The renewed popularity of the R-rated comedy over the past several years has been marked by performances from two men who play seemingly irredeemable characters you just can't help but root for. Bringing their complementary comic styles--withering commentary and acid tongue-lashings to meet bawdy humor mixed with countless sexual conquests--PAUL RUDD (Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and SEANN WILLIAM SCOTT (American Pie series, Old School) have joined for their first film together: Role Models.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
That's Not a Venti:Role Models is Developed
When producers Mary Parent and Scott Stuber were searching for the next film to add to their production company's growing collection of comedy hits, including The Break-Up and You, Me and Dupree, they came upon a story that writers Timothy Dowling and William Blake Herron had crafted about two guys who refused to grow up until they were forced into taking care of a couple of boys who needed their unique brand of guidance. They optioned the project with producer Luke Greenfield, but it would have to wait until Paul Rudd; Rudd's often writing partner, director David Wain; and Seann William Scott expressed interest in the film before it would take off.
The producers were long familiar with Scott and Rudd, as they had overseen the development of such Universal Pictures' comedy hits as the American Pie series (with Scott) and The 40-Year-Old Virgin (with Rudd) during Stuber and Parent's tenure as Universal's heads of production. Parent notes, "The subject matter in Role Models was great and a perfect fit for these two actors. We find four disparate characters who are thrown together against their will and who would never have thought that the others could be a catalyst for the changes they go through."
Stuber admits that what interested them in pursuing the film with Rudd and Scott was that the style of humor of both men couldn't be more different, or more complementary. While Scott is known for playing characters with raunchy humor and outrageous antics, Rudd's scene-stealing roles as the straight man with a very dry wit and acerbic attitude offered comic potential that meshed well with Scott's.
The producer states, "When we were at Universal, Mary and I worked on the American Pie series with Seann and The 40-Year-Old Virgin with Paul; we were big fans of both. The script for this film presented one of those great pairings that we knew, right away, would work for the two of these guys. We felt there would be real comedic value in what they would bring to the story."
After Rudd and Scott were committed to the film, the production team felt that they had found just the men to rework the script and adapt it to Rudd and Scott's sensibilities and timing. Along with director Wain and his fellow The State comedy troupe performer, Ken Marino, Rudd would develop the story of two immature energy drink salesmen who are, by nature, complete opposites, and, by default, best friends. Danny is cynical and a premature curmudgeon, while Wheeler loves the ladies and partying…responsibilities be damned.
Rudd explains the steps: "I read the script, and it was a work in progress. I thought the idea was very funny and that there were some good jokes in it, but it was in the process of being written and rewritten. I thought of going different ways with the two characters, and then the producers asked if I wanted to write it. I had worked with David Wain and Ken Marino before, and I liked their humor. So, David came in to direct it, and David, Ken and I worked on the script together."
The writing team developed the character of Danny as a man who is at a point in his life where he simply cracks, willing to openly berate a coffee shop barista on her company's choice of names for drink sizes. "He just can't deal with it anymore," Rudd explains. "Just the general things you deal with every day annoy him. It's to the point where he can't even brush it off his back when people say '24/7' or 'ASAP' or '110 percent.' He's pretentious and hates everybody, but really hates himself the most."
Of her team's choices, Parent explains, "We needed to discover these characters, and then tailor them to Seann and Paul. David Wain, Paul Rudd and Ken Marino had really fresh ideas for these characters and made them very real. They are idiosyncratic; they are eccentric. They're specific, and, hopefully, they are memorable. We can all recognize elements of ourselves within all of the characters."
What sold Seann William Scott on the comedy was the camaraderie that develops between Danny and Wheeler over the course of their journey into mental adulthood. "My character has a really interesting relationship with Paul's character, Danny," Scott says. "It's not the typical 'best buddies' kind of friendship. They don't pal around; they butt heads, but, ultimately, there is a friendship there."
Scott looked forward to shooting with director Wain for the first time and commends, "Working with David was incredible. He makes it really comfortable to try something new. You have room to make a mistake. And, maybe, one of those mistakes isn't actually a mistake. It's actually a great moment."
The producers were duly impressed to see the extent to which Scott had grown as a comic actor since his early days of American Pie. His high-energy style matched well with Rudd's acerbic riffs. "Sean knew when Paul was going to throw a curveball at him and was ready for it," Stuber says. "Some of the best moments, frankly, are those moments in the movie where they just kept going. They found a really good rhythm for their jokes."
