Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Running Time: 110 minutes
Synopsis: David Clark (Sudeikis) is a small-time pot dealer whose clientele includes chefs and soccer moms, but no kids"after all, he has his scruples. So what could go wrong? Plenty. Preferring to keep a low profile for obvious reasons, he learns the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished when he tries to help out some local teens and winds up getting jumped by a trio of gutter punks. Stealing his stash and his cash, they leave him in major debt to his supplier, Brad (Ed Helms).
In order to wipe the slate clean"and maintain a clean bill of health"David must now become a big-time drug smuggler by bringing Brad's latest shipment in from Mexico. Twisting the arms of his neighbors, cynical stripper Rose (Aniston) and wannabe customer Kenny (Will Poulter), as well as streetwise teen Casey (Emma Roberts), he devises a foolproof plan. One fake wife, two pretend kids and a huge, shiny RV later, the 'Millers" are headed south of the border for a Fourth of July weekend that is sure to end with a bang.
We're the Millers
Release Date: August 15th, 2013
What do you get when a drug dealer, a stripper, a runaway and a virgin go on a marijuana run to Mexico? In addition to an RV stuffed to the gills with pot, an angry drug lord, a vicious tarantula, a pornographic game of Pictionary and an impromptu sing-along, you get the Millers…if anyone asks.
Director Rawson Marshall Thurber says, 'It's a really clever take on the tried-and-true family road trip comedy"a wild ride that kind of keeps you guessing a bit which is what immediately appealed to me about the story."
The filmmaker liked the rationale that unites this group of outsiders. 'A white male in his mid-30s traveling alone across the border in a Hyundai is going to get searched, nine times out of 10," he reasons. 'But a giant RV, with your basic all-American family inside on the July 4th holiday weekend"nobody's going to be the wiser, right?"
It sounds like a great plan that turns out to be a not-so-great plan at all…and not just because of all the laws they're breaking and the crazed drug kingpins hot on their heels. 'David Clark is a small-time drug dealer who peddles his wares out of a backpack, and is being sent on a mission to retrieve this huge amount of pot," says producer Chris Bender. 'His solution as to how to accomplish that forces him to live out his worst nightmare: to be stuck in a confined space with a bunch of people he doesn't really like, even if he's the one who convinced them to come along in the first place as his fake wife and kids."
Not liking each other couldn't be farther from the truth when it comes to the films' leads, comedy veterans Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston. The pair has worked together several times before, but this was the first time they would star opposite each other. 'When we finished working on -Horrible Bosses,'" Jennifer Aniston offers, 'we both wanted to find something really great to do together again"and for the full length of the film, not just little snippets. Jason Sudeikis is so much fun and a friend, and the script was so funny, it was easy to say yes to this one."
Jason Sudeikis responded to the humour as well, and also to the story's heart, stating, 'There's a little bit of that squeezed in there, an underlying theme about family not necessarily having to be the one you're born into, but one that you choose…even if my character does it solely out of convenience and desperation."
The idea for 'We're The Millers" was actually born at the border. Writer Steve Faber remembers, 'I used to take ponderous drives down to Mexico, just to clear my head, and at the border, I'd see the same guy getting busted: hair down to his ass, driving a VW bus, drug-sniffing dogs tearing at him. I thought, -Why not clean up? Age yourself, cut your hair, even rent a motorhome and smuggle the weed over the border, if that's your intent?' Not that I approve."
Writer Bob Fisher made similar observations, noting, 'Meanwhile, motorhomes filled with vacationing families sailed through without a search. That brought about the idea for a movie about a small-time pot dealer who rents a motorhome and hires a fake family to help him get a pile of weed across the border."
Screenwriting team Sean Anders and John Morris was keen to flesh out the concept even further. 'We were drawn to the idea of four broken, lonely people who inadvertently become a family. Watching them fight it, kicking and screaming, while deep down longing for it seemed like the perfect bedrock for comedy." 'What the writers did in creating the foursome that make up the Millers, and the terrific characters that surround them on this fun and frenetic adventure, I thought was pretty delicious," Thurber smiles.
When we first meet David Clark, he is a friendly neighborhood marijuana dealer, going from place to place selling his wares to his regular customers in the Denver, Colorado area. 'He's a guy who gets calls or texts asking him to come over, versus the guy that just sells on the street," Jason Sudeikis explains. 'He delivers pot to cooks, businessmen, housewives, mothers of babies"a different clientele than most people associate marijuana with…unless you know the kind of people that really smoke marijuana." The actor goes on to note that the lifestyle, while not something most would aspire to, suits David. 'He's fine just doing his thing, paying the rent, being his own boss and making his own schedule, keeping to himself and getting by unnoticed."
That all changes when he uncharacteristically steps in to help a damsel in distress"a young street punk being hassled by a group of guys trying to swipe her smart phone. Under the heading of no good deed goes unpunished, David himself gets robbed. His product and profits gone, it's only a matter of time before his supplier gives him an ultimatum, making him the kind of offer David can't refuse.
Now obliged to go south of the border and bring back a 'smidge" of pot in exchange for $100,000 and his life, David comes up with the idea of creating a pseudo-family to smooth the way. Jason Sudeikis says, 'He realises that he might fly under the radar a bit better under the guise of a family vacation, but he'll need to hire a fake family first."
In fact, David's relationship with the woman he eventually hires to be his pretend wife is a contentious one from the start, before he ever concocts his crazy scheme. Early in the film, he and Rose O'Reilly, his neighbour and a neighborhood stripper, trade barbs in the lobby of their building, making it clear that the two of them have never exactly been friendly. Thurber says that was not the case with Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston.
'One thing I don't think any director can do is create chemistry," the director states. 'I think you just cross your fingers and hope it's there, and in this case we were incredibly fortunate. As early as the first week, we were filming a two-shot of Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, and they were playing off of each other and it was so fun and easy and charming. They just clicked in the way I had hoped for."
Jennifer Aniston attests, 'Jason Sudeikis' improvisational skills are fantastic, just masterful. That led to some awesome volleying back and forth between the two of us."
Rawson Marshall Thurber encouraged his cast to be creative, which Jennifer Aniston thoroughly enjoyed. 'I love working with a director who steps back and lets us do what we do and have as much fun with it as we wanted. Rawson Marshall Thurber really trusted us to do our jobs, and to find that balance between the grounded and screwball, and for me, playing the reality of the insanity was the most fun."
Rose O'Reilly reluctantly accepts David's proposal to be his 'wife" only after she realises she has no other choice. 'She does not initially agree to sign on for this adventure because, despite being a stripper, she has morals, she has boundaries, and breaking the law is not something she is willing to do," Jennifer Aniston says. 'But the rules are changing at work in a way that she doesn't agree with, and she's broke. And David's offered to pay her a lot of money, so she feels she has no choice but to go along."
'Rose is the kind of woman who's had bad experiences with boyfriends, trusted the wrong people, been taken advantage of, and fell into stripping because she didn't have a lot of options," Bender observes. 'David's offer is only slightly more palatable to her than what she might have to do if she doesn't accept it, but it is more palatable…and, after all, it's only for a weekend."
But a wife is not going to be enough. To be a real family, they'll need some fake kids. Along for the weekend as their 'son," Kenny, is David and Rose's neighbor, Kenny Rossmore. Young British actor Will Poulter plays the lonely latchkey teen, who lives in their building with his absentee mother.
Will Poulter recalls, 'Rawson Marshall Thurber described Kenny as -adorkable,' and he really is. David kind of feels sorry for him, but at the same time can't help feeling frustrated by him. In a social context, Kenny is totally useless; he doesn't seem to know how to interact with other humans. But for some reason, he feels he can talk to David, who he sees as this cool guy who deals drugs. I think he's looking for a male influence in his life, other than the guys that his mom brings home…when she comes home. He doesn't seem to pick up on the signals that David would rather eat wasps than spend an evening with Kenny, so this road trip is a perfect opportunity to hang out and pretend to be part of this squeaky-clean Midwestern family who, in reality, are totally incompatible and don't get on with each other at all."
