We catch up with Lawrence Sher to talk about his upcoming film Father Figures, in cinemas February 16.
QUESTION: In Father Figures, Owen Wilson and Ed Helms play fraternal twins Kyle and Peter Reynolds. Prior to bringing these actors together, did you know they’d have such terrific chemistry onscreen?
LAWRENCE SHER: It was a bit like setting up a blind date [laughs]. Owen and Ed didn’t know each other before this movie, so I was naturally wondering, ‘What if this doesn’t work?’ Kyle and Peter are estranged because they’re like oil and water, so, on some level, it would have worked even if they didn’t get along. But, ultimately, you want them to really like one another, and, thankfully, Owen and Ed genuinely adore each other and have a connection that goes beyond their work in Father Figures.
They have such joy working as a team. I could have made a three-hour movie showcasing their chemistry. I think audiences will have a great time experiencing the dynamic they create onscreen as these characters. They are a lot of fun to spend some time with.
QUESTION: The supporting cast – Glenn Close, J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, Terry Bradshaw, Ving Rhames, Katt Williams – is an embarrassment of riches. Did any of these actors surprise you, either personally or in their performances as these characters?
LAWRENCE SHER: They all surprised me in different ways. Terry was just so effortless and subtle in his responses. J.K., who had just won the Academy Award for his work in Whiplash, was incredibly generous to me. Even when I’d ask him to try something unexpected, he’d be gracious enough to try something new and put a unique spin on it that was even more unexpected, and do it all with his own level of gusto.
Glenn Close, as an actor, doesn’t get a ton of opportunities to be funny and light on her feet, but as a human being, she’s all those things. Father Figures gives us an opportunity to see the person Glenn is when you get to know her, which is just this incredibly funny, free-spirited, open and warm person.
QUESTION: In the film, Kyle and Peter embark on this road trip to try to find the father they never knew they had, and one of them is American football icon Terry Bradshaw, played by… American football star Terry Bradshaw. What inspired you to approach Terry, and how did this fun concept come about?
LAWRENCE SHER: Terry is exactly the character you see onscreen. In an early draft of the script, the character was fictitious – like Terry Bradshaw meets [American sports icon] Joe Namath. But as we drew closer to the start of production, we asked ourselves, ‘Well, why not Terry Bradshaw?’ I grew up in New Jersey in the ‘70s and was a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan, so I thought his persona could add a really fun element to the movie.So, I flew to Hawaii to audition Terry, and not only was he instantly the guy in the movie, he’s everything you think he’s going to be – gregarious, fun-loving, chatty, and generous. Those are exactly the qualities this character needed because they are reflections of Owen’s character, Kyle, who is fun-loving and full of joy. But rather than connecting with Kyle, as expected, Terry completely ignores Kyle and instead has an instant connection with Ed’s character, Peter [laughs].
QUESTION: As a noted cinematographer you’ve worked across several genres – from The Hangover comedies to the upcoming Godzilla film. But is it fair to say that for you, comedy is king?
LAWRENCE SHER: For sure. The first films I shot were B-movie genre pieces, like a bank heist picture and a shark attack movie. Then, I shot the comedy Kissing Jessica Stein, which led to the comedy-drama Garden State. Then there was The Hangover, which was a big hit, so it opened up more opportunities to shoot more comedies.
I’m always drawn to comedies that have something underneath the laughs that I can hang on to. [The Hangover Trilogy director] Todd Phillips shares a similar sensibility and really takes comedy beyond the surface in his films. We both like stretching our creative muscles and exploring the different layers of storytelling, so it’s not just jokes lined up against each other.
QUESTION: What was the most challenging aspect of transitioning to directing?
LAWRENCE SHER: Having spent 25 years photographing feature films, I was never concerned about knowing how to direct a film. I knew how to set up a shot and move the camera. Going into it, my biggest concern was wondering if I would be able to communicate with the actors in a way that they were comfortable with. The second question was, will I like directing? Will I enjoy being in the trenches, working through the scenes with the actors? Thankfully, the answer to both was yes.As a director, the film’s look – which would be my top priority as a cinematographer – is second tier to making sure the scene works with the actors. It must work from an acting standpoint first and foremost. That transition was a quick one.
Father Figures is in cinemas February 16th.