Director David Schwimmer and stars Simon Pegg and Thandie Newton, on London marathon comedy Run, Fatboy, Run By A Gent
David, In terms of coming to direct the movie, why this film, and why now in particular in your career?
David: Well I've always wanted to direct a feature film, I started doing a lot with theatre and then was doing and directing some episodes of friends and some other television. I always wanted to direct a feature but as you know it takes more than a year of you life so I kinda had to wait until the show [Friends] was over. So I started looking for scripts and was reading many, many scripts and this was just the funniest thing I've read and I was really moved by it. I was just really excited about the challenge of trying to capture the tone of that script on film.
The script originally was set in America, tell us about the transformation, and Simon in terms of making it a British story as well.
Simon: Yes it was set in New York so I had a crack at it to anglicise it, or 'Briticise' it, I don't know what the word is! But it was a combination of things, just cultural translations and also, just linguistic stuff obviously and words. Not just "sidewalk" and "pavement" but there is also rhythms in speech that were interesting to eke out. And I think it was just a little more sentimental the English one wasn't it, which is ok I think in an American context because I think Americans are more ok with emotion and not so ashamed of their emotions as we are, we are obviously a little bit more reserved and less inclined to emote. There was a little kind of shift to the timing as well to make it, not more cynical because I think cynicism is negative but perhaps a little more British. Which is an interesting process and we added a few more scenes and some swearing, which I love.
David: We also changed the character of the land lord character. It also used to be is wife but we made it his daughter just because we found it more interesting.
Simon: He was actually an Italian character in the American version called Mr Giacometti and I went on to a website of Indian names to find a Hindi names that began with G which was long, and I found Goshdashtidar which is a lovely name. And Harish is one of the funniest men isn't he? I'm so glad I worked with him. David worked with him already didn't you?
David: Yeah we became friends when I directed him in a pilot for NBC and I just thought he was, he was like the Indian Walter Matthau. I mean his timing was the funniest timing I had ever seen.
Simon: He's the closest human being to a perfect circle as well. He's like a walking orange.
Thandie, your recent run of films have been "In Pursuit of Happiness" and "Crash", was it nice to do something a bit closer to home?
Thandie: yeah, I was sent the script and it was the cover letter actually, I didn't even need to read it, it was directed by David and starring Simon Pegg, I didn't really know Simon at the time which is why I leapt at the chance to do it. But that was just a dream come true and I kinda knew David, we had not met but I had heard about his work in theatre and he just sounded like a completely lovely person and very talented and I had admired him for many years, his work, and I just wanted to do it on that basis. And also being in England and working here. I mean when I met David he talked about how he wanted to portray London and how he wanted to play it with an authenticity and the humour came out of that and I think that's one of the strongest things about the film. I mean it's hilarious but everything is routed in realism. So it was very easy yes.
And nice to go to work on a travel card?
Thandie: Yes! Very nice to go home to my bed every night
Simon: I think it's probably the least believable moment. It's the moment in the movie that requires the most suspension of disbelief. That I would jilt you (Thandie) at the alter! Hang on a minute.... Lord of the Rings is more convincing than that.
Thandie: No but I genuinely think that what's so lovely about the film is that you realise he does that, that he his motivated by his lack of self worth. I think that's a very sophisticated, very modern predicament to have in a film.
Simon: It's a hell of an awful thing that he does at the top of the film and one of the challenges of rewriting the script was trying to solidify why the hell we should ever stand beside him. I mean he does an awful thing, especially for the female audience who are thinking "why the hell do I like this guy? he's an arsehole and jilted a pregnant woman" but the point that we were trying to get across was that he feels that if he was to go through with marrying her he would ruin her life. And in his bizarre, skewed, silly way thinks that, as he said "ruining her day is better than ruining her life".
From another point of view, why did she stand by him even though he abandoned her?
Simon: Absolutely, it's kind of what makes Libby a loveable character, despite what he does, she commits him to be part of her son's life, which is an incredibly selfless thing to do and the trick is with the film was to make the audience believe that even though he had done this awful thing, he had done it in a bizarre way for an unselfish reason.
David, you said you loved the script when you first read it, what was the point that you decided to anglicise it?
