Blockers Interview
Director Kay Cannon (sitting, center) and the cast and crew on the set of the comedy, ‘Blockers.’

Celebrating the completion of one of the most cherished rites of passage is a milestone that no one will ever forget. That time-honored tradition is about to become even more relatable for young women, who drive the plot of the timely new coming-of-age comedy, ‘Blockers.’ The film, which is being released today in theaters across America by Universal Pictures, hilariously upends the long-held double standard of only focusing on young men as they lose their virginity. The movie instead intriguingly focuses on the women as they make their own pact to have sex for the first time.

Kay Cannon, who made a name for herself by writing the ‘Pitch Perfect‘ series, made her feature film directorial debut with ‘Blockers,’ which was written by Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe. The helmer’s garnering praise for not only making the female version of such hit sex comedies as ‘American Pie’ and ‘Superbad,’ but also being one of only a few women who has ever directed an R-rated comedy for a major studio.

‘Blockers’ follows parents Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), who meet as their daughters become fast friends on their first day of kindergarten. As their girls grow up, they bond over normal childhood and adolescent milestones, including birthdays, teen heartaches and concerts.

But the adults have distinct parenting styles. Lisa is a single mom to Julie (Kathryn Newton), and the two are more like best friends who share everything with each other than a parent and child. Hard-core athlete and doting dad Mitchell works hard to raise the self-assured Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) with his wife, Marcie (Sarayu Blue), on the right track. After an ugly divorce, a slightly unhinged Hunter only occasionally visits his daughter, Sam (Gideon Adlon). After missing the last few years of her life, Hunter decides to crash Sam’s prom night, with the goal of making her evening epic. Sam feels resentment towards her father, however, since he wasn’t there to help her through difficult situations, such as when she begins to suspect that she may be gay.

On the morning of prom, Julie announces to her friends that she’s decided that she’s going to have sex with her long-term boyfriend, Austin (Graham Phillips). So Kayla and Sam decide to make a pact with Julie, and the three are agree that they’ll all lose their virginity after the dance.

After Lisa holds a pre-prom party for her daughter and her friends, she, Mitchell and Hunter find a series of suggestive text messages on the message app that’s left running on Julie’s laptop, which reveals their sex pact. So the unlikely parental trio joins forces on a misguided mission to keep their daughters from making what they believe is the biggest mistake of their lives. But over the course of the wild night of car chases and party crashing, the parents begin to see their daughters as the smart, determined and empowered young women they knew they’d become all along.

Cannon and Adlon, who made her feature film acting debut in the comedy, generously took the time recently to discuss directing and starring in ‘Blockers’ during individual exclusive phone interviews. Among other things, the helmer and actress discussed how they both felt it was beneficial that the film’s plot features both the parents’ and teenagers’ perspectives on what it means for the daughters to pursue and explore their sexuality. The duo also cherished the experience of holding the comedy’s World Premiere at last month’s SXSW, as the viewers’ reaction offered an insight into the way that general audiences will embrace the movie.

The conversation with Cannon began with the filmmaker discussing why she was drawn to make her feature film directorial debut on ‘Blockers,’ and why she was drawn to bring the Kehoe’s script to the big screen. “When I first received the script, I thought it was super funny. Beyond that, I felt like I connected to both the teenage side and the parent side,” the helmer revealed with a laugh.

“At one point in my life, I was a teenage girl who lost my virginity, so I could understand that. On the parent side, I’m now the mom of a daughter, and I’ve really thought about this subject a lot. I’m a pretty progressive mom, but I’ve thought about how I will act” when her daughter gets older. Cannon also noted that “There are a lot of themes in the story that I was very excited to explore as a director.”

Despite the girls’ determination to all have sex with their respective dates on prom night, one of the key elements of the story is their parents’ wariness over their pact. The director felt that showing the parents’ initial concern over their daughters’ decision was important to show throughout the comedy. Cannon admitted that “There were stages in the process of developing the script were the parents dominated the whole story. But I realized early on that we had to even it out a little more, and give more to the daughters, and a little less to the parents.

“But both sides are really important, and I’m hoping that when people watch the movie, they don’t know who to root for. Do they want the parents to catch the kids? Or do they want the kids to succeed, and outsmart their parents,” the filmmaker pondered.

“This is a story that’s totally under-served, from the female perspective of these young women. We haven’t really seen this perspective in a big, mainstream movie,” Cannon pointed out.

“So there was a lot of work put into what each daughter has going on in her life,” the helmer further explained. So she wanted to show what makes the three young women “unique. Julie’s a romantic, while Kayla’s sporty and very disciplined by her dad, so she’s ready to let loose. Sam’s lacking some confidence, and is confused about her sexuality. So all of those things were important to tell.”