The filmmaker behind the darkly comic The Ten and the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer, director David Wain, had worked with Paul Rudd before. He explains of his interest in becoming part of the Role Models team: "When I got involved with this project as a director, Paul had done a draft of the script, and then Paul, Ken Marino and I started working on it. Having worked on other features in the past and being good friends, we really have a certain comedic shorthand. It was a lot of fun to collaborate in this way."
Of the challenges this comedy would bring, Wain continues, "A lot of what I've done in the past is to take some kind of genre and tweak it or subvert it or add a layer of something absurdist to it. This is a different kind of movie, and it's more grounded in a believable reality than, say, Wet Hot American Summer or Stella or some of the other things I've done."
Wain expounds upon the casting of Scott and Rudd in the lead roles: "Paul and Seann are great together. They have different comedic images to the public, very different comedic sensibilities and are playing very different characters. When they come together, there is this slight disconnect on screen that is really amazing."
With the leads set, the production team would begin the search for a collection of misfits that included an exasperated girlfriend, an oversexed counselor with a cocaine-laden past and two young misfits who would help our heroes grow up…painfully so.
You White? You Ben Affleck: Casting the Comedy
For the roles of Augie and Ronnie, the two boys who are chosen as most compatible for the new mentors, the filmmakers cast two adept young performers: Christopher Mintz-Plasse of Superbad as Augie and newcomer Bobb'e J. Thompson as Ronnie.
Mintz-Plasse's Augie is a lonely, awkward high-school kid whose guidance counselor signs him up with the Sturdy Wings program in the hopes that he can meet a mentor to tutor him on the way to becoming a man. What he gets, however, is the bitter, disaffected Danny who, initially, has next to no interest in getting to know his new little brother.
Wain says, "We all saw Chris in Superbad and thought 'Oh my God, who is that kid? He is unbelievable.' Then you hear all these stories of how they found him on MySpace, and you think that he may be a fluke, that he was playing himself. But he is a really great actor with lots of skills. He came in and created a completely different character and knocked it out of the park."
Thompson's Ronnie is a brash fifth grader who talks more trash and thinks he can party harder than Wheeler. He also takes great delight in harassing Danny, accusing him of being Ben Affleck (or a character from one of his movies) at every step. "Bobb'e is just filled with so much charisma, and he is so funny on- and off-screen. Every time the camera rolls, he does something different, and he will blow you away each time."
Playing the female leads in Role Models are two comic actors who happened to co-star with Paul Rudd in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Elizabeth Banks and Jane Lynch. Lynch (Rudd's sex-hungry electronics store boss in Virgin) was cast to play Sweeny, the former addict and founder of Sturdy Wings who is responsible for overseeing the mentorship of Danny and Wheeler. Banks (Steve Carell's endlessly adventurous date in Virgin) came on board to play Danny's weary girlfriend, Beth, the attorney who barters the deal to spare the errant salesmen jail time.
Though Sweeny's Sturdy Wings is intended to serve as a guidance center for youth who need a big brother or sister to help mentor them, Danny and Wheeler do their fair share of growing up with their charges. The writers conceived the character of Sweeny for Jane Lynch and realized that if she weren't interested in accepting the job, they would have to rewrite the character. Fortunately, their gamble paid off.
Lynch liked what was written for her and saw the raw comedy in the character. She laughs, "Sweeny misuses words. She gets her metaphors all goofed up and isn't always linear in her thinking. Sometimes, she's all over the place, and that, of course, drives Danny nuts because he's so smart and logical. Here's this woman with this power that she's created for herself, and he has to put up with it and listen to her." Too, she was glad to be a part of another R-rated comedy with some old friends. "When you try to keep within PG, you certainly don't get the good stuff, the gold, when you've got those constraints around yourself. You can't really let go."
Producer Parent offers of the center's leader: "Jane is so talented, and she brings her unique comedy to creating the role of Sweeny--a character who has obviously been through a lot in her life and thinks, 'I used to be addicted to pills, and now I'm addicted to helping people.' Sweeny takes all of that energy and channels it to a place of now wanting to do good and help people. But being almost overcommitted and overly passionate makes for a hilarious character."
The filmmakers needed Danny's girlfriend to be tough, emotional and very funny. She has had it with her complaining boyfriend and has reached the end of her rope. Just as she's breaking up with Danny, Beth has to serve as the guys' attorney to keep them out of prison. The producers and Wain found the intelligence and solid timing they were looking for in actor Elizabeth Banks, who has shown her versatility from comedies such as Wain's Wet Hot American Summer and this past spring's Definitely, Maybe to dramas such as Seabiscuit and this season's W.
