'Guilt Trip' Director on Chasing Barbra and Teaching Channing Tatum His Moves
The veteran comedy director tells THR about her yearlong pursuit of star Barbra Streisand, working with Channing Tatum and why Mark Wahlberg was uncomfortable on "Boogie Nights."
Anne Fletcher feels your holiday pain.
The veteran choreographer-turned-director, most recently responsible for the smash 2009 rom-com The Proposal, is back with a mother-son road comedy that holds the mirror up to so many of those family visits happening this weekend. In The Guilt Trip, Barbra Streisand plays the widowed mother of flustered scientist-inventor Andy (Seth Rogen), calling him on an endless loop and kvelling over his success -- even if he hasn't experienced much of it yet. In the interest of helping her find a long-lost love, Rogen invites his mother along for his cross-country business drive.
Famously, Streisand made a long list of requirements to star in the film, including that they shoot close to her Santa Monica home. "I think she put the list together so we or the studio would say no to her, so she wouldn’t have to say no," the director told The Hollywood Reporter. But having chased Streisand for a year, there was no chance she would turn down any of those requests -- she wasn't going to make the movie with anyone else. The result is an intra-continental romp filled with nods to the actors' Jewish heritage and many more classic mother-son squabbles.
Fletcher spoke with THR about the film and her past as a movie dance choreographer, which included work with Mark Wahlberg and Channing Tatum.
The Hollywood Reporter: I have to say, I am worried that this is my future with my mother. She’s also a Jewish woman from New Jersey.
Anne Fletcher: Aww, you're just a baby. Are you going to have her see it?
THR: I told her all about it, so I think she’s curious to see what I say is her future.
Fletcher: It’s true. I like it because I think it’s a great conversation to be had because I think we all think differently of the other.
THR: When you read the script, did you connect it with anything in your family?
Fletcher: It honestly is my relationship with my mother, and my brother’s relationship with my mother. I feel like, I mean Andy -- Seth Rogen -- is obviously a guy, but I really feel it translates to guy or girl, son or daughter. Mothers are just moms, and there’s no two ways about it.
THR: Obviously you wanted to make the film universal in talking relationships, but would you say it’s fair to have zeroed in on a Jewish mother?
Fletcher: What I was aware of was, obviously I hired two Jewish people; I knew they were Jewish, but I absolutely was conscious of making this universal. That it couldn’t just be for Jewish mothers, because there’s a lot of identity with Jewish mothers than not only Jewish mothers and children know, and the rest of us don’t really know. I didn’t want to exclude anyone from the bunch. And what’s been great about screening the film is that every walk of life walks out of the movie -- whatever gender, religious background, ethnic background -- and they all can identify Barbra as their mother, and they all can identify with Seth being the child. So the goal was to make sure everyone could be touched by this movie, or understand it.
THR: You went through a lot of hoops to get Barbra to agree to do the movie. Why did you need her?
Fletcher: I wish there was a really dynamic story, but it’s really just my instincts. I absolutely knew in my gut that Barbra and Seth would be insane together. I just knew their chemistry would be palpable. And that’s what you want from your actors. Most of my career, even with choreography and dancing, as just been instinctual. You make decisions based on what you think is right for yourself. And that was, I just knew. Maybe I’m a psychic and I don’t know it.
THR: Barbra doesn't do many movies as a rule. Why do you think she decided to do Guilt Trip?
Fletcher: I would love to say it was me, but it was in part me, because I worked a whole year trying to convince her to do the movie. I tried many different lunches and dinners and phone calls and e-mails and texts. I talked to her all over the world while she was vacationing. I talked to her about Seth, and she loved him; I brought [screenwriter] Dan Fogelman around, and she loved him. I had a read through of some of the scenes to get them together for the first time. … If Barbra dropped out, I told them I wasn’t doing it. So all of that, and then what happened once Barbra reads through the script, her son, Jason, read it while they were in the hospital together. And he finished it and said, "Mom, you have to do this movie." And so that’s when she said yes. And I’m like, thanks a lot. I’ve been busting my butt, and then your son just comes in and says, "Mom, do it."
