What Men Want: Director Adam Shenkman

Interview with Director Adam Shenkman

Building Atmosphere

Specifically I’m looking… this is a sequence towards the end of act… sort of… sort of the act two structure where she’s melting down basically and the purpose of the scene is as we’re leaving her too… as we’re leaving Taraji’s character to the all is lost moment and she’s humiliating herself and her friends and of all this. So, we’re just trying to… and this was just all part of trying to get a big public display of awfulness basically of her behavior, but in terms of like tone… the tone of the whole… it’s easier to talk about sort of the tone of the whole movie is because… okay, the scene… I mean the movie is a fairy tale. It’s a person with a curse. It’s a person who has to get a curse reversed and why did they… why are they… did they need it particularly and what is the character there in the arc. It’s very similar to the original Nancy Meyer’s movie in terms of awful, selfish person suddenly realizes that it’s better to live a full, complete life of generosity, good behavior and particularly in this story what’s actually sort of beautifully articulated is because she’s a sports agent rather than in advertising because she’s a sports agent and she’s been raised by this sort of you know very isolated boxer father, we have a whole thing about how you can’t really see life fists are in front of your face all the time, when your always taking an offensive position and so she has to learn to kind of look… let her fists down and let the world and her have an interaction with her. So, this ends up being more of she, she… this is a scene where she’s using her power in a truly offensive position.

Gender and Ethnicity

AS:  We virtually ignore ethnicity in this movie. I made a very conscientious choice that I wanted to represent very much like with “Bringing Down the House: and in “Hairspray” this is just kind of like what the world looks like. You know this is sort of like my third in my race doesn’t matter you know kind of trilogy.  What’s really keeping Taraji’s character down is the fact that she is a woman trying to break through the glass ceiling. Now, what’s been fascinating is optically in the world that we live in today it would actually be much more advantageous for her character… for the company to raise her in her position. They should be wanting her to be in her position because optically it’s terrible to not have a woman in a partnership, leadership position so, it’s all of her own… basically it’s of her own unmaking that she keeps shooting herself in the foot and not getting ahead and it’s because she’s not looking at the world at large. She’s only looking out for herself. And so, that was a… that was a funky line to try to walk because I was like, “Dude, they should be wanting her to be” and when I’m saying, “Dude” I guess I was talking to the head of the studio. They should be wanting her to be in charge… just because she’s a woman. A capable woman you know and in fact that she has to earn that way forward just like anybody should earn their way into their position but, we are virtually not examining race. Now, because you are seeing it… it’s in Atlanta. It is a black couple getting married in Atlanta. It is largely a black audience because their families are black and it’s you know that’s that, but that’s just because the characters happen to be black you know but the rest of the world that is populating the movie is extraordinarily diverse and never once talked about from a racial perspective.

 

Men and Women Think Differently

AS: I think that that’s part… that’s partially true. I think one of the things that her character learns is she assumes that men think a certain way and come to find out that thoughts are not only fleeting but they change… people change their minds and people think more generically than other people think. Now, my experience as a man is the things that I personally think about are you know well I’m a man of a certain age now, so sex less than it used to be so there’s some of that in there because it’s an R-rated movie and you know we’re having some sexy fun in here and actually she’s at the height of her sexual power in the movie. She’s the one who’s the most sort of agro in this which has been fun to play with. Then we think about our health a lot because we’re you know at sort of like I’m always am thinking I might be dying. So, or like something, some part of the machine isn’t working right so I think that a lot of men that I know think about that kind of stuff and then it’s sort of where we on the latter in our own lives are and versus the lives of other people. So, she’s hearing everything from that girls hot, to I can’t remember the name of that cheese that I like, to am I peeing too many times a day? Should I go to my proctologist? It’s like the kinds of things that she’s hearing are not the kinds of things that necessarily are going to advance her in her career, which I think is much more fun because when I went back, and I watched the Nancy film, there’s no criticism of this, I just noticed that a lot of the thoughts that he heard were there specifically to advance the plot forwards like, “Oh, I can grab that idea, I’m stealing this idea. I’m stealing this idea” I avoided that in this movie. This is much more about like, “My god, now I’m just sort of walking through this bizarre minefield of things that I didn’t anticipate” and it’s not… and most of it is of no use. I’m just plagued by hearing to like all of this stuff. So, my attempt, in the development of it with the producers and the writers and all of that it, was to sort of go like, “It’s just not what you think it is, it’s just not what you think it is.” You can think it’s the stuff and sometimes your right and sometimes your wrong. It’s just like everything in life. But, it’s a very be careful what you wish for because now you’re gonna… now you’re gonna be saddled with a whole other world of nonsense to think about.

