Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman take the body-switching movie where it’s never gone before in “The Change-Up,” the raunchy new R-rated comedy from the director of “Wedding Crashers” and the writers of “The Hangover.”
Best friends since childhood, Mitch (Reynolds) and Dave (Bateman) are now grown men struggling to maintain a waning friendship and wishing they could be in each other’s shoes. Following a drunken night out together, their worlds are turned upside down when they piss in a magic fountain and wake up in each other’s bodies. In a case of ‘be careful what you wish for,’ they soon discover that each other’s lives are nowhere near as rosy as they once seemed. With time not on their side, they comically struggle to avoid completely destroying each other’s lives before they can find a way to get their old ones back.
MoviesOnline sat down with Reynolds and Bateman recently at a press conference in Los Angeles to talk about what it was like to take on the body-switching genre with the freedom that comes with an ‘R’ rating. They told us why they jumped at the chance to be a part of the film and what it was like playing two completely different people in the same movie. They also revealed how much they enjoyed working opposite two fantastic actresses with strong comedic chops and what the collaborative process was like with director David Dobkin and writers Jon Lucas & Scott Moore.
Q: Would you really want to switch bodies, just for a day, to see what it would be like?
RR: I’d do terrible things to his body.
JB: And to my wife. He’s been after my wife for years.
RR: Years. Amanda — she would be mine.
Q: Tell us a little bit about getting involved in this: Did you actually study each other a little bit?
RR: A little bit. I first met Jason 15 years ago, so we’ve known each other a long time. I think I could speak for both of us quite unilaterally when I say neither of us is good enough at our jobs to do an impression of each other.
JB: How dare you.
RR: No, we didn’t really work on that specifically. We really went with the essence of the other guy. We have a pretty high level of conceit right at the get-go on a movie like this, so we didn’t want audiences picking apart our performances as a spot-on imitation of each other. It didn’t seem really necessary.
JB: You’re not going to R-rated comedies to get a study in acting. You want to go in there, have a good time, laugh your ass off, maybe get offended a couple of times and get the hell out. We’re not trying to win Oscars here or teach anybody any lessons. Having said all that, this movie is about as high-quality — if I do say so myself — as you can get with an R-rated comedy. The comedy absolutely pushes all boundaries and barriers and happens to sneak in quite a bit of heart and relatability, if that’s possible in a concept where people switch bodies. It’s the reason that Ryan and I jumped at the chance to be in the film: The quality of the script, what Lucas and Moore did with what is obviously a concept that people are more than familiar with, that there’s no reason to do another body-switching movie unless you’re going to do something different — and we do here. It’s an R-rated body-switching movie, and it hasn’t been done before. You put the director of “Wedding Crashers” on that, and I’m already in. We were lucky to be a part of it, and we couldn’t be prouder of it.
RR: He said all that on one exhalation. Do you have gills or something? That’s amazing. That’s really incredible.
Q: Can each of you talk about how your characters changed from page to screen, and what you brought to that, any suggestions that you had?
RR: Those guys, Lucas and Moore, they’re very capable with — is it a typewriter they’re going on? The script was in pencil — straight up pencils. It’s a charcoal sketch of what they were thinking. They had a lot of it on the page there. Jason and I, when we first started banding about jumping into this somewhat ridiculously premised film, we didn’t really have a preference on the character: I said, “I’ll play either guy, I don’t care.” He felt the same way. We felt like we’d maximize the comedy by doing it the way we ended up choosing to do it.
JB: That, and he lost Rock Paper Scissors.
RR: That’s true as well. So much can happen on a simple game like that.
JB: Paper covers rock.
RR: We mostly sat in a big room in Atlanta two and a half weeks before shooting, throwing a football around and playing with the lines, coming up with alts — we had a lot of different alts. We had Lucas and Moore with us, and David Dobkin. It’s a great way to start a movie, just diving right in.
Q: Ryan, which character would you say you’re more like in real life: the uptight type A Dave or the more free-spirited, crazy Mitch?
JB: You can pick one of the women, too, if you feel like that.
RR: I’m a lot like Leslie. No, I’ve got to say I’m somewhere in the middle. There was a time in my life when I’d wake up mornings in a shallow pool of my own fluid, but those days are over. I eat breakfast now, not ketchup. It’s different now. I think I’m a little bit more toward the conservative guy. I don’t know if I’m uptight, but I’m definitely a little bit more in that world.
Q: Jason, you and Leslie are the two with kids and a career and cats. Did you ever bring any of your fatherly qualities to set and crack the whip there?
RR: He gave me a spanking or two.
JB: Yeah, but what he loves most is getting powdered.
RR: And changed.
JB: He loves to stay dry.
RR: Definitely, love to stay dry.