THR: You choreographed Seth in The 40-Year-Old Virgin; what kind of dancer is he?
Fletcher: He’s a straight guy [laughs]. I always say that comic actors can do anything physically. They have a capacity to learn anything, whether it’s dance or not, and Seth is no exception. They just have an amazing ability to know how to do it. I can’t explain it. And since most of my work was comedy, having to choreograph that is something that I know. The second I get to work with a comic actor, I know I can bring the days of rehearsal down and the hours down, and I know they’re going to get it immediately. And I think it has a lot to do with being a comic actor and being in comedy, you can’t be vulnerable. They’re usually not vulnerable people, so when you ask them to dance, they say, "Yep, whatever I have to do, I’ll do it."
THR: So that means he is or isn’t a good dancer?
Fletcher: A little bit of both. You know, I wouldn’t say that Seth is a great dancer, but he absolutely had the ability to learn what he needed to learn and do it well. And that’s all you can ask of somebody that isn’t a dancer.
THR: You choreographed Mark Walhberg in Boogie Nights, right?
Fletcher: Well, Adam Shankman did. I was his assistant choreographer on that, and I was in it.
THR: Was he more of a complete performer, having rapped and such?
Fletcher: Mark was not a dancer at all. He did hip-hop, he sang hip-hop or rapped hip-hop or whatever. He was a rapper, I don’t know how you say that. I just stepped into something that doesn’t make any sense. And he was very uncomfortable having to learn '70s choreography because he was a young guy, and '70s choreography is not sexy at all. And he didn’t have the ability; he had to learn it. He had lots of rehearsal. When you watch a movie with dancing in it, you don’t necessarily want the dancers to be polished. [Tatum in] Step Up is a good example. I wanted the lead guy to be able to dance hip-hop but never have been a dancer in his life. He needs to look raw, he needs to look like he was off the streets, and if he had been polished, it would have been ugly. You have to believe him a little bit more because it’s more about the storytelling than it is about the dance, and Channing just happened to be a fantastic dancer so it worked out.
THR: When you directed Channing, did you know he’d be the big star he is today?
Fletcher: I never doubted that Channing would take his career very, very far. I can’t believe how far he’s taken it. But it’s not that I doubted it, it’s just so mind-blowing that he is the biggest movie star in the world right now. He just is. And I’m so proud of him, and he totally deserves it because he’s a one-of-a-kind great guy.
THR: When you watched Magic Mike, did you say, "Oh, I taught him those moves"?
Fletcher: Well, it’s a little embarrassing, but I haven’t seen it.
THR: Really? You’re the only person in America that hasn’t seen that movie.
Fletcher: It’s not that I didn’t want to, but it’s literally that I couldn’t. I was doing the movie the whole time when Magic Mike had come out, and I know it’s on DVD now, but I’m just literally finishing the movie. I’ll get to it, I promise!
THR: It’s an interesting move to go from choreographer to director. What skills did you have to learn, and what do you think gave you an advantage in making the jump?
Fletcher: Well, I don’t know what made me think I could make that jump. My best friend, Adam Shankman, who is a director, he and I worked together in choreography, and he became a director. And he had always wanted me to direct, and I was like, "Please, I will do it, but I’m enjoying this choreography thing; I’m loving it." And by the way, that’s actually the greatest classroom, and that is what gives you the advantage. Being able to be a dancer and choreographer, mostly choreographer, because you get to work with all these different directors, personality types, actors, producers, genres, different reasons why there’s dance in a story. And as a choreographer, you have to work with the DP and the director, so your classroom, in essence, is all these sets. You get the greatest lessons on filmmaking that you can ever imagine. So years later, Adam called and said, "I got an interview for you, to direct a dance movie." And I wasn’t there, but I’m not going to turn down an opportunity either. And I took the interview and took the job, which happened to be Step Up. And that’s just sort of how it all unfolded. And then I never looked back, except after Step Up, I went and helped him with choreography in Hairspray, and then went back and started doing 27 Dresses, restarting my directing career after that. I had to do Hairspray. Our friends wrote it.