“We wanted to do a comedy in a home and getting to play house with characters seemed really fun just because they’re more grounded,” he says of the film about two grown men who still live with their parents.
With Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly signed on to play step brothers Brennan and Dale, McKay recruited Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen to play their parents Robert and Nancy. We caught up with McKay, Jenkins and Steenburgen to get the scoop on the story, their characters and more.
HW: Adam, can you talk about how this idea came up?
Adam McKay: We met and had dinner. We had like 60 ideas for movies and none of them were quite right. I went to the editing room the next day for Talladega and someone said bunk beds and I was like, ‘wait what if they’re adult step brothers' and I called them up and they’re like, ‘I love it.’
HW: We’ve been watching you guys shoot this scene and every take evolves and is something different. What kind of improv skills do you have?
Richard Jenkins: It’s hard. I don’t have any improv experience. It doesn’t mean I haven’t played around with scenes and things like that, but these guys are really fast. It’s been an incredible test.
Mary Steenburgen: I started in improv and went into different kinds of things. I guess I returned to it a little bit in the last few years, a little bit with the Larry David show (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and just fooling around with him. With these guys, I think my job is more to anchor it a little bit so they can do their thing.
HW: In improv there’s always a structure. Which of your experiences is more structured? Step Brothers or Curb Your Enthusiasm?
MS: They work pretty similarly actually, but I would say Larry is more structured than Adam believe it or not because even though with Larry there is never a script, you don’t start out with any lines whatsoever and with Adam you do, there will be scenes where we go so far from what was originally written that it doesn’t bear any resemblance. With Larry, once you get the shape of the scene, you say different things, but the shape of the scene kind of stays the same. With Adam, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you fly through a totally different planet and that’s fun too.
Photo: Will Ferrell, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins and John C. Reilly (Sony)
HW: Richard, how does Adam, compare to working with the Farrelly brothers?
RJ: The feeling on this set, it’s just a lot of fun. There’s a lot of jobs that you can do that you can be miserable at. Making movies should not be one of them. It’s just a lot of fun.
HW: Can you each talk a little about your characters and how you both ended up with kids this age that won’t leave the nest?
MS: My character is the ultimate, ultimate enabler. That’s how she ended up with this guy. Even now when she’s trying to push him out into the world, she keeps undermining it. We just did a scene where I go in and give them $20 to go to the movies and tell them not to tell Robert (Richard Jenkins’ character), but that’s pretty much indicative of how she handles everything….Yet, she is sort of terrified that there is something extremely [wrong]. Her deep dark fear is that he has had some sort of brain damage.
RJ: That came from an improv.
MS: Yeah, that came from an improv. I said it to Adam on the first day and he said to go ahead and do it. So my secret, secret dreadful secret is that I think he was dropped on his head when he was little and that maybe I did it and that it’s my fault and that’s what all this is about.
RJ: Robert absolutely ignores everything in front of his face for the longest time. It’s interesting because I think they’re both forced to deal with this in ways since they’re together that they probably haven’t when they’re not together. We just rehearsed [a scene] where I realize that my son is going to meet Nancy for the first time and all of a sudden it’s a scary thought. She enables and I ignore.
Photo: Adam McKay (Daily Celeb)
HW: Are your characters formers spouses mentioned at all and what kind of affect they have on them?
MS: Well actually the only time they were mentioned was in the improvised toast at the wedding. There wasn’t even supposed to be a toast at the wedding, but we did an improvisation where John makes a toast to his stepmother in front of me and tells all the reasons he wishes she were here right now. He says, ‘I know that that woman is just probably good for sex, but not for anything else.’ Then Will talks about his father and says he works for some oil company in Iraq and Will is still suffering about the divorce, but it was 25 years ago or something.
HW: Can you talk about the freedom of working in an R rated environment?
AM: It’s probably bad in a way because we love it so much. Literally you’ll do scenes and you’ll say f**k like 30 times and you’re like, ‘this is too much.’ But it’s great. It’s fantastic and you don’t even think about anything you say. You just do whatever you want. Anytime you hear Mary Steenburgen f**k and f**k.
MS: That’s his favorite thing by the way.
HW: Do you ever get an actor to refuse to say something that you shout out?
AM: Cris Collinsworth the wide receiver, the guy who does NFL Today. He came on and he was playing Will’s boss just for two lines and I kept giving me dirty things to say because it was Cris Collinsworth. It was a bit of joke casting for us. An inside joke to Will. He would not curse. He kept changing it every time. So that will happen sometimes or the phrasing is so strange the person can’t say it, but 98% of the time they always say it. Mary is probably the toughest as far as people I’ve worked with.
MS: I didn’t know not saying it was an option. I’m glad to hear that.
AM: Real often Mary will do the line [but] say, “you’re the one who is going to hell.” And Richard does the opposite. He goes worse than what I say. Richard has these great dark emotional pockets in him from Rhode Island. It’s the deadly winters of Providence that keep coming out on set.
Photo: Mary Steenburgen (Daily Celeb)
HW: Richard, has he ever given you a line and afterward you couldn’t believe those words came out of your mouth?
RJ: I actually said a line and I begged him not to use it…After I said it I was like, ‘did I say that?’ I said, ‘Oh Adam you can’t use that.’ He said, ‘Oh I think it might work.’
MS: When this movie comes out it’s going to be totally new to me because it’s literally like childbirth. Everyday I go home and have no memory.
HW: How would you define this movie tonally?
AM: Obviously seeing what Judd [Apatow] was doing [because] he has a lot of freedom when he stays real. ‘Let’s try to do one being a little more real and look at all you get out of it without going so absurd. You can hook people in these ways.’ Within two weeks we blew that rule. They have a fight where they punch 12-year-olds in the face, dogs attacking people. I was like I’m not going to have dogs in this movie. I always have wild dogs and they’re tons of dogs all over the set. MS: They knocked me down.
RJ: One of the dogs bit me in the ass…I turned to Adam and said, ‘did you get that on film?’ He said, ‘yeah we got it.’ Today I said, this is the scene after…maybe I should be limping when I come in.’ He said, ‘I don’t think we’re going to be using it.’ I got a tetanus shot.
Photo: Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly (Sony)