Prepare for the Ultimate Paternity Quest
Cast: Owen Wilson, Christopher Walken, J.K. Simmons
Director: Lawrence Sher
Running Time: 113 minutes
Synopsis: In the Alcon Entertainment comedy 'Father Figures," Owen Wilson ('The Grand Budapest Hotel," 'Wedding Crashers") and Ed Helms ('The Hangover" films, 'We're the Millers") star as fraternal twins Kyle and Peter who accidentally discover they've been living with a lie all their lives. The kindly man in the photo on their mantle isn't their father after all, but an invention their mother (Glenn Close) concocted to conceal the truth: that she actually doesn't know who their real father is. See, it was the seventies, and things were crazy, and…well, you know. Armed with only a handful of clues, the brothers resolve to find the mystery man in what results in a wild road trip of discovery and revelations"about their mother, themselves and each other.
Release Date: March 1st, 2018
About The Production
The last time Kyle and Peter Reynolds were headed in the same direction was in the delivery room, and someone was yelling 'push!" From that moment on, through school and dating, teams and family vacations, to work and every major life decision, they couldn't be more at odds in every possible way.
As director Lawrence Sher sees it, the brothers are the exception to that notion of twins being mystically connected. 'Kyle and Peter grew up different from each other and are even more committed to their points of view now, because life has a way of reinforcing that. I believe you get back the energy you put out; if you think life is awesome, despite its problems, it will be awesome. That's Kyle. If you think it's hard, then you're probably going to be stuck in the slow lane every time, and that's Peter. He expects things to be difficult and unfair, and he can't catch a break, whereas Kyle has been very lucky and feels the world is full of joy."
But when the guys come home for their mother's wedding, they get a shock that will galvanize them to a single purpose.
'It turns out their father isn't remotely who they thought," offers Ed Helms, who stars as the tightly wound, glass-half-empty Peter. 'The story their mom gave them all these years was a fairy tale, when, in fact, she might not even know for sure who he was." Though Peter typically reacts with indignation, and Kyle with curiosity, this profoundly WTF revelation lands them both on the same page… more or less. It also sends them on a lifechanging odyssey of disaster and discovery to find their real father, wherever it takes them, and whoever he may be. In other words: road trip.
'Growing up with brothers, I have some experience in the way that you can love them and they can drive you crazy," says Owen Wilson, who stars as the perpetually laid-back optimist, Kyle. 'It's a very thin line. I think the only real fights I've ever had have been with my brothers. Family trips were memorable for the arguments and my dad swearing he was never going to do it again because -Something always happens when you guys get together.'" A lifelong fan of road trips and what they can reveal, Lawrence Sher says, 'The fun thing about the road is its forward momentum and the fact that you just keep going to the next destination. It's an allegory for life. You may have a plan, but there will be stops and turns and side trips. Part of the adventure of this movie is about how we can take for granted the people who are closest to us"and what better way for these two to be reminded of that, than to be stuck together and forced to confront their differences? Sometimes, pressure produces diamonds."
And sometimes, pressure just builds up until it explodes.
'Father Figures" is Owen Wilson and Ed Helms' first big-screen pairing, and since their interaction is the backbone of every scene there was a lot riding on their chemistry. Luckily, there wasn't much of a learning curve. 'Owen Wilson is one of the funniest people I have ever met in my entire life," Helms proclaims. 'Any time you meet a co-star, you spend about a week or two figuring out how they work and what makes them tick. With Owen Wilson, it took about two days for us to find this rhythm and be in sync and crack each other up."
'Whatever I was doing, if I said A, guaranteed he would say Z," Owen Wilson adds.
Though Kyle and Peter come a little unglued upon learning the photo they cherished as kids was not actually their honorably deceased dad but some random actor, it also starts them looking at their mom in a new light. This woman they thought they knew so well…who is she, really, and who was she, back then? Such was the germ of inspiration for screenwriter Justin Malen. Describing a moment familiar for many people, he says, 'The story came from my looking at old pictures of my parents and wondering what I didn't know about them and who they were before I came along."
Starring as the boys' intrepid single mother, Helen, Glenn Close points out, 'She has a good heart. It's just that she was a wild child in the -70s in New York City, partying in places like Studio 54, and sowing her wild oats when monogamy wasn't a priority."
