Make no mistake, the new comedy LET’S BE COPS is a very silly piece of work about two frustrated, damaged friends (Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr.) who decide to go to a party dressed as cops and decide that the attention (from the ladies) and respect (from the men) they get is too good to simply walk away from, so they keep the uniforms on, buy a cop car at an auction, paint it up to look like a real car, and pretend to be police. This of course leads to them being mistook for real police by both needy citizens and other cops, and they tangled up with dirty cops and gangsters (led by James D’Arcy) along the way. Yes, this is film about two idiots who gain an inflated sense of ego and ability by simply putting on a uniform, which also leads to them making friends with a real officer, played by the omnipresent Rob Riggle
When I first saw the trailer for LET’S BE COPS, I was curious about the idea that two actors (Johnson and Wayans) who already work together on the Fox series “New Girl” could continue working in the off season together as well, but it turns out the film was made prior to Wayans rejoining the cast (after his appearance as “Coach” in the pilot), and it was actually making the film together that make Johnson suggest bringing Wayans back on “New Girl.”
Riggle joined the dynamic duo in Chicago recently, where we talked about LET’S BE COPS as well as a host of really interesting roles all three have coming up. Read on and please enjoy my talk with Chicago’s own Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr., and Rob Riggle…
Capone: Hey, Jake. Good to see you again.
Jake Johnson: Yeah, good to see you.
Capone: Rob, good to see you again.
Rob Riggle: Yeah, nice to see you.
JJ: What did we do that you moderated? Which one was that?
Capone: Well, the first thing was PAPER HEART with you Charlene Yi, and then I interviewed you for SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED in Austin during SXSW, but then you showed up for a screening I did of RUBY SPARKS that Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan were at.
JJ: That’s the one. That’s it.
RR: Did we do a roundtable?
Capone: No. I talked to you for the first JUMP STREET.
RR: Okay, I knew you looked familiar.
JJ: I thought RUBY SPARKS was a great movie.
Capone: I did too.
JJ: I was so wrong on how that was going to do. I watched that movie— [to his co-stars] Have you seen RUBY SPARKS? It’s one of those movies where you’re like, “Oh, this is so well done, and Zoe Kazan is so good in it.” And I was like, “Oh, this will be that summer movie that like makes $100 million” As a betting man, I would have lost all of it. I was like, “This is going to hit with young women, but dudes are going to like it. It’s funny, it’s going to be a couple’s movie.”
Damon Wayans, Jr.: What movie was it?
JJ: RUBY SPARKS. It was smart, it was interesting, and then nothing happened.
JJ: I have no idea. And they marketed it great.
Capone: The two of them worked the hell out of that movie.
JJ: They went everywhere; they had an international tour.
RR: That’s crazy. Now I want to see this thing.
JJ: It’s excellent.
Capone: I’m sure there have been variations on this question, but when you put on that uniform and it looks completely authentic, and you’ve got the bulletproof vest to make it seem a little more edgy, when you look at yourself in the mirror for the first time in that outfit does it pump you up a little bit? Does it get you in the headspace that the characters are supposed to be in?
Damon Wayans: Definitely, the first time I put it on with the bulletproof vest under it. When I first put it on, it was kinda baggy, and I felt like a costume cop, but the bulletproof vest definitely takes it up a notch. I mean, if I get shot, it’ll hurt, but I’m good.
JJ: It felt good putting on, but the next level was in the scene later when our characters start becoming badasses, and try to get into it, and we get fully strapped up, and we have weapons and gloves, and we were actually shooting. That was the only time where I was like, “This is pretty cool.”
DW: Yeah, that was badass.
JJ: Because the whole premise is obviously, we’re fake. We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re amateurs, and in that part, we do fake it and step up, and in doing that there was that moment of like, “This does feel cool. This is a good feeling.”
Capone: I’ve talked to a few people about the movie, and they think it’s a buddy cop movie. And have to tell them, “No, it’s the opposite of a buddy cop movie, because they are completely incompetent in the ways of police.”
