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:: Spotlight :: Couples Retreat - Interview with Director Peter Billingsley

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Couples Retreat is now available to own or rent on DVD or Blu-Ray. Share in some unconventional marital therapy as dysfunctional couple Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) convince their friends to join them on a tropical island holiday, with a catch!

Here is an interview conducted with Director Peter Billingsley.

Q. How long have you known Vince Vaughn?

I’ve known Vince for a very long time. We even acted in an after-school special on steroids around 20 years ago in which he played my friend who was trying to get me off drugs. And we soon became friends too and started talking about doing things together. With him it was always a question of when he would be successful, not if he would make it, because that was obvious due to his intelligence and sense of humour.

Q. And you have worked with him several times now.

We first worked together on Made, Jon Favreau’s directorial debut that I produced, which also had Faizon Love in it. And since then we have done The Break-Up, Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show and Four Christmases together.

Q. Who came up with the idea of Couples Retreat?

I think we were in a car, about three years ago, when Vince came up with this idea. I could see the wheels starting to turn in his head, and that’s when you know he’s going to come up with something good. And he soon developed the concept of these four Midwestern couples that get to go to this exceptional place.

Q. Did you know then that you would end up directing the movie?

Not then, because at the time I thought I would produce it, as we have a company together with his sister Victoria, who is also a producer on this film. Jon Favreau took a first pass at the script, but after the success of Iron Man, which he directed and I produced, Iron Man 2 was quickly announced and Vince asked me to direct Couples Retreat.

Q. How did you feel about this new challenge?

I was very thrilled and flattered; but, as we had already been together through the trenches, I also felt safe knowing that it would really be the two of us grinding down and making this film. Vince is an unbelievable partner, and there were a lot of people I had worked with as a producer that came on board too.

Q. What was Vince like to work with on set?

As one of the writers and producers of the movie he had a terrific understanding of the story, and as an actor he was very unselfish and constantly thinking of funny stuff to make the scene better. It’s never about him, and I think he is great as Dave. During the shoot I would set up multiple cameras around Vince, let him do his thing and discipline myself not to yell “cut” too early because he has tremendous instincts and is capable of continuing with something or even jumping back to the beginning.

Q. And you knew the other lead actors well too.

I have known Faizon Love for nine years - since Made - and I met Favreau when Vince met him on the set of Rudy in 1993. But Jason Bateman is someone I worked with when I was 8 years old on an episode of The Little House on the Prairie! So, these are guys I am friendly with and have known for a very long time, and I think we had a very nice camaraderie and shorthand in Couples Retreat. This way, the chemistry you see was inherent to the movie, as it truly existed in real life.

Q. Vince Vaughn has a great understanding on screen with Jon Favreau, who plays Joey…

They are amazingly gifted together and have such great screen history that there were times when they would go off, but completely within the intention of the scene. Jon brings his great strength as a writer to the table, and at the same times loves to make the lines slightly his own.

Q. Jason Bateman is another comedic force in the film…

His character, with the help of his wife Cynthia (Kristen Bell), convinces the other three couples to go on this extraordinary vacation. Jason has been doing this forever because he started very young, and he has an unbelievable range. He matches the continuity of everything perfectly and gives you different ways of looking at something. Jason Bateman is remarkable because he never gets locked into a performance that is the same with every take.

Q. What do you think Faizon Love brought to the role of Shane?

He is explosive and unexpected because you never quite know what is going to happen or come out of his mouth, and that is terrific. With him it’s like panning for gold and finding great nuggets! Faizon has done some broad comedies, but in this film I think he proves there is a real human aspect to him. He has one of the biggest hearts of any person I have ever met, and I think it really comes out in this character because he is able to channel it through his performance.

Q. How did you come up with the right actresses to complete the other four halves of these couples?

It was fun! And we wanted great actresses, not just comedians, because what’s funny is to commit to the situation and play it as if the stakes were real. I believe that if you turn the volume down on a good comedy, it should almost look like a drama.

Q. Malin Akerman is next to Vince Vaughn as Dave’s wife?

We wanted Ronnie to be grounded and feel like a mother, and we needed a good actress. Malin Akerman can do anything –just look at the diversity of her career- and she also has the discipline to sometimes just be the straight person in the scene.

Q. And you paired Kristin Davis up with Jon Favreau.

I have always been a fan of Kristin because she has a special likeable quality which makes you root for her as a person and as an actress.

Q. Kristen Bell and Jason Bateman form the more type A couple of the lot.

I had never met her before, but when I did I felt that Cynthia had walked into the room. Kristen makes you buy and invest in her relationship with Jason, because if you don’t the whole movie doesn’t work. So, she has an incredible ability to make you believe the stakes for her are very real.

Q. How did you find Kali Hawk for the role Faizon’s young girlfriend?

A lot of girls auditioned for the role of Trudy, but Kali kept on popping back up.

Q. And they all give life to very believable characters.

That was extremely important to me. There are four different couples that represent different archetypes, but have the same problem: a lack of connection. They are all very relatable, and it’s fun to ask someone that has seen the movie which is their favorite couple and who do they relate to more.

Q. How much improvising did you encourage on set?

I think improvising is all about coming up with a different way to express the intention of what you are doing. And the truth is that we had a great script and really good comic minds on set that could elevate it on the day.

Q. You actually shot the film in Bora-Bora!

We really did, and it was an incredible experience! Bora-Bora was perfect but also logistically difficult, though luckily I wasn’t a producer on this movie.

Q. Jean Reno embodies the mastermind of this unique retreat and quite a bizarre character himself. Could you ever imagine he would be this funny?

I have always been a fan of Jean, and if you look at his work you realise he has pulled off some pretty extreme roles, like in The Professional. So, I knew he could do this. It’s also important that the island is international -which adds to the “fish out of the water” element that our couples are in and what they have to deal with. And again, even though the things he is saying and doing are ridiculous, Jean Reno knows how to ground the character and take it all very seriously.

Q. Are you surprised by how in comedy you are never really sure of what will get the best laughs?

It never ceases to amaze me, which is why we do small tests with our movies; but, it’s true, you always get these unexpected surprises with comedy.

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