From director Todd Phillips, “Due Date” stars Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis as two unlikely companions thrown together on a road trip that turns out to be as life-changing as it is outrageous.
Downey plays Peter Highman, an expectant first-time father whose wife’s due date is only days away. As he hurries to catch a flight home to Los Angeles from Atlanta to be at her side for the birth, his best intentions go completely awry when a chance encounter with aspiring actor and disaster-magnet Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) leads to the two of them being tossed off the plane and placed on a no-fly list…while Peter’s luggage, wallet and ID take off without him.
With no alternatives in sight, Peter is forced to hitch a ride with Ethan and his canine traveling companion on what turns out to be a cross-country road trip that will destroy several cars, numerous friendships and Peter’s last nerve.
MoviesOnline sat down recently with Robert Downey Jr, Zach Galafianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Alan R. Cohen(wr), Alan Freedland(wr), Adam Sztykiel(wr), and Todd Phillips(wr/dir) at a press conference in Los Angeles to talk about their new film. They told us about their recent collaboration, what motivated Robert to spit in a dog’s face, why Zach’s character is nothing like his stand-up persona, and what the chances are of a possible sequel. Robert also updated us on “Sherlock Holmes 2” and his feelings about “Iron Man 3” moving from Paramount to Disney. Todd discussed the possibility of working on a John Belushi project with Zach in the future.
Q: The film’s slogan is “Leave your comfort zone.” What is your comfort zone? Robert, Zach?
Zach: My comfort zone is press conferences.
Robert: Conversely, mine actually is press conferences.
Q: Michelle, you’re reunited here with Robert Downey for the first time since “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Can you talk about what’s happened since then, if you see each other very often, and why you wanted to do this movie?
Michelle: Obviously I was very excited and jumped at the opportunity to work with Robert again.
Robert: She did us a favor.
Michelle: I adore Robert. I had such an amazing experience on “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” so this was really exciting for me and obviously I’m a huge fan of Todd and Zach’s alright. So, I was very exciting and yes, I do get to see Robert occasionally. It’s a nice mug to see.
Robert: Zach, I don’t want to offend our spouses but I’d love to have a baby with Michelle.
Q: In preparation for this character?
Robert: Yeah, yeah, in preparation for the character. So I missed the shot to do it. I should have tried it 9 months ago.
Q: Zach, is this character closer to your stand-up persona than the other film characters you’ve played?
Zach: No, I don’t think that Ethan Tremblay is anything like me. God, I hope not. My stand-up is more like how I am in real life. I don’t really do a character thing in stand-up. It’s just a bunch of sentences that are supposed to be funny. This Ethan guy is a lot more complicated, I think.
Q: So there’s a reason he says random sentences that end up being funny?
Zach: Yup. Yes.
Q: Which is?
Zach: Oh, do you want me to perform right now?
Q: No, just your take on the character, what are his reasons?
Zach: Well, his reasons are not intentional, I think. I mean, when you’re doing stand-up, you’re kind of doing “Hey, I thought of this. This may be funny.” But Ethan has no idea he’s being funny and I think people that are not self-aware and kind of like a truck with no brakes is really kind of funny. He’s saying things but he doesn’t understand why they’re funny which I think is inherently funny.
Q: Robert, how much fun was it to punch that kid and what was it like working with kids in general?
Robert: I love that we’ve actually gotten more push back from spitting in a dog’s face than from punching a human child in the stomach. Those were the two things. Todd told me to do both of them, and one of them on the day he said “You should have spit in that dog’s face.” I was like “Hee, hee, hee.” He said “No, I want you to spit in that dog’s face.” I said “That’s so definitive.” He said, “I know, but I think people will like you enough. I don’t know if they will but just spit in his face.” And he loves dogs and I actually don’t like dogs so I felt kind of horrible and splenderous doing it. There was a question there somewhere but I’m sure whatever I said was far more entertaining.
Q: Zach, did you have a problem with spitting in the dog’s face? That was your dog.
Robert: Jesus Christ, dude! Just answer the question.
Robert: Yes or no. That dog made you sick.
Zach: I didn’t like the dog but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to spit. Robert spit in my face every morning. That’s exactly right.
Q: This movie is really about fatherhood – becoming a father, losing a father – can you guys talk about that a little bit?
Todd: I think that’s exactly right. While it’s a road movie and it’s a comedy at its core, it’s a movie about Zach’s character, Ethan Tremblay, who is going through a trauma having just lost his father and Robert who is just about to become a father for the first time and why they needed to meet at this moment and why Robert needed to travel with this man-child who was going through this traumatic experience but who is really a purely loving creature much like a child would be and just needed some adjustments, I guess.
