Nick Stoller is yet another young talent to come out of the Judd Apatow comedy machine. After getting his start as a writer on the short-lived but much-loved Undeclared, Stoller collaborated on scripts with Apatow (Fun With Dick and Jane), until breaking out on his own (sort of) and directing his friend Jason Segal's (another Apatow acolyte) Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which Apatow produced). Stoller's latest is Get Him to the Greek, which he both wrote and directed (Apatow produced this one, too); it's a semi-spinoff of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, in which one of The Greek's main characters, Russell Brand's Aldous Snow, appears as the same guy. Jonah Hill, also in Sarah Marshall, is in The Greek as a different character. It's kind of confusing. We spoke to Stoller about the mechanics of the spinoff, teaching Diddy how to improvise, and his upcoming reboots of the Muppets franchise, Stretch Armstrong, and Gulliver's Travels.
What made you think it would be a good idea to do a Forgetting Sarah Marshall spinoff?
During the first table read, Jonah and Russell had really good chemistry, and I was like, “That’s a movie.” And during the shoot I thought of the idea for Get Him to the Greek, and they both liked it. I got through a few drafts and I decided that having Russell play a different rock star just seemed lazy, so we decided to have him own that Aldous Snow character and have it be a spinoff. But Jonah’s character is different. We've tested it for a lot of audiences, and no one seems to be confused by it.
You, like many funny men in Hollywood, owe your career to Judd Apatow.
Yes. Judd hired me for Undeclared. And then he and I wrote a screenplay together and it went well, and then we wrote Fun With Dick and Jane together, and then with Sarah Marshall — I was friends with Jason Segel from Undeclared, and I asked Judd that if I kind of guided Jason through the writing process, he'd let me direct the movie. And he did. My office mate on Undeclared was Seth Rogen. It’s just completely insane that he’s a movie star, and Jason’s a movie star, and I’m directing. It’s crazy.
That's pretty awesome. You both wrote and directed Get Him to the Greek: Was that harder than just doing one or the other?
What was hard in the movie — it has serious emotional undertones to it, and I hope that comes across, so besides all the comedy stuff, it's a story about an addict, and that wasn’t something that I had experience with personally. But Russell is someone who has. So I really wanted to capture that correctly. If the story didn’t feel true to the experience of addiction, then I don’t think it would work. There would be some jokes, and then it’d just get boring and weird.
Yeah, I was going to ask you about the drug stuff. Personally, I found it hard to laugh at the exploits of a heroin addict.
I hope not everybody feels that way! I wanted it to be truthful to the subject, and we also covered ourselves, somewhat. Every time someone said "heroin," I made sure someone also said "drugs." Just as a safety, in case "heroin" freaked the audience out. But I think audiences are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. And I think people are used to this — everyone has friends or knows people who’ve had trouble with drugs or alcohol. And even though the movie is a lot of fun, it’s essentially an anti-drug movie.
Tell me about Diddy. He was my favorite part in the movie; who knew he was so funny! (Besides for him, that is.)
When I was writing the script. I thought of him as that part [a hard-nosed, maniacal record exec]. And he came in to audition, and I really hoped he’d be good, and he was amazing — hilarious. He has a crazy energy that has been untapped for the most part. The guy doesn’t sleep, which is interesting. It took him a little while to get used to the idea of improv, but once we’d loosen him up, he’d be so funny. There’s a scene in the movie with Diddy and Pharrell, and Pharrell was kind of getting his bearings on set, and Diddy goes, “Oh, yeah, we do a lot of improv here.” And I was like, I can’t believe Sean Combs just said, “We do a lot of improv.” I've turned Sean Combs into a comedy nerd!
You have a lot of upcoming projects. What are you working on next?
Right now, I’m writing the Muppets movie with Jason Segel. They’re going to shoot it in September. Jason’s in it; we’re trying to go back to the tone of the three original movies. It’s a very self-aware, vaudevillian tone. It’s a little like watching The Simpsons before The Simpsons existed. I always call the Muppets the gateway drug for comedy nerds. Our movie is basically a reintroduction job.
That already happened — the Muppet Babies! This is more like a reunion show.
And after the Muppets?
I wrote Gulliver’s Travels, which Jason is also in, and I’m also writing Stretch Armstrong. It’s kind of outside of my normal genre, 'cause we’re kind of doing a serious superhero movie, but with an Iron Man tone to it.
Taylor Lautner's playing Stretch Armstrong. What's he like?
I just hung out with him the other day and like a million girls came up to him. I mean, those abs. Those abs ...