Dirty Grandpa Director Dan Mazer chats about working with Robert De Niro and the future of comedy films

With the DVD release of Dirty Grandpa, director Dan Mazer took a call from The Iris to give audiences a little idea about what could expect from an R-rated comedy starring screen royalty, Robert De Niro.

The long time writing and production partner of Sascha Baron Cohen has been busy trying to push fresh comedy films back into the fray of the superhero saturated box office, and his latest is certainly a champion of unique content. But from the (Academy Award nominated) co-writer of Borat, what more would you expect? Fergus Halliday caught up withMazer to find out.

How has the press tour been going so far, a lot of interviews? 

There literally has not been that many; I’m not yet exhausted so it’s been fine!

That’s good, so can you tell us how you got involved with this film?

Basically my agent sent me the script, I read it and really laughed, thought it was funny and edgy and was in my voice, which is the thing you look for in a script among other things. So I read it and asked what’s the story with it and they said Robert De Niro is attached to it to which I said are you absolutely sure. I couldn’t believe Robert De Niro had agreed to do anything like this but they said he was 100% at which point I went that’s incredible and it would be amazing to be able to work with De Niro and Zach together. At that point, it all came together.

Well just going along with that, what was it like working with Robert DeNiro?

Incredible, legendary, it wasn’t something I ever imagined I would do. I was initially sort of petrified of the prospect and initially worried about how he would deal with me and some of the material that I was going to ask him to do but he couldn’t of been more collaborative, more generous, kind, more attentive.

Everyone has always said he’s a real director’s actor, which I was sort of sceptical of because why would he be, but he was, and it was an incredibly collaborative and enjoyable experience working with him. I was a massive admirer of him before I started [working with him] and I ended up an even bigger admirer professionally and just completely in love with him personally.

What was the dynamic like between De Niro and the other actors on the set, particularly Zach Efron and Aubrey Plaza?

They both have a very different dynamic where I think I’d have to say generally everyone looks to him with reverence and I think that was it for everyone, to see how he works. There was an aura around him where essentially it was him and lots of 25-30-year-olds and he was the Gandalf of the set, the oracle everyone kind of looks up to. Zach I think had always regarded De Niro as a hero of his and after the sort of initial reverence they actually developed a really nice relationship that carried over to the movie in a certain sense.

I think Zach was really keen to learn from Bob and Bob was incredibly gracious and generous in helping Zach and sort of showing him the way to a certain extent. Aubrey on the other hand I think took on the personal challenge to shock Bob as much as possible, at every turn. Whatever was written on the page, it was Aubrey’s absolute mission to push it further to see whether she could make Bob blink and to his great credit he never did and to Aubrey’s great credit she never gave up. So there were two very different incredible dynamics to watch.

Did it all end up in the film or did some of it get cut out?

Little bits and pieces had to get cut out, the final sex scene at certain points got even a little too extreme for the movie and we had to lose bits and pieces of that, likewise in the dancing scene and in the clubs, where Aubrey sort of threw it all out there but most of it ended up in there and again to Bob and Aubrey’s credit neither of them ever really broke, and they stayed in character. That was the dynamic of their relationship; it worked on that level as well.

How do you feel about your movie coming out in the landscape of American comedy movies at the moment, there seem to be a lot of sequels and reboots coming out?

The landscape is very interesting for comedies and there hasn’t really been a big style breakout hit since the original Neighbours, you know the sequel didn’t do too well. But it’s a funny time for comedy in the world where people seem to want superhero movies. Hopefully it’s coming back, there will be an R-rated hit and everyone will really want to make these movies but it’s tricky to break through at the moment, and also it’s tricky to do stuff that feels fresh, I think we’re waiting for the next kind of talent of comedians and performers to come through, the last wave of Jonah (Hill) and Seth (Rogan) and those guys have sort of been around for ten years now, since Superbad, so it’s kind of performer-wise, who’s coming through next.

Is there anyone you believe to be that next person?

No and that’s sort of the problem. I’m trying to cast someone new now and the problem is finding him or her. There are plenty of brilliant actors that can do comedy but there aren’t really any comedians or self-starting comedians in the way that Will Ferrell broke through on SNL and the way Seth Rogan broke through; that sort of SNL production line seems to have slightly stopped at the moment and MTV-wise there isn’t anyone who’s really broken through. There are people who I really like but I’m not sure they are necessarily film stars at this point.

What’s next for you? Can we expect another film with De Niro?

I don’t know, I’d love to, I mean he’s brilliant but I’m not sure what his appetite is for R-rated comedy. I’ve got a script that I’m trying to make here based on a documentary called Three Miles North of Molkom, which we are casting at the moment. I’m writing a couple of things as well but writing takes a long time to get things right so I’m just going through that process at the moment, so I’m trying to finish those scripts with a view to maybe shoot something at the end of this year. But just trying to make funny films as I think you correctly pointed out, in an environment where it’s getting slightly harder to make those films and the intention I always have in any film I make is to make people laugh. That is how I start and finish and I think that Dirty Grandpa is a really funny film and the films that I’ve made previously have all had a high laugh quotient and that’s essentially what I want to do, just make films with big laughs in them.

Dirty Grandpa is now available to own on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.