About Unfinished Business
Everyone in business for themselves has one thing on their minds: how to nail
down that next deal. That even goes for those in the movie business. "It dawned
on me this year," says screenwriter STEVE CONRAD (The Secret Life of Walter
Mitty, The Weather Man), "that I'm never going to reach a place where it's easy
or less critical to get the next job pinned down." When he was younger, Conrad
thought a day would come when he would have relief from the weekly pressure to
deliver professionally, allowing him to get home and take care of his family.
But that day never came. "So I thought rather than continue to wish for it, I
should write about it - that push and pull all of us live with, trying to
accomplish something at work that allows you to then accomplish something at
Conrad's professional life, like so many in the business world, also involves
plenty of travel, something to which producer TODD BLACK, with whom the writer
has worked on a number of films, could easily relate. "Steve had always wanted
to tell the story of an executive on a business trip, and what we all go through
dealing with our spouses, family, bills, responsibilities, and having to go and
land that next job," Black explains.
It's a constant balancing act, making sure colleagues are taken care of,
while also managing/addressing things back home. "There are so many things along
the way that are in opposition to somebody trying to accomplish all that - in
real life, in business, every day," Black continues. "It's relatable for a lot
The writer pitched the story to Regency Pictures' ARNON MILCHAN and BRAD
WESTON, who bought the idea, which Conrad and Black continued to develop.
Conrad's story initially focused on Dan Trunkman, with a wife and family. But it
occurred to him it would be interesting to see the issue from a few different
"It dawned on me that I might be able to gain an interesting perspective on
the phenomenon of a business trip if I matched Dan with a guy who might be on
his last business trip, as well as someone who's his first one," Conrad notes.
"I wanted to look at a few characters, to get a panoramic look into the way a
business trip feels across the course of a lifetime."
The leader of the group is Dan, who, like so many characters in Conrad's
stories, has many facets. "The thing that Steve Conrad does better than any
writer working today is giving each of his characters so many layers," Black
notes. "Dan is flawed, but very together. Beaten down, but aggressive. Sad, but
funny at the same time." Says Conrad: "Dan has been described as being 'common,'
but also unique. He has a clear set of obligations and principles that many of
us share - taking care of his family first. But what makes him unique is that he
has a full appreciation for how weird all of that can be. He's fully aware of
the monumental challenge that day-to-day life presents."
Dan has probably been on just a few too many of these kinds of trips.
Starting your own business doesn't make any of this easier. "He's just stepped
away from corporate America and started his own company, so that he can do
things his own way," says director KEN SCOTT. "That's something we all would
love to do - and he's doing it. But Dan is discovering that it's not that easy
to make it happen."
As soon as Conrad's script was completed, Black and Weston quickly tapped
VINCE VAUGHN to play Dan. "Vince is the everyman guy that you buy both as a
businessman and as a family man," Black explains. "We gave the script to him,
and he loved it and committed to the project immediately, even without a
Vaughn had never played a character like Dan. "The stakes are very real," the
actor says. "What matters to Dan is his family. But going on the trip presents
some challenges these characters have to face that are really kind of fun."
The struggles are both internal and external ones. "He's got issues at home
that he's trying to weigh in on and be helpful with, but in the meantime he's on
a work trip, with its own stresses and immediacies," Vaughn continues. "And
then, there all the matters relating to the physical journey - the trip being
rearranged, having to go to Berlin, where there's a lot of festivals and things
going on. So there's a lot he has to juggle - and that makes for a fun story."
The actor brought a unique set of qualities that made him perfect for playing
a character with so many edges. "Vince brings a humanity to the comedy," Conrad
says. "He's able to make you laugh by making comedy out of the frustrations. To
be able to make somebody laugh through that is a gift."
Black agrees. "That's one of the things that Vince does better than any actor
I've ever worked with - he finds the most realistic moments for all of us, and
then infuses fantastic comedy instincts. He understands where the joke is, but
he understands it in a real way, not in a put-on way. And that makes him
relatable and likable."
