Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn Take Another Swing With 'Made'
It's still early on a Saturday morning when Jon Favreau walks into the room, his hair wet, his face shiny and pink from the shower. "You haven't been waiting long, have you?" he asks, shaking my hand.
Favreau was in Austin to premiere his latest film, Made, a mob caper that marks his debut as a director and the only movie to pair him with his buddy Vince Vaughn since the duo's 1996 breakout comedy, Swingers. That film -- a lovably self-conscious kind of "Rules for Men" celebrating the martini-swilling swing culture that was all the rage in L.A. at the time -- was a surprise hit, transforming the film's writer/star Favreau and its suave, mouthy second banana Vaughn from a couple of upstarts to a couple of, well, made men.
In some ways, the regular-joes-turn-bumbling-gangsters storyline of Made is the tale of Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn's careers in Hollywood: In 1996, they were deemed Hollywood's Next Big Thing, Miramax royalty, the can't-miss kids. Then Matt Damon and Ben Affleck snatched the crown, and Favreau and Vaughn spent the next five years languishing in bad deals and studio doublespeak. (Interestingly, television has been a kinder medium to both, with Favreau landing a recurring role on Friends and smartly spoofing himself on The Sopranos and Vaughn having appeared on Mr. Show and Sex and the City.)
If their careers have been rocky -- and a look at their filmographies might indicate just that -- it doesn't mean plenty of people aren't still pulling for them. Made's two local premieres at the Alamo Drafthouse in May were packed, and at the second, the crowd exploded when Vince Vaughn -- Vinnie Vaughn, the Vincester -- showed up unannounced. After the screenings, Favreau and Vaughn hit the clubs, partying into the wee hours, with the result that at a 10am interview -- despite his politeness and good-natured grin -- Jon Favreau still seems to be trying the morning on for size.
"I just got here, actually," I tell him.
"Good, good," Favreau says. He rubs his eyes, takes in the scene. We are standing in the striped and flowery conference room of the Four Seasons, in front of something like Nixon's dining room table, a huge shiny thing receding into the distance, with a pen and little pads of paper neatly arranged at every seat.
"Vince may be kinda late," Favreau continues. "I'm not sure when he got to -- "
The door bursts open.
"I'm glad you asked that question," Vince Vaughn says grandly, plopping into a seat at the table and pretending to scribble on a pad of paper. "Yes, ver-ry interesting. Go on. Go on." Then he jumps back up and makes a beeline: coffee. Vaughn is handsome despite the puffy, purple rings under his eyes, and he is tall -- 6-foot-5, a "tall drink of water," his character points out in Made. The week prior, he had been arrested for a barroom brawl in North Carolina that included actor Steve Buscemi, but this morning, he is all silly sweetness and charm. At the coffee machine, he and Jon horse around: Is this the thing? No, that's the decaf. What is this? Don't mess with that! Ouch, don't hit me. Look, you spilled it.
Like every successful comedy team, they are foils: Vince, the lady-killer/attention-deficit manchild, and Jon, the sensitive guy and superego. This tension is again nursed for laughs, occasionally darker ones, in Made, in which they play Ricky and Bobby, L.A. construction workers sent to the Big Apple on a mysterious, mob-related assignment, only to get caught up in the East Coast mafia, led by Puff Daddy (or P. Diddy, or, to be on the safe side, simply Sean Combs, as he is called in the film's credits). A wraparound story finds Bobby (Favreau) trying to coax his girlfriend (Famke Janssen, who co-starred with Favreau in last year's Love & Sex) out of her job as a stripper and playing surrogate daddy to her little girl. Where Swingers was saturated with pop-culture references to everything from the enduring cool of Frank and Dean to black 'hood movies to Reservoir Dogs and Martin Scorsese, Made tips its hat to mob films, hip-hop culture, spaghetti Westerns, the enduring cool of Frank and Dean (of course) -- even Screech from Saved by the Bell gets a shout-out.
Despite their morning shenanigans, both men are quite serious and sincere about Made -- a film that was made in the USA and made their way (the pair serve as co-producers). And they are hoping that it will remedy whatever career missteps their younger, more naive selves may have fallen into. And why not? It's still early.
Austin Chronicle: So tell me how last night went.
Jon Favreau: I don't remember it at all. [He rubs his forehead in exaggerated hangover, then laughs.] No, well, honestly, I can't remember feeling that good at a screening since the time we showed Swingers, and it was acquired.
Vince Vaughn: That's 'cause you got to make the movie you wanted to make.
JF: When you see a movie that you're in, and you don't really like it, you try to see the best part of it.
AC: What was the worst premiere you've been to?
JF: I'd have to say ... Clay Pigeons.
[Vince frowns: Clay Pigeons is his movie, not Jon's.]
VV: Clay Pigeons is a good movie.
AC: How was the premiere of Rudy [the 1993 football movie where the two actors met]?
VV: It was sad for me. You wanna know why?
VV: [lights cigarette] 'Cause I'm in L.A., and I get a part, and I don't wanna get my hopes up, but it's kind of a big part, like six or seven scenes, and it's like "Oh my God! I've gone from rags to riches overnight." So the movie is coming out -- and nobody had called to invite me to the premiere. That's weird. So I go with my friends to go see it, and I am in literally like four scenes for that long [snaps his fingers]. I have one or two lines. And I was so hurt. 'Cause I was there for a long time, doing my best. I was devastated. And I remember my dad, he was like, "Look Vince, you don't have to have a big part in a movie for people to like you around here."
