Admission, starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, hits theaters today and director Paul Weitz had more than a few things to say about his ultra-funny stars in a recent interview with Hypable.
With two stars coming from the ultimate of comedic backgrounds, it seems that Admission (read our review here) can do no wrong. Director Paul Weitz had to face the challenge of balancing comedy with heartfelt drama in the film adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s book, and having two stars that share an incredible sense of humor really helped Weitz during the production.
“They’re both nice, obviously, which is a really big thing,” said Weitz. “My brother (New Moon director Chris Weitz) and I, you know, we started doing American Pie which had no, you know, it had Eugene Levy in it. He was the most famous person in it,” laughed Weitz. “We had this ‘no assholes’ rule where we wouldn’t work with someone who we heard was an asshole. Years later I learned that was a really good rule to have.”
Since the word on the street was that neither Fey or Rudd were assholes, they both scored starring roles in Weitz’s film, and the director has even gone so far as to say that he wouldn’t have done the film had Fey not signed on.
Before Fey even arrived on the set, Weitz took to her personal biography, Bossypants to glean an idea of who she was as a person. “It was really good to have Bossypants to read ahead of time. It’s pretty revealing. I knew that, you know, I kinda got some sense from that of what she cared about,” said Weitz. “The star has a lot of power on the set and you need to be making the same film as them, so there was a lot of talk ahead of time about what the film was about and the decisions being made.”
With the kind of heart that beats at the center of Admission, it was important for Fey to understand the tone so that she could adjust her performance to better suit what the film was aiming for.
“With Tina, I turned to the screenplay and I walked her beat by beat through the plot before we got involved, because I needed to know that she was up for this version of the movie,” said Weitz.
Although the director had a strong vision for the direction he wanted to take the film, it still continued to be a collaboration between everyone involved, including Fey. “Tina was great in terms of coming up with jokes, and also she had some really good ideas about some of the dramatic scenes.”
Weitz continued to go into detail about how Fey provided something more carnal than he had originally envisioned for a crucial scene in the film, but for spoilers-sake we won’t go into detail here. You’ll find out when you see Admission for yourself, but just take note that it was Fey’s idea to “do it on the floor.”
Weitz said that Fey’s animalistic instinct caught him by surprise, but according to the director, that’s half the fun of the job. “It’s much more interesting when people do something that you didn’t expect,” said Weitz, though he maintained that there still had to be a sense of balance when improvising. “If you’re really riffing on a scene you forget what the scene’s about,” said Weitz.
Weitz has made a specialty out of adapting books to fit the silver screen, and Admission was no exception. Coming from the book of the same name written by author Jean Hanff Korelitz, Weitz discussed a few scenes that he wished could have fit into the film, but as with any shift from book to film, some moments just didn’t work.
“There are a certain number of flashbacks to Tina’s character as an undergrad,” explained Weitz. “That would’ve been challenging to do and have the film not be ridiculous.” At the moment, we can only imagine Fey as an undergrad at an aviary museum taking pictures of the “many different types of sparrows,” so yes, that may have been a little ridiculous.
Though ridiculousness isn’t the worst thing for a comedy, Weitz decided early on he wanted to center on truth in order to tell the story with as much honesty as possible. “The characters have to not feel like they’re in a comedy,” said Weitz, though he admits that separating the line between the actor and the character can be a challenge.
“I had to think about whether or not her character has a sense of humor,” said Weitz, trying to draw a line between Fey and her on-screen persona, Portia. “Clearly Tina does, but her character might have a really dorky sense of humor. You kinda see that when she’s trying to tell jokes to the cow that’s giving birth to calm him down.”
Although making this distinction between Fey’s real-life comedic sense and Portia’s crippling awkwardness was a challenge, Weitz admits that it’s one of his favorite aspects of the job. “The thing I maybe enjoy most about directing is the game of “let’s pretend” that you have with the actor where you’re talking about this imaginary character and you’re trying to erase this line between the actor and the character, and really between yourself and the character too,” said Weitz.
More than anything, Weitz wanted to ensure that he had remained faithful to Korelitz’s original vision, though he admits that as a completely different art medium, you need to also make it your own. “You’re always taking some angle on a book and adapting it,” said Weitz. “The only thing I make damn sure to do is to talk to the author about what I’m doing and in this case I think Jean was excited that Tina was gonna play the character, and she was cool with me giving the version that I thought would be a good film.”
According to Weitz, Korelitz has seen and enjoyed the film, though he does leave a little wiggle room for her in the truth department. “She’s either a really terrific liar or she loved the film,” laughed Weitz. Korelitz was involved in the production of the film to an extent, though her son had the distinct honor of appearing in the film as one of Nelson’s buddies in the party scene.
At the moment, Weitz is circling a film adaptation of yet another novel called Bel Canto, which follows the story of a renowned soprano that goes down to a Latin American country to sing at the birthday party of Katsumi Hosokawa, a Japanese industrialist. The party is interrupted by a group of terrorists looking for the President, and when it’s revealed to them that the President didn’t attend the party, the terrorists are forced to remain there with their hostages for months.
According to Weitz, the book was inspired by a real event in Peru, and although it represents a challenge to the director, he still wants to give it a shot.
Admission hits theaters today.