Accompanying Dan on the trip are two men, one older, one younger. The former,
Timothy, is played by acclaimed actor TOM WILKINSON, an early choice of both
Scott and the producers. "He's someone I've wanted to work with for a long
time," the director says. "Tom doesn't get to do comedy that often, and he
brought something to the humor here that was very touching."
"The script was such a wonderful mixture of comedy and truthful narrative,"
Wilkinson notes. "It's irresistible from that point of view. Plus, it was an
opportunity for me to do some comedy." Adds Black, "Tom has such a grounding
sense, which you can see in all his movies, and we needed that."
Timothy is at both the twilight of his career and of his marriage - and is
ready to move on. "He's been in a frustrating and unhappy relationship for a
long time, but he hasn't quite known how to break out of it," Wilkinson
explains. "Tim finds the opportunity that accidentally comes his way, via this
trip to Berlin, as a sort of weird liberation that allows him to enjoy some of
the freedoms he might have missed out on when he was young."
The character has some revealing moments, noting at one point that he has
"never made love to a woman," at least not in a loving way, due to his
unsatisfactory relationship with his wife. "He's got many different moments
where he delivers these touching pieces of himself," Scott explains. "That's
what's great about the story. You can work with people for so long, seeing them
7 or 8 hours a day. But when you go on a business trip, you are together 24
hours a day - and you see a completely different side of them. It's that way
with all of the characters, and they reveal things about themselves in a natural
way. They're struggling, and they need to communicate."
On the other end of the spectrum is young Mike Pancake, played with great
finesse, warmth, comic sense - and daring - by DAVE FRANCO. Yes, Pancake ["You
mean, like breakfast?" another character inquires.]
Mike is not the sharpest knife in the drawer - he has gifts in some areas,
but is challenged in others. "What Mike lacks in intelligence, he makes up for
in sweetness and earnestness," Franco says.
He is nonetheless an integral part of the Apex Select team. "Mike is always
enthusiastic and positive," Franco continues. "Some people might question, why
would Dan hire Mike in the first place? And we talked about this - in the
initial interview, Mike's sweetness and overall giddiness and excitement to do
whatever you want him to do won Dan over. And that ultimately is what makes him
good at his job, as a salesman. Mike believes whatever people tell him, so he
really believes in their company. And you can feel his excitement when he's
talking to people."
Mike's spirit is, in large part, generous and kind. Notes Vince Vaughn: "He
lives with other guys with bigger challenges than him. They live vicariously
through Mike, so he wants to bring back great stories from this trip and a level
of success. He's generous with his experiences. Mike wants them to feel
fulfilled, too." Adds Scott: "Mike is in a world of discovery. It's his first
trip, probably of any kind."
The three travelers have different reasons for wanting their trip to be a
success. "The setup of having these three guys solve a business problem together
was obviously a great source of conflict, but also a great source of comedy,"
Scott says. "They are from different generations and have different levels of
experience in business. I wanted to have the feeling that these guys go off on a
journey, and then are kind of prisoners of this journey and also are prisoners
of one another. But all three have an understanding of what's at stake for them,
individually, and as a whole."
Trying to ruin it all is Dan's former boss - and now-nemesis - the
oddly-named Chuck, played by the beautiful SIENNA MILLER. To answer your
question, "No, the character was never going to be a guy," Scott laughs. "It was
always this woman who was one of the guys. Sienna could really make it
Playing tough against the 6'-5" Vaughn required the right kind of actress.
"He's a big guy," Scott continues. "So I needed someone that could go toe-to-toe
with Vince. It took someone that was that charismatic, that strong, to be a good
opponent to Vince's character. And Sienna brought that, in an interesting way."
"She's attempting to get the same handshake he's chasing," Miller explains.
"And Chuck really doesn't hold back in trying to achieve what she's after. She's
not afraid to use any means available to her to get the advantage - and she's
got the advantage on a lot of levels. She really goes for it."
The film is a first for the actress. "Crazily, I've never done a comedy
before. And Steve Conrad has done the most extraordinary job of writing a woman
who really holds her own. It's a real comic turn, and there are some genius
one-liners in there. It's really refreshing to be able to play someone who's
that committed to achieving their goals, but also is hysterical at the same
Both Chuck and Dan are each trying to convince Benjaminson's CEO, Jim Spinch,
that their company's proposal is the way to go - though Spinch has pretty much
found a way to make up his mind. "If they're both offering up the same benefit
for your company, you're gonna give the nod to the beautiful woman," explains
JAMES MARSDEN, who plays the executive.
