McG made his directorial debut with Charlie’s Angels and went on to direct its sequel, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. He went on to helm We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation.
His new movie This Means War stars Chris Pine (Star Trek) as FDR and Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) as Tuck, two CIA operatives and best friends. But their close relationship is tested when they both end up dating the same woman, Lauren Scott (Reese Witherpoon), a product evaluator, whose friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) signed her up on an online dating service.
McG spoke of the challenges of directing an action-romantic-comedy at the press day for the movie.
Can you talk about the spy versus spy element in the movie?
We wanted to present that in a way that felt very credible. We weren’t interested in making a spoof. And I liked taking advantage of Tuck’s and FDR’s ‘Alpha’ characteristics.
I would ask, ‘If James Bond encountered Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible protagonist), would they have a great deal of respect for each other?’ Of course they would. But would one ever acquiesce to the other? No way.
Each man recognizes the skill of the other but at the end of the day, each is betting on himself. And that is a great engine for a movie.
With FDR and Tuck, we were going for the classic movie special agent. What’s sexy about that world is it’s life and death; it’s international; and it’s the antithesis of what most people experience in their everyday lives.
FDR and Tuck are incredibly proficient in that world. But when it comes to affairs of the heart, they’re just like everyone else. Clueless.
Were there any challenges that came with doing an action-thriller-romance-comedy?
It’s so funny because to me, it comes naturally. I love action pictures. I love comedies, I love romantic pictures. I’ll sit around, watching Singing in The Rain and go to sleep to Chelsea Lately. There an amalgam of influences going on in my mind.
Tom Hardy’s very confident in an action capacity, I imagine that he’s killed some people along the way! Chris Pine’s done his thing in Star Trek; they’re ready to do it. So today’s an action day, tomorrow’s going to be an intimate romantic day, the next day is a comedy day.
I just find it’s very natural. I don’t look at it and say, ‘Hey, the tone is dancing on the head of a pin.’ And let’s face it, this movie’s not about the human condition, this movie’s about, ‘Hey, I can’t put this into a box.’
I think one achievement of the picture is that you can go, ‘It’s funny, there’s some action, the girls are great, the guys are great.’ And if we’re successful in doing that, we’ve certainly done what we set out to do.
What was it like working with Reese?
Reese was [like] the sun, and the whole production orbited around her leadership. She was very professional and ready to go.
She was in a harness, raise 50 feet up off the ground, hanging from a wire. She’s fearless. From an action place, the boys are very proficient in that regard and they took [care of] Reese.
We’re not used to seeing Tom Hardy in a comedy.
Tom was a good sport to play along in a decidedly American pop film. The guy’s
a monster; we know what he can do with his acting ability. We’ve all seen Bronson. We’ve all seen Warrior, we know he’s going to be Mad Max, and he’s Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. He’s a very brilliant guy and [I'm glad] we could show the world a side of him they haven’t seen before.
The cast has a great rapport on screen, was that there from the beginning or did it grow in rehearsals?
There’s a great old Robert Altman adage that the best thing to do as a director is to cast the film properly. And if you have Reese and you have Tom and you have Chris driving that triangle, and you have Chelsea to come in and steal scenes, it makes everything very, very simple and it flows from there.
I cannot fabricate chemistry. And the chemistry that Reese and Chelsea had from a place of buddy dynamics, I would just listen to them walking back to video village and go, ‘Let’s cherry pick that and use it as a scene because that’s incredible.’
And as far as the chemistry that Tom and Chris had, they are indeed both very alpha males and they respect each other, but they would never acquiesce to one another and it was a healthy competitive spirit that I think is in the service of the picture.
In this movie, there several different ways you could have ended this triangle. Did you give yourself some wiggle room to choose that ending?
Yeah. The film only works if you’re rooting for both of the guys. I really like Pine, I really like Hardy, and they’re both very interesting for different reasons. So we wanted to have flexibility.
We even talked about having two endings and releasing it, if it were on 3,000 screens, 1,500 would have one ending, and 1,500 would have the other one and just not say anything. But it felt a little gimmicky at the end because I think the film’s very clean in the absence of that.
So we went with what you have seen, but there’s even an ending where the two boys end up in each other’s arms!