Adam Sandler interview – JACK and Jill
Behind The Scenes with Adam Sandler
Director Dennis Dugan re-teams with Adam Sandler for the eighth time on the comedy Jack and Jill. "What I found interesting was that somewhere partway through the production I thought of Adam as playing Jack, but I thought of Jill as if she were her own person. Adam didn’t walk around off-camera acting like Jill, but after a while, it was as if Jill was a woman we hired who happened to look remarkably like Adam."
In the film, Sandler plays Jack, an advertising executive who is one commercial away from hitting the big time – or, if the deal falls through, unmitigated disaster. Into this turmoil comes his twin sister, Jill – who always makes things more complicated than they need to be.
"I knew Adam would have no problem playing Jill. The part he worked at was to play Jack," says Steve Koren, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sandler. "Jack’s the kind of guy who’s a little bit on edge – he’s had to work to make that guy different from who he really is."
While writing the film with Adam Sandler, Koren found some interesting things. "Some twins actually create their own language when they’re little kids, so we invented a special, private language that only Jack and Jill speak," he says. "We also found out that twins have a bond that is a lot stronger than some siblings, so we tried to incorporate as much of that as possible."
Playing the dual role required an ingenious sense of timing from Sandler. "Part of the joke was that Jack and Jill would do the exact same things at the exact same time," Koren explains. "What that meant, of course, was that Adam would do the scene once, and then he’d redo it as the other character. It was almost like a dance, a ballet; Adam had to have incredible focus and perfect timing. It was pretty incredible to watch."
Describing the character and the plot of the film, Koren explains, "Jill had only two constants in her life – taking care of her parents and the love of her bird, Poopsie. She’s sacrificed her personal life. When she comes to visit Jack for the holidays and won’t leave, Jack tries to help her find a guy – a guy who he hopes will get her out of his house."
Of course, nothing goes as planned. Instead of an internet date, Jill gets an impossibly unlikely suitor. In the film, Jack needs Al Pacino to agree to do a commercial – and if he can’t get Pacino, Dunkin Donuts will take their business elsewhere. Just as he’s wondering what he’s going to do, who should fall for Jill but the Oscar®-winning actor himself. Just one catch – in the movie, the character of Pacino is suffering from a nervous breakdown.
For the role of Al Pacino, the filmmakers decided to get Al Pacino. "In the movie, Al Pacino isn’t really playing himself – he’s playing an obsessive actor who has gone a bit off the deep end and is losing his marbles," says Koren. "So, when he falls for Jill, he goes overboard. He’s willing to go to any length to get the girl. The trouble is, Jill’s just not all that into him. She knows more about ‘American Idol’ than she does about Al Pacino."
Pacino plays the character in a way that is very different from the man he is in real life. "He’s an actor who’s losing control," says Pacino. "He has had an overload of work and it’s starting to take hold of him and affect his mental capacity. He’s clearly in the middle of a breakdown. That’s the track I’ve taken in order to play myself as somebody else – it’s all heightened and exaggerated as to make it believable in a comedy. However, I tried to keep it real so that the madness is real."
In the movie, the character of Pacino is starting to lose his grip on reality. He has been mulling an offer to play Don Quixote in "Man of La Mancha" on Broadway – and when he meets Jill, he endows himself and Jill with characteristics of the characters. "In ‘Man of La Mancha,’ Don Quixote is a madman who believes himself to be a knight, and he believes Dulcinea to be a princess, even though she’s an ugly peasant. He falls madly in love with her by endowing her with virtues she doesn’t really possess," Pacino explains. "When my character meets Jill, he does the same thing. She becomes his Dulcinea. In a sense, my character unconsciously uses her as a tool to find out if he indeed wants to play the part of Don Quixote. He gives Jill all the traits of the character Dulcinea so he can rehearse it, try it out, and see if it fits. He doesn’t even know he’s doing it, but there’s method in his madness."
In addition, Jill represents something that the character of Pacino feels he has lost. "Our character of Pacino is at a crossroads," says Dugan. "He’s kind of lost in Los Angeles. The thing that’s missing in life is who he used to be – a sense of home and roots. Suddenly, here’s a woman who comes to him at the height of his fame and reminds him of who he used to be. He needs to go back to his home, and he thinks Jill is his ticket."
"I love the idea of playing an older movie star, clinging, trying to get back to what it was that made him do this thing in the first place," Pacino continues. "My character is a guy who just wants to go back home, wants to be simple again, but will never be able to be that way again. And no matter how crazy he is, his instincts are still working as an actor – if he engages her in the same way Don Quixote engages Dulcinea, he can find out if he can really play the part in ‘Man of La Mancha.’ It’s subtle and unusual, but this is the actor’s journey out of madness."