 

Telling the Truth

AS: I do think that the truth is always the best way to go but sometimes it’s not always for public consumption. Do you know what I mean? I think that there are times when sometimes the truth in certain forms and the way that you present the truth can backfire on you because what I’ve learned, and I can speak to this mostly again from personal experience in life and watching things, I don’t think that this industry loves truth that much. Because there’s so many things that are coming at you and there’s… and everybody has got a personal agenda in their own… everybody’s fighting for their place in the business and all that so sometimes when you say like ,“Listen, I don’t need you” or “I don’t think like that, like to get this done” people don’t want to hear that. So, you know… but that’s nothing I need to say to somebody I can just listen to somebody and just be like, “Okay” and then just move on with my life. Sometimes things don’t always need to be said. Especially if it’s not something that you… that is like a personal tendency tenant that know you know we’re just talking about life by the way, we’re not talking about the movie anymore, but in life I just think that that’s true so I operate in my life going like… is this something that needs to be said and if it doesn’t need to be said do I need to say it. Do you know what I mean? like well why is that this much, if it’s going to screw somebody else up I’m not interested in hurting other people you know I don’t think… her character thinks about hurting other people although she doesn’t try to hurt anybody. I think she’s just like moving forward, trying to get stuff done. I think what’s important to her is winning but I don’t think that she thinks about it in terms of it being at anybody else’s expense. It’s just her moving forward. It’s just like this is what a life well lived looks like but in terms of you know going back to your question, in terms of… yeah are you kidding me have you… maybe we haven’t spent enough time together yeah, I use to do that a lot, like a lot.

 

I mean just sort of like an overall… overall makeup of the cast you know I … I actually would like to start with kind of like who’s here really quickly. This is our opportunity. I had no idea that Taraji Henson was the comedy machine that she has turned out to be. I’ve worked with some extraordinary physical comedians in some great you know… comedians of all stripes. I mean I did two movies with Steve Martin and there’s… back when he was really physical and like you know you learn a lot when you’re working with you know people like that and she is crushing it. It’s like Lucille Ball and Sandy Bullock have a little black baby. It would Taraji Henson I can’t quite wrap my head around how she hasn’t done this before and how lucky I am too able to be the beneficiary of being able to go this far with her because we speak a very similar language, she’s from theater, I’m from theater, and so we think in a very physical way and again neither of us are spring chickens and we do not care she has thrown herself around. She does anything I ask you know. She pushes the boundaries. We talk about pulling back… It’s just extraordinary how funny she is.

Shooting Schedule

AS: That was one day more than I had on “A Walk to Remember” which was a movie this big so, this is unfreakin’ believable that we’re doing this to a level of commitment, dedication and also that kind of communication that we have is essential. We would never be able to get the movies that we’re getting. I’m actually super proud of what we’re getting. It feels incredibly good and kind of special to me, but you know I remember that when I made “The Wedding Planner” with Jennifer Lopez I didn’t know that she could be you know that kind of… I mean she… you know you think of what you want… like there was like a time when she was such a romantic lead, like it was like… and it was really sweet and she, she had value as that character because it had been another thing that had really been inhabited by just white women for so long and it was great to start seeing other kinds of actors being able to do these things, anyway. So Taraji unbelievable.

 

I’m looking at them. A is really good. I don’t understand, B as much because it seems so high. I guess we can just drop it actually down because what’s happening is it started to make the room look empty. So, maybe if I drop it down. I bring it down to the top level, I’ll see if they can get that a little be lower. If they can get a little bit lower and actually just taken off the frame, because this is like a little too weird and square. It’s a creepy, it’s a creepy frame let’s get real it’s a creepy frame.

 

there’s that Josh. Taraji basically wants him in her contracts from now on because they love each other so much and the two of them are amazing. That’s the other thing; we have a black woman and a gay character as basically as the two leads in a traditional studio comedy and again paying no attention to it. There was you know… I don’t know how familiar you are with the script or what’s going on but there was you know some earlier development where the character was very stereotyped, and I said, “I can never do this. I can never put this out there,” It’s a caricature of a nineteen-nineties sidekick you know, you know girlfriend and I said, “She doesn’t need a girlfriend, she needs somebody who she can see as almost not human and then discovers he’s of great value in the world.” And so, the two of them work incredibly well together and he is also a machine. I can’t believe it. Max Greenfield… I can’t say enough about him, having Pete Davidson on set is just a wildcard and he is such a bizarre and extraordinary, wonderful flavor because you don’t exactly what’s going to happen ever there and it’s… and it’s really, really fun and if you’ve read… again if you’ve read it you know that he ends up being the love interest for Josh and he couldn’t be a more un… there’s no less stereotyped gay person in the world than Pete Davidson so it’s kind of magical.

