The comedy film “Bad Teacher” is about a reckless and irreverent middle-school teacher named Elizabeth Halsey, but the stars of the movie can outdo her in real life, in terms of raunchy humor — especially when you gather them together for a press conference. In “Bad Teacher,” Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, whose unconventional and brash way of teaching gets varying reactions from her co-workers, who include new substitute teacher Scott Delacorte (played by Justin Timberlake), ultra-straight-laced Amy Squirrel (played by Lucy Punch), shy and insecure Lynn (played by Phyllis Smith) and laid-back gym teacher Russell Gettis (played by Jason Segel).
After gold digger Elizabeth gets dumped by her rich fiancé, she schemes to find another wealthy man to financially support her so that she can quit her job as a teacher. Elizabeth thinks that getting breast implants will help her find another sugar daddy, but she is broke, so she resorts to doing outrageous things (many of them illegal) to get the money for the surgery. Along the way, Elizabeth rejects the advances of Russell (because his income isn’t high enough for her), and she has her sights set on hooking up with Scott when she find out that he comes from a wealthy family, but then Scott begins dating Amy.
Here is what Diaz, Timberlake, Segel, Punch, Smith and “Bad Teacher” director/executive producer Jake Kasdan said at the Los Angeles press conference for “Bad Teacher” when they shared uncensored, behind-the-scenes stories of what it was like to make the movie. Timberlake also opened up about the enormous impact that “Saturday Night Live” has had on him, and Segel talked about his emotional experience in making “The Muppets” movie.
Cameron, your Elizabeth Halsey character was motivated to get money for breast implants. Was it fun to play a character with the wrong self-image values?
Diaz: Completely. Because obviously if I thought that I could get somewhere with having bigger boobies, I would have done it by now. But for her, it’s everything. It’s called hard economic times. Have you ever heard of this? You can’t find a millionaire the way you could three, four years ago before the [economic] crash. So it’s like a lot of work for her now.
So it’s an investment. Suze Orman would have been like, “Girl, five-year plan.” You know what I mean? So yeah. She’s working hard for those. She knows that to get what you want you have to have a goal, and her goal is to invest in her business and get a pair of tits.
But I’m not judging, clearly. I’m not judging. But the thing about it is if we really believed this was the right thing to do, we wouldn’t be making fun of it, right? So it was really fun to make fun of it, because clearly, especially living in this town, we all know what it’s like to sort of come up against people who have their priorities a little screwed-up and focus on the wrong things …
It was really fun to be able to sort of go to work every day and have a gang, a team of people all on the same wagon going towards complete and utter distaste, and throwing everything out the window. It was fantastic. We had a lot of fun doing that.
Do you have any memorable teachers — not necessarily a bad teacher, but somebody who really stands out in some way?
Diaz: They have better stories than I do.
Segel: I would like to give a shout out to a teacher called Ted Walsh, who was my high-school drama coach at a school called Harvard Westlake in the [San Fernando] Valley. He really changed my life. Right before I left and started working with Jake [Kasdan] on “Freaks and Geeks — wow, 13 or 14 years ago; wow that’s crazy — he said, “Don’t ever forget the best actor in the world is out there stuck doing dinner theater somewhere, so don’t ever get arrogant about thinking you’re entitled to this.” It stayed with me for this whole time.
Timberlake: I had a teacher in seventh grade who told me I should have more realistic goals than being a songwriter and an entertainer, because my schoolwork was suffering. And you can quote me on this directly to her: “Suck it!”
Diaz: I had Mr. Fujikawa in sixth grade. He used to come in after the weekends and tell us about his 3-year-old son that he would spend the weekends with and how wonderful it was to have a child to pass on knowledge to and how you want to encourage them, and how to also teach them life’s lessons. As he sat with his feet, literally, kicked up on the desk talking about how wonderful it was this weekend that his son was starting to walk, and how gratifying it was that when he took the four steps up the porch to get to the top to the front door, as he got to the very top last step he would pull on the string that he had tied around his leg to bring him back down to the beginning, to help him get back up the next four or five steps.
And I just thought that was the most amazing … Like I laughed so hard when he told that story. Everybody else was like [she inhales in apprehensive tone], and I was like, “That’s awesome!” Of course I can relate very well to it. But, yeah, that, to me, was somebody who helped form and shape me, really. Honestly.
