Action-comedy maestro Shawn Levy, the director of the blockbuster "Night at the Museum" franchise, teams up with two of the comedy world's biggest talents, Steve Carell ("The 40 Year Old Virgin," "The Office") and Tina Fey ("Baby Mama," "30 Rock," "SNL") for an adventure that turns a run-of-the-mill married couple's date upside down - way upside down, in DATE NIGHT.
Phil (Carell) and Claire Foster (Fey) are a sensible, loving couple with two kids and a house in suburban New Jersey. The Fosters have their weekly "date night" - an attempt at re-experiencing the spice of the dates of yesteryear, involving the same weekly night out at the local Teaneck Tavern. Their conversations quickly drift from barely-date talk to the same chore-chat they have at the dinner table at home. Exhausted from their jobs and kids, their dates rarely end in fore- or any other kind of play, let alone romance.
After seeing two of their best friends - another married couple with kids in suburban New Jersey - split apart from living the same life they themselves lead, Phil and Claire begin to fear what may lie ahead: a state of bland indifference and eventual separation.
In an attempt to take date night off auto-pilot, and hopefully inject a little spice into their lives, Phil decides a change of plans is in order: take Claire into Manhattan to the city's hottest new restaurant. The Fosters, however, don't have reservations. Hoping to be seated sometime before the clock strikes twelve, they steal a no-show couple's reservations. What could it hurt? Phil and Claire are now the Tripplehorns.
The real Tripplehorns, however, it turns out, are a thieving couple who are being hunted down by a pair of corrupt cops for having stolen property from some very dangerous people. Forced on the run before they've even finished their risotto, Phil and Claire soon realize that their play-date-for-parents has gone hilariously awry, as they embark on a wild and dangerous series of crazy adventures to save their lives. . . and their marriage.
The ritual "date night" dinner is something all too familiar to most married couples - even directors of blockbuster movies. "I was in the process of making the second Night at the Museum film," recalls filmmaker Shawn Levy, "and, as is kind of our ritual, once a week, my wife and I go out to dinner."
At one such dinner, the Levys found themselves sitting at the restaurant they frequented, ordering the same food, talking about the kids, what's coming up that weekend, who's going to buy the gift for which birthday party, etc., etc. "In the middle of all that, I said to my wife, 'Wouldn't it be cool to do a movie about a date night, where you just did one thing differently? And, from there, you have an unraveling of everything, to the point of it threatening your life and your marriage, with all kinds of crazy stuff going on. But, in the midst of all that crazy stuff, you end up recapturing the vitality that date night was invented in the first place to preserve.'"
The next morning, Levy came in to his production company office and told his staff, "Okay, we're going to do a movie called DATE NIGHT, and here's what it's about, and let's get a writer. Let's go."
Levy's search for a writer didn't take very long. "I had written a small, quirky film, called '(Saint) Peter,' which Shawn had read and fell in love with, recalls screenwriter Josh Klausner. "Shawn was determined to find something for us to work on together. He very graciously took a big chance and had me fly out, and we started brainstorming."
Levy and Klausner met at Levy's bungalow on the Fox lot, where they quickly broke the story. "We are both in the same stage of life," Klausner says. "We both have children and go out on date nights, knowing what they're supposed to be, but realizing they never end up being that anymore because there are so many other things that get in the way. So we started talking about those experiences."
"We talked about our marriages," Levy adds. "And we found that there are certain commonalities in trying to sustain a vibrant, romantic relationship," and not simply becoming roommates. "It's the question of in the midst of grownup life, how do you keep couple-hood fresh?"
DATE NIGHT was originally conceived as more of a suburban story centered around a parent-teacher conference night, but quickly evolved into, as Klausner calls it, "the perfect 'North by Northwest' setup" of mistaken identity.
"Shawn and I really wanted what spurs on the evening to be something that we all might do," Klausner continues. "Phil and Claire simply can't get a seat at a restaurant, and, since nobody's answering the call for a reservation, they just decide, 'What's the harm in taking it?' And it leads them down the rabbit hole. From there, they end up on the worst night of their lives, which ends up being the best night for their relationship."
Levy describes the film as being "in the spirit of action comedies I remember fondly, like 'Beverly Hills Cop' or '48 Hrs.' DATE NIGHT has a real hybrid tone, because it's first and foremost a comedy. It also has a hefty dose of action, as well as a lot of heart, because it's about the things that people deal with in relationships."