'Kenny is this 18-year-old virgin who views a local drug dealer as a father figure, and in many ways, he really is the heart of the movie," Rawson Marshall Thurber states. 'Will Poulter plays him with just the right balance of sweetness and intelligence and naïveté."
Pierced street punk Casey Mathis, played by Emma Roberts, rounds out the Miller family as the daughter David never wanted. He knows she's practically homeless; she knows she can get some cash out of him. So, they strike a deal for her to come along. Emma Roberts allows that her character 'is a runaway and a bit of a delinquent, a brat, a rebel, and in it for the money. The four of them, the Millers, could not be any more different; they're all kind of loveable, but each character has a quirky shortcoming of some kind, which makes for a funny group. And a pretty realistic family, I think," she laughs.
On the set, Emma Roberts was frequently on her smart phone, tweeting, checking email, and so forth. She even selected her character's prop smart phone for use in the film to match her own, real one, so she could use that when in the background.
'Very cagey, that Emma Roberts," Thurber grins, adding that 'Emma Roberts is funny in a way that I don't know if she knows how funny she is. She has no filter, so she'll say whatever's on her mind, and some of it is truly the most hilarious stuff you can imagine. She was fabulous."
Bender loved how the 'parents" and 'kids" interacted in such a real-life, familiar manner, especially when the part called for Jason Sudeikis to display David's utter aggravation with Kenny and Casey. 'His portrayal of David reminded me of a typical dad's outburst when he gets frustrated with his kids and just loses it, even though David is not really their dad. It was great fun to watch him take the character to that level we all understand."
The Millers' assignment comes at the behest of Brad Gurdlinger, a major player in the Denver drug market and beyond. Once he and David were college roommates, selling pot together out of their dorm room. But the two have since clearly redefined their relationship, with Brad Gurdlinger taking on the role of not only David's highly eccentric supplier, but one with little regard for his former friend's welfare.
Thurber relates, 'Brad Gurdlinger is an over-the-top character, just a bizarre guy. We had a lot of ideas who could play him, and we wanted to aim high. We couldn't have found anyone more perfect than Ed Helms."
Ed Helms took on the small but critical role and, much to the filmmakers' delight, brought his own sense of wackiness to the part.
'Brad Gurdlinger is a drug kingpin who is both preppy and a little bit obsessed with orcas, and a very fun and very weird character to play," Ed Helms says. 'He's chipper, happy about life, but also somewhat sociopathic, which was a terrific combination of things to work with."
On the road, the Millers encounter a set of real RV enthusiasts: the Fitzgeralds. According to Rawson Marshall Thurber, 'The Fitzgeralds are honest, good people who make up the happy, loving family you wish was yours, which juxtaposes nicely with the Millers, who are not a family, who don't like each other, and who are not particularly good people." The Fitzgeralds instantly fall in love with the Millers, but the Millers find their newfound friends' sickly sweetness almost more than they can take.
The patriarch of the Fitzgerald family, Don, is played by Nick Offerman. 'Nick Offerman could read the back of a cereal box and I'd be in tears from laughing," Rawson Marshall Thurber declares. 'It's something about the timbre of his voice, or maybe his big, bulldog mug, but I could just watch him on a loop, he's so good."
Nick Offerman says, 'The Fitzgeralds are the kind of people who are so nice that you want to slap them. They'll kill you with kindness; they just don't know how to take -no' for an answer." They are especially thrilled to find fellow motorhomers, the Millers, in need of assistance on the side of the road. Nick Offerman notes, 'We're excited to see another nice family out for an RV vacation. It's our dream, I think, to pick up every family and take them home to the campground and have them eat s'mores, sing songs around the campfire, and play Pictionary. We're just tickled pink that they can join in the festivities." The veteran comedic actor had just as much fun as his character at times. 'The hardest thing about this job was keeping a straight face. The situation is just so hysterical, and then most of my scenes were with Jason and Jen and Kathryn, and all three of them were just constantly cracking me up."
Kathryn Hahn plays Edie Fitzgerald, Don's effusively welcoming wife. 'I know these people well," she says. 'I had a lot of aunts and uncles who knew how to put on a good spread in a metro park somewhere with just a few ingredients, usually involving Fritos or crumbled Ritz crackers and some sort of meat."
