JON FAVREAU
interview by darby o'gill
illustration by debbie

AN EVERYMAN WHO IS EVERYTHING: WRITER, ACTOR, DIRECTOR AND FATHER. JON FAVREAU SPEAKS HIS MIND TO DARBY O'GILL.

darby: First off, congratulations on a great new film and on becoming a new Dad.

Jon: Well, thank you.

d: You have one of the best writing styles. How do you approach a script?

J: It depends on what itís for. When you sit down to write something, at lease for me, I never know whatís really going to come out. I have a sense of the shape itís going to take, because movies are all very similar to each other. Whether itís a story about the Bible, or Greek Mythology, or a Saturday morning cartoon. Everything is plugging along okay, something bad happens, you have to deal with this problem, you face these challenges to handle the problem, and then the problem gets resolved hopefully in an unexpected way. When Iím just writing a story for myself, Iím sort of facing my own fears of whether or not I can handle it or live up to other stuff Iíve done; which is sort of a new problem I have. You do everything you can to free you mind, so youíre not judging your own work. For me, I like to get composition notebooks and scribble ideas into it. I like to do a lot of research. Iíll rent or buy every DVD that relates to the topic Iím writing about. When I finally do write, I just sit down and let it rip. I might have an outline for what the next few scenes are going to be like, but I never outline all the way to the end, because I have to leave room for things to happen.

d: Do you find it easier to act in films you have written?

J: No. I find it easier to act in other peopleís stuff.

d: Is that because youíre not as close to the subject matter?

J: Yeah, itís harder to make a choice. For directing, I think itís easier to direct something you have written. I would be scared to direct something I hadnít written, because I donít really know if Iím bringing something to the table as just a director. As a writer, I feel very strong coming in as a director, because I have a strong vision for the story. But, if I didnít write it, I wouldnít know what I would bring to the table, other than bringing good people together. As an actor, I could really add something to a script or a movie I didnít write. I could look at the material and really dig deep and find other levels to it. When youíre acting in your own movie youíre just fulfilling what the script and the story calls for. When youíre just acting, youíre sort of obsessing over this little slice of the pie that youíre given control over. So you can actually do something creative with it.

d: How did it feel directing this time around?

J: It was cool. It was a long time and coming. Itís my first time, and it was nice to actually be the director on this one, not just somebody that was doing all the work. It was nice to have the title officially, as opposed to somebody who was providing a lot of the same work, without having the title or the perception you are actually doing all that.

d: You have written some of the greatest lines. Almost all the lines in Swingers are so highly quotable. Lines like, ďYouíre so money,Ē have been around, but you seem to have breathed new life into it.

J: Well, youíve hit the nail on the head. Itís been around. When you write something really good it doesnít feel like youíve invented something. It feels like you have just called attention to something that is already there. The best stuff I write is stuff people relate to, because they have experienced similar things or situations in their own life. I was just thinking about this last night; itís surprisingly unsatisfying. You would think you would feel this incredible sense of power, but instead you feel like an archeologist digging for bones. You donít feel like youíre inventing those bones, you feel like you are exhuming these things that are already out there. Itís actually a source of anxiety because theyíre big shoes to fill. I canít do a movie thatís not funny now. People would be disappointed. Iím not at that point in my career where I donít give a damn. I give a shit what people think. I want my fans of Swingers, to be happy. I want to please the people whoíve made it their business to pay attention to my carrier. I want to satisfy those people. I think that different people have different attitudes towards careers in entertainment. Some people feel like, "Why the fuck are these people looking over my shoulder? Let me do my thing." Iím more from the school where itís like, "How do I make these people laugh? How do I keep these people interested in what Iím doing?" I think itís all a matter of what peopleís attitudes are. There are people who came out of high school, decided to become actors, got headshots, moved to Hollywood, started auditioning and got on a TV show because they were good looking. Theyíre doing movies now and theyíre frustrated, because theyíre not being taken seriously enough. Itís just a different relationship to the audience. Iím more old school, I think.

d: The style of Made, is very different from Swingers. At any point were you worried that your fans might not dig the new movie?

J: Yeah, it was a weird puzzle, making this movie. On one hand, how do you live up to the expectations set by Swingers? The second thing is, how do I not just serve up an inferior sequel-feeling movie that hits the same marks, but doesnít live up to the other one? Sequels always suck. When you make something fresh that hits a nerve, thatís the thing. When you just try and fulfill those exceptions again, youíre guaranteed 60% of the box office, and about 60% of the satisfaction as well. We just couldnít do it.

d: Iím glad to hear you say that. I was really worried we might be looking at a Swingers 2: Electric Boogaloo in the near future.

J: Exactly!

d: Itís refreshing to hear you say that, because people donít just let things drop anymore.

