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Q&A With Writer/Director Matthew Weiner
Q: What was the genesis of this project?

A: I had reached a point in my life where I was happily married but had lost most of my male friendships. My wife was my best friend and is my best friend but a whole part of my life had disappeared. I started thinking about what holds people together and what that role is of friendship.

I realized when I started writing the story, I was writing about a character who was unable to feel. Feelings are part of real life and Steve Dallas (played by Owen Wilson) has all of this behavior - whether it's womanizing, taking drugs, partying, spending too much money - they are all ways to avoid actually dealing with the feelings of life and avoiding the experience of life. The only thing that he has going for him is that he has this friend (played by Zach Galifianakis). These two are so comfortable together that they don't even need to talk about why they are friends.

The other theme that went into the story was inspired by my then six-year-old son. I had taken a bite of a chicken leg that was on a platter, and found it was raw so I threw it in the garbage. He looked up at me and said, "Daddy, that was a chicken's whole leg." I started to realize that my whole sense of the world has been separated by technology, by adulthood, by dependence on all of these forces that have nothing to do with what I should be able to experience.

Q: Can you tell us a little about the casting process and how you ended up working with Owen, Zach, Amy and Laura?

A: I have to admit that the person I wanted to play Steve Dallas from the beginning was Owen Wilson when I first started the script twelve years ago. I've always thought he had a lot of depth and a great light comic sensibility. Even when he's glib, I feel like there's a person under there.

As for Zach, I did not know about him when I started writing the script. He wasn't on the scene. It was actually Jon Hamm, who told me about Zach really early on in the process probably about six years ago and said, "You have to see this guy, he's a great actor." And I met Zach and he was so warm and deep.

Amy was just like a dream. I wanted to find someone I would believe as Zach's sister - who was going to have the comic ability and the dramatic weight to be the adult in the story. I never write characters that are good or bad, villains or protagonists - I don't really think in those terms. I knew Amy was going to give real pathos to someone who has to be the adult, which is an unpleasant job.

I had worked with Laura on Mad Men. My casting directors, Laura Schiff and Carrie Audino, who also worked with me on the movie, brought her to meet with me because they thought she had this ethereal quality. I liked the idea that she has no baggage from previous roles, because the character Angela is someone who is very mysterious. To write in a script that someone is beautiful and unknowable is an easy thing to be but it helps if you don't know them that well and they are really beautiful. It was a really lucky thing and a great casting moment as far as I'm concerned because they found the person who can really carry the part and would not disappear in these scenes.

Q: Can you speak to any of the themes in this film?

A: I always write from a place of theme, and I think the audience appreciates it. I wanted it to be a thoughtful movie.

For me, the most important topic is friendship. The first line I had in the script is that line that Owen has where he says, "That's the thing about friendship; you see it on TV, people go to the doctor, no one eats alone, but they are alone. Friendship is a lot rarer than love because there's nothing in it for anyone." That was the place I started when I said, "What is the value of friendship? What is holding people together?" Because it is so rare. I wanted to show that they were there for each other and had been there for each other the whole time. At the same time I wanted to talk about the hard choices in life, which is: at what point do you have to accept responsibility for yourself?

The other thing I was interested in is our relationship with nature. It's a really big theme but I feel as the city encroaches more and more on the country and as the whole idea of a farm disappears, we have become more and more removed from our natural state. But that's a necessity of the modern world and it's a cliche to say that that's good and the city is bad but I believe that a lot of our inability to experience our life is because we are overwhelmed with the pace and the technology and the sound of the city.

Along with that comes the deepest part of the movie which is: what is it that we are feeling in our everyday life? Is it our ability to be in touch with nature enough to know what the weather is going to be like or in touch enough to acknowledge that the food that we are eating is natural on some level and has life in it?

Q: Can you tell us a little about Zach and Owen's characters?

A: What's charming about Owen's character is that he is selfish, but at least he is admitting that he's selfish. He's in a state that he is doing anything he can, not to feel. But he cares about his friend, and his love for his friend and the way that his life is at the beginning of the movie is the part he has to give up.

Owen is so extraordinary in the film, and you know I hope the unexpected story of the film is - not that people don't expect the actors to be this good - but that they really deliver very deep performances.

Zach's character is very virtuous, intelligent, an honest person who is filled with a sense of outrage about the way the world is and he wants to change it. He's a total idealist and you've got to love him for that. One of the amazing things that Zach does in this movie is that he is so funny and has so many great comic moments, and then you realize there is something wrong with his character. As you grow to see that, the character realizes that as well and he tries to make a change.

It was really satisfying to tell a story where the characters start off in one place and really end up in a different place. They literally switch places and I think it feels completely earned. I'm always trying to make entertainment that I want to watch and I think the film's unpredictability and inevitability is the thing that makes it entertaining.

Q: Can you tell us a little about Amy and Laura's characters?

A: Amy's character - Everyone has that sister or brother who is responsible. She has the ambition to make something of herself. The thing that's great about Amy's character is that you feel the genuine love she has for her brother. It was amazing to see, and I think both Amy and Zach felt this way, that they could've been brother and sister. They have similar voices, they look a bit like each other.

Which brings me to Laura's character, I felt that Angela has a lot in common with Ben in that they are both environmentalists. She is a person who is really smart and has made some interesting choices in her life. She's taken a certain path. And her unconventional path is somehow suspicious for us because we want to know what she wants.

Q: You worked with many of your regular Mad Men collaborators on the film. How did that come about and what did that bring to doing the film?

A: One of the great things about this experience moving into feature filmmaking like this is that I was able to bring artists with me that I have been working with on Mad Men. My cinematographer Chris Manley, production designer Dan Bishop, my editor Chris Gay, and of course Scott Hornbacher, who is a producer of Mad Men, as well as other people on the creative team. We all have such a shorthand with each other. It was really funny - we were on the set shooting a scene with Amy and she says to me, referring to myself and Chris Manley, the cinematographer, "You guys have been working together for a long time?" I said "Yeah I guess so -why?" And she said, "because you are walking around here talking and he's not saying anything, and everything is getting done."

I know and trust this team who is at the top of their field. Having David Carbonara from the show do the music, having Ellen Freund come to North Carolina and do the props - this is stuff that is really important to the texture of my work and their work. The story was very meaningful to everybody - that's a lot of why they were there.

Q: You've done a lot of directing on Mad Men, how did your experience directing this film compare to directing for television?

In terms of writing, to me it's like the difference between a novel or short story or a poem or play - there are different kinds of writing, you're telling the story in a different format. But what was really interesting about the directing experience was that it was a whole new group of actors and it was shooting in a new location.

It reminded me of the pilot of Mad Men in a sense that there was a real sense of discovery and it was a challenge. It was really a thrill to try and create this completely new world with these actors. I think the biggest difference between TV and film is probably that on TV, at least on Mad Men, we've been doing it long enough that there's a system. We shot 99% of this movie in places that we had to alter and drive to and create, with actors with whom I had a very short rehearsal process.

The movie is so personal and meaningful for me. I had to open myself up to the unexpected in a way I never have before.


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