Yes, I had been attached to this script for a while. And I don't know whether it was me or someone else who suggested it. But I spoke to Simon and said "what do you think about re-writing it, anglicising and starring in it?" We had such a good time together before that we thought it would just be fun and kinda easy.
Did you two know each other from Band of Brothers?
David & Simon: Yes
Simon: He didn't talk to me in those days. Band of Brothers was crazy it was like all the actors in the UK between 18 and 30 all pretending to be soldiers; you could smell the testosterone in the air. But that was a really big role for you because it was so different to what you were known for. I imagine it was quite a nerve racking time in some respects.
David: Yeah well, I didn't make too much of an effort to get know people at the time because I was kind of in my own little world and just because my character was really ant-social.
David, what are the main differences that you've come across working in the UK as opposed to the USA?
Again, I haven't made many films so I can't speak to that. I didn't notice many differences, in both instances the crews have all been top notch. I mean I mostly worked in LA, worked a little in Chicago and again I find that on that side of the camera it works great. Then again, I think it depends on the tone set by the producers and the directors and of course, the stars of the movie. And a lot of the crew really picked up on that and they feel that we have a good time and all get along because we are all friendly. There are some actors that aren't and some directors that aren't but I think Simon and I, and Thandie for sure, are all kinda friendly so I think you just have to make it a team effort and maybe that's why we've had good experiences so far.
Simon, we were talking about it between ourselves earlier, and we couldn't find anyone that enjoyed running. Are you one of the rare people that actually enjoys running?
It's an odd human thing that we should put ourselves through something that is essentially tiring and annoying, for no other reason maybe that it makes us fitter or something. I don't know. I do enjoy running... I love running...On a treadmill... Slowly. But the idea of doing a marathon is bizarre I think. But I suppose it's testing yourself, it's pushing yourself to the limit so you can complete something that's almost insurmountable. But it is a weirdly human thing. I mean obviously cheetahs and that lot do it, but they do because they are chasing gazelles... We don't really chase gazelles. I don't really know where I'm going with this. Did I mention I was hungover?
Thandie, to help you get into character were you quite physical, did you go running?
Thandie: No, no not at all. In fact in the beginning, before we started shooting David said very reasonably that I really want these characters to be real, how can we make you a sort of girl next door as possible? So we looked at costume and hair etc. And so I did and then that was easy. And Simon got prosthetic breasts and tummy, which I was a bit unfair really.
Simon: It wasn't fair when you were going to the toilet believe me! The thing didn't come off!
Thandie: No but Simon is very very fit. You're very fit aren't you?
Simon: Yes I'm incredibly fit yes. I need to chase all the gazelles. But running a marathon is nothing compared to child birth?
Thandie: Well I haven't run a marathon but I'm sure there are similarities.
What was it like working with Hank?
Thandie: Oh he's lovely. He's quite self possessed isn't he? He kept himself pretty well to himself on shoot.
Simon: Yeah he's incredibly funny, I mean most of my time with Hank was spent, because we are both such comedy geeks just quoting Python. I mean he's a massive fan of Python, our first night out together he took me to see Spamalot. But because I'm such a big Simpson's fan he would do voices for me like that. He had no problems doing it, he wouldn't say "No I'm not a performing monkey", he just did it.
His character is interesting as well because one of the things I'm sure Michael would have done if he had re-written it was to make Whit a little more complex. Because when you first meet him you don't necessarily know he's the bad guy, we thought it would be nicer if he seemed quite a nice proposition; he's nice with Jake, he's funny, he's good looking, he's built well. He didn't wear a modesty patch in that scene either, I was face to face with 'little Hank' for quite a long time that day... I don't know why I mentioned that. And so it's not until later on that you realise that he is the bad guy, and the archetypes start to fall into place.
Did Hank do voices for Matthew on set?
Simon: Yes he did. Bu then again Matthew just took everything in stride. Matthew is this kinda weird, adult child. Not least last night when he stood on stage and waved as if it was his ninth premiere. But he used to love hanging out with us on set and Hank was always more than willing to do Mo or Apu or whatever.
David, you said earlier that you couldn't think of much difference between working in Britain and America but how did you find working in London? Did you find there was much red tape to cross?
