Exclusive: Frank Coraci talks Zookeeper, The Waterboy and going 'full retard'
|INTERVIEWS - FILM|
"Wow...they are trusting us with all this s**t! $25 million and they’re not even here...what the hell’s going on?!?"...
If I were to ask the common man or woman for the name of just one famous director, I'd expect to hear the same names repeated over and over again. Spielberg; Lucas; Abrams; Scorsese; Shyamalan - and so the list continues. Very few would mention the name of Frank Coraci, but in this writer's opinion, it's a name that deserves to be mentioned amongst the very best.
A sure favourite of the Happy Madison genre, Frank has directed some of the company's biggest hits to date, and is a long-time friend of Adam Sandler's. While others were struggling to find their feet, Coraci had already carved a position of dominance for himself, achieving both critical and box-office acclaim in the process. Since 1998, a year which saw him direct two of Madison's biggest films to date – The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer – Frank has gone on to work closely with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, whilst achieving further fame in a number of different genres along the way.
However, it is Frank's easy-going nature, his accessibility as a person and his obvious love for making people laugh that deserve most credit. Despite the hundreds of millions, the celebrity back-catalogue of friends, and the success he has achieved, Mr. Coraci is still just the kid who refused to grow up, and this is why we love him.
In an open and relaxed interview with Shadowlocked, Frank spoke about his success to date; his latest project Zookeeper; working with Adam Sandler and the gang; and his passion project, which many a true comic book fan will be excited to hear about. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Frank is one of the nicest people I have ever spoken to...period. So, let's get to it:
Thanks for taking the time to speak to Shadowlocked, Frank. So, let’s start off with your new film – Zookeeper. It’s a bit of a change from your previous titles, wasn’t it? What made you decide to do it?
Well, Kevin James was around when I was making Click – which he loved – plus him and Adam had been friends for a while. So, when we decided to make Zookeeper he called me up. To be honest, we were both really hesitant about making a talking animal movie, but then we started discussing how cool it would be if we just made a movie that made us laugh, then make half the characters animals to add a new dimension of comedy, hopefully ending up with a nice, family movie.
Our goal was to make a funny movie – simple. I don’t have kids, but Kevin [James] does and he kept saying “I keep seeing these kids movies and they bore the hell out of me; I think we can make one that’s cool...and one that parents can enjoy as much as their kids.
As a comedian, he’s a real funny guy – sure, just look at the success of King of Queens – so yeah, he was awesome to work with.
By the sounds of it, it was a role just made for Kevin [James]...
Absolutely. I’m not the guy who makes the real over-the-top sort of productions; I like to base the performances in reality, so in the third act you are still rooted in the movie, and not thinking “oh man, not another stupid comedy”. Being able to relate to a film means so much. As such, I tend to pick my actors around this, and Kevin is just loads of fun; he’s just fantastic at physical comedy...
I couldn’t agree more, Frank. As you said, just look at his character in King of Queens...
Haha yeah...not bad for an American!
How did you find working with him [Kevin James] then? Obviously, you met him during Click, but was it a different sort of environment to work so closely with him?
Ah, it was great. I’m used to working with comedians now – I get that comedians tend to have their own brand of comedy, and if I like their brand I adjust quickly – and obviously he’s real different than Adam [Sandler], but it was definitely fun.
Like I say, he’s surprisingly athletic for a big guy, so watching him do his own stunts just added a whole new level of comedy.
I wasn’t aware he did his own stunts...impressive. Were they all him?
Pretty much. When he does stuff like jumping into the moat, it’s all him. For some of the harder, heavy impact stunts, he let a double come in, but he would regularly get them to do it, before doing it himself...he just loves being involved. So yeah, we were happy to let him do them all, just as long as we wouldn’t lose him. [laughs]
Obviously, this was a Happy Madison production, a company owned by a close friend of yours, Adam Sandler. So, how did you first meet Adam?
Well, we met in college...during my freshman year. It was funny; I still remember us hanging out, making funny faces and just having a laugh – it was just so natural to us. Sadly, this is all behind me, because all my friends now didn’t go to college, so they don’t understand that humour. [laughs]
But yeah, I was pleasantly surprised when I met Adam – and his room-mate Tim Herlihy (who has worked with Adam throughout his career, originally during his time on SNL). We just continued where I had left off from high school. We cultivated our comedy so to speak – each of us had our own unique twist – from 1984-88; we just hit it off. Living across the hall from him was a big factor too. We were always together.
Anyone who has dabbled in comedy understands the importance of familiarity between you and your material; obviously you and Adam would have been on the same brainwave, because of the time you spent together. So, would it be fair to say that your friendship ultimately helped your working relationship?
I would say our friendship helped a lot, because there’s a certain trust, too, you know? Also, characters that we would come up with – at first, Adam would go on stage and try them in his stand-up...and they would bomb. So we used to sit there, saying “why are we laughing, but the audience isn’t?” Then we’d bridge that gap between us. The stuff I never thought would work in his stand-up eventually became the main sections after we had tweaked, and developed, the gags and characters a bit.
