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Interview: ‘About Last Night’ Filmmakers & Cast Give Story Behind Rom-Com Remake (Opens Friday)

Interview: 'About Last Night' Filmmakers & Cast Give Story Behind Rom-Com Remake (Opens Friday)

Screen Gems’ recent remake of the 1986 romantic comedy About Last Night (itself based on a 1974 David Mamet play), looks to put a modern spin on the story of two couples looking for longterm commitment from a one-night stand. Directed by Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine), written by Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) and produced by Will Packer, the movie reunites three of Packer’s Think Like A Man co-stars – Michael Ealy, Kevin Hart and Regina Hall, along with Joy Bryant

Ealy and Bryant star as mild-mannered Danny and Debbie, the roles popularized by Rob Lowe and Demi Moore in the original film, opposite Hart and Hall as feisty couple Bernie and Joan, originally played by Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins

The movie world premiered at Pan African Film Festival on February 11 and with a premiere in theaters this Friday, February 14, the cast and filmmakers gathered to talk about their experience working together. A separate interview with Kevin Hart, discussing the movie and his career, will follow. 

On remaking the film with a black cast

WILL PACKER:  The “black film” label is something that has been used for quite a while, but I just want to make good films. I want to make films that have universal themes that can appeal to a diverse group of people. I’m very proud of the fact that this film has four African-American leads, and I’m also proud that there’s nothing that’s culturally or ethnically specific that feels exclusionary to any demo.

About the casting process

WP: When the script came to me there was no cast, and I immediately thought Kevin Hart would be great for it. The way Bernie is written, he is so engaging and funny and such a wildcard, and because I’ve worked with Kevin multiple times I knew that would be right down the center of his skill set. From that point it was about figuring out the rest of the cast to bring the other voices. 

JOY BRYANT: It was my first time working with Will and it was kind of a no-brainer when I got the offer. Clint Culpepper, the head of Screen Gems, called when I was on the set of Parenthood. That doesn’t usually happen and it’s wonderful when it does. Auditioning is so hard, it’s still hard. So I got lucky that he and Will thought of me and called. 

REGINA HALL: When we were doing the press for Think Like A Man, our segment ended early and the guys were doing their segment. I kind of went in and flirted with all the guys. Well, Clint saw it and for whatever reason he was like, “I think she should play Joan.” So he called me and said, “I have a script I want you to look at.”

WP: I’ve worked with Michael. I’ve worked with Regina, and we knew she could keep up with Kevin. I love the dynamic of those two juxtaposed against the dynamic of Michael and Joy. I hadn’t worked with Joy before, but she fit right in. So putting them in the hands of Steve with this material, I knew that combination would win.

On relating to their characters in the film

MICHAEL EALY: Danny’s 28 in the film, and at 28, hands-down, that’s who I was and that made it real for me. When I played Tea Cake in Their Eyes Were Watching God, one of the things I remember reading about the book was that Tea Cake was smooth and he always said the right thing. What I love about Danny was that sometimes he says the wrong thing. Really wrong. Leslye wrote it in a way that was truthful and I love that.

JB: Debbie’s a bit different. She is someone who kind of gave up on the idea of love and relationships because well, if it’s not going to work, why bother? I’m definitely not like that. I was always [panting], “I love you, do you love me?” But relationships are hard work. You have to be committed, and even if you are committed and you think you’re doing everything right, it can still fail. I don’t relate to her in terms of relationships, but I get it. It’s hard to be vulnerable but you have to be vulnerable in order to have a chance at something.

RH: [Joan’s] so not me in my real life. Joan is just a woman who lives through her emotions, whatever they are, and I thought it would be fun to be able to do that.  The script was actually not written for an African-American cast, so it came with a great opportunity to show a woman of color completely free and apologetic, smart, and empowered. 

How this film compares to the 1986 movie

ME: This is more of a contemporary adaptation of the play than it is a remake of the movie. The movie, I think, has its share of melodrama and it was more about one couple. This one is really about two couples and I think it’s edgier and funnier. 

I didn’t watch the movie before we started filming, because I liked the script and I wanted to approach it from a fresh perspective as opposed to trying to look at what Rob Lowe did and please those people who saw the ’86 film. I still haven’t watched it. What am I going to gain from it? I think what Edward Zwick and Rob Lowe and Demi Moore did was for their generation. They did it according to what was contemporary in ’86, but the world has changed drastically. The internet has just changed everything, and so to me this About Last Night is based on what’s happening right now in 2014.