Q: Why did that story resonate with you and you guys?
Robert: Don’t answer that, Todd.
Todd: Thank you. I refuse to answer that question.
Zach: I’ll tell you. It’s actually very personal. Maybe.
Todd: No, I think, it’s just an interesting take. For me, personally, it’s an interesting movie to make. I tend to make movies…I started making movies about college kids and I sort of grow with my movies. They’re always about in my age range it feels. That’s sort of the next step in life, having a kid and fatherhood so it just seemed like an interesting thing to mine – both for emotion and for comedy.
Q: Robert, were you channeling a bit of Todd in this or the look for your character?
Robert: I’m actually glad you asked that because every time I feel that I’ve hit critical mass and I’m in the right place, is when I feel like the director and I become a third thing and that’s the character. And, even though the central subject of the movie is Ethan, the person who you’re kind of seeing it through is Peter, and absolutely and particularly when he said this is just a lot of hostility and there’s a lot of fear and his kind of attitude and his anger is covering that fear and stuff and we like to commiserate. We’re genuinely pretty happy guys but we love just getting crabby together and he is kind of like a hostage child that we’ve taken who’s watching mom and dad or dad and dad as they just hash it out. You’re the first person who’s asked that and I think that’s absolutely true. I always feel like I’m playing an aspect of the director, particularly when he’s an auteur and when we’re … To me, it’s almost like making him a proud parent. I’m a bit of an appendage of some aspect of the director.
Q: Guy Ritchie?
Robert: Guy Ritchie, yes. I just say “Yes” to Guy Ritchie. Guy in a way is a bit more of that kind a British, smart fighter type thing.
Q: The film evokes “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” in its pairing and its plot. I’m curious what classic road films you were all thinking of as sort of mental templates or inspiration for the feel of the film?
Todd: The movie we talked about most oddly is “Rain Man.” That, to me, is a road movie and a great road movie and that was a movie that came up a lot as well as “Midnight Run.” Of course there are comparisons with “Midnight Run,” but there’s comparisons with “Planes, Trains” and “Tommy Boy” and other things, but I think the movie we talked about most was “Rain Man.”
Robert: And Michelle was saying “Wages of Fear” quite a bit too. Didn’t you say something about that?
Michelle: I did. That and “Scooby-Doo.”
Robert: I hope you guys don’t blow up the studio and other ridiculous notions.
Q: Anything from the writers?
Alan: Well Todd said it right when Alan and I wrote the movie we were thinking of a lot of road movies, but “Midnight Run” was absolutely one that we thought about. You’ve got two characters who are opposite of each other and they’re stuck in a very high pressure situation and out of their comfort zone and you get to reveal a lot about the character in those situations.
Q: Of course, Michelle, you’re only seen in person. It’s kind of a ridiculous situation. You’re on this table with your legs up.
Michelle: (laughs) Been there, done that.
Q: With him?
Robert: This isn’t “Weird Science.” She’s not Kelly LeBrock.
Q: It’s hard to follow that. For Todd and Robert, can you talk about how you developed scenes together in this and also, if it does resonate with audiences, would you like to see a franchise out of this or are your franchise dance cards full?
Todd: The way we’ve worked it out is the way I’ve done it on all my movies, but this film in particular had an interesting process because Robert has a very producerial brain. He is basically another writer in the room. Zach is really an empty vessel and he just sits and writes. (laughter) No, but … So Robert and I had lots of spirited discussions every morning about it. We had the pages and he’d go “Okay, what are we really doing?” Not to discredit the writing process which I was part of too, but we would just…
Robert: It’s a great script which made me hate it all the more.
Todd: Yeah, Robert has an aversion to things that are typed I’ve learned. So even if we just rewrote the actual scenes…
Robert: (to the screenwriters) Well done by the way, fellas.
Todd: If we just rewrote it on a napkin, even if it was the same scene, he felt better about it. But no, we took it apart. The great thing about Robert is he constantly – and I’ve said this before – he made me a better director and the reason for that is he’s constantly challenged what we’re doing every day in the larger, bigger picture of it. A lot of times you’ll hear about actors and they’re worried about their lines and their thing and Robert thinks of the movie as a whole and he thinks of every character in the movie as a whole and that’s what I mean by a producerial approach to it. For me, it was an unequalled experience. I just never experienced anything like it. I don’t know, I think that was the process. You witnessed a lot of it.
