Recently I had a chance to sit down with Seth Gordon while he was in Washington, DC on his press tour for the upcoming film Horrible Bosses, which he directed. Seth Gordon is primarily known for his directing work on the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and episodes of television programs such as Modern Family, Community, Parks & Recreation, and The Office. As it turns out, he’s a nice and intelligent guy that even laughed at some of my jokes.
Trailers for the movie have been showing for a while, sometimes even months earlier. Are you ever concerned about the comedic trailers that they may be revealing some of the better jokes in the film or somehow lessening the experience?
For me, my biggest concern is to get people to come to the movie, so if they need to spoil a few of the jokes, I’m totally fine with that. I think in the case of this movie, there’s a surplus of funny moments, the only thing I’d really be frustrated with is if they spoiled some of the twists — some of the ones that may surprise you. Luckily, the trailer doesn’t spoil any of those. There are a lot of different types of genres I think are starting to be made more in the film and television industry these days, especially workplace and family comedies.
These different types of genres in the workplace or family — that’s something you have background with your television work –
Yeah, it’s the trend I see happening with movies.
Well, I feel like my experience working on the show The Office definitely informed some of my understating of situational comedy. Obviously it’s a different aesthetic, as they worship the mundane in that show and mine it for comedy, whereas for Horrible Bosses it was more like looking for status differences between employees and bosses and finding the funny in that. And for me that’s fundamentally different, but I can’t say that The Office wasn’t an influence because it definitely was — although Michael Scott (as played by Steve Carell) is a lot nicer than any of the bosses in this movie.
What kind of a boss are you to work with?
I think I’m a pretty good boss. I try to actually acknowledge my flaws.
It takes a lot to actually do that, that’s for sure. Before you started comedies, you directed the popular documentary The King of Kong (about competitive high scoring in classic arcade games) — do you ever think you’ll go back to documentaries?
Absolutely — recently I’ve been trying to produce them, supporting other filmmakers with great ideas who are having trouble getting funding or finding an occasion to focus on a specific idea. There’s one we just finished called Make Believe that’s been out in a few theaters, and another one Undefeated, which will probably be released this fall about a high school football team.
Do you think it’s important for this kind of madcap comedy to have a leading straight man character?
I think so. I think you have to have somebody who’s rooted and grounded, and Jason Bateman is one of the best in the world at that. He’s really good and even though each of the guys were that to their respective bosses, we still needed one guy in the trio to be the straight man of the group.
Jason Bateman does have a history of playing that sort of straight man character.
For sure — what was really fun for me — I don’t think this spoils the movie too badly, but there’s a cameo by Bob Newhart where he shares a scene with Bateman, and it’s essentially a straight man showdown.
Newhart’s certainly historically considered the best straight man alive.
Yeah — and he hasn’t been seen it in a while, but he had actually come to know the story and was excited to participate.
So how could you tell Bob was excited?
(Laughs) I was going on what he said, I guess.
Was this a movie that needed to be made with an “R” rating?
Yes, I wanted the characters to talk like I do with my friends — the way real people talk. It just feels more authentic, and I think even if The Hangover hadn’t happened, but after its success we had almost carte blanche to make an R-rated comedy. I felt that adding nudity or explicit sexual situations would be more exploitative than necessary for this movie. I wanted it to be about the comedy, not the shock value. People want to see movies with more adult themes.
Sometimes it can be difficult for unknown quantities when they haven’t been out before, but I think you’re definitely right that people will want to see something that matches how they really interact — it’s not like this is meant to be a kid’s movie after all.
Not in the slightest.
There have been some rumors recently on an upcoming project you’ll be working on — a remake of the 1980’s classic thriller WarGames that starred Matthew Broderick. It’s sort of a different type of movie than the comedies you’ve worked on.
It’s a totally different category — I just really liked the original and this is a great opportunity because the politics and technology have changed enough that it can be reimagined and updated for the modern era. We don’t have that Cold War enemy — the faceless, nameless antagonist in some far away country. It’s a very different political landscape nowadays. It hasn’t been cast yet, but I’d love to get someone from the original movie to at least make a cameo.
One last question: any more work with television in your future?
Definitely — I mean there’s a show I had helped create this past spring called Breaking In and I really enjoyed that process and working with the showrunner. So I’d love work in TV again — it’s a hard job, and the people who do it well deserve respect.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with us.
You’re welcome — and I hope you enjoy the film.
Horrible Bosses opens July 8th, 2011 from New Line Cinema.