Uncut Interview - Dan Mazer and Rafe Spall (I Give It a Year)


  • I Give it a Year
  • I Give it a Year

The writer/director and star of the subversive com-rom talk to us about taking on the genre on bodily functions
Billed as a com-rom (that’s putting the comedy before the romance for a change) I Give it a Year is the tale of two people who are very much in love who find out that isn’t quite enough after a whistle-stop courtship and marriage. Their friends don’t think they can make it and they’re not sure either.

I Give it a Year is the directorial debut of Dan Mazer, the man behind the scripts of Bruno and Borat among others. He’s decided to subvert the rom-com genre with a darkly funny comedy, and enlisted up and coming star Rafe Spall as his leading man. We got a chance to catch up with both of them in Dublin recently to talk about the film, its roots in reality and, oddly, peeing.

Dan Mazer. In a nice suit
Dan Mazer. In a nice suitEnlarge Enlarge
CLICK: I’ll start with you Dan. This script is supposed to come from elements in your life. Is that where it started?
Yea I mean. I find sort of day to day things funny and as you go through your life you note things. And ultimately I got to a point where there are probably enough funny things that I’ve noted about relationships and life! So I thought this could make a script and a story. Because I find reality funny. I find comedy comes from truth. And obviously with Sacha (Baron Cohen) and all the stuff I’ve done before, that’s been an extreme example because we’ve gone out and made it with real people. I don’t really go for big out there wacky, zany comedy. To me the minutia of life and relations is funny. How we deal with each other. So I thought it would be interesting to bring some of the edgier humour of my previous stuff into the realms of the relationship comedy.

CLICK: And it was always something to direct?
: I always wanted to direct it because it thought I’d be able to do it well and I understood it and it wasn’t so ambitious or big budget or out there that I would be confused by the technicalities which was actually the thing that was most daunting to a first time director. Whereas with this I thought that I understood it, it’s quite a personal story and I thought I’d be able to do it justice.

CLICK: And did it end up being quite as easy as you thought it would be?
: I loved every minute of it actually. And everybody warned me beforehand that it was going to be like warfare and I was going to be so stressed. You’ll be on the edge of a breakdown the entire time! But I loved every morning of it. And I actually find writing infinitely more stressful and torturous than I did directing. Because the thing about directing - you’re there, you do it, it’s done! And you can’t go back; you just try to make it as good as you can every day. Whereas with writing its infinite.

RS: Yea I remember Hugo Blick [Spall’s director and writer on TV show The Shadow Line] saying that the writing and editing are stressful but the shooting is the fun bit.

DM: Yea it’s great and you’re hanging out with people. Writing is a miserable solitary existence. Where you’re filled with self-doubt and torture whereas with directing people bring you diet cokes and almonds whenever you want them. People wouldn’t piss on the writer generally if he was on fire, on the set.

Rafe Spall, with Rose Byrne, in I Give It a Year
Rafe Spall, with Rose Byrne, in I Give It a YearEnlarge Enlarge
RS: I don’t know why that’s a good thing to do.

DM: Exactly

RS: The last thing I want is to get pissed on when I’m on fire.

CLICK: It’s not going to make it worse!

DM: I’m on fire!

RS: Throw a blanket on me!

DM: Get a fire extinguisher!

RS: Roll me

DM: There are million things you could do!

RS: Don’t fucking piss on me!

DM: And also you’d need quite a lot of urine to actually make a difference.

CLICK: You’d want to be very confident about your ability to put it out
: Yea

DM: Exactly right. A big bladder. Or you might need to have a queue of people urinating on you which would be even worse.

RS: Or a sort of Bukkake type pissing situation with people gathered round, urinating on you. Then you might stand a chance.

DM: Exactly. But then, at what cost? To your self-esteem.

RS: Oh degradation.

DM: Ultimately that’s what you’re going to be thinking of for ever more, do you remember that time when 15 people pissed on me? And I was on fire, it was disastrous. That was a hellish morning.

RS: Fucking nightmare. Anyway.

DM: Anyway.

CLICK: Maybe that can be in the next script! Rafe, what was your reaction to the script? Did you see it in an audition process?
: Yea, yea I’m at the stage where I still have to audition for stuff and I’m happy to do that! So I read it, it really made me laugh. I was a huge fan of Dan’s previous films. I met Dan briefly before to talk about something else and I just wanted to grill him about Borat and Bruno.

DM: And Ali G in the House wasn’t it mostly?

RS: Yea no it was just Borat and Bruno! Nah I enjoyed Ali G in da House!

DM: Ah that’s very kind of you. Yea it was alright.

RS: it was great! [laughs] So I was a huge fan, I knew of his impressive pedigree. I also knew that Rose Byrne was attached and I’ve long been a fan of her work, I love Damages, Bridesmaids. So I really wanted to work with her and to be in this film. So I did a few auditions, proved to people that I was the guy for the job. And it’s all worked out. And here we are now at the Merrion in Dublin!

DM: Living the dream! With three diet cokes! As many as we like!

RS: And speaking about myself constantly all day. What could be better!

CLICK: Well Dan described the character as somewhat feckless. Do you take it as a compliment that that’s a job you get? Because you do have a bit of a history of playing characters in that mould.
: Yea, yea. Absolutely. I just think that it’s something that I am able to act. [laughs]. It’s as simple as that. I can also do other things!

CLICK: Sure!
: Horse-riding, stage-fighting

RS: Mountain climbing!

DM: A variety of accents!

RS: Orienteering. And go-karting. But I’m able to do a few other things so that’s just something I’m able to portray. So it crops up every now and again! [laughs]

Rafe Spall and Stephen Merhcant. Being idiots.
Rafe Spall and Stephen Merhcant. Being idiots.Enlarge Enlarge

CLICK: Well just personally I was going to talk about Prometheus briefly. Are you the universe’s stupidest xenobiologist in that film?
: [sighs a bit] Well there’s a thing with that, there was a scene that I’m not going to bore you or myself with talking about again. There was a bit that was cut out that would have explained the reason why I am so nice to that evil, scary-looking space snake.

[hit the link for more on that]

CLICK: Were there any elements of this character that you found familiar?
: All comedy should be rooted in some sort of truth. So there are lots of situations in this film that we all can identify with I suppose. But I got married and we got pregnant on our honeymoon so we had a little girl in our first year. Which kind of switched our focus into something else rather than worrying about how much we might not be right for each other!

RS: [laughs] So that was negated because of the little baby.

CLICK: That’s a good answer! Dan your previous movies like Borat and Bruno have been made to look quite improvisational but are probably more scripted than they seem. Would that be fair?
: Yea.

CLICK: So is it an interesting transition to make a movie that’s more obviously script led?
: I mean it’s sort of a bit simpler really because you just have to write less. For Borat and Bruno because we were reacting to real situations what we had to do was write jokes that would cater for any response that we would get. So in order to get one scene you had to write like 4 scenes. But with this what was there was on the page. At the same time what I love about Borat and Bruno was their energy and how naturalistic they felt. And I wanted to keep that energy so I was very keen to have the actors improvise and make the words their own. And I wasn’t at all precious about the scripts in any sense. Especially when you have so many brilliantly funny people, it’s crazy not to let them put their own stamp on my script effectively. So I loved it when they went off book.

RS: Off piste!

CLICK: And was the improv fun for you Rafe?
: Yea I really enjoyed doing it. And it’s great to get the encouragement to be able to do that. It’s definitely a skill and most of the stuff you come up with isn’t great but you keep going for the little gems that might crop up. But I do really enjoy it; it helps me key in and makes it more naturalistic.

I Give It a Year
I Give It a YearEnlarge Enlarge

CLICK: Well how does that work then do you have a sketch of a scene or?
: No it’s written, 99 percent of the best jokes in the script have been written by Dan…

DM: By Rafe…

RS: By me… on the day! So we’d do a take of the scene as written then another one with a bit more alliteration. And then you do much more improvised ones. But you’re still sticking to the framework of what’s written. And then Dan would shout out lines. And in between takes you’d come up with stuff and we’d have a chat about what would be funny. And when we’d try it. So it’s quite an organic process.

DM: And also we rehearsed a lot beforehand, which brought out a lot of funny lines.

CLICK: And then change the script as you went
DM: Yea. Because Rafe is brilliantly funny, in and of himself. As is the entire cast so it was really nice to be able to take credit for their humour.

CLICK: Rose Byrne hasn’t done as much comedy maybe as you Dan and maybe you as well Rafe, is that something she was learning as she was going or was she very on board with the improve?
RS: Well she hasn’t done much comedy apart from the most successful comedy of the last 10 years [Bridesmaids]!

CLICK: Sure but apart from that!
: And she also did Get Him to the Greek and also she’s a very, very funny person and loves comedy and a laugh. And she does brilliantly in this because she’s sort of straight-man-ish, her character. And it’s such an art. You need to know deeply about comedy in order to play the straight man. And to understand its rhythms and its maths. And she is so good at that and just has a great sense of humour in real life.

DM: And was always looking for that little twist or angle on something to just lift it and make it funny, whilst keeping it still authentic and true to life. She’s very gifted and she does little things really well and brings a real lightness to something that could be relatively leaden.

RS: And it’s a really tricky character because everyone else is kind of playing a version of themselves. I am, Anna [Faris] is. It’s not a million miles away from who we are. But her character is so different, she’s doing an accent. She’s the only one in the film who is, apart from Simon [Baker] but it’s pretty easy for him to do American. And that accent she’s doing is such a specific type of middle class London girl. Which I think she nails.