Zach: Each morning there was a meeting. I would read the minutes from the last meeting. Todd yells, Robert yells back, “Let’s get on with the new meeting.” There was a discussion for at least about an hour each morning it seemed like, sometimes longer.
Todd: Sometimes three.
Zach: Yeah, and it really helped it. It really did. And as far as the franchise stuff goes, we were kind of fantasizing at the last day. It was the last day certainly that I was working. I can’t remember but it was also towards the last scene or it was the last scene at the hospital. There’s a moment – and I don’t know if you’ll recall – where Ethan says to Peter, “Call me” and then I’m like “No, call me. Tomorrow.” or whatever I said. And we were fantasizing. I’ve never seen a movie jump genres so the sequel would be more like a “Cape Fear” thing where my character is actually not dumb at all. It’s just been an act.
Alan: It’s an elaborate ruse.
Zach: This whole time and I’m there to stalk Robert’s family.
Todd: I also think and what I thought you were going to say is to just pick it up literally from the minute later. You know what I mean? Instead of jumping for a month or a year, it’s literally from that moment you left.
Robert: That would be fun.
Zach: That would be great.
Todd: There you go. That’s how ideas are hatched.
Q: Can you talk about your ideas on the franchise and also the process?
Robert: Yeah, that’s what I need is 3 franchises so I can literally have a personality meltdown in real life. But I would do it with these guys. I have to say too there was something so cathartic about – and as we all know from both the writers and Michelle peripherally and our involvement in it – but I think just it was the most healing project I’ve every worked on and I’ve never come up against anyone who is so confident thoughtful, and so spontaneous that it’s not even daunting. He’s just in a class by himself and I think Todd is the best director I’ve ever worked with, bar none.
Todd: Oh! Did you all get that?!
Zach: And don’t forget about the part before that which I thought he was talking about you the whole time and then he switched over.
Q: For the writers, it’s a great story but I see a lot of similarities with some other comedies like a strong friendship between men that causes problems with your partner. Are buddy movies part of a new comedic genre for American films?
Alan: I don’t know if it’s a new genre.
Adam: It’s been around a while I think. Certainly with “The Hangover” there’s been a lot of attention to it recently because it’s been very successful but I don’t know if it’s new. What do you think?
Alan: The buddy comedy has been around for a long time just because there’s always great comedy to be mined from two guys in conflict and Todd always from the beginning saw this movie at best when he said it’s a buddy comedy without the buddies and I feel like that’s what it really comes down to. It’s two guys stuck together that have anti-chemistry, that are just every step of the way they have completely different world views and are totally at odds and that’s always a great place. That kind of conflict always creates great comedy.
Q: Did you write Todd in or did Todd write himself in?
Todd: No, I wrote myself in that morning. It was never there.
Robert: By the way, what is it that you’re whispering to Juliette Lewis? I’ve been trying to …
Todd: That is called great acting. It’s understated.
Robert: Unintelligible if you ask me. But, to me, it’s the best single line in the movie because I can’t even tell what you’re saying.
Todd: I said “Did you remember to take Judge Mathis?” And she says “Yeah, it’s on there. Just look on the menu.” I’m serious.
Q: Robert, often modern protagonists get sanded down in focus groups into this vanilla blandness, was it refreshing to play someone with so many real yet repellent moments in their arc?
Robert: Absolutely. And I don’t know why, but it was an invitation to me to get in touch with everything that annoys me about everyone and all of the fear I have that everyone can relate to. So, in a way, I felt like I was a conduit into this. It wasn’t very pleasant to pull into this. I’m not a method guy. I can’t be bothered to have a method. I just want to be part of a good movie and I can’t stand being surrounded by morons but we had such a great group of people on the whole thing. It’s funny. You could say this is a two-dimensional commercial comedy. I feel that this is the second greatest story ever told.
Q: What’s the first?
Robert: Oh, c’mon!! The Bible!
Q: Can you talk a little about Juliette Lewis because she’s had a great year of cameos, and if you do the “Cape Fear” thing, would she be in it?
Robert: She’s gotta be in it.
Todd: She would but I don’t think Zach could fit his finger in her mouth.
Robert: Does he have a swollen finger? Do you want a piano?
Zach: At least my father didn’t leave me. Okay, the news is out. That’s what the father issue is about. There it is.