JF: For me, Rudy was great. We had just started to hang out. I had just come to town. That's sort of what Swingers is based on, that period in my life. I'd meet girls, and I'd tell him what I did. I remember there was a girl I really liked, and I asked her if I could kiss her. And he was like, "Aww, you're not supposed to do that." And I was like, "Why not?" And he said, "You only ask a girl if you can kiss her if it's how Elvis would do it."
VV: Okay, act like I'm Jon, and you're my date, and we're hanging out. "So L.A. seems real nice."
AC: [playing along] Yeah, it's great.
VV: So where do you like to go eat?
AC: You know, like the Tex-Mex --
VV: Can I kiss you?
[Favreau smiles and shakes his head.]
JF: It's funny 'cause Made is just as autobiographical. But we change enough of it. To work in general on a movie like this was something we had wanted. We had tried to get a Western made, but it's impossible to get financing.
AC: And the studios wanted you to make Swingers II.
VV: Still Swingin'. He actually wrote a script to Swingers II.
JF: Yeah, I wrote it but it just --
VV: And I think it's a helluva script. But I think people might be disappointed, because they'd want more of the same. But it's really a logical progression of where those characters would go.
JF: I wanted to do a film that would have been a follow-up to Swingers but not a sequel. But if you showed it at the Alamo Drafthouse on a double bill with Swingers, it would be a really good double bill. But you don't feel like we're retreading the same ground. We developed as people, and our tastes as moviemakers have changed since Swingers. We wanted to play some tonal games. Plus Swingers has such a consciousness about it among our audience, it gives us an extra tool. [Made is embedded with inside jokes from Swingers, like a car with the license plate "DBL DWN," referencing the first film's classic gambling sequence.] Certain expectations are set about who we are and what type of movie it's going to be, which allows us to really manipulate the emotions of the audience by changing up on them as the movie goes on. And they experience something very different emotionally. There's an accepted understanding about the kind of movie we're going to do, and so when it shifts and changes, it really takes them on a more emotional ride than just making them laugh.
VV: I think both movies are about the same thing. You [meaning Jon] have a need sort of to be in a different place in your life. So you go about, like The Wizard of Oz -- I gotta find the wizard but really I had this strength all along in myself -- I gotta learn the rules of calling women, what you say, what to do, sort of put on some circus pleasantries. But ultimately you realize the highest power of being is just being in touch with yourself. And then in Made, your character is like, "I gotta change this girl [Janssen's stripper girlfriend]. If I can only provide her with money, she wouldn't be this way. Life has made her this way." ... What you learn is that [Favreau's character Bobby] can't control what his girlfriend is going to do or not going to do. The reason he's putting so much energy into changing her is what we all do in our lives -- I know I have -- sometimes it's harder to focus on what you need to change in yourself, so you find someone else and focus on that. I think Jon and I are both real people, in that we're not always successful, we don't always win, but we've always been rewarded most in life when we're ourselves.
And the problem with Swingers was a lot of people would embrace [Vince's character] Trent as sort of a really cool guy, like he was great. And I always saw him as really pathetic and wrong, you know? And it was important that you had that last scene in the movie where he gets smoked by the girl. You kind of realize he's harmless, he's not evil, but that it's really not that cool to be that focused on clothes and what you're saying and have a need to make like you're the man with girls. 'Cause what happens with a certain demographic of an audience is that's what gets celebrated.
AC: You've got an incredible cast of cameos. There's Bud Cort [star of Harold and Maude], Peter Falk, the Sopranos actors. And Sam Rockwell, who is so underrated and cool.
VV: We met Sam 'cause he came over to play charades.
JF: Also, he likes to play Richard Dawson on the board game of Family Feud. That's what we do.
VV: That's how we meet new friends sometimes.
JF: The cast is also a lot of people either Vince worked with or I worked with. You know, when you improvise a lot, there's not a lot on the page. And sometimes, like Bud Cort, who Vince knew, he showed up in this costume with his riding crop and he just ripped and ripped.
VV: Jon's such a good writer, dialogue-wise. But he's not precious with his dialogue. Which is so interesting. Gus Van Sant is a really good director, but he isn't precious with shit. He'll let you do stuff. A lot of times the guys who are best at that are the most comfortable making someone else feel a part of things. I think it's because Jon's background is in improv, and I think the way that you write, you take things that you hear. [Makes a spooky voice] You have voices in your head.
JF: Oh, totally. I try to write for people I know. But the thing that we both hate the most is watching a movie that's bullshit. Whether it's a bullshit performance, or a bullshit movie or a bullshit message. Bullshit writing. We want real. A lot of times by letting people use their words, you're going to get a higher level of reality.
AC: Like Swingers, this movie is obviously the product of someone who knows L.A. -- and also New York City, which is where you grew up.
JF: You know, it's so important to me to show the towns as they really are for people who live there. But the people who are financing the movie never give a shit. They want you to go shoot in Toronto and shoot a couple of exteriors. And we wouldn't do it. And we ended up not getting paid on our movie because it was so important for us to shoot in the United States, not just because it looks good -- it looks right and authentic, which is so important in this movie. You can't have a New York nightclub filmed in Toronto with a bunch of kids in polo shirts pretending to be the background actors. ... You have to go to a real New York nightclub and have real New York nightclub kids be there. It was such a battle to get it shot here. So that's why the last thing you see is an American flag and the words "This movie was shot entirely in the United States of America."
Made opens in theatres on Friday, July 27. See Film Listings for review.