On making it funny

ME: Kevin and I took our chemistry in this movie to another level. And I think where that stems from is, you’ve got two guys who know their lane. If I try to compete with Kev on the funny, it would be glaringly obvious. What I find works with a comedian of his caliber – and I kind of learned this on Barbershop with Cedric the Entertainer – is you’ve got to set them up. If you start improvising or riffing, it’s all about setting up someone like that to succeed. I generally just kind of throw the ball and he dunks it. Every now and again if we go back-and-forth, I might say something that makes him laugh, but nine times out of ten he’s going to be the one to crack me up. 

JB: If you’re playing the straight guy that’s a skill in itself, keeping a straight face and keeping engaged in the scene. With Kevin and also with Regina, because Regina is no joke. Totally underrated. So the two of them together, it was very hard because I wanted to crack up the entire time.

RH: We didn’t know that we were going to have that kind of chemistry. The first day we shot all the love scenes, so all of that stuff was just done on the spot. Kevin’s reaction to the hits [in the trailer], it was all improv. What’s great about working with someone like Kevin is that he’s so amazingly talented and he wants you to shine too. He’s not someone that feels the need to be the only one. And because we know each other, the great thing is, I was comfortable. 

JB: I haven’t done many comedies, but when I did Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins it was that same kind of thing because there was Mo’Nique and Martin [Lawrence] and Cedric [the Entertainer] and Mike Epps. So keeping straight-faced in the face of that I think, kind of prepared me for the Kevin and Regina show.

On the friendships in the film 

STEVE PINK: What’s really interesting about the buddy aspect is that they’re navigating these relationships, but of course dudes never want to admit what they’re thinking or feeling. So it’s great that these guys give each other terrible advice: “Don’t move in with her, don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable.” But none of it’s really the truth because they maybe don’t know the truth themselves. That’s what’s so great about the scene in the bar later, after they’ve both been transformed by meeting these women and now they have to confront each other in an honest place. They can no longer hide behind the bravado and now they’re going to really talk to each other about it. So there’s a really cool story being told with those guys as well.

RH: I think what makes Joan and Debbie’s friendship work is that they’re both so accepting. We really wanted to show genuine friendship and how women communicate, and we wanted to portray that they’ve been friends a long time. They’re very different and there’s no judgment.  She calls Debbie boring, but she doesn’t want anybody else calling her boring, so there’s that protective nature.

What audiences should expect from About Last Night

ME: For me this was less of a romantic comedy and more of a relationship movie. It has romantic elements for sure, but unlike most romantic comedies, we get into the minutia of what a relationship is, whether good or bad. You had Joy and myself, in one moment we can’t keep our hands off of each other and then later we couldn’t be farther apart. That’s love. That’s real and that’s raw. Think Like a Man was one of the smartest romantic comedies I’d read and I really responded to the character of Dominic. But with this one I felt like the opportunity was presented to take the relationship further. 

WP: It’s honest. It’s not a Hollywood sanitized rom-com. It takes risks and it’s edgy. I think the dynamic between Michael and Kevin, and then Joy and Regina, is just as interesting as the couples’ dynamics and that’s what makes this film work, the honesty of the way that they speak when the opposite sex is not around. These are people that are passionate, and who do the right thing, and do horribly wrong things. It’s very relatable.

Could there be a sequel?

WP: We’ll see. Hollywood is the great reactor, so they will react to what happens in a couple weeks and if audiences come out and respond, and enjoy the chemistry, and say that they want to see this group of actors again, it’ll be my job to figure out how to do it. 

ME: I would never say never. It could be interesting to see where Danny and Debbie go after Danny’s ready. And Bernie and Joan? Do they have a kid and settle down, become rambunctious parents, who knows? I’m sure there’s a bunch of ideas out there. I definitely want this About Last Night to be as valuable and special to this generation as the ’86 film was to its generation. 

What they’re working on next

ME: I’m waiting to hear about the next season of Almost Human. 

RH: I always look for what challenges me or can capture what I can give, and I never know what that is. Joan was quite a surprise. I watch so much stuff on television. I’m loving Gabrielle [Union] on Being Mary Jane, I’m loving Kerry [Washington] on Scandal and so you’re watching all this amazing work, and maybe something comedic would be great. I don’t even know, because I haven’t thought beyond About Last Night.

JB: I would like to do more comedy, but I’m open to any stories that get me excited. It could be a horror film, it could be a comedy, whatever. Just good material that I can see myself in. I also write and produce, and one of my dreams is to do a piece set in the 1920s about African-Americans in Paris. I’m also working with Kasi Lemmons and Mike Jackson and John Legend on a piece on the Harlem Renaissance. I love the ’20s and ’30s, and especially Paris during that time. So I would like to do something that focuses on the creative life of African-Americans during that time, and however it gets made is how it’s made. But I’m in it for the long-haul, so we’ll see.

About Last Night will be the centerpiece film of the Pan African Film Festival next week. It comes to theaters on Valentine’s Day, February 14. 

This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

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