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Director Nicholas Stoller Takes A ‘Neighbors’ Victory Lap After Defeating Spider-Man

Nicholas Stoller Neighbors
Universal Pictures

Let’s call this a victory lap for Nicholas Stoller. And, to be honest, Stoller deserves a victory lap after his movie, ‘Neighbors,’ surprisingly finished number one at the box office this past weekend (grossing over $61 million domestically to date) ousting ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2′ from the top spot. And, for Stoller, this marks the first time he’s directed a number one film: His previous efforts — ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall,’ “Get Him to the Greek,’ and ‘The Five-Year Engagement’ — all fell short. And, for Stoller, he knew he had a hit movie when Universal stopped putting a limit on his daily per diem. Nicholas Stoller is officially a big shot.

Stoller called this past Thursday afternoon to discuss the success of ‘Neighbors’ (a movie, if you somehow don’t know, about Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne‘s quiet neighborhood being turned upside down by Zac Efron and Dave Franco‘s noisy fraternity) and, boy, nothing can put someone in a good mood like having an unexpected number one movie. Ahead, Stoller takes a ‘Neighbors’ victory lap; explains why he wasn’t worried about naming his movie after an ill-fated John Belushi movie; and, as a bonus. tells us exactly where in the movie we can see Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s penis.

I’ve never met you before, but I’ve met your parents at a party. They thought my friend was Jason Segel. He was not Jason Segel.

Really? [Laughing] Oh my God, my parents are everywhere at those parties. Like, everyone at the ‘Neighbors’ premiere, everyone who was there — stars, non-stars, everyone — were like, “I met your parents.” They are somehow the most ubiquitous people at the party.

That a good thing, right?

Yeah. Kind of. I guess it comes with the Jewish thing.

Did you expect this result with ‘Neighbors’?

No! Of course not. I’d be insane to expect this. I thought it would do well, because you get a sense that the studio seemed excited about it and it’s a marketable idea. I thought it would do well, but not like what it has done.

Well, the other movies you directed, ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ ‘and Get Him to the Greek’ did fine. ‘The Five-Year Engagement’ underperformed a bit. But then this one comes along…

[Laughs] I know! It’s just every time it’s just a roll of the dice. What’s funny, too, about ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall,’ in retrospect, everyone is like, “That was a hit.” But, at the time, it came out after ‘Knocked Up’ and ‘Superbad,’ which were huge hits. So, it’s aged well, which I’m really excited by and proud of, but, at the time, it was like, “This is a minor entry into the Apatow canon.”

It’s a staple of cable television. It’s hard not to watch it when it’s on.

Yeah, it’s like the Vicodin of movies: It goes down easy.

I wouldn’t word it that way.

There’s a lot of pretty people, it’s Hawaii, it’s funny, it’s happy, Jason gets to be with Mila [Kunis] and kind of with Kristen Bell.

I was looking through the movies that beat your prior directed efforts at the box office. ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ came in second behind ‘The Forbidden Kingdom.’

Yeah.

Then ‘Get Him to the Greek’ came in second to ‘Shrek Forever After.’

Yep.

Then ‘The Five-Year Engagement’ finished fifth, behind the winner of the weekend, ‘Think Like a Man.’ Now you beat Spider-Man.

It’s so funny. The movies I’ve made, I’m really proud of them. But the experience I’ve had, is people say to me, “Oh my God, I saw your movie on HBO, it was actually funny.” Like, that’s always the experience. It’s a backhanded compliment. And I’m always like, “I’m glad you enjoyed it. I wish you had seen it in the theater because it would have done better.”

When did you first realize that ‘Neighbors’ had a good chance of being a hit?

So, we premiered it at South By Southwest and the reaction there was incredible … but you can’t totally take that reaction at face value. Seth said they screened ‘Observe and Report’ there and they walked out of there being like, “We’ve got a hit on our hands!” You just don’t know; it’s just an audience that loves movies. I’ll tell you the moment I knew the studio was really excited about the movie: When I got to South By Southwest and I was told that I had unlimited per diem at the hotel. That was the moment i was like they think this could do well [laughs].

