THE NIGHT BEFORE
About The Film
On Christmas Eve, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris
(Anthony Mackie) have made a pact to spend the evening together - a tradition
they have replayed each of the last ten years. It's a night of debauchery and
breaking all the rules. But tonight will be the last night of the tradition -
and by the end of the night, these three great friends will become three wise
According to Rogen, it's important that the movie takes place at Christmas. "At
first, we thought we would just make a movie about people going out on Christmas
and they party and get messed up and it's funny," he says. "Later, we realized
that Christmas has this inherent emotional weight to it, and why not indulge in
In that sense, the film's co-writer/director, Jonathan Levine, says he was
inspired to make a film that would follow in the footsteps of certain genres,
but become unlike any other movie. "I wanted to make a New York movie, a hangout
movie, and play with the stylistic elements of a Christmas movie, and play with
the rules of the genre. We got to make a movie that was very grounded on one
level, but also contained elements of magical realism. But the really cool thing
about making a holiday movie is your number one mandate is to make people
happy," he says.
One other way Levine gives the R-rated movie a Christmas vibe is though music,
with nostalgic Christmas classics like "Twelve Days of Christmas," "Christmas in
Hollis," and "Oh, Holy Night," as well as Darlene Love's renditions of "All
Alone on Christmas" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and My Morning
Jacket's performance of "Please Come Home for Christmas" playing in counterpoint
to the wild night out, grounding the movie with familiar sounds.
Levine adds that the film is inspired in part on his own experiences. "I used to
do something like this with my friends in New York at Christmas," says Jonathan
Levine. "It's a weird time to be out, especially in New York City, because you
stumble upon little enclaves of people and weird stuff always seems to happen.
It's like a secret club of people who would just go out on Christmas - and that
gave me the idea for the movie."
So Levine and his co-screenwriters (the screenplay is by Jonathan Levine and
Kyle Hunter & Ariel Shaffir & Evan Goldberg, from Levine's story) make full
comedic use of a Christmassy New York: from the big piano (where Kanye West's
"Runaway" gets a new rendition) to the tree at Rockefeller Center to Tompkins
Square Park, The Night Before takes our heroes up and down the city before
winding up at the legendary Nutcracka Ball - the ne plus ultra of New York
Levine says that he was inspired to approach the project during the
post-production of 50/50, his highly acclaimed film that also teamed
Gordon-Levitt and Rogen. "We had a great experience together on that movie," he
says. "I told them I had an idea: every year at Christmas, you'll see the same
Christmas movies and TV shows. There's always new Christmas music coming out,
but not a Christmas movie - at least, not one geared toward young adults - in a
very long time."
"One of the reasons why I think 50/50 is so good is that it combines a dirty
sensibility with a very emotional one," says Rogen. "Jonathan is definitely
willing to embark into more emotional areas that Evan and I - well, it's just
not our instinct to go in that direction. The Night Before is definitely more of
a straight-out comedy than 50/50, but it is similar - it truly is a Christmas
movie, and it has everything that people expect from a Christmas movie, but it
also truly is an R-rated comedy."
At the center of the story is Ethan, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As his
friends Isaac and Chris have seen success in marriage and careers, Ethan remains
stuck in place. And tonight will be the final night of their Christmas Eve
partying - Isaac's wife is pregnant, and next year, Isaac will be expected to
participate in a family Christmas. As a result, though Ethan can outwardly
acknowledge the facts, he secretly hopes the annual party will continue.
Levine says that so much of the film depends on the relationship between the
three main characters - which required a finely tuned dynamic between the three
actors. "You have to consider Anthony and Joe to be dramatic actors, but they
also have these great comedic chops. Joe is allergic to any false moments - he
just won't do it, so he's bringing that realness - while Anthony is such an
incredibly talented actor, as both a dramatic actor and a comedic actor," says
Levine. "At the same time, you have to consider Seth a comedic actor, but he has
these great dramatic chops. He gets put in the camp of balls-out comedy, but the
reason he's so successful is because he's able to find the humanity within that
- so even as he's bringing the great jokes, he's grounding the film. The three
of them played really, really well off of each other. Joe and Seth were in 50/50
together, and I felt it was important to shift that dynamic a bit, so that it
didn't feel like they were doing the same thing. It was important to bring
Anthony into the mix, because that shook up the whole dynamic and made it feel
completely fresh. That dynamic between the three guys really cemented the tone
of the movie. And if something was funny enough, we were all able to say, 'Well,
it doesn't have to be grounded all the time.'"