Todd: No, I love Juliette Lewis. She’s been in three or four of my movies now. She’s one of those people – and Michelle’s the same way quite honestly. This movie is about these two guys and the other parts in the film aren’t a huge deal. They aren’t huge pieces. And Robert said it best, Michelle did us a favor. She came in and she worked for those days and she brought what she brings and she’s amazing, and Juliette the same thing, and Jamie Foxx, Danny McBride. I like to think they’re actors. They like to play. So, if it’s a two-day part for Juliette or a one-day part for Danny McBride, you call them up and say “Hey, I’m doing this great thing with Robert and Zach. Would you come down and just fuck around for the day. We’re going to have fun.” I think ultimately that’s how it works but Juliette in particular is just stupendous and she’s sort of sunshine, to me, when I look at her, and I think she brings so much to small roles and large roles.
Robert: I love how riveted she is by your monologue too. You’d have thought she was hearing Olivier break one off. She’s just like mystified.
Q: For Todd and Zach, there was a note in Details magazine that you mentioned about a John Belushi project with possibly Zach involved. That’s just such a delicious prospect. Could you both talk about that for a moment and what that would mean to get that made?
Todd: Well it’s not something Zach and I have really talked about and here’s the deal: I’m not going to Zach with it and I’m feeling bad now. (Laughs) No, the truth is that’s a project that … I’m kidding…
Robert: Who is your casting choice?
Todd: Anybody but Zach. No, the truth is that’s a project like a lot of projects that you’re developing and you’re talking about. I’m working with this phenomenal writer Steve Conrad who wrote “Pursuit of Happiness” and Zach is honestly the guy we talk about but Zach and I haven’t spoken about it. It’s so in its nascent stages that I’m not sure when that thing comes to fruition if Zach would be interested or what, so we’ll see.
Q: Robert, with upcoming news, how do you feel about “Iron Man 3” going to Disney?
Robert: Love it! What does that mean?
Q: That it’ll be released under Disney’s deal with Marvel.
Robert: Well, you know what, I really loved our relationship with Paramount but to me, the main thing is I don’t care about any of that and that they’re going to make those moves, I just want to make a great movie. And, thanks to my tutelage under two guys who know how to play with power, Zach and Todd, I know exactly what to do with “Iron Man 3.”
Todd: Love it!
Robert: That was almost mad with power, my delivery. Thank you.
Q: Robert and Zach, do you have any friends in real life that mirror the crazy relationship your characters have in this film and what is your definition of friendship?
Robert: To me, friendship means loving tolerance.
Zach: I think Robert and I formed a friendship on this movie, albeit a very antagonistic but fun relationship. He’s really very, very funny and he makes fun of people a lot and for some reason I like to be made fun of, even if it has to do with my fingers not fitting in someone’s mouth. That’s really hilarious.
Q: Robert, could you talk a little bit about how “Sherlock 2” is going and will you be in “Gravity”? And Zach, there’s an internet viral video going around about an interview with you and this Dallas morning talk show guy and it’s very reminiscent of “Between Two Ferns.” Can you tell us if that was real or if that was staged?
Robert: Well I don’t want to waste time talking about other projects. “Sherlock 2” is fantastic. We had this idea that we were going to do some viral videos to promote the movie and then we could barely hit our ass with both hands just to even show up and do the regular press but the idea was that we were going to have this double inner monologue going. We were going to walk down Venice Beach and out to the sand and shake hands and then walk away from each other. That would only take an hour to shoot. And then, we were going to lay the most awesome double internal voiceover over it and it would have been – we’ll never get to it – the greatest viral video of all time. So just imagine that we’d had the time, space or wherewithal to do that and we’re happy to comment on that because we’d like to know what it would have been.
Zach: As far as that video, I don’t want to give away the thing because I think sometimes that spoils it if you know.
Q: Zach and Robert, which of you would be more likely to break up horribly in the middle of a take? And after each of you give your justifications, I’d like Todd to weigh in with the verdict.
Zach: By the way, let me just thank you for standing up each time that you ask a question. It shows a bit of respect. But you stand up so quickly and with so much energy, I forget the question. Can you repeat it?
Q: Who’s more likely to break up in the midst of a take?
Robert: Let me put it this way. I’m 85 times more professional than Zach…
Zach: He’s cutting me off…
Robert: …But I was also hoping we’d have some good gag reels so maybe I’d chuckle a little bit more. He might not actually know how funny he is sometimes too.
