"Hollywood.com's Kelsea Stahler hangs with the stars of the upcoming cop comedy reboot. Check out her interviews with stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, supporting cast Brie Larson and Dave Franco, and producer Neal Moritz and relive those awkward high school years with the cast on the New Orleans set.
When I first told my friends and family that my latest assignment was traveling to New Orleans to scope out the set of 21 Jump Street, I could actually hear the eyes rolling on the other end of the phone. I, however, remained optimistic. Perhaps that's because the original 80s television series premiered when I was a wee baby, so my connection to the source material was minimal - a factor that is true for a large portion of the film's potential audience. The 1987 series followed young police officers as they went undercover in high schools to investigate drug trafficking and violence. Of course, the series has since become famous for helping to launch Johnny Depp into the national consciousness, and for that we thoroughly thank the now classic procedural. That being said, with such a sizable pop culture legacy, the series' big screen reboot is bound to meet with some skepticism, but after spending a day chatting with the cast and crew on the New Orleans set, we learned one very important thing: the film is anything but a run-of-the-mill spoof.
We arrived on set one impossibly muggy day in the middle of June - the kind of day that makes you want to carry around a cooler of ice cold water at all times for fear of melting without it. As we stepped out of the car onto the grounds of the suburban high school just outside of the crescent city, filming for an outdoor scene was underway. Before meeting with producer Neal Moritz (Total Recall, The Change-Up), we witnessed a scene involving practically all of the film's biggest players: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Dave Franco, and romantic interest Brie Larson. The transition scene at hand did little more than give as introduction to these characters (our undercover cop heroes, king of the cool kids, and the resident It girl) - an encounter that only heightened our curiosity as we headed into the high school's gym to have a chat with the man who made the production possible.
Moritz walked us through the set, giving us a quick glimpse of the groups of extras dressed in varying versions of heightened high school stereotypes -your promiscuous goths and harajuku girls, the usual - before giving us the goods: the sizzle reel. As we enjoyed the montage of screenshots set to the rousing soundtrack of a big-time action flick, it was settled. Despite the fact that this film was a "passion project" for the series' creator, the late Stephen J. Cannell, Moritz was sure to explain that it is not the 21 Jump Street of 1987. This was something completely different. Without giving away too much of the film's plot - because that will take all the fun out of it - it became apparent very quickly that Moritz, screenwriter Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), executive producer and co-story-writer Hill, and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) were putting together a film that shares the name and premise of its source material, while allowing the characters, tone and content to be respectfully different. It's a nod to the original - and includes the requisite allusions to the TV version - but the film is very much a contemporary action comedy (big emphasis on the comedy), and nothing like a primetime melodrama focused on weekly life lessons.
Like Officer Tom Hanson and Sergeant Judy Hoffs before them, officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are assigned to 21 Jump Street, a reboot of an old undercover operation from the 80s (nudge, nudge, get it?). Their first assignment is going undercover at Sagan High School to investigate a drug ring, and the similarities between the TV show and the film stop there. As Moritz explained it, "This movie is about two young guys who don't get respect as cops, and now have to go back into high school where they think they're going to be the big men." He added, "They turn out to know high school less than any incoming freshman. They are just out of date," and in addition, Schmidt and Jenko have the added bonus of having gone to high school together a few years earlier. The result? The pair have to experience the growing pains of high school all over again, while trying to stay the course for their undercover assignment. And as Lord and Miller later assured us, the humor is decidedly Rated R; "We have an F-bomb problem," joked Miller.
And luckily for myself and my fellow bloggers, we got to experience firsthand just how hilarious our heroes' arrangement turns out to be. Before we waltzed into the classroom-turned-film set, we got a little insight from the little lady playing Hill's romantic interest, Brie Larson. She dished about one of her biggest challenges on set: holding back some serious giggle fits. Larson confessed that multiple times during filming, she had trouble staying in character, because her cast mates are just too damn funny. "You can see everyone back stage with hands over their mouth and tears coming up. I can't do anything! If I laugh, I screw this up for everybody," she said. "It's like life or death in those moments and afterwards you just fall on the ground and you're just a wiggle worm. You can't stop." And while I originally took her story with a grain of salt, when it was our turn to play spectator, I found myself clutching my hands over my mouth and shaking in an effort to contain the wild laughter fighting to get out. I can admit it now; I was wrong and Larson was right.
As we walked into the dark room where the next scene was being filmed, we were greeted by Tatum, holding his hands in the air like some sort of plainclothes surgeon. "I'd shake your hands, but I'm about to put mine in Jonah's mouth," he told us as we trailed into the classroom housing the bathroom set-up - yes, you read that right. Little did Channing know, Hill had just shaken all of our hands, so one can only hope he gave them a Listerine bath before the "intimate" scene commenced. And as far as the action of the scene goes, I'll stop there because the shock of it all is just so much more fun when you're not exactly sure what's coming (and thanks to the handy clip below, you can enjoy it for yourself). Suffice it to say, while the duo went through a number of different takes - a few according to the script, a few with some improvisation, and a handful sans that classic Rated R language - there was not a single person in the jam-packed room who wasn't absolutely shivering with pent up laughter. Yes, my friends, Channing Tatum had entire room of people in stitches.
When we finally recovered from a severe case of the gigs, my blogging cohorts and I spent the rest of the day being entertained by the hilarity of Tatum and Hill under the guise of conducting a very professional interview; chasing the very busy (and impossibly friendly) directing duo, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, around set in hopes of nabbing just a few minutes of their to discuss their artistic vision for the film; and chatting with supporting players, including the charming Dave Franco, younger brother to James Franco. While I'd like to brag about the fantastic tips the cast and crew gave us for exploring The Big Easy, I'll hold my tongue, so you can read what the stars and filmmakers themselves had to say about the hilarious action-packed comedy and its colorful Southern setting.
Are you pumped up for 21 Jump Street? Let us know what you're looking forward to in the comments, or get at me directly on Twitter! @KelseaStahler
Stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum talk about 'fingering' each other's mouths
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller on the pressures of a reboot and just how many F-Bombs is too many
Star Brie Larson takes inside her characters cinephile mind
Star Dave Franco tells us how hipster culture is taking over the world
6 Things We Learned on the Set of 21 Jump Street
Interview: Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill
In a nice respite from the overwhelming heat, we sat in little circle of trust in the air-conditioned art room of the high school-turned-movie set and picked the brains of the film's stars (and producers) Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. However, as you will soon see, this discussion of the ideas behind the film and the actors' approach turned unavoidably hilarious.
Have you been enjoying the heat of Louisiana?
CT: It's a little hot.
JH: It's not that bad today. It's been worse. It's been worse since we started shooting. (To Channing) But you're wearing a jacket.
CT: I'm always wearing a jacket. It's professional.
JH: Bizarre move, man.
So what do the insides of each other's mouths feel like?
CT: A lot like you think it would. Gushy, and
JH: Not sweat. Moist.
You said that you would walk around like surgeons before?
JH: Yeah. We had these cups filled with Listerine that we were dipping our hands into like surgeons. To constantly make sure the other person know our hands were clean.
But that had nothing to do with the actual scene?
JH: No, we do this everyday.
Is this the grossest thing you've done on a set so far?
JH: You guys are familiar with my career. This is like a normal Tuesday for me.
CT:It wasn't so much in my movie career, but I've definitely done worse than that.
How quickly did it take for you guys to fall into a rhythm of doing banter back and forth? (To Channing) I know you haven't done as much improvisation.
CT: Zero. It's not like you can improv dramas all that well. But Jonah really brought me onto this. He called me up. I've been a huge fan of his forever. The thing that you don't do is probably like the pinnacle. I was terrified of comedy. What these guys have sort of been able to create for the comedy world, I think, has changed it immensely. I just wanted to come and play in his playground for a while, and follow him. I'm holding onto the coattails.
JH: Riding it straight to the fire, unfortunately.
We talked to Neal and he said that you came and pitched this to him. Where did the idea come from to make it a buddy comedy?
JH:The studio and Neal owned the property 21 Jump Street, and the studio called my agent with a list of things. It was right when we had made Superbad, but it hadn't been released yet. The studio had seenSuperbad, but it hadn't been released yet. I've been on this moviethere was no movie...By the time it comes out, it'll be exactly five years. They had a list of properties. I think they were just trying to keep me in the family. My agent told me about [it.] She was like, "What about 21 Jump Street?" And I said, "I don't know, that sounds kinds of stupid." I never thought of myself as someone who was going to remake a TV show, or anything like that. Especially when I wasn't particularly a massive fan of [the show]. But I've talked about this before in interviews: I thought it was really cool to relive high school. Thinking you would get it right this time, and having all the answers, but immediately reverting back to the insecurities you had the first time around. That, to me, is the one nugget that has remained true over these past five years. That is the story I wanted to be involved in. And that's what we did. With a week left, I hope that's what we did. There's no going back now.
Which one of you is Drew Barrymore?
JH: Drew Barrymore?
Did you see Never Been Kissed?
JH: Oh, yes I did that's awkward. You're banned from the next four rounds of questions.
What sort of research, if any, did you have to do? Are these updated iterations of characters that were on the show?
JH: All my research for this movie came from a very honest place. I was a twenty-three year-old playing a seventeen year-old in Superbad. I had just done all this research about being someone in their twenties going back and pretending to be in high school. I moved back in with my parents, into my childhood room. Basically, that's how I got most of the set pieces, or things Mike Bacall and I were talking about from what I did for Superbad. Basically, we're people in our twenties pretending to be teenagers. I had literally just been a twenty-three year-old pretending to be a seventeen year-old! With all the stuff I did, there was so much humor derived from trying to get into that mindset. We took the big set pieces from that. Once the directors came on and Chan came on, we just personalized it to all of our high school experiences.
CT: I can't say that we studied how to be police in depth or anything. I think you'll see the movie and see that it doesn't really matter. [Laughs]. It's just us going back. I'll be honest, I didn't read that well in high school. So we put that in the movie. I love it because it's all the insecurities that you hadand even if you didn't have them, now it's just flipped. One of my favorite lines is, "God, if I was just born five years later, I would have been so cool!" It was a really funny development in my mind. I had an all right high school [experience], even though I hated school. I wasn't massively popular, but I was okay. But I wouldn't want to do it again. Jenko's character is like, "We'll breeze right through this. We've got the almanac. We already know what this is going to be like."
JH: And I finally got a Back to the Future II reference in a movie. I was so happy about that. He talks about how we have the almanac in this situation.
CT: I was a huge fan of the TV show. I think it came on right before an old TV show, Friday the Thirteenth about a haunted antique store, where, like, a teacup would kill people. Me and my sister would never miss those two shows.
What about some of the action that you guys had to do? Was the prom scene worse than the action scenes?
CT: The prom scene was only worse because we had to shoot nights. It was almost our longest day of shooting. Sixteen hours. It was fine, it was fun. We didn't have to do any awkward dancing.
That was the next question!
JH: Action is new for me, obviously. This is my first big action movie. Chan is amazing at all of that stuff, and was so helpful. I think it's cool that for the comedy stuff, I would be helpful with telling him what I knew from my experiences, and with the action stuffI would not have been able to do it without him. Even though my character is supposed to be bad at it. It was just a totally different type of filmmaking experience. When you say, "What's harder: the prom or the action stuff?" I think what's cool about the movie is that everything that's in high school melds the cop action together. Everything is kind of infused with everything else. Every normal high school set piece has action in it, and every action set piece has high school emotions and feelings. That's kind of the whole goal of the movie. They do intertwine. Whenever we get too caught up in one thing, the other comes in.
I feel like I need to redeem myself.
JH: I'm sorry, are you still here? I'm just kidding. But seriously, you should leave. I'm just joking! Come on, that's our rapport! That's our witty rapport!
This is all going to be on the tape!
JH: I know. They're not going to be able to see us all laughing and smiling. It's just going to be, "Hills Asks Journalist to Seriously Leave the Room: Silence for the Next Forty-Five Minutes. Throws a Cup of a Coffee in Channing's Face."
Forget it, man!
JH: To answer your question, I am the Drew Barrymore.
You guys are both producers of the film. How does that role intertwine with your acting? Do you have to wear different hats when you're on the set?
CT: Between Jonah and I, we've been on a lot of sets now. I've done this for seven or eight years now. I'm not sure how long you've done it.
JH: Ninety-one years.
CT: Ninety-one, there it is. With this being Chris and Phil's first live action movie, we can help out on how to run a set. Even blocking a scene and not having the entire crew around. It's quiet, we can work it out, and not have the pressure of bouncing stuff off each other with forty-five people sitting around waiting and watching us. Even knowing those little things helps a set run smoother.
JH: I'll say that Chan helps a tremendous amount with them as well in the action sequences. He's done a million of those. Phil and Chris and I have not done those. That is a tremendous producer-ial help in making those feel real and cool and big and huge and awesome. My producing this is, I'm a writer.
CT: Yeah, you're a writer, but you also know how comedy plays. I just learned that comedy played on a two shot. I had no idea of that before. That's like a rule, or an urban legend, or whatever you want to call it.
JH: In a buddy comedy, you want most of the bigger jokes to show both of our expressions at the exact same time.
CT: The timing, how you shoot it. It's definitely a good pairing. And Neal's done a ton of these types of films. It's a good mix of ability.
JH: It's a potpourri of weirdoes.
Jonah, as an actor, you have to play a cop, playing a high school student, playing Peter Pan. With all those layers of performance, do you ever get lost?
JH: I lose myself. I went full Donnie Brasco. I was like Daniel Day-Lewis. I actually became Peter Pan for three years leading up to this movie. I went and lived in Neverland and had a pretty horrible enemy in Captain Hook. He is what you imagine him to be. He's a god-awful man. With the Peter Pan thing, I don't want to give too much away. I think that'll be in the first trailer. It's one of the first set pieces we thought of: that my character should be in a play, and in the middle of the play, while in some ridiculous costume, [there's] an action sequence. I'd have to be in what would normally be a cool-looking action sequence, but I'm dressed as Peter Pan and I look ridiculous. Again, this is a comedy. It has a lot of cool action, but it's a comedy. Things like that are just crazy fun.
The bad guys, or the cool kids in this movie are kind of atypical. They're not into sports, or that kind of stuff. What prompted this sort of choice as opposed to maybe making this more conventionally a high school movie?
JH: Because you just used the term "conventional high school movie." The 80s bully would be like Billy Zabka from The Karate Kid. Or just the super-handsome tough dudes and the nerds of Saved by the Bell with suspenders and glasses. I feel like every generation feels out of touch with the generation after them. When I was in high school, I remember my parents saying, "The kids are different now," and I was like, "That's crazy. That'll never happen to me." And now when I meet people who are sixteen, I'm like, "Man, it was so different when I was in high school to the way it is now." I think we just wanted it to be the opposite of the way it was when we went to school. In doing research, we found out that it is really cool to be into the environment, and to be more thoughtful. It was also really important in casting a guy like Chan, and myself together, that we want to play on your expectations. The expectation was that Chan would go back and be the coolest guy in school, and I'd be more of an outcast. We wanted to flip it and do the exact opposite. I think that's one of the best decisions we've made on this movie.
What made you want to be a producer on this project?
CT: I've been on so many movies. Generally, I haven't gotten to be on the ground level. As of two years ago, in Dear John, I got to really be on the ground floor. I wasn't a producer. I felt like a put the work in, and I did have a lot of sway on what got fixed, reshoots, so on and so forth. It felt really good. I felt like I had a more personal relationship to the film. I made that decision that I wanted to take control, and grow, and get better, and not just sign up for a part and show up on day one. You can always go deeper and put more of yourself and more effort in. The audience deserves it.
Does the studio approach you? Do you approach them?
CT: It comes in all different shapes and sizes. Sometimes you take it to them. Sometimes you sign onto a movie like this and they were gracious enough to come on as a co-executive producer. That was just me wanting to start to do that and to help protect the film.
What's it been like working with Phil and Chris? What do they bring to this in addition to what's in the script?
CT: They come from the art world. They have a really good eye. I haven't seen a comedy that is really this beautiful. The perspective they take is not just, "Where's the comedy? Let's go for that." They really do want it to look awesome and feel kinetic. They zero in and pinpoint the comedy. I think they work really well together. Chris is more of the technical guy, and deals with the camera and that side of things, and Phil comes to us and we spit things off the cuff, trying to come up with different things for different takes.
I'm interested in the description "beautiful." Can you think of an example of a scene where you thought, "This is going to be gorgeous!"
JH: Jump Street. And Pete Wenham, our production designer, is sick.
CT: Unreal. It's this old Korean church. There's a Jesus, and it's blue behind him, and there's clouds. It looks like a cartoon. It's really sculpted.
JH: I would use the term ""aesthetics.""
CT: And the car chase. It's not just running. It's beautiful sun gleaming. Darius killed it in this movie.
JH: And the colors of our costumes.
CT: They really put a lot of thought in.
What similarities would you say there are between this and Green Hornet, another Neal Moritz movie?
JH: I wouldn't compare it to Green Hornet in any way, besides [from the fact that] my friends made the movie. Aside from my friendship with Seth and Evan and Neal and Johnny, our first AD, I wouldn't give any comparison to the two. One's a superhero movie and one's a throwback 80s action buddy cop comedy and high school comedy. When I talk to sixteen year-olds, they don't know what 21 Jump Street is. When they say, "What's that about?" I say, "It's about young looking cops going back to high school," they say, "I'd see that!" That's the way I look at the project as a whole. If you have seen it, you have nostalgia for it. But if you haven't, it's such a cool idea to get to experience high school again.
CT: You can go nuts. There's no pressure. We don't have to get good grades. But then, all of a sudden, we sort of want to get good grades and be popular. You fall into those traps.
What's the timeframe for the film?
CT: I think it's like the last two months of school when we transfer in.
JH: Yeah. There's like ninety days left, or something.
We talked to Brie earlier. Can you enlighten us on the spark between your character and her character, and your love story?
CT: She's a pro-football player.
JH: That's basically it. It'd just be icing, anything I said now. [Laughs]. Brie plays Molly, a girl who goes to the high school. Once I infiltrate the cool kids and become part of the popular crowd, she's a part of that group, and her and I hit it off. Without giving too much away, it's kind of a struggle, because I'm twenty-five years old and she's
JH: Yeah. And there's a lot of hilarious debate on our part
CT: To Catch a Predator type s**t.
JH: Yeah. On how far the relationship's allowed to go. But it's very sweet, and we do kind of grow feelings for one another. It's kind of a sweet, high school puppy love type of thing. But it's very much forbidden because I'm lying and pretending to be eighteen or seventeen, and am actually an adult police officer.
You talk about the audience's potential sense of nostalgia. Do you see this as something that you came into, and said, "I'm just going to take the name of something," or do you have any particular affection for the show that you wanted to incorporate?
JH: Yeah. I got to spend time with Steven Cannell, who was a great guy, and will be missed dearly, may he rest in peace. I respect him a crazy amount, if you look at what he's done. He's such an impressive, nice man. I really did like the show. I've seen every episode a hundred times at this point. But it wasn't a pressure to make it feel like the show. I just loved the idea, like I said originally. That's what gravitated me towards telling the story. The story is getting to relive a really important time of your life, and trying to resurrect those mistakes, and having the same feelings even years later. That's all I really care about. And we did throw in a lot of winks to the show in the movie. Certain cameos or locations, things like that. Other than that, the only thing I feel a responsibility to do is tell a great story along the lines that I described to you.
Do either of you guys have a favorite character or episode from the show?
CT: There was an episode where Johnny wore a turban. I don't remember what he was doing or who he was trying to be like. But he actually had a turban, with a jewel in the middle.
JH: The show gets very crazy. I'm just gonna throw that out there.
CT: They might have been older than we are in doing this.
JH: There's a lot of stuff that plays odd now within the actual show. But we're not spoofing it. We have a respect for the show. The idea of what that show was is what we all loved.
You mentioned that the headquarters of 21 Jump Street was in a church. I remember the church from the old one. Does it look anything like that?
JH: You're just gonna have to see.
CT: I'll say no, I don't think so.
JH: We had a different spin on what kind of church it was.
Is there a fire pole?
JH: I don't think there was a fire pole.
CT: There might be a stripper pole
JH: In my trailer
I want to ask you guys about hip-hop. I know that Ice Cube is in this movie. And you were also in the Greek with Diddy. What's it like working with hip hop artists? Do you guys like rap music?
CT: I love rap.
JH: Me too. I'm a big hip hop fan.
CT: Huge Ice Cube fan.
JH: I'm like the biggest Ice Cube fan.
Is that why he's in this movie?
JH: It is. When Mike Bacall and I sat down the first time we met about the movie, we talked about the stereotype of the angry black captain in every 80s cop movie and why we found that funny, and how we were going to make it different. We talked about someone being aware of that stereotype. That would be funny if the person who was our captain was African American and was aware of that stereotype and couldn't shake it, but didn't care. We were like, "Ice Cube is the only person who can play this part." It was the first time we even talked about there being a movie. We thought it would be great having the guy who wrote "F**k the Police" play a police captain. I've worked with Diddy. I'm a massive hip hop fan. I grew up in the 80s in LA, so Ice Cube and Magic Johnson are my heroes. It was cool. He told us all NWA stories.
CT: I just shut up and listened to this guy.
JH: Three Kings, Friday, all that stuff. That guy's had an epic career. It was so cool that he did this.
CT: That guy's such a professional, man. He knew his lines, he had a lot of heavy lifting in the movie. He came in and nailed it every time.
Are any of you gentleman shirtless in the movie?
JH: I'm in a track uniform I'm assuming that question is aimed more at Channing by your salivation and leaping out of your chair.
Stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Star Brie Larson
Star Dave Franco
6 Things We Learned on the Set of 21 Jump Street
Interview: Directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord
Though it took us practially all day to get a few moments with the very busy, yet extremely friendly directing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, they finally got a moment to wax poetic on the visual and comedic elements of the film. The pair come from an artistic background, so we were particularly excited to hear how that style would factor into an action comedy.
We were just hearing a list of what the drug actually does.
CM: Oh, yeah! Davey Franco was telling you?
PL: Stage One is "The Gigs." Laughing, giggling.
CM: Stage Two is "Tripping Major Ballsack." Stage Three is "Over-Falsity of Confidence." Stage Four is "F**k Yeah, Motherf**ker."
PL: Stage Five is you pass out.
CM: Yeah. You pass out in a fountain. Then you throw Phil into it afterwards for no good reason. But it's cool. He can roll with that. That's the phase.
Is something like that more where an anarchic, more animated style of humor might come in?
CM: Oh yeah. Filmically, that's probably more of our sensibility. A lot of it comes from Mike Bacall, who wrote the script. As you guys know, he did Scott Pilgrim. That has a very animated sensibility to it, too. So it does creep in there, but it's obviously a much more grounded looking movie than the one we did before. Which had flying cheeseburgers.
Can you talk about the inspirations visually? There seem to be buddy cop influences, action, comedy, and of course the original TV show.
PL: When we talked with Barry Peterson, the DPwho is awesome by the wayearly on, we talked about having it be like some of the more classic action-comedies, like Beverly Hills Cop or 48 Hours. And we talked about Running Scared.
CM: We talked about 48 Hours and Running Scared a lot. Go back and watch Running Scared. Beautiful movie.
PL: Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines.
CM: No joke, it's a great looking movie. The director I'm going to get wrong. Is it Peter Hyams?
PL: I don't remember.
CM: It's a guy, he's a cinematographer I think it's Peter Hyams. I could be wrong.
PL- If only there was some way for us to find out. A source that we could access. Oh well! So, that was what we wanted to make sure it would look like. We were afraid of it being too over-studio-lit comedy, or having it feel like a really broad spoof movie. We really wanted to make sure that it felt like it was, in its bones, grounded, so that we could do some of the more silly stuff, like five phases of a made-up drug.
Jonah was talking about color being very important.
PL: We're nerdy geeks about stupid color theory that no one will ever notice or pay attention to. But we like the idea that red and blue were some of the thematic colors of the movie, because they're cops. And America!
CM: We thought of them as republicans. They love America. They love law enforcement. They believe in the drug war.
Can you talk about coming from a film where you were there from the ground up, in terms of the writing, and coming [here] where you had an existing script? How much participation that you can really have in shaping that material that already exists?
CM: In some ways it's the same, because you're still collaborating with a bunch of artists. In animation, there's a script, but you also have the storyboard team that makes such a big contribution to the story and what the movie is. The dialogue and all that stuff. So it's still a group effort. And this is no different in terms of the amount of effort that we put in with Michael and Jonah on the script.
Was there any pressure to live up to the success of the original TV show?
CM: They're gonna [last] for more seasons than us. That's for sure.
PL: Anytime you're basing something off an old property, you have to tread very carefully. Last time, making Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, we didn't wanna piss off fans of the original. We ended up watching all the season and all the episodes beforehand.
CM: And afterwards. To see where we screwed up. But you have to make it its own experience. We tried to take the very interesting idea of undercover cops in high school and try to build a neat character story around it. But essentially, it is a lot of the same things. They were trying to make high school seem a little more grown up. It felt like they succeeded in making it not a kiddy show, not a tweener show. It had edge to it. We've done a lot to make it seem as grown up as possible. There's a lot of great high school movies, but we didn't want it to look like something that felt like High School Musical. We wanted it to feel like it was safe to take your girlfriend to it.
PL: The original was not an R-rated action-comedy, so it differs in that regard. But the premise of being grownups trying to pretend to be in high school is inherently a comic idea. We thought that trying to play it seriously would be unintentionally funny.
CM: Also, the show didn't take itself that seriously. There were a lot of comedic beats in that thing, and it was about the relationships at Jump Street, and how going to high school strained them. To us, it was like a nice jumping off point to do something we've always wanted to do: a crazy action-comedy. A lot of people are doing these kinds of thingstaking existing properties and trying to make something new out of them. It's nice to have the confidence that a known property gives everybody. It gives you [the ability] to be creative in a weird way. All the people investing money in it breathe a big sigh of relief. "Okay, we know how to sell this! This is comfortable! We're not freaking out." You can go and sneak away and make something original.
How careful have you been with the R-rating? Not only to balance potentially audiences, but also to doing something comedic and over the top, and have real intensity to the action?
CM: We feel like NC17 was too to the bottom line. We try to stop short of that. We do have an F-bomb problem on this film.
PL: When you're free to say whatever you want
CM: Yeah. I feel like once you cross a hundred, you should slow down. So we've tried to do that.
PL: We always do clean takes so we have a nice balance. And so we don't get too numb. Obviously, the subject matter of kids and drugs, there's some gunfights, people get shot there was a long discussion about whether it should be PG-13 or R. We felt like [with PG-13], the shackles would be too much. We wouldn't be able to do it accurately or real.
CM: We started talking to the Sony people about The Social Network. You know that scene where they smoke pot with the girls at their house? They have the big six-foot bong? They went back to the MPAA like fifty times to get the perfect cut that would allow that in a PG-13 movie. We heard that, and we thought, "How are we going to do a movie about kids selling and taking drugs, getting drunk?" Doing things you're not supposed to do felt like a disaster. Eventually we all just locked hands and committed to doing [it with an R-rating]. And it made financial sense for the studio, because those movies end up doing really well on DVD. It kind of balances out. Maybe you take a hit by it being R-rated, but the unrated version helps you later.
What's the balance as directors? Is one of you more interested in the look, and one with actors? What's the back-and-forth?
CM: We are not very efficient.
PL: It'd be way easier if one of us did one thing and the other did the other thing. Instead, we both discuss and both do everything to adequacy.
CM: Yeah. That's our goal. Adequacy.
CM: Competence, I would say. Borderline competence. A big goal for the movie: coherence. So, we're on our way to our goals.
Do you care about proficiency?
PL: Just those three things. Aim low and you'll always be pleasantly surprise.
Did the improvisational element add to the learning curve? Was it like trying to figure out how to fit another piece into the puzzle?
CM: It makes it better. It makes it easier, honestly, because you have that much more footage, and that many more choices. Way more ideas.
PL: We've been working with improvisational actors for many years. It was actually something we were really excited to do. Obviously Jonah is an expert at that. He really brings a lot. Any time he opens his mouth, he says a bunch of new stuff that you're not expecting. It's really great. You just have to make sure you have enough footage.
CM: And it just sounds better and feels better. We found that on Cloudy and Clone High. We tried to get things that sounded more in the voice of the actor. It just doesn't sound as fake.
