As if one weren't enough, Shotgun Wedding boasts two ultra-charismatic megawatt stars with comedic chops and dramatic bravado named Jennifer: Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Coolidge. The comedy centers on bride-to-be Darcy (Lopez) and her fiancé, Tom (Josh Duhamel), during their tropical destination wedding, as they face the usual struggles and stressors of impending nuptials. (Coolidge plays the overbearing mother of the groom, Carol.) But when a band of pirates attack the venue and take their families hostage, the would-be newlyweds must save the day — and their relationship.
"This isn't a big secret, but casting is everything," says the director Jason Moore, the man behind some of your favorite films starring funny women. He made his feature directorial debut with 2012's Pitch Perfect, the a cappella comedy starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, and Elizabeth Banks, and followed it with 2015's Sisters, which cast Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as unlikely siblings alongside as ensemble that included Maya Rudolph, Greta Lee, and Rachel Dratch.
Of his latest leading ladies, Moore says, "They're very talented in very different ways, and I love that. And it's really fun to watch them together, because they both like to surprise each other and shock each other. I think it's really funny the way that they spark up when they're together."
In a chat with A.frame, Moore discusses collaborating with each of the Jennifers, why he thinks Lopez would make a great director, and what happens when you give Coolidge carte blanche to let loose on set.
A.frame: Jennifer Lopez is an actor and producer on this. What kind of input does she bring to the project once she's signed on?
Jennifer is one of the most amazing artists I've ever had the wonderful opportunity to work with, because she is an amazing actress, comedian, dancer, producer, and she thinks like a director. She sees what everyone is doing on set. She knows her physical presence and space, so she knows how to work to camera. In stunts, she knows how to do the stuff. So, it was almost like collaborating with another director, because she's so aware of and has smart ideas about the way things should work. It was singular in the sense of her talent is so wide that you want to employ all of it and you want to bounce ideas off of each other. And she wants to do that. She wants to collaborate. That's really fun for me, because she also knows what looks good on her and what works, and she knows how to do a pratfall in a certain way and we want to use that. A film's never easy, but it was an easy collaboration because she's so dang smart. And fun! She's a lot of fun, too.
Did she ever express interest in directing to you?
I would say it to her all the time, and she would just not give me reaction. Almost like when you're asking a politician if they're going to run for president. [Laughs] I think it must be in her head. What she said to me once was, "It's just a huge commitment, and it's a lot of time." Which is different. Even when you're the star of a big movie, it's a different time commitment. As we know, she's so prolific — and brilliantly prolific in so many areas — that maybe it's not the time now for her to be pulling out for a year and a half to direct a movie. But when she does it, it's going to be great.
This movie is about a wedding, so of course the wedding dress Jennifer wears is crucial. It also has to do a lot of work, transitioning from the original dress [borrowed from Coolidge's mother-in-law character] to the final, deconstructed look. What went into designing the dress?
That was the trick, right? We knew that the wedding dress needed to end looking kind of cool and badass and original and feel like it's her more authentic self. And also something that's sexy, that the audience wants to see. We weren't going to make Jennifer look crazy, either. So, the idea is that the dress is too big for a beach wedding and her hair is a little bit Midwestern and it doesn't quite suit her. It was finding that balance. But the dress was quite an achievement. To his credit, Mitchell Travers, our costume designer, we worked a lot on it and the dress that he designed the first time was the one that Jennifer accepted. But it was a fun challenge. He had worked with Jennifer before [on Hustlers], so that helped. He knew what she liked. But Jennifer knows clothes better than anyone. So in finding the right dress, we wanted to make sure it was great.
This film has an amazing ensemble in Jennifer Coolidge, Lenny Kravitz, Cheech Marin, D'Arcy Carden, and on and on and on. How did you find comedic moments for each of them to shine? Because everyone has a little pop of something here and there.
I'm glad you felt that. When you have that many people, there's going to be good stuff that we can't use, because the movie will be too long. But we hired actors that we knew would create those moments. They all have a comic heart in them, and so it was really fun to sift through and find those moments. In fact, in the editing process, we got the movie to a point where it really worked and all the big jokes were working, and then we did a reactions pass. Because a lot of it is in reactions. They might not say something, but let's go back and look at the takes of everybody that's not speaking and see what they're doing. We found some gems in there and added them in.
