I’ve done a lot of interviews, but never once has the interviewee beat me to the first question. Not only did Hot Tub Time Machine director Steve Pink throw a question my way before I could ask him one, but he asked me something totally predictable and simplistic, yet a question that caught me completely off guard. He wanted to know what I thought about his movie.
When you’re talking about a project that involves four guys time traveling back to the 80s via hot tub, you’d think there isn’t much to discuss except the pure instantly of the situation. But, no, Hot Tub Time Machine has much more to it than absurdity and insanely hilarious gags. Of course, there’s a lot of that, but HTTM has a little something extra to offer, an appealing plot.
Even with a talented group consisting of John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke driving the film, it’s Pink’s fine tuning that makes Hot Tub Time Machine more pleasurable than its comical competition. Check out what happened when Pink put me on the spot and what he had to say about his longstanding association with Cusack, how he went about choosing 80s references to incorporate and his Dirty Rotten plan for the future.
So what didn’t you like about the movie?
SY: I guess maybe some of the slapstick. Particularly vomiting turns me off, but I know there are people who appreciate that kind of humor. But, overall, this is a movie made to entertain and that’s what it does, the whole time. If you go in there looking for some lifelong message, then you’ll come out unhappy. It’s just fun.
Right, it is kind of a comedy sampler in that way. There’s that joke and there’s other kinds of jokes, smarter jokes and dumber jokes, broader jokes and there’s more subtle jokes. Personally, the vomit, I’m like ‘Ew!’ and then I like when he said, ‘Where’d the squirrel go?’ That’s what makes me laugh because he cares about it.
SY: Yeah, I liked that scene. That’s actually the thing that made the vomit work for me. Pure repulsion is one this, but throwing in a brilliant follow-up makes it something different.
SY: So how’d this script wind up in your hands?
Johnny Cusack and Grace Lowe and MGM brought it to me.
SY: And you have a long time partnership with John, right?
Yes. Did I give you my Highlander analogy in the roundtable? That we’re like warrior friends that battle throughout the centuries but in the end there can only be one?
We’re like warrior friends throughout the centuries who battle each other, but in the end we know there can only be one. Yeah, we’ve worked together for so long. We have a great shorthand and were able to establish, such as it is with Hot Tub Time Machine, a really, a consistent tone. Tone consistency is really important even if you’re going to go off the rails with the broad stuff or whatever you’re going to do to make it entertaining on a lot of levels. There’s still that through line tone that Johnny’s always really good at expressing and I know what that is, so it was easy.
SY: And it was always developed for him to star in?
It was always developed for John to the extent to which after MGM bought the movie they took it to John and then John developed it. So in that way, it was always developed for John as opposed to it being developed for another actor and then that actor dropped out and John did it. It wasn’t that way. John and his company and Grace Lowe, the producer, developed it with MGM for John.
SY: What about the other three? I feel like you could have gone with just about any actors, but it never would have worked quite as well.
I feel that way too. I’m so fortunate to have gotten to work with everybody because they all mine comedy from a slightly different place so they’re always getting good comedy from somewhere else so they don’t crowd each other and that’s cool. They work together really really well in terms of what they bring to it and then it gives you this extra – I think they have a great warmth as well. Despite how completely out of his fucking mind Rob Corddry is, he still manages to be warm as well. I have empathy for Lou even though he’s not deserving of it. Right?
SY: Lou’s mouth is either stuffed with insults or alcohol, at all times!
Yeah! I don’t know if you empathized with him, but I could grow to love him because he’s so flawed.
SY: He has his endearing moments. That’s what makes the film work; you have the massive dose of comedy, but there’s still an engaging story, there’s still meaning and you care about the characters.
Yeah, I think that’s what makes the movie worth seeing more than once anyway. I shouldn’t say that, I should put it this way: it makes you enjoy and like the movie more. I think they’re characters that grow on you.
SY: If there’s no character you like or can relate to, there’s no connection.
Yeah, nothing. Then everything relies only on laughs and if the laughs aren’t there, you’re sunk. Some movies are just for laughs, but they’re so funny you don’t care.
SY: So how do you control these four guys?
You do not. You do not control them. You keep your head down, you roll the camera and you hope for the best.
SY: They take care of a lot of the gags on their own, right?
I’m there to provide help when they need it. A lot of stuff they would start to create instantly on their own and then, yeah, then it needs some shaping sometimes. If they need me to help, I’m there to help, but most of the time they know what they’re doing.
SY: Even with your lengthy relationship with John, this is the first time you directed him. Was that completely different from your past experiences working together?
