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Fall Preview: David Gordon Green talks “The Sitter,” skinny Jonah Hill and if raunchy comedies still play

Fall Preview: David Gordon Green talks “The Sitter,” skinny Jonah Hill and if raunchy comedies still play (photo)

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David Gordon Green has enjoyed an interesting ride in Hollywood, bursting on the scene with heavy dramas like “George Washington” and “Undertow” and then switching to the lighter side of filmmaking with an array of adult-geared comedies. “Pineapple Express” and last year’s “Your Highness” delivered mature themes like drug-dealing protagonists, minotaur penises and naked jungle women, and now Green is turning his attention to the world of babysitting.

In “The Sitter,” out December 9th, Jonah Hill plays an unemployed college student who agrees to babysit his busty neighbor’s children. When Hill is offered a girl’s “vagina,” he drags the kids along to a club where he quickly becomes entangled in a drug deal, thus setting off a vicious race around town.

IFC: Was this a movie that you pretty much figured you’d have to do a red-band trailer for?

DGG: That’s interesting you say that because there was a lot of internal discussion about it. It’s definitely a very R-rated movie, but I have this strange thing where I always try to see if we can’t capture a vulgar sense of humor in a green-band. It was not the agenda to do that at from the get-go. But the more and more we were thinking about who we were trying to grab with the advertisement of the movie. So we decided to do both and do the online red-band.

IFC: I remember you did that with “Your Highness” too.

DGG: Well with “Your Highness” there was really no way to make me happy if it wasn’t a red-band. [laughs[ There was not that very much suitable for all audiences in that film.

IFC: You have one of the last movies with the large version of Jonah. Do you think that makes him funnier?

DGG: With him a lot of his comedy is internal. He has great wit and instincts, so I think once people get over this nice physical change of health for the guy then I think everyone will get over that and still be laughing. He’s a great guy and I think his sense of humor will translate.

IFC: It’s striking how much weight he lost when you’re watching the intro to the red-band.

DGG: I think that’s one of the reasons we did the intro is to let that be known. Let people see that and talk about it, and then let’s get on with the movie. That’s an important thing that people will hopefully come to recognize. And one of the great things about Jonah’s comedy that has nothing to do with his physicality. It’s just his reactions. He’s a great listener as an actor, and reacting and responding to the things people say is where I find the really great strides in what he has to offer comedically. Everyone is just setting him up to have that comic reaction. It’s great to have that verbal wit about him.

IFC: Do you feel the red-band is a pretty consistent take on what to expect from the film?

DGG: The red-band feels like an honest look at what to expect. It’s not a movie that we were really pushing the envelope on. It’s just a movie honestly that we were playing it very realistically. And we don’t use vulgarity for comic effect effect, we use it for reality effect. So we were trying to use a movie where had people saying what people would say in these situations. And yeah sometimes it’s a kid. But I don’t know any 12-year-old that doesn’t a filthy mouth on them. So it’s not often that Hollywood screenwriters iron that out, we let it loose. A lot of this movie is about the situation about a guy taking three kids on a cocaine deal. And then the reaction; it’s a very highly improvised movie. The kids brought a lot to it and Jonah brought a lot to it.

So we were literally just going with what felt real and right and what would come out of their mouth rather than what’s funny. It’s not like we were “Kindergarten Cop.” I remember some scene in that movie where they were exploiting where a kid says the word “penis” or whatever. Is it just literally trying to be what kids would do and say and have fun with it.

IFC: Was there ever a thought of how vulgar or dirty you should go in a movie with kids, or does that not even really matter since like you said, it’s nothing they haven’t heard before?

DGG: Almost every one of my films has had kids in it. My life is surrounded by great group of nieces and nephews and now I’ve got two kids of my own. So I think a lot of it is the actual kids’ maturity and their parents’ acceptance and maturity and seeing what they could handle. When I did this film “George Washington,” which was my first movie where we used the same aged kids, it was dealing with death and subject matter that was heavy and where the parents were accepting of the kids begin mature enough to go there. And in many ways it’s in very much the same thing. It’s just vulgarity instead of grief. Or in “Undertow” I used a lot of violence directed towards kids, and our kids were mature enough to go to sleep at night.

We often joke on all these movies, about what the kid from “The Shining” is doing. How did he integrate back into his life after that? He certainly didn’t integrate into Hollywood. So there’s always those concerns and there’s certainly a million cliches of Hollywood kids that don’t make it out with the best of results, but I do pride myself on running a really ethical ship and having a very family-friendly crew. So bringing kids into the mix in a comfortable way when their parents have a good head on their shoulders, and letting them loose and hear what they have to say. And saying, this is the one time in your life where mom and dad will let you cuss. It’s done with such a smile and so tongue in cheek that I think it’s totally fine.

IFC: When you’re going through the movie is there one scene in particular that kind of blows you away every time you see it?

DGG: I want the perception to really be the comedic kick of the movie because that’s what we’re hanging our hat on and that’s what it is, but there’s great dramatic honestly coming out of these kids. So that’s not probably the best headline for an article but that’s what I’m proud of. There are twists in these kids’ characters that take them to places that I’m really proud that they went that aren’t necessarily zinging one-liners. And there are plenty of those, so anyone with an appetite for kids raising hell, we’ve got it, but then I think what I take pride in is that it goes a step beyond that, so it doesn’t just fall into formula traps, it uses the formula and then put a little spin on it.

IFC: I saw “30 Minutes or Less” which I thought was amazing, but it didn’t do as well at the box office as I was hoping it would. Do you ever feel that there’s a lack of appetite among audiences for a smarter, actiony kind of comedy?

DGG: It is a real question that I couldn’t really say too much without being somewhat cynical about it. I think if timing and engineering and marketing all fall into sync, audiences will go to that place with smart, bold movies. For me there’s a fine line between the art house and the outhouse, as my father tells me. I was watching “Shortbus” this morning thinking about that and the extremes, and what could be considered vulgarity. This is kind a premature, unprocessed reaction to it, but I think if characters that say ugly things or do ugly things are somehow redeemed or they’re justified or people note that as horrible behavior or unlikeable behavior and the audience has people to point fingers at with people on the screen, that makes sense. Whereas there’s a very fine line of mean-spirited, and I think some people don’t want to laugh at things that are somewhat mean-spirited.

So I don’t know. It is a huge difference for me when I’m watching “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” versus when I’m watching “Observe and Report.” One I think is brilliant and one I think is obvious. I think there’s definitely those movies that the audiences will take those leaps with, when a likable actor does an unlikable character or a dramatic actor does a comedic role. Anything that’s throwing the audience a little bit off, sometimes there’s controversy. But ultimately I don’t know. Sometimes I watch the success of a movie and I’ll be like I can’t wait to see it, and I can’t imagine why people are laughing their asses off. And I’m just looking around bewildered. And other times that something you’re stoked about and fired about and everything looks like they’re falling straight-forward, and then it throws you a curveball and falls on its ass. It’s really frustrating. But we can certainly get away with a lot more raunch and comedy than we could 30 years ago, and the envelope is always being pushed.

David Gordon Green’s “The Sitter” opens December 9, and is featured in our 2011 Fall Movie Preview Guide.

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Lane 27: Broken Windows

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Lane 69: Filthy Cars

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