Boy Next Door: Jennifer Lopez Star Vehicle

the_boy_next_door_posterProducer John Jacobs was intrigued by writer Barbara Curry’s The Boy Next Door, which was on the 2011 Blood List of the industry’s most-liked genre scripts.

Flawed Heroine

A former federal prosecutor, Curry created an interesting female protagonist, as she recalled: “I wanted Claire to be a strong character who is deeply flawed. But Claire’s flaw is not that she succumbs to temptation by sleeping with this young man. Her real flaw is that she can’t forgive her husband for his infidelity. It’s a flaw of pride, really. I thought it would be interesting to have this strong, proud woman make a mistake that’s equal to her husband’s, so she would finally understand how he could have made his mistake and be deserving of forgiveness. That’s the moral of this story. We can’t be so strong that we are unable to forgive.”

The writer imagined Claire as a woman at a crossroads. With a pending divorce from her once beloved husband, struggling to balance her work as a high school teacher with a teenage son who doesn’t fit in with his classmates, Claire has very little time to consider what she really wants or needs. Curry walks us through where we find her protagonist: “I knew both male and female audience members would need to get behind Claire, even though she makes this terrible error  in judgment. So I tried to stack the deck against her.

She is extremely vulnerable when she meets Noah. Like anyone might feel when their spouse cheats on them, Claire feels worthless, unattractive, unloved. And here comes Noah, someone who seems to understand her and appreciate her. There is a physical attraction between them. But it’s more than that. There is a real emotional connection, a meeting of the minds.  And that is something Claire really needs at this low point in her life.”

It wasn’t until Jacobs met with Jason Blum to discuss the Blumhouse model, at the suggestion of Universal’s co-president of production, Peter Cramer—whom Jacobs credits with shepherding the film—that it was decided that the intimate thriller would fit perfectly within Blum’s formula. Blum loved the concept and jumped at the opportunity to produce the film. The psychological thriller found its home, and The Boy Next Door was green-lit.

Jacobs shares: “I worked with Barbara Curry for quite some time to find the right home for the project. Zac Unterman, executive producer, and I thought the concept was one of those great thrillers in the Joe Eszterhas vein that you just don’t see anymore, classics like Basic Instinct or Fatal Attraction, but with a woman playing the Michael Douglas role. It was too great an opportunity to pass up.”

After an initial meeting with Blum, in which they discussed potential projects for her, multi-hyphenate Jennifer Lopez was drawn to this particular story. Blum divulges some details of that first meeting: “Jennifer had just changed agents, and her new one told her, ‘Here are five things you need to do,’ and I was lucky enough to be on that list.” He laughs, “A meeting with me may have been the fifth item, but it was there!”

Once the team tailored the story line to Lopez’s sensibilities, the producers took it to Rob Cohen to direct.  Blum shares: “Rob was one of the firrst directors we sent it to. He responded quickly and had terrific ideas about how to make the fi lm fi t that perfect trifecta of thriller, sexiness and action.”

Lopez says: “Once Rob came on and started adding more elements, it took everything to another level. With his experience on action movies, we were able to take this character-driven drama and create a roller-coaster ride of a movie that’s not only scary and disturbing, but also exciting.”

Over the past decade, Lopez has produced primarily on the TV side, but with Cohen on board and Lopez’s excitement for his vision, she decided she wanted to produce the film alongside Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas under their Nuyorican Productions banner. It was serendipitous that, years prior, Goldsmith-Thomas and Lopez had discussed making a movie in which the main character made a mistake and had to deal with the collateral damage of that error.

Goldsmith-Thomas was particularly taken with Cohen’s vision. She shares: “Rob’s absolutely a guy’s guy, but he also has a poetic heart. The mythological overtones of the script touched him: the fact that Noah was somebody striving to create his own tragedy, his own story and be his own hero. At the same time, Rob was able to add a lot of action to it and imbue it with sexiness.”

Well-known to audiences as a director of big-budget studio films such as xXx and The Fast and the Furious, Cohen had long wanted to work with Lopez.  Cohen allows: “I read the script and understood exactly what they liked about it, and knowing that Jennifer would be starring was a huge draw for me. She is a completely self-made entertainer who came from the Bronx, and since Selena, she’s carved a series of very memorable performances that have one thing in common: a natural, emotional level.”

When we first meet Claire, she is still reeling from the betrayal of her husband nine months earlier.  After finding out that he was cheating on her with his much younger assistant, she has separated from him and lives with her 17-year-old son, Kevin. After Noah befriends Kevin and spends weeks flirting with Claire, their one intense night of pleasure turns into a series of terrifying events for her.

To make sure The Boy Next Door remained a realistic thriller, the filmmakers were careful with the development of Noah’s character and actions. Cohen shares: “Noah never becomes a monster in the sense of a horror film. He’s a psychotic guy, madly in love and blinded to all reality by this love, and goes off the deep end.” With their breadth of experience, the one thing. Jacobs, Goldsmith-Thomas, Lopez, Medina and Cohen hadn’t done before was make a film using the Blumhouse model.

Cohen was excited to move in this direction: “It became clear to me several years ago that the industry was going to divide into $150 million to $250 million blockbuster franchises or incredibly inexpensive films. Having this opportunity was something I sought because I wanted to challenge myself to create this and make it feel like one of those big-budget films.”

Lopez elaborates: “Blumhouse has created a great model in which you can find material you’re interested in and not be at the mercy of endless development. We thought it was exciting to have this project, a film that validates the idea that quality-driven projects don’t have to be expensive.”

For Blum, a new aspect came to light when developing The Boy Next Door, one that’s never been part of the Blumhouse model…until now. He explains: “To make our movies, we look for a director first; we identify a director whose work we admire, and we pitch our model to them and see if it’s a fit. For The Boy Next Door, that didn’t happen. We had Jennifer on board first, which is something I’m proud to have done.”