Native New Yorker Garry Marshall has been a part of film and television culture for three decades. His latest is a return to romantic comedy, "Valentine’s Day", best described as a cinematic collage of romantic vignettes featuring an all-star cast that includes his "Pretty Woman" lead Julia Roberts. Marshall talked to the recently retired Paul Fischer in one of our correspondent's final interviews for Dark Horizons.
Question: It seems you’ve kind of decided to go back to where your career as a director began with "Pretty Woman", which was really the establishment of your feature career with Julia and part of the location being in Beverly Hills. Was that by intention, or was it purely coincidental?
Marshall: Well, it’s purely coincidental they sent me a script that hit it, but it was one of that things that made me want to do the picture because I wanted to shoot in LA. This was kind of a chance to do a love letter to Los Angeles. The other, "Pretty Woman", we showed a lot of other spots but we were mostly into the story there. This was kind of free-wheeling, and had a lot of different actors in it. And I love love stories, "Pretty Woman" did kick off that – but I had done that kind of thing before with "Overboard". This was really a culmination of a lot of what I have done in my career, because there are stars I’ve worked with before. This had what I always like to do, which is comedy and love and emotion. What I try to get in, which is a thing not so popular today, but I like it – it’s called charm. People can be charming, and involve you in their lives. I thought I had the actors to do it in this one.
Question: Well, what were the challenges for you to create this very diverse cast? I mean, this is a huge cast. Was it a challenge?
Marshall: “Huge” is an understatement.
Question: I know!
Marshall: [LAUGHTER] So, you gotta take a moment to salute the business affairs – you know, salute them, and say, “Hey, you got these people.” Because we didn't know who was coming on certain days, and this and that. However since I am fearless of anything, I figured, “Whatever it is, we’ll make it work.” It was a challenge, but a challenge that was also... I could have fun with it. I didn't have to address it seriously. I said, “Come on! We’re here, we’ll do this. How about this?” and the actors were terrific. It’s nice to get up in the morning and go to work, and every day somebody shows up that can actually act very well.
Question: Did you always feel that you wanted to go back and work with Julia again, and this was the right time for you guys to reunite, as it were?
Marshall: Well, she was going to start this gigantic picture and she said, “Well, I’ll go with Garry for a little while, we’ll have some fun, and then I’ll go off on this adventure.” I had worked with her when she was a kid, and then when she was growing up here. Now she’s like, a mature woman with three kids. So, all different aspects of her were interesting. We always have a good time, we talk shorthand. She was happy to be with this, because the cinematographer and the set designer – a lot of the people were the same people from "Pretty Woman". I keep the same people a lot. Of course, they also understand my shorthand. So, we always have a good time. I’d work with her any time. Relationships you make on a movie, usually are lasting.
Question: Now, some of these actors could have been interchangeable. I mean, you could have had fun, for example, without giving too much away, with the two male characters toward the end being played by two very different actors. Did you kind of figure out pretty early on who would be perfect for which character? Or did you even have discussions with some of these actors and ask them who they think would be the best fit for them?
Marshall: Not really. I mean, Queen Latifah couldn't take Taylor Swift’s part.
Question: Right, I understand that.
Marshall: It wouldn't – she dances a different style. [LAUGHTER] But, no. I think the only part that was questioned was the two main characters – more or less Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher. The others were not considered for that. But all the others were specific. “Let’s get somebody to do this.” And – yes, there could have been another character, or another actor could have possibly played the parts. But we didn't want to interchange our actors. We didn't have people saying, “Oh, I want to play this, I want to play this.” We mostly said, “This is what we have.” I have a lot of actors say, “Oh, we don’t want to play the main part. We’ve only got a week.” But – no, they didn't want to change – there was no fighting. “I want to play this, she plays that,” or whatever.
Question: Do you think that the romantic comedy genre has changed a lot? Do you think audiences’ expectations of that genre has changed a lot?
Marshall: Yes. They have to – you know, you have to be careful. You make a teen movie, a love story, or that love story – it’s tricky. In this, I got a chance to make every age group. You’ve got to know that an older relationship, like Shirley and Hector, has to be done a certain way. Then young kids, you know, they make love with their thumbs now. They text, they’re always on the phones and fidgeting around. So, you do whatever is appropriate for that age group. That’s what I had a chance to do with this film. I had all the different aspects of it. I think – you know, it is valentine’s day, which has a built-in conflict. How many people fight about Arbor Day? But Valentine’s, you get people – “I hate it, I don’t want it, I get mixed up.” So, you’ve got a lot of built-in conflict there. So that’s what I thought was challenging, but would be fun and exciting for me.