JB: My fatherly skills are questionable to start, let’s be clear. I didn’t need any lessons on how to change diapers when I was playing the Dave character. I’m upset I didn’t need to do any swaddling in the film, because I can swaddle like a mofo. I can wrap kids like a little burrito. These kids were too old to be swaddled. I was comfortable with them, even when I was playing the idiot, Mitch. He’s got to handle them like a guy who doesn’t know how to handle kids, but I was able to do that in a safe way. I know how to find parts on a kid that, as long as you’ve got a firm hold on that part, you can pretty much —
RR: The scrotum.
JB: — you can just about drop them and they’re still safe. You look at the domestic part of this film and you think, “Is that going to soften the R rating?” because when you buy a ticket to an R-rated film, you want R-rated comedy. That was a concern of mine when I was reading the script. There’s R-rated concepts and tone in this film, and one of the R-rated concepts in this film is taking a fox and putting it in the henhouse. You need the henhouse: The henhouse is this beautiful, domestic situation with this house in the suburbs with his beautiful wife and his three kids, and then you drop this pig in there.
JB: The character, angel. It was used quite well. There was a lot of cleverness in the script and the concept.
Q: What was the part that you enjoyed the most during the process of making the film?
JB: Working with this guy is pretty great. This is a hacky way to say it, but we didn’t do a whole lot of work because there’s a lot of playing and there’s a lot of support. He’s got incredible ideas for what different to say if you’re tired of hitting that joke out of the park, which these writers write these incredible lines. Eventually you’re going to get tired of hearing that, and you’re going to stop laughing at it, and he comes up with one that’s no better, no worse, but beautifully different. Working with David Dobkins, fantastic, because the guy’s incredibly professional and prepared. Everything moved like people had been there before and knew what they were doing, and in a world of chaos — which is what a movie set is — it’s nice to be working with professionals.
RR: I’d admired this guy for a long time, both personally and professionally, but working with him, I used to pride myself on the fact that I could not break in a scene. You could do and say anything, but he turned it into an actual disability for me. There’s an entire movie that could be cut of just me tearing up and trying to hold it together, and then standing at a perfect right angle for the rest of the scene because I can’t catch my breath. That was really nice to work with that for a while, but pretty soon it got embarrassing, I have to say.
JB: Then he got over me. I’d run out of material in week two.
RR: Yeah, but your wife — wow.
JB: She will keep you busy.
Q: David was saying that there are some things in the film that, when they were shown to test audiences, they were like, “Isn’t that going a little too far?” On set, did you have to pause and say, “Maybe that’s a bit too much?”
RR: Yeah, there was a few of those moments. For me, there were a couple moments in the lorno that went a little far. I don’t typically look at a schedule in advance, which would be a little wise tip for some young, up-and-coming actor to know that when your mom is coming to visit. That was the two days that my mom came out there to Atlanta to visit: I introduced her to my porn mate and proceeded to get in there and do the best I could without throwing up on someone’s back. That was tough. There were a few moments in that sequence that aren’t in the film — that will perhaps be on the DVD — which are way too far. Way, way, way too far.
Q: Can you give us a hint?
RR: I don’t know if I should, actually, because the little hint will turn into a tidal wave. There’s some stuff that way, way crossed the line.
JB: No, I didn’t feel like there were gloves on at all during this film. We could have kept going further and further and further, but there’s a balance you have to strike. You don’t want to get the audience numb to stuff that is shocking. That’s what makes David such a good director, that if you have it all be shocking and crazy all the time, then you have static. He’s got a great ability, as do the writers, to bring it down, have it touch earth every once in a while and then take off again. This is a pretty good movie.
Q: There’s a few ways to do a body-switching movie: You can do it the way you guys did it, where you play the other part, or you can do it where the actors continue playing their roles and the other characters see that differently. Was that part of the fun for you guys, where you actually get to do it this way where Jason, you’re playing Ryan’s part, and Ryan, you’re playing Jason’s? Would you be interested to do it in a standard way?
RR: I wouldn’t have. Every actor loves a challenge like that where you get to play two different people in the same film. For me, I think the only way to do it was that. Plus, it allows you to inhabit the bodies these guys are in, to really experience their world. The fact that basically if the film where two drunk idiots piss in a magic fountain, great, but they switch bodies, great, and then what happens after that is what to me was the reason to do the film. To have this mentally unhinged lunatic be looking after your children was very appealing. There’s something fantastic about that setup and that payoff and vice-versa. This conservative guy who’s basically inhabiting the world of a guy who, unbeknownst to him, is working in porn. It’s absurd, but that’s what it’s all about. If you’re seeing it all through the perspective of other people, I don’t think it would be as rewarding.
RR: Thanks for weighing in.
JB: I’ll take the next one.
Q: What was it like to play opposite Leslie (Mann) and Olivia (Wilde) who play such strong, challenging women?
JB: It fit really well in this film because there’s a lot of offensive things that his character does, that my character does. To earn that acceptance from the audience and to have it not be repugnant or repellant, the audience has to empathize with him and with me. Therefore, we are basically playing victim a lot throughout the whole film, and that was very intelligent from the writers’ perspective. It lets you do a lot of crazy things if the audience feels bad for you, so by having the strong women, as well, dominating them and emasculating them at certain points, again, it earns you more leeway comedically. In an R-rated movie, you want to push things as far as possible in this, so I don’t know if that was a conscious strategy on their part, but it certainly worked for the film.
