We’ve all been involved in a game night that has turned hostile.
Most of the time that’s due to either a blatant cheater or someone that has lucked their way to victory against all logic.
So it is little wonder that the comedic directing team of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley saw so much cinematic potential in “Game Night,” which revolves around a murder mystery night that becomes very, very real when one of the participants is actually kidnapped, but the others think it is part of the game.
I recently had the chance to speak to Goldstein and Daley and one of the film’s stand-out performers Billy Magnussen about “Game Night,” where they discussed its straddling of two genres, playing their audience like a piano, and the perfect casting of Jesse Plemons
What first attracted you to “Game Night”?
John Francis Daley: That it straddled two genres. You got to have the fun of the comedy, and the thrills of the thriller.
Jonathan Goldstein: We watched loads of movies where the audiences spend half the game guessing what’s happening next and what’s real and what’s not real. Part of the fun of this was, like Hitchcock said, ‘playing the audience like a piano.’ It was also fun to explore what would happen if a group of friends let their competitiveness took over their reason. Because we all crave this competitive outlet. Especially after a week of work and stress, you always want someone to yell at. All in good fun of course.
Was blending these genres a challenge?
JD. It made it doubly challenging. Because we wanted both genres to be satisfying and that meant we had to execute it perfectly. We made extra sure that this didn’t look like a brightly lit studio comedy. We wanted it to have the look and feel of a thriller, without ruining the comedic moments in it.
Billy Magnussen: They were always excited about dressing up the comedy with thriller aspects. It’s kind of like if David Fincher directed an episode of Scooby Doo. The best part of reading it was trying to spot the clues and going on this journey with these characters. It just kept getting crazier and crazier. The script was the basis for everything. But they would have alternative lines, and whenever me and Sharon had an idea they would play with it. You always want to work with collaborative people, because that’s the best thing about art. Comedy is like jazz, you want to riff off of each other.
Talk about casting Jesse Plemons in the film.
JG: We wanted Jesse Plemons from the get-go. Because we could have gone very silly with that role, which would have killed any of the suspense. What Jesse was able to do was make it very dramatic and keep it grounded. And it is genius. That was part of our whole casting for the film. That’s why we went for actors that are known more for drama than comedy, like Kyle Chandler. They helped to make the laughs more surprising.
Did you have a game night with the cast?
JG: We didn’t, because as directors we were so ensconced in the film. We encouraged the cast to do so, though. And I think they played Clue throughout the film.
BM: We would play Clue hardcore during shooting. I don’t know how many times I yelled at the board, ‘It was Colonel Mustard!’ My tactic for most board games is just pointing and yelling at people’s faces.
“Game Night” is released on February 23.