The lovely Rose Byrne in I Give It a Year
The lovely Rose Byrne in I Give It a YearEnlarge Enlarge

CLICK: There are some really funny set pieces in the film. Are any of them based in reality?
: They’re sort of twisted versions of reality. So what you do is you take the kernel of something that happened in truth and just elevate it slightly. So I have had charades mishaps in the past by being slightly too vulgar with my in-laws. I’ve never actually mimed a vagina to my grandma but I’ve come close! Such is the competitive instinct around the Mazer household at Christmas! Whatever it takes to win the point, really. So yes I think a lot of what is there is based on a nugget of truth and then slightly exacerbated.

CLICK: Is it interesting to pull back from the more outrageous sequences you’ve created before?
: Well first and foremost this is a comedy film. It’s not a rom-com in the traditional sense where you see something that makes you chuckle a few times. It’s supposed to be a hard comedy. And what I want to do is go out and make people laugh as much as possible. And all the great comedy films that I love, you come out and you say - ‘do you remember that…’ So Bridesmaids has the vomiting set piece…

RS: And her on the plane…

DM: And Borat has the naked fight. So it’s all about creating those really memorable set pieces in there that people can come out of the cinema and talk about.

RS: [laughing] That fight in Borat man. I’m laughing just thinking about it! You can’t believe your luck as an audience member that you’re seeing that! I mean, Christ!

DM: Filming that was rough!

CLICK: What was your favourite moment to see with audiences?
: People really like the photo frame, that usually gets a big laugh.

DM: It is interesting though, from different screenings they’ll change. I think there are five big set pieces in there and depending on the screening it might be the threesome scene or the dove scene or charades or the photo frame or the best man speech. They’re those entire things that people like. And depending on the atmospheric conditions on the day, it kind of varies. But it’s nice that there’s a choice and a degree of debate.

CLICK: Do you see this as a reaction to the fluffy modern rom-com?
: I think it definitely is a reaction because what the film deliberately does is take a lot of the clichés of the traditional rom-com, the more hackneyed ones and tries to subvert them. So it’s definitely a response to that. In the penultimate scene Josh the main character has to run through the streets to make a declaration to Nat. and I was very definite that I wanted it to rain at that point. Which is obviously a very tried and tested cliché and deliberately so. That’s the point; we are slightly nodding and winking about those films that we’ve all seen before. And always trying to subvert them in some way.

CLICK: Rafe this is your first leading man role - is that very exciting?
: It’s very exciting yea! It’s a real thrill. And especially to be such a big part in something you really care about and I’m proud to put my name to. And whether I’m playing the leading man or a character part, as long as I’ve gone into things with the best of intentions it’s great. But yea I really love acting, specifically comedy acting. And by proxy of being the main part, it just means when you shoot a film you get to do more of it! You know what I mean? If you’re in a supporting role you might have 10 days but on this you’re on every day and you get to do what you love doing every day. So that’s brilliant!

CLICK: Would you like to be that leading player in a more conventional version of this story. A conventional rom-com?
: To me, irrespective of conventions and form and genre. if I’m going to do a comedy film - is it funny? Simple. That’s it. Whether it’s a conventional romantic comedy. Because you could call Forgetting Sarah Marshall a conventional romantic comedy but I found that incredibly funny. When Harry Met Sally of course, the greatest. It’s just funny. So that’s all I care about.

CLICK: And are there any other genres you’re particular interested on?
: No it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. I’m not massively into sci-fi, I just love films. I don’t love kung-fu movies or anything like that. I like them but don’t need to be in one.

DM: Soft porn is what you really want to get into.

RS: It’s what I was just about to come to. I’m developing a soft porn thing with Channel 5 at the moment, me and David Duchovny!

DM: The Blue Shoe Diaries!

CLICK: I have finish up but I was going to ask what you’re up to next. Dan - do you want to direct again?
: I’d love to direct again, I love the fact that it’s collaborative. Every morning you get up and it’s exciting. And a new challenge. And every day is different. So I’d love to do some more directing. We’ll see whether anyone else ever trusts me to do it again.

RF: Ah they will! I’m going to do a film based on a novel by a Scottish writer called John Niven called Kill Your Friends. Which is based in the music industry in 1997 in London in the height of Britpop and that sort of thing. And I’m playing a murdering A&R man, it’s very different from I Give it a Year.

CLICK: Right. And you also made an Irish sci-fi movie? Which hasn’t come out yet.
: Yea it’s called Earthbound and it comes out in March.

CLICK: I don’t know much about it.
: I’ve not seen it but hopefully it’s really charming and really nice. And you’ll all love it!

CLICK: Well it’s here for JDIFF so looking forward to seeing it
: That’s right!

I Give it a Year is in cinemas from the 8th of February. Check back soon for our full review.

Uncut Interview - Dan Mazer and Rafe Spall (I Give It a Year) on ClickOnline.com
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