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[Interview] ’21 Jump Street’ Stars Rob Riggle and Dave Franco On Auditioning, Improvising and The Marines

Written by on March 14, 2012 

21 Jump Street is one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years. There was a lot of trepidation because it seems like a cash in on a reimagined property, but that should stop no one at checking out this update in theaters.. At SXSW I had the chance to sit down with costars Rob Riggle and Dave Franco. During the roundtable interview we talked about their separate audition process, the mood on set, the basis for each of their characters and much more. Check it out below.

How did you guys get involved in this project?

Rob Riggle: I was very fortunate that they asked me to come in and do a table read kind of early on while they were still working the script a little bit. So I did the table read and I thought this was great right away and they did some tweaks to the script and they had another table read. They asked me to come back, read again and then I started to really dig my character and then I said, ‘can I please audition?’ And they said ‘yes.’ I ran that gauntlet and was lucky enough to get hired.

Dave Franco: I went through the typical audition process but this one was more arduous than most. I went in probably six times which I was happy to do for this one. It’s rare that you come across a script that you really respond to, so even though a lot of the times you go that far in the process and it still doesn’t happen, it’s always a bummer. But with something like this, no regrets, and I’m happy to put in the work.

Were you surprised they kept on calling you back?

DF: Surprised is an interesting word to use. [laughs] It was kind of scary to be honest because the last two auditions were table reads with the rest of the cast, who had already been locked into the movie for the most part. And then all of Sony. So you’re not just in a room with the directors and one producer, it’s everyone. And this is your last shot and everyone is looking at you and making sure they all agree that this is the guy.

RR: You can feel the judgement. [laughs]

DF: And table reads in general, even when you’re cast in the role, they’re always awkward. And so on top of that, it was stressful but I’m just happy it worked out.

Can you talk about your familiarity with the TV show?

RR: I was familiar with the show and I had an appreciation with the show but I wasn’t a hardcore, every Friday night gotta-be-in-front-of-my-TV-watching-it fan. I just didn’t do that. But I do remember thinking, ‘pretty cool cast, pretty cool concept.’ I caught my share of episodes.

DF: I, to be honest, had not seen the show before this whole project came about. But I went back and watched a few episodes to see if I could draw from anything from the show, but then quickly realized that it’s a completely different thing and the movie stands on its own and the only real overlap is the general concept of these young, undercover cops.

Dave, you’re character is an interesting twist cause we’ve seen these types of movies before but usually it’s kind of like an asshole jock and you’re more of this metrosexual every guy – 

DF: …first time that word has been used. I like that. [laughs]

Was that always part of the script?

DF: To an extent, yeah. One great thing about having such a long audition process is that we were able to find the character within, going back over and over and being able to…rather than being this typical asshole who hates everyone to allow for a little bit of vulnerability and especially with Jonah [Hill]’s character, we decided we got to show this guy being very charismatic and very likable and just make him a three-dimensional asshole.

…a save-the-earth type of guy.

DF: Right, that’s the weird dynamic going on. He’s this eco-friendly guy but he happens to be selling the least organic drug of all-time, which kind of shows how much of a fraud he really is. Where he’s this kid who likes the idea of this “green” lifestyle more than he actually believes it. He’s 17 or 18 years old and he’s completely over his head and he wants to be part of a bigger thing and be accepted, but he’s a dumb kid who doesn’t know what the hell is going on and once the cops get involved and people start getting killed and everything, it’s like “what the hell did I get myself involved in?”

There’s a line where Jonah says something about his parents and how they love them and you say, “that must be really nice.” Was there originally more to that?

DF: That’s interesting you picked up on that. That was the one tiny moment in the script that gives you any backstory about Eric and I talked to the directors about it. We’re like, “where did this kid come from? Why is he selling these drugs? Why is he like this?” And we kind of decided, he comes from this wealthy family and his dad was always gone and didn’t look after him. It was kind of him trying to get their attention in a way. But the only way you actually see that in the movie is how I talk about how my parents let me do whatever and they’re never around. That’s literally the only moment in the movie where you see where this kid came from and how he’s kind of damaged in a way.

How many days did it take to shoot that hotel shoot-out?

RR: Maybe four days, five days.

DF: It was tough.

RR: Yeah, there was a lot of moving parts on that one and it was the first thing we did. We showed up in New Orleans and we’re shooting basically the climax.

DF: Pretty much.

RR: We’re hooking and jabbing right out of the gates. Diving around, guns, the whole cast was on set. So it was this jumping into the deep end, let’s get going.

DF: And it was hard to gauge, how big do we play this? We don’t know what the lead-in is. This might be so over-the-top or not enough, based on what’s going to come before it. So who knows? But I’m shocked how well it worked.

It also seemed like a bit of a homage to the shoot-out in True Romance.

DF: Sure. I’ll take that. [laughs]

RR: I love that movie, I’ll take that any day. That’s the biggest compliment, that’s awesome.

Did you do rehearsals?

