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The Art of Comedy: Jake Johnson Let's Be Cops
Wednesday, 10 December 2014Let's Be CopsDirector: Luke GreenfieldGenre: Action, ComedyRated: MARunning Time: 104 minutes Synopsis: A pair of buddies hatch a plan to impersonate police officer but soon find themselves way in over their heads.Release Date: November 13th, 2014
About The Production
Let's Be Cops is the ultimate buddy cop movie except for one thing: they're not cops. When two struggling pals dress as police officers for a costume party, they become neighborhood sensations. But when these newly minted "heroes" get tangled in a real life web of mobsters and dirty detectives, they must put their fake badges on the line.
These fake cops have just found some real trouble.
Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Ryan O'Malley (Jake Johnson) have been languishing since their school days ended. Justin toils at a videogame company, where his bosses prefer zombie antics instead of Justin's recent game proposal that features real-life cops. Ryan, still reveling in his glory days as a college quarterback, bounces from job to job – his appearance in a herpes drug commercial was a career highlight – without success.
A wrongheaded visit to a masquerade party changes everything. Thinking it is a costume bash, Justin and Ryan sport LAPD uniforms Justin had used in his recent videogame pitch. After being laughed out of the black tie party, they notice something has changed as they walk down the streets of Hollywood: women swarm them, bad guys follow their every command and bartenders give them drinks on the house, all because they are mistaken for cops. For Ryan, this is the ultimate high, though the shy Justin is less enthusiastic at the prospect of real police busting them. Soon, Ryan has purchased a police car (off eBay!), lights and a radio scanner – and the boys are rolling up to real 911 calls.
Wearing a police badge has also done wonders for Justin's love life, as waitress Josie (Nina Dobrev) begins to warm up to him at a modest restaurant the guys frequent. But their street hubris runs afoul of Euro-mobster Mossi Devic (James D'Arcy) and his pack of thugs, leading Devic to target the two "officers" for extermination.
Real LAPD personnel have also noticed Justin and Ryan on the streets. Straight arrow Officer Segars (Rob Riggle) salutes Ryan's fake sergeant stripes, while hard-edged superior Detective Brolin (Andy Garcia) puts the pair on his own radar.
By the time Justin and Ryan stumble into a dangerously complicated game of cat and mouse where mobsters and bad cops are the featured players, our two heroes are in way over their heads…and trying feverishly to keep them attached.
The idea for Let's Be Cops was born when director/co-writer Luke Greenfield decided to spend Halloween in a police officer's uniform – a choice that had unexpected consequences.
"My costume designer at the time got me a real LAPD uniform and my buddy and I walked around Los Angeles," Luke Greenfield remembers. "The sense of power and authority was incredible. I was single at the time, and it became quite easy to talk to women on the street."
With co-writer and executive producer Nicholas Thomas, Greenfield developed the pitch that was to become Let's Be Cops. "We came up with the idea quite quickly," says Nick Thomas. "We pitched the project to 20th Century Fox, and it sold."
"The two lead characters have no money and their self-worth is gone," says Greenfield. "Then, all of a sudden, they are street heroes. Their fun masquerade escalates to the point where it starts getting dangerous and they mess with the wrong people."
The two writers created the two principal characters somewhat in their own images. "Justin is me," says Luke Greenfield. "He's passionate about what he creates in the videogame world, as I am about my motion picture projects. Only he's afraid to be direct and authoritative. Ryan is sort of based on Nick Thomas. He is more outspoken and braver, and more likely to get us both into hot water."
The first thing the filmmakers did after getting the production green light was cast the lead characters, Justin and Ryan. They chose two comic actors who were actually close pals.
"Damon and Jake are close friends, big fans of one another's work and had been dying to do a film together," Luke Greenfield adds. "Casting them was incredible luck, because throughout production they were always off in a corner, laughing and joking just like their characters. The characters audiences will see on screen are very close to who Damon and Jake really are. It was fantastic."
