Watching Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, and Jake Johnson crash a therapy session for Hannibal Buress might be one of the best sentences ever.
It's also one of the many funny, improv-fueled things we saw last year on our visit to the set of "Tag," a new summer comedy based on a very real (and very hilarious/heartwarming) story about small-town friends playing an adult game of no-holds-barred tag.
Based on a very popular Wall Street Journal article from 2013, "Tag" centers on a group of friends who have spent years playing a crazy-elaborate game of tag that spans the entire United States. We caught up with the guys (well, the actors playing them) while they were filming in Georgia last summer, along with producer Todd Garner. Here's what we found out:
Todd Garner, Producer:
1. On Jeremy Renner's character: "Jeremy Renner is playing the guy who has never been tagged. He's just ultra competitive. He's just kind of in this group of friends, that sort of hung his hat on never being tagged. And, you know, he owns a gym and he's super cocky and competitive and he has never left his small town, so he's a bigger fish in the smaller town."
2. On Jon Hamm's character: "Hamm is based on the guy who was tagged." Garner continued, "He was a big executive at Nordstrom. He's loosely based on him. [Jon Hamm's character], Callahan, is a guy who couldn't wait to get out of this small town. He took his competitiveness and applied it to the real world, and he's now hugely successful -- the most successful of the group. And he has disdain for the small town and doesn't really appreciate coming back as much as the other guys do.
3. On Ed Helms' character: "Hoagy, Ed Helms, is the heart and soul of the game. He's a guy who has loved this game, and he's really been hyper aware of what the game means to the group, and what it does for the guys, that it actually holds these guys together. In real life, there's been tags at births, funerals, inceptions of kids, for real. One guy was tagged when his wife was going to chemo. It really just is... it seems awful, but it really just is an excuse for them to come together."
4. On Jake Johnson's character: "Jake Johnson is playing a guy named Chilly. Chilly has kind of gone the other way. The competitiveness has not bled into him at all. He's very chill. He's going through a divorce. He's at a crossroads later in life and trying to figure out where to go from here."
5. On Hannibal Buress' character: "And then Sable, who's played by Hannibal Buress, is that kid who was just the great kid, the always in a good mood guy. He was always part of the group and he's now going through a rough patch because the game has probably bled into his insecurity and his paranoia. He's in therapy. He's having trouble with relationships because his trust issues have bled into his real life. And you see why he has trust issues, because -- every May -- he's being hunted."
6. Garner revealed that the actors made significant contributions to the story and their characters.
"You know, when you write a movie, any kind of movie, especially if there are one or two people, it's difficult when you have five primary main characters, who have embodied these characters -- now, by this point, we're nine days from wrap. They know these characters inside and out, so a couple of writers in a room five months ago have a completely different set of rules than we're following right now. Once you get it on its feet, and these guys are monster improv-ers. Even Renner, whom I've never really known to be funny, is just killing it. He's so funny."
7. On his character's personal life: "My character is going through a divorce, he owns a weed dispensary in Denver, he's making good money on it, he's part of the boom, he wants marijuana to be legalized throughout despite what our attorney general might say. He loves playing tag with his buddies, and he's having some fun."
8. On how he was approached for the movie: "I know [director] Jeff Tomsic, and he said he was trying to put this thing together and the idea of a movie about a group of adults who play Tag seemed ridiculous, and how he wanted to shoot the action, and he wants to do the action sequences as if it's an action film. When they found out Renner was in it, playing the "untouchable" one, and he was gonna play it Jason Bourne-esque, I thought: 'That's weird enough that with this ensemble, we'll see what we can do with it.'"
9. Were the actors able to enjoy a little bonding time before filming began? "No, this movie was off days before we started shooting, so we all got together on the first day."
Johnson continued: "Honestly, it's a really nice group of people. You never know what the chemistry of it (will be) but everybody feels like kind of a seasoned vet, you don't have people who this is their first movie and they're like 'I'm a star and I'm a maniac.' Everybody's kinda knowing what it is and everybody knows what they do, and I think we all kinda like what others are doing in it."
