I had the pleasure of sitting down with Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Handler, and Director McG at a recent press junket for the romantic spy comedy, This Means War, which opens nationwide this weekend. The story follows the love triangel between best friends (Chris Pine and Tom Hardy) who realize they are dating the same girl (Witherspoon). Did I mention these men happen to both be CIA agents?
“Why is everyone hovering here like they’re around a camp fire?” one of my fellow entertainment journalist junketeers asked me when he couldn’t make sense of why his path to the Four Seasons lunch spread was blocked at a recent press conference for This Means War. The truth was, our journalistic ranks had been infiltrated and we were basking in the glow of British import Tom Hardy, who was declaring at the moment that he, “Would have eaten through Daniel Radcliffe to play that role” in The Woman in Black.
“That’s Tom Hardy with the beard,” I whispered to him, not wanting to miss a moment of this rare pre-press conference discussion of film. I was glad I’d been tipped off by another journo downstairs that Tom in a thick beard and Chris Pine in dark rimmed glasses looked like they were still in character, going undercover as the CIA spies they play in the movie. Tom was passionately engaged when his assistant told him he had another interview to get to. He set down the chocolate pudding he’d about finished, grabbed a sandwich for the walk and said, “Thanks for the chat,” with an enthusiastic fist pump as he was led away.
I’m leading into the interview below with this information because I want you to get a sense of this guy- a true student of film and intelligent artist because in the interview, his sarcasm, mix of either self-deprecating or inflated ego responses, and demeanor caused out loud laughter and a bit of confusion at the press conference.
“Is he going to eat that microphone?” one reporter behind me asked under her breathe, as Tom distractedly rubbed his face against the mic in front of him as Director McG gave a long answer to a question from the far side of the table. He then turned his attention to Tom. “I’m looking down there at Tom.” said McG. “He’s a good sport to play along in a decidedly Americana pop film. The guy is a monster. We know what he can do with his acting ability. Well, we all saw Bronson. We all saw Warrior. We know he’s going to be Mad Max and here comes Bane. I turned onto Tom with the Handsome Bob character and most particularly from just discussing filmmaking with him and knowing that he had a very active mind. He’s a brilliant guy and we could show the world a side of him that they hadn’t seen before.” That new side of Tom is a solid Rom-Com leading man.
In This Means War, Tom and Chris Pine play a couple of CIA agents who are grounded when a mission in Hong Kong gets out of control. With all the high tech equipment, teams of subordinates at their service, and no bad guys to go after, dating goes into overdrive when they find out they are pursuing the same woman. Reese, Tom, and Chelsea Handler, who plays Reese’s gal-pal in the film, joined director McG at a press conference in Beverly Hills to discuss what’s fair in online love and This Means War.
McG: Chris Pine was supposed to join the press conference but he was teleported back to the Enterprise. He was up ‘til four in the morning shooting the Star Trek picture, and he had to go back and shoot because they’re on splits.
PPLA: This film combines a lot of genres and does it so effectively. Was it a unique challenge for you to hit all those notes of comedy, romance, action and thriller?
McG: It’s so funny because, to me, that comes very naturally. I would imagine like you, like most of us, I love action pictures. I love comedies. I love romantic pictures. It’s just like there’s an amalgam of a great many influences going on in my mind and then I just sort of nterpret it and say I think this would be a compelling way to do the scene today. “Here’s what’s on the page, Chelsea. Here’s what we’re talking about, Tom, Reese, etc.” But what’s the story point? “Your character is a mother of three. You’re living vicariously through a girl who’s dating two foxy guys. What’s that really sound like in your original voice? Chelsea, let’s talk about that and bring that in.” And then, Tom’s very confident in action capacity. I would imagine he’s killed people somewhere along the way. Pine’s done his thing in Star Trek. They’re ready to do it so today’s an action day. Tomorrow’s an intimate romantic day. The next day is a comedy day. I just find that to be very natural. The tone dances on the head of a pin. And let’s face it, this movie is not about the human condition. This movie is about, “Hey, I can’t put it in a box.”
