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‘Rough Night’: How Two Screenwriters Broke Boundaries to Make an R-Rated Female-Centric Comedy

The hard-R comedy isn't a rarity in the studio world, but one directed by a woman is. Here's how the partners smashed that standard to make their very funny new film.

“Rough Night”

Along the way, the pair’s interest in female-centric comedy started to emerge, though that wasn’t part of some larger plan.

“It wasn’t ever like, ‘Okay, now that we’re a writing team, we’re going to write for women!’ It didn’t happen that way, it just kind of naturally has evolved to that,” Aniello said. “I’m sure that will be a tendency for us in the future, but I don’t think it’s all we do.”

The Dream Cast

Rough Night,” while also built around funny women in unique situations, is certainly different than their previous work. It’s just as character-driven, but less shaggy, and it boasts a tight script that’s as smart as it amusing. They’re quick to deflect praise to their starry cast, however.

Working on a show like “Broad City,” one that’s led by Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who aren’t just very funny, but also close friends in real life, spoiled Aniello and Downs a bit, and put the pressure on them to make sure the “alchemy” of their “Rough Night” cast could match what they are treated to on television. Grabbing Scarlett Johansson first set the tone – and level of star power – for the rest of the cast, a “no-brainer” that was made still more easy by stellar recommendations from “SNL” writer friends who had previously worked with the starlet, now a member of their exclusive Five-Timers Club for recurring hosts.

READ MORE: ‘Rough Night’: Filmmaker Lucia Aniello Breaks Into the Male-Dominated R-Rated Comedy — Watch

Downs admits it was a bit of “a puzzle” to pull together the rest of the ensemble. Casting long-time friends like “Broad City” star Glazer and Kate McKinnon eased the worry a bit, as did adding in talents they’d long admired like Jillian Bell and Zoe Kravitz.

“We were fans of and loved all of the women in it,” Downs said. “Truly, now I can’t imagine anyone else playing any of the roles, it’s such a dream cast. We are obsessed.”

Despite the wacky plot of “Rough Night” – a sort of “Bachelorette” meets “Weekend at Bernie’s” affair – it was paramount for Aniello and Downs that their characters stay rooted in truth. All the better that such roles are exactly what the box office is lacking.

“What we like to do is write real characters, no matter what their gender is,” Aniello said. “Right now, it seems to be more resonant to be writing very grounded, real female characters, maybe just because it hasn’t been represented as much, especially in the film world.”

“Rough Night”

Aniello and Downs aren’t kidding about that “real characters” bit, and the pair claim that many of the women (even the delightfully outsized ones) that show up in “Rough Night” are based on real-life pals. McKinnon’s Aussie outsider Pippa is specifically based on an Australian friend – she’s even named after her – to the point that the writers borrowed her “origin story” and some of her favorite phrases (“be-genius amazoire”) to craft the role.

“Kate made the character her own,” Downs said. “The character Pippa is different than our real-life friend, Kate made her like a Stevie Nicks free spirit, a true flower child. But all the characters are—”

“Loosely based on real people in our lives,” Aniello cut in. “And ourselves, there’s definitely parts of us in all of the characters. We wanted to make them all different, but to make them all feel real.”

(Very) Funny Ladies

The central message of “Rough Night” is actually a sweet one about the power of friendship (especially amidst such huge, criminal mistakes like killing a stripper), and Aniello and Downs are eager for movie-goers to bring plenty of friends along to watch. (Early screenings of the film offered up pre-showing wine and cocktails, and a slew of bachelorette party-themed accessories, in keeping with the film’s theme.)

READ MORE: Scarlett Johansson’s Best Comedic Performances: 5 Moments That Put Her ‘Rough Night’ Role In Context

As excited as they are about their first film, they’re still happily chipping away at new projects. They’re currently at work on two different features, a spec script and another project written specifically for Johansson. In early 2015, the pair were tapped to write a script for a planned female-centric spinoff of “21 Jump Street” that is currently on hold, as the studio is now pushing towards a “Men in Black” mash-up that will join the two franchises together. Aniello and Downs were shy about sharing too much of the film’s plot – they’re still very eager that it get made – though their concept speaks to their unique point of view.

“Comedy is still a hard thing for, not only women behind the camera, but I think for audiences, there’s a little bit of like, ‘Prove to me you’re funny, ladies,’ and that sucks,” Downs said. “To me, some of my favorite comedians are women.”

“All of them,” Aniello interjected. “All of them,” Downs said with a laugh. “All of them, bold and underlined.”

“Rough Night” opens in theaters June 16.

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