Timberlake: I feel like these three stories really explained who we are as adults.
Justin and Cameron, you’ve achieved the most iconic dry-humping scene in cinema history. Can you talk about creating that and putting that together?
Timberlake: He said “putting that together.” Well, I think we created the only dry-humping scene ever seen in a movie.
Diaz: It was absurd.
Timberlake: I would like to say that Jake had … He wasn’t literally between us, but figuratively he was there.
Diaz: He was our humping coach.
Timberlake: He was my humping coach. I’ve got to say there’s nothing wrong with a good jean jam.
Diaz: I kind of feel mostly proud of it.
Timberlake: I’m serious. I don’t know why that’s funny to you guys. But also we felt collectively, the both of us, that we had a responsibility. And that was to the young people who are going to buy tickets to, I don’t know, “Transformers: [Dark of the Moon]” the second week and go see this movie because they’re underage. It really is a public service announcement for safe sex.
Diaz: You can’t, you know, when you’ve got the denim on denim.
Timberlake: Nobody ever got pregnant with their jeans on.
Diaz: So totally promoting that. That’s pretty much the only message that’s in the movie that we’re proud of. [She laughs.] Other than that, completely, there’s nothing else.
It’s just that we thought, “Well, you guys look. We shouldn’t just be making a movie about nothing that is of any importance or is like, you know, if we’re going to try to be role models in any way, we should offer up least a jean jam, at the very least.”
Timberlake: And it is jamming, I might add.
In “Bad Teacher,” the Scott Delacorte character sings a song called “Simpatico.” Justin, how hard was it to sing that crazy song without cracking up? Did you contribute to the lyrics at all?
Timberlake: “Simpatico,” the original composition by Scott Delacorte? Yeah, it’s a special song. It goes out to a special someone. That was an idea that [“Bad Teacher” co-writer/executive producer] Gene [Stupnitsky] and [“Bad Teacher” co-writer/executive producer] Lee [Eisenberg] and Jake [Kasdan] kind of came to me about. And in the script, there was a loose idea about the teacher band show and Scott doing kind of a singer/songwriter thing.
And I remember Jake coming to me and saying, “If we’re going to do this, we have to create something that’s going to be terrible.” And so it’s pretty obvious that I put my body on the line for comedy. Why not put my voice on the line for comedy?
But honestly, yeah, the lyrics were Gene and Lee, and then they brought it to me and then I just tried to create the most terrible melody that I could to it. The mission was to make it so bad that they would not be able to market it in the trailer. So yeah. It’s really just an extension of the character.
Kasdan: I think we succeeded in that.
Timberlake: I mean it was totally a collaboration between the writers and Jake, the director.
Kasdan: With an enormous advantage of having Justin playing the part, obviously, because nobody’s funny singing like he is. We had the idea that Scott could sing the worst song ever written and sort of proudly. And Justin nailed that thing, for sure.
Lucy, what do you think was the depth of Amy Squirrel’s mania? And what do you think happened in her 2008 meltdown that was referred to several times in “Bad Teacher”?
Punch: Well, I did have a specific idea of what happened to Amy Squirrel, but out of respect for her, I think it was a manic episode. I think she was highly medicated, and perhaps in the drama with Elizabeth and Scott, perhaps she forgot to take her medicine in the morning, and she started to unravel pretty quickly. But she’s definitely unhinged, and she definitely needs to be on Valium, probably, to make her calm.
Diaz: She needs medication.
Kasdan: You may have noticed that Lucy Punch is English.
Timberlake: Jake would yell, “Cut!” [He says jokingly] And she’d start talking like that, and I’d be like, “What is wrong with her? Why is she talking like that?”
Kasdan: This was the first time I’d been ever able to actually watch a group of people listen to Lucy talk for the first time and see five faces go [he does a shocked expression].
Phyllis, weren’t you teacher before you became an actress?
Smith: Briefly in a past life. Yes.
Did you have any misgivings about being in a movie that seems to mock the teaching profession?