10. On Chilly's ex-girlfriend, played by Rashida Jones. "She also grew up with us, we all grew up friends, and her character is someone who got married -- and her husband passed away -- so this is the first time my character is seeing her since then. But knowing that we're going back home, and Renner's character is getting married, my character kinda knows that she's going to be around."
11. Will the movie flash back to show the characters playing in their prime? "They do, yeah. I know they're doing a bunch of flashbacks, I don't know if they're going to us it, but they want to show kids doing it and showing the origins of it, whenever you've got something based on a true story you kind of have to pay respect to them."
12. On who made him laugh the hardest and how Jones was brought on board: "Isla Fisher is so damn funny. She makes me laugh really hard, but everybody's really funny. I really wanted to do scenes with Rashida Jones for a long time, so I didn't sign on until she had signed on. So when I saw the ensemble, I really liked the ensemble, but her character was a little underwritten -- as in a lot of female characters in these kinda movies -- where they're in for five days, and if you got the wrong female actress, there is nothing to that part."
"So I kept talking about the part and then I realized, I don't want to pitch jokes and options for this character because I can't really write her. So I talked to Jeff, and I said: 'If you can get Rashida Jones...' and knowing how smart she is -- not just as an actress, but as a writer -- so then I started texting her and begging her. So, when she came in, I came in. My character is obviously into the tag, that's the fun of the movie, that's the engine, but without that kind of love story in there, as an actor, I didn't see my way into the story until she was in it."
13. Did working on "The Mummy" help him prepare for the stunts? "Actually, no, but I probably would not have done this if I had not done that, because I had so much fun doing the stunts. Before I did that movie, the idea of running around in the woods I thought like 'There's gotta be an easier way to make money.'"
14. Did he join in on the action scenes, given how laid-back his characters usually are? "We had a few, you know, some golf cart scenes -- and we sped around in that a little bit. It was the most active I've ever been on a movie set."
15. On the fun of improv-ing with his co-stars: "It's always fun when somebody just says some stuff that they might have been doing something the same way a few takes, and then they just switch up and you just try not to break up on camera... I mean, most of the s*** probably won't even make it. It makes for good bonus features."
16. On the similarities between he and his character: "He's neurotic and he's just a neurotic overthinking-type of person that sounds a lot like Hannibal Buress."
17. On which scene was the most fun to film: "The golf cart chase scene was really fun, just because we were in a pretty fast golf cart. I didn't get to drive, but I would drive them in between takes and it was just really fun."
18. On working with Brian Dennehy and Thomas Middleditch: "Yeah. I think Middleditch only shot one day a month or so ago. Brian Dennehy -- he hasn't shot yet. I didn't meet him. But, yeah, Middleditch's scene was... he brought some different stuff that wasn't on the paper to it and he did his thing. It was pretty weird and fun."
19. On how the outside world reacts to this massive game of tag: "There's a -- I think there's a funeral scene where Tag happens at a funeral. There's a couple places like in the hospital, but it's mostly kind of kept and it's more about the interaction between the guys."
20. On how his character draws from the real-life story: "In our sort of world, he runs an insurance company. And the exciting event, he's being interviewed by his Wall Street Journal reporter -- played by Annabelle Wallis -- and this crazy thing happens, where Ed Helms runs into a board meeting and chases him around the table. Which I gathered actually happened. The person was like, 'You want to explain what just happened there because that's really weird." And he's like, "Oh, I play tag with some friends of mine." For one month of the year, since we were nine. And the guy's like, 'Yeah, that's not normal.'"
21. On why he wanted to be involved with the film: "The cast is a big time part of it, and the story, which I think is really funny. I just thought it was a funny idea. You know when I tell people that it's sort of the beginning five minutes of the movie, they're like, 'Wait, that really happened?' It really happened. People really do this crazy s***."
'Tag" hits theaters June 15, 2018.