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In The House, Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler come up with a fairly unique solution to the fact that they’ve lost their daughter’s college scholarship: they decide to open an illegal casino in a friend’s basement. Seems reasonable, right?
Obviously it’s a situation that’s going to go over the top, but the motivation behind Scott and Kate Johansen’s decision is certainly a grounded one, and something that both former Saturday Night Live stars can identify with.
“Kate is Scott’s partner in life and in crime, eventually,” Amy reveals. “She is a great mom who is getting excited about this idea of sending her kid away so she can figure out who she is. But she’s interrupted by this major problem, which is that the scholarship they were supposed to get to send their child to Bucknell University is taken away. When we find Kate and Scott, they’ve been married for a long time and they’re desperate.
“I’m the daughter of two public school teachers,” she continues, “so my parents had to remortgage their house for me to go to school, for my brother to go to school. I can remember those late night conversations, of listening to them, you know, put on a really good face to me. Like, ‘We’re so excited that you’re going to college,’ and then just quiet, angry whispering at night about how they were gonna pay for it. So I think everybody can relate to that feeling of wanting the best for your kid, but not knowing how you’re gonna get it. Not everybody opens a casino in their house, though.”
Adds Will, “I had a similar situation in that I was going to go to a state school and switched at the last second to a private school. I had a conversation with my mother, who’s a single parent, and I was, like, ‘But how can we do it?’ She said, ‘We’ll figure it out. We’ll make sacrifices, you’ll take student loans, you’ll be able to get financial aid. Just go to the place you want to go to and we’ll figure it out.’ And I think that’s the sentiment that, you know, how far-fetched the premise is, what’s behind it is the fact that the Johansens are willing to do whatever it takes to not let our daughter down.”
“The problem,” Amy points out, “is that they sort of forget their daughter about halfway through the movie, and just turn into maniacs.
“They’re just having too much fun,” Will offers in explanation.
“And,” Amy picks it up, “they forget why they’re doing it.”
According to co-writer/director Andew Jay Cohen (writer of the Neighbors films), the inspiration for the film came from the fact that he was a poker player in high school and he’d go a friend’s house where they would sneak downstairs and wager money.
“I thought it would be a funny movie about kids starting a casino in their small town and their parents not knowing,” he says. “Then, after Neighbors, my manager said, ‘Well, you write adults going through these crises so well, why not just make them adults?’ That just exploded the idea. It was way, way funnier to imagine myself trying to do that than some kid who thinks he’s cool. I know I’m not cool. I know I’m not capable of the gangster lifestyle, so to put myself in it seemed a lot more rich, and people at home hopefully can connect to that as well. Because, really, asking the question of, ‘What if we had a cheater? How do I intimidate the cheater?’ That was really where it started crackling alive, because I just pictured putting a saw down and a screwdriver and a blow dryer and a vacuum and the guy not being afraid at all.”
Will points out that a major appeal of the film is that everyone either loves going to Las Vegas or the idea of going to Las Vegas. “They either sincerely love it, or they love to hate it,” he explains. “They love to go there, and they make fun of it, or they really are gambling in it. To bring all of that to a small town setting, to have kind of this oasis that the neighborhood can let their hair down and go and kind of let loose for a couple of hours, is really kind of a funny idea.”
The best thing about The House as far as both Will and Amy are concerned is that it gave them the opportunity to work alongside each other in more than just the SNL comedy sketches they had performed in together.
Will drives home the point, “We’ve always been dying to really be in a movie together where we’re actually in the scenes together all the time, and where we have a relationship with each other. This is kind of the first time we’ve gotten to do that. Thank God Amy agreed to do this, because we barely had any rehearsal time. Day one of shooting was the first time we were getting to really kind of interact with each other, but we already had a shorthand that really feels like we’ve been a couple for a long time. To have such an ease with sharing the ball, so to speak, in terms of if she’s thinking of something, I know when to kind of lay out and vice versa. It’s kind of funny; it’s not anything we talked about, like, ‘Okay, what’s our history?’ We just kind of stepped onto the set and we were the Johansons.”
“The idea of working with Will,” Amy relates, “was really exciting to me. I think people assume that we’ve worked together a lot. We’ve never really done a film together. We worked on a film many, many years ago called Blades of Glory, but I was one of the many bad villains he had to fight. When I was told that the idea was Will and I as this couple who lose their minds together, I got excited.”
The House opens June 30.
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