Australian director Robert Luketic has mastered the rom-com genre with films like Legally Blonde, The Ugly Truth, Monster-In-Law, The Killers and Win a Date With Tad Hamilton. (Not to mention the dramas 21 and Paranoia).
Now, Luketic is back with his latest romantic comedy, The Wedding Year, starring Sarah Hyland (Modern Family) and Tyler James Williams (Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders) as a new couple whose relationship is tested when they go to seven weddings in one year.
Wedding Year is your first indie rom-com. How was it working outside the studio system for the first time?
I really liked the indie experience. I’ll be honest, when they told me the budget I was terrified because I’d never worked on this budget level. But it was so liberating. There was no pressure. You just turn up and shoot. I had so much fun making it.
You’ve worked with so many brilliant romantic comedic ladies including Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez, and Katherine Heigl. How did you come to work with Sarah Hyland on this?
Sarah Hyland was attached to star when I came on board. She had developed the project and was an executive producer on it. The next piece was about finding someone who had chemistry with her. We read a lot of people. Tyler hadn’t even finished his read through with Sara when I knew we found the right person.
What around the supporting cast around these two?
With Anna Camp, I wanted to work with her forever so I was just like, give her the role! The budget that we were working on, we called on a lot of favors from friends. Wanda Sykes I worked with on Monster-in-Law and she is a dear friend of mine. Matt Shively was a good friend of Sarah’s and was cast the day we started filming. For some reason, that character eluded us and she said, let me call Matt.
And he was available?
I took the phone and said, ‘This is Robert Luketic, what are you doing right now? He said, ‘I’m on my way to the gym.’ I said, ‘Can you turn around to come to this location? We need you to come shoot this movie.” He thought we were joking. I said, ‘While you are on you way here, our producers will be calling your manager and agent and making you a deal.’ It was one of the most unusual castings that I have experienced, but that’s how it went down.
When you’re looking for romantic comedy leads, what does an actor have to nail that genre?
They have to be able to convincingly show vulnerability. When we fall in love, we drop all our armor and we’re vulnerable. That is not easy to achieve. It’s easy to manipulate people and make them cry, or make them laugh. But convincingly inviting them in to your vulnerability is not. Reese has it. Sarah has it. Katherine Heigl is capable of it. I think it’s inherent. What also makes them stand out is their range – they tend to have an understanding of the rules of comedy, as well as having firm grasp on drama.
Once you have one half of a couple, how do you complete it?
Once we have one element of the couple cast, I like to have these intimate readings that are less like auditions but more like reading workshop situations where everyone can feel comfortable and we can explore. It’s not just about how they look together physically. It goes much deeper than that. It’s how they interact as human beings. It’s an aura that the couple gives off. It’s: Can I see them having a life together? Can I see them eventually having children? It’s hard to describe but it’s something that immediately becomes apparent. And when there is zero chemistry, that also becomes apparent.
Has that ever happened?
Yes! Because of the pressures of our business, we are often forced to make casting decisions based on what someone’s worth in the market. I’ve always tried to fight that in my career. Yes, I’m happy to consider that, but let’s just see what they are like together first (by having an intimate reading/workshop).
Established actors often don’t need to read for a role. It’s “offer only.” What do you do in that case?
Some actors shouldn’t have to read because they are at the top of their game, which is fine. In that case, we may have a nice dinner at my house, have some wine, and see how we connect as people. That was the case in Ugly Truth with Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler.
What is your relationship like with casting directors?
I’ve worked with probably four different casting directors in my entire career. Sometimes when I’m not quite sure of what I’m looking for I’ll sit in on everything so I can form a picture in my mind. If I really trust the casting director I leave it to them and they’ll make a short list for me.
What do you think of self- tapes?
I find the tapes very impersonal because if there is something else you’d like to see, the person is not there. I think it’s much more efficient to audition in person. Plus it’s just great to meet actors and see what talent is out there. They don’t have to feel like they’re talking to a camera, and I can shake their hand and give them honest feedback. They’re the ones running around town with people saying no to them, without being told why it’s a no. It’s tough and I feel for them.
I’m sure that sentiment is something any actor would appreciate.
I’ve literally said to actors at auditions, ‘I know you’ve probably done four auditions today, and you’ve driven from the valley to the west side to here, and you’re exhausted. Why don’t you come back tomorrow?’
Yes. Then it gives them a better chance to succeed, and as a director, I get a better chance to explore with them. Part of my job description as a director is to create an environment where actors can feel free to do what they do best. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. They’re the emotional connection to everything in a project. That’s where the gold is.