PL: When people read written lines, it can come off canned. If you let them do it in their own language and improvise, as long as they stay on story and their drives are moving forward in the scene, it'll feel a lot more natural and real.
So you think we'll have a lot of good quotes in this movie?
PL: I would hope so. There are definitely things being quoted by the crew all the time.
CM: You never know. It's so weird. You go to test screenings and you have no idea what's gunna land. People go crazy for one thing you really don't expect. Like that "fuzzy walls" sequence in Get Him to the Greek, people freaked out over. There's like, applause breaks in the audience at the test screening. Our friends that worked on the movie were like, "We didn't know! We have to recut it now to add room so that people will be able to hear the important line that happens after that." We would be so lucky to have that experience.
Have you found the test screening process is really helpful to you guys?
PL: It's great, actually. Because of all the improv in the movie, we'll have so much more movie than can fit into a standard movie-length box. So it's great to be able to test it out
CM: We could have a box set.
PL: Exactly. To be able to try different versions out to see audience reactions is a huge bonus. I feel like not doing it is crazy.
We talked to Andrew Stanton recently. He was talking about how animated films almost build in the idea of reshoots into the process so you can refine and change things.
CM: Yeah, because you'll screen that animatic so many times. You'll screen the animatic two years before you do the thing. You don't have that luxury the same way in live action. Although, Ezra our producer has worked with Woody Allen many times, and he said that's what Woody did. He'd shoot for a while, do reshoots while shootinglike throw the previous day's scene out and shoot it again a couple of days later.
PL: He had in his contract like, three weeks of reshoots.
CM: I don't know what he does now, but that sounds really smart.
Is that test-screening process analogous?
CM: If you have enough footage it is. Like in the way that Judd, Stoller, Rodney and Jonah are making these movies, they're generating a lot of material. You have, like, a four-hour movie. So if you have enough footage to monkey around with it, it really does operate that way. Lindsay, our friend, has been through a hundred of those [test-screening] experiences. I asked, "How often are they wrong? The general vibe of the audience, the notes that come out of it?" And she's like, "Almost never." I kinda believe her. More or less, they're right. They're as scientific as it can be. But talk to me after the first test-screen, I probably won't say that.
PL: "They don't know what they're talking about!"
CM: "They don't get it! It was too loud!"
In casting Channing, who has never done a comedy beforealthough we heard today that it turns out he's really good at itbut what went into that thought process?
PL: He's amazing. We had heard that he was really funny. He had done a couple of random, weird little shorts we had seen on the internet.
CM: He did this thing with Charlyne Yi, where they did a scene from Dirty Dancing, really, really straight. And the only thing that's weird about it is that it's Charlyne Yi, and he's wearing a really ridiculous wig. But he plays it so straight! I was so impressed with him.
PL: He did not ham it up.
CM: Yeah, he wasn't trying to be funny. He wasn't ego-driven like that. He was just trying to do a good job. And it worked out great.
PL: We had heard the rumor that he was funny. Then we sat down for dinner with him to see if he would do the movie. After the dinner, we're like, "This guy's awesome! He's so hilarious! If we could just translate our conversation at dinner onto the screen, we'll be set." People are going to be really surprised by him.
Whenever you mention high school, there's automatically a sense of nostalgia for anyone. There's also the nostalgia for the show that was on in the 80s. Are you playing that up at all, or is it something you're trying to avoid?
CM: You mean nostalgia as a thematic thing in the movie?
In terms of, anyone who thinks of high school thinks of older songs. Will that be in the film?
PL: There is an element in the film where the two characters knew each other in high school. Channing was more popular than Jonah's characterprobably very surprising for you to hear. And they had some issues between each other in high school. Now that they're going back to high school for a second time, they're unresolved. They have their own demons that they have to conquer from the first time. The theme of what life was like for them the first time and having to relive it again is very much running throughout the whole movie.
What can you tell us about the continuity from the old show to this show?
CM: That's a good question.
PL: It exists in the same universe.
CM: In 1987, there were cops that worked at Jump Street and went undercover in high school.
PL: There's a line in the movie that says something like, "We're re-commissioning an old program from the 80s that was shut down.""
It hasn't been going all this time?
PL: No, they're starting it back up.
CM: There was legal trouble. This is actually true if you look up the L.A. By Program upon which the original Jump Street show was based.
PL: We talked to Steven Cannell.
CM: Yeah, it was a real thing. They did shut it down sometime in the "aughts," I think, because of a lot of litigation and entrapment issues.
PL: In the universe of this movie, they're reopening the Jump Street division.
CM: There's been a rightward swing in the political spectrum of Metropolitan City. And they've kick-started the program back up.
PL: They dusted off the Jump Street chapel, and back in business.
Did you have a favorite episode of the show, or one that you thought would be perfect to apply to the movie?
CM: It never gets better than the pilot for me.
PL: The pilot has some dated elements to it.
CM: Gangbangers from the ""Beat It"" video crash through a white person's kitchen and hold them up by gunpoint. Happens to people all the time.
PL: The guy's scary because he's dressed like Michael Jackson.
CM: It's definitely shocking.
PL: And Johnny Depp has a sax solo while thinking about his dead father.
CM:He's really good at the saxophone. And that's what cool people play. That was the political reality of 1987: saxophones made you cool. That's real! That really happened in our society! It's tremendous. Go back. Learn out about history.
Stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Star Brie Larson
Star Dave Franco
6 Things We Learned on the Set of 21 Jump Street
Interview: Brie Larson
Now for the leading lady of our funny film. Brie Larson, who you may know from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, shared a little insight into her wildly educated character, as well as the hipster, progressive elements of the new generation of popular kids.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role in the movie?
I play Molly Tracie. She's the female -- I don't want to say ""lead"". She's the girl. That feels like something everyone else can say, but I can't or else I'll pee my pants. ""Love interest"" sounds good. To Jonah's character.
They both described you as a more modern high schooler than they might have been.