Smith: The profession itself? [She says jokingly] All my teachers were exactly like Elizabeth, actually. Every one of them. That’s what made me the way I am today
[She says seriously] Actually, teaching is a tough profession. I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I’m glad I’m not in it any longer. I kind of like being up here and doing what I’m doing. I don’t have the grit that it takes to face a class full of kids anymore. I’m right here where I should be.
Is there any down side to teaching that “Bad Teacher” didn’t get around to showing?
Diaz: The puke and the blood? The urine and the blood?
Smith: We had a scene. Cameron, you should tell them about that: the puke scene.
Diaz: Oh, yeah. I mean, that better be in the DVD: the vomit scene. That was pretty amazing.
Kasdan: There was a running idea that, inexplicably, Phyllis’ character was always covered in some kind of bodily fluid, without any real explanation for why. And like a lot of jokes where there’s no explanation for why, eventually someone says, “But why?” In this case, we weren’t able to answer it satisfactorily, so it’s not in the final thing. But, as Cameron says, when the DVD comes out: the blood/urine cut.
Diaz: Also, the puking scene that I volunteered for didn’t make it … [Elizabeth Halsey] threw up on [Amy Squirrel] several times, and it’s not there. All of that work!
Timberlake: You guys know what it’s like. You’ve got to kill babies when you make movies. Sometimes those gems just end up on the DVD …
Diaz: What are you talking about?
Timberlake: Which Sony would like you to know will be available shortly after the movie release [in theaters].
What’s your opinion of public education? Are you a product of public education?
Diaz: Oh, I am as public as education gets.
Timberlake: What’s our opinion of it? Man, we’ve got to figure out a way to pay teachers more. That’s my opinion of it. They’re like surrogate parents away from home.
And in doing the [“Bad Teacher”] junket for the last couple of days, I’ve kind of come across the realization that, in hearing everyone talk about, because we’ve constantly gotten the question, “Have you had a bad teacher when you were younger?” And I get why you guys ask us that because it’s a little hook with “Bad Teacher.” Yeah, I get it. It’s a natural question.
But you keep coming across this idea about how we started talking about it and we found that the teachers that we actually learned more from were the ones that taught us life lessons more than trigonometry. And, so yeah, they have such a huge responsibility and they’re under-appreciated and underpaid. So that’s my opinion of teachers.
Did you have concerns about portraying a sexy teacher when there’s a problem with teachers illegally “hooking up” with their underage students?
Kasdan: I wonder if we hear about it when it comes to light or whether it’s actually epidemic or not. It wasn’t tricky. I was just an insanely funny script.
Diaz: The one thing that Elizabeth doesn’t do, one line she doesn’t cross, is take on a seventh grader. That’s the one thing she doesn’t do, thankfully. I don’t think I would be down with that. That would be a different movie, clearly. That would be just a completely different movie.
Kasdan: Yeah, she doesn’t really inflict any lasting damage on the kids.
Diaz: Nothing their parents haven’t done to them already. You know what I mean? You know what I’m saying?
Kasdan: We hardly even talked about it honestly.
Was there anything that you had to cut out of “Bad Teacher” because you thought it might be too explicit for an R rating?
Kasdan: The MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] doesn’t get a vote.
Diaz: [She says jokingly] We were just talking about story, character arc. We just kind of serve that.
Kasdan: Part of how we do how we do this, this system, is to shoot a ton of material and a lot of different jokes. And for every joke, there’s a variation on it. The final movie is very close to the script that we all kind of fell in love with, but along the way, we shoot a lot of stuff.
And one of the up sides of it is you’re able to cull from a pretty deep well of jokes that are in fact very much representative of what the movie is like, but stuff goes in and out like that, and you end up with your best shot of what you think the best version of the movie is. When they first start putting things together, there are things from the movie that doesn’t end up in [the final cut of] the movie. But there was no “don’t be dirty” police from anywhere, really.
With the success of the raunchy comedy film “Bridesmaids,” it looks like this is the time for women behaving badly in comedy films. Can you talk about how that’s changed over the years and what your commitment is to doing that?
Diaz: My commitment to it is pretty obvious. [She laughs.] You know, women have always behaved badly. I think probably worse than men. Maybe men just don’t have the stomach for it. They don’t want to see it on film because they just can’t take it.