No, I think it’s very much the same as when I was just a producing and writing partner because you’re just talking about what the moment should be and then he goes and performs. The fun thing is being able to move the camera around him and stuff like that. It’s a good experience to work creatively with him in terms of shooting it. As a writer and producer, you’re kind of standing off to the side and watching it happen. You’re more in control of the aesthetic with him, as a partnership, so that’s good.
SY: And you personally do a little bit of everything.
I used to, not so much. If you’re referring to when I actually act, yeah, I sucked. Look at how good those guys are. I was never even close to that good. I guess I could have done some commercials or something, maybe, occasionally. I was never that good really, so I stopped that. [Laughs]
SY: Would you ever want to give it a shot again?
No! I want to stop that bad behavior because I’m not good enough. I’d rather cast someone better than me than me to do it. There’s so many great actors out there even to do something small. Look at that guy in the movie, he’s just the receptionist, the guy with the goatee, you know? Where he’s like, ‘No guys are doing that. No guys do that. Would you do that?’ He’s like, ‘No.’ That guy’s brilliant! Could I have done that role? Yeah. Was that guy better than I could have done it? Yeah. So even the smallest roles there’s better actors than me, so I’m glad I’m not doing it.
SY: Who’s the talented actor behind the bear mask?
[Laughs] There were a couple of different bears because we moved the bear around Vancouver so there were a bunch of people who got to be the lucky bear. And there’s a stunt man bear, when he falls into the Jacuzzi there’s a stuntman bear. Anyone who played the bear earned a special respect. Even though they were all like John’s on the set, the guy who played the bear, the background guy who volunteered to be the bear, he kind of earned some special props from us for being the bear. You couldn’t see out of it, you couldn’t breath in it, it was probably from like the 1970s or something. It was just a deathtrap inside there. It was like a chicken wire deathtrap with plushy sewn into it.
SY: Even with such a small role like that someone can make an impact. It’s a blast having the bear pop up throughout the film. You’re always looking out for him.
Did we talk about the drinking game in our roundtable? There should be a drinking game! How many times to you think you see the bear?
SY: That’s a reason I need to see it again. I was counting, but I know I must have missed a bunch.
We just kept putting it into the movie and I don’t think I could tell you with authority how many times you see the bear. I actually should watch the movie again and count. Maybe the next time I see it. I’ll see it this week at the premiere, maybe I’ll see if we can get a good count, but you might even miss one. He’s deep background sometimes that bear.
SY: Do you have any fun stories from the set? Was it as much of a party on set as it is in the film?
No, because the work is so hard. We have so much to do most of the time. There’s a lot of partying going on when we weren’t shooting. It was Vancouver, when you’re not in your hometown, you have nothing to do so we all got together a lot so that was really fun. When we saw the hot tub it was just ridiculous. We were like, ‘What? We’re making a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine?’ We had to confront the reality too. It’s not just the audience who has to deal with it, we have to deal with it too man. And looking at the hot tub, you know, the special effects guy had a crazy velocity going when we had to create that vortex. They’re like, ‘I’m not getting’ in that thing dude. That’s crazy!’ They’re like, ‘Steve, fuck off. We’re not getting in there.’ The velocity was intense and the special effects guy went in there and I was like, ‘I don’t think you’re getting in there either man.’ It was crazy. I was like, ‘We don’t actually have to go back in time. This is a movie!’ Having to deal with the hot tub, it was hilarious. It was like it’s own weird thing we had to contend with all the time. There was this crazy hot tub we built.
SY: That wasn’t the only effects-issue you had to contend with. You shot a movie set in the winter in May, right?
Yeah, April, May. We shot the snow stuff first and then we chased the snow around a little bit. We went up to Fernie, but it was the end of the season. There happened to have been like a freak storm two weeks earlier.
SY: During the roundtable you said you’re superstitious, so you must have taken that as a good sign.
Yeah, it was a good sign. It was a really good sign because we were losing snow constantly. For the snack bar scene, when they come in and they see all of the stuff on TV like Regan and stuff, I actually had a beautiful location picked out for that, 75% windows and a giant bay window facing the mountains and it was great. I scouted it and it was going to be a great scene. We got back it was like summer. By the time we got back there we lost so much snow that I had to face the other way, which was kind of a bummer for me. Actually, I think we changed locations. We couldn’t even shoot there.
SY: Where’d you go?
Well, there was another place in that little resort. We just chose another room and chose another little snack bar to do it in. The original snack bar was so great, but we lost the snow.
SY: The 80s were something different for everyone. How’d you go about picking and choosing from the massive amount of nostalgia?