Helen feels their quest is a bad idea and tells them so. But, having had her big lie exposed, she no longer holds the high ground. Still, her presence figures into every step they take.
'Father Figures" marks Lawrence Sher's directorial debut, following a catalogue of cinematography credits that include many of the sharpest and most successful comedies in recent memory. A twin himself, he was drawn to the script not only for its mix of warmth and raunchy humor, but its portrayal of the sibling dynamic"in all its glory and insanity. 'I have an identical twin and we are very different and have been so all our lives, so I'm very much interested in the way siblings interact," he says.
'Alcon has worked with many first-time directors," notes producer Broderick Johnson. 'I think the most important thing with any director is their storytelling acumen, and their sensibility in communicating with actors and crew. Larry brings a great combination of talent, as someone who thoroughly understands the filmmaking process from a technical standpoint and is also a genuine storyteller."
Citing a 'very funny screenplay" as another huge appeal, Alcon producer Andrew A. Kosove adds, 'These are characters you can really care about. You care about their relationship and the journey they're on. Plus, we liked the fact that fundamentally it's a mystery. You don't know what's going to happen. At each turn you've had some good laughs, but it's still building toward a big reveal."
Lawrence Sher and Malen worked together on some of the story's finer points. Malen then remained on set during production, to help capture the exchange between the film's improvsavvy leads, giving them the freedom to run with their ideas and bond believably as brothers.
'Larry brought some personal experience into the mix," says producer Ivan Reitman. 'He was very passionate about the story and wanted to be sure it was told with authenticity. There are a lot of very funny moments but you always believe in the truth of it, and in their relationship."
That relationship was always their touchstone. 'We knew it was going to be the love story of the movie," affirms producer Ali Bell. 'But first they have to let out everything that's been bottled up inside"and that's the fun part. This script made us laugh out loud but it also resonated in how siblings deal with each other and the way families come apart and come back together."
As the guys follow a trail of 40-year-old bread crumbs delineating their mother's sexual history across four states, all in pursuit of their paternity, there's not a lot they can hold back. 'Essentially, this movie is about putting human beings in human situations," Sher states.
It just happens that some of those situations are outrageous and chaotic, but all the while we're trying to keep it as honest as possible. Unlike friends, it's hard to escape family."
Operation Who's Your Daddy
'There is NO way that those two jackasses are my kids."
'As a parent, you do your best and hope for the best, and I think that's what Helen did with her boys," Owen Wilson suggests. 'But kids can grow up in the same family and process things their own way, and that's the case with Kyle and Peter. You just chalk it up to temperament. 'Kyle has no complaints with the universe," Wilson expands. 'He lives in Hawaii, fell into a fortune without doing any real work, and has a beautiful girlfriend he's planning to marry. Life is good and everything is turning up aces for Kyle. He has a kind of oblivious innocence, which can be slightly irritating, especially to his brother, but always in a good-natured way. He doesn't realize he's irritating because he's in his own world and just happy-go-lucky"like a Labrador puppy is loveable but he can still chew up the furniture."
Not even Peter's relentless cynicism cramps Kyle's Zen, and that's saying a lot. Life, for Peter, is an uphill battle, made all the more galling by what he sees as his brother's jawdroppingly fantastic and totally unearned run of dumb luck. 'Peter's a proctologist. It's not a glamorous profession, and he takes a lot of flak for that," says Helms. 'He's divorced, with a 13- year-old son who can't stand him, and he just puts out a lot of negative energy. The lesson for Peter might be, -Hey, maybe I'm responsible for some of this bullshit in my life and I can turn it around.'"
Lawrence Sher agrees. Also, as set as they are in their ways, he feels that Kyle and Peter carry facets of each other's personalities within them. 'As much as he's this bon vivant who trusts the universe to take him where he needs to go, there's more depth to Kyle than is immediately apparent," he says. 'Still waters run deep. And despite Peter's misanthropic attitude and his focus on the straight-and-narrow, he's a guy who really yearns to loosen up. What they need is to borrow from each other, and see that life is all of those things. Sometimes you need to be a little more responsible, and other times you have to go with the flow."
'There's a cadence and a kind of natural, improvisational quality to how real brothers would speak," says Reitman. 'They would finish each other's sentences, and that's the dimension Owen Wilson and Ed Helms added to it, each of them being writers and with a vast improv background, and Larry did a great job in both encouraging and directing that."