TOM: I agree with that totally and I think I’m worried about the DVD release now. If we can’t put it in a box, we’re fu%$ked.
PPLA: Tom, you and Chris have a great rapport in this. Was that there from the beginning? Did you rehearse a lot?
TOM: No, that was just acting. I’m very Alpha and he was just the other actor in the film so I did my best to help and to accommodate that.
McG: I think, put simply, there’s a great old Robert Altman adage that the best thing you can do as a director is to cast the film properly. If you have Reese and you have Tom and you have Chris driving that triangle and then you have Chelsea to come in and steal scenes, it makes everything very, very simple and it flows from there. I can not fabricate chemistry. And, as far as the chemistry that Tom and Chris had, they are indeed both very Alpha and they respect each other, but one would never acquiesce to the other.
McG: It was a healthy, competitive spirit that I think is in the service of the picture.
TOM: Yeah, but I do really like him, so I was just teasing. He was good fun to play with. I wouldn’t work with him again, but that fear that we were working together, that was good.
PPLA: Can you tell us about the fight scenes that you had with Chris?
TOM: There were two fight scenes really, weren’t there? There was one in the restaurant and the rest of it was just hanging onto a car… andthe beginning with the helicopter.
McG: I think she means when you fought him.
TOM: Oh, it was good fun. Chris is a good fighter. He’s got this kind of jazz hand style, which is kind of scary. It’s like going up against someone from Westside Story. You’ve gotta keep your eyes well peeled because they can come from any angle, especially when you have that much of the dancer naturally in you. So, to work with that kind of skill set, I have because I’m more used to a different kind of form of boxing, Muay Thai. I had to look out for myself because he’s got fast hands. But it was safe.
McG: There was a fun moment where… Listen, again, Tom is very gracious. You know from the fight scene at the end, he goes “Where you going?” and you smacked the hell out of Chris’s character.
TOM: I smacked him in the face.
McG: And that was a big moment because you can’t hurt Tom. You can throw him off a truck and you just kind of tumble along and you bend the other finger.
TOM: That’s not true, it hurts. But I won’t show it.
McG: And we had to create a world in which everybody was comfortable moving forward with that and smacking each other up a little bit and falling off second tiers and smashing into tables and doing everything you went through. But he’s a fighter by trade.
TOM: Obviously Chris is much better with a weapon than I am. If you look at him technically in the film, he’s actually much more adroit with the pistol work and the weapons, if the truth be told. And, he’s a lot tougher than he looks.
McG: That’s for sure.
TOM: If that even matters, which it does in a row.
PPLA:: The two guys remain friends through a lot of really strong stuff. For you personally, what could a friend do to you that would be the last straw?
TOM: I don’t have any friends. I don’t keep them or entertain them so I don’t have any kind of problem. I like to keep to myself. I have a dog at home and a son. My dog couldn’t do anything to upset me and neither could my son.
PPLA: Reese, you get to do some action in this and it looks like it was lots of fun. Did that give you a taste for doing a lot more, or was it like, “I don’t want to do this again?”
REESE: No, it was really fun. I wish I could’ve done more. I kept saying to McG, “Give me the gun. Make up a scene where I can do the guns.”
McG: Yeah, but she was in a harness and raised fifty feet off the ground, hanging from a wire. You ripped your finger wide open. You went for it. She’s fearless and she did her thing. The film had a lot to do with everybody to some degree being gracious to the other one, and I think what you see is it’s no doubt that Reese is a very gracious actor and she sets up Chelsea to steal a lot of scenes. That’s wonderful. Tom is in the service of Chris and Chris is in the service of Tom. And, from an action place, the boys are very proficient in that regard and they took Reese with them.
PPLA: This is essentially a film about dating. What’s your take on Internet dating?
REESE: I think a lot of people Internet date. That’s what the commercials say. Right? One in five people meet each other online.
TOM: Where are you supposed to meet someone?