Back in college, Adam was doing stand-up like six days a week, and we’d always go and watch him, so I think it was a good trust that we established back then. Funnily enough, the character for The Waterboy was just one we did while hanging out – a character based around that guy who just didn’t fit in – and we would constantly do that character for each other. When The Waterboy concept came about, we knew we already had the character. Our material was just very organic; the things and stuff we loved just evolved so as to fit a movie format.
However, it was when we came to do Click, a movie that required a lot more depth from Adam’s character, that it really paid dividends. I knew him for so many years; his father had passed away, so it was a very personal movie for him, and our friendship really helped me...helped him, if you understand. I have known Adam’s family for years, so I made sure he was well supported and had everything around him that he needed to make Click a success. Our friendship has been a real blessing over the years.
Yeah, I remember watching Click – it’s a very funny movie, but very meaningful at the same time. The end scene especially almost had me in tears, and I remember thinking “I’m crying watching an Adam Sandler movie”. The comedies are great, but this must have meant so much to both of you...
It was such a good feeling, to be able to do the comedy thing but to also take that next step. The scariest thing I’d say was being able to mix the two in one movie; I remember being in the editing room going “this is great, this is great”, but then taking the film to preview for the first time and being scared to death! You walk down, and there is always around 400-500 people at the preview, so it’s immediately nerve-wracking.
Saying that, I don’t help myself – when Click went to preview, I walked past the line – people don’t tend to recognise the director so much (and I cover up) – to see what sort of people were coming to see the movie, and there’s a bunch of 15 and 16 year olds...with Lakers jerseys on...and I just remember thinking “Oh crap! We forgot who our audience is – they don’t want to cry, they just want to laugh; we’re going to die!” Then, as the movie went on we have cameras watching the audience to gauge their reactions, and all these kids were into it and I just thought “Holy s**t! I can’t believe it worked” – so yeah, it was the biggest challenge I’ve undertaken, but it seemed to have worked.
"If they are still laughing by the end of the third act – and they applaud at the end of the movie – that’s it...I have done my job; I have made a movie that people find funny and enjoyable. For me nothing else matters..."
That’s incredible Frank. If we can just go back a bit, 1998 was a massively successful year for both yourself and Adam. You directed two of the biggest hits of that year – The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy. What was that like?
It was awesome; I had been doing a bunch of stuff – me, Adam and a bunch of friends from college – and we were all living together here in LA (Adam had moved there and convinced us to join him). There was a rock tour; we were doing videos (I had an editing system in the house). Looking back, all of us were just in a really creative zone, so anything went. It was basically a continuation of college, but now people were starting to turn these into jobs.
I remember working on The Wedding Singer one night, and there were no suits or other people around, and I remember thinking “there’s no adults here... Hang on, are we the adults now?” [laughs] It was crazy. To be able to work with your friends, doing something you enjoy... Well, there’s no better feeling.
Now, I couldn’t do an interview with the director of The Waterboy and not ask him this question...Gatorade or H20?
[Laughs] H20 baby! I’m so happy that The Waterboy caught on everywhere. Obviously, it was about American football and I was worried that audiences foreign to the US wouldn’t understand its humour, but when I was working on Around the World in 80 Days in Europe people were coming up to me and quoting the film...it was so surreal.
This leads me on to a rather interesting point. I am – like so many others – a huge fan of both Click and The Waterboy. Yet critics seem to have it in for these sorts of films; in particular, much of the Happy Madison productions. How do you handle feedback such as this, and why do you think it occurs?
I totally get what you mean. I think having lived in London, and just digging the whole UK thing, there is a certain respect for comedy that you guys have...which is missing here in the US.
Just my personal take – there are some amazing dramas, just loads of great movies that I love. As I director, I always wanted to do pretty dark material – and I still do – and I used to be pretty blasé on the whole comedy thing; “meh” would probably be how I’d describe it.
However, I started thinking about it and I realised it was a lot easier to miss with a comedy than to actually make people laugh, so I started to appreciate it more. Then I went to the UK and started to realise that these people get that comedy is a real achievement. I worked with [Steve] Coogan and noticed that even the comedians themselves have a certain respect for it.
Yet for some reason, critics feel this need to sort of frown on comedy. It’s funny, as they say stuff like “The Waterboy is full of childish fart jokes”, but there’s actually not a single fart joke. I feel like, because there’s success with the comedies, a weird bias has begun to appear around comedies that aimed at a wider, more global audience; like an added pressure on them not to embrace it. Now I don’t know if this is because of their own insecurities, but I decided not to care about what the critics think – unless they are from the UK [laughs]. I’ll go and see my own movies when they are out and sit in the audience, in an attempt to gauge people’s reactions. If they are still laughing by the end of the third act – and they applaud at the end of the movie – that’s it...I have done my job; I have made a movie that people find funny and enjoyable. For me nothing else matters.