I mean, any of my guy friends when I start to tell them what women really talk about and what really goes down they’re like, “La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!” They don’t want to hear it. It’s like they just plug their ears. They can’t take it.
So maybe it’s just at this moment is the time for women. There’s a lot of those films now. I think that people are willing to sort of laugh at those things altogether now. And to know this script, this movie would have been just as hilarious with a man, a male role, you know? As a female, which I think is kind of great, because it just goes to show that humor, that you can make something funny for everyone. And so, yeah, I think that we can find a lot of similarities in what we laugh at.
I haven’t seen “Bridesmaids” yet, so I can’t wait to see it. I’ve been out of the country and it’s not open in England at the moment. So I actually don’t know the humor of “Bridesmaids,” so I can’t really speak to that. But I think that people are just willing to take a chance, and I think the studios nowadays are willing to.
Formulaically, we’re tired of kind of seeing the same old thing, the same old thing. And after a while, it just doesn’t work anymore. And this is a business and we want to make some money, and we want to make things that work. And I think they’re taking a chance at different things. So that was like the worst answer in the world, but that’s cool. You’ll do something with it.
Timberlake: As a male who actually enjoys hearing those dirty things that women say, I think funny women have been around forever. Like Carol Burnett, Madeline Kahn. I mean there’s always been genius, genius female actors in comedy.
I also think that we live in an age where technology has afforded a generation a lot more of a crass look at the world. The Internet is a really strange place to be. And I think the level of what we can kind of understand about brash humor mixed with all these different elements, I think with all types of movies, like “The Hangover” and things like that, I think people like Jake and directors who step up and say, “We want to push the envelope but in a way that we know can get laughs,” that always fuels the engine.
But also it is great that, like Cameron said, that’s the coolest thing about this movie [“Bad Teacher”] is that this lead role. And it’s a great thing to see a female that can do it and do it as well as Cameron does it.
Segel: I feel like the boob job storyline would have been weird [if a man were the lead character in “Bad Teacher”].
Diaz: This is true. Yeah, we could have worked around it somehow. But he’s right. It could have been like calf implants or something.
Kasdan: There would’ve been a lot of things in the movie that would’ve been played differently with a man.
Diaz: Isn’t calf implants a big thing for guys?
Kasdan: It’s the story of a guy saving up for calf implants.
Segel: Worst movie ever! Can you imagine?
Diaz: But funny.
How difficult was it for everyone to get together and find the chemistry to make “Bad Teacher” work?
Timberlake: [He says jokingly] Well, after the first week of rehearsal and the first orgy it all kind of just flowed together.
Kasdan: It wasn’t that hard, I don’t think. We just got really funny people to play every single part, and the material is rally funny. And they’re all nice people. It wasn’t really that hard to find.
Diaz: It’s like comedy marksman, you know what I mean? Everybody’s precision. Pull back the arrow, they take their breath, they slow down the heartbeat and then they just kind of let go and it’s, like, bulls eye! It’s easy.
You have to do that, you know, with this kind of fast-paced comedy … We’re shooting like this and we never stop. It’s like a constant. It’s not leisure time for us. We have a schedule.
So it’s kind of like you have to kind of come in and just hit it. Jake would come up to me and give me notes and then he wouldn’t say anything to Jason [Segel]. And Jason would say, “So just be as awesome as I was last time?” And he was like, “Yeah.”
Segel: Well, I’m like, “I’m super-good at this.
Diaz: That cuts down time because you don’t have to give people like Jason notes because he hits the mark, the bulls eye every time. So it’s precision comedy.
Segel: For me, when you’re involved in a cast like this there’s kind of a “mutual admiration society” element to it, especially when you’re doing your off-camera. You’re sitting back in awe watching great comedians do their thing. That’s always when I feel the luckiest and when I feel like I’ve totally tricked everyone. You are sitting around with everyone who are actually amazing at the thing you’ve professed to do. It’s a very humbling experience.
Kasdan: And watching them do this stuff is 90 percent of my job. This movie had a little bit of a thing, as much as anything I’ve ever worked on (although I’ve had a couple of things that were like this), where you almost couldn’t believe you were allowed to do it, sort of. We were doing it fast, and we were really having a good time together.