"Just like they are in the movie, Joe, Seth, and Anthony are three very
different in reality," says Evan Goldberg. "But, also like the movie, they're
completely different people who got along really well, despite sharing very
little in common."
"In every group of friends, there are people who fill these roles," says Levine.
"What I would hope is that the interpersonal dynamics between the characters
would feel very familiar to people. I was also interested in how friends evolve
- when you remain friends with your friends from high school, does that hold you
back? How do you evolve with them? Do you have to let them go? I think that's
something everyone contends with, and it's a complicated thing."
If one of these characters has been held back, it's Ethan, Gordon-Levitt's
character. With the tradition starting shortly after Ethan lost his parents,
Isaac and Chris have progressed with their lives while Ethan seemingly stays
stuck in place.
Rogen explains, "Joe is the emotional core of the movie. He's also very funny,
but he's good at portraying a very relatable, everyman quality. Ethan is a guy
who doesn't quite know what he wants and hasn't quite gotten over this thing
that happened to him a long time ago."
"Everyone has their own path, and Ethan is trying to figure it out for himself,"
says Gordon-Levitt. "He is clinging to the past, because he's unsure of what his
future holds. Isaac and Chris were there for Ethan at a hard time in his life,
and together they started this tradition. Ten years later, there are still
certain things they always do - and this is their last chance to do those
things, so Ethan is trying to force this night to be the most special one ever."
And that is the one thing that will certainly make this night the most special.
Ten years ago, the friends caught wind of the legendary Nutcracka Ball - the
holiday party to end all holiday parties. "It's this white whale that they've
never found," says Evan Goldberg. "This year, a sort of Christmas miracle occurs
- Ethan finds three tickets on the floor of a cloakroom. Finally, the guys are
going to that party they've always wanted to go to, but with that comes the
added pressure of pretending that nothing has changed over the last ten years.
But plenty has changed."
"The party represents a place where all of their dreams will come true,"
explains Levine. "It's something they believe will fix their lives in some way."
Isaac and Chris's lives need fixing, too. "Isaac is about to have a baby and
he's in denial about the fact that he's freaking out about it," says Rogen.
"Ultimately, on their night out, he goes on a spirit quest of sorts to find the
Rogen typically plays the straight man in his comedies, so for this role, the
actor relished the fact that his character becomes completely unhinged. "We gave
literally every funny thing to Seth, and he gets to be really funny in the
movie," says producer James Weaver.
Mackie's character, Chris, Levine says, "is by far the most outgoing and
charismatic of the characters. He's a football star and he's enjoying it; it
took him 12 years to get here and he will do whatever it takes to stay on top."
Mackie says that the character is blessed, or cursed, with a strong conscience.
"The admiration that he gets for being a big-time football player stings,
because of the way he achieved it," says Mackie. "Once he realizes that he's
going against all of his morals, he makes a conscious decision not to do that
Best known for his dramatic roles, Mackie wanted the comedic role in The Night
Before so much that he took the extreme step of auditioning for the part (his
first audition in 10 years). "I had to get back in the habit of learning the
lines for an audition, which is such a weird process," he says, "but at the same
time, I had nothing to lose. A lot of times, at the audition, you see the star,
and you don't want to talk to him. But I decided to mess with Seth. I was going
to blow it out and make it my own. I had never done a comedy before, so I didn't
know what to expect - they'd laugh, and I'd be thinking, 'Yo, shut up, the
camera's still rolling, I'm still in the middle of my audition.' So I didn't
know if it went well or not, until I got the part. And that's when it hit me -
'It's your first comedy and you're going to be with the people who they consider
the best at comedy. Good luck!' But it all worked out."
"On set, Anthony is a dynamic ball of energy," says Levine. "He knows
everybody's name. You can hear him coming from a mile away. He's always joking -
he makes it fun to come to work. I think it energizes the crew - and for me, as
a director, that's awesome, because when the crew is happy, you're able to get
the job done."
In supporting roles are several women who rank among the funniest people working
Taking the role of Diana, the love of Ethan's life who got away, is Lizzy Caplan.
Despite the fact that Diana and Ethan are no longer a couple, she keeps showing
up in the unlikeliest of places. "Ethan and Diana are ex-boyfriend and
girlfriend," says Caplan. "Ethan was not ready to grow up and have a serious
relationship, so she reluctantly moved on. They see each other again on this
crazy night. They're constantly running into each other, some of the time on
purpose and some of the time not on purpose."
