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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 men.

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 that?"

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 holiday parties.

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 truth."

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 anymore."

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 today.

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 hysterical."

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 very funny."

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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