And so it was a little bit of like, “Oh my God, let’s finish this real quick before anyone notices this is happening, and cut it together and hope for the best.” We really had good time out there together.
Jason, the Russell Gettis character is actually kind of the voice of reason in the “Bad Teacher” story. What are your thought on your Russell Gettis character?
Segel: Yeah, it was really fun. To some extent, I’m the straight man. And I think in a small way, I’m sort of the eyes of the audience a little bit. I’m the one who pops in and call her on her BS, which I think is what the audience kind of wants to do at points. “What are you doing?”
And I’m the character who gets to voice that opinion, so that was really fun. I got to come in and just kind of observe and try to get a couple of zingers in there. That was kind of my goal. And just be natural. It was easy to act against Cameron and the entire cast.
Cameron, what was your approach to the scene of Elizabeth Halsey wearing the skimpy outfit at the car wash? Was it a nightmare or did you embrace it?
Smith: I actually taught her how to do it.
Timberlake: Yeah, I’ve been waiting to be asked that question. I feel like I nailed it. I mean a lot of people don’t know this but I’m just going to tell them about what we did.
Timberlake: I choreographed the car wash scene. That will also be on the DVD extras. There’s a behind the scenes look at it.
Kasdan: With you demonstrating how to wash that car?
Diaz: Yeah, in his shorts. In his Daisy Dukes, as well.
Punch: I got to watch it in my very unattractive track suit … from the sidelines, and the best bit was actually not watching Cameron but watching the crew. Stuff was being dropped. Everyone was slightly distracted. It was incredible.
Timberlake: The shot of the black and white hitting the car … There was a police car that came by, and Jake just literally saw what was about to happen and had the DP [director of photography] pan the camera over and we just caught some reality.
Justin, will you be joining the five-timers club on “Saturday Night Live”? What makes a host a good fit for that show?
Kasdan: That was a sketch, wasn’t it?
Timberlake: I’ve hosted four times. The season finale [in 2011] was just my fourth time, although it does seem like more because when I’m in New York City they can’t keep me out of 30 Rock, which is probably annoying to them on some level. I grew up with “SNL.” It is an institution.
It is part of the humor and chemistry between me and my father. I come from a divorced family and didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my father when I was young, and it’s something that we share that is really special to me. And growing up with that show, it was just an institution. I mean, I remember staying up late. I mean it was really bad parenting because I was too young to be watching some of the jokes that were on “SNL” but, hey, I turned out OK. But I’m just such a huge fan of the show.
And to be honest, I’m here at this press conference because of “SNL.” I have no doubt in my mind about that. I owe getting a shot to be in “Bad Teacher” with these genius comedians and comediennes directly to “SNL” and [“Saturday Night Live” executive producer] Lorne Michaels for letting me be there and rock out with …
Diaz: Your “Dick in a Box”?
Timberlake: All I got. And I mean, can we just say that that is a thoughtful Christmas gift?
Diaz: It is. I think it’s amazing.
Timberlake: I don’t know, I feel like …
Diaz: The smaller the bow, the bigger the package.
Timberlake: That’s true. That’s true. Yeah. Trim your bow, gentleman. Yeah, so I directly owe any opportunity that I ever get on film to be in a comedy to “SNL.” So I’m so thankful for that show, as a kid and as an adult.
Segel: I’ll join the five-timers club if I host five more times.
Cameron, your Elizabeth Halsey character does and says horrible things, but she is still somehow likable. Is that your sunny personality coming through or did you work really hard on trying to get us to like her?
Diaz: That was the great thing about this movie: Yhere was not one ounce of energy spent trying to make anything about this character likable. It was genius. I went 30 pages into the script, I was like, “There’s no way I’m playing this character. How could I ever redeem her? There’s no redemption for her. This is a horrible person.”
Then 10 pages later, I was like, “God, I think I like her.” By the end I was like, “This is amazing because I don’t have to apologize.” There’s no apologizing for this person and that’s the beauty of this script. I think what is such a breath of fresh air of why you watch it is because usually you spend the last 20 minutes of the movie trying to apologize for the first hour-and-a-half of it because people are afraid of just owning what it is.
