HOME SWEET HOME ALONE Video Interview: Director Dan Mazer On Going From BORAT To Family Comedy (Exclusive)
Home Sweet Home Alone director Dan Mazer talks to us about tackling an iconic American franchise, his love of physical comedy, the challenges COVID-19 and modern technology presented, and much, much more!
Home Sweet Home Alone is now streaming on Disney+, and this reimagining of the beloved holiday film franchise sees a married couple trying to steal back a valuable heirloom from a troublesome kid. You can check out our review by clicking here, but last week, we were able to catch up with director Dan Mazer to discuss the work that went into bringing this beloved franchise back.
Perhaps best known for collaborating with Sacha Baron Cohen on iconic comedy characters like Ali G and Borat, Mazer's directing credits include Dirty Grandpa and HBO's Who Is America? Needless to say, a family movie like this one marks a major departure for a filmmaker known for R-Rated work.
We talk about that here and what it was like to tackle such an iconic American property as a writer and director known for working on so many iconic British comedy icons. Mazer also breaks down his love of physical comedy, the concerns he had while shooting in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic (primarily to do with puberty..), and his possible interest in one day tackling a Marvel or DC project.
Watch our full interview with the Home Sweet Home Alone star below:
I think it’s fair to say you’re a legend in this comedy world with everything from Ali G to Borat to Bridget Jones. They’re British comedy icons, but the Home Alone franchise is an American icon in many ways; what was it like to come into this project with it being so iconic and beloved?
I mean…arguably, idiotic. [It’s a] terribly foolish decision to take on something so beloved, but as you say as you reel through the things I’ve done, as soon as someone says you probably shouldn’t or can't do it, that’s almost what attracts me to a project. I’m very eager not to make something that feels safe whether it’s the stuff with Sacha - which is always innately, incredibly risky and dangerous and foolish. That’s what I enjoy, the adrenaline of that, through to making DeNiro do things he probably shouldn’t have done in Dirty Grandpa. Then, as the next chapter of that, the challenge was to make something that felt a worthy successor in the pantheon of the original movies.
It is a brilliant family film and, again, it’s such a departure for you as people will think of R-Rated projects like Dirty Grandpa and Borat, so did you have any reservations about coming on to a family project like this one that maybe you’d have to tone yourself down or were you excited for the challenge?
One of the reasons I took the movie on was that I have two lovely young daughters, neither of whom have been able to watch a single frame of any movie I’ve ever made because it’s such unadulterated filth. Their mother, my wife, has expressly forbidden them to watch anything I’ve ever done! Every now and then, you’ll find them sneaking on to a computer to see Borat or Dirty Grandpa or whatever just because they know I’ve done it and they’ve been chastised for doing such a thing! My mission and my challenge and my joy was to make something they would feel proud of and to be able to show their friends. The original movies are some of my youngest daughter’s most favourite movies in the world, so I felt it would be a treat to take it on and do something she’d be proud of.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but people will have seen in the trailers that Buzz McCallister comes back and has a cameo in the film. It’s such a great moment and there are some great Easter Eggs, but how much fun was that for you and did you consider maybe any other cameos?
The challenge was to respect and pay homage to the original without feeling overwhelmed and drowned by it like we were doing a gimmicky throwback to what happened before. It was about making sure everything felt justified and served this movie and its narrative. So, we discussed the various options and when Mikey and Streeter wrote the Buzz part of it, it just felt very organic and natural and credible, and funny as well. It just fitted very easily into the movie we were making and didn’t jump you out of it. That felt right whereas other things might have felt a bit token and gimmicky.
There are so many great visual gags and pratfalls, particularly in that second half when the traps are coming out, but as a filmmaker, how much fun is it to delve into that side of things and the physical comedy?
It’s brilliant! Again, that was one of the big attractions of the film for me to flex my muscles in terms of that physical comedy which I hadn’t necessarily done that much of before. It was really important to me to do as much practically as I possibly could and not use CGI. You know, the big change in 30 years since the last one is that you can do almost anything with a visual effect, but I wanted to keep that reality and see the real fear in the actors’ eyes when they had things thrust towards them or were pushed off things they shouldn't have been pushed off. I wanted to keep it all very, very real and in the world of the things my dad showed me growing up. The Howard Lloyds, the Chaplins, the Buster Keatons and all those sorts of things like the Hanna Barbera cartoons as the Tom and Jerrys and Roadrunners are really the inspiration for this kind of slapstick. I loved all of that and spent a lot of my time, probably an unnatural amount of my time, in advance of making the movie just walking around my house trying to see what objects I could injure people with. You know, if someone hands me a bottle of water, I’d be like, ‘Okay, this can smash someone in the face’ or a fork becomes a weapon every time. It becomes all-consuming. It’s amazing how much you can use in the house to potentially injure your housemates!
One thing I loved about the film is that you assembled an amazing cast of great American and British actors; how challenging was it for you logistically, particularly when the shoot was interrupted by COVID? Did that make things harder in the second half?
Yeah, COVID was a disaster. If you sort of look carefully [Laughs], a couple of actors actually didn’t come back after COVID for the second half of shooting that had things written in the script we just couldn’t do because they couldn’t make it back to Canada where we shot. It was a testament to everybody that we all returned with such enthusiasm, but for me, frankly, the biggest worry of all was whether Archie was going to hit puberty in the six months we weren’t shooting. We finished in March 2000 and came back in October or November, and I’d sort of call Archie’s mum daily just going, ‘Any signs of his voice breaking at all? Are there any spots coming up? Has he shot out any facial hair?’ It was my great relief, yes, that puberty didn’t hit in those seven months. That would have really derailed us.
On another note for a second, I know a few years ago there were reports you were adapting the graphic novel Anya’s Ghost, and I was wondering is that something you’re still moving ahead with, and as a filmmaker, do those Marvel and DC movies appeal to you?
I take everything on its merits really and I’m sort of agnostic whether it’s Marvel, DC, or Home Alone or Sacha or Anya’s Ghost or any of those things. If something arrives, I’m not really too worried about its genesis or where it came from. The Anya’s Ghost script…I loved it. Patrick Ness wrote the original adaptation of it and it was really fantastic. What happened with that is the studio we were making it with folded about three months before we were supposed to start shooting. We had a cast. Actually, we’d cast brilliantly, and we were getting ready, but CBS Films as it was then just stopped making films. It kind of evaporated and something else came along, but that was fantastic and I loved it. I had great fun with that.
I hope you get to revisit it down the line. Going back to this film, something that’s changed since 1990 is that we all have technology in the home, so how challenging was it to work around that? I thought the film did it really cleverly, but how difficult was it to make it believable?
It’s incredibly difficult. Obviously, as you sit there, you go the world as you say is so connected now in a way it wasn’t back then with mobile phones and internet and all these sorts of things. With a film, you don’t want to spend too much time saying, ‘We can’t do this because of this’ covering off every base, so we spent a lot of time making it seem seamless and effortless that Max felt very isolated and abandoned. The beauty is that as a 10-year-old, as I know with my children when they sneak down to try and watch my movies, you can isolate a kid from the dangers and traps of the internet relatively effectively with lots of programmes now so we leaned on that to keep Max isolated from the outside world. Certainly, heading into it that was a challenge and it took lots of drafts and attempts to make it feel natural.