Ed Hahn describes her onscreen kin as 'an earnest, God-loving, God-fearing, patriotic family. We're family values encapsulated."
'Kathryn has an amazing energy," says Bender, 'and that same energy works so well for the part"just this genuine enthusiasm for life and meeting new people that plays perfectly into the character of Edie."
Molly Quinn plays Melissa Fitzgerald, Don and Edie's teenaged daughter whose innocence and geek quotient just happen to pair up quite nicely with Kenny's. 'Melissa is a very sweet, naïve girl who's looking for love, but not just any love: a romantic, mystical love, the kind she's found in books and video games," Quinn details. 'So when she sees this boy, she's immediately struck, thinking, -Oh my gosh, you're my Legolas!'"
'We're The Millers" also stars Tomer Sisley as a rival drug lord and Matthew Willig as his thug, One-Eye. The film also features several familiar faces in cameo roles. 'We have Luis Guzmán, Tom Lennon, Ken Marino," Thurber lists. 'For every little moment, we tried to cast someone we thought was just an absolute comedy assassin." Of course, the director paid the price for this, noting, 'At the beginning of the shoot I was very professional, and I wasn't laughing over anything. But I think like three weeks into it I just started laughing over everybody's takes. I couldn't help myself."
To transform this band of misfits into The Millers, costume designer Shay Cunliffe met with director Rawson Marshall Thurber, who had a very clear sense of how he saw each person.
'I think any actor would tell you that much of the character comes from what they're wearing, so it's important to get it right." Rawson Marshall Thurber states. 'Shay Cunliffe is pretty fantastic. She comes at every idea from a character perspective, and also wanting the actor to feel right, whether it's jeans shorts or a visor or a bedazzled denim jacket"whatever makes them feel like that character in that moment."
Shay Cunliffe says, 'For Jason Sudeikis's character, once he becomes David Miller, we knew we wanted to achieve a spot-on Middle America look, which was written into the script very clearly. But it was also important that we not go so far as to make him look laughably bad, so we needed to find a look to tell the story of an all-American middle class dad, without making fun of it."
The costume designer enjoyed seeing Jennifer Aniston's transformation from stripper to mother, working in collaboration with Jennifer Aniston's longtime stylists. 'It was a really fun collaboration for me, sending pictures back and forth with them. And I was very pleased that Jennifer Aniston was eager to go for looking like a real soccer mom, down to the flat Keds."
Earlier in the film, when Rose is working as a stripper, she is, naturally, surrounded by her coworkers at the club. Shay Cunliffe pulled those looks together in Wilmington, North Carolina. 'I definitely had some new shopping experiences there, particularly for the pole dancing outfits," she laughs. 'I was in the professional dancers' stores of Wilmington and got a lot of advice from the sales staff there about how high the platform shoes should be. It was an education."
One of Shay Cunliffe's favorite characters to design for was Emma Roberts' Casey. 'To take her from grungy street girl to sweet teenage daughter was a really enjoyable process," the designer recalls.
Emma Roberts felt the same. 'It was exciting to work on the transformation, both with clothes and hair and makeup," the actress relates. 'Casey had to have both a typical girly look with the shorter hair and side bangs, as well as longer extensions that look a little like dreadlocks with streaks, with bangs in front and a lot of eyeliner, because she was kind of hiding behind that punk rock look."
For the Fitzgeralds, Shay Cunliffe says that both Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn were enthusiastic to make their looks a bit out there. 'Kathryn brought in a family photo album and said, -Let's go for the shorts that don't fit, but in a sexy way.'" Shay Cunliffe also put her in a visor about which, she notes, 'Once she got that on she didn't want to take it off"she's even wearing it in scenes that take place at night."
For Don Fitzgerald, Shay Cunliffe recounts, 'We put Nick Offerman in sort of acid washed, baggy denim shorts, but a lot of the enjoyment there was propping him out with the perfect fanny pack, sunglasses and so forth."
In her approach to Ed Helms' Brad Gurdlinger, Shay Cunliffe says, 'He's by far the most outrageous character, to my mind, so we decided that he would never wear quite the same look twice. He's such a narcissist and a playboy that he would also always be in a full look. In one scene, he's a businessman, in the next, he thinks he's a hip artist so he is of course dressed that way, with a vest and a scarf around his neck. He was totally kitted out for each moment."