JJ: So that right there is why Damon and I signed up for it. Because we love the buddy cop genre, but they did 21 JUMP STREET, so we’re not looking to just do it again. It’s been done by this generation, it’s really funny, but we thought “This is really different.” The way it appears is it looks like a buddy cop movie, but it’s in premise we’re just dudes. We’re never cops.
Capone: But then there’s that moment when you guys think you are, which is when it really gets really messy. Rob, you’ve played cops before, right?
RR: I played a cop in THE HANGOVER.
Capone: Right, of course, in the stun gun scene. And you get to play the real cop here, but do you put it on and get pumped?
RR: Oh well yeah. It always helps when you do sketch comedy or do acting, whenever you put something on. I remember doing sketch, if I put on a wig or a mustache, all of a sudden, it helps you transform a little bit. So when I put on that uniform, your chest goes out a little bit, you get a little bit more swagger in your walk. But my character in this film, Officer Segars, he’s more of a straight man in this movie.
Capone: I was going to say, that was maybe the most shocking thing about this whole film is you’re playing it even keel.
RR: Which I was thrilled to do.
Capone: I was thinking, “Look at him act.”
RR: Yeah, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to do that. So I was very grateful that these guys called me and asked me to be a part of that. I was thrilled.
Capone: Did I see some press with you guys where you did interviews in uniform?
JJ: We did. In Vegas. At CinemaCon. They had us come out and interrupt CinemaCon, and try to arrest the room, so we did the press that day.
Capone: I know the JUMP STREET guys, for the first one, they did the same. They went around the country in a variation of their uniform
RR: In their bike cop uniform.
DW: With the little shorts?
JJ: We didn’t have that commitment [laughs]. At CinemaCon we went right from a bit to the press line.
Capone: When you’re out and about making this movie in the uniform, did you at any time get mistaken for cops? Or did you go out and walk around the block and see what happens?
DW: No, because when you’re shooting a movie, they have like the cones that block off traffic, and they have real cops tagging along with us. So we just looked like pussies.
JJ: We had one moment though where we decided to go for it. We were in Vegas, and we had our sunglasses on, and we were top to bottom cops, and we were like, “Let’s just walk around the casino and maybe mess with some drunks.” We felt pretty cool, pretty confident. We walked in, I’m not kidding when I say 15 seconds, and then some girl yelled, “Oh my god it’s Coach and Nick.” “Yeah, okay, let’s not do this anymore.”
Capone: Speaking of that, with your TV schedule the way it is, you probably only get a chance to do one of this kind of movie a year, so you have to be a little picky. What was it about this that made you go, “Yeah, this is the one.” I know, Damon, you weren’t on the show at the time when you did this.
JJ: But he was doing TV.
Capone: Yeah, you were doing “Happy Endings.” But how do you kind of narrow it down a bit? Because I know Jake, you just did another movie Joe Swanberg [DIGGING FOR FIRE, in which Johnson is also credited as a co-writer]. And then you’re in JURASSIC WORLD as well.
JJ: I chose a movie like this because it’s near a genre that I think is really cool, and I really like, but it’s not that genre exactly. So I thought, it’s interesting. Really what happened was the story of this really works, and the bits I thought were okay, but they said they really wanted it to be improv heavy, and then I was on the fence, and they told me that they liked Damon for it. And so then Damon and I called each other on the phone and said like, “Well where are you at with it?” And we both said like, “I like the whole thing, but I’ll do it if you do it.”
And so we went back and said “We don’t care who plays which character, but if we’re going to do it we wanna come in as a team, because we know we’ll be able to improvise and connect the same way.” And then the Officer Segars part, which is the badass that we look up to, we said early on we like Rob Riggle for it, because it gives us another turn, because Rob’s one of those actors who like all of us, you can do both, but everybody knows him as this hilarious guy. That doesn’t mean he can’t do dramatic. He was a marine. He fought a war for our country. He’s not doing bits while doing that. We all have two sides, and we said that’s another slant, and then when they said they liked the three of us, at least for me, I thought like well, that’s enough of an engine to do this work.
Capone: When you really think about it, these are two very broken guys when we meet them. By the end of the film, Jake’s character might even have certifiably lost his mind. He’s full-on delusional about what he’s become. It’s almost funnier with those really dark parts. Somewhere in between them breaking the case and what we see at the end of the film like, he might have spent some time in a hospital.