Dugan says that working with Pacino was, of course, a completely unique experience. "I didn’t know what to expect – he’s obviously a serious actor – but he embraced the insanity," says Dugan. "He played his version of Pacino in a truly brilliant way. He’s a genuinely nice guy and he had a terrific attitude about the whole thing."
Naturally, the real Pacino provided exactly what you’d expect: a tremendous actor, having the time of his life. "Al was at the top of his game – Adam would throw something at him, and Al would catch it and fire it right back," says Dugan. "He embraced the way we work, which I think is different from the way most sets work. But Al was never thrown off by any of it – he stood in there and hit it as hard as he could."
The film’s cinematographer, Dean Cundey, says that the film changes very slightly in tone when Pacino is on the screen. "Like a lot of comedies, we wanted a bright and high-key look – as opposed to something moody or dark – but in the Pacino scenes, we had an opportunity to bring more of an edge," he explains. "Pacino is identified with many of his darker characters, so I thought it might be interesting to inject a little bit of that into his scenes. For example, for the reveal of Al in the restaurant, I took a cue from the way we’ve discovered Al in the past and put him in dark silhouette, with smoke wafting from his cigar and some light across his eyes and face in a darkened room. It’s a fun moment in the film."
Katie Holmes joins the cast as Erin, Jack’s wife and mother to their two children. "She’s a very busy wife and mother," Holmes explains. "When Jill comes to town and creates a lot of mayhem within the family, she’s the one who’s trying to keep it all together."
"It was wonderful to see Adam transform into Jill," she continues. "As a woman, it was nice to have conversations with a man about shaving legs, how pantyhose and heels feel, and all of the tougher parts about being a woman. Adam was a great sport – it was really, really fun."
One of Mexico’s top comics, Eugenio Derbez, joins in the fun as Felipe, Jack’s gardener, who genuinely likes Jill for who she is. "Felipe thinks he’s funny – he’s always cracking jokes, then saying, ‘I’m kidding, I’m kidding.’" Derbez was up for the challenge to be funny in English, even though his first language is Spanish. "You memorize the lines and get the language under control, but you still have to deliver the joke – it’s not just saying it in English. And the delivery might be very different in Spanish and in English. Finding the tone is the challenge."
It turns out that Sandler isn’t the only actor playing a dual role as a man and a woman: Derbez also plays Felipe’s grandmother. "Yes, that’s me, too," he says. "They asked if I had a relative who could do the scene, and I said no, but I could play my own grandma. I play a lot of different characters on my TV shows – so they saw my reel, and that was that. It was a lot of fun to do, except for the makeup. The process takes 3½ or 4 hours, and they put glue all over my face – my beard, too. I had five different prosthetics on my head and face. I’d still be finding glue three days after shooting."
From his experience on his shows in Mexico, Derbez had ample experience performing sketch comedy, which, of course, is where Sandler and his crew at Happy Madison got their start. "That made him a good choice for the Adam Sandler squad," says Dugan. "He gets the whole thing we do – we try whatever comes up as we shoot. We stay on our toes – somebody throws it to you, and you throw it back. He’s funny – he’s just funny."
Also joining the cast are Elodie Tougne and Rohan Chand, who play Jack and Erin’s kids, Sofia and Gary. Allen Covert, Nick Swardson, Valerie Mahaffey, and Geoff Pierson round out the cast.
TRANSFORMING JACK INTO JILL
For the behind-the-camera crew, the primary challenge of the film was in making Sandler into two characters. The primary task went to makeup department head Ann Pala, hair department head Thomas Real, and costume designer Ellen Lutter.
Pala and Real went through dozens of hair styles, textures, colors, and lengths (short, curly, and long), various nail colors and lengths, lip colors, skin tones, lashes, and teeth, all in different combinations. Working with three Sandler look-alikes, they created a number of different options for the filmmakers to choose from.
"Adam had played a girl in various sketches on ‘Saturday Night Live,’" says Pala, indicating that they had some idea of what might work with the actor. "The key factors in giving him feminine features were his eyes, cheeks, teeth, and bangs. We used nine different makeup skin tones to highlight and conceal."
It was key to the filmmakers to try to create a real character in Jill. "Adam’s not playing a man playing a woman; he’s playing a woman," notes Lutter. "It wasn’t a question of drag – we wanted to create a real woman, with specific features, character traits – it had to be genuine and natural. On the other hand, we were able to have a little fun because part of the character is that she looks exactly like her brother. We had the room to play and have some fun with Adam’s muscles and masculine demeanor – Jill is not a hyper-feminine character."
Lutter says that when it came to Jill’s clothes, "Adam likes to be very comfortable, but being comfortable has nothing to do with being a woman. We tapped into the lightness of the character – and that’s where we had all our fun. Adam would always say, ‘I know you guys like Jill better,’ and it was true!"
Still, dressing Sandler as Jill wasn’t as simple as putting him in a dress. "Everything had to be manipulated – whether it was adding a detail around the neckline, or something with the arms, or working with the waist to build some hips. Everything had to be altered and adjusted to play with the proportions. It’s not like the clothes were just hanging around."
HOW THEY DID IT
To handle technical challenges of filming Adam Sandler opposite himself, the filmmakers turned first to director of photography Dean Cundey, the cinematographer who shot Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Parent Trap, Back to the Future, and Jurassic Park.
"When an actor plays two characters in the frame at the same time, there are a lot of tricky things that occur – tricky, because the process usually requires you to do a shot with one character in the frame and then repeat the shot with the other character also in the same frame," Cundey explains. "Sometimes, it’s a fairly simple process, as simple as a split. In those shots, the camera doesn’t move. In those, you film it twice, with the actor playing one character on one side of the frame, and then again, playing the other character on the other side of the frame. Then you go into the computer and put them together, almost like you’re taking two photographs and cutting them in the middle and pasting them down."
From those simple shots, the process can get increasingly complicated. "We’ll move the camera, have them touch each other, hand each other objects – it’s a great way to keep the audience engaged," Cundey continues.
Cundey describes a typical shot: "We’d shoot Adam as Jack. Then he’d go and get made up as Jill; we’d relight the set and we’d have to make sure that the lighting was right for where Adam would be standing as Jill. Adam would come in and we’d give him a little ear bud, so he could hear his performance as Jack, which he’d just done. We had a monitor set up so he could see what Jack was doing. Dan DeLeeuw, the visual effects supervisor, would make sure that the shots were going to work. The motion control technicians made sure we were getting the exact camera movement over and over again. Finally, the on-set compositor could put it together as we did it – show us how it’s going together so we could evaluate it and judge it. It was a very team-heavy process."
"We used a computer-controlled camera – the computer is programmed to do the exact same move multiple times," says DeLeeuw. "We could shoot once for Jack and do the same move again with Jill." A good example, he notes, is the scene in which Pacino falls for Jill at a basketball game. "Not only do you have Jack and Jill, but the basketball players and the crowd behind them. As the setting gets bigger, so does the difficulty."
It fell to DeLeeuw to create the illusion that Adam Sandler really does have a twin sister. "These effects took a lot of planning, right from the storyboard stage – but it’s also a comedy, so we all had to stay on our toes," he says. "For many shots, we’d shoot Adam with a body double for Jill – the double would wear a green hood over his head, which we could remove later and replace with Adam, as Jill."
Cundey explains how he worked in tandem with DeLeeuw: "The on-set process is the gathering of the pieces of the puzzle – the mosaic that is later put together by the compositors and post-production team. I had to make sure that the pieces are the right pieces – as the audience gets more and more sophisticated, you can’t do anything simply. You have to give them the pieces so they can do something interesting and unique."
Cundey says that the production had a great asset in Adam Sandler. "As we got through the process, Adam learned more and more about how to do what we wanted to do, and he was a fast learner," says Cundey. "The great thing about Adam and his creative process is that every new shot is an invention. We’d rehearse a shot and have a very good idea of what we wanted to do, but everything was subject to rehearsal and seeing how it played. The coolest thing about this production was being able to think on your feet – there’d be a new idea, and it would be up to Dennis, me, and the assistant director to figure out how we were going to do it."
ON THE CRUISE
In the film, the Sadelsteins go on a family vacation during the holidays every year; this year, they’ve booked a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world. "We were lucky enough to have the timing of our movie coincide with the launching of the ship," says Dugan. "They were building the ship in Norway while we were prepping the movie. We contacted them and they were very happy to do business with us. We sent a couple of electricians over to Norway to lay the cables and figure out all of our electrical hookups, so when the ship got here we’d be ready to go. We met them in Florida, and during their trial runs, when they were still getting ready for the paying passengers, we were able to shoot on the ship for 10 days."
"It is truly a five-star hotel floating on the water," says production designer Perry Andelin Blake. "We had the opportunity to film in the coolest parts of the ship. At the bow of the ship, we made a restaurant. The biggest challenge was to decorate the ship for Christmas – the ship is 1,000 feet long, and in some shots, you can see 500 feet and two pools and three or four levels. Of course, we had to have holiday decorations on the whole thing. We bought truckloads of decorations at a store in Fort Lauderdale – 1500 feet of garland with sparkly lights, seven Christmas trees from 8 to 16 feet tall, 15 toy soldiers, 10 toy kings… it was just incredible."
"We knew ahead of time that working on a cruise ship can be confining; the spaces are smaller," says the director of photography, Dean Cundey. "When you think about it that way, you realize why cruise ship scenes in movies are classically shot on sound stages." Cundey explains that there were two reasons that the production was able to use the real thing: "First, The Allure of the Seas is the largest cruise ship in the world, so the space issue isn’t such an issue, and second, since this was not a public cruise, we’d essentially have the ship to ourselves."
But while there were certain challenges to shooting on a cruise ship, there were also advantages. Dugan says, "I would say it wasn’t any more difficult than any other location. In fact, it was interesting – as we were filming on the bow of the ship, as the day would go by the sun would move. Well, because they ship didn’t have any paying customers and no real destination, we were able just to have them turn the ship, so the sun would stay the same all day for us. There’s no location in the world where you can get that kind of accommodation with the sun."
"The captain did one very long, slow turn – one degree every six minutes," explains Cundey, "So the sun stayed in exactly the same spot with reference to the ship. Another day, we had a bit of overcast weather off the coast of Florida. But that was no problem – the captain just moved the ship."
Such careful planning was necessary to make the illusion that Jack and Jill are actually separate people work, explains Dan DeLeeuw, the visual effects supervisor. "Jack and Jill jump rope, Double Dutch, with a crowd surrounding them," he says. "You have the ocean behind them and the sun going down – and, obviously, we had to shoot it twice to get both sides. That was a challenge – to shoot a twin movie on the back of a ship while the sun was going down."
That said, DeLeeuw was up to the challenge. After all, filming it all on a green screen just wouldn’t have been the same. "The boat has an orange deck, so you’ve got a nice orange bounce that reflects off the actors. You’ve got the open sky blue skies – you just don’t get that same kind of lighting in a green screen."
THE PRODUCTION DESIGN
Much of the film is about contrasting Jack and Jill – highlighting their superficial differences to underscore all of the ways that deep down they are exactly alike. One way the filmmakers were able to do that was to show the twins living very different lives – Jack in his Brentwood mansion and Jill in her spartan Bronx home.
"We made them two extremes," says production designer Perry Andelin Blake, who has worked on countless Sandler projects. "Jack’s house is big, beautiful, and open, with a great back yard, a swimming pool, and greenery and trees and flowers everywhere. The rooms are huge, light, spacious, and comfortable. At the end of the film, you see Jill’s house in the Bronx – she drives up in her little Honda Civic, parks by the dirty snow, and walks up to a tiny, cramped house with stuff everywhere."
For the artwork on the walls of the Sadelsteins’ home, the filmmakers got personal with their inspiration. "Artwork is so subjective and people’s opinions of it are so varied – we asked ourselves, what kind of artwork would he have on the walls of his house? Our director, Dennis Dugan, is also a photographer, and we came up with the idea to use his pictures for the artwork at Jack’s house. Jack is an ad guy; we thought an ad guy would have good taste, cool taste, and he might have a collection of art photography, as opposed to other kinds of art. Dennis pulled about 50 pictures from his years of photography and we started going through it – photographs from the 60s and 70s, from his travels in Europe and other places in the world. Not only was there a variety that we could use, but we could tweak it in ways that it looked more like a collection of a number of different photographers – for example, we could tweak a photograph in Photoshop to make it really colorful, or print it on canvas or fabric and make it into a hanging, or print on slick paper and mount it, or frame it. They contrast nicely with the house – this old Spanish-style house that has been refurbished and made new for this family – they give it a very contemporary feel and it doesn’t feel stuffy at all."
Blake also had the chance to design the living room of a Majorcan castle – but his favorite set, perhaps, is the one for the Dunkin’ Donuts commercial that closes the film. "It looks exactly like a Dunkin’ Donuts store – we got really into it, down to the details, the counters, the signage, even the actual doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts. And then the camera pulls back and it turns into a fantastic Busby Berkeley scene with Al Pacino in a tuxedo and, people singing and dancing, a shiny, black floor and colorful lighting. That was really fun."