RR: I love the body of Leslie. It’s like —
RR: Hey, hey, hey. I think she’s a fantastic comedic actress, as we all know. What she does is she brings something to the table that allows the audience to want to see Dave back with her. A lot of these movies do tend to two-dimensionalize women, especially in that kind of role; it can be very thankless. It’s very easy to paint her as the nagging, offensively stereotyped wife role. She’s complex and hot and funny and charming and interesting. Yeah, their life might be just a little touch stale, but that’s what happens. You still, the whole time, want Dave to get back there. That’s important. Olivia, that girl brings so much to the table. God, the mouth on her, like a sailor.
RR: I wasn’t going there, come on. Just amazing. It takes a lot of comedic chops to play a role like that, and not let it turn into the person she’s going along with it. I like that she’s getting this guy into as much trouble as his buddy was.
Q: You have to handle — or should I say, mishandle — babies in the movie. What was it like? Were you nervous? Is it bizarre that there’s a group monitoring animals on set but there’s not a group monitoring kids on set?
JB: That’s what parents are there for.
RR: It’s not child abuse when you put your kid in Hollywood.
JB: You get paid for that.
RR: They’ll be fine.
JB: For that particular scene which I think you’re referring to, where I’m carrying them by the backs of their necks down a flight of stairs, they had built a special harness for each one of those kids, so there’s actually basically a shopping bag handle around each one of their chests and backs that I was holding onto that their onesie was over. What could happen bad? I could take a header going down the stairs, yeah, but come on, guys. I know how to run down a flight of stairs. The parents were briefed and asked — not necessarily in that order — about all of the things that might be risqué both with language or with physical efforts. They were completely on board; they were very responsible
RR: Surprisingly indifferent.
JB: We wrote a lot of the requests for what we wanted to do with the kids on the backs of dollar bills.
RR: Just slipped it to them.
JB: It was very easy. All appropriate precautions were taken. In fact, in the kitchen scene where they’re on the counter and you think, “Oh my god, he’s walking away from the kids on the counter; they’ll crawl right off,” the studio paid a lot of money for a group of men that were dressed completely in green that were there on the set that you can’t see, because we painted them out because they were in green suits, just there to catch the kids in case they fell off the counter. There was a lot of money spent.
RR: That one cost lasting psychiatric damage to those children.
RR: Just a man in a green unitard. Terrific.
Q: The scene in the back of the kitchen where you’re pouring milk over them, were you able to actually do that?
JB: Those were tinfoil babies; those were babies made out of black tinfoil. I guess black tinfoil is easier in the digital world to paint out than green or blue in this instance. It would pop off of the white milk, I guess. That’s what I was pouring, so that’s all movie magic that they put the kids underneath that. That was fun; that was a pretty cool idea.
Q: You guys both grew up as children actors. How is it when you work with kids now as grownups? Do you feel a special kinship towards them?
RR: I think it’s a win if we don’t have a record, personally. I haven’t spent a lot of time in jail or anything like that. I feel like we did alright.
JB: I did well getting mine expunged. It was expensive, but I’m back in the black now. The girl Sydney — she played the oldest kid — has got her head on square; she doesn’t need any advice from us. She’s got great parents. This would be a whole different interview, but it’s a complicated thing to practice being somebody else before you really know who you are. She seems to be navigating that okay.
Q: You guys have both experienced an R-rated and a PG-13 comedy. Given the more specific freedom that you get with R-rated comedies, do you have a preference?
RR: For me, it’s always R. Every PG-13 comedy I’ve ever done, you always have that inevitable moment halfway through shooting where you call the studio head and you go, “Are you sure we can’t go R with this? Because we just shot something terrible.” I understand why PG-13 exists: you’re obviously appealing to four quadrants as opposed to maybe two or three, but the freedom is incomparable. The only reason you’d do a body-swapping comedy — which a body-swapping comedy has been done before, obviously — the only reason you’d do it is if you could show if we were to live in an absurd world where two drunk idiots piss in a magic wishing well and they switch bodies, if we lived in that world, you get to experience what it would actually be like, and what it would be like is horrible. Horrible, horrible things would happen; terrible things would be said and done. To bring that up on the screen in a PG-13 way has absolutely no point. When it actually is meaningful, like a movie like this, then I think it’s 100 percent warranted. I prefer it immensely. There’s some times when you’re in a PG-13 movie where it doesn’t need to be rated R, and it’s nice. It’s very easy to fall back on the idea that you can swear your way out of a scene or something like that, but it’s nice when you can really let it all hang out in a movie like this and not worry too much about pushing it too far. If we do go too far, that’s the director’s problem, and he can figure that out in post.
“The Change-Up” opens in theaters on August 5th.