Comedy is changing—it’s getting sharper and wittier, demanding more from actors and from the audience.
Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein's slick and smart Game Night is a reflection on the evolution of the genre and where it is headed. Married couple and game night enthusiasts Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are right in their element when Max’s big brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) invites them and a group of their friends to a murder mystery party. However, the fun and games get a bit more extreme than anyone bargain for.
Married couple Michelle and Kevin, played by Kylie Bunbury and Lamorne Morris respectively, are one of the couples who find themselves swept up in Brooks’ high-stakes game. Trying to get the upper hand in the competition unveils some hilarious truths about their marriage. Ahead of Game Night’s premiere, I sat down to chat with Bunbury and Morris in Los Angeles about bringing screenwriter Mark Perez’s magical script to life and why this particular kind of comedy is an actor's dream.
For Morris who just wrapped the final season of New Girl, comedy swirls in his blood. Bunbury, on the other hand, has mostly taken on dramatic roles, so Game Night was an entirely new adventure for her. “I loved the fact that it was really funny, but it had this thriller aspect to it," the Pitch actress recalled. “I also love to play games, so I thought that was really interesting, and I just love the ensemble aspect of it.”
“I felt the same way," Morris explained. “When you read comedy it's rare that you will laugh at the whole thing. A lot of times you'll find these moments, and [think], 'I can probably punch this up if I decide to do this.' When I read the script the first time, I was like, 'Oh my God, I want to be in this.' Funny enough, the first time I read the script, I was helping a friend audition for one of the roles. Long story short, I ended up getting a call for it too. I was like, 'Oh, I gotta take this role brother I apologize.'”
Mark Perez was clear about his desire to combine his skills as a comedy writer with elements of horror and action. For the Accepted writer, the tonal beats of Jordan Peele’s Get Out were a significant inspiration for Game Night. Because the script already packed a punch, Morris wasn’t afraid to throw his whole arsenal of impersonations in the mix. “You're testing the movie to see which ones play better with different audiences," he reflected on one particular joke that runs throughout the film. “I was doing impressions from the beginning, and I guess they found mileage in that. So they said ‘Let's run with that’ and they did a rewrite. We had to reshoot and the rest is history. I don't want to spoil anything.”
Playing a married couple was a piece of cake for the actors, especially since their chemistry and playfulness seemed to ping off of one another. “I think everyone has been commenting on our chemistry in the film, and I think we do balance each other out," Bunbury explained. “I think its brilliant casting on their part. We also did a chemistry read before we were cast in this, so they could see our dynamic. We play well, we balance each other out, and we help elevate each other in certain areas.”
“It’s a give and take," Morris added. “Especially in comedy, you have to have someone on the level, and then someone that's out of their minds a little bit. In order for that person who's out of their mind to get a laugh, you need to want to be the voice of the audience that goes, ‘What are you doing? Why are you climbing this thing, why are you trying to do this?' It's great. I think most of the couples in the movie have that dynamic."
With so many hilarious jokes especially when it comes to Jesse Plemons socially awkward Police Officer Gary, making the film was as fun as it is to watch. “There was a lot of laughing, “ Bunbury chuckled. “A lot of laughing after cuts, a lot of laughing during the take." Morris added, “It's not a question of how do you keep from laughing because I didn't. I just laughed. You all just figure this out right and cut around us. That's the one thing, my Achilles heel, as far as performance goes when I'm around funny people. It's hard for me, especially if I have to be real in a room with funny people, I am the worst actor there. That's when you know when you're working on something great. You can't ask for anything else.”
Despite their characters' adventurous natures, only Bunbury enjoys living life on the edge. “I’m not a thrill seeker at all," Morris quipped. “I watch other people seek thrills. Seek the hell out of those thrills. I'm the dude guarding wallets on the beach while everyone's in the ocean. I know how to swim. I just refuse to die that way.”
Game Night is just the beginning of a busy year for both Morris and Bunbury. Up next, the Chicago native is headed to Netflix with his upcoming Christmas-themed film starring opposite Kurt Russell. “This one is about these kids who think they spot Santa Clause and they decide to sneak into his sleigh,” Morris revealed. “He broke into the house, and they're like, 'Who is this dude in this house?' They realize he has got a sleigh and he's got reindeer. It turns out it's Kurt Russell, and he is like the coolest Santa Claus ever.”
Bunbury, on the other hand, will be switching gears entirely. Returning to drama, the Candian actress is set to star in the ABC reboot of the ‘70s drama Get Christie Love from Power creator/showrunner Courtney A. Kemp. “I am just in the training process of becoming a CIA --a case officer," Bunbury said. "I'm doing stunts, learning different dialects, doing weapons training and stuff.”
For now, though, Morris and Bunbury are all geared up and ready to roll the dice in Game Night.
Game Night premieres Friday, Feb. 23rd.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her Master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami