Looking at Adam McKay's directorial efforts to date, including even the car-centric Talladega Nights, it seems fair to say that The Other Guys was a significant departure—if not a breakthrough—for the filmmaker. Last summer's blockbuster buddy cop movie became the second-highest-grossing film of his career (after Talladega), and showed that he could do more with a camera than set it on a tripod and tell Will Ferrell to be funny in front of it. And its success as both a satire and tribute to the action genre indicates that whether or not he's interested, he may soon find himself being considered as a candidate for tentpole genre films that need an effective combination of humor and, well, head-butting.
BOXOFFICE spoke with McKay earlier this week, just a few hours after Jon Favreau publicly confirmed that he would not be returning to direct Iron Man 3. With the director's chair empty and pundits scrambling to suggest replacements, it seemed appropriate to see how readily he would join that list of filmmakers. In addition to offering his opinion about taking on that sort of job, McKay revealed some details about his actual upcoming projects, including an adaptation of Garth Ennis' The Boys, a biopic about Republican political strategist Lee Atwater, and most surprisingly, the highly-anticipated follow-up to James Cameron's massively-successful 2009 film Avatar.
On Tuesday, Jon Favreau confirmed that he is not directing Iron Man 3. How many times have you been asked to take over for him? Or in all seriousness, how much do you follow that sort of industry drama?
Well, I know Jon from Chicago from like 20 years ago, and I did a big rewrite on Elf, so I've actually worked in a hotel room with Jon for like two months, so I know him really well. So I would be interested—and I'm a big fan of his; he's really great, and Made, to me, is one of the great underrated comedies. So I would be curious as a film fan, and then as a guy who knows him. I actually didn't know that, but that's not surprising to me; I don't think he needs to do the third one. You kind of do it, explore it, kind of put your mark on it, and he can move on. He's got so many things that he wants to do, so I get that. But I'm doing an adaptation of The Boys, that Garth Ennis comic, so I'm actually getting in to a little bit of that—well, hopefully, we haven't gotten the green light or anything, but fingers crossed, I'll be doing some of that superhero stuff as well.
When you're inevitably asked, would you be interested in doing Iron Man 3? It seems like after The Other Guys, they would have you do that, or Avatar 2.
You know, they say don't count your chickens before they're hatched, but I know that Avatar 2 call is coming—I know that one's mine. I'll be really pissed if that doesn't happen. No, I can't imagine doing Iron Man 3; that makes me tired just thinking about that (laughs). And the reason I say that is not because you can't do fantastic stuff, but because I usually like writing or being involved in conceiving what I'm doing, and that one feels like you're just following two smash hits. It always seems like they come in packages of threes, so really if you're doing the third one, you kind of want to finish the first two that he did, you know? I'm not as much of a technical director like that, and I think of myself as half of a writer, so whoever you hire to do that should be a visual beast—that would be their entire focus, I think.
You said that The Boys hasn't been greenlit yet. But what is next for you?
That's the one that I'm chasing the most, but there's also this smaller film about Lee Atwater that we just took notes to this guy Jesse Armstrong on, and it's possible that one could go next too. It's kind of those two, but we'll just sort of see; you know, it's always tricky, what's going to go and what's not, so I feel pretty good about those two. I definitely want to try something different for the next one to kind of go out of the things that we've done in the past, just for the hell of it. I'll obviously go back to working with Will, and will always do stuff with him, but I just thought on the next one it might be fun to try something different, or put myself in a little bit more of a dangerous spot, so these two seem really interesting to me. But who knows? I could be talking to you a year from now and tell you, no, we're doing Step Brothers 2, so you never know. But those are the two I'm looking at.
It sounds like The Boys is in the vein of The Other Guys, in the sense that it fulfills some of the conventions of its genre, and at the same time comments on them.
Yeah, absolutely, and that's what I like about it—no doubt about it. It's completely flipping all of the terms of what's a hero, and superheroes and what they mean, and what they symbolize, and that to me is really fun. And I love when you're in a situation and you can actually do the thing that you're also commenting on and playing with, so to me it should be a movie that's kick-ass and impressive and visually stylish, but at the same time, kind of thoughtful and looking at other sides of the subject. And that's what I loved about the other guys as well, although obviously you have different things you're looking at in each. But I would definitely say it's very similar to that—and kind of all of the movies we've done kind of do that, both kind of legitimately playing the game that we're also making fun of, which I definitely like doing that. Because it's not straight parody, which could get a little boring because it really becomes a math exercise at that point. But at the same time, we a little bit love what we're making.
You mentioned the Lee Atwater project, and Boogie Man is such an amazing documentary by itself. There's almost a "truth is stranger than fiction" aspect of his behavior; how tough is it to depict his behavior knowing that doing so accurately may seem over the top?
Well, that's exactly what draws me to it. He was so charismatic and so genuinely funny and legitimately a good blues guitar player, too; there's just no one like him, and really you could say he was the cartilage, the bridge moment between the modern Republican party and the old Republican party—for the South especially. I mean, he was the engine that made that whole thing go, and it just kind of continued over with everything he taught Karl Rove. So yeah, he's going to be a really fascinating figure to dig into, because he's charming in that way that all Machiavellian figures are—because he's unleashed by conventional rules, and he's funny and charming because of that, but also, what was the impact of what he did, and asking those questions. But that movie should actually be pretty funny; hopefully it's got a little bit of political satire, and it's also kind of an American legend story with no moral judgment made upon it. That thing should be able to go in about four different directions, if it's done right.