For Levy, DATE NIGHT is a change from the family-friendly hits he's helmed, like "Cheaper by the Dozen," "Pink Panther" and "Night at the Museum." DATE NIGHT is more of an adult-skewing comedy," Levy points out. "In a way, it's the other side of the movies I've done, which have been focused on the child-parent relationships. DATE NIGHT is focused on the marriage side - what happens after the children go to sleep."
Levy was keen to keep the emotional side of the story intact through the mayhem experienced by the characters. "If you're making a movie about relationships and being a married couple, it must be more than just funny, because life doesn't work that way," the director explains. "This movie has some surprising moments of poignancy."
"A lot of comedies these days feel like a compendium of gags tied together to follow a narrative story," notes Klausner. "DATE NIGHT, at its heart, is about marriage and being in love with somebody, but at the same time, life gets in the way. It's honest, which is something Steve and Tina wanted, too. I'm proud that this movie has preserved that soul."
When Levy learned that Steve Carell and Tina Fey were hoping to find a project on which they could work together, he knew he had found his DATE NIGHT duo. "We got an early draft of the screenplay to Tina and Steve, who always struck me as the dream pairing for a movie about marriage," Levy says. "They said, 'Yeah, we relate to this, we want to do an action comedy that's also honest about relationships.' So they said they were in."
While Levy usually takes a break between completing one feature and beginning the next, he found himself prepping DATE NIGHT while editing "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," in order to take advantage of his stars' availability. "Steve's and Tina's series commitments [on, respectively, "The Office" and "30 Rock"] provides only a limited window for feature film work," Levy explains. "They told us, 'Look, we want to do this, but we're free now, and we're not going to be free in six months - what do we do?' I said, 'Well, we make the movie right now!' I didn't get a break between films, but I got a comedy with Steve Carell and Tina Fey, who are two of the most intelligent, interesting people working in comedy today. So a lot of my job was to come up with the idea, get the two perfect actors for the movie, and then get the hell out of the way."
While slight alterations to the script were made to match the stars' comedic voices, DATE NIGHT was essentially tailor-made for the pair. "It felt like the film was written for them," says Klausner. Adds Levy: "Three minutes into this movie, you buy Steve and Tina as a married couple. They have a powerful chemistry together. They clicked completely on screen."
Phil, says Carell, "feels underappreciated by his friends and family, but he sort of keeps that feeling close to his chest. He's a very loving guy, but he and Claire have reached a plateau in their relationship. He needs to snap himself out of it, if possible. And the night that he and Claire experience together is a defibrillator for their marriage."
Carell's comedic skills, along with his ability to stir audiences' hearts, made him the perfect choice for the role, Levy says. "Steve is super funny, and his chops as an actor are fantastic. He not only carries entire comedy sequences on his back, but three scenes later, he's moving you to an emotional place with such sincerity and nuance. There's no end to what he can do."
Carell says his own date nights, like Phil Foster's (and Levy's and Klausner's), leave much to be desired. "Sometimes the worst part of date night is actually leaving for the date - when you see your babysitter sitting down, getting all cozy, turning on the TV. That sometimes seems much better than the night that lies ahead."
Fey, like Carell, has the ability to be riotously funny while still portraying the emotional side of her character realistically - to turn down the volume on jokes and simply allow them to happen. For example, in response to a nudge for sex from her husband, Fey's Claire offers a very normal, 'Yeah, hang on a minute" moment as she pulls out her dental mouth guard in preparation for sex with her husband, with enough drool to instantly turn off her mate.
"Besides being obviously really pretty and intelligent, Tina has a complete willingness to make an ass out of herself," says Levy. She's completely up for goofing on herself and being the butt of the joke, and that's very charming."
Fey describes Claire as "a working mom of two kids, who, like almost everyone I know, is just a little worn out by the day-to-day life of raising your kids, getting them out the door, getting them to school, having a job, keeping a house clean. She's a good person who is just kind of worn into the ground a little bit. I certainly identify with how just physically tiring it is to be a parent and have a job - sometimes it feels like a real effort to just be present for your spouse."
So which would be scarier - being in a boring marriage or being chased by the mob (both of which the Fosters experience in the film)? "I would say that being married to a person in the mob would be the scariest," Fey jokes.
