinced McKittrick to recast her as Serena. "I had been playing a string of really nice girls in that period," says Faris. "And I really wanted to play the sassy, rough girl and learn how to smoke."
"I wasn't sure at first, because Anna wasn't as known then, and none of us had seen her play that kind of part before," remembers McKittrick. "Then I saw LOST IN TRANSLATION and I was completely convinced. It seemed right to have her opposite Ryan, and she pulled it off expertly."
Known for comedic, scene-stealing character parts in films like DODGEBALL, Justin Long was initially skeptical about playing Dean, the quiet leading man with a heavy conscience. "I had to wear Justin down and convince him to do it," says McKittrick. "I'm glad I did, because he was perfect. Dean is a hard character to cast, because the part can feel too weighty. I wanted someone who was inherently likable and had comedic chops."
Caught in an early-life crisis, Dean knows his life is going nowhere but has yet to make the next leap forward. "He's in flux," says Long. "Everyone goes through that period in their lives, usually in their early 20s, when you've either left college or haven't gone at all, and you just don't know exactly what you want to do. Your life is up in the air. It's very relatable."
For Long, playing the straight man was a new experience, and it wasn't always easy. "I had to just step back," says Long. "I had to restrain myself and let other people do the spit takes and the tripping. Sometimes it was tough, passing it off to people." Adds Mckittrick: "He lived a tortured existence having to play the straight man surrounded by a bunch of scene-stealers. But ultimately his frustration came through in the character, so his loss was my gain. Hehe."
WAITING… has its share of gross-out gags, and the most memorable ones have to do with "The Game," a frat-house-style competition played by the guys in the restaurant. "If you flash another person your genitalia and they happen to be the unfortunate person to look at it, then you get to kick them in the ass," explains Reynolds. "It's dumb and disgusting and a whole lot of fun."
So much fun that soon the entire cast and crew were playing their own, off-camera version of The Game. "My eyes have been burned out and scarred for all time, because I've seen some terrible things," reports Reynolds. "It was like the Vietnam of genitalia."
"The Game introduces something new to American culture that we've been lacking," says Luis Guzman, who plays Raddimus, a cook who's also The Game's most enthusiastic participant.
"To be honest, I wasn't sure that the genital thing was going to play on screen," admits Long. "But then I saw Luis Guzman doing it, and I thought, 'Well that's it.' It's like instant comedy. Luis could read the phone book and it would be funny."
Guzman, who was McKittrick's first and only choice for the role, committed to the project the moment he read the script. "I'm thankful to Rob for writing this, and for allowing me to explore certain parts of the male anatomy," says Guzman. "Just make sure you have a brown paper bag next to you when you're watching the movie."
Production took place in New Orleans in only twenty-three days, a tight shoot which required McKittrick to be particularly organized. "We shot-listed everything, drew diagrams of camera moves and posted them for everyone to see. Everything had to be planned out or we would never have made it," says the director.
"Rob was incredibly prepared," says Faris. "He led us as a unit really well. We were a well-oiled machine."
"He was very abusive, verbally and physically," says Long, smiling. "Seriously, though, I was amazed by how Rob kept his cool throughout the shoot. He started out with this great energy, and I thought as we got closer to the end and the pressure mounted to stay on schedule that he'd get overwhelmed. But he was calm and in control the whole way."
Says Faris, "Sometimes it's hard to work with writer/directors because their vision for the film is so set in stone. But Rob was encouraging and so much more flexible. He was confident in his casting and had no doubt in his actors."
Despite the tight schedule, McKittrick still found time to have fun on set. During one scene involving the entire cast, he and Guzman feigned an intense fight over a line in the script. "We just kind of went crazy and ballistic on each other, yelling at each other," says Guzman. "Everybody was there listening and no one knew what to do."
"We bought it completely," says Faris. "We were staring at the ground. It went on and on. Everyone was starting to sweat. It was really, really awkward." The cast was in an uproar when they found out they had been punk'd. "All our reactions were caught on video," says Faris. "We must have played the scene back fifteen times."
The prank was the highlight of the shoot for Guzman. And the low point?
"Meeting Rob," says Guzman. "I was really disappointed. I thought I was going to meet someone who was well dressed and groomed nice. He looked like a caterer's assistant. I think he wore the same pair of socks every day."
"McKittrick is a narcissistic, balding, overweight genius," adds Long.
When McKittrick hears these affectionate jabs, he only smiles, as he's clearly used to this kind of ribbing from his cast. "Justin said that about me? I guess he's finally trying to get the laughs that he never got on set. That's cute."
By all reports, the fun continued long after each day's work was over, with the cast and crew taking full advantage of the New Orleans nightlife. "It was one of the best times I've had on location. And I'm really not bullshitting," says Faris. "It felt like adult summer camp. Though sometimes I felt like the grandma of the group."
"The experience on set really was like the bonds you forge working at a restaurant. You're all in it together, " says McKittrick, who's overwhelmingly pleased to have his project see fruition after so much time and effort. "Truthfully, no one looks back at waiting tables more fondly than me. After all, it gave me a career."