In The Big Wedding, screenwriter-director Justin Zackman gathered an all-star, multi-generational cast for a romantic comedy that shows what happens when you bring together family members with unresolved issues and throw them into a modern family wedding.
As if seeing Robert DeNiro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfriend, Topher Grace, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams all act together wouldn’t want to make you see the movie anyway; throw in some family dilemmas, hilarious dialog, crazy situations and twists on love, and you get a highly entertaining story told by great actors. Amidst the family fiasco, The Big Wedding does include touching family moments, which was one of the things Zackman said he hoped to show with the film- that even with the many conflicts the family has, at the end of the day they have deep ties that bond. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the talented writer/director on his idea behind The Big Wedding, his favorite moments from the movie; as well as how he got together a group of Oscar, Golden Globe and Tony award-winning STARS for it!
PPLA: I first have to ask, how did you get this incredible cast for this movie?
JZ: Diane [Keaton] came on first and then we went to Bob [Robert DeNiro]. It turns out having Diane Keaton and Robert DeNiro in your movie is like an appealing thing to other actors. I can’t imagine why! (Laughs) And then just every other day it was like, “Oh, Katherine Heighl is doing it! Oh, Topher Grace! And Robin Williams!” And you’re like, what the hell am I still doing here? (Laughs) They were great. Everybody has been asking was it tough to rangle them? Everyone was awesome. I mean we sort of called it movie camp because we just had so much fun everyday. We had a blast.
PPLA: I know the idea for The Big Wedding originated from your background of growing up in Greenwich, CT and from the French-Swiss comedy Mon Frere Se Marie. Can you talk a little about that?
JZ: We shot it in Greenwich, where the movie is set. And I was sort of like the poor token Jew in the richest town in America. It was like going to my friends’ houses and their Country Clubs and all that- and I sort of had this outsider-insider experience with it all growing up. It’s a family town, but there is so much money and so there is sort of so much craziness that goes on. So it was just kind of a fun way to kind of poke fun with a lot of what I had grown up. And also to show some of the nice sides of it, too.
PPLA: The film has multiple premises in it. There are multiple relationships, multiple stories being told. How did you come up with them to make sure they all connected? Was it complicated?
JZ: I’d love to give you an easy answer to that question. I write in such a weird way where I just kind of don’t write for a long time and I just think about it and write things down. I ended up writing this script in like a week after months and months of thinking about it and writing down notes, so I don’t really remember the writing process because it happens in such a crazy spurt. I just wanted to show different aspects of a family and that this is kind of what came out.
PPLA: And what happens at a big family wedding! And it’s so hilarious. Can you talk about the humor aspect? The dialog is so witty!
JZ: For me comedy is, you get characters that the audience knows who they are and knows what they want, and hopefully identifies with in some way. And then you kind of say, “Alright, well DeNiro’s character wants this, but Diane’s character wants this.” And the more opposed they are to each other, the more they are going to bounce off each other and that’s where the comedy comes from; in those moments of friction. And then just the dialog, I know this language because I heard these people growing up and the way they talk and so many things that would strike me as funny.
PPLA: The idea to have DeNiro and Keaton’s characters’, Don and Elie, pretend that they’re married for the weekend, how did that come about?
JZ: That came from the Swiss film. The Swiss film is very, very different, but the one, small part of it that was exact to this was this idea of this couple who hated each other (and the thing is in this movie they didn’t even hate each other-they just pretended to be married for this weekend-and the movie ended up being about a lot of other things), but I thought that was a great recipe for something interesting. These people loved each other once and now they haven’t spoken in so long, to then pretend to be married again-you know there are going to be some sort of sparks and comedy but also some dramatic moments to it.
PPLA: I found they both realized what they really wanted during that weekend.
JZ: Yes. And the whole idea is it’s a modern family in the sense that families aren’t anymore the husband and wife, and the kids and the picket fence; it’s a lot more complicated these days. And so the idea was this broken, dysfunctional family that all sort of comes together for the first time in over a decade that they’ve all been in the same place and they go through all this craziness, but at the end of the weekend they remember what is most important.
PPLA: That’s what I loved about it. It’s funny, but there is a lot of heart in this movie.
JZ: Oh good! Thank you! For me that’s as important as the comedy.
PPLA: It’s true. I found that with everyone’s story. Even with Sarandon’s character, Bebe, and and her relationship with her former best friend, Keaton’s character. I wanted to ask, how did that initial thought come out? To have Bebe as not just the mistress, but instead have her and Elie have a past? Was that always in your plan for the story?
JZ: Yes, because equally important to me as the Diane and DeNiro relationship was her and Susan. And Diane and Susan are so great together in their scenes. And the fact that they were friends and now there’s bad blood now between them. But what I always liked about it, is more than anything they missed each other. Diane shows up and Susan says, “I can’t believe how much I missed you,” and Diane kind of shuts her down a little bit. Then later in the movie, Susan explains what happened and apologizes and in the end they’re best friends again after all that time. And I think one of the things about real friendships are the people that you don’t see forever and then you see them and you pick up as if you saw them the day before. So that was kind of fun to do. They’re so great individually and together!
PPLA: I love the line that talks about the many different kinds of love. When Robin Williams asks Diane’s character “Which kind of love are you feeling right now?” she says “All of them.”
JZ: And that’s what the movie is about. Even in family there are so many different kinds of love. You get to choose the people who you want in your life. You do in a sense get to choose your family and these people choose to be back together again.
PPLA: There are so many fun moments to watch in this movie, was there a day on set you just enjoyed the most?
JZ: We had a lot. Fun wise- we had a pie fight on set. The show Cake Boss did our cakes and so they brought the cakes. There’s an episode that we were on and the pie fight is in the episode. That was great. And the scene with Robert DeNiro and Katherine Heigl in the kitchen; to me it was just like these two amazing actors giving their absolute best. You could have heard a pin drop all day.
PPLA: I found that to be a powerful scene because you can see that it’s a complicated father/daughter relationship these two have. I’m sure it’s one a lot can relate to. He hurt her mother but he’s still her father. There story was very real.
JZ: Yes, I loved it. I think my favorite moment in the whole script is when DeNiro was talking about how she was born and he couldn’t reconcile how something so beautiful could be born to an old scum bag like him. I’m a parent and you sort of have this fear, ‘am I ever really good enough for my kids?’ And what’s great about Bob’s character is that you know sometimes he is and sometimes he isn’t- but he is who he is. But more than anything he loves them. And that was what she needed to remember: is that even if he did things that made her angry, he would always be her father. And he always loved her and she needed to see that as well as to hear him say it.
PPLA: What do you hope audiences take away from this movie after they see it?
JZ: I hope they have fun. I hope they laugh. And I hope that they kind of see themselves in it a little bit- that they take away this idea that there’s always the crazy people in a family, but ultimately that they come out feeling good and feeling like I get these people. I wish I was a part of this family or god forbid I was a part of this family! (Laughs)
The Big Wedding opens nationwide Friday, April 26. VIsitTheBigWeddingMovie.com