Along their night-from-hell journey, Phil and Claire encounter a cavalcade of characters on both sides of the law. Levy's casting choices for these roles was sometimes unexpected - and always spot-on. His intent was to provide the story with a "Wizard of Oz"-like experience. "You're with your heroes, but along the way, they're being affected and changed by the people they meet, and I just thought wouldn't it be fun if at every turn of the road, you're surprised all over again by who has suddenly appeared in this movie. And the cast members fit the roles perfectly."
The surprise apparently wasn't limited to the audience. "I read the script," says Fey," and I thought, 'Oh, these are really good parts for somebody.' I never thought we would get this lucky to have that caliber of people in all these different parts." Having what otherwise would have appeared to be small roles portrayed by big name actors only helps bring them alive, Carell notes. "When you see them acted out, they're even better than they were on the page."
And getting high-powered stars to join the DATE NIGHT team wasn't just a matter of coincidence. "So many people were so keen to find a way to work with Steve and Tina - they just found a way to make it work," says Levy.
Mark Wahlberg portrays a former real estate client of Claire's the pair turns to in the middle of the night. "I play a guy named Holbrooke Grant, who is a security expert who Claire and Phil come to for help," Wahlberg explains. "They just catch Holbrooke at a bad time - he's with his beautiful Israeli girlfriend." The pair ends up turning Holbrooke's night upside down, as well.
Wahlberg had the simplest costume in the entire cast. "There is no wardrobe - just a pair of silk genie pants," he recalls, noting that he regularly found himself freezing on the air-conditioned set. That the top half of his costume was missing (except for an ample supply of makeup covering Wahlberg's countless tattoos), was a fact not lost on the female members of the cast and crew. "Mark was shirtless for three or four days," Fey says, prompting a noticeable increase in the number of women who suddenly had additional tasks to address on set on the days he was on the job. "I had friends texting me, 'Can I get on the Fox lot and visit you today?'" Fey laughs.
Also coming to the aid of the beleaguered couple is Taraji P. Henson, an Oscar nominee for her work in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," who plays NYPD Detective Arroyo, who, though she doesn't exactly believe the Fosters "chased by bad guys" story, begins to become suspicious of a couple of her colleagues. "She's sort of a hero," the actress says.
Playing thugs Collins and Armstrong, who are after the Fosters (whom they believe are the Tripplehorns) are Common and Jimmi Simpson. Common is a familiar face to audiences for his role as a murderous cop in "Street Kings" and for his work as a musical artists (his hits include "Love of My Life" and "Testify"). Simpson has made occasional appearances as Lyle the Intern on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
Common describes the duo as "one of the many catalysts to get this mundane couple out of their comfort zone - mainly by shooting guns at them." The two are essentially hunters, he adds, noting, "I'm the muscle."
Collins and Armstrong's formidable boss is gangster Joe Miletto, from whom the Tripplehorns have apparently stolen something of importance that he wants back. The casting of acclaimed actor Ray Liotta as Miletto delighted Carell and Fey. "We were shooting a scene with Ray one night," recalls Carell, "and Tina looked over and said, 'I feel like I am in a 3D version of 'Goodfellas. Ray Liotta is actually walking up and talking to me.' It was like a ride at a theme park."
Playing a heavy in a comedy, particularly for actors used to appearing in dramatic films, requires a special knack, one which DATE NIGHT's group of toughs embraced with gusto.
"It's really in the writing, so it's dependent on your commitment to it," explains Liotta. "If the situation's just a little more heightened, you're going to laugh." Common agrees: "Shawn expressed to us from the beginning - you've got to keep it real. The more real it becomes - because you're playing off Steve and Tina - the funnier it becomes."
Portraying the "real" Tripplehorns - actually a drug dealer named Taste and his wacky stripper girlfriend, Whippit - are James Franco and Mila Kunis. Despite their different life circumstances, the pair has much in common with the Fosters, being in the same spot in their relationship as their clean-cut counterparts. Notes Josh Klausner: "Whether you're a drug dealer or a suburban husband, you still feel the pangs of 'You never look at me the way you used to' and 'You don't have time for me.' What the two couples are going through is exactly the same," making the exchanges between the two couples both hilarious and poignant at the same time.
Kunis describes the pair as "very passionate - when they're angry, they're very angry, and when they're happy, they're madly in love." Whippit, specifically, she describes as a "psycho, who is very up and down. She goes through three different emotions within two and a half script pages."