Todd: Yeah, Zach doesn’t really break up. He just goes. He’ll read him lines and then about half way he’ll [sound of clearing his throat] and starts…
Robert: He has a ghastly tic. It’s my favorite thing about him, to tell you the truth, particularly when we’re doing press and it takes him 45 years to answer one question when he’s trying to think about what the answer is and then he stutters and then he judges himself and [sound of clearing his throat] then he starts over again.
Todd: And he starts over and that would make Robert laugh.
Robert: “Sonny, stop it! We’re going to be late.” [sound of clearing his throat] “Oh, I’m sorry.” “Sonny, stop it! Stop it, Sonny! We’re going to be late!” And I’m there and the film is just rolling and I’m thinking this is an anthropological study and I’ve never seen anything fucking like it. “Now what are we supposed to do? What’s my rationale?” “When will you be done? That will be my cue.” It’s indeterminable.
Zach: I know my face is turning red. I don’t want you to interpret it as being embarrassed. It’s rage. The color of my face is rage.
Q: Todd and Zach, can you talk a little about the opportunities that opened up for you with the success of “The Hangover” and also, Zach, I saw your character being portrayed at Halloween last year and also at a Flaming Lips concert I went to last year. Can you talk about that iconic character?
Zach: We were shooting “Due Date” in Albuquerque last year for Halloween and I went to a Halloween party. I didn’t really know anybody. I went with a couple people from work and I was just dressed like this. There was a guy there dressed as the character from “The Hangover” and I thought it would be interesting to walk up to him and say “Hey, you’re dressed as me. I’m the real person.” And he goes “Yeah, right!” and he just walked away. So that’s a bit freaky. As far as the opening up of opportunities, Todd has told me of late that I’ve never thanked him for anything and I’m here just to say that probably I’m not going to do it today. In all honesty, it is strange to have a little bit of … Todd helped me. He took a chance I think in plucking me out of the stand-up scene and nobody knew the movie was going to be so big and we just kind of got lucky and I’m thrilled that it happened.
Q: Robert, the Peter character seems to have an awful lot of insight into acting for an architect and I wondered if that might have been part of his background. But also, thinking about your character in “Tropic Thunder,” you seem to take great joy in puncturing the images that actors have. Is that fair to say
Robert: I think Todd and I said that his neighbor was a casting director so it’s just like I tell you about when the Guggenheim opened in ’59 or ’69 or whenever it was and you tell me about what’s going on with casting your show and everyone wants to be an actor. But everybody knows that everybody who thinks they want to be an actor and has no chops and is going out of it, I think I’m worried for him so my fear is that this moron that I’m stuck with is… Actually I’m trying to give him some insight but I’m just mad at him when I give it. But also it was a bit – this is a disgusting thing to say and speaks to my hugely inflated ego at the time – it’s not as bad now – I felt it was my duty to teach this guy to fucking act but he already knew how. But I taught him.
Q: Zach, we all know you as a comedic actor but you have a pretty shockingly powerful scene in this film in particular, was it hard to switch gears to play that scene?
Zach: No, it’s not. It’s fun to do. I think probably editorially it might be difficult to put together but I don’t know. If you can make people a bit emotional watching the scene and then make them laugh prior to that, I think that you just don’t see it that often and I think Todd got it right. But the whole thing about that scene, the bathroom scene I guess is what you’re talking about. To me, it’s not so much what Ethan does, it’s the look on Robert’s face that I think sells that – as Robert told me yesterday.
Todd: It’s true. It’s not the action, it’s the reaction and Robert is watching this all happen and to me, I agree with that. It’s just all on Robert’s face as he realizes “Wait a minute. This guy’s actually going through trauma and having a breakdown.” So it was very cool to watch.
Q: In summary, Todd, do you think your actors, the whole process, did everyone leave their comfort zone?
Todd: Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t know that Robert leaves his comfort zone because I think Robert is capable of anything quite honestly as an actor. And Zach has so much that we haven’t even seen yet even in “Due Date” or in his other roles. I don’t know that we left our comfort zone. I do think what Zach just touched on is the key to “Due Date,” which is the movie takes these tonal shifts that I don’t think you see in a ton of comedies which for me was the fun part of making it and the challenging part of directing it, and I think for these guys possibly the challenging part of doing it, where you’re in a bathroom scene, he has a breakdown, this guy’s actually feeling emotional, and the next scene he’s masturbating with his dog. And the audience to stay with us and to stay on that ride is what makes the movie connect and work so that’s what I’m most proud of with “Due Date.”
“Due Date” opens in theaters on November 5th. Be sure to read Lukes early Due Date Review