And in life, we don’t just have an epiphany and change our entire lives. It happens, but it’s not the norm. You have the sense that this person is just sort of slowing down the train to jump off so she can get cross the platform to get back on the train going the other direction. You know what I mean?
And I really appreciated that and I didn’t want to mess with that. I didn’t want to try to make her happy. She has one moment where she says to the kid, she’s got her priorities all screwed up. And there’s like, you see this sort of flash for her going, “Huh, OK.” Like, “Nah. Oh, OK.” But there’s no commitment.
Kasdan: A brief near miss with self-examination.
Diaz: Exactly. I think the reason people like her is because, if they do at all, is because she’s honest. And people wish that they could be as honest as she is. And that they don’t have to suffer the consequences or repercussions of their actions. She doesn’t and therefore it’s kind of like she’s kind of like a hero, even though she should be the anti-hero.
The Motion Picture Association of America gave “Bad Teacher” an R rating, but do you see any harm a 15-year-old or 16-year-old seeing this movie?
Diaz: It’s arbitrary, honestly, the rating system. Who is to judge what is R-rated or not? It’s all relative, right? I mean it’s just to whom is watching it if it’s something that is inappropriate or not.
So I say get rid of the ratings, man. [Timberlake then hums “Taps.”] Our youth are suffering. Suffering. That they are kept out of movies like this, we should give this to our children. They need it. Take off the R rating.
Kasdan: Ideally, I think parents are deciding what their kids are seeing and help them. And instead, they have these ratings that don’t do anything. I’m not a huge fan of the system. It is what it is, and it seems to be the way it works. It seems pretty arbitrary from the perspective of making this stuff a lot of times.
Diaz: This content against like the video games where they all get to slash each other up and cut each other’s hair off. Or just even Viagra commercials in the middle of the Super Bowl. I mean that, to me, I take more offense to. [Timberlake than hums “Taps” again.]
Kasdan: The theme song to ratings answer.
Timberlake: Also, one can argue that if you take away the R rating, it’s going to take all the fun out of being a teenager and sneaking in.
Diaz: This is true.
Kasdan: This is exactly right. They do see the movie eventually.
Timberlake: Let’s be honest. They’re going to do it.
Cameron, would you rather see adults give kids realistic advice or protect them and say, “Yes, you can,” when you know they really can’t?
Diaz: No, I believe that you should always be honest with kids. You’re doing a disservice to not only the child but to society, if you’re breeding a child that doesn’t have the tools to cope in the real world. And so I’m very direct.
I told the kids when they all showed up to set, I was like, “Yeah, so your parents let you do this, right? You know what’s going to happen? You think you do, but you don’t. But just be ready. Be aware. We’re not holding back. We’re not sugar-coating any of this. I’m not watching my language. If you don’t like it, if you guys have a problem, you can leave. It’s fine.”
Segel: And then she said, “There’s no Santa.” That was really totally unnecessary because they’re 12.
Diaz: But I let them keep the Easter Bunny.
Timberlake: But after that, everything was uphill. “Don’t move your face and take this dodgeball.”
Jason, what can you say about “The Muppets” movie, which you star in and co-wrote? Was it a case of “Be careful of what you wish for, because it just might come true?”
Segel: It was very difficult to make. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into logistically and technically. It’s tricky. You have to build elevated sets. There’s all sorts of stuff that I didn’t forsee.
Kasdan: That you had to build the sets?
Segel: [He says jokingly] I was just one guy with a hammer. I was like John Henry out there. [He says seriously] It was truly a dream come true.
I can’t say enough about those puppeteers as well. Part of their job is to be invisible. You’re not supposed to think about the puppeteer, when in reality, these guys are actors and musicians and contortionists a lot of the time and comedians. I was just in awe.
I cried when they brought out Kermit for the first time, when he started saying stuff I wrote. It was crazy. It’s been four years in the making, but [the movie will be released] coming up Thanksgiving time [in 2011]. I think we’ll all be happy.
Timberlake: Jason wants the world to be happy.
Segel: I just want people to be happy.
Phyllis, do you have any tidbits to tell us about the next season of “The Office”?
Smith: Unfortunately, I learn everything that’s coming up in the next season when I do the red carpet and you all [in the media] tell me.
For more info: “Bad Teacher” website
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