JJ: He’s fully crazy.
Capone: At any point, do you think “I really hope we’re not encouraging people to do something like this”?
DW: That’s what I liked about the movie as well, it was structured pretty soundly as far as that goes. Really truly, our characters never kill anybody, we never shoot anybody, we never do anything like that. It winds up being a real cop who saves the day. It shows that doing something stupid like dressing up like a cop can get you into a lot of trouble. It’s a funny way, but it’s also telling you the truth of the matter is that you’re making a mistake.
JJ: Damon’s character is the voice of reason, because they’ll also show that if you do this, that’s a year in jail. If you do this, that’s 10 years in jail. We didn’t say in this movie: “the fantasy's great; there are no stakes.”
DW: “There are no consequences.”
JJ: Oh no, the consequences are real, and then in the end because of what happens it’s almost like in this crazy situation, because your intentions were clear, and it wasn’t like we’re pulling people over to just mess with them, we’re letting you off the hook. But the idea of the movie is we’re hoping you have a laugh, but afterwards you’re like, “I don’t want to do this.”
Capone: You hope. Or at least find a sympathetic cop before you launch into it the scheme.
JJ: Save their life after they save your life after you’ve messed with a European bad guy. If all of that happens, then God bless, man. Just do it.
Capone: Yeah, let’s talk about that warehouse scene, because that is so funny—having a huge naked fat guy jump on you. Tell me about that sequence, just because you’re all in it and you’re all doing something. Was that naked guy in the script? And why was he naked?
JJ: He was. A lot of that was actually Damon though. He was in it, but Damon...
RR: …really fought for it.
JJ: He really desired it, and I’m glad he did.
DW: There was no desire per se. We knew that we had to get that scene in oder to make the movie a Rated R movie. They weren’t sure if they wanted to make it rated R, or PG-13, so we were shooting every scene PG-13 and rated R. They were pushing for a PG-13, and I knew that if we were to get this scene done right and funny enough and naked enough, it would trump the desire for a PG-13 rating.
JJ: Damon also pitched for the camera to be above his head so that he could do that shot, and even though it was disgusting, it’s the funniest way to do it. If you have to see them pull, and you watch me react.
RR: And it was 100 percent right. It was totally the right call. I can’t imagine it any other way. The way it pops the best is the way you said.
Capone:You’re all really gifted at improv. But I’ve had major actors tell me that they get a lot of shitty scripts that the producers or directors will say, “Oh, we’ll fix this with improv.” Tell me, the script has to have something…
RR: It has to have bones.
JJ: Bones is the perfect term.
RR: You have to have the bones, but I do think with scripts, as long as you have a good story, and there are some great scenes in there, then trust your comedians. Trust your actors, especially if they have an improv background, because generally speaking, and these guys are the same, you can look at a scene and go, “Okay I can see the comedy, I see the game, I see the bit. Here’s another angle that I think might be super funny, or here’s another thing we could do, or here’s a way I could play it that might be unexpected.” And then you give it a shot. And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes you go off on these amazing tangents that are hilarious, but it doesn’t move the story forward, so you’ve got to kill it, so it doesn’t see the light of day. But I do think improv is becoming more and more a part of the program.
JJ: But it depends on the project. Because there are certain projects you go in, you read it, and it’s right, and you’re like “I’m going to just try my hardest.” Funny thing--I was talking to Jonah Hill about this, and he was saying an actor’s job is easy essentially. Your job is to do the script. In the world I’m in, the scripts I’m getting, a lot of them are not great.
Now, to be honest, because obviously I’m not in the Jonah Hill world. The scripts those guys get are from the finest writers that our country has to offer. Not only does the story work, but you just deliver these lines, and you find your character, and it’s incredible. The scripts I’m getting, that we’re getting, the bones work is there. But the reason that we called each other and said we need the three of us, is if the lead wasn’t Damon with myself, and he wasn’t an improvisor, we’re in a world of hurt, because we went into every single scene, we would hang out in our hotel room with the writer, and come up with new ideas and say, “This doesn’t work. We don’t need to change the story. You wrote a great story. But now this could be a bit, this could be a bit, we have here…” And now we’re starting three places away from the script. So in a movie like this, we didn’t do the “Do the script, and then do your ‘fun one’.” A lot of projects, they’ll say do that, but on a project like this, the project we agreed to before we signed on, we didn’t agree to do this script,;we agreed to do this story.
