Even Scarlett Johansson has to get tired of kicking ass every once in a while (though somehow we never do), so it makes perfect sense that she’d want to get away with old college friends for a little fun. Such is the premise of Rough Night, the comedy that brings together Johansson with SNL’s Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer and Zoe Kravitz.
When their characters rent a Miami beach house for a bachelorette party, things get wild pretty quickly—and then completely out of hand for everyone. “This movie might seem to be about friends who find themselves in a not-so-average bachelorette party through a series of very over-the-top events [including the death of a male stripper and what they have to do about it], but the movie is really about friendship,” says Johansson, who gets a rare opportunity to act in a comedy with this film. “We often can take for granted the people that know us the best… This movie is a sort of cautionary tale about taking that for granted—and also it’s a celebration of that kind of deep friendship. Underneath this wild, R-rated comedy is a movie with a very warm heart about friendship.”
Lucia Aniello, co-writer, producer and director of Rough Night, adds, “It’s based on so many relationships that I have had, the feelings that I have with certain people from my past. It’s about figuring out how your past fits into your present and your future.”
“First and foremost, the movie is hilarious,” says producer Matt Tolmach. “The characters are so funny; the voices are so authentic. They created this insane movie about a group of women who go on a bachelorette party weekend and accidentally kill a guy—but it’s actually all about their friendships. It’s a crazy hard comedy that’s completely grounded.”
A unique element of the film is that it’s the first R-rated comedy focused on female characters, and directed by a woman, in nearly two decades. Comments Aniello, “I think it’s obvious that there’s been a dearth of stories told from the perspective of women, especially in the comedy world. Nothing against the R-rated comedies directed by men — but it does feel like the authenticity of a woman’s point of view can only make the female characters feel that much more authentic.”
Which seems like the perfect opening for taking a look at those characters and the ladies playing them.
Jess Thayer (Scarlett Johansson)
Jess is the bride-to-be who has spent her life in dedication to public service, moving towards obtaining the dream of becoming a part of the state legislature.
Says Johansson, “She is definitely a socially conscious person. She’s involved in the community and wants to make a positive difference in people’s lives. That’s why she’s running for state senate. Along the way, she’s neglected the people that are closest to her, as we do sometimes. She’s career driven and focused on making a difference.”
“Jess is one of those people who has moved on from her crazy college days and is trying to forge a new life in a genuine, earnest way,” adds Aniello.
As noted above, the biggest appeal of Rough Night for the actress was the opportunity to work in the world of comedy. “I read the script and it was just so funny,” she says. “It made me laugh out loud, and I’m not a person that laughs out loud. I laugh a lot on the inside, but it made me belly laugh. I just loved how real the relationships were between these girls and how very earnest the characters were. I responded to these characters and how very real and raw they are.”
What impressed Aniello was the way that the actress could strike a balance between being vulnerable and being funny.
“Scarlett not only is such an incredible actress, but, she also can be vulnerable, goofy, and silly,” she explains. “The ability to have that in a lead has grounded the movie exactly how I think we intended it to be. Scarlett can also destroy a punchline — she can just kill it. It's just been incredible to have that flexibility with an actor.”
Pippa/”Kiwi” (Kate McKinnon)
She’s Jess’ somewhat odd Australian friend she met while spending a semester abroad down under.
Offers McKinnon, “She's the freest spirit there possibly could be. There are no rules with Pippa. But even though she’s a strange bird, she’s also sincere, tender and sweet — she has an absolute joy — which I think is a good combo.”
The actress’ proven abilities from her years on Saturday Night Live left no doubt that she would bring something special to the ensemble. Says Aniello, “She's the new spice to the relationship. Kate comes in and quickly gives such a dynamic personality to the character. From the moment she shows up, every little pixel in her body tells you so much. She’s amazing.”
Part of that was McKinnon’s belief that beneath her organic nature and sincere honesty, there was a performer in Pippa waiting to emerge. “When we first talked with Kate about the character, she said, ‘I don't know why, but, I feel like maybe my character's a rapper,’” recalls co-writer Paul W. Downs. “She does Iggy Azalea on Saturday Night Live, so we thought it might be cool if she did something a little different — and we envisioned the character as a first-round contestant on a singing-contest show. So we suggested that to Kate, and the next day, we got a voice memo — she had written an original song about Pippa’s experience. It is so funny, and so earnest, and truly brilliant.”
Alice (Jillian Bell)
Everybody’s had an overly possessive friend, and in Jess’ case it’s Alice. Although they were extremely close in college, things have changed as the years have passed.
“Alice thinks she’s still Jess’ best friend,” explains Bell. “Alice believes that she and Jess are much closer than they actually are and that they can still have fun times together.” Alice is the one pushing to have this bachelorette weekend in order to recapture the good old days. She is definitely stuck in the past. She’s holding onto old memories, and old friends, unable to move forward, and this experience propels her out of the past.”
Aniello believes that, despite all of that, she absolutely means well: “Alice is one of those friends who hugs too hard and is a little too loud, but her actions are sweet and well intentioned,. She’s that friend that will always be in your corner, and Jess takes that for granted a little bit. Eventually, Jess comes to the realization that her friendship with Alice is invaluable.”
For Bell, the film allowed her to have some fun with physical comedy: “My character has a lot of stunts in this movie,” says Bell. “I actually had more stunts than everybody else. I got a call letting me know that I had too many stunts in the movie. And I thought, ‘That’s the first and last time I will probably ever get that call. I never do stunts.’ It gets a little wild, but, it’s fun.”
Ilana Glazer (Frankie)
The character of Frankie is the epitome of an activist in every way imaginable. Says Glazer, “She is a hyper-politicized rich kid from Brentwood who thinks the things that she does are very important. She forgoes a life of leisure to devote herself to making a difference.”
Being an activist, Frankie finds herself often at odds with the law which comes in handy with their dead stripper predicament. “Frankie has a complicated history with the law,” explains Glazer. “She has some legal history from both sides, mostly from the side of a person being convicted of something. And so, she knows to call a lawyer right away.”
Not surprisingly, in addition to trying to save the world, the character could spend a bit more time on herself. Explains Aniello, “Frankie uses the world's problems as a way to not deal with her personal relationships. She falls in love a lot, but at the end of the day, she isn't willing to put in the work, which is especially interesting because she has had a past with Blair. They had an intense relationship in college, but although their relationship didn’t end on bad terms, it was never given a chance to blossom. Now, Frankie's at a place where she's having to decide what she’s doing with her life and Blair helps her realize that she is just running away from her problems.”
Blair (Zoe Kravitz)
She’s a successful, straight-laced, proper and seemingly put-together one of the group. However, all of that is pretty deceptive compared to who she really is. “Blair is the conservative one in the group,” says Kravitz. “She’s married. She has a child. She’s a businesswoman. She has chosen a more conventional and materialistic route. Blair is separated from her husband and fighting for custody of her child. She cares more about how she appears than actually connecting with her friends and telling them what’s going on.”
For Kravitz, the stylish look of Blair went hand-in-hand with the character’s emotional baggage in terms of challenges: “Blair has these crazy nails. I cannot function as a human with her nails. I can’t text. I can’t button my pants, but, then I realized that is where her head’s at. She’s very much about her appearance and her status.”
The appeal for Aniello of casting the actress was that she felt she was someone who could capture both the public and private aspects of the character: “We knew that Blair’s character was going to be tough to play, but Zoë just understood her. Blair has a sharp and dry wit, but she also has an interesting depth, because she gets hurt all the time, gets back up and dusts herself off and goes for it again. Blair’s resilience makes her relatable and lovable.”
Rough Night premieres in theaters on June 16th.