The fact that Sam’s lacking some confidence, in regards to her sexuality, is part of the reason why Adlon became drawn to take on the role. The actress started her conversation by explaining the overall qualities that Sam, as well as the overall story, that convinced her to accept the role. “I became interested in starring in the movie because of the friendships that Sam has with the other girls,” she shared. “Also, a female filmmaker, Kay Cannon, directed the movie, and that’s very attractive in comedy. She was able to show the perspective of three young women as the leads, which is extremely refreshing.”

The performer added that “I think it’s really important to be in a film like that right now. It’s really cool to see girls in a big blockbuster film in ways that they’re not usually shown. It’s a very empowering movie; it’s not just about the sex, but also about making your own choices, and finding who you are.”

‘Blockers’ “also looks into sexuality, and figuring yourself out in that respect. That’s also a very important subject to show on the big screen right now, because there’s a lot of discrimination shown toward different sexualities. That’s something that should be normalized,” Adlon adamantly declared. “I also really connected to Sam because of her relationship with her father in the film; it really rang true to mine.”

The actress also enthusiastically described her working relationships with the rest of the cast, especially Newton, Viswanathan and Barinholtz, as being great. “I became really close with Kathryn and Geraldine in real life. So everything that happens between our characters is really genuine. The connections are real,” Adlon stated.

The performer added that she “didn’t get to work with Leslie ad John a lot, but I did have my scenes with Ike. He’s an incredible comedian, in both films and on television. He was very supportive, and made me feel very comfortable. This is the first film I’ve ever done, so it was really great to work with him and the rest of the cast. They made it really special.”

Further speaking of the fact that she made her feature film acting debut in ‘Blockers,’ after she starred on such television shows as ‘American Crime,’ Adlon described the experience of having her first starring movie role in the comedy as incredible. “Not only is this my first movie, it’s also the first comedy I’ve ever done. It was like I was truly thrown into that comedic world, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” the actress admitted.

“I’m glad that I had Kay as my director. This was the perfect directorial debut for her. She’s so special,” Adlon then gushed as she then began talking about working with Cannon on ‘Blockers. “She’s so strong, and really took charge on set. She knew what she wanted. This movie would have been completely different if she wasn’t the director.”

Cannon powerfully took charge on the set, which is noteworthy of the fact that she is only one of a few women who has ever directed an R-rated comedy for a major studio. She explained what that experience meant to her as a first-time filmmaker. “Well, I really only think of myself as a director! I think if I had sat on set and thought about all the pressure of being one of the only female filmmakers to have ever directed a big studio rated-R comedy, I’d probably go crazy,” the helmer admitted.

“I tried to approach this job as I would like any other job. I did the best that I could, and worked really hard. I tried to tell a really specific story using whatever abilities that I have,” Cannon further explained about her filmmaking approach.

“Having said that, it probably wasn’t until after we finished filming that I started thinking, maybe I was treated slightly differently because I was a woman in this scenario. Like when we were trying to sell the movie, and we went to different studios. I think there may have been some more questions about whether I thought I could make the film,” the director divulged with a laugh. “There were questions like that that a guy wouldn’t have been asked. But I just moved past that.”

The performer added that the helmer spoke about “how she felt like she was a mom while we were filming. She had a very motherly feel when it came to Kathryn, Geraldine and I; she was so supportive and loving. She really listened to, and understood, us. When we told her something that we wanted to do differently in a scene, she would think about and then agree. She always let us try new things. So I felt like I was with my family; it felt like I had two sisters and a mother for the three months we were shooting in Atlanta.”

Following up on the experience of filming ‘Blockers’ in Georgia, Adlon divulged that she had “never been to Atlanta. We got to experience some good nightlife and eat some great food. We had a lot of night shoots, and we had a lot of fun. It’s fun to go to a new place,” she shared. “That experience of going to somewhere new made it all the better. Everyone in the cast became my really close friends. We’d go out and explore the city together, and ride bikes in the park. So it was really cool not filming in L.A. I was really excited to go somewhere new and stay in a hotel while we filmed the movie.”

Cannon also chimed din on the process of shooting the comedy in Georgia, and described the experience as being “great. We found places that felt like Illinois. There are a lot of great houses in Atlanta that have great architecture that is similar to homes that you would find in Chicago.” The director also revealed that “We did five weeks of night shoots, which was tough. So we didn’t have a chance to see the sights much,” she divulged with a laugh. “But the shoot was amazing.”