 

Tracy Morgan

The only comparison that I can make for Tracy is when I worked with Chris Rock. You just sort of say, “Okay, so this is kind of what this scene is” and you push them out onto set and let’s see what happens and it’s always exciting. It keeps the actors completely on their toes. It has an enormous amount of emotional currency underneath all of the comedy, because there’s something that is so unfailingly dimensional about him. He’s such a complicated person and he is so sweet and so that is… that has been… he just wants to do such a good job so badly and it’s just… and it’s just great as a director to be able to work with people like that because not everybody is like that as you know.

 

Sports Stars

 

It’s been fun, each one presents their own challenge to everybody who’s been in the movie and I can Sactually fold both these questions in, a lot of it was about scheduling and availability because there was certain people who wanted to do the movie who just… patently not available and so we you know, we’re strategic about who we asked in it but like we were also blessed by when we decided to actually anchor it in Atlanta keeping a lot of Atlanta people and made it a lot easier because this is a great sports hub, this city so it actually kind of made things kind of easier. Yes, sir?

So, but the sports… I mean we’ve had… it was very… you know the movie opens with… we start with the character through the eyes of her client so it’s a bunch of women champions. And so, that’s been really, really fun and sort of just celebrating that you know more than anything. But, it’s you know schedules are complicated and so it’s been some of… you know we had great people that have then fallen out, I mean listen we have… I did a poker scene with Shaquille O’Neal and Mark Cuban and Grant Hill and Tracy and Taraji and Max and like all of them and that was them trapped in a room for two days like just playing poker was… that was a special couple of days for me and you know I’ll tell you-you’ll have it… I mean for me it was really interesting with the … like I had no problem when I was helping Gabby Douglas put together her beam routine for the opening of the thing because I was like… yeah, I mean I was up there with her like we were going like… great, great, great, great, great we spoke the same language all great. Put me in room with those guys and I suddenly go back to like my elementary school, schoolyard and I’m like, “You guys are all going to beat me up and like you hate me” and you know it’s like… but like it was, it really sort of tested me for a second and then you know it all goes away you know so, that was… but that was fun.

 

Music

I… a lot of it I have, I gave them the list of like dream things that I wanted to clear. I mean there’s a… I’m sort of like if I have to get really honest with myself? I’m sort of a black woman from the nineties. I’m trapped in the nineties, like I… that’s what I listen too, that kind of the music that makes me go. Now, from a score perspective I don’t know if you is Brian Tyler is doing the score for the movie and one of the reasons that he wanted to do it is because he heard that I wanted to do a Jazz score and the reason I wanted to do… not a Jazz orchestra but a Jazz like a Swing Band score is because when I looked at… who I saw Taraji as and also looking at the sort of when I look at the movie, you know when said yes to making this movie what I wanted.. what I was hoping I was making, knowing that I was making a version of a movie that had already been made was what keeps this fresh? What keeps this relevant obviously is the cast and… and sort of our way back in. But, I wanted to make a classical feeling and enduring and when I thought about her character the Glen Miller recording of Sing, Sing, Sing, those tom toms and that music, I couldn’t get that out of my head about that’s who she is moving through life. It’s just like… she’s just like a pile truck moving through things and it’s all of that drum work and that sound and so I was like that’s kind of the sound of the movie for me. So, he got super excited by that idea so we’re putting together a score that is mostly Jazz driven and then in terms of the music in there of course there’s going to be contemporary hits but I’m using a lot of like great seventies, eighties, nineties everything from TLC to Salt ‘N Pepa to you know but what we’re trying… you know my dream we’ll see if it ever manifests is to do what they did with “Lady Marmalade” you know with “Moulin Rouge” and to do a supergroup of girls coming together to re-record  some great you know, what like… I don’t know I can’t think of which song that I was sort of hoping that they would do, but yeah, it’s a… it is a… after I realized that like oh, no I’m a black woman trapped in the nineties I was like well so is she, so there, good that’s what her world… that’s probably what she’s gonna listen to too. Okay so I’m you know good with that. Maybe there’s a little Kool and the Gang in there, yeah! Let’s just do that.