McG: I know. At least you can say, “Hey, I’m really into going to bed at 9 o’clock and I like zebras and role playing.” And then, you can get after it in that regard and you narrow it down to some freak.
REESE: Get after it.
TOM: Narrow it down.
PPLA: Do you think Internet dating two people at once is okay? Reese dates the both of you at once in this film.
TOM: I think it’s abhorrent. I think the whole thing is abhorrent. I think online dating is a way of procuring people. Like Facebook and MySpace, it’s the way that people connect now… and procure small children… and sometimes dodgy relationships. I don’t think it’s very healthy. Online dating is cool but I think MySpace and Facebook is a little bit off key.
PPLA: As a married woman who’s no longer on the market, what kind of artistic stretch do you have to make to play a single girl who has two hot guys after her?
REESE: Well, I was a single girl when we made the movie. It wasn’t much of a stretch. This wasn’t a hard job to make. It was made very easy by McG’s enthusiasm, by having two amazing men in this movie that are very talented actors and very funny in their own right, and obviously being with Chelsea who is…
CHELSEA: …is a horrible influence on everyone.
REESE: [laughs] Uncontrollable and genius.
CHELSEA: It’s kind of the opposite because in real life she’s a mother and she has children and she’s married and I’m single. So it was kind of fun playing opposite roles. I’m single and I sleep with a lot of men, so it’s perfect.
PPLA: One of the strongest aspects of the film is the chemistry between Chelsea and Reese and the conversations that they have. How did you meet?
REESE: I first met you at a party. I feel like I met you at a party maybe at somebody’s house.
CHELSEA: Jen’s (Jennifer Aniston)house.
REESE: I think I met you at somebody’s house and then I was terrified of you, but I thought you were brilliant. I think I said that to you. I loved your show.
CHELSEA: She came up to me and said, “I love your show” and I go, “You do?” Oh my God, I didn’t think Reese Witherspoon watched my show!
REESE: I saw you on your show in an airport once and I literally was mesmerized. It was like, you’re just brilliant off the top of your head, a comedic genius. But, at the same time, being a person in the public eye, I was terrified of you. I think I told you that. You were like, “I’m just harmless.” So, when we came around to ideas about who would play your character, McG and I… I was singular… He pitched it first and I was like, “Of course, Chelsea Handler is brilliant.” We were just lucky you wanted to do it.
CHELSEA: Thank you, McG.
McG: Thank you! Just one more thing in regard to that question, the reason Chelsea gets away with everything is because she’s got a giant heart.
REESE: She does.
McG: Chelsea’s a good person and that’s why you have Reese attracted to that and letting her in and that’s where the chemistry lies. They felt comfortable and we just tried to create an environment where they could do what they wanted to do and be off-book and succeed wildly and fail on occasion.
REESE: I think what really endears you to Chelsea’s character is in the first scene that you really see her talk to me. I say, “I think I’m going to move away. I feel really bad.” And she says, “I would miss you.” It was so sweet and tender and you just sort of said it on the day and it was like that’s how she is. She’s just a very loyal friend.
McG: She is a loyal friend.
PPLA: McG, is it true you had to drop some of Chelsea’s jokes to get the PG13?
McG: We got an NC17 because of the world according to Chelsea Handler, because if you ask her about men or you ask her about sex or you ask her about dating, she has a strong take on these things.
CHELSEA: I have a strong take that I don’t want them to happen with you.
McG: It’s the aggravation that creates the pearl.
CHELSEA: We have a very volatile relationship. But no, I don’t feel like I’m being censored. I’m a troublemaker. Everybody knows it, so it was bound to happen, and he egged me on.
McG: I did.
CHELSEA: He had me saying some very, very dirty things that I even thought were dirty. So I wasn’t surprised that they were taken out.
McG: But they’ll be on the DVD.
PPLA: So when the MPAA said they were racy, you even thought they were racy?
CHELSEA: Well, some I don’t really remember. It’s all a blur. It all happened so fast. I don’t really remember what would have been taken out. I have to see the movie first to see what was taken out.
