What went through your heads in selecting Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei? Was there a specific reason for going after those three?
Jay: They’re brilliant! [laughs] Yeah, they’re friggin’ brilliant at what they do. For us it started with John C. Reilly. It’s no coincidence why the lead character’s name is John and John C. Reilly is playing him. Within a few weeks of writing the script and developing the idea, it was so obvious that all we could think of was John in that role. Every time that we imagined him doing the things that we were creating, it got funnier, it got more tragic and it got more emotional. Everything that we were trying to do would just be so much better if John played the role, so much so that within a few months into it we secretly admitted to ourselves that if John didn’t want to do the movie, we probably weren’t going to do it.
And from that point, it came with finding a worthy opponent for John. When we met Jonah Hill, we realized there was a lot more to him than had been represented in his previous films. He’s got a dark side and he’s highly intelligent and pretty wily, too. From there, we had these two amazing guys who had all these secret weapons. We knew they were going to be strong and we wanted to make sure our female characters could stand up to that. Those are tricky roles.
At the center of this movie is this conflict between John and Jonah and their characters. But Marisa is a badass. We knew from the get go when we met her that she got what we did and understood it and was going to fight really hard for the integrity of her character.
So who came up with John’s dialogue when he calls Marisa’s character a “sex angel?”
Mark: That was all John Reilly in the moment. We had some dialogue in there, and I think that’s a good example of how the improvisation works. The scene was written just like that, where John is complimenting her on her sexual acrobatics and it was said in a different way. And John did the script and then he did a bunch of different versions of that type of line. And so in the script the dialogue of, “How did you do that? Do you do exercises?” All of that stuff was in there. And when he threw in the sex angel, it was kind of obvious. Alright, that’s a good bookend for this.
Jay: That’s a testimony to good sound editing, because when he said “sex angel” the entire set erupted in laughter. [laughs] It was undeniable when he said it.
The entire theater erupted in laughter as well. I think the sentiment was shared among all audiences. Where did you come up with the plot of a young adult who lives with his mom? How old were you guys when you left the nest yourselves?
Mark: We were regular college exiters of the nest. We’re definitely very close with our parents. But there’s not a ton of this specific storyline that’s autobiographical, except for the root of these characters and their core desperation to be loved and to not die alone in the universe. That’s something that’s very close to our hearts. Jay and I are inexplicably driven and compelled people in our lives. We are compelled to make movies. We call ourselves desperate a lot, and that’s what these characters are. Cyrus is desperately afraid of losing his mom, and John is desperately afraid of being in his mid-forties and not finding someone to go long with. That type of emotional root to the comedy is what makes the movie special to us.
That’s recognizable in any of the characters in Puffy Chair or Baghead as well.
Jay: Yeah. We’re obsessed with it. It’s not a coincidence that two of our favorite movies are Rocky and the documentary American Movie. We love these people who are just…
Mark: Mysteriously compelled.
Jay: Yeah! Trying to fucking get a nut in the world. They’re just scrapping along and trying to make their go of it and having a tough time. It’s really sweet and beautiful to us.
What can you say about your next film, Jeff Who Lives At Home? You just wrapped shooting, right?
Jay: We just wrapped a couple weeks ago in New Orleans. It stars Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer. It’s basically a movie set in the suburbs of Baton Rouge. Mark and I grew up in the suburbs of New Orleans. It’s a movie about a guy trying to discover his destiny, but he’s really doing it from the basement of his mom’s house. It’s a quest movie set in the suburbs and strip malls. It’s about the big things that exist inside of the small. We call it the epically small. To a lot of people you just look at those neighborhoods and you see Applebee’s and Chilli’s and you see all that shit, and we just see a wealth of strange, spiritual discovery for someone if you’re looking in the right places.