David: I meant in terms of crew mostly, but I mean the big difference I guess was the expense in shooting, mostly because of location. We were on a modest budget and we had over 50 locations throughout the city, and each one you had to deal with security, police, traffic...
David: It's true. But also because we were shooting right in the city rather than outside. The unions are incredibly strong, and rightly so, but it meant with extras, we could have had 50 or 100 extras out side the city, but for the same price you could only get 10 here. So there were challenges throughout the film.
Simon: London is expensive though isn't it?
David: But the producers were great, they tried to keep that stuff out of my way as much as possible.
David, you were quoted as saying "at the end of the day Friends was just a job". Would you work with any of them again?
I wouldn't rule out working with any of those guys again, they were all incredibly talented and I wouldn't hesitate, I mean we all got on great and I directed all of them on the show as well. I would never do that show again but I wouldn't hesitate. They were all terrific actors.
We talked about Matthew [Fenton], when you were playing his parents what particular steps do you have to take to bond with him. Are you (Thandie) the more sensible maternal figure and Simon just teaches him the words "shit head"?
Simon: He came around your (Thandie) house didn't he, you did that?
Thandie: He did that's right. A couple of times he came round with his mum and came out with my kids, it was lovely, and we will continue doing that. I got on very well with his mum. But he was so much part of all of us, the crew and I think I'm even caught on camera swearing in front of Matthew, just constantly forgetting that I'm the mother figure. So I didn't do very well with that.
Simon: We took him up to the park to play football didn't we? Thandie and I had a running battle on set of just trying to out joke each other. I used Matthew in a joke once that I had to make work without in any way damaging him or berating him. So I got him and said "Wow Matthew your hands are amazing, show me your hands, show me every one of your fingers". So I photographed every finger, and sent Thandie the middle finger!
Thandie: And I literally thought Oh my God! What are we doing to this poor child!
Simon: But he never knew... That I was exploiting him.
What did you think of the audience's reaction last night?
Thandie: Fantastic. Really great.
Simon: It's always nerve racking, I don't like being in those situations really. Premieres are really odd occasions because it's a mixture of adrenaline and genuine unease in every part of it. But then you can relax at the party, but even then you're still being pulled around. But the actual watching the film, I think "I'm having a heart attack what's going on?" My heart was really racing but it's always nice to be validated by the response of the crowed. Premiere's can sometimes be a little stiff you know, it's not like a paying audience. But last night they were lovely and it was a great vindication for us I think.
How did you manage that wonderful relationship with Matthew?
Simon: I just talked to Matthew as a grown-up, I never soft of babied him, I would drop swear words in front of him because it made him laugh and then pretend that I was sorry. Never anything too bad. The whole "shit head" thing was kinda like, well you know what kids are like, they laugh at stuff like that. I sort of met him in the middle, he's very together. On one hand he's a complete whirlwind of a child, you can't keep his attention for more than two seconds, he's off talking about something else. But it was just a case of him coming out and doing his magic.
Thandie: At the beginning of the movie David gave you (Simon) and Matthew cool lightsabers. I was actually really jealous. I got lovely things, but would have loved a lightsaber.
David: Simon and I were both very aware that it was absolutely necessary that the audience believed that you're his father. Because otherwise the film falls apart. The only way for the audience to forgive this character was to see what a good dad he was. We talked a lot about films like Kramer Vs Kramer and that unique relationship that Dustin Hoffman has with his son, I think the bar was set very high for that father-son relationship in that film. We did everything we could to get to know Matthew, to make him feel comfortable, play with him, and make friends, really, make him feel safe. But again it's all him, he's wonderfully mature, in some ways he's a kid but at the same time he's a professional. He showed up with every single one of his lines learnt, and everyone else's as well.
Simon: He prompted us.
David: He was a pro. He would play with us and joke, but when it was time to work and to take direction he would immediately focus. He was amazing.
Thandie: I think the presence of his mum there all the time was really important as well. The most lovely family, really down to earth, really grateful for the opportunity that they had been given and very proud of Matthew. He had a tutor as well on the set, so on breaks we go away with him and work, the guy would help him learn his lines. It was a really great set up.
Simon: It was weird last night because I saw him last night and thought, "he looks a bit different tonight", then I thought "ahh he's got teeth!"
Run Fat Boy Run is out now