Having previously worked with Caplan on The Interview, the producers knew that
she was a force in her own right with the perfect blend of wit and sarcasm to
play opposite the leading men. "Lizzy is hilarious, but also she's not a girl
who you're going to get anything over on," says Weaver. "She is very strong and
knows exactly what is going on. She plays a good character for Ethan to be
pining after because she's smart, cool and awesome."
In keeping with the other actors, Caplan is an actress who moves effortlessly
between comedy and drama. Rogen, who worked with Caplan on episodes of "Freaks
and Geeks," says, "She was always funny. 'Party Down' is maybe the most
representative of what she's actually like - I loved that show. She's
Caplan says that working closely opposite Gordon-Levitt wasn't what she imagined
it would be... "I wish that I could even say something slightly negative about
Joe, but he's a standup citizen," she says. "It's disappointing. I like my
former child actors disturbed."
Mindy Kaling joins as Sarah, Diana's uninhibited and boisterous counterpart and
the bane of Isaac's existence. "Sarah is a coworker and friend of Diana's and
she wants to party," says Kaling. "She hates Isaac, and it turns out that she
has a good reason. 90 percent of my lines are how much Sarah hates Isaac and
it's been fun to do this to Seth."
Rogen shares Kaling's enthusiasm for their character's contentious interactions.
"Mindy is great at screaming at me and hitting me," says Rogen. "She kept
telling me to try and hug her so that she could squirm away from me, which was
Behind the freaked out expectant husband, Isaac, is Betsy, his good-natured wife
with a sense of humor, rolling her eyes played by Jillian Bell. "We wanted a
character as crazy as Seth and it ended up being his wife," says Goldberg. "When
we saw Jillian at the end of 22 Jump Street, she was so funny that we knew we
had to put her in the movie."
"I think it's probably hard to be a woman comedian surrounded by a bunch of
dudes, even though we tried hard not to make it a boys' club environment," says
Levine, "but Jillian was just amazing. She was coming up with really funny
stuff. This is a strange reference, but Biggie once that said the only rapper he
was ever intimidated by - to rap on a track with - was Jay-Z. Well, Seth and
Jillian, the two of them, were like that for me. It was like watching two titans
going at it. Two frames after I cut every shot, Seth starts laughing."
"Broad City's" Ilana Glazer also takes a role as Rebecca Grinch. "I'm actually
glad that I hadn't made it all the way through the episodes of 'Broad City'
before we worked together, because now that I have, it's currently my favorite
show on TV. I would have been too starstruck," says Levine.
Up-and-coming comedian Nathan Fielder, star of Comedy Central's "Nathan for
You," takes the role of Joshua, the limo driver shepherding Ethan, Isaac, and
Chris around town.
And Michael Shannon rounds out the lead cast as Mr. Green, the pothead high
school teacher who, it turns out, has a little more going on than it seems. "The
parts of the movie with Michael Shannon's character are some of my favorites,"
says Levine. "That's not only because it's fun in those scenes to get into the
magical realism that makes Christmas movies so memorable and special, but
because of Michael's performance in that role. To me, he is the biggest
revelation of this movie. While, we knew he was an incredible actor, and we all
hoped that his intimidating, deadpan persona would really work for this
character, we didn't know he would possess such impeccable comedic instincts.
He's a great improvisor, and just a really funny person, which is not
necessarily what you'd expect based on his other work. I'm so glad he wanted to
be a part of this."
Making a special cameo appearance, coming in like a wrecking ball as herself, is
Miley Cyrus. "I decided it would be a pretty good idea to have Joe meet Miley
the day before her shoot, so I went up to her hotel room with Joe and I was
talking them through what would happen the next day, and they were both like,
'Yeah, we were child actors, dude. We know this.' I had totally forgotten that
they both had this background, acting since they were kids."
Maybe not coincidentally, Cyrus is not at all the diva, but a total pro, Levine
reveals. "She's incredibly easy to work with," he says. "She was game for
anything we could throw at her - she would just do it. And then she sang
'Wrecking Ball' about 100 times, over and over again. I asked, 'Don't you want
to save your voice?' Whatever. She just sang it and was so cool. She was so much
fun to work with."
In the film, Ethan gets the chance to perform a duet with Cyrus, and
Gordon-Levitt made the most of it. "Joe was so excited," says Weaver. "He
brought in a music guy to do an arrangement of the song and he rehearsed it
nonstop. I think he wanted the audience to think, 'Holy cow, he's so good and
he's totally hanging with Miley.'"
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