"Jake and I get along so well that we bring a lot of our own relationship to the movie," says Damon Wayans, Jr. "Justin and Ryan are like brothers, or like a married couple who fight and make up. Jake Johnson and I work so well together because we get along really well off camera. We are always doing bits and have a similar sense of humor. It helped that we were free to explore and improvise."
Jake Johnson was thrilled to be cast along with his close pal. "Damon and I had done the 'New Girl' [television series] pilot together and we got along great," says Jake Johnson, who's now before the cameras in "Jurassic World." "We made a pact that we were going to do something together. He is truly one of the reasons I did this film."
During pre-production, Luke Greenfield encouraged both actors to get some police training, but to avoid a boot camp-like, ultra-realistic experience. "I wanted them to know just enough about being police officers to get by, just like their characters," says the director. "They went on a ride-along with police and learned how to fire a gun. Damon is pretty athletic and he became a very good shot. Jake went out with our police advisor and fired shotguns and pistols, while Rob Riggle, who is a former Marine, already knew how to handle weaponry."
The actors spent a lot of time under the supervision of ace stunt coordinator Steven Ritzi ("Prisoners," "12 Years a Slave") to ensure that the film's pratfalls and gunplay were as realistic – and/or funny – as possible.
One of the film's memorable action scenes sees Damon Wayans Jr., Rob Riggle and Jake Johnson responding to a police call at a hardware store in the middle of the night. There, the faux cops Justin and Ryan have a run-in with a 350-pound Samoan burglar running amok – wearing nothing but a fierce grin.
"This guy is running at me butt naked," says Damon Wayans. "I take him down but he lands right on top of me and is climbing all over, putting his behind right in my face. Let me tell you, I took a long shower after that scene."
But with all the crazy stunts and action, the most important component of Let's Be Cops is the close relationship between Justin and Ryan, lifetime buddies who may bicker non-stop, but always have each other's backs.
"Audiences will be pulling for Ryan and Justin," says Jack Johnson. "Ryan is crazier and more spontaneous than Justin, who is more grounded. Together they are a perfect yin and yang, bringing out the best in one another."
Damon Wayans agrees. "These guys fight like brothers, and then they make up like brothers. It is their friendship that stood out for me and made me want to do this movie. Luke Greenfield also saw that this film walked a fine line between comedy and action, and he was always great in blending the two while Jake and I ran around, crazily."
Keeping the guys in (the thin blue) line is Officer Segars, played by comedy veteran Rob Riggle ("21 Jump Street"), a straight-arrow cop who forms an unexpected alliance with the two fake ones. "Segars is a sincere police officer who's just trying to serve and protect," says Riggle.
Segars may be the polar opposite to the two jokers pretending to be cops, but when it gets all-too-real for the fake boys in blue, Seagers actually comes to admire Justin and Ryan. "They're not cops and probably not even good citizens," says Rob Riggle, "but when they get involved in some real serious stuff, and have to make the choice to either walk away or get involved, they go all in, and Segars goes all in with them. It's a good moment."
Another unexpected ally to Justin and Ryan is Pupa, a Dominican gangbanger with dreadlocks and gangster tats. Pupa, portrayed by Keegan-Michael Key, is a henchman to a crime lord, who is captured and interrogated and "water boarded" by the inept wannabe cops. "Yeah, they tie Pupa to an ironing board and try and water board him in a sink," says Keegan-Michael Key, who stars with Jordan Peele in the acclaimed Comedy Central series "Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele." "And Pupa pretty much just gets a refreshing drink out of the experience."
"They're not very good at interrogating," he adds in a huge understatement.
The fake officers' gruff and ultimately dangerous superior is Detective Brolin, played by Andy Garcia. Luke Greenfield had long admired the acclaimed actor's work, including his intense performances in the police thriller "Internal Affairs" and the box-office smash "The Untouchables." "But the truth is, for Let's Be Cops Andy just wanted to be funny," says Luke Greenfield. "I had to tone him down because his character is really a nasty piece of work. We needed a consummate pro to pull off this part, and Andy Garcia is that and so much more."
Andy Garcia notes "there is an undercurrent of humor in my character, but it comes with a serious intent. I really liked walking that edge, having this dangerous presence."
