'Babymakers' Director Jay Chandrasekhar Talks About Bending Reality, 'Being Heroic to Frat Boys'
Super Troopers, Club Dread and Beerfest are the films for which director and Broken Lizard member Jay Chandrasekhar is best known, but with The Babymakers, he hopes to change that. Although the new film, which stars Paul Schneider and Olivia Munn, goes to incredible -- and incredibly immature -- lengths to portray the desperation of a would-be father trying to help his wife conceive their first child, it also features the filmmaker’s sweetest story to date, creating a hybrid between raunch and real feeling that he hopes to develop further going forward.
Chandrasekhar spoke to The Hollywood Reporter after the film premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this year. In addition to talking about how The Babymakers represents a step towards more mature subject matter, he offered some insights into Hollywood’s current – and hopefully future – attitudes about ethnicity, and revealed how he hopes to address projects both in tandem with and separate from his Broken Lizard collaborators.
The Hollywood Reporter: Kevin Heffernan mentioned in interviews that this project came to you guys in a different way than normal. What was the initial process?
Jay Chandrasekhar:We were at Warner Bros, we had a deal there. Peter [Gaulke] and another guy wrote the script to The Babymakers, because it actually happened to him, a lot of it. So they gave it to Kevin [Heffernan] and we got Warners to buy it, and you know the way the system sometimes works -- good scripts sometimes get made and sometimes they don't. And I called up Warner Bros. and said, "hey, do you mind if I make this thing?" and they said "yeah, go ahead." So that's sort of what happened. The original drafts were great and we kind of made it into a movie that we would make -- we worked with the writers a ton and ultimately now hopefully it feels like us.
THR: What were specific things that you guys ended up changing?
Chandrasekhar:The way comics are, and comic writers are is they’re afraid typically of emotion -- but I wanted to make a movie that had actual human feeling in it. Because when you make Broken Lizard movies, where we’re all revved up about an American beer drinking team versus a German beer drinking team, at the end of the day whether anybody wins is not terribly important so the emotion is all fake. I'm not saying it's not good, I'm just saying it's fake emotion. I wanted to try to make a movie that had some real emotion and see if we could blend it in with what we do which is word play -- hopefully somewhat realistic moments that are bent a little bit.
THR: How difficult is it to balance the adult component of what the ramifications are of being a husband and a potential parent with indulging in the immaturity of the humor you guys are known for?
Chandrasekhar:I think ultimately we set out to make a movie that would be a decent film, a date film. We said that we're going to make a film about getting pregnant and we want to make a film that women will say, "yeah, I'll see that movie." Hopefully Olivia is strong and smart and funny, and we want the guys to be like "yeah, I'm willing to go to that movie too, even though it's about pregnancy." So we kind of decided we're going to try, where in Beerfest I think they didn't even tell women it was coming out -- they said only guys. And this movie can't work that way. It is a movie about a relationship, but it's also about how do you steal from this sperm bank. I mean, mashing that together was the only way we could comfortably make this kind of film -- to have it work for us as guys.
THR: How much do you feel like you're growing up through your movies?
Chandrasekhar: I find that there's so much funny stuff in real life, and I am much more interested in super grounded, real stuff, so now I just want things to feel real and authentic. It's not that I wouldn't make a high-concept movie, but it's not the first thing I'm looking for. I've been writing this show that I'd like to try to get on cable called Really, and it's as if Parenthood had a lot of sex and drugs and swearing, but the drama will be real. I want to explore that sort of real life stuff. This to me is like a step in between what I've done and what I'm hopefully going to do.
THR: Do you have to be careful about the level of immaturity of your characters?
Chandrasekhar:I think you have to say "this is the bandwidth of this movie," and "no jokes or moments that are outside this bandwidth can be in the film." So it's like there's certain performances that are just too big, too big, and you have to fit here. You can only be so dramatic in a film like this, but you have to, you know, if you seem [insincere] about the emotion, people will tune out -- like "this is all just a big joke."
THR: How important is your ethnicity as an actor, filmmaker and particularly as a creator of characters, to be able to make jokes freely that don't make fun in a hurtful way?
Chandrasekhar:I think that society is aspiring towards racial indifference, but the reality of life is not that. And so when you meet someone, you can see their race, it's right there on their face, and I feel like it's interesting. Because if you look at Hollywood and you look at like the racial makeup of the characters, there's a desire to make Hollywood movies reflect what's going on in the actual racial makeup of the country. But the truth is writers write for themselves essentially, and then they hire better looking people to play themselves -- that's how it works. So unless there's going to be a bunch of Indian writers or Black writers or whatever, it's not going to change until that changes.
To me, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and my identity is of a suburban Chicago person. It's not like, "oh, I'm Indian." I'm not, I'm American. But I've never played an Indian part on screen, and I feel like already there's a cliché in the movie business where the Indians are tech guys, they're forensics, they're doctors, they work in 7-11, they're cab drivers. And that's somewhat true in society as well -- I mean, my parents are both doctors. I know a lot of Indian tech guys, it's true. Cab drivers, often they’re Indian, right? But you don't see any Indian criminals, and if you go to India there's tons of criminals. So I thought it would be a fun way to sort of break the stereotype. And more than anything about Indians is we're portrayed as pacifists. There's tons of violence in India, there's tons of it. So I wanted to play a violent criminal, that was just like, why not? And if you have successful minority directors you'll get different versions of this.
THR: Is it just a matter of integrating more filmmakers of color into Hollywood?
Chandrasekhar:It's an endless discussion in the casting rooms, in studios and in television. Endlessly, like "we should get some color in this thing," and you're like, "okay." But it's rarely in the leads, because we're all trying to make money. If you could make money with non-white people in the leads, then that's the trick -- you'll have more and more people doing it. And it all gets back to like they always say this about foreign [audiences] – “don't put a black person on the poster because they won't sell in Germany.” And you're like, well what does that saying? Are we saying it's okay? We really want to sell in Germany so let's not put black people -- what does that mean? Are we just willing to make the buck and sell it to racists? Well yes, in fact, yes, that is what we are willing to do. And it's strange.
But society has to change over time, and I'm incredibly well-known among college beer-drinking guys. How weird is it that an Indian dude is considered heroic to frat boys? That's how life changes. The black experience in film probably followed the same way. I mean, there was a point where you couldn't have black people interacting with white people in movies, and now it's all over the place. They're all over detective shows and cop shows, whatever it is. I think as time goes on there will be a lot of Indians working too -- in comedy at least.
THR: At this point do you think consciously about differentiating Broken Lizard projects and ones that you take on that are outside that sphere?
Chandrasekhar: I think that Broken Lizard movies typically have to be able to star five guys, so it's like, policemen, spacemen, a basketball team.
THR: Like the Village People.
Chandrasekhar: Yeah, but you don't want to shoe horn that in to, like, this movie. Because everyone would be like, "Well I want more lines." "Well, you really need to be this one guy." I'm sure we'll make another three or four Broken Lizard movies. But I just want the movie to be first -- what the movie needs comes first.
THR: Is it easier or more difficult to venture outside that?
Chandrasekhar: I think people expect it to be a Broken Lizard movie, because I've made six, seven of them and so when it's not, they go "oh, okay." I think that remains to be seen. You want to give people what they expect, but I think in order to keep them interested, you have to sort of give them something new. And I think the fact that Paul and Olivia are at the center of this movie will make some people automatically go, "oh, okay" but hopefully the rhythm of the jokes is something you'll recognize from our movies.