John Francis Daley on Saying Good-bye to Bones and the Freaks and Geeks Reunion in His Vacation Reboot

John Francis Daley. Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

RIP, Sweets. When the beloved Bones character Dr. Lance Sweets (played by John Francis Daley) was killed off in the season opener, fans were shocked and upset. How could this happen, right after he’d discovered he’d be a dad? Turns out, you can blame Daley’s successful writing and now directing career. The actor, who started out as Sam Weir on Freaks and Geeks, has been turning out scripts with partner Jonathan Goldstein for films such as Horrible Bosses and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and together, they’re writing and directing the now-in-progress National Lampoon’s Vacation reboot. Daley called Vulture from the set in Atlanta to explain why he had to die, his good-bye cake, and what cameos to look out for in his next film.

Your film is the direct cause of why you’re now dead?
That’s right. [Laughs.] Well, about a year ago, we had been hired to write the sequel to the Vacation franchise, where Rusty is now grown up and taking his family back to Walley World. And then we got hired to direct it, and Bones was very accommodating, and they got me time off to be able to shoot it. But they pushed production on the movie by about a year. We didn’t know if it was ever going to happen again. But a few months ago, it started back up again. I told [showrunner] Stephen Nathan, and I told him this was a possibility, and I requested time off to be able to do it, and they gave it to me. But they also said it wouldn’t be satisfying for the fans for me to be gone for four months and then to return. The more satisfying conclusion to my character would be for Sweets to die.

So for Vacation to live, Sweets had to die.
Exactly, exactly. It wasn’t something I was going to walk away from because the movie was a huge opportunity for me. I was super pumped to do it, but sad I had to leave the show that I had been on for seven years. I’ve been writing movies simultaneously while I was on the show and was able to manage both schedules, but directing is an all-encompassing job, and it didn’t really fall in line with my summer hiatus from the show.

Is the movie at least going well enough to make it worth all of this?
[Laughs.] I have no control over who is going to see it, but I’m having such an amazing time. We’re finishing our third week now, and we’ve got some big names coming in next week. We’re working with Chevy [Chase] and Beverly [D’Angelo] next week, and Chris Hemsworth and Leslie Mann. It’s pretty cool because we have a rotating cast every week, the dailies look funny, and we’re having such a good time.

Did you ever get a chance to get Harold Ramis’s blessing on this before he died? Did you guys ever talk?
We never got to. We wanted to get together with him to talk about the project, but he was pretty sick at the time, so unfortunately, we never had that opportunity. This is all hearsay, but when we had finished the first draft of the movie, we heard that John Hughes’s wife had read it and supposedly liked it. But that’s all hearing it from third parties, so I don’t even know if that’s true. But I would hope that they would be happy with the sort of tone that we were trying to preserve from the franchise. It is its own movie in the sense that the times have changed, and it’s certainly more R-rated than the first one was, but it’s got a lot of allusions to the first, and some of the comedic sensibility is similar. And we didn’t want to remake the movie. This is strictly a reboot/sequel. Ed Helms plays Rusty, Christina Applegate is his wife, and they have two sons now.

You have Chevy Chase onboard, but would Anthony Michael Hall be popping up this? You mentioned you wanted him before …
Did I say that? [Laughs.] You know, I love Anthony Michael Hall in the first one. He was so perfect in the role. And there was some talk about bringing him back for a cameo that wasn’t really related to the Rusty character, because as we know, in every sequel, the children were different, played by different people. But it didn’t really work out, so he is not in the movie.

You and Jonathan had cameos in Incredible Burt Wonderstone as paramedics and stage managers. Are you going to have cameos in this one, or are you staying strictly behind the scenes?
Uh … one would hope that we weren’t doing cameos, but we are. [Laughs.] I’ve got one, and so does Jonathan. He’s more of a featured extra, and I have two lines, so I really hope that I get in good with the director so that I have a bigger part in the next one that we do. [Laughs.]

What are your two lines, or is it spoiler-y?
I don’t think I can give them away! I don’t think I can even give away what my role is. I don’t know if anyone even knows this yet, but Samm Levine, and it’s looking like Martin Starr, will also be in the film.

Oh, really?

That is so cool!
I don’t know if they’ve been confirmed yet in the cast, but it’s looking really good. I just wanted a chance to get the three geeks [from Freaks and Geeks] back together, in the same project.

So many people are going to be so happy about that.
[Laughs.] I hope so! I hope. Especially the new breed of kids who’ve seen the show on Netflix.

Keep us posted on that as it develops! Back to Bones for a bit: Now that Sweets is dead, Booth and Brennan are reeling from that. And it’s leading to some dark places.
I would imagine!

Well, Booth wants revenge. If he goes on a killing spree, that’s on you. That’s blood on Vacation’s hands.
His character does that. [Laughs.] But that’s a lot of weight on my shoulders! [Laughs.] This isn’t meant to be a movie with mass killings!

Have you seen the reaction online, on Twitter? How upset the fans were, how moved they were by the funeral? How much love they have for you?
It feels very nice. I have to remind myself it’s love for the character and not for me as a person, otherwise I’ll just get a big head. I’m very flattered by the response from the Twitter-sphere. It’s really cool. It’s really cool to know that it had an impact on a loyal fan base. I can’t believe how many Bones fans there are out there, who stop me on the street! Just last weekend, I went to a bar in Atlanta with my girlfriend, and the bouncer stopped me, and I thought I was in trouble for something, And he said, “I can’t believe you died, man. I can’t believe you died.”

What about the response from your cast and crew?
I got to have a nice good-bye dinner. And they were all very understanding of my reasoning, why I had to go off and do this thing, and extremely supportive as well. But it was very surreal because that last day, we had doubles standing in for people when they were opening up my bodybag, so it was an odd departure. But that’s what happens when you shoot late nights. There was a nice assembly the day before, when they brought out a cake for me and wished me good luck.

Was it shaped like anything?
It was a cake-shaped cake. [Laughs.] It was shaped like a giant middle finger. No. No. I would have loved a bone-shaped cake, but beggars can’t be choosers. I saved a piece of it that is still rotting in my bed.

You do know it doesn’t work like wedding cake. You’re not supposed to put it under your pillow or anything.
Oh, crap. Now you tell me!

John Francis Daley on Bones and Vacation Geeks