Oh yeah. That's nice of them. This whole school is, as times are changing, much more modern and progressive. Molly is in an open relationship with Eric, the Dave Franco character. They seem to be into each other and also very okay not being together. They're free to do whatever they want and are green.
Is that a common thing in high school, open relationships?
You know, I wouldn't know. I think more things are becoming socially acceptable. I think that just by having more media, whether that's TV or internet, we're able to see more things. And once we start to see them, things seem to be less taboo because you're watching everyone else do it. I watched a show on being polyamorous. These are kids who are 19 years old and in relationships with three people. As much as we are shocked by that now, at the same time, you watch it and you see them. They're all loving one another and all together. It's like, whatever works, right?
So your character watches a lot of Skins.
(Laughs) But with the high school thing, I was homeschooled. I don't know that much about it. My sister just graduated and I would be shocked to know what she knows.
Was she homeschooled as well?
No, she just graduated from the high school that I couldn't last a semester at. She's amazing. Much stronger than me.
Why couldn't you last?
I had a tough time fitting in, as I guess most kids do. I felt like school was kind of a grand opportunity to figure yourself out and to figure out what you wanted. I just saw it as a buffet of knowledge and it was a chance to go, ""Oh, I like science!"" or ""I don't like history"" or ""I like this thing"". You find your interests. I knew already and felt like I was wasting my time. I felt like I was sitting there in class going, ""I want to say all these things!"" I felt stifled. Stifled and resentful of school rather than opened by it.
Neal was talking about the moral of the movie sort of being, ""Be yourself.""
Yeah, I think that actually underlying the whole thing is the sense of being yourself and not conforming. There's a lot of different types of people within this film. The movie itself is a weird contradiction. Jonah brings this comedic element. Neal brings this much different action side of it. Then Phil and Chris are kind of the heart of the whole thing with what's technically an animation background. Then you've got Channing who brings this amazing movie-star -- he can do anything, really. Then you've got me and Dave and Riggle and a few other great people who come in and fill those holes. It's an amazing push and pull because we all come from completely different schools. I've never done anything like this before. I know how to have a conversation, but I've never done improv. I've never taken improv classes. I think it's that. The fact that I came from a more dramatic background and that Jonah came from a looser background. The two of us kind of meet in the middle. It's those moments when it does feel a little awkward and it does feel like we're trying to dance but are misstepping that make the relationship seem so realistic and beautiful and wonderful and exactly like what we all went through in high school. It's sweet and it's young and it's insecure, but it's also the most beautiful part of the whole thing.
Do you get to do any action?
You know, I don't. I had to do quite a bit of running and I had to do quite a bit of breaking free and wrestling. I think maybe Jonah and Channing would argue, but I think that I have gotten the most injuries of anybody on this film. I bruise easily and you can even see here -- these are nothing. Also, I get brutally attacked by bugs and I'm very allergic and they turn into bruises. I haven't had to do much of that, but I've somehow become injured and bruised. There's the last scene in the movie after everything where I'm in the ambulance and we have a sweet moment. After all this chase and stuff, they wanted me to be scuffed up and they didn't have to do anything. I had a huge bruise on my shoulder and they were like, ""That's perfect! We don't need to cover that or that or that."" They really just needed to take off makeup.
It seems like Molly is sort of stuck between the good guys who are lying to her and the bad guys who probably don't have her best interests at heart. What do you do to make her stick out and become her own character?
Well, I guess once again it's a huge amount of acceptance in this movie also a large amount of naivete that she has. She's the one person in this thing that doesn't have a clue as to what's going on and is the one person that's following her heart and following Doug and assuming he has the right intentions, which he does. In the end, I think her intuition is right. They just met in a way that seems a little bit misconstrued. The reality is that he really is the person he says he is, it's just the name that's different. The person inside is still that person and she was right all the time.
Do you have any kissing scenes with the male leads or intimate scenes?
I think you'll have to watch the movie, I guess, to see what happens there. That seems like a big spoiler.
Do you feel at all like you're getting that high school experience through the production or does it just feel like a film set?
I don't know. I feel like I lived high school a long time ago or have been living it for awhile in the way that, when people got to get dressed up, I had mine, too. I didn't get a corsage pinned on me, but maybe had a date with my mom and maybe the event was going to my sister's, but I definitely had it. I never thought that I missed out on anything. I never really wanted any of that. I wasn't interested in going to the school dances. I wasn't interested in going to the football games. What I wanted was to be in my room painting my walls and doing weird stuff. That's what I wanted and I got to do what I wanted, so that, to me, is my high school experience.
It's been mentioned that the villains have non-traditional extracurricular activities. Does Molly have any specific interests outside of classes?
She wants to be an actress and her parents are not too keen on it. But that's everything to her. She loves movies and you'll see hints of that every time you see her wardrobe. You'll say, ""Oh, she's wearing that!"" It's slightly different than what she was wearing yesterday because we've all been victim to getting very into a movie and very into a certain character. The next day, we're suddenly dressing like them. But she's a sponge and is young and is trying to learn and find as much as possible. She's so inspired by this media that she's watching a lot of movies and changing constantly. One day, maybe, it's a little more Godard, ""A Woman is a Woman"" and maybe another day is ""Klute"". Maybe another day is ""The Lover"". Maybe another is ""Rollergirl"". She's trying to find herself through these strong females that she so adores.
Do we see her watching or talking about those specific movies in the film?
That's more subtext. That's more something that we kind of created after the fact. The thing is, we're still our own movie. We want to be modern. It's not always so cool to just be a throwback to everything else. It's definitely transcending, but I think it's an important part of her.
Do you think this movie is even remotely as pop-culturally aware as something like ""Scott Pilgrim""?
Oh, this is so different. This is a much more loose form. ""Scott Pilgrim"" is so, so intricate and well thought-out. Edgar was very specific about what he wanted from everybody. There was a scene in ""Scott Pilgrim"" where I was on the phone. He came to me and I think I had about seven lines in it. He said -- and first of all, I don't blink in the entire movie. I wasn't allowed to blink. He said it looked weak if I blinked -- So I had to stare at this one spot. He said, ""You can do one thing per line. Whether that's raising an eyebrow or turning your head or breathing. Whatever. You can do one. You can only do one per line and you can't repeat whatever you did."" At first it was really fun and then it became very confusing. It's like, ""Okay, when you put your head down, it worked better when you did it on this line."" It became like an order, like a burger order. ""I want a medium rare with lettuce, pickles, no onions."" You start to get confused. ""Oh, wait! Was it this one or that last one?"" In the end, it all fits together and looks brilliant and was all for a reason. On this, it's not that nothing's thought out, but it's much more fast and loose. You're catching conversations and capturing more of reality whereas ""Scott Pilgrim"" was taking you into a fantastic world.
Did you have any familiarity with the original ""21 Jump Street""?
I had definitely seen it on TV before. There's reruns that play all the time. But in the process of auditioning for this, I went back and watched it all again. Then since being in the movie, we have the DVD here and we'll pop them in all the time. But I don't know if it's important for us to have watched it and to try and emulate it. How long has it been? Thirty years later? I don't think we could every replicate the magic that they did. The best thing that we can do is to take it into something that's new and exciting. If we succeed at that, hopefully we can make people go back and look at the DVD and watch it again and appreciate that, too.
What was the casting process like?
The strange thing about this was that I kind of just ran into Jonah and Phil and Chris and had no idea. I just started bantering with them. I met Jonah at a table read for another film and we had, through breakups, gone traveling overseas and realized that, when you're already afraid of being alone, the worst thing you can possibly do is to go overseas and be very, very alone. We started talking for a little bit and when I was about to go he said, ""Can I introduce you to my friends?"" I thought, ""Oh, okay. Is this show and tell?"" So I met these two young guys who had pads of paper in their hands and plaid shirts on. I was like, ""Who are these young kids?"" and I talked to them for a second. One of them gave me a stick of gum and we kind of bantered around in a circle for a second. They were like, ""Okay, it's time for notes for the script."" and I left. They were like, ""Best friends!"" and I was like, ""Yeah, yeah. Best friends."" I'm thinking to myself, ""I'm never going to see these people again."" Shortly after, I got a call that there was ""21 Jump Street"" and I got a call to meet with the directors and with Jonah. I looked at the directors online and thought, ""These guys look so familiar. Why do they look so familiar?"" I couldn't figure it out. Then I walked in the room and they were like, ""It's our best friend!"" I was like, ""Oh my god, I forgot. I can't believe it. Of course!"". ""We gave you a stick of gum!"" And then it was one of the best auditions I ever had. I'm not saying I even did an amazing job, but by the end of it I was going on vacation with them, we were going to make long-sleeve hawaiian shirts. We were arguing over what percentage everyone got and what sort of input everyone would have on the shirt. Then there was the question of what you did first: did you go on vacation to research the hawaiian shirt or did you make it and then go to test them out? After that, it was pretty simple. I went in one more time and improv'd with Jonah for a little bit. The hardest part was that I had to wait a week for everyone to approve. I was so stress out. I was like, ""Oh my god. I love these people so much! I want this so bad."" The worst part is the waiting.
Do you find yourself particularly drawn towards younger filmmakers? Edgar Wright and Diablo Cody?
Yeah, but I wouldn't say that I would choose one over the other. I think that usually I'm just drawn to something that's different from something that I've done previously. Whatever makes me feel something. Whatever makes me excited and connected to it. There's obviously something that feels very good about being with a new filmmaker who's very excited, but I also think there's something very comforting in a director that's been around a few times. Both have their pros and cons.
Do you get to have fun with picking your own wardrobe?
It was a long process of getting the wardrobe right because everybody was very -- we were trying to find something that didn't seem like she was trying. It was effortless and, at the same time, different and stand out. But that didn't look like she was trying to show off or that she was asking for attention. With that, it was mostly just -- it was fairly easy. I think that fashion is very important for me and I think that it's a wonderful means of self-expression. It's the most personal thing that you can do, because it's actually physically on your body. It's different if you, say, paint something that's literally seperate from you. Instead of sitting on a table or hanging on a wall, this is actually hanging off of me. It's important and it makes you feel different. You know how it is when you put on your best friend's shirt. You feel weird, even if everyone tells you that it looks good. You know that it isn't right. That's usually what the process is.
Is your character the reason why Jonah is in the play in the movie?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm Wendy in the play. I guess in his way, to get closer to me, he becomes Peter.
That's a musical. Are you singing?
No, there's no singing. Or, at least we don't see the musical part of it. I don't sing in this.
Was the improv ever so much that you couldn't stand it and just started laughing?
A lot. A lot of the time. That's the hardest part. Usually, though, for most of scenes that we have together, it's fine if I laugh. I'm supposed to find him very funny and charming, which I do. If that comes out, that's perfect. I'm exactly where I should be. It's harder when I get to the end of the movie and am held hostage and am supposed to be very upset and the funniest things I've ever heard in my life are coming out. All I can do is pretend there's something really important behind me to hide my face from it. I'm being held at gunpoint by Rob Riggle, who's one of the funniest people on the planet. He's made me need to run to the bathroom many, many times. He's holding me at gunpoint and he just goes on this ten-minute run, which Jonah said was the best run he's ever seen. You can see everyone back stage with hands over their mouth and tears coming up. I can't do anything! If I laugh, I screw this up for everybody. It's like life or death in those moments and afterwards you just fall on the ground and you're just a wiggle worm. You can't stop. I have a few videos of the second a take is done and there's a very quiet set. You can't laugh. It ruins everything. And the second it cuts, it's just [roar]. And we're on these very public street