"James just has total conviction in being a jerk," says Black. "He has fun
with it and does it with a twinkle in his eye." Notes Marsden: "Jim is a little
slick and realizes he's not in a sexy business - the mineral industry - so he
has to sex it up by wearing some sharp suits and being a fast talker. But it's
fun to play the boss. You just snap your fingers and everyone does what you
The actor drew on the work of one of his co-stars for inspiration. "There's
an element of Jim that reminds me of some of the roles that Vince has played in
the past - he's usually the very charming, quick-witted, slick guy. So it's up
to me to sort of plagiarize Vince here," Marsden jokes.
Marsden, like other cast members, was taken with the jargon of the unsexy
swarf business. "The audience is not supposed to know what it means," he says.
"But Steve Conrad also writes like people talk, which was something that
appealed to me about the script - both in the way the characters talk to each
other and the way they talk business. I've seen plenty of businessmen when I go
through the airport, carrying briefcases, talking on the phone, and it's
gibberish - and we did the same thing. 'Well, we're gonna do back end, we can't
refactor market until it's out the door.' It's like, 'What the hell are you
Dan's original deal was with Spinch's underling, Bill Whilmsley, played by
the popular British comic NICK FROST. "We really wanted somebody that would go
for it with the comedy," Black explains. "Steve Conrad's comedy is very
specific, and only certain comedians understand how to deliver it in a realistic
and funny way. Nick has the ability to transform himself in a brave manner and
be likable at the same time."
Frost's Whilmsley is doing a bit of. . . exploring while in Berlin. "He's
exploring the dark side of exploring," says Scott. "Nick just dove in and had
fun with it. He makes it okay to laugh." Even as Bill and Dan have a
walk-and-talk chat, it's just two businessmen having a conversation - except
Nick is dressed up in all this leather. There's a lot of comedy there, but
there's also a lot of truth. And that's something Nick does well."
In the midst of this insanity is the situation with Dan's family back home,
particularly with his kids, Paul and Bess. "I think the business trip catches
Dan at at a tipping point," says Vaughn. Notes Conrad: "You miss so much when
you're away all the time. You miss small things that can feel like a lifetime,
especially when your kids are almost teenagers. Those are developmentally
important months that, if you're not tuned into them, things change."
Whenever possible, Dan squeezes in a video chat, in order to keep his finger
in the pie of everyone's life back home - though they're not always at the most
opportune moments, Dan rarely able to find a calm five minutes while in the
midst of other obligations. "It's not the same as being there," Vaughn explains.
"The days and nights are at different times, and you're schedules don't easily
match. You're trying to travel and get this deal done, and, at the same time,
try to make yourself available to be helpful back home. It's not easy."
Playing Paul is a young actor named BRITTON SEAR, found through a local
Boston agent after a lengthy search. "We brought in a lot of kids from all over,
and Britton just hit the nail on the head," says Scott. "Right away, we cared
for him and what he was going through. And that's not easy - his whole story is
told to the audience only through his dialogue with his father via chatting on
the computer. It's just him delivering his feelings, mostly just through his
facial expressions and reactions to his father."
Dan's daughter, Bess (ELLA ANDERSON), has asked him to help her with a
homework assignment. Titled "Who's Your Daddy?" the piece requires a simple
answer from the child's father, explaining who he is and what he does. Expecting
his business trip to last but one day, Dan figures it'll be a simple task, which
he'll give to her the following day. But it doesn't turn out to be so easy.
"He's just supposed to write a simple sentence, and he's not able to figure
himself out that quickly or succinctly," says Conrad. "So he carries this small
assignment with him, and it becomes another thing hanging over his head."
"I love the fact that this character couldn't answer this very simple, basic
question - 'Who are you?'" says Scott. "It's a great window into Dan's
character. He's not only struggling at home and in his business, but he's
actually very much struggling to find out who he is."
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