Bringing WHY HIM? to the Big Screen: A Conversation with John Hamburg for the Home Entertainment Release of WHY HIM?
Writer/director John Hamburg has been a fixture of the comedy scene since his debut, SAFE MEN, starring Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn, premiered in 1998. He wrote and directed the popular comedy ALONG CAME POLLY in 2004, and the commercial and critical hit I LOVE YOU, MAN in 2009.
Hamburg has co-written such films as MEET THE PARENTS, ZOOLANDER and MEET THE FOCKERS. On television, he has directed episodes of UNDECLARED, STELLA, WELCOME TO THE CAPTAIN, NEW GIRL and THE GRINDER.
His latest movie, WHY HIM?, was written by Hamburg and Ian Helfer, based on a story by Hamburg, Helfer and Jonah Hill. The film follows Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston), a Midwest father who brings his family along for Christmas to the Silicon Valley home of his daughter’s new boyfriend, Laird (James Franco). Ned takes an immediate dislike to Laird, a wealthy tech mogul with more eccentricities than a traditional Midwest patriarch can stomach, and hilarity ensues as the pair get to know one another.
Fresh from post-production on the film, Hamburg explains his interest in the story and the joys of improvising new material on set.
What’s the history behind this project?
There was a story that Shawn Levy and Dan Levine, the producers, sent to me of a tech mogul who falls in love with a woman from a normal background, and conflict ensues once her family comes into the picture. The details of the story were quite different from where we ended up in WHY HIM?, but the concept spoke to me.
Having worked on MEET THE PARENTS and the two sequels, I knew that territory, but I thought that the world had changed a lot since we made the first MEET THE PARENTS, in that, in essence, the kids were in charge now whereas back then, the grown-ups seemed to have had all the power. I thought it would be interesting to explore those power dynamics, because it's still the idea of a young woman having her first serious boyfriend and having that nervousness of introducing him to her family. And the family going into this foreign world, which is Silicon Valley, in this case. That felt very of the moment and interesting and that there could be a lot of comic fireworks, as well. At that point, I had worked on several scripts with my co-writer, Ian Helfer, and together, he and I developed the premise Shawn and Dan brought to me, into our own story.
The movie seems perfectly cast. Were Bryan Cranston and James Franco your first choices?
Absolutely. Bryan Cranston and James Franco were the only two guys I ever wanted for the parts. Bryan, I had known his comedy from MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, and of course, like everybody else, was obsessed with BREAKING BAD, and thought it was the greatest performance I'd ever seen, in anything.
I like making movies with actors who are brilliant comedians, but who also have real drama chops, because in my movies, the characters themselves think they're in a drama. It's only the world that is comedic.
So I really wanted Bryan, and James perfectly embodied a guy who has no filter and says what he wants. He is really sweet and has a heart of gold, and is smart and thoughtful. But you may just not quite understand him at first blush. I didn't know James well. We knew each other a little bit, but what I knew of his work and knowing him a tiny bit, it felt like he would be perfect. That to me was the dream cast.
Why Him? is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday May 1, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment