Vince Vaughn, Kevin James and director Ron Howard generate big laughs in 'The Dilemma,' Howard's first adult comedy since 'EDtv,' in which Vaughn plays a businessman who discovers that his best friend's (James) wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder), is having an affair with another man (Channing Tatum).
"The concept of the movie isn't do you tell or don't you tell," Vaughn told reporters on the set of the movie in August. "The concept of the movie is, how do you navigate it and maintain the friendship? And that really becomes the journey the characters go on."
We already revealed a few fun facts about the filming of 'The Dilemma' in our initial report set report, but read on for our interview with the comedy's stars and director.
So after years of helming dramas, what made Ron Howard want to get back into comedies? Howard said he got the idea following a college campus tour of his 2008 drama, 'Frost/Nixon.' "The first hour of it has a lot of laughs," he said. "I remember how exciting it was to sit in the audience and to sort of know there's a funny moment coming ... and you're sort of waiting, waiting, waiting. For me, that was a throwback. It just reminded me that [comedy is] rewarding."
Howard's longtime producing partner, Brian Grazer, had already pitched the concept for 'The Dilemma' to Vaughn, who eventually signed on to star and co-produce. Howard decided to direct it after reading Allan Loeb's screenplay. "It's always hard to find stories that I felt were in and of themselves fresh enough and intriguing enough," Howard said. "The characters are great, the scenes are funny, but the situations ring true, and they lend themselves to a kind of cinematic urgency and visual approach that is a little bit different than what you would do in a straight ahead character comedy."
James saw 'The Dilemma' as an opportunity to do a different kind of comedy from 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop' and 'Grown Ups.' "Immediately when I read it, it felt a little bit classier than the stuff I've been doing," he said with a chuckle. "It felt this one ... [had] more of a serious tone and [a] more serious subject, which I loved. And that could be a movie where you lose the laughs ... and it's not that. It [has] huge laughs. And I love it because they're earned, and they're characters you're really invested in."
For co-star Jennifer Connelly, who plays Vaughn's girlfriend, Beth, 'The Dilemma' marks a rare performance in a straight comedy. "I liked the idea of playing someone who is just normal, who's just nice," she said. And with Howard at the helm -- the same director who guided her to an Oscar in 'A Beautiful Mind' -- the experience wasn't too foreign for her. "It's really different subject matter ... [but] it was a really similar process [to 'A Beautiful Mind.']," she said. "[Howard] likes to have a good amount of time for prep. ... He likes to talk through the script and work through all that stuff before we start. ... It was a nice reunion."
Vaughn was also on familiar territory while filming 'The Dilemma,' as it was the fifth Chicago-based movie in which he has starred and produced. "For me, this is home," said the Lake Forest, Ill., native. "To come here and get a chance to film here means a lot to me. And I feel like I'm shaped a lot from coming from this part of the country."
Howard credits Vaughn for setting scenes at local spots like a Chicago Blackhawks hockey game and The Wieners Circle, a famous hot dog stand. "[Chicago] has given it a little different cadence, a little different vibe, and I'm happy about that," Howard said. "If this story had played out in New York or L.A., it might have a little more familiar sort of sound or rhythm."
Vaughn also heavily improvised his way through the shoot, an approach he's traditionally taken to his roles, which Howard nurtured and the cast embraced. "It was kind of like Double Dutch for me to jump in with him. But it was seamless, it honestly was," James said of improvising with Vaughn. "This man is a savant at making the script better."
"Sometimes you do a free one because it kind of makes it fresh," Vaughn said. "If something strikes you in the moment, if you know your character, but most importantly you know where your scene is supposed to go, it's no different than method acting. It's just listening, so you can respond appropriately if something happens that you don't expect."
Even with bankable stars like Vaughn and James, convincing audiences to see an escapist comedy whose central conceit is tied to adultery may be very problematic. Despite the heavy subject matter, Howard says there's fun to be had. "We don't shy away from the pain that this circumstance generates. We just also never ignore the irony of it and the potential for comedy," he said. "I think that the pressure that it throws on the characters to question sort of everything they all understand or trust about one another goes even beyond the cheating aspect of the story, and it really gives us great stuff to work with."
'The Dilemma' opens in theaters on Jan. 14.