Coming from the theater,
when you're a theater director, eventually you have to sit in the back and say nothing and the actors perform on stage and you can't do anything. What you learn is to cast brilliant people that bring all these ideas to the table, because when the show runs eight times a week, they're going to be harvesting moments and improving on them. This isn't a big secret, but casting is everything. I always try and think about who can bring ideas and different takes and things to make the movie funnier. They don't have to be improv-ers, per se, but they need to always have something that they're giving in a reaction shot. So thinking about that, casting the kind of actors that are bringing it all the time like you are in theater was a big part of it.
With so many great comedy actors on the cast, where did you allow for improv?
The most improv is Jennifer Coolidge. She always did what was on the script and then very quickly did her own thing, which we wanted and I invited her to do and she was happy to do. There's a lot of funny things she did that didn't make the movie, unfortunately, but we all know that that's one of her major gifts. A lot of things that Jennifer Coolidge does surprise everybody. That's one of her signature moves, and by the way, it's a move she knows she's making. She gets out there and it seems like nothing's going to come out, and then something brilliant comes out, or she does something brilliant. Stuff comes to her, but she's a planner. But when you watch her, it seems like it's unplanned. But she would make us wait for it. There would be silence on the set sometimes for 20 seconds while we were just waiting for her to talk. Which also meant that people would laugh all the time, and that did happen quite a bit with Jennifer Lopez. Jennifer's very composed, but when Jennifer Coolidge is in the room, it's hard not to laugh, even when you're trying to stay in character. So, we probably lost a couple shots to Jennifer Coolidge making Jennifer Lopez laugh.
Coolidge is the definition of a scene stealer. When everybody is trapped in the pool were some of my favorite moments. The pirates are asking for the father of the bride and she's like, "Robert, they're calling you!"
Yeah, that was her! That was not in the script. That's a good example where you're like, "That was great!" Cheech was a great improv. Desmin [Borges] was a great improv. I wanted to invite that. We did a little improving with Jennifer and Josh. Their storyline is a little bit more action-y, or it needed some poetry to the romance. But the other truth is that with so many people to shoot in one day, we didn't have long takes to let people go for a long time. We had to be judicious about it, but I think everyone got their moments to shine.
This is your first really action-heavy film. What was one of the more challenging days on set?
Well, I thought the most challenging day was going to be having 40 actors in a pool all day in the blazing hot sun. But the big surprise was that they loved being in the pool. They would just stay in there all day and splash around. The thing that ended up being the hardest is whenever you do boats on open water, you have your crew out there, you're in intense heat, and those days feel like a lot of work. There's also a lot of danger involved for actors and crew, because we had boat chases. So, that was probably the hardest. But I have an amazing second unit director and stunt coordinator, a guy called Lee Morrison, who's done the last four or five James Bond films. He knows boat chases. I'm a little nervous, but he wasn't nervous at all. So, that was nice to have him in that position.
Did you ever get in the pool with everybody?
I had shorts and a T-shirt and Tevas that I could go into the pool and out of the pool. And it was so hot in the Dominican. My clothes would dry immediately, so I could go into the water, set a shot, or just play around with the actors if they look like they're having fun, and then come right back up and as soon as I'd stop dripping, we'd roll. [Laughs] It was a fun way to work to get in there with them, and it was cooler than it was standing outside.
This is an action movie, it's a comedy, it's romantic. There's are a lot of tones to balance. As a director, how did you go about navigating all of those genre elements?
Actually, that's the reason I wanted to do the movie. When I read the script, all those elements were there, and I was like, this is kind of a mashup I haven't seen before. There are other movies that have done it, but they're rare. I thought it was a great challenge. I was looking to do more action and I thought to do comedic action would make better use of my natural skills. I hope we hit that tone, because I think it surprises people that it bounces around between all those tones. And I think by the end of the movie, it really makes sense that it is a mashup of all those things.
By Elizabeth Stanton