Capone: Having worked closely a couple of times with Swanberg, he obviously is all about improvising, and you’ve worked with Mark Duplass before, and his films with his brother are about using improv to get at something emotional, not just for laughs.
JJ: I think they’re the same thing. Actors who can improvise like these guys… I think it’s why Riggle is obviously so good in this, and also Damon, all his dramatic stuff in this movie is what carries it. I think guys who can really improvise, who aren’t stand up, but guys who can improvise moments, they can do anything. And guys like Swanberg capitalize on it and say, “Alright, let’s improvise the good, the bad, and the ugly,” and if you improvise a joke in his thing, he’ll say, “Do that take again, but don’t do a joke. I don’t want any one liners.” He’s not looking to make a movie that’s like, “The hardest you’ll laugh in 2015 is in a Swanberg movie.” But you believe in all the characters, and it’s natural, and once you step into it for a lot of actors, it’s really paradise to do.
Capone: So, when does “New Girl” start shooting then?
JJ: August 4th is our first day.
Capone: So what did you do this summer? We know what you did this summer, Jake. What did you do this summer, Damon?
DW: A lot of promoting this movie. I wrote a feature, and I lent my voice to this Disney movie called BIG HERO 6. I’m one of the voices of the 6. So that was really fun.
Capone:And what about you, Rob? What’s up for you next?
RR: DUMB AND DUMMER TO coming out November 14.
JJ: Woo hoo!
RR: And I just shot a movie over in London in April with Terry Jones directing [ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING].
Capone: That’s a great cast too. Simon Pegg…
RR: With Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, and Eddie Izzard, and some really great folks. Just a chance to work with Terry Jones was my little comedy dream.
Capone: Yeah no kidding.
JJ: And then Riggle and Damon are working on a project called “Nerd Dorks on Horses,” where it’s a reality show where it’s just a bunch of nerd dorks who ride horses bareback with no bottoms.
RR: Well, it’s being developed.
DW: And Jake’s writing this feature he stars in called “I’m a Lonely Nerd and I Like My Thumb Up My Bum.”
RR: It’s a long title, a long title.
JJ: Damon’s working on a new cooking show to compete with all the shows where he just tastes as many dudes’ butts as he can. He’ll go like this, “Nom, nom, nom. Your butt’s salty.”
RR: Jake’s going to co-host QVC which is weird. It’s weird.
DW: Jake’s writing a book called “Dick Diaries,” and it’s him writing in a diary with a dick.
JJ: Um, you guys are immature. I’m trying to take this seriously. Grow up!
Capone: I’ve got to ask you about JURASSIC WORLD. Who do you play in that? It’s great you guys are getting back with [SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED director] Colin Trevorrow and [SNG writer] Derek Connolly.
JJ: I’m actually not allowed to talk too much about it.
Capone: Yeah I figured, but tell me anyway.
JJ: [laughs] Bryce Dallas Howard is in there, you’ve got Chris Pratt, and I get a few texts here and there from Colin saying they’re having the time of their life. It’s awesome. And the script’s really great. Derek and Colin wrote this one together, and they’re going for it. They’re not just adding on to the franchise. They’re fans of it, and they want to take it to the next level.
Capone: I interviewed them in Austin for SAFETY and quickly realized that these guys are like nerd central. They love this stuff.
JJ: The only thing I can give you about my character that’s fun in terms of nerding out about JURASSIC is that my character loves Jurassic World and Jurassic Park. We’re playing with this idea that they know the legacy of the park. But that’s all I can give.
Capone: I know your character is a tech guy who is running it from the control room for a while. See, I know a few things about it.
[Johnson gets a slightly nervous look on his face]
JJ: You said that though, not me.
Capone: It was great to see you again, guys. Great to meet you, Damon.