J: They donít, because thereís money to be made. And we would have made a lot of money, making Swingers 2. The question then becomes, how do we take the expectations that are created by Swingers, and then use those by playing against them? Thatís how I found what characters Vince and I would play. How do you capture the chemistry between two actors that people have grown to really like, but change everything else?

d: I think you accomplished that with Made. You were able to change the interaction between the two characters, but keep the chemistry between the actors.

J: Thanks. The biggest testament is that half the people Iíve talked to like Made better than Swingers, and half the people donít like it as much. It just shows me that I did as good as you could hope for. Itís going to make a little bit more money than Swingers did, and itís probably going to do well on video, like Swingers. I got to take a lot more chances, and I got to really broaden myself creatively, and go further than I did with Swingers, without losing the audience. I donít know if Woody Allen was able to do that.

d: Yeah, he did lose a lot of viewers when he made that change.

J: He lost a lot and he gained a lot. He also gained a certain respect from cinema culture, and heís going to emerge in film history in a way someone like Albert Brooks wonít. And itís too bad, because I like what Albert Brooks does better.

d: I agree with that.

J: I didnít always, but I like what he aspires to. I think the really cool people are people like the Coen Brothers, who manage to sort of do it all. They completely reinvent themselves from film to film.

d: Yeah. Thereís never one like the other.

J: Yeah, and they donít give a shit. They know how to make it so that everybody is satisfied. The actors are happy, the studios make enough money based on what they spent, their crew loves them, and they seem to enjoy what theyíre doing. Theyíve struck a really nice balance. And when you see those guys talk they donít look like people who are living this fast and furious life of the creative, misunderstood genius. Theyíre just two guys from the Midwest who are just getting a real kick out of what theyíre getting to do.

d: In Made, Vince plays a character that canít seem to help but get in trouble everywhere he goes. Did you find it hard to make Vince a somewhat unlikable character after he scored so big as a nice guy in Swingers?

J: I was trying to seize on something as equally truthful as I was able to capture for the character of Trent, in Swingers. I wanted to have something that Vince could really sink his teeth into. Vince is always offered these roles of characters that donít have a lot of dimension. Because heís a good looking guy and heís got a lot of charisma, heís given the parts of the really straight-ahead leading guys, and thereís not a lot to do with that. It doesnít take advantage of his talents as well as the roles in these two films have. These characters play into aspects of his personality that arenít necessarily the straight-ahead leading guy. He is a good-looking guy, but I think his charisma comes more from his personality. With Trent, I exaggerated a lot of the more flattering aspects of who Vince is. In Made I grabbed a part of his personality that can be a little more manic and exaggerated that more. In his performance, he was able to bring a reality to it and come off as likable. I think that you end up liking to watch them on screen. You enjoy them, and I think the only reason for that is the way he performed them. If you give someone a role like that, you are challenging them to bring something to the film that no one else can. I think thatís why he enjoys working with me.

d: Well, you guys hit a home run. Itís so funny, because you sit there and just want to stop him. Itís kind of like Very Bad Things. You canít sit still in the movie because every five seconds something else is going so horribly wrong.

J: Hopefully, itís a little different note, in a way. I love Very Bad Things, and I love Peter Bergís vision as a filmmaker. I really enjoy the way his mind works, but itís different than mine. Iím starting to see it in my own work, Ďcause I donít really know what I think is funny until I can take a step back and look at it. It seems to me that sort of cringe humor is different in Very Bad Things. Thereís some of that, but a lot of it just comes from, "Oh my God, I canít believe this is happening." Whereas in Made, itís more like the feeling you get when Iím on the phone in Swingers and Iím leaving all the messages. Itís fucked up. Itís funny, but not funny in a healthy way. Your heart really goes out to the people in the movie. In Very Bad Things, at a certain point, youíve really got to check out. Youíre just watching a car wreck. You almost have to turn it off.

d: You met Vince on the set of Rudy. At what point did you realize he was someone you would like to work with again?

J: Not for a while. I didnít really work with him on Rudy and I didnít really like him that much when I met him. Weíre very different people. Heís all about making things interesting and Iím all about making things,.. not interesting. I like to chill and he likes to get nuts. Itís a Yin and Yang type of relationship. But we both have a very similar sense of humor. He recognized that in me first, and he really went out of his way to create a friendship. Then, when I moved to L.A., he really reached out to me and I ended up hanging out with him. I was sort of alone in the city and I had recently broken up with this girl I was living with in Chicago. And thatís what the experiences of Swingers was about.

d: Swingers and Made both had great soundtracks. What goes into making a great soundtrack?