I'm sorry to say that I haven't gotten through all of the extras on the Blu-ray yet.
It's inexcusable that you have not watched all nine hours of that stuff.
Talking to Mark recently about his career, he mentioned that he was sometimes uncomfortable being as fearless as you guys are in terms of going for these comedic payoffs. How did you help him be comfortable? It's interesting that sometimes his character looked uncomfortable on screen, but it gave me a sort of meta-enjoyment of the movie because he's reacting maybe more honestly than he realized to Will's behavior.
That's really interesting. I can't tell when Wahlberg was acting, or when actually was uncomfortable. I thought most of the time he was acting, because we'd say cut and he was fine. I mean, he never once objected to anything we were doing. He was always game for it, so the only time he kind of just said to me, "you know, some of my friends in the neighborhood are going to have a lot of fun with this," is when he did the ballet, and I took a beat to appreciate, yeah, that's right—you would get shit for this back in your ‘hood. Otherwise he went with it; whatever we did, and sometimes he would joke about it later—like I can't believe I did that—but it just seemed like he was straight-manning fantastically well, or when we would say crazy shit, he usually would laugh before he'd say the line, because we'd be throwing stuff out from behind the camera, and he'd take a beat and then go and do the line. But yeah, that is part of the joke, though; he does have a persona as a legit dramatic actor, and kind of a tough guy, and I guess knowing him and knowing that's only partially true because he's silly and funny and does impressions and tells great stories, we knew that going in, and sure enough he never showed any hesitation.
You have so much unique content on your releases. How consciously do you tailor your films for possible unrated or extended versions? Is an extended cut basically an earlier iteration of the film?
It's because of the way that we work that we don't have to pay attention to it too much. We improvise so much and we try so many things, so it's just a natural for DVDs. We improvise so much that we always end up with tons of stuff, and that happened on The Other Guys. And they shoot some behind-the-scenes stuff for publicity reasons, and this year we got Jake Szymanski from Funny Or Die to do it, and he just shot stuff that was really funny, so we got some bonus stuff out of that as well.
The material you have on the Blu-ray, like "Mark Wahlberg's Eating Contest Entourage," all seems so specific. Is it really all just discovered on set?
Yeah, well, Jake Szymanski shot that, and he shot the "Close-Up" one I believe too. We know Jake; he's one of the better director-writers we have at Funny Or Die, he's a real talented guy and he'll be doing features someday. And so we just knew that if we got him on set, we're all friends with him and they would just think of things on the spot. So he just kind of roamed around with a camera and one day Wahlberg happened to have that friend who did crazy stuff on set, so those were all just bits that he would think of or on the spur of the moment we'd think of.
Do you guys have a lot of extra time to come up with these things? Or do you just shoot them on the fly?
The fact that was invited Jake probably could be considered a little forethought for the DVD—that would definitely qualify. Because we knew that just doing standard EPK interviews, we knew that if he came on set he would generate bits and ask us stuff. So it would usually be that we finished a bunch of takes and Jake would come up and say, "hey, what about doing this thing?" And we'd just do it. Or, maybe we'd be doing a bit or joking around behind the monitors, and then we'd be like, "Jake, do you mind shooting this?" That was probably the most give and take, but Jake is so independent and comes up with own stuff that it was great because you didn't have to put any energy in that direction, and you knew he was going to come up with stuff.
You also have a Mom-mentary where your mothers talk about the movie. It's a great idea, but what made this movie the right one for it?
We're definitely always trying to screw around a little bit with our commentaries, but we went through a bunch of ideas. But that is a fantastic question. You know, I think it just came down to there is so much going on in this movie, there's a mixture of like our usual absurdist stuff with his background as Gator, the pimp, the crazy lions story and all of that, mixed with the action and all of the different actors in it, and we just thought there was a lot of bells and whistles in this one, and the joke of hearing our moms talk about it just seemed extra funny on this one for some reason. And then it was partially ‘what can we do next?' We had some crazy idea that we were going to do a commentary, transcribe it and then get actors like Jeremy Irons to actually read it playing us. But once we got into the logistics of it, it was so brutal, and the mom idea kept making us laugh, that we knew it was a joke that some people were going to just hate, but I just thought, God—our moms talking about the movie, how can that not be funny?
But most of the people who have come up to me and said they listened to our commentaries in their entirety, I'm not trying to generalize, but most of the time, they're people who enjoy marijuana, or serious film fans. No one else listens to those commentaries. So I knew if we were going to do something, it had to be something you were really going to laugh at when you're high, or as a film fan you would get a kick out of it. We're pretty exclusive to those two demographics when it comes to commentaries.
In terms of the film, is there anything in particular you're excited for the fans to get to see?
I love the scene where Wahlberg goes to visit his ex-girlfriend at the art gallery; that really just made us laugh, and I could not get it to fit in the movie. It was one of my favorite scenes. When you see it you realize it's completely extraneous, but God, it made me laugh, and I think we put it in the extended cut. I can't remember where we put it but it's definitely on the DVD. But God, there's a bunch of things on there; one thing that I really liked that actually was a painful cut was that whole fight that took place inside a Prius, and we shot this thing with like five guys in a Prius just fighting each other with guns while going 70 miles and hour. That was one I put in the extended [cut] and I was like, oh shit, I should have put that in the movie. There was maybe a slight regret. But that's the beauty of the extended DVD, so at least it's out there.