It was hard to select out, really. I tried to just get as much in as possible that would have some relevance to someone. But it was more a process of trying to get as much relevant 80s stuff in as opposed to making real decisions about what shouldn’t be in. If you wanted a piece of film, like the Alf piece or whatever, there’s a bunch of other things to choose from, so I had to choose what to use and go with it. I had to whittle it down and that was just a bummer. I just kept jamming stuff in whenever I got a chance.
SY: And what about things for people too young for the time period? I’m born in 86′ so some things might not mean the same thing to me as to older moviegoers, if not go right over my head.
This interview’s over. [Laughs] I guess you’d have to tell me by looking at the film, I did try not to rely on the 80s in that way. If you get it, you get it, but I don’t stick around, I don’t focus on it so much that you are having to stop and be like, ‘Oh, this must be something I don’t understand. Ha ha ha’ because you’re not going to derive any enjoyment from it. So I tried to keep moving through it. I bet there’s a lot of stuff in there you don’t even get and that’s fine because it’s not important. Same with Back to the Future. If you watched the 50s and you were born then, then you were excited by all these things that you saw in the movie and I didn’t care. I just wanted to see if he was going to be able to get his mom together with his dad, so that’s all I was interested in. Hopefully it’s the same for the people who don’t get it [here]. They’re just enjoying this insanity that’s going on. They don’t care about the 80s stuff. I’m trying to think of something you just simply wouldn’t get. Like the Russian stuff, you know?
SY: No, I knew that.
I guess you’d get that. Cold War was pretty big. I guess you’d have to be kind of dumb not to know that.
SY: I knew most of the movie references and historical elements. I guess I was most out of the loop on some of the music. I know Poison, but I never really listened to their stuff.
What about The Replacements? Do you know them?
SY: I actually do. That happens to be the one group you used that takes up a nice chunk of space on my iPod.
Public Enemies? Ever listen to them?
SY: Nope, not really.
They’re in the drunken montage. Yeah, so there’s that.
SY: How was it shooting when you needed the character’s modern self and their 80s self? Some of the angles seemed like they could be pretty tricky.
It was confusing. It was difficult. We made a decision to remind the audience that they were young through the eyes of the mirror. So the mirror’s what did it. It was kind of tricky shooting reverse mirror, having to shoot either in the mirror or past the mirror in order to get the mirror shot. It was always kind of tricky because you’re shooting into a mirror and you wanted to get a different reflection.
SY: And then you’ve got Clark, who has to be seen as the same exact person twice. Did you just CGI him in there?
No we did some of the mirror stuff green screen. That big mirror scene’s green screen so that we can comp all the different angles that we needed. And the logic of him being there versus not being there got me. But it does make sense because when people time travel in other movies, it’s not like they disappear. They do exist, right? We were talking about all the different paradoxes. If you time travel to like medieval times, you don’t disappear because you weren’t born yet. Right?
SY: I wouldn’t think so. Not in my world of time traveling.
In my world of time travel you wouldn’t either. But maybe you would. I don’t know.
SY: Explore that in Hot Tub Time Machine 2.
Yeah, whether you disappear or not.
SY: I’m curious.
I’m curious too.
SY: So you have something pretty noteworthy in the works, a new Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. What’s the status of that?
Yeah, I finished the script and now it’s in MGM’s hands. You finish the script and, you know, the process of getting a movie going is difficult so, we’ll see what happens.
SY: You wrote it, but will you direct it too?
No, no. I’m not going to direct it at the moment, but I don’t – I mean, when a movie’s in this state you never know what’s going to happen. If MGM decides they want to make the movie, then I’ll definitely try to get the opportunity to direct it, but, at this point, it’s just in their hands.
SY: Any dream cast in mind?
Well, they’re talking about like – I don’t even know if I should say because I don’t know if they want it to be public. But there’s a bunch of really big actors interested because it’s such a beloved movie, so there’s lots of superstars who are interested.
SY: Any chance that Steve Martin and Michael Caine will make an appearance?
They’d have to, wouldn’t they? They better! If the movie gets made I think they kind of have to and that would be great. Probably should have integrated their characters more into it. Well, I wrote a remake, but it might have been interesting to have done further in time.
SY: Like a current version?
Well, it’s current. It’s a current version but I could have acknowledged that it’s 20 years later from the last time and those guys could have been characters overseeing a new generation of drifters. I didn’t do it that way, but that would have been a good idea.
SY: So your version’s a straight remake?
Yeah. Well, a lot of the elements are changed because the cons are all different. The cons in that movie were very kind of fatalistic. So I kind of made the cons more reality-based and a little bit more high-tech.
By Perri Nemiroff