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What’s Your Number? – Director tells of giving comedy an edge

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What's Your Number -  Director Mark Mylod and Anna Faris
Star/executive producer Anna Faris confers with director Mark Mylod on the set © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

Since coming to America in 2007, British filmmaker Mark Mylod has served as director and co-executive producer on the HBO series Entourage. He was the director of the English series Shameless and directed the pilot episode for Showtime starring William H Macy.

His new comedy What’s Your Number?, which opens this week, is based on a novel 20 Times a Lady by Karyn Bosnak. In it Anna Faris portrays Ally Darling, a woman who is horrified when she reads an article in a magazine saying if a woman has had twenty lovers, she had missed the love of her life. So Ally goes on a quest to find her best ‘ex,’ with the help of her philandering neighbor, Colin (Chris Evans).

How did you come to this?

I was looking to do a romantic comedy but I wanted to do one that had edge, something that was relevant and felt fresh. I was struck by the screenplay’s cleverness and humor. It was laugh-out-loud funny, and I liked that Ally was strong. The theme of Ally finding herself and having the strength to be herself resonated with me.

Gabrielle Allen and Jennifer Crittenden wrote the script, somebody sent the script to me, I loved it so I came and talked to the producers. And I knocked down doors until they gave me the movie.

Haven’t you worked with Anna before?

What's Your Number - Ari Graynor and Anna Faris and Kate Simses
Sisters Daisy Darling (Ari Graynor, left) and Ally Darling (Anna Faris, center) and their friend Katie (Kate Simses) have a ribald discussion about the number of exes each woman has had © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

I worked with Anna briefly on Entourage. She was a guest star in a few episodes and we hit it off. We kept in contact, we got on terribly well, but I did have an ambition to work with her again because there aren’t that many really funny women in Hollywood.

Was the author of the book, Karyn Bosnak, on the set, and did she have any thoughts on how you changed it for the screen?

To be honest, no. Because the needs of a screenplay are so different from that of a novel, and [Gabrielle and Jennifer] know how to write screenplays, so Karyn was around as a guest on the set and was part of our production family, but in terms of the adaptation that was a clean slate from the screenwriters.

Did the script change when Anna was cast in the role?

What's Your Number -  Anna Faris
Ally Darling (Anna Faris) cuts loose during her search to find the best ex of her life © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

I think it was just the physical comedy [that was added], because one of the reasons Anna wanted to come to it was because she identified with the character.

There was already such a great match there, but we did work on the physical comedy. In the DC library scene when she moves the table, that sequence was specifically developed, it was something we evolved to give Anna that space for her comedy.

What was it about Chris that you thought was perfect for the role of Colin?

That was a fun process, because we went through the ringer trying to find our Colin, and met with a whole bunch of actors, and such an eclectic bunch. I don’t want to name names because it’s bad manners to. Chris was really passionate about it and in terms of the big star that he is now with Captain America and Avengers, he wasn’t then.

In fact, he missed his first audition because he was sick back in Boston and flew himself in the next week, and not pleaded, that sounds so humiliating, but really wanted to read for the role. And he just killed it.

It’s very easy as a director when the right person walks in. It’s only when you don’t see the right person that you have to compromise. Chris walked in and that combination, which he brings to the Captain America character, where it’s strong in its masculinity and sexy, but there’s a lovely vulnerability in there as well.

Plus I didn’t know that he could be that funny. I’d spoken to Danny Boyle who had worked with him on a serious drama, and Danny said he’s got great comic timing. He was just that perfect combination of what Colin is, he just embodied it, so it was dead easy in the end.

Was the strip basketball game between Ally and Colin in the script?

What's Your Number -  Poster, Anna Faris
Poster featuring Ally Darling (Anna Faris) © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

The strip basketball game came out of duress really, because we were supposed to be shooting in DC a sequence where Chris’ character comes down and Anna’s character is down in the dumps, and they end up doing a naked tour of DC monuments. It quickly became clear that the FBI would have arrested us if we had gone anywhere near them.

A week before we were due to shoot the scene [Gaby and Jennifer] plucked from somewhere this idea of playing strip basketball, which was inspired and turned into one of my favorite scenes in the movie.

Do you think that in the 21st century this double standard of counting how many relationships you’ve had is antiquated?

It should be irrelevant, and yet it’s not, and that’s what makes the film fun is the fact that actually it is something we all talk about, with our guy friends, with our girl friends, it’s still there and of course it shouldn’t be, but it’s still a sexist world, it really is.

As a man, how do you view the character of Ally?

I see Ally as somebody who is trying to find some true connection with a guy but is going about it completely the wrong way by trying to change for them instead of letting them come to her.

Tonally, I wanted What’s Your Number? to be an interesting cocktail of a frank and lively sexual content but with a genuine romantic heart. We’re playing to the genre, but we’re also pulling the rug out on it by giving it a new twist and keeping it fresh and vital.