McG: Which is wildly offensive to me as a filmmaker, that she hasn’t seen the film yet and she’s here, talking about it.
CHELSEA: I wish someone would show it to me!
McG: I’d be delighted. I’ll make that happen. I know she says, “I don’t prep. I don’t do this, that or the other,” but from the bottom of my heart, I wouldn’t want it any other way. We hired Chelsea for a reason. I don’t think she’s done that character in a film yet. I think
a lot of people are going to chase her now to do it, and I’m delighted that you made your big debut in that capacity.
PPLA: With a film like this, you basically have five options for the end of a love triangle. Did you give yourself some wiggle room to choose that ending?
McG: Yeah, I think the film only works if you’re rooting for both the guys. I defer to the room. Did you feel empathy for both characters? Did you go out saying, “I really like Pine and I really like Hardy. They’re both interesting for different reasons.” We wanted to have flexibility. We even talked about two endings and releasing it … I mean, if it were on 3,000 screens, 1,500 have this one and 1,500 have that one… and just not saying anything. But, it felt a little gimmicky in the end, because I think the film is very clean in the absence of that, so we went with what you guys have seen. There was even an ending where the two boys end up in each other’s arms, a homoerotic finish.
TOM: It would have really been a groundbreaking ending to do that.
McG: It would have.
TOM: We should have gone for it. We should have really gone for it, McG.
McG: I know, I know. I pussed out on the ending of Terminator 4, so I should have gone for the dark ending of that one. Maybe I’ll do a dark ending on this one.
PPLA: Out of all the dates that your character goes on, what were some of the most fun for you to shoot?
REESE: I would say probably, and I think Tom would agree, the trapeze scene. He practiced for at least a month ahead of time.
TOM: It’s true I did.
REESE: He did. He rehearsed and sometimes he’d just go out of his way. He’d get up super early in the morning and he had a trapeze installed in his hotel room.
McG: It was all that Burt Lancaster viewing.
TOM: Yes, I couldn’t have pulled it off because I have a little finger which is a bit broke from a… (Puts his hand out and shows his pinky, which refuses to straighten to more than half bent.)
REESE: That’s actually from a trapeze accident.
TOM: Yeah. It got caught. I was on a chain trapeze at the time and I caught it in one of the links. I lost my grip and I fell and it pulled my finger. It was terrible. It took a lot of guts to get back on the
trapeze and I thank you.
REESE: And hypnosis.
TOM: Forgive me.
REESE: But he did a great job. We’re very proud of him.
TOM: I also want to thank McG for that.
REESE: ‘Mac’ G. [laughs and parrots his British pronunciation]
TOM: MacGee. [drawing out the name, and the laugh]
REESE: It’s hard to go in on your first day of shooting… and I didn’t know Tom really very well.
TOM: That was our first day.
REESE: That was our first day of shooting and I had to shoot him (with a paintball) in the crotch, which is a good icebreaker it turns out.
PPLA: Reese, you have the image as the girl next door in a lot of your films, but in this one you’re very sexy. Was that part of the appeal of the material for you?
REESE: It’s all McG’s fault. It’s his cajoling, his constant texting.
McG: Do we all understand that Reese Witherspoon is a capable, intelligent woman and devoted mother of three? We know all these things. I don’t think any woman who is beautiful should apologize for being so beautiful and it’s clear that she’s so good. Her goodness precedes her and she’s talented. She has a gold statue to back that up. I find her to be so sexy and so foxy, that it was a thrill to work with Russell Carpenter who shot Titanic. He’s shot some beautiful girls in his time and he knew how to shoot her in a special way and we created a platform of comfort.
REESE: Thank you.
McG: Tom, what do you think? I want to hear about Tom’s paintball experience.
TOM: I thought she looked sexy without the picture. I just thought, “She’s sexy.” But a paintball in the nuts hurts.
For more information or to see the film’s trailer please visit This Means War.