As for Happy Madison in general, I’m not sure – maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that Adam just can’t stop working...
"Now, I’m not sure if you have seen Tropic Thunder, but unfortunately...I went 'full retard'..."
Agreed – Adam [Sandler] appears to just love doing what he does, and who could blame him?
Yeah, he’s just that sort of guy; he needs to be generating that new idea all the time. It’s not about money with him either – the guy spends so much time working, he doesn’t get time to spend any of it. It’s just the desire to be funny and entertain people, and I don’t think the critics get that. I think they’re unfairly tough on him, especially in some of the films I have done with him.
Of course – a comedy audience is just so much different to that of a drama, or a theatrical audience. Any comic knows – and will tell you – if an audience don’t like you, they will let you know...
See, you’re a stand up, right? You know, one bad joke wipes out six good ones; you have to win them back as soon as that happens. That’s why I think it’s so hard to pull off a good comedy. Blow it a couple of times, and from that point on you are having to fight to get the ground back. I hope we don’t have to do that. It feels like people are laughing throughout, so it’s all good.
Frank, what I have come to love about you is your preference towards cameo appearances in both your own, and a number of other, Happy Madison productions. A favourite of mine was Grandma’s Boy [Frank laughs]. Were you involved much in the production side of that film?
Actually, I was in pre-production with Click at the time, and [Allen] Covert – one of our buddies from NYU – said you have to do this role...cousin Stevie. Now, I’m not sure if you have seen Tropic Thunder, but unfortunately...I went 'full retard' [laughs].
I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, but they actually cut me out. At the first preview screening, when asked if there was anything they didn’t like, they all said “The mentally handicapped guy! That was just too mean!” I think I might have gone a little too realistic [laughs].
Yeah, but if Ben Stiller can make that mistake...
Exactly! At least I went down swinging.
Going back to Click for a moment, were you surprised with how well Adam handled such a delicate balance of comedy and seriousness?
I wasn’t surprised because I had known him for so long, and had seen him undertake serious roles before to great effect, so I was confident he would be fine. Furthermore, the role meant a lot to him because of the recent passing of his father, so for all these reasons I knew his performance would be very real.
However, as I said earlier I was worried about how people would receive it – did they want it?, was it the right time?, etc. – but as far as the movie went, they seemed to welcome it with open arms, so I couldn’t have been happier.
Back in 2006, I remember seeing an interview you did at the première of Click, where you discussed that you were working on a little cult favourite known as Hawaiian Dick. Yet here we are, five years later, and no Dick. Any plans to make this happen?
I know...we have no Dick! Actually, I still have the project. It’s in turnaround at the studio, which is this weird thing where the rights went back to the comic book, but we have this amazing script and it’s become a real passion project of mine. To put it simply, it mixes the genre of a film-noir, a comedy, even a bit of horror – and, as I showed in Click, I love mixing genres. I’m trying to get it off the ground – and need to work out who actually owns the rights – but I’m aspiring to do something different, so I think that’s the one.
Absolutely – you just need to lay that Dick on the table...
Let’s do it; I’m going to get my Dick made.
It’s safe to say you have had an incredible career thus far, Frank, but if I put you on the spot and asked you to tell us about your favourite moment, what would it be?
Man, that’s a hard one...there’s been so many great moments. It’s a collection. [laughs]
Well, I’d have to go back to that moment on The Wedding Singer when there were no adults, and we realised that we were meant to be the adults. [laughs] It was so weird, because I think we had all decided that we would never grow up; very Peter Pan-esque if I’m being honest.
Well, it’s a good moment for it to happen, I suppose...
Yeah, it was that realisation – wow...they are trusting us with all this s**t! $25 million and they’re not even here...what the hell’s going on?!?
It was just a great moment. When you are in film school, it’s all just a dream, a vision. I did my first film when I was 26, a little independent film that not many people would have seen, and then all of a sudden I looked around, saw Drew Barrymore on set and realised “man, this is actually happening!" There’s just no way of describing that feeling.
Frank, it’s been a pleasure – but I have one more question for you. You are heading the latest Happy Madison production, and are surrounded by the regular talent – Sandler, James, Schneider, etc. Now, you and your fellow Madison cohorts are looking to cast a crazy, lively individual in the role, and I feel I’m perfect for it. How do I go about impressing you?
Classic! You already have, man. That’s a great question. Err, if you can make us laugh...you got it.
Well I better get thinking. Mr Coraci. Thank you so much for your time...
My pleasure, Luke. I love the site and I appreciate you taking the time to interview me. Hey, can I just check I got your name correct – I’d love to keep an eye on you and your comedy. Maybe we can sort something out in the future. (Ed note: At this point, reality seemed to fade away, replaced instead by the ecstatic sensation of the surreal. Whether anything comes of it or not, it was such an honour to hear, and added a real sense of humility to this immensely talented individual.)
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