When Levy learned that Steve Carell and Tina Fey were hoping to find a project on which they could work together, he knew he had found his Date Night duo.
"We got an early draft of the screenplay to Tina and Steve, who always struck me as the dream pairing for a movie about marriage," Levy says.
"They said, ‘Yeah, we relate to this, we want to do an action comedy that’s also honest about relationships.’ So they said they were in."
While Levy usually takes a break between completing one feature and beginning the next, he found himself prepping Date Night while editing Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, in order to take advantage of his stars’ availability.
"Steve’s and Tina’s series commitments [on, respectively, The Office and 30 Rock] provides only a limited window for feature film work," Levy explains. "They told us, ‘Look, we want to do this, but we’re free now, and we’re not going to be free in six months, what do we do?’
I said, ‘Well, we make the movie right now!’ I didn’t get a break between films, but I got a comedy with Steve Carell and Tina Fey, who are two of the most intelligent, interesting people working in comedy today. So a lot of my job was to come up with the idea, get the two perfect actors for the movie, and then get the hell out of the way."
While slight alterations to the script were made to match the stars’ comedic voices, Date Night was essentially tailor-made for the pair. "It felt like the film was written for them," says Klausner. Adds Levy: "Three minutes into this movie, you buy Steve and Tina as a married couple. They have a powerful chemistry together. They clicked completely on screen."
Phil, says Carell, "feels underappreciated by his friends and family, but he sort of keeps that feeling close to his chest. He’s a very loving guy, but he and Claire have reached a plateau in their relationship.
"He needs to snap himself out of it, if possible. And the night that he and Claire experience together is a defibrillator for their marriage."
Carell’s comedic skills, along with his ability to stir audiences’ hearts, made him the perfect choice for the role, Levy says. "Steve is super funny, and his chops as an actor are fantastic.
"He not only carries entire comedy sequences on his back, but three scenes later, he’s moving you to an emotional place with such sincerity and nuance. There’s no end to what he can do."
Carell says his own date nights, like Phil Foster’s (and Levy’s and Klausner’s), leave much to be desired. "
"Sometimes the worst part of date night is actually leaving for the date, when you see your babysitter sitting down, getting all cozy, turning on the TV.
"That sometimes seems much better than the night that lies ahead."
Fey, like Carell, has the ability to be riotously funny while still portraying the emotional side of her character realistically, to turn down the volume on jokes and simply allow them to happen.
For example, in response to a nudge for sex from her husband, Fey’s Claire offers a very normal, ‘Yeah, hang on a minute moment as she pulls out her dental mouth guard in preparation for sex with her husband, with enough drool to instantly turn off her mate.
"Besides being obviously really pretty and intelligent, Tina has a complete willingness to make an ass out of herself," says Levy. "She’s completely up for goofing on herself and being the butt of the joke, and that’s very charming."
Fey describes Claire as "a working mom of two kids, who, like almost everyone I know, is just a little worn out by the day-to-day life of raising your kids, getting them out the door, getting them to school, having a job, keeping a house clean. She’s a good person who is just kind of worn into the ground a little bit.
"I certainly identify with how just physically tiring it is to be a parent and have a job, sometimes it feels like a real effort to just be present for your spouse."
So which would be scarier being in a boring marriage or being chased by the mob (both of which the Fosters experience in the film)? "I would say that being married to a person in the mob would be the scariest," Fey jokes.
Along their night-from-hell journey, Phil and Claire encounter a cavalcade of characters on both sides of the law. Levy’s casting choices for these roles was sometimes unexpected, and always spot-on. His intent was to provide the story with a Wizard of Oz-like experience.
"You’re with your heroes, but along the way, they’re being affected and changed by the people they meet, and I just thought wouldn’t it be fun if at every turn of the road, you’re surprised all over again by who has suddenly appeared in this movie. And the cast members fit the roles perfectly."
The surprise apparently wasn’t limited to the audience. "I read the script," says Fey, "and I thought, ‘Oh, these are really good parts for somebody.’ I never thought we would get this lucky to have that caliber of people in all these different parts."
Having what otherwise would have appeared to be small roles portrayed by big name actors only helps bring them alive, Carell notes. "When you see them acted out, they’re even better than they were on the page."
And getting high-powered stars to join the Date Night team wasn’t just a matter of coincidence. "So many people were so keen to find a way to work with Steve and Tina, they just found a way to make it work," says Levy.
Mark Wahlberg portrays a former real estate client of Claire’s the pair turns to in the middle of the night. "I play a guy named Holbrooke Grant, who is a security expert who Claire and Phil come to for help," Wahlberg explains.
"They just catch Holbrooke at a bad time, he’s with his beautiful Israeli girlfriend. The pair ends up turning Holbrooke’s night upside down, as well."
Wahlberg had the simplest costume in the entire cast. "There is no wardrobe just a pair of silk genie pants," he recalls, noting that he regularly found himself freezing on the air-conditioned set.
That the top half of his costume was missing (except for an ample supply of makeup covering Wahlberg’s countless tattoos), was a fact not lost on the female members of the cast and crew.
"Mark was shirtless for three or four days," Fey says, prompting a noticeable increase in the number of women who suddenly had additional tasks to address on set on the days he was on the job. "I had friends texting me, ‘Can I get on the Fox lot and visit you today?’" Fey laughs.
Also coming to the aid of the beleaguered couple is Taraji P. Henson, an Oscar® nominee for her work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,who plays NYPD Detective Arroyo, who, though she doesn’t exactly believe the Fosters 'chased by bad guys' story, begins to become suspicious of a couple of her colleagues. "She’s sort of a hero," the actress says.
Playing thugs Collins and Armstrong, who are after the Fosters (whom they believe are the Tripplehorns) are Common and Jimmi Simpson. Common is a familiar face to audiences for his role as a murderous cop in Street Kings and for his work as a musical artists (his hits include Love of My Life and Testify). Simpson has made occasional appearances as Lyle the Intern on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Common describes the duo as "one of the many catalysts to get this mundane couple out of their comfort zone, mainly by shooting guns at them. The two are essentially hunters," he adds, noting, "I’m the muscle."
Collins and Armstrong’s formidable boss is gangster Joe Miletto, from whom the Tripplehorns have apparently stolen something of importance that he wants back. The casting of acclaimed actor Ray Liotta as Miletto delighted Carell and Fey.
"We were shooting a scene with Ray one night," recalls Carell, "and Tina looked over and said, ‘I feel like I am in a 3D version of ‘Goodfellas. Ray Liotta is actually walking up and talking to me.’ It was like a ride at a theme park."
Playing a heavy in a comedy, particularly for actors used to appearing in dramatic films, requires a special knack, one which Date Night’s group of toughs embraced with gusto.
"It’s really in the writing, so it’s dependent on your commitment to it," explains Liotta. "If the situation’s just a little more heightened, you’re going to laugh."
Common agrees: "Shawn expressed to us from the beginning, you’ve got to keep it real. The more real it becomes because you’re playing off Steve and Tina the funnier it becomes."
Portraying the 'real' Tripplehorns, actually a drug dealer named Taste and his wacky stripper girlfriend, Whippit are James Franco and Mila Kunis.
Despite their different life circumstances, the pair has much in common with the Fosters, being in the same spot in their relationship as their clean-cut counterparts. Notes Josh Klausner: "Whether you’re a drug dealer or a suburban husband, you still feel the pangs of ‘You never look at me the way you used to’ and ‘You don’t have time for me.’ What the two couples are going through is exactly the same, making the exchanges between the two couples both hilarious and poignant at the same time.
Kunis describes the pair as 'very passionate when they’re angry, they’re very angry, and when they’re happy, they’re madly in love.'
Whippit, specifically, she describes as a 'psycho, who is very up and down. She goes through three different emotions within two and a half script pages.'
The name 'Taste,' Franco says, is left over from an earlier concept of the character a 6 ft. 7 in. bald man with 'TASTE' tattooed on his forehead.
"So when they asked me to be in the movie, I said, ‘Well, I’m certainly not that.’" The character’s description was then rewritten, but the name stuck. "I was up for facial tattoos, too," Franco says with a laugh. "We just went for the cheesy ‘Grim Reaper.’"
Date Night is released 21st April.