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Bad Teacher – Director Jake Kasdan on one of the funniest scripts he’s read

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Bad Teacher - Director Jake Kasdan
Bad Teacher - Director Jake Kasdan on the set © 2011 Columbia TriStar

Jake Kasdan easily maneuvers between producing and directing on TV and movies. He directed the pilot for the short-lived, highly acclaimed TV comedy Freaks and Geeks, going on to become the consulting producer through the run of the series. In films he’s has directed Zero Effect, Orange County and The TV Set.

His new movie, Bad Teacher, is blatantly outrageous. It stars Cameron Diaz as Elizabeth Halsey, a foul-mouthed, inappropriate teacher, who is desperately looking for a way out of her job. Enter handsome, and rich, substitute teacher, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake), who could be her meal ticket, but she has competition. Her crazy colleague, Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) is interested in Scott too.

What was it about Bad Teacher that attracted you?

Bad Teacher - Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz and Phyllis Smith
Russell Gettis (Jason Segel), Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) and Lynn Davies (Phyllis Smith) © 2011 Columbia TriStar

I thought it was one of the funniest scripts I had ever read. Lee (Eisenberg) and Gene (Stupnitsky) have a completely original, hilarious voice – I think that they’ve written one of the great female comedy parts, and we found the perfect person to play her.

Elizabeth isn’t a bad person she just has terrible, terrible values. Cameron has got this great thing: she is completely fearless. She enjoys being dirty and edgy and she’s completely open-minded about what might work.

She was the perfect person to be at the center of this and it was a real gift for the writers and me to be working with her.

It’s very unusual to find an edgy, R-rated comedy centered around a woman. The R rating gives you enormous freedom to be as completely insane as you want to be in any moment – and we were with a group of people who embraced that completely.

Cameron is one of the funniest women in the world and I think that people are thrilled to see her be edgy in this way that she hasn’t been for a long time.

Were the writers on the set during the production?

Bad Teacher - Tom Lennon and Cameron Diaz
Carl Halabi (Tom Lennon) and Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) © 2011 Columbia TriStar

It’s important to me, when I’m directing someone else’s script, to have the writers really involved with the production, particularly with comedies. It’s a huge asset.

You can have different jokes available to you as you do it – try to make the movie funnier as you shoot it.

There’s a wonderful scene where Scott writes and sings a terrible song to Amy. Was that fun because it was Justin doing it?

There was an enormous advantage in having Justin playing the part, obviously because nobody is as funny in this scene like he is. We had the idea that Scott would sing the worst song ever written and [do it] proudly. And Justin nailed it for sure.

There are some scenes in the trailer that aren’t in the movie, were you stopped from putting them in the film?

No, it’s R-rated so you can put anything in. Our system is to shoot a ton of material and a lot of different jokes and for every joke there’s a variation on it.

The final movie is very close to the script that we all fell in love with, but along the way we shoot a lot of stuff and one of the upsides of it is that you’re able to cull from a pretty deep well of jokes that are in fact very much representative of what the movie is like.

We put up what we thought  the best version of the movie is, so when they first start putting things together there are things in the movie that don’t end up in the movie. But there was no, ‘Don’t be dirty,’ police from anyone.

What was it like working with this talented comedic cast?

Bad Teacher - Cameron Diaz and Phyllis Smith
Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) and Lynn Davies (Phyllis Smith) © 2011 Columbia TriStar

Watching the cast do this stuff is 90 percent of my job and that’s incredibly [fun].

This movie had a little bit of a thing where as much as anything I’ve ever worked on, although I’ve had a couple of things that were like this, you almost couldn’t believe you were allowed to do it.

We were doing it fast, and we really were having a good time together, and so it was like, ‘Let’s finish this real quick before anyone notices, and cut it together and hope for the best.’ We really had a good time.

Do you feel this movie should be seen by a 15-16 year old?

I think ideally parents should decide what their kids are seeing and I’m not a huge fan of the system but it is what it is, and it seems to be the way it works. It seems pretty arbitrary from the perspective of making this stuff.

They do see the movie eventually.