Cape Town – In their latest movie This is Where I Leave You, Jason Bateman and Tina Fey play siblings.
Based on the book by Jonathan Tropper the story tells of four siblings who return to their childhood home after their father’s death.
Forced to live together for a week they confront their history and work on their failing relationships.
In this exclusive interview Tina Fey and Jason Bateman give us the scoop on the movie, what it was like working with each other and why you shouldn't miss this film.
What brought you to this project?
Tina Fey (TF): I came in through the door marked Shawn Levy because I had worked with him before and he was the one who brought the script to me. What about you?
Jason Bateman (JB): There was a version of it that was close to getting going at one point, and then that didn’t come together fully for a bunch of reasons, and then, thank God when Shawn came on board he kept me a part of it. So basically through the same door after lunch, and him saying that Tina was going to do it. It was very exciting.
So what appealed to you about the story?
TY: I like human stories about human people that never turn into cars no matter what happens. I loved the premise, basically, of this ensemble of people being stuck together. I really love Wendy’s story in particular. I think it’s very sweet and sad, and hopefully relatable.
JB: I think what’s kind of interesting about it for me is that there’s not some big, high concept story. It’s just about a family getting together and talking about stuff. For us as actors, that’s what you want. Just try to be believable with it. There’s great writing in it. People talk good in this movie. That’s about it.
Do you think that having a dysfunctional family is a required element to tell a story?
TF: I think the term ‘dysfunctional’ is like a buzzword - a pop psychology term. All families function because they’re forced to. I think this, for a lot of people, will be a recognizable set of family dynamics.
JB: If there are no problems, there’s nothing interesting, funny, or dramatic about a family that works perfectly well.
So you need something there?
JB: Yeah, it would be tough to charge $14.50 for a family that behaves themselves.
TF: See, if the family is getting along, then you need the robots to turn into cars to attack that family.
JB: (Laughter) Yeah, right, or at least the family pet needs to turn into a scooter.
You said that Shawn Levy was what brought you to the film. Did you come aboard without knowing who the rest of the ensemble is? Were you two the first on board?
JB: For me it is important, because while there are many great actors, there are many different kinds of great actors. With something as low concept as this, you can do many, many different versions of it. There are a bunch of different tones of this movie, and depending on how you cast it, it makes it one flavor or another. There are some things that I just don’t do very well, and I don't know if I would do real well with a certain flavor of this movie.
Jason, are you coming at movies differently now that you’re directing?
JB: If I do, I hope it is not noticeable, and also I hope that those things are ultimately beneficial to me in that I am much more appreciative and respectful of how difficult it is to make a movie. And the acting is just one part of it, so the least I can do is not be a pain in the ass.
Tina, you had said before how you liked this character so much and you felt she was believable. Can you expand on how you felt about her?
TF: One thing I liked about Wendy’s story was it felt like it was a story I hadn’t seen before particularly. She’s a woman who kind of lost the love of her life without really losing him early on. Some more of this is laid out in the book, but her back stories were that she tried to stick with Horry and at a certain point it just became impossible. She had to go off and make a more pragmatic life choice to marry the successful guy who is really handsome. [To Jason] You were always talking about how handsome Aaron Lazar was.
JB: He was standing right there.
TF: It made it creepier, though, that he was standing right there.
Her life from the outside seems perfect. But she’s a person who’s not really happy with the choices in her life. I thought it was an interesting thing to try to play and figure out. I had to work in ways that I could identify with her, because thankfully I don’t have those direct experiences in my own life.
What made me interested in playing her was I’ve played a lot of characters who are kind of defined by their work, or they work too much and they’re through. This is a lady that doesn’t work. She doesn’t work. Which that alone, I was like, that’s interesting to me. I had a lot of fun talking to the costume designer. I thought that nothing she owns should have buttons or closures. It shouldn’t be anything that you could ever wear to work.
JB: It’s something that you could easily watch daytime television in.
TF: Right, you just put it on. Then of course she had her Shiva clothes. But yeah, she’s an interesting character.
Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to be cooped up in a fairly small house for a whole month with a big cast and crew?
JB: Well, it’s a big, beautiful house, so that did help. We all really liked each other, so that was also helpful.
TF: And it was summertime. We could spill outside.
JB: But it was hot, and it was an old house. I don’t think there was air conditioning, but we brought some of that in.
TF: And you can’t run it when you’re shooting. And in some ways, it was probably best for all of us to be forced to be together.
JB: Yeah, there was a lot of good bonding there. So it was really fun. It was kind of like as close as a working actor can get to summer camp.
Both of you lead big city lives. Were you concerned or curious as to how the Shiva angle would play outside of big cities? TF: I will say, having been through a similar situation in the last year, that when a loved one passes - even though Shiva is a formalized version of when we all come together - it’s what happens anyway. Everyone comes from out of town and you all pile into the house. Everyone brings food and you are all together. You understand why whoever invented Shiva did it - because it’s good. Everyone should be together and sharing old stories of happier times and being there for each other, and taking turns crying. It’s a very important thing to do. So hopefully it’s more of a family movie that’s relatable.
JB: And there’s zero religion in the movie.
TF: Yeah, we’re not the most religious family.
JB: You’ll have to ask Jonathan Tropper this, and I don’t mean to sound cynical. But families are great devices for films, both comedic and dramatic films. So you need something to get those families together. Oftentimes it’s a wedding. That’s been played out ad nauseum. So then they switched to funerals and that got played out. The Shiva is just another device to get a family together.Watch the trailer here:(Photos: Warner Bros)
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