The name "Taste," Franco says, is left over from an earlier concept of the character - a 6 ft. 7 in. bald man with "TASTE" tattooed on his forehead. "So when they asked me to be in the movie, I said, 'Well, I'm certainly not that.'" The character's description was then rewritten, but the name stuck. "I was up for facial tattoos, too," Franco says with a laugh. "We just went for the cheesy 'Grim Reaper.'"
Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo play the Fosters soon-to-be-splitting couple friends, Haley and Brad Sullivan. "Their parting brings up the question about getting bored with your spouse and moving on, or just sticking it out," says Wiig. "I think Haley plants the seeds in Claire's mind."
Also taking on key roles are "Gossip Girl's" Leighton Meester as the Fosters' babysitter Katy, and "The Dark Knight's" William Fichtner as district attorney Frank Crenshaw.
All the cast members appreciated Levy's ability to balance action and comedy, which in turn allowed his actors the freedom to come up with their own gags. "That's the only way you can afford to have time to play around or to improvise and do extra takes," notes Fey. "That only happens if everyone - especially your director - really knows what they're doing."
For Levy, there's a method to the potential madness of improv. "Sometimes, after we'd get what I want, Steve and Tina would come to me and say, 'You know what? Could I get one more take? I've got an idea that might lead somewhere.' Sometimes we couldn't use it, but more often than not, it was gold and it ended up in the movie," such as the duo's restaurant shenanigans game of guessing what's up with the couple sitting across the way.
"Every person in any field wants to go to work and feel respected for what they do," says the director. "So when you say to an actor, 'We're going to do the script that I've written for you, but I want to hear what's in your head. I actually think that the ideas you come up with might be as legitimate or better than what we scripted,' it makes your actors feel like partners and collaborators, and not mouthpieces. It makes them feel like part of the creative team, rather than a piece of machinery."
MEET THE TWINS
While attempting to escape their pursuers, the Fosters "borrow" Holbrooke Grant's car, the much-too-powerful-for-Phil Audi R8. When Phil inadvertently smashes into a taxi cab, the two vehicles' bumpers become hopelessly locked together. Nonetheless, the chase continues, the conjoined twin automobiles smashing their way down Manhattan streets.The complicated sequence came about when Levy and Klausner were brainstorming ideas for a chase scene. Concerned about repeating the oft-used, cliché urban car chase, Klausner recalls, "I remember sitting in a room with Shawn, telling him, 'You know, do we really have to do a car chase, because how many times have we seen a car chase in these movies? How interesting can that be?'" Read more
STEVE CARELL (Phil Foster) has emerged as one of the most sought-after comedic actors in Hollywood. First gaining recognition for his contributions as a correspondent on Comedy Central's Emmy Award-winning "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," Carell has successfully segued into primetime television and above-the-title status in the film world with equal aplomb.
TINA FEY (Claire Foster), one of the most visible and popular figures in television today, writes, executive produces and stars in NBC's three-time Emmy Award-winning comedy series "30 Rock," a workplace comedy which takes place behind-the-scenes of a live variety show. Her performance as head writer Liz Lemon on the fictional "TGS with Tracy Jordan" has earned Fey an Emmy, two Golden Globes, three SAG Awards, and a People's Choice Award. This year alone, "30 Rock" won five Emmy Awards and was nominated for many others.Read more
MARK WAHLBERG ("Holbrooke Grant") earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for his standout performance in Martin Scorsese's acclaimed drama "The Departed."Wahlberg's remarkable film career began with Penny Marshall's "Renaissance Man" and "The Basketball Diaries" with Leonardo DiCaprio, followed by a star turn opposite Reese Witherspoon in the thriller "Fear." He has enjoyed playing diverse characters for visionary filmmakers such as David O. Russell, Tim Burton and Paul Thomas Anderson. Read more
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
SHAWN LEVY (Director/Producer) is one of the most commercially successful film directors of the past decade. To date, his films have grossed over 1.5 billion dollars worldwide. Levy has honed his craft, seamlessly weaving comedy and heart into captivating stories that resonate with audiences. His youthfully enthusiastic approach to filmmaking is evident in the storylines and characters he creates - reflecting his joyful intensity for each project at hand. Read more
JOSH KLAUSNER (Screenwriter) attended Princeton University, where he was involved in the theater community as an actor, playwright and director, and studied theater luminaries Bobby Lewis and Albert Innaurato. Read more
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING