ReelzChannel spends a day on the set of Judd Apatow's latest production, Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Judd Apatow is currently the hottest comedy ticket in town. As a director, he’s riding the back-to-back successes of The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. As a producer, you can add Superbad and Talladega Nights to the tally. IMDB lists five more Judd Apatow productions releasing this year and next. reelz.com has already gotten an advance look at Walk Hard and Drillbit Taylor (both look pretty damn hysterical, for the record) and has been lucky enough to visit the sets of Pineapple Express (full report coming soon) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which is the Apatow Production we are here to tell you all about today.
Jason Segel (Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up) headlines Forgetting Sarah Marshall as Peter Bretter, a struggling musician who takes a Hawaiian vacation to get away from his very public breakup with TV star girlfriend of six years, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). Of course, wouldn’t you know it, but Peter has the dumb luck of heading to the very same vacation destination as Sarah and her new beau, the hipster Brit rocker Aldous (Russell Brand). Peter finds a kindred soul of sorts in Rachel (Mila Kunis), who also recently broke up with her boyfriend. Oh, and did I mention that Rachel’s ex is a psychotic body-building surfer? Again, dumb luck!
It’s directed by first-timer Nick Stoller, who also comes from the Apatow world as one of the writer’s on the short-lived (but acclaimed) TV series Undeclared. Segel not only stars, but also wrote the script. Apatow regulars Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill (and likely a few others) also show up in the film.
While most of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (abbreviated as FSM) was shot on location in Hawaii (and why wouldn’t it be) the gang recently did some re-shoots in Los Angeles at the Le Barcito in Silverlake, California and we got the chance to spend some time on set and interview Segel and Kunis in-between takes.
The bar is outfitted to look as though it’s in Hawaii, complete with surfing signs and Hawaiian tourism ads all over the bar. At one point, Segel amusingly jokes during a take, “You wouldn’t think there’d be this many signs about Hawaii in Hawaii.” True Enough.
The first scene we observe involves Peter and Rachel making small talk while enjoying some brews and watching the live music on stage. Peter is trying a bit too hard and Rachael warns him not to dote on her, that she’s not one of “those girls.”
Kunis later spoke at length on doting boys: “I think it’s absolutely disgusting. I do think it’s a turn-off. People have to be independent; you have to be your own person. Being a gentleman and being chivalrous is not the same as doting. If my boyfriend open’s a door, I’m like 'that’s so cute,' but I don’t need everything done for me. Don’t get me wrong; I mean if I come home and I’m tired and there’s dinner on the table waiting for me, that’s okay. But if I’m thirsty, I don’t need people… I have feet, I have legs, thank God they’re all working. I can get things for myself.”
Take note those men who are ever lucky enough to have the chance to dote on Mila Kunis.
Having spent some time around the Apatow gang through set visits, press events and the like, one thing is always pretty obvious about the atmosphere – everyone’s having a pretty good time. Watching this simple bar scene shot over and over, director Nick Stoller keeps the atmosphere loose, allowing the actors to throw in improvisation whenever possible and occasionally suggesting some of his own.
“Well, it’s the Judd style,” says Segel. “Which we’ve kind of honed for the past ten years, our little group. We come in and we shoot the script and then, from there, I think the idea is that you hire talented actors and they might be able to say it funnier than you were able to write it, so you just kind of let it go free.”
In subsequent takes, the amusing pop culture references range from P. Diddy to Flavor of Love to Hostel 2, which Peter claims to have nearly done the musical score for. “I was going to have children’s voices singing, then screaming,” Peter says of his plans for Hostel 2 to the contained laughter of cast and crew awaiting the “Cut!” announcement before finally burst into laughter.
“They’re all either coming from us or from Nick, the director, or Rodney, the producer,” says Segel. “It’s all kind of spontaneous, which was fun.”
Since the name of Peter’s Ex is also the name of the movie, it’s obvious that this past relationship is one of the central focal points of the movie. Segel says that she’s not your typical vilified ex-girlfriend: “I think part of what’s good about the movie, I hope, is that nobody’s written to be the villain and as the movie progresses you start to see, of course, [why] she left this guy. He’s a mess! He’s drunk all the time and lost all his ambition. So I think it’s neat, because at the beginning you always side with the person who’s been cheated on, but slowly you start to see that maybe she had her reasons.”
Bell’s character is a TV star on a show similar to CSI called Crime Scene: Scene of a Crime. “She plays a young detective along with Billy Baldwin as her partner. I think originally it was a sitcom that she was on. And we decided you’ve seen that before. The new trend are those crime shows, so we switched it up. Writing the fake scenes for the crime show was especially fun.”
[Between takes, Stoller shows us some of the scenes from the fake Crime Scene show. They are hysterical and Billy Baldwin is great in the William Petersen role]
Jason Segel first joined the Apatow gang on the critically-acclaimed and shamefully short-lived Freaks and Geeks, later appearing as a recurring character on Undeclared. Earlier this summer, audiences may remember Segel as one of Seth Rogen’s stoner friends in Knocked Up. Outside of the Apatow world, Segel is also a regular on the TV series How I Met Your Mother.
Segel on how FSM first came together: “Judd and I had a talk and he basically said, ‘I can get movies made now. If you have any ideas, let me know.’ I gave him a short pitch of this and I think like three days later, contracts arrived. Then it was my job to get the script in order.”
“It’s been a dream come true, which I know sounds cliché, but I can’t believe it. What I like more than hearing the words I’ve written out loud is hearing it improved by actors. These guys are just amazing. I got really, really lucky. Kristin and Mila couldn’t be better. This guy Russell Brand is gonna be a huge star, he’s a genius. I’m surrounded by great people.”
[Again between takes, Stoller shows us a scene in which Brand sings a song to Sarah Marshall. It's both horrible and great all at once. The singsong is introduced by Jonah Hill, by the way]
Kunis admits she isn’t quite sure how she wound up in Sarah Marshall: “I don’t have a clue,” she laughs. “Someone f-d up somewhere is what happened. About nine months ago I got a call to do a table read for the script. And I was like, ‘Okay.’ It was for Judd… And then four months after that they called me and said, ‘Come in. We want to talk to you. The movie’s getting made and we really want you to be a part of it’ and I was like, ‘Hell yes, score!’”
Kunis on her character in FSM: “She dated one bad guy and I don’t think she’s looking for anything. She lives in Hawaii, she broke up with her boyfriend, she stayed in Hawaii. And then she meets Jason’s character and I don’t think either one of them are looking for love, any type of matter. I think they both just bond over the same thing – they didn’t know who they were during the relationships. It’s a very funny relationship that these two have. It’s over a five day week, so their love sparks really fast.”
Between takes, the on-set publicist shows us pictures from the Hawaiian shoot. One image catches my eye, portraying Segel hanging from a cliff with a sort of ‘Deer in Head Lights’ expression on his face. Word is, Segel is also afraid of heights.
I ask him whether the scene helped him get over his fear? “No, not even close," he says without hesitation. "Even thinking about it terrifies me still. They put me on this tension wire and I’m hanging from the side of this cliff and then at the end I’m supposed to launch myself off and hang from this wire. And they’re telling me, ‘trust the equipment, trust the wire’ and that’s bulls***. I’m sorry, it’s like someone telling you the spider has been defanged. It can crawl all over you. If you’re scared of spiders I don’t care if it’s been defanged. Same with the heights. Wire did not help at all.”
“They were also kind of razzing me because they’re all like brave stuntmen and I’m me. So I’d be hanging from the wire shaking and they wouldn’t be hooked up at all and they’d repel down on a rope and be like, ‘It’s fine, look.’ And just hang from one arm. They just to rub in that they’re real men and I’m not, that’s basically what’s happening.”
Kunis says that her character didn’t get too many action-oriented moments, but she did unwittingly create some of her own. “This is a loaded question, because I don’t but I did accidentally. I don’t have to do anything physical in this movie other than tread water. We’re in this ocean and to get to this water I have to take a jet ski. I get off the Jet Ski and the Jet Ski and I collided and I rubbed my neck off. This part of my neck is all make-up. That’s about as exciting as that story got. But none of this is for the movie. This is just my own stupidity getting to set.”
So what’s the best part of shooting your movie in Hawaii?
Segel: "It was so laid back, because we were shooting at the hotel where we were staying. So you would wake up, roll out of bed and work for ten hours and then go have Mai Tais together at the pool bar. I think the comradery was the best part. I got to fight a bore, which is pretty exciting. And I got to do some really beautiful scenes with Kristen Bell while I was in Hawaii, which was really fun. It’s a comedy, but there’s also some pretty serious relationship stuff. It was really nice to act that stuff with her."
Kunis: "Are you kidding me?!? First off, it’s Hawaii. I currently live in L.A., in the midst of West Hollywood, so my back yard is cars and dog poop and smog. My back yard in Hawaii was literally the ocean. So to wake up every morning and have a cup of coffee and to get to set I had to walk along the beach. Life could be so much worse. The people were great. I learned to surf, I was around an amazing crew, amazing cast. I have nothing negative to say about Hawaii. I want to move there sooo bad right now you don’t even understand. After being there for two months, I miss the beach. I’ve never been a big beach lover, whatsoever. I currently own a surfboard; I’ve driven a jet ski..."
After the interviews, press were invited to hang around for the next scene where Segel will be singing a number on stage from his character’s Dracula Musical. Um, you had me at Dracula Musical.
Like the takes we observed earlier, the scene is pretty amusing. Rachel surprises Peter by getting the band to invite him onstage to perform a number from his Dracula musical. Begrudgingly, Peter takes the stage and steps behind a keyboard. Description doesn’t really do the moment justice, but suffice to say, Peter does sing a very Andrew Lloyd Webber-esque number with a full-on Transylvanian accent. He changes little nuances of the performance with each take, the crew again holding in the laughter awaiting the “Cut!” direction to finally bust a gut.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall is slated for a May 30, 2008 release from Universal. From what I’ve seen so far, this one looks to be on par with the other great Apatow comedies. Personally, I can’t wait!