Banks opted to join the production (her second film with Bobb'e J. Thompson) because she was pleased to find that her director would stay true to his favorite genre. "David Wain is not capable of making a comedy that's not R-rated," she laughs. "We found a place, tonally, for our movie that is realistic and makes sense when you have 30-year-olds in it. We drop the F-bomb and talk about sex a lot, so I don't know how we can be truthful to ourselves and not make an R-rated movie."
Producer Stuber was happy to have Banks back in the Universal family. Of the film's female lead, he notes, "Elizabeth is one of those rare women who is beautiful, smart and funny. If you can't marry her, you must cast her in your movie. She always holds her own against great comedians and gives the jokes just as fast as she gets them. We were lucky to have her join the production."
The filmmakers welcomed the opportunities to create and cast several unique supporting characters that came from director/performer Wain's two decades of work with a comedy troupe. "The 11 of us in the comedy troupe The State have been working together for 20 years now," explains Wain, "and from there have built a larger community of people that I have worked with many times over--like JOE LO TRUGLIO, A.D. MILES, Ken Marino and KERRI KENNEY-SILVER. I know they will always be hysterical, and everyone just has great chemistry."
In addition to writing duties, Ken Marino plays Augie's clueless step-dad, Jim; Kerri Kenney-Silver steps in as Augie's out-of-touch mom, Lynette; A.D. Miles was brought on for the role of Martin, Sturdy Wings' most helpful/annoying volunteer; NICOLE RANDALL JOHNSON was chosen to play Ronnie's ferociously protective mother, Karen; and LOUIS CK cameos as the rent-a-cop who tries to rough up Danny and Wheeler outside a school in North Hollywood.
For the key actors in Augie's medieval role-play world, Wain hired KEN JEONG (whose memorable turn as the unpleasant OB-GYN in Knocked Up earned raves) to play Augie's archnemesis, King Argotron; Joe Lo Truglio as medieval dork Kuzzik; MATT WALSH as duplicitous nerd Davith of Glencracken; and ALLIE STAMLER as Augie's first love, Esplen.
As writer/director Wain explains, he is always willing to invite new talent into this group. "I think it is a great way to build an evolving rep company," he says. "I am thrilled that I can add people I haven't worked with before, like Seann William Scott, Jane Lynch and Nicole Randall Johnson."
With the cast locked, the filmmakers began placing the players into the universe in which Danny and Wheeler worked and played, as well as into the medieval world in which Augie strives to become king of a make-believe nation.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
DAVID WAIN (Directed by/Screenplay by) is a New York-based director, writer and performer. Last year, he directed, produced and co-wrote (with Ken Marino) the feature comedy The Ten. Based on the Ten Commandments, this quirky interrelated story features Paul Rudd, Winona Ryder, Gretchen Mol, Rob Corddry, Famke Janssen, Jessica Alba, Liev Schreiber, Oliver Platt, Adam Brody, Ken Marino and Justin Theroux. Wain's first feature film (as director, co-writer and co-producer) was the 2001 cult hit Wet Hot American Summer, starring Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd and Molly Shannon. It received rave reviews, including being listed as one of Entertainment Weekly's top-10 films of the year, was re-released in theaters as a midnight movie in 2003, and still maintains a loyal following on DVD, college campuses and midnight screenings. In 2005, Wain was a co-star, executive producer, co-writer and director of the Comedy Central series Stella. Stella follows the "modern-day Marx Brothers" adventures of Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black. In addition to the TV series, the Stella live stage show played to sold-out audiences all across the country and aired on Comedy Central as a special. The 26 Stella Shorts, featuring Wain and his partners, are collected on a popular DVD. In 1988, Wain joined the comedy troupe The State, for which he co-created an award winning and critically acclaimed MTV series. The State also did a special for CBS, a book for Hyperion Press, an album for Warner Bros., toured the United States and performed their sketch show Molt and off-Broadway. In addition to directing more than 80 short films for The State, Wain served as cast member, supervising producer, writer and editor. On television, Wain has written, directed and/or performed on shows such as Mad TV (FOX); The Cosby Show (NBC); You Wrote It You Watch It; Idiot Savants (MTV); Best Week Ever; Random Play; Retroflix Live; I Love the '70s (VH1); Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!; Sheep in the Big City (Cartoon Network); The Daily Show With Jon Stewart; Crank Yankers; and Strangers with Candy (Comedy Central). As an actor, he appears in the feature films Bamboozled, Keeping the Faith, The Baxter and Delirious, as well as the upcoming films The Guitar and I Love You, Man. He plays the lead character of The Warden on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim series Superjail! Wain also creates, writes, directs and stars in the Internet phenomenon, Webby Award-winning series Wainy Days. Wain grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated from NYU film school.