Shay Cunliffe reveals that Brad's outfits don't end at what can be seen onscreen. 'There are many details you can't see. For instance, everything was monogrammed"even his swimsuit in the hot tub was monogrammed, as were the cuffs of his shirts. His narcissism extended beyond what the camera could pick up."
One character whose look never changes is Kenny. Whether he's Kenny Rossmore or Kenny Miller, he's always in chinos or cut-off chinos and what Will Poulter calls 'Where's Waldoesque" shirts. But perhaps the most memorable item Will Poulter wears in the film is not an article of clothing, but a prosthetic.
'It was interesting…" he ventures. 'I remember reading in the script that his, well, testicle is the size of a pineapple, and I thought, -Okay, but do they know I don't naturally possess that? Is that on my imdb page or something?' But it was a funny scene to shoot. A little cold, I won't lie, and hideous to look at. I could tell by the reactions of Jason and Jennifer Aniston and Emma Robert that it just radiated pain"they couldn't keep their eyes off it. At that point I just wanted to shoot the scene and get my pants back on."
'We're The Millers" takes place in Denver and Mexico and roads in between. However, production took place in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Santa Fe and the outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Thurber says, 'We were in Wilmington for a few months and I loved it. Such a great crew, we got almost everything there before moving to Santa Fe to get the vistas we needed to stand in for Mexico."
Despite a crazy wind storm on the first day in Wilmington and the occasional pop-up thunderstorm there, Chris Bender recalls the North Carolina weather ranging from balmy to hot. He also found the city to be 'very authentic. It actually felt like we were on a real road trip because, in addition to what we were able to accomplish on the sound stages, we shot a great deal of the city of Wilmington"David's apartment, the exterior Denver scenes and a chase scene. Around every corner, we found a location that we could use. Wilmington did a great job standing in for Denver."
New Mexico was much cooler. And, according to Bender, 'It features some of the most beautiful landscapes and vistas in the United States. The scope of the exteriors we were able to shoot really aided us in creating the feel of a big road trip movie."
Among the movie's most noteworthy interiors is drug kingpin Brad Gurdlinger's office in a Denver high rise. Ed Helms embraced his character's realm, stating, 'Brad is your prototypical douche bag and, as such, has decorated his office in a stark, modern, gunmetal gray vibe that is both tasteless and intimidating."
The filmmakers, in collaboration with production designer Clayton Hartley, determined the room should reflect the character's obnoxiousness, as well as his unusual obsession: orcas. Thus, one feature of Brad's office required a greenscreen on set and visual effects in post. 'Behind his desk is a massive water tank housing an orca"he has a pet orca that swims around behind him! I thought it was such an inspired idea that a wealthy jerk would buy his own whale to put in a wall-sized aquarium," Helms remarks. The aquarium itself was just part of the overall theme; Thurber found another, albeit inanimate, symbol of the character's fetish. 'At one point during pre-production, I was surfing the internet and came across this Whaletone piano"it's a digital piano shaped like a killer whale"and it stopped me cold. I knew we had to get it for Brad. I emailed Clayton and the producers and we all got really excited. Then we discovered there was only one of them in the world at that time, and it was in Poland. So we had it shipped over via boat to Wilmington and set it up in Brad's office."
Every time Brad appears in the film, the filmmakers wanted him to be doing something unexpected, so in addition to the live orca and the Whaletone piano, one scene in the script called for Brad to be creating a whale-themed ice sculpture. Hartley located one of the best ice sculptors in the U.S., flew him in, and had the crew build a freezer on the stage to hold a 20-foot block of ice. The sculptor then carved up two blocks of ice and, on the day of the shoot, tutored Helms in how to work the ice with a chainsaw, just enough to give the impression that he was carving it himself.