J: Quentin Tarantino said, "Itís like making a mix tape for your friends." Itís really just a matter of taking music that you like and putting it on a soundtrack. I think thatís a good rule of thumb in whatever you do, whenever youíre trying to entertain people. Just do things that you like. Donít try and guess what people are going to like. Do something you really think is funny or cool, and thereís a good chance that there are other people out there that feel the same way. I think a lot people come from the point of view of, "How do we make the audience happy?" As if they were different from us. I was just sent a script to play the lead in a really silly comedy and I thought, "Wow. This is great. Here I can star in a $20 million movie and it could give me a certain status in Hollywood." But as I was reading the script I was like, "I would not enjoy this movie." Now, Iíve been in movies that didnít come out the way Iíd hoped they would. But going into every movie Iíve always felt like, "This is fucking cool!" I always responded to something about each film. Either I really liked it, or I remembered a time in my life that I would have loved a movie like this. Other movies Iím not sure I feel that way about. Iím pretty picky about shit.

d: Itís nice that youíre still picky. Most people just give in, take the money and run. Itís nice that people still care about what they do.

J: I think itís all youíve got. The ability to say "No" to the wrong things. But at a certain point everybody crosses that line, where they donít give a shit. Unfortunately.

d: When you were first starting out, you supported yourself as a cartoonist. Are you still into cartooning?

J: Yeah. I like drawing. I donít do it as much anymore, because I used to do it for money. Itís difficult to do something for fun after youíve done it for money. I want to do some more artwork, but itís hard. I want to do illustrations for a childrenís book, or something like that. I know pro-skater Keith Huffnagel and I might design a deck for him. I also do storyboards. I did a lot of drawings for Swingers, which I think Iíll bust out now that everybody loves it. Weíre going to do this special edition DVD and Iím going to put those on there.

d: Youíve done some work for television, like Friends and The Sopranos. What are some of the differences of working on the small screen?

J: Well, those are two very different things. Sopranos was fantastic because I love that show. It was so cool to get a little taste of it. Iíve worked on that show, Seinfeld and Larry Sanders, and those are probably three of the best shows ever made. To be a part of those shows is really cool. Friends was a different thing. It was after Swingers and they reached out to me to play this part. It was the first time Iíd been recognized to do something. I was stepping into this pop culture machine, which was very strange, and I had never really seen the show. I donít watch sitcoms. But I started watching the show, and theyíre really good performers. I got to meet some cool people doing it. Like, Ben Stiller did one when I was on it. What was nice, too, was that they all like each other. It wasnít a fucked up weird dynamic. Everybody was really friends on the show.

d: You just started a new show, Dinner For Five, on the Independent Film Channel. How did that come about?

J: I thought it would be cool to show what it was like when a bunch of people from the business who know each other get together and bullshit. To capture that is so much more interesting than watching predigested stories on talk shows. Everybodyís got there game-face on and itís always safe. But Dinner For Five is just people hanging out. Thereís no commercials, you can curse, you can smoke, you can do whatever the hell you want. If you get out of line and say something you donít want getting out there into the world, let me know and Iíll cut it out. Everybody who is involved with it is doing it because itís fun. Nobody on the show is there to plug anything. With talk shows, you go on when youíve got a movie coming out. You canít plug something on Dinner For Five, because youíll just sound like an idiot. Anything I do, in addition to making movies, that sort of mixes things up a bit, is fun. I try to keep that going in my life because at this point Iíve got enough money to live comfortably. But when you make money your priority, your career suffers a great deal. The trick is to focus on what brings you joy in the work and challenge yourself in different ways.

d: Whatís coming up next for Jon Favreau?

J: Iím writing a romantic comedy for Imagine called Porn Star. If they like it, Iím going to be directing it next year sometime. But I donít know if theyíll like it. This is my first time in a while dealing with a studio as a director and a writer. There is currently a really funny movie there. I just donít know if the movie I think is funny is one that they will think is funny. Studios are tricky. Iím also thinking of the next thing to do with Vince. But thatís baby steps. We made Made for a little bit more than Swingers. And we made a little more money than Swingers and our reviews were a little bit better. The big question right now is, do I want to try and play at studio level? Also, is it possible to mix independent and studio filmmaking? You look at a guy like Soderbergh, and itís inspiring how heís able to move between both worlds. But heís been making movies for decades. Iím certainly not in his league as far as experience goes. He really gets it all: writing, editing, camera work. Heís a real filmmaker. Iím sort of in the position where Iím trying to learn while I do. And itís a tough road to hoe.

d: Finally, with being a new dad, what wisdom will you pass on to your son when the time comes?

J: Always wear a condom. (laughing) That would be the first one. I want to teach him to box, too. Thereís no reason at all that I should have waited until I was 30 to learn how to fight. You donít need to know how to fight anymore. I needed to know it when I was little. But then I wouldíve never had the sense of humor I do. I also need to teach him that if you keep your mouth closed around woman, they think youíre a lot sexier and smarter than you are.

d: Thatís a great lesson!

J: I never knew that trick growing up. And hopefully he doesnít pierce his face too much.

VISIT JON AT THE MADE WEBSITE.