KEN MARINO (Jim/Screenplay by) has been a constant presence in film and television since his acclaimed comedy group, The State, first appeared on MTV. In recent years, he's added to his numerous acting credits by expanding into writing and producing features and pilots. Marino wrote, produced and starred opposite Paul Rudd in last year's independent release Diggers. He co-wrote, starred in, produced and wrote soundtrack lyrics for the indie comedy, The Ten, which also opened last year after a successful premiere at Sundance. In addition to Diggers and The Ten, Marino starred in Wet Hot American Summer and Love for Rent. He was also featured in Reno 911!: Miami, Joe Somebody and Tortilla Soup. In television, Marino has had recurring parts on Veronica Mars, Reaper, Charmed, Dawson's Creek and Reno: 911! and guest-starred on Grey's Anatomy, The Sarah Silverman Program, CSI: Miami, NYPD Blue and Monk. He was a series regular on Men Behaving Badly, Leap of Faith and First Years. He starred this year in the FOX pilot Outnumbered, which remains in contention for a series order, and in the Rob Thomas pilot Party Down.
TIMOTHY DOWLING (Screenplay by/Story by) was born and raised in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He grew up acting and doing theater. Dowling moved to Los Angeles for college and attended the University of Southern California, where he majored in theater and the humanities. At USC, he was a member of the improv comedy troupe Commedus Interruptus and still performs improv in and around L.A. As an actor, Dowling can be seen in the films Thank You for Smoking, Dr. Benny, The Beautician and the Beast, The Life Coach, Sleepover and Lower Learning. Dowling co-wrote and co-created the short film George Lucas in Love with friends from USC. The short won numerous awards and acclaim around the world, and at the time, was the most downloaded short ever (and is still a best-selling short film). For a few months straight in 2000, it was listed as the top-selling video on Amazon.com, even outranking the Star Wars films by which it was inspired. Role Models marks Dowling's first feature film credit as a screenwriter, though he has done uncredited work on 20th Century Fox's What Happens in Vegas, and the upcoming DreamWorks/Paramount film She's Out of My League. Dowling currently resides in Los Angeles and is working on several different writing projects at various studios.
A Texan by birth and heritage, WILLIAM BLAKE HERRON (Story by) eventually relocated with his family to Chicago, Illinois, and subsequently to Faribault, Minnesota, where he graduated as valedictorian of Shattuck-St. Mary's School. A summer season working at the Guthrie Theater for eminent directors Liviu Ciulei and Richard Foreman preceded his matriculation into Middlebury College. There, Herron went on to spend his junior year studying at Pushkin University, where he received acting training from members of the Taganka Theatre and various "underground" theatrical companies. Upon returning to The States, Herron moved to New York with his rock band, Neon Scream, and performed in such famed venues as CBGB's, The Pyramid Club and The Bitter End. At the same time, Herron supported his musical aspirations by working as a paralegal for Wall Street law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobsen. Herron's time was spent equally between assisting entertainment industry clients and working on multimillion-dollar and billion-dollar corporate takeovers. Clients he served included Columbia TriStar, Imagine Films, Coca-Cola and P&G. Rather than continue on the expected path to law school, Herron applied to New York University's competitive graduate film program. Following his acceptance, he won more than 12 national and international awards for his film shorts, including the Princess Grace Award for emerging artists. After graduation, Herron wrote, directed and executive produced the microbudgeted feature film Liebestod, an edgy update of Wagner's Tristan + Isolde. The film had its premiere at the Boston Film Festival and went on to receive distribution with Pandora Films, ITC and 20th Century Fox Home Video. During this starving-artist period, Herron supported his "film habit" through a variety of odd jobs, among them press liaison for Billy Joel during his tour of the Soviet Union, patient supervisor at an asylum for violent, mentally disabled men, building-demolition worker and test subject for an electric-shock pain study. Out of poverty came a prolific period of writing, yielding two screenplays that finished simultaneously in the semifinals of the Motion Picture Academy's Nicholl Fellowship and a third, that ascended to the top 20 of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. With accolades under arm, Herron moved to Hollywood and was quickly given a writing assignment at Warner Bros. Over the following years, Herron wrote for literally every major studio, in both film and television. Two scripts he co-wrote have been made into films--The Bourne Identity, starring Matt Damon, and Ripley Under Ground, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, starring Barry Pepper, Willem Dafoe, Tom Wilkinson and Alan Cumming. In addition, Herron returned to his passion of directing with the semiautobiographical film A Texas Funeral, starring Martin Sheen, Joanne Whalley, Robert Patrick and Chris Noth. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation. Critics enthusiastically embraced the movie when it was subsequently released theatrically in Europe and as a domestic cable premiere on Starz.
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