Phil Lord, Chris Miller on 'Star Wars' Spinoff Pressure, Being "Stoney" Filmmakers
The multihyphenates behind 'The Lego Movie' discuss their massive slate of upcoming projects and why people think they do a lot of drugs.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Where they were Based on their success with the animated film Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs ($243 million worldwide), Lord and Miller had persuaded Sony to let them make the rare leap to live action with 2012's 21 Jump Street reboot. "We kept saying, 'Wouldn't it be funny if this movie was good?' " says Lord, who met Miller at Dartmouth College. "That was the joke of that movie: I think we can surprise people by making it not be terrible." Additionally, they had just turned in the first draft for their next animated adventure: The Lego Movie for Warner Bros., which would go on to earn $469 million worldwide.
Where they are The duo's to-do list is a dizzying mix of franchises, for both film and TV. Lord and Miller, both 40 (Lord is in a long-term relationship with jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth; Miller is married with two young kids), are producing the next batch of Lego films, including The Lego Batman Movie, and future Jump Street movies, including a female-centered spinoff. They're writing and producing an animated Spider-Man movie for Sony, and they created the beloved Fox comedy series The Last Man on Earth, now in its second season. There's a Son of Zorn live-action/animation hybrid Fox comedy coming and a potential TV series based on the Serial podcast, too. But all those pale in comparison to the Han Solo Star Wars spinoff, which the pair has signed on to direct. Says Miller, "Now, somehow, we're 10 times busier than we were when I thought we were too busy and I was going to die."
Moment I knew we made it:
MILLER I always feel like the hammer's going down right around the corner, and I think that level of constant anxiety is what keeps us from getting too lazy. Someone once told us that the only positive emotion you can feel in the entertainment business is relief — relief that something's not a failure. So, we get that sweet, sweet sigh of relief from time to time, but never a "We've made it! High five!"
LORD It just raises the stakes for us when we're eventually found out to be frauds. We'll have that much further to fall. We sound like wimps!
Biggest change to our lives since 2010:
LORD People's expectations have dramatically changed in a strange way. It's not that people expect us to do a good job now. We've made a career of outperforming expectations, so now people expect us to outperform expectations — but instead of it being on something that seems really stupid, it's on a Star Wars movie.
Weirdest misconception people have about us:
MILLER People think we do a lot of drugs because we put a lot of drug references in our movies. Our stuff is very easily enjoyed in an altered state, and we are second-generation "stoney" filmmakers. But the truth is, we don't really do drugs, which is evidenced by how inaccurate our visual representations of drug trips are.
LORD And if you look at any of the sex scenes we have directed, it would appear that we also are celibate.
Last project we turned down:
LORD Clearly we turn down nothing! (Laughs.) It has slowed down a little bit since we declared what our next movie is going to be. You declare you're doing a Star Wars movie, and they leave you alone.
How we divide our work:
LORD We're doing everything together still. That might mean if Chris reads something and has a strong take on it, I'll read it but let him take the lead and just add anything I may have to add to it. But, for the most part, we're typically both paying attention to everything.
Our lowest moment on the job:
MILLER When they took Clone High [an MTV animated series that Lord and Miller co-created with Bill Lawrence in 2002] off the air because of the hunger strike in India over the [depiction of] Gandhi on the show.
LORD That was bad. We spent two years working on that show, and it was our dream to have an animated show together. There was a lot at stake. It got canceled, and there was nothing we could do about it. We had staked everything on that, so it was like, "We're never going to work again."
Non-Hollywood person I'm dying to meet:
MILLER I met him: [Author] Michael Lewis. I acted like I was meeting The Beatles when I met him. We were visiting Jonah Hill on the set of Moneyball, and he showed up.
LORD [Chris] screamed!
MILLER Jonah still to this day makes fun of me.
LORD I've almost met [Talking Heads lead singer] David Byrne like three times, and it has never worked out. That would be a personal triumph.
Hollywood person who's killing it right now:
LORD We both went crazy for [Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway musical] Hamilton. Nobody has told a more original story this year. And then another team that is obnoxiously prolific: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They're the most ambitious stoners in the history of planet Earth. They continuously put out original ideas, things that they generate themselves that feel unique and are really funny and smart.
MILLER I'd add the Coen brothers, Amy Schumer and [Nathan Fielder of Comedy Central's docu-reality comedy series] Nathan for You.
Talent I wish I had:
MILLER I really wish I could play the piano really well without having to practice.
LORD I wish I could remember people's names. I'm supposed to remember so many.
Place that surprised me most:
MILLER We shot [21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street] in New Orleans, which is one of the weirdest and most wonderful cities in America. It feels like its own country in Europe somewhere.
Best gift I've received:
LORD [Lego Movie composer] Mark Mothersbaugh inexplicably gave us the Devo hat he wore on tour. Inside, the hat has a card that says, "Please return to Mark Mothersbaugh." He would throw it into the audience every show and then get it back. Then he just said, "Hey you guys, want this?"
MILLER Richard Grieco gave us the bandana that he wore in his back pocket for every episode of [late-'80s Fox series] 21 Jump Street and [its spinoff] Booker.
LORD Oh, that's gotta be number one!