Another dark role to fill was that of malevolent crime lord Mossi Devic, which went to British actor James D'Arcy ("Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," "Hitchcock"). In choosing the wiry James D'Arcy, Luke Greenfield only had one request: bulk up in the gym and learn some hand to hand fighting. Mossi is a murderous thug who revels in mixed martial arts style combat, and D'Arcy sculpted his frame to fit the character.
"James D'Arcy was just incredible," says Luke Greenfield. "We found him a top MMA fighter and trainer in Atlanta, where we shot the film. James D'Arc really hooked into training. This instructor told James D'Arc that he'd have to be in the gym every day for six hours a day and eat a special diet. And James D'Arc went from being this polite, intellectual, sweet guy into a total feral animal in just seven weeks!"
James D'Arc dedicated himself for nearly two months to a strict gym regimen, transforming his body into a lean, mean fighting machine. "Mossi loves violence," says James D'Arc. "And it doesn't get any more violent in sport than MMA fighting. He's confrontational and aggressive and he loves it. I found myself standing in the ring with real professional fighters, and after seven weeks, I had a new attitude as well as a new body."
The final principal role to cast was that of the beautiful waitress Josie, a new employee at the guys' hangout, Georgie's Restaurant. "Josie dreams of being a makeup artist just like Justin dreams of being a videogame designer," says Nicholas Thomas. "But her history with men is not good. She calls herself a 'douchebag magnet' because of all the liars and cheaters who have gravitated towards her in the past. But once she sees Justin in his uniform, she thinks she has finally found her true hero."
Nina Dobrev, who stars in the hit television series "The Vampire Diaries," was looking to do a comedic role when she read the script for Let's Be Cops. "The coolest part about doing a comedy is that you do a take as written and then have the freedom to improvise," says Nina Dobrev. "Jake and Damon play off each other, and whoever is with them better be able to roll with the punches. It was so liberating to work with them."
"Nina Dobrev is a fantastic actress, but who knew she could be so goofy," says Jake Johnson. "She would surprise us by improvising these physical bits like tripping or falling or spilling something that just totally brought a fresh and vital twist to the scene."
About the Film
Let's Be Cops was shot in Atlanta, which stands in for the story's Los Angeles setting. "The challenge was to find elements of architecture in Atlanta that fit the neighborhoods in L.A.," says executive producer Jeremiah Samuels.
Production designer William Arnold knew it would be the little things that would transform the Georgia metropolis into the City of Angels. "It's very lush in Atlanta, while much of Los Angeles is an arid environment with palm trees everywhere," he explains. "I wanted to eliminate all those things indicative of Atlanta, such as red brick buildings and flowering trees. Luckily, I found an area of downtown Atlanta with a commercial strip that had the perfect combination of older architecture and parking lots that could plausibly stand in for the streets of Hollywood, like Sunset Boulevard, Selma Avenue or Cahuenga Boulevard."
William Arnold built the restaurant Georgie's from the ground up. He also built two main sets on a soundstage: the underground tunnels between Georgie's and Devic's lair, the Tirana Club, and the interior of Justin and Ryan's dingy apartment.
A key design element was the police uniforms, overseen by costume designer Debra McGuire, who has created wardrobe for iconic television series ("Friends"), as well as hit film comedies ("Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"). For McGuire, the most challenging factor would be to make the notoriously bulky police costumes breathable for use during the hot Atlanta shooting days.
"Police uniforms are quite uncomfortable," she says. "They are made of thick polyester. So I made Damon's and Jake's uniforms from the lightest weight cotton imaginable. But still, when you have to wear a bulletproof vest and a gun belt, it's still going to be awkward. We called it 'cop couture' and those uniforms were designed to look tight and unwieldy in the beginning, then smooth out as the guys became more comfortable being cops."
Whatever the challenges, the filmmakers always strove to bring together rich, outrageous character comedy with explosive action "It all works together – the action, comedy and the friendship between Justin and Ryan," Luke Greenfield notes. "I want Let's Be Cops to take audiences for a ride."