Comedy is one of the most difficult things to pull off. It’s like a good magic trick in that way. Yet, every year, if we’re lucky, one comedy cuts through everything else that Hollywood is pushing into theaters. This year, it seems like Good Boys could be that comedy.
Following the movie’s debut at SXSW earlier this year, the comedy, which is produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Sausage Party, Superbad), was met with rave reviews. Though, unlike other movies they’ve been involved in, this is a coming-of-age tale centered on sixth graders, which is something you simply don’t see everyday. And nobody would expect something along those lines to be as delightfully filthy as Good Boys winds up being.
Following the premiere screening at SXSW, I was lucky enough to chat with writer/director Gene Stupnitsky, co-writer Lee Eisenberg, and the core trio of cast members at the center of the story, Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams. We discuss how the project came to be, how these three kids were cast and more. So, without further adieu, here’s our chat with the team behind Good Boys.
How are you guys feeling now that it’s out in the world? It seems like the response was really good coming out of the screening.
Jacob Tremblay: I feel really good. I think the crowd was pretty great and it got me really excited.
Brady Noon: Super energy. A lot of energy.
Gene Stupnitsky: I just feel relief.
For you younger guys, is this a little bit newer for you? Have you done a premiere quite like this before? Or is this all totally new for you guys?
Keith L. Williams: This is actually kind of new, yeah. None of my premieres were like this, because they were TV shows, of course.
Jacob Tremblay: Yeah, I’ve done, actually, quite a bit of premieres before. But I really like premieres because I like to see the audience reaction to the movies, see how they like it.
Brady Noon: This is my first time at a film festival, but I was a little used to the crowd because I went to the SAG [Screen Actors Guild] Awards. It was somewhat like that.
I was sitting right behind you guys last night. It was so fun seeing you guys the whole time. You guys were so excited! Patting each other on the back the whole time. You were so stoked for the whole movie and it was so fun to see. Did you know each other at all, the three of you, before the movie started?
Jacob Tremblay: Not at all! We just had this big sleepover to get to know each other and we really clicked. We just became such good friends. We’re gonna really be close friends forever.
You guys did develop a friendship. The chemistry was there on screen and that’s kind of hard to fake, I would assume.
Keith L. Williams If we didn’t have a friendship the movie was going to be horrible.
Brady Noon: You really have to have chemistry and we were lucky enough to meet each other, and it really clicked with us.
From the filmmaker side of that, when you were going through the process. We’ve got this idea. It’s gotta be young kids. How did you settle on this group then?
Gene Stupnitsky: We knew we wanted Jacob early on when we had the initial idea. Then it took eight months to find these guys. We searched high and low. We searched everywhere.
Lee Eisenberg: It was also about finding the chemistry and the make up of the group. How many times did you come in?
Ketih L. Williams: I would say like seven…
Lee Eisenberg: No!
Ketih L. Williams: It was a lot.
Lee Eisenberg: Two or three times.
Brady Noon: I went to L.A. twice, and then we did a Skype.
Lee Eisenberg: We Skyped. So there’s also a lot of, so now we have Jacob. We have Keith. What’s the energy?
Keith L. Willaims: Oh yeah! The third time I went in Jacob was there.
Lee Eisenberg: Right. We were also doing chemistry reads with the kids.
So that was like an eight month process. Then did you get to a point where you did an audition or a read when all three of them were in the room?
Keith L. Williams: Well, not all three of us, but all three of kids.
Brady Noon: I saw Keith at my first audition and I knew because we auditioned together they were doing pairs and after our audition I walked out and I said to Keith’s mom, “He has it.” I knew it. I said, “He’s gonna get it.”
Keith L. Williams: I booked it the week of my birthday.
Lee Eisenberg: We cast Brady the day of the table read. We were prepping the movie and we hadn’t cast the third kid yet and then he came to the table read and he killed it.
How long did this process take from start to finish with you guys [Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky] as the genesis of the whole thing?