'We knew these characters would really come off the page with Owen Wilson and Ed Helms," Kosove attests. 'Peter's carrying a lot of baggage but Ed makes it funny and you want to root for him. His arc in the movie is compelling. And Owen is so witty and irreverent, he has a way about him that just makes you want to laugh. He and Ed together are a lot of fun."
That warmth especially shone at times when, despite the disagreements and antagonism, it's clear that there is still a massive amount of love between Kyle and Peter. Of course, there is. Just look at who raised them.
Says Lawrence Sher, 'What we initially know about Helen is that she single-handedly reared these two boys, and that's been her priority. Whatever sacrifices she's made along the way we can only guess but she still has that air of a loving disciplinarian to her, as she tries to talk them out of this quest to find their father. She seems at first a bit more like Peter, but we soon see that, underneath it all, she has a great open spirt that more resembles Kyle's approach to life. As with meeting anyone new, what's interesting is discovering all those layers, and Glenn brings amazing nuance and power to the character."
Helen's life is not only the through-line for Peter and Kyle's trek through the Disco Era, but, says Close, 'she's the emotional heart of the story. Coming to terms with who she was, this young woman who chose to raise two boys by herself and give them a good life, is part of their journey."
And that little white lie? 'She made the decision that they needed a father figure, someone to look up to, so she created one," Close continues. 'She was trying to be a good mom, and now her lie is coming back to bite her."
Indeed, once the cat is out of the bag, there's no leaving it alone. If Helen thought a lifetime of good intentions, capped by a vague blame-it-on-the--70s confession, would satisfy them and let her get on with her wedding and her life, she has another thing coming. Now that Kyle and Peter know their dad is alive and out there somewhere, they won't rest till they track him down, and they won't let her rest till she coughs up a name.
And what a name it is. Terry Bradshaw. The Terry Bradshaw…four-time Super Bowl champion, Hall of Famer, the legendary quarterback whose photos once hung on the wall of young Peter's room. Peter doesn't know now whether to be ecstatic that he might have sprung from such celebrated loins, or outraged that this momentous possibility was kept from him all these years.
The role was initially written as a fictional famous football player, what Malen calls 'a combination of someone like Bradshaw and Joe Namath." But, Bell recounts, 'Once we set up the movie at Alcon, one of the brilliant ideas Andrew and Broderick had was, -Why don't we just cast Bradshaw and have him play himself?'"
That the gridiron great could act was a given for longtime fan Lawrence Sher, having seen him in 'Failure to Launch," and Bradshaw's natural charisma was well-suited to the character's loose, improvisational exchanges with Owen Wilson and Ed Helms.
Ironically, for Bradshaw, it was his ability to toss the ball to his potential newfound offspring on shifting terrain that caused him the most consternation on camera. 'I must have thrown 100 passes," he recalls of the scene in which he, Kyle and Peter bond on the beach of his oceanfront home. 'You don't forget the grip and the motion, but if you haven't done it on sand, it's not the same. I was pulling back on my passes because my feet were slipping so much. Anyway, that's my excuse. Yeah. I'm gonna go with that," he laughs.
Starring alongside him is Ving Rhames as the fictional Rod Hamilton, a fellow retired player and now Bradshaw's Miami neighbor. In what Kosove declares 'one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a movie," Hamilton clotheslines Kyle a split second after the eager Kyle finally catches a pass off Bradshaw. Says Rhames, 'Rod sees the football in the air and has a flashback, and winds up putting Kyle on the ground. Force of habit."
As Bradshaw shoots the breeze with Kyle and Peter, Rod joins in with his own recollections of Helen before he is clued in about who he's talking to. 'Rod has to say a lot of nasty stuff and be a little bit ribald," Lawrence Sher concedes, 'but Ving's charm is such that he makes it OK. He's a big personality but there's a gentleness to his manner, even when he's doing something like smashing Owen Wilson to the ground. He can say the most outrageous things and still be charming, and he had a great rapport with Terry. You could believe they played together." But if Bradshaw is the guy any lucky bastard would love to call 'dad," the guy up next on their list of candidates represents the opposite end of that spectrum.