Of course, the centerpiece of the movie is a pimped-out, top-of-the-line, luxury recreational vehicle: a Coachmen Encounter Class A gas motorhome, built on a Ford 22,000-pound chassis with 22.5-inch aluminum rims. But, in spite of its generous size, Hartley and director of photography Barry Peterson worked together to devise a plan that would allow Thurber to achieve everything he would need. Two Encounters were used"along with a smaller RV for the Fitzgeralds"and sets were built to duplicate the interiors, with removable walls and front panels to more easily manage many of the interior shots for both. Those sets were also put on a motion base to simulate driving. Bender notes, 'The RVs that you see driving on the road are the real thing. One of the Encounters was used for stunts as well, smashing through the doors of a garage and careening off the side of the highway." Thankfully, the latter stunt was accomplished in one take. 'It scared the hell out of me, because it really looked like it was about to tip over."
Peterson, who shot on ARRIRAW, acknowledges, 'The RV was daunting in the beginning because of the volume of work that had to be shot in one enclosed space. Ultimately, we gained enough room with the big, wide establishing shots and helicopter vistas to open up the scope, and to really bring the audience along on an action adventure as well as a comedy. When Clayton said he was building a set on a motion base that could wiggle around, I knew that the crew and I could do some interesting camera moves and lighting. Rawson Marshall Thurber is a very visual guy and being so it allowed us all to play with the film stylistically and photographically."
The U.S.-Mexico border was built on a freeway that the production shut down for about three weeks, and appeared to be so realistic that one driver in the area pulled over to the side, got out of her car and started crying because she thought she'd lost her way and somehow driven as far south as Mexico.
Bender recalls another unexpected result from a different highway closing. 'We were shooting in Wilmington, the scene where Kenny is bitten by the spider, and that required us to hold up traffic for a time. Because the police were holding back the cars, what I can only presume was a real drug dealer assumed it was a checkpoint, panicked, and threw a bag of drugs out of the car and started running before the police nabbed him. So, I like to think of -We're The Millers' as a movie about pot that actually stops drug use. We were actually helping to fight crime," he jokes.
What would a family road trip be without a sing along? Rawson Marshall Thurber notes, 'We wanted to mirror those kinds of moments that every family has on a driving vacation, whether it's the dad getting angry or the kids fighting in the back seat, or everybody singing along to the radio."
The director gives credit for the tune they chose to Jason Sudeikis, who suggested TLC's old school song 'Waterfalls," but also to Will Poulter for making it work so well in the film. 'Will is a huge rap nerd, knows everything chapter and verse, so we thought it would be really funny if Kenny rapped the Left Eye part, and he really did a fabulous job."
Jason Sudeikis agrees. 'I don't think that scene would have existed without Will poulter's genuine love of, and ability to, rap. He can do even much more complicated stuff than -Waterfalls,' though I admit it was tough having to memorize a chunk of it myself."
Jason Sudeikis also had to learn how to drive an RV, and both he and Nick Offerman were given lessons in order to operate the vehicles"or at least look like they were. Jason Sudeikis reveals, 'In my dreams, I've spent time on a tour bus, pretending I'm a rock star. And traveling with comedy troupes was all done in nine-passenger vans or the like. I haven't taken this kind of family vacation before, and but I guess if you're going to move a ton of pot, you need a ton of RV."
Luckily for him, he'd had a good deal of a different kind of training that he felt translated well for the driving he'd have to do in the film. 'I've played enough videogames in my day, driving a big bus in Grand Theft Auto and running over cop cars and hookers and whatnot, and I think the physics are pretty much the same," he jokes. 'Of course, I wouldn't have wanted to drive through Manhattan in that thing."
Jennifer Aniston, who grew up in New York City, had no prior experience in an RV, either. 'Central Park was our big adventure, or maybe the Paramus Mall in New Jersey," she allows. 'The idea of an RV trip is actually something I've always wanted to do, though. I think it would be really fun to go up the California coast to wine country, stopping at some of the beautiful beaches along the way."
Rawson Marshall Thurber thoroughly enjoyed his time on the road filming 'We're the Millers." 'It's always hard with comedies, while you're shooting, to know how an audience is going to react, but I have to say that I think we made the -Citizen Kane' of fake-family-road-trip-pot-smuggling comedies," he deadpans.
We're the Millers
Release Date: August 15th, 2013