Question: Now, with this tendency for TV shows to be turned into movies, how much pressure has there ever been on you? Has there ever been anyone who’s come to you and said, “Look, we really want to make a film of "Happy Days", or go back to any of those shows?” Is that something that you ever consider doing?
Marshall: Oh, yeah. Jamie Foxx is a very funny guy. And he was watching me direct this and that. Then he watched me do some stuff with the girls, and he said, “That’s right out of Laverne and Shirley. We should do that movie.” So, he and I are actually working on a "Laverne and Shirley" movie.
Question: Wow. Really?
Marshall: A different spin on it, but we’re working on it.
Question: Would you have any of the original girls in cameos?
Marshall: Well, my sister could act pretty well, but they may do a cameo. But we’d recast, and we’d do a different kind of movie. Jamie had this great idea about how to do it more street level, with "Laverne and Shirley", because he loved the show. He saw me, he says, “We can do that! We’ll get this and that.” So, we’re talking to people. I can't discuss the people. But, that is a part of it. They always want me to do this or that. We may do it, we may not. Who knows? But I think Jamie wants to do "Laverne and Shirley". That could happen. Nobody asked me that, so you can have that.
Question: You obviously don’t do every single movie that comes your way, and you aren’t getting any younger. What do you look for that really gets your juices flowing? I mean, what excites you these days about getting behind the camera?
Marshall: Well, I feel I’m not really dying to make a movie where people fly in the air. I admire that. I don't know quite how to do it. I see these big movies, or gigantic – I still like two people in a room. My son, who shoots second unit, made all the pretty shots in this film, and the big stuff. What excites me is a character. “Ooh, I can do this.” Even if it’s a little movie. You know, I said – there’s a movie I’m interested in, they say, “Well, that’s not commercial.” “No, but the character’s fascinating. I haven't done that kind of a love story.” But mostly, I do look for love stories that are funny.
Question: Is that because you believe – that you’re old-fashioned, and this is the kind of genre that is almost timeless, in a way?
Marshall: I think everybody knows about a love story. They said – must have said 100 times to me that "Pretty Woman" as a love story won't work in Europe. Love stories don’t work in Europe, you gotta kill somebody. "Pretty Woman" worked very well in Europe. So, I think love stories work around the world. If you can touch upon people, and they’re charming enough. I mean, I always like the laughter. But in "Valentine’s Day", I like the fact that there’s some wonderful silences, where the audience is just, like, totally into it, and they’re quiet. Plus they get surprised sometimes. So, that never is boring to me. But I always look for, mostly, something with an ending. A beginning and an ending. You can tap dance a little in the middle, but you’ve got to have a front and a back and that’s what I always look for.
Question: So, do you think your next project will be "Laverne and Shirley", or will you do something before that?
Marshall: Well, there’s a couple of things. Now I’m known as a holiday director. They’ve got another holiday for me to do. [LAUGHTER] And so we’ll do all the holidays. Easter, New Year's and Christmas. We’ll make something funny out of Arbor Day someday.
Question: You could always do some of the Jewish holidays, too. You could do Rosh Hoshana.
Marshall: Well, my son did a picture called "Keeping Up With the Steins". I don't know if you ever saw that.
Question: I did see that. Very funny.
Marshall: My son directed that. So, yeah, we did one of those. John Debney, who did the wonderful music in this film – he did "The Passion of Christ", and he did my son’s bar mitzvah. So, there you go. [LAUGHTER] And we’re Italians! Who knows what we do.
Question: Is this the most creative you’ve felt in a long time?
Marshall: I must say – that’s a good question. I felt very creative, because each day these are heavyweights we’re working with. They challenge you, to do a lot of things. So, I really had to be on my toes. I would say this is one of the most creative schedules I ever had. Each day I had to come up with something. It was fun, it was good and it really was exciting. I think one of the points of directing is, “Don’t fall asleep while you're doing it.” I didn't have a nap during this picture.