The DVD/Blu-ray for Tropic Thunder is out and in honor of that comic event, I got the opportunity to speak to writer Justin Theroux for UGO.COM. You've certainly heard his name... he's writing the highly anticipated sequel to Iron Man. Not a bad gig, right? Especially for someone who spent most of his career as an actor. He was "Evil DJ" in Zoolander, and had been working on Tropic Thunder with co-star Ben Stiller for the past ten years. We asked him about the DVD/Blu-ray release and some of the more, well, controversial moments in the film... and, of course, Iron Man 2, the whole Rhodey casting drama, and whether or not the size of the role was changed.
UGO: Tropic Thunder is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. So was it always the plan to have Robert Downey Jr. do the commentary in character?
Justin Theroux: (laughs) No, I think that was decided at the last moment. That part was pretty damn funny though.
UGO: Tell me about writing the script... there were three of you. How did that work? Did you email back and forth, or write in the same room?
JT: It was a really long process. I think, I forget what it was. Like ten years or something, working on that thing. Long time of working. And basically it was me and Ben hashing out the story and hashing out the characters. Basically sort of sitting around, laughing a lot. And then eventually it came time to sit down and do some work. We'd write a bunch of scenes and then me and Ben got pretty busy. So then we called Etan (Cohen) in to basically produce a draft... and then we started writing on that draft, sort of honing it and making it what we wanted it to be. And it kept evolving and evolving all the way till when we were on set.
UGO: And about the "Simple Jack" controversy, have any more issues popped up since the DVD/Blu-ray release?
JT: Not really. I mean, I think, no. It was sort of a non-controversy. We know it was a non-controversy when it was going on. And now it's just proven to be what we thought it was. Unfortunately the people who took the most umbrage at it never actually saw the movie or let us show it to them. They beat the drum until it was kind of exhausted.
UGO: Well good. Because it was hysterical.
JT: Yeah, it bummed me out only because it made people self conscious about the joke. It gave people that extra tentativeness to go, ooh, should I be laughing at this, whereas before the controversy, people just laughed.
UGO: You have this and Robert in black face. Do you think you can ever go too far?
JT: Yes, you can. You can go too far by making it not funny. Mean spirited. There's the Andrew Dice Clay version of jokes which are just racist... obviously that was not a joke we were trying to make ever. The joke we were trying to make was obviously on actors playing parts that they shouldn't be playing. And that was funny to us. But yeah, you can go too far, for sure. And I think the times where we felt like the intention of our jokes were getting ahead of us, where people might even misunderstand them, we would dial it back, and really make it as grounded a joke as possible so people would, even with the leap of faith wouldn't be able to say there was something there that wasn't there.
UGO: You got involved with the script for Iron Man 2 because of your work with Robert Downey Jr...
JT: Robert introduced me to those guys over at Marvel.
UGO: How psyched were you?
JT: I was sooo damn psyched! Are you kidding me? It's like a dream job. Happy to take that meeting.
UGO: So where are you with the script at this point?
JT: We've kind of got a first draft around. You know what I mean? I just got back from London where I was working with Robert and Kevin Feige. He was out there. We were talking with Robert, who's out there doing Sherlock Holmes, he was giving his input and his notes. We're sort of there. It's just sort of chugging along. The crews, I think, are now starting to see what they need to make, and the places that we might be going and all the rest within the story. That's sort of one of the more exciting times.
UGO: So you weren't involved in the whole Terrence Howard/Don Cheadle thing... unless you were, and you want to tell me something...
JT: No, I wasn't. I genuinely wasn't. (laughs)
UGO: There have been reports that the role of War Machine was scaled back and then beefed up.
JT: No, that's all nonsense. Whatever their reason is, I'll leave that up to Marvel. We're writing the thing, virtually the same for Rhodey that we would for any actor. We're really taking what's going to be the most interesting story for the fans, and what are they going to enjoy watching. And who ever's in that part is going to have to play that part and make it work for Jon Favreau and the fans who are watching the movie.
UGO: So the size of the role wasn't ever changed?
JT: No. God, no.
UGO: So did you have to, or did you try to accommodate Don Cheadle's acting style?
JT: I think that will probably be something that comes up... I haven't met Don, and I think I'm going to in a little bit and I think once I get a better sense of his voice and also hear what he has to say about what he likes about the character and just pick his brain a little bit, then we'll obviously start to tailor it to him. Once he sort of gets more involved in the process then we'll start tapering the length of his character... making it fit just right.
UGO: Everyone's speculating about the villain. Are we talking Mandarin? Or Evil DJ?
JT: (laughs) I think it's Evil DJ. He could be the villain in this movie. I don't know. I mean, I do know but I'm not going to let that cat out. I'll let Jon start discussing when he thinks it's the right time.
UGO: Considering that everyone's coming together for the Avengers movie, were you ever told that certain things had to be in the story or that things had to go a certain way?
JT: No. I mean, I think we're all sort of conscious of the fact that all these people... it is the Marvel universe, but that's really about as far as we've been made... they haven't given us any instruction as far as we want you to do this or we want you to do that. And really it's not really a they/us kind of environment, the way they work. It's just a bunch of guys and girls sitting in a room, trying to come up with stuff and doing what's right for the movie and what, at the end of the day, is going to be the most interesting film that can be made. Kind of a fun film. I think once we're sort of locked on that we'll be able to think about how we can thread things through. There's a couple little things that we've been working on, but it's not that we've been taking meetings with Avengers people. It's not like we're six screenwriters sitting in a room from each movie and thinking about how we're gonna work on each other's things.
UGO: Have you written Stan Lee's cameo yet?
JT: No, I don't think so. (laughs) I don't know, I don't know. Jon will anoint him with that cameo, I'm sure.
UGO: Gwyneth Paltrow is still listed as "rumored". Is she confirmed?
JT: I don't know. I don't know if she's confirmed or not... I'm planning like she is there but I have no idea.
UGO: Finally, what voice do you think you bring to the script, to make it different from the last one?
JT: I'm not really trying to bring a different voice. I'm trying to mimic and sing in the same key as the script that was there before. If anything, I think I bring a knowledge of the way Robert's mind works. I've worked with him once before. Hopefully I've proven I have some modicum of creative relationship with Jon and Marvel. So I really think my job is to work with them and not try and strike any new chords. Of course we want to make the story different and interesting. We want the action to be really good. But I think my job is really just to... serve the ultimate guy, which is Iron Man.
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