Roland Hunt, played by J.K. Simmons, is a wary and volatile tatted-up recluse with questionable motives and a hair trigger. Simmons suggests, 'Who Roland is, depends a lot, I guess, on the decade in which you meet him. In the -70s, when Helen knew him, he was a Wall Street wunderkind-slash-party guy, hanging out in discos. It's the party aspect that probably got him into trouble, so when we meet this later incarnation of him, he's not what the boys expect to find. He's an ex-con, living with his mom.
'They're not sure when they first encounter Roland, who he is," Simmons adds. 'Then they think they know, but then they're still not sure."
Simmons contributed significantly to Roland's edgy persona, as Lawrence Sher describes. 'It was a character we knew in spirit but it wasn't until J.K. said yes that the character began to form itself. He understood we were looking for a guy who has taken the track that Peter might go if he doesn't take a turn. Life has been hard for Roland since his peak and there's a lot of regret under his badass shell, and J.K. was able to express that without saying anything. You just feel it."
Supporting Roland in his latest endeavors is his devoted mom, Mrs. Hunt, played by June Squibb in full Ma Barker mode. Says Squibb, 'She's one of those wonderful women who absolutely adores her son and believes that he can do no wrong. Whatever awful things he does, it will always be circumstantial or some bad influence, because it's never his fault, ever."
It's safe to assume it's not as hard to leave Roland behind as it was to bid Bradshaw farewell, as Kyle and Peter head for the next possible pop on Helen's hit parade. But first, they take one of Lawerence Sher's glorious detours by picking up a hitchhiker in a hoodie, played by Katt Williams, whom Lawerence Sher calls 'a masterful comedian. Having seen his stand-up, I knew he was going to be a good actor because he always comes at the comedy from a genuine and personal place."
By now, the growing tension between Kyle and Peter has reached its zenith. Something's about to blow. It's almost as though Kyle knows this, instinctively when he insists they pick the hitcher up, knowing full well it's the last thing in the world Peter wants. The gesture perfectly encapsulates their divergent worldviews. 'What do you think when you see a guy on the side of the road?" asks Lawrence Sher. 'Well, if you're Kyle, you likely think, 'Here's a chance to help out a fellow human,' and if you're Peter, you think, -We're going to get murdered.'"
For Lawrence Sher, the scene's humor and bite is in how it plays these kinds of expectations. Williams concurs, saying what attracted him to the role was 'the fact that it goes counterstereotypical. I'm for things that are off the beaten path. As a fan of movies, that's what we want. We like to be misled, we like to not know where this is headed and be surprised at the outcome, and that magic was all through the script and very potently in my character."
For example, how often does a hitchhiker accept a ride and settle in, grateful to be safely off the shoulder, and then face the prospect of getting T-boned by a train?
From this point, all bets are off as to what else may happen, including a brief stop at a motor inn where Peter attempts to break his dry spell with the enigmatic Sarah, played by Katie Aselton; and later, a glimpse into some other, equally screwed-up family dynamics at the O'Callaghan home in Wooster, Massachusetts. There, Jack McGee as one of O'Callaghan patriarchs reads Kyle and Peter the riot act following a knock-down, drag-out between the Reynolds boys and what could well be their half-witted half-brothers Liam and Sean, played with roundhouse abandon by Ryan Cartwright and Ryan Gaul.
Finally, the road brings them back home for an encounter with bachelor number four, or five, depending upon how you're keeping count: veterinarian Dr. Tinkler, played by Christopher Walken. If Tinkler is Kyle and Peter's biological father, he's certainly not in the mood to talk about it. Luckily, the boys catch him at the office where there's a handy tranquilizer gun.
'The question is, how do you make this outrageous thing still honest and truthful, and still go to that place of silliness," Lawrence Sher poses. 'When you're going for a mixture of dark comedy and sublime, there's nobody better than Chris. Because in his own way he's sublime. He's eternally watchable. When he's on screen you just want to pay attention. It's his cadence, his voice, his eyes; he's a fascinating personality."
Rounding out the film's main cast, Harry Shearer appears as Helen's eminently understanding fiancé Gene. Lawrence Sher notes, 'Harry delivers a generous and restrained performance as someone caught up in a situation he didn't expect and is trying to make the best of it." Mercifully, it's just what Helen needs. 'Gene loves Helen," Shearer says. 'I think he tries very hard to see Kyle and Peter through her eyes. Maybe a year or two down the line he'll give himself permission to judge them. Maybe not. But right now, he's not doing that."