RR: Yeah. You always do a lot of when there’s guns. And then when you have explosions and things being blown up around you, you don’t get to do it that often. So you do a lot of rehearsals before you roll on something like that.

Rob, what sort of personal experiences did you draw upon to create the character of Mr. Walters? He seems like every gym teacher I’ve ever met in my life.

RR: [laughs] We’ve heard that all day. I’ve done some other press things and I take that as a compliment. Thank you very much. People come and say, “that was my gym teacher.” Well, guess what, “that was my gym teacher, too.” I drew on some of the coaches and teachers I’ve had in my life and my experience. I pulled from them, their certain alpha qualities and certain jerk qualities and some of their lesser qualities and mashed it into one Mr. Walters.

When you go back to audition process, I’m a bad audition. We were getting down to the finals and there was maybe five of us left for Mr. Walters. It was getting tight. They were going to make their decision based on this last audition and I some people came out before me. They were big actors that I really respect, but I was like, “oh, screw it.” So I went in and I was stiff. Jonah said, “dude, drop the script and let’s play.” So I dropped the script and we started improvising. Him freeing me up to do what I do best allowed me to get the role.

Do you prefer comedies over any other kind of film and are you worried about being typecast?

RR: I was a theater and film major in college. I studied method in New York for many years, I loved the art and craft of acting, but I’m also a comedian. I love comedy and I love comedic acting. I will always do comedy, but I’m always open to anything on the drama side. Hollywood’s not always that fair in the sense of letting you do things, but I keep myself open. I’m always looking. And as far as getting typecast, hey, what are you going to do? If you do something well, they make you do it a lot. So I take that as a compliment that I get do that character which is a game that I call arrogant ignorance and I love playing that game because I think that it is a really funny game to play. It always makes me laugh, so that’s why I like to play it. But, I’m a working actor, I’ve got a family, I’ll do what I can.

DF: Rob’s always cast in these incredible comedies with the best people that are always these huge massive successes. He’s in Step Brothers and The Hangover and hopefully this does just as well. It’s these people who are at the top of their game in terms of comedy and they recognize how funny he is and not to keep going, but Rob is the best improviser in the world. I’m not just saying that because he’s sitting next to me. On set everyone allows Rob to just go and do whatever [he] wants. But what sucks and what’s unfortunate, no matter how funny the bits are that he comes up with, if it doesn’t serve the story it’s probably going to ultimately get cut from the movie.

RR: Which happens in a lot of movies.

DF: So he’s DVD gold. [everyone laughs]

RR: It does happen. I’ll improvise a bunch of scenes and people will like it, but you have to make choices. I think the first cut was three hours and so to get it down you’ve got to take out some of the superfluous.

The scene where you are putting the tongue back in the mouth and all of a sudden they are looking at you and there’s all these different heads that come out and they certainly came from directors who are animators. This is all CG, so when you saw it what was your reaction?

RR: I haven’t seen this movie by the way, I haven’t seen the final version. The only thing I saw was in November. I saw an early cut. So I’m anxious to see myself tonight, it’ll be the first time. They told me the concept, they’re tripping so your head is going to be morphing the whole time you’re talking. So I said, “sounds great to me.” I like the idea. It goes to that improv thing, we had a lot of information to get out there so we just started playing.

Was that kind of the mood on the set? We basically want you guys to bring to this whatever comes to mind…

RR: That’s a big tip of the hat to Jonah and Chris [Miller] and Phil [Lord], the directors. They set an environment that made it really comfortable, improv, go for it, we trust you, try things. You’ve got an idea? Tell me. We were good about that. Jonah is a machine. He’s a comedic genius. We’d be doing a scene and he’d go, “try this, try this.” He’s just whisper it and we’d be like, “oh, that’s good.” And the next take you’d do it. And if I had a thought for Jonah, I could say “what did you think about this?” And he could be like, “I like it.” Or Channing [Tatum]. Or Dave. Or anybody. So we were all open. There were no egos. Everybody wanted to serve the comedy. What the funniest thing we can do here? How can we make this work? And when you get that kind of collaboration going amongst all the players, good things generally happen.

You’re actually in the Reserves [to Rob]. Most comedians can be comedic throughout their daily life, but you cannot really be cracking up at certain times..

RR: Well, it’s a flexible schedule. I wear two different hats. I’m still technically in the Reserves. I’m probably going to retire this summer. I’ve had a great career in the Marines. I’ve served all over the world. I’ve been in many combat zones. I’ve done all kinds of things. I’ve learned and grown and that’s one thing. And I’m an officer, I’m a Lieutenant Colonel so when I put on my Marine hat, I’m a Marine. I don’t want my Marines to ever think that I don’t value their life or their career or their families or their job or the work we do. And I don’t want to be a goofball, so I lead a certain way when I’m doing that job. The rest of my life is a freaking party. [laughs] And so I go for it and I think it’s a lot of fun. And I think you can wear more than one hat in this world and I think that’s why this is a great country.

DF: I think I’m going to write a drama for us, very serious.

RR: I love it, let’s do it. I’m totally down for that.

21 Jump Street hits theaters on March 16th.


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