Screenwriter Michael Bacall on the Les Grossman Movie: Combining 'Explosive Rage' With 'Emotion and Heart'
After adapting Bryan Lee O’Malley's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World into an acclaimed but box office-deficient generational touchstone, screenwriter Michael Bacall seemed poised to become as much of a cult figure as the characters he helped bring to the screen. But he struck pay dirt over the weekend when the found-footage teen comedy Project X brought in more then $20 million at the box office, and reviews for 21 Jump Street posted early Monday (including THR's) were overwhelmingly positive.
Having found both critical and commercial success bringing properties to the screen that audiences were initially skeptical about, Bacall has his sights now set on the Les Grossman movie that Tom Cruise is spinning off of Ben Stiller’s 2008 blockbuster comedy Tropic Thunder. Despite trepidations even from fans about making Grossman the main character in his own movie, Bacall told The Hollywood Reporter that he was excited to help transform Cruise's character from a comedic sidebar into a sympathetic leading man.
"I felt really great about that from the beginning because I loved the character," Bacall said in an interview Friday. "Tom had an incredible idea on how to tell this story, and give it some real emotion and heart. And as soon as he hit on that idea, it was off to the races. But I feel really good about that project, and I hope that it will happen."
While Bacall's work on Project X was appropriately provocative for the person who would be writing the Les Grossman movie, he showed a decidedly softer side with 21 Jump Street, where the plot and characters are more sensitive and sympathetic. Bacall said that the tone of the film would find a happy medium between airy and abrasive. "I think it’s going to fall in between," he said.
"I think people would be disappointed if that character didn’t carry around that explosive rage that we associate with him, and that’s what makes his performance so enjoyable. But none of us feel like the movie could sustain what was a 90-minute Les Grossman tirade. So we want to try and get a little bit of a glimpse of where that rage is coming from," he said, laughing."
"The guy will be a force of nature, but we want to have some kind of emotional connection to him.”
Meanwhile, Jonah Hill previously announced that the distributor of 21 Jump Street, Sony Pictures, is already discussing the possibility of a sequel. Bacall said that nothing’s definite, but he’s participated in some of the conversations being held about a follow-up to that film. "We’re talking about it, yeah," he revealed. "I think on the first day that Jonah and I sat down we had the idea where the sequel could take place. That’s about probably all I should say about that right now."
When pressed for a few more details about what was said in those conversations, he indicated that their brainstorming sessions were an equal mix of fun "what if?" scenarios and real ideas that could lead to a script.
"It’s both," he explained. "We kind of initially came up with who the guys were, but it started with why are they cops, and what was their experience like in high school the first time around. And in talking about that and doing some research and kind of going back to high school where I went to school and talking to some teachers and listening to kids. It all starts to come back, what those classic high school experiences were, and just how important that stuff is to you when you’re in high school."
"We got rolling with those memories, and that started to give us a lot of the ideas for the set pieces and a lot of the gags," Bacall revealed. "And parts of a meeting like that would just be the two of us, to make each other laugh talking about ridiculous situations the guys could get into."
Project X is in theaters now. 21 Jump Street opens nationwide March 16.