'Father Figures" also stars Jessica Gomes as Kaylani, Kyle's so-called perfect model girlfriend, who has a unique way of greeting new friends; and Zachary Haven as Peter's teen son, Ethan, who"not surprisingly"prefers the company of cool Uncle Kyle over his own dad.
'We wanted to surround Ed and Owen with a great and versatile cast of characters who would make fun and interesting contributions along the way as they search for their father," Johnson sums up, 'whether it's one of their possible dads, or friends, or people they meet on the road. We had a tremendously talented supporting cast, and each one of them brought their own brand of humor and insight and excitement to the project."
'Uh…there's a train coming, and it ain't the Soul Train, guys."
Leave it to Kyle and Peter, who haven't really communicated with each other in years, to finally let it all hang out when their car is stopped on railroad tracks. In the pitch darkness. With an innocent passenger in the back seat, tied hand and foot for good measure. 'They get hit by a train because they're so engrossed in their argument that they can't hear it coming. They're so angry they're deaf," Sher explains, 'It was such a dramatic thing that I was interested in how we might turn that on its head and make it a little funny, while also giving these two an opportunity to see they could lose each other in a moment."
'We're lost. It's the middle of the night. We're just going at it and by the time we see the train it's too late," Helms helps set up the action.
'It's a very impactful scene," Wilson puns. 'We were fortunate in how the weather worked out. We were filming at night and it was very foggy, so, exactly the type of night in which something like that could happen. And it's metaphorical. Sometimes it takes a train to hit you, to get you to wake up.'"
The train was genuine, and the scene staged on a privately-owned track near Monroe, Georgia, with no traffic scheduled and bumpers on either end for extra security.
Additional 'Father Figures" action includes a classic brawl that unravels on the front lawn of a suburban home"fueled by alcohol, grief, insult, and Peter's realisation that he just did something terribly, unspeakably wrong. In designing the fight, stunt coordinator D'Antoni recalls, 'Ed and Owen had such brilliant comic timing and the fight developed with their input and Larry's input. Unlike wire work that's precise and timed, this was something we could have fun with."
The Bradshaw portion of the story was shot mostly in Miami. There, a working local car dealership was dressed as the scene of an autograph-signing event, while a sprawling beachfront mansion doubled for his estate. This, as well as the other homes appearing in the film, were all occupied private residences the production borrowed and adapted. Production designer Stephen H. Carter notes how each space was meant to reflect its owner's personality. Thus, 'Terry is open to a fault, so his home is open and airy, whereas Roland's house is closed up and dark. That one required the most work, clad with a lot of woodwork. We wanted it to look like a real hoarder's home. The boys' childhood home, representing Helen's influence, was creative, beautiful and warm, with lots of layers and detail."
The rest stop where Kyle gets into trouble was a build. But, apart from that, the production utilized practical locations almost exclusively and mostly in and around Ed Helms' home town of Atlanta, including the Hartsfield International Airport and the Garden Plaza Atlanta-Peachtree Corners Hotel in Norcross, serving the city's nearby Technology Park. A house in suburban Marietta stood in for the O'Callaghan homestead; Roland Hunt's place was discovered in the Druid Hills/Candler Park area; and the Reynolds' home was found in Midtown. For Dr. Tinkler's clinic the filmmakers were scouting a working vet office in the Vinings area that didn't quite work, when they spotted a yoga studio further down the hill that fit the bill.
As the story takes Kyle and Peter from their mom's place in Ohio to Miami, from upstate New York to Wooster, Massachusetts, and back home again to close in on who their dad really is, Sher hopes audiences will come to realize what the guys themselves are beginning to suspect: that it's the distance between them they're really closing.
'We do things for all kinds of reasons and, even as adults, we're often still trying to figure out our lives and our direction, and what's really important," the director says. 'Being on the road can sometimes stimulate a fresh perspective and this is what Kyle and Peter's journey is really all about.
'Whether it's your parents, your siblings or your kids," he continues, 'we all sometimes shut out the ones we love. But having a family is a blessing. I would hope that after people have their laughs and leave the theater, they might be reminded of that and maybe call some people up and tell them how much they're loved. And that, to me, is the most important idea in the movie."
Release Date: March 1st, 2018