Lee Eisenberg: You sit on an idea for a while. It’s kind of a list of things and, for us at least, it’s not like a eureka thing. You go, “Oh, that could be funny.” Then you start talking about something else and then you kind of go back to it and you’re like, “We should work on that one about the kids.” It takes all of these different shapes. We were working on other projects at the time. We were working on some TV thing at the time we weren’t excited about, I remember. We spent a week kind of outlining it and working on it. It was really making us laugh. We started meeting with kids and meeting with parents and trying to do some research and get a sense of what sixth graders are going through, which was incredibly troubling. We were working on other projects but we wrote it on spec because we wanted to direct it, and so we wrote it ahead of time and tried to find the right partners.
Then Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] get involved. Did you get any initial pushback? We’re gonna have 12-year-olds on screen dropping F-bombs, running around with drugs. Was it hard to find someone who was like, “Yeah, let’s do that!”
Lee Eisenberg: We talked to a lot of producers about it and we got notes like, “You should age the kids up.” Or, “You should make it PG-13 to make it more appealing.” We felt like if we could pull off this concept that it would be really fun and feel really fresh. We stuck to our guns on that and then when we gave the script to Seth and Evan, they were committed to that.
Gene Stupnitsky: That’s the whole reason you make the movie. There’s no reason to make the movie if they were 14-years-old.
Lee Eisenberg: There’s a huge difference. Changing it by one or two years is a totally different idea.
I said to a couple of people that I both never wanted to be 12 again so bad, but also never wanted to be 12 again.
Lee Eisenberg: That’s a really good way of putting it.
It was both things at the same time. But for you guys, you’ve been acting and doing your thing. I imagine you don’t have a very typical school schedule. How did you get into that typical sort of sixth grader experience for this?
Brady Noon: At the time, I was already out of sixth grade and into seventh grade. I hated sixth grade. I absolutely hated it. It was the worst. But seventh grade is good. I like seventh grade. I kind of had the experience of sixth grade already. And Jacob.
Jacob Tremblay: Yeah, I’m in grade seven.
Ketih L. Williams: I’m in sixth grade even though I look like I’m the oldest.
I know Seth and Evan are just producers, but it definitely felt like… they have a certain way. How involved were they throughout the process?
Gene Stupnitsky: They were very involved through the development of the script. Then they were pretty hands off once we went off to make the movie. They were really helpful and came up with a lot of good ideas for the movie.
Ketih L. Williams: A lot of the time, me Brady and Jacob, we were always in the tent or video village, so we were always hanging out with the directors and producers.
Brady Noon: Some producers are more hands on, including Evan and Seth. So they would watch from afar and they would give their input. They were really helpful. They were still working on other projects all over the place, because they’re so busy, but it was a lot of fun working with [Seth Rogen] on the promo. That was really cool.
Speaking with language that you probably wouldn’t get to use on a regular, day to day basis, was that uncomfortable for you guys on set? Or did you just have fun with it?
Keith L. Williams: At first it was uncomfortable, I’m speaking for me, at first it was uncomfortable for me auditioning, but when I got on set I felt like you know…
Brady Noon: We were all pretty professional about it. If we ever felt uncomfortable about anything we would just say it.
Jacob Tremblay: Me and my parents were just laughing the whole time.
This is your first feature. How was it working with a cast this age, maybe as an acting challenge or a delight? I’m not too terribly sure.
Gene Stupnitsky: It was both. There are certain rules when you’re working with kids. Hour limitations, stuff like that. But it’s also delightful, because they will say things that surprise you and they’re just so joyous to be around. So it’s both.
Jacob for you, you’ve obviously done some big movies, but this was your first comedy. In a short span of time you’ve kind of run the table with everything else. So how was it for you doing a comedy compared to the other stuff you’ve done?
Jacob Tremblay: It was a lot different because sometimes I feel dramas can be heavy on the heart. So this was just a nice thing to do. Also, for me, I feel like it’s harder to hold in laughter than it is to cry.
What do you guys, as the stars of the movie and the creative team, want everybody to take away from this?
Keith L. Williams: That it’s not just a bunch of tweens cussing. It’s more like a heartfelt movie with a bunch of tweens cussing.
Jacob Tremblay: I just hope people feel for the characters, really enjoy the characters and feel the same emotions they’re going through.
Brady Noon: And also get a good laugh out of it. Because it is a comedy.
Lee Eisenberg: To me, the balance between the emotion and the comedy is really important.
Good Boys is set to arrive in theaters this weekend from Universal Pictures.