Aldon’s experience of bonding with her co-stars off-set also helped in their on-scree connection. Since they spent time together while they weren’t filming, “We’d also hang out during lunch on set! The balance of our on- and off-screen connections was great. We always hung out on the set, because we became that close to each other,” the actress divulged. “Like I said before, the connection was so genuine that it just felt like we were hanging out the whole time. We’d also take breaks together in between scenes, because it’s hard filming a movie! But it always felt like we were hanging out with our friends!”

Casting, and working with, the actors who starred in ‘Blockers’ was an experience that Cannon also cherished. She revealed that the “first actor who was cast was Ike Barinholtz. Ike and I have been friends for 20 years, and we used to improvise back in Chicago. I thought he would be perfect for Hunter, so I sent him the script. He agreed and signed on.”

The director also rewrote the character of Mitchell “to be a big guy who gets really emotional. I thought that John was super funny in ‘Trainwreck‘ and ‘Sisters.’ But it wasn’t until I was watching him host the ESPY (Awards) that I thought he could make a really great Mitchell, because he could really tell a joke. But during the ESPYS, he also showed a bit of a vulnerable side. So he then auditioned and got hired.”

For the role of Lisa, Cannon sent the script to Mann “when she was dropping her daughter off at college. Her daughter was moving across the country, so (Leslie) was experiencing the same feelings that Lisa was experiencing. So (Leslie) was able to really connect to the material. Luckily for us, she said yes to playing Lisa.”

The first-time filmmaker added that the younger “girls just auditioned. After Kathryn came in and auditioned, I said she was perfect, and should play Leslie’s daughter. I really believed them as being mother and daughter. Gideon and Geraldine sent in tapes, and they were cast, based on their tapes.”

The process of making her first comedy was also exciting for Aldon, because she cherished the opportunity to work on the humor on the set with the rest of the cast. “There was always new dialogue and material every day. We would arrive on the set, knowing what we were generally supposed to do, but we also didn’t know all the specifics of what we were going to do,” the performer admitted.

Cannon also mentioned that she held a week of rehearsal with the cast. “I had to make sure that the three girls got to spend a lot of time together, so that they could really bond. (The audience) needs to believe that they’re best friends, and have been best friends forever,” the helmer explained. She added with a laugh that “by day one, they were already calling each other their best friends in real life! They got along so well…The script was constantly changing. We would find new things in rehearsal and on the day (of shooting) that we decided to add. They were also encouraged to improvise,” she also noted.

“Some of the producers on the movie also worked as the writers, and Kay’s also a writer. So we’d be in the middle of a scene, and Kay would start yelling out what she called wild lines. She’d be like, ‘Now say this!’ So it was so fresh and new all the time,” Adlon shared. “There were also times when we’d stick to the basics of a scene, but we could also completely improvise, which was completely fun. Everyone I worked with were such great comedians, so those scenes really worked out!”

Cannon also praised the comedy’s producers, and noted that the production companies, Point Grey Pictures and Good Universe, “were amazing to me. They were so respectful and protective of me from a lot of outside problems.” She added that “Point Grey makes the best rated-R comedies! I had never worked on anything that was rated-R before, so I learned a lot from them…We would talk about things that I wasn’t used to, or haven’t been able to do.” The director added that “It’s so great to have producers who also know how to write, and are also directors. So that collaboration was fantastic.”

Besides improvising lines with her co-stars, Adlon also enjoyed the physical comedy they partook in throughout shooting. She admitted with a laugh that “The vomit scenes were really fun! I also really love the scenes where the girls and I are sticking our heads out of the sunroof while the limo was driving. We were actually driving down a really long road while we were filming, and were screaming as we were driving down that road.”

The actress also cherished the opportunity she had to attend ‘Blockers’ World Premiere screening at SXSW last month. “It was the first film festival I had ever been to,” she revealed. “You never know how a movie’s going to be perceived, and how many people are going to show up to the theater. But the theater were the movie was shown was filled; every seat was taken on the balcony and ground floor,” the performer divulged.

“The crowd was incredible; there was so much laughter that at times, you could barely hear the next lines of dialogue. People approached me afterward at the after-party and said, ‘I want to see the movie again right now! I feel like I missed so much because I was laughing too hard and couldn’t hear the next lines. So that was really cool,” Adlon also enthusiastically disclosed.

Cannon also described the experience of bringing ‘Blockers’ to SXSW as “amazing. Watching the movie with the audience there was the best experience I’ve ever had in my career…I was really proud to be there, because there are a lot of other filmmakers who were there and got to show their work.” She also noted that “When you work really hard on a project, you don’t know how it’s going to be received. You think you’ve done a good job, but you really have no idea. So to get that kind of validation (from the audience at SXSW) was really special.”

Photo ofKay Cannon and Gideon Adlon
Kay Cannon and Gideon Adlon
Job Title
Director and actress of the comedy, 'Blockers'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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