Jake Kasdan — the son of filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan — has stepped into his own right as a director, and is a perennially underrated Hollywood player, easily drifting between big budget Hollywood fare like the underrated teen comedy “Orange County,” smaller, darker stuff like the satirical “The TV Set” and his debut feature, the whip-smart detective film “Zero Effect.” He has also worked frequently with comedy giant Judd Apatow, most notably on the beloved cult shows “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” and of course, he directed the outrageous musical comedy “Walk Hard.”
Kasdan brings those comedy credentials to this weekend’s “Bad Teacher” starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel and Lucy Punch. The snappy, very naughty R-rated picture follows Elizabeth, a gold-digging teacher (Diaz) who will raise money by any means necessary to fund a breast enlargement in order to win over the love (and family fortune) of Scott (Timberlake), a new substitute at the school. Standing in her way is Amy (Punch) a fellow teacher with a much better reputation. We got to talk to the director last week, where we discussed the rarity of finding a script this funny, the recent resurgence in R-rated, female-led comedies, and his belief that audiences are ready for Cameron Diaz to be bad.
The Playlist: How did “Bad Teacher” cross your desk and what did you think you could bring to the material?
Jake Kasdan: It was just a really funny script that somebody sent me and it’s just unusual to find a screenplay that is at that level, just in terms of jokes. I just thought it was hilarious and I asked to do it, it was pretty simple. When you take on a project you have to be certain that you can make the best version of whatever it is you’re given. I felt like I responded to a sense of humor in a way that made me feel like I knew exactly how to do it; it’s very dry and there’s a certain level of reality to it. And I thought I could make the best possible version.
Was it tough to strike the right tonal balance?
That’s the running challenge of it but once you find the right zone and get the right people for it, which is a huge part of the process, it happens pretty quickly.
How important was casting for a raunchy comedy like this?
It’s the whole thing. The whole movie really comes down to writing and people, you know, you get the script in good shape (which was mostly done without me) by the time you fill it up with the right cast, you’ve made about 80% of the most critical decisions for the movie. Cameron is one of the only actresses in the world where the audience has a relationship with her where they like to see her behave really, really badly. That’s right in her wheelhouse. There’s something about her person that makes people feel like it’s okay to have a good time with her bad behavior, which is the central challenge of this movie.
How did you come about casting Justin Timberlake?
I’m just a big, big fan of his from “Saturday Night Live.” As a comedian, I thought he was so brilliant. He’s somebody that really just gets your attention. And he was somebody I always wanted to work with and he was one of my first ideas about how to do this part, which is sort of a tricky part. He’s the guy who seems like the perfect guy but he’s also quick to reveal himself to be a total goofball and Justin had something that made it seem like someone who would be really fun to watch him go through this.
What was your philosophy behind casting and improvisation?
The script had so many funny roles so you’re just trying to fill it up with the funniest people you can find. That was one of the most fun parts of it. The truth is that there are so many funny people out there that it’s a hard decision sometimes, although most of the people we ended up with was pretty clear from the beginning. We were able to get an amazing group of people together just on the basis of how funny the parts were. It’s rare that there are that many amazing parts in a script. I encourage a fair amount of improvisation but at the end of the day, what ends up in the movie, is very close to what was on the script. But you get some really great stuff from people improvising stuff along the way.
You’ve done bigger studio movies and smaller independent features, is that something you want to continue to do?
Yeah, although that’s not something I think about a lot. Yes, I want to fluctuate between the two things. In the time since I’ve done “Bad Teacher,” I’ve produced an independent movie and directed two pilots. So I love to do all different types of things. I try not to think about it too much that way, instead I try to think about what’s exciting to me, from moment to moment. I try to just find something that excites me, while always trying different things.
It’s interesting with “Bad Teacher” coming so soon after “Bridesmaids.” It seems like a potential golden age for women-led comedies. Are you excited to be a part of that?
Yeah, it’s fantastic. It’s long overdue. I think it really speaks to how few types of roles there are for women in comedy, more broadly. Because there’s so many funny women, it’s strange that it’s such a rarity, that everybody’s so surprised about this moment. But it is totally surprising, at the same time, since there have been so few dirty R-rated comedies built around women. It just happens that “Bridesmaids,” which was made by some really good friends and close collaborators of mine, and this movie, we’ve all been interested and invested in that at the same time. It’s cool!
“Bad Teacher” opens Friday, June 24th.