That sounds like they gave you some ‘Neighbors’ fuck you money.

As long as I could charge the hotel, I literally threw a party in my room, which, I had never done that before. And then I realized the downside of that is then you can’t leave the party.

With other movies, was there a limited per diem?

Yeah, yeah, there’s a limited per diem. You get like a hundred bucks a day, or whatever … this time I didn’t even give them a credit card!

The original name for this movie was ‘Townies,’ then it was changed to ‘Neighbors,’ but that was the name of a John Belushi movie.

You know, I’ve never seen it.

It’s really weird.

I just heard it’s super weird.

Plus Belushi died just a few months after it came out. Was there any concern with naming the movie ‘Neighbors’ when the other movie had so much baggage? Or was that so long ago it didn’t matter?

Well, we were having a lot of trouble giving this movie a title. We all knew ‘Townies’ wasn’t the right title. I actually did a contest on set, where if anyone thought of the title, I would buy them beer for a year.

With that unlimited per diem.

Yeah, exactly, with the unlimited per diem. So we couldn’t figure it out, but I think we had talked about ‘Neighbors,’ “But there’s that Belushi movie so forget it.” And then Universal was like, “We should name it ‘Neighbors.’” And we were like, “What about the Belushi-Aykroyd movie?” And they’re like, “Who cares?” And that was it. That was the conversation. And as soon as they said that, we were like, “Oh yeah, who cares?” You can’t copyright a title. We could have called it ‘Spider-Man.’

Or ‘Star Wars.’

Yeah, exactly!

The only scene I want to mention is the Robert De Niro party, because not only is it a Robert De Niro party, it’s a Robert De Niro party where ‘Meet the Parents’ era De Niro is being celebrated.

The Robert De Niro party came to me in a flash. Like, we were trying to think of another party to have. Like, sometimes whole comedy bits appear in your head, you know? We were sitting around, riffing on stuff and I was like, “There should be a Robert De Niro party and they’re all dressed like Robert De Niro and they’re all doing different Robert De Niro impressions.” Then we kind of assigned everyone and just had a feeling Dave Franco would be good — he kind of looks so straight-laced, it would be funny if he did the ‘Meet the Parents’ one … and the weekend before we shot it, Dave Franco spent the whole weekend rehearsing that impression. I kind of thought the joke would be that none of them could impressions of De Niro. But then he came in and he did a pitch-perfect impression. And to do that impression, he was doing the impression off camera, but it kind of strained his face, so when we turned around on him, he couldn’t do it. He had to take rests because his face hurt from doing the impression. And there’s an Easter egg in that scene, too. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, you know, has a big penis in the movie and we had a lot more of the penis we cut out of the movie. In that scene, the tip of his penis is hanging out of his shorts. So, if you pause it on DVD, or whatever…

You’re already trying to sell the DVDs.

Yeah, you can see it, it’s hanging out.

And Rose Byrne has been getting a lot of deserved praise.

Oh, yeah, it’s so exciting. You know, when we were shooting it, I was like, “She’s stealing the movie.” And then when we were cutting the movie together, we were like, “She’s stealing the movie.” It’s really gratifying to see audiences react to her. One of the most satisfying and exciting experiences for me was when the audience — they almost always cheer when she walks away from making out with two people. She does an insane thing, and the audience is so in her corner. It’s a really satisfying thing. She’s just so funny. She’s just like the funniest actress. And she’s also a great serious actor — she’s really like Meryl Streep or something. She’s just so funny. And if you watch the movie and just look at her, she’s always doing weird things. Constantly.

I have to admit, doing an interview after the movies comes out and it’s a big success is much more fun. You’re in such a great mood.

Oh, yeah, I prefer this, too. I like the post-big hit interview.

We’ll call this the victory lap.

It’s a victory lap! Right. It’s a victory lap.

Mike Ryan is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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