Tagline: … pick a side.
In a romantic comedy, things typically unfold by a tried-and-true formula: boy meets girl, things go right, then just a little bit wrong, all on the way to happily-ever-after. But what about when boy and girl are exhausted after another long day? When the routine starts to drive them absolutely nutty? When all the little things that used to endear them to each other start to just… really… annoy each other?
Enter The Break-Up… an unconventional romantic comedy that follows a couple’s often comical, sometimes painful, but always entertaining journey into the unraveling and deconstruction of a once solid and loving relationship.
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston star as Gary and Brooke, a couple who let a seemingly small argument escalate out of control and suddenly find themselves-after two years together-confronted with the choice between love and loss. With the once happy couple standing their ground and refusing to move out of the condo they’ve shared and showered with attention, an all-out war of the exes breaks out. The Break-Up boasts an all-star supporting cast of friends and family who come to give Gary and Brooke advice and direction from every possible perspective.
On Gary’s side are his best buddy Johnny O (Jon Favreau); his level-headed realtor Riggleman (Jason Bateman); and his brothers and business partners, quirky workaholic Dennis (Vincent D’Onofrio) and self-styled super-suave Lupus (Cole Hauser). Advising Brooke are her stable sounding board Addie (Joey Lauren Adams); Addie’s settled-down domesticated husband Andrew (Peter Billingsley); Brooke’s flamboyant (but-not-gay!) brother Richard (John Michael Higgins), who delights in his all-male a cappella group The Tone Rangers; her well-meaning mom (Ann-Margret); and her oddball co-workers, fabulous and fearsome gallery owner Marilyn Dean (Judy Davis) and wide-eyed receptionist Christopher (Justin Long).
Building Up to The Break Up
Actor/writer/producer Vince Vaughn was growing weary with the majority of romantic comedy scripts he received. They always seemed to have a subplot with clichéd wackiness of a couple in love going through some insurmountable task before they found their Hollywood ending. For years, he wanted to make “the anti-romantic comedy” and tell the story of love gone wrong. He believed that relationships were challenging and humorous enough without delving into a silly subtext, such as marrying someone in 10 days to get 10 million dollars.
The actor, who has starred in a string of highly successful films, including 2005’s top-grossing comedy Wedding Crashers, as well as Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Dodgeball, Old School and Starsky & Hutch explains: “I wondered, what about a movie that’s not really a traditional romantic comedy? I thought of the movie The Odd Couple and how it would be interesting to see two people go through a break-up, and the pains of a break-up, while living under the same roof. Comedy’s always an over-commitment to the absurd. But I always like things based in reality.”
The idea was one that occupied Vaughn’s attention for the next several years, but it wasn’t until he met writers Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender that The Break-Up would start up. The first-time screenwriters had been working on their own treatment, a comedy script starring Vaughn. “It was August of 2001, and we wrote a script with Vince in mind,” recalls Lavender.
Lavender and Garelick sold their script for the “Vince Vaughn comedy,” which eventually crossed the desk of Vaughn’s manager, who liked what he read. The writing partners found themselves in the same room as the actor/producer in December 2002 to discuss the project, but Vaughn had something else in mind. He revealed his idea for a “break-up movie” to the team, and by the end of the meeting, it was clear that the three were on the same comedy page and up to the challenge.
It would take a couple years for the project to gel, but in late 2004, they would spend three months at Vaughn’s Los Angeles home / war room, collaborating 12 to 20 hours per day on the script. “We were living at Vince’s house for three months,” laughs Garelick.
During the writing process, Vaughn, Garelick and Lavender would act out many of the scenes and improvise the dialogue. “There would be times when Vince would go off on a rant, and we could literally have five pages of material from that,” remembers Lavender.
Garelick and Lavender felt they really “found the movie” after digging into the script for those three months, and the writing partners credit Vaughn for shepherding the project and keeping the creative juices flowing. Says Lavender, “There isn’t a part of this movie that Vince hasn’t put his stamp on.”
With the script complete, Vaughn put on his producer’s hat and shopped The Break-Up around Hollywood. Previously a producer on the 2001 crime comedy Made with teammate Jon Favreau, Vaughn would produce The Break-Up as the first film under his new production banner, Wild West Picture Show Productions. It didn’t take long to find the right studio. After a 30-minute pitch meeting with Universal Pictures, the executives were sold.
Notes producer Scott Stuber, “Romantic comedy scripts are challenging, as few stories are able to take emotional risks and not lose the comedy. But after reading the script and meeting with Vince and the writers, it was clear this one was different and would make both a very funny and emotional film.”
Now that he had a studio on board, Vaughn’s thoughts immediately turned toward a director. During discussions with the studio, the name Peyton Reed came up. Reed had directed the bubbly comedy-romance Down With Love, starring Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, and the cult classic/cheerleading comedy Bring It On, with Kirsten Dunst.
“I liked Down With Love and what he did with the camera on that film. It had a fun pace to it,” relates Vaughn. “I met with Peyton and thought he was terrific-very funny and very smart.”
Reed read the script for The Break-Up and was immediately interested. “I loved the idea of working with Vince and telling a story about two people that, in the broadest sense, may be filed under `romantic comedy’ in the video store but is absolutely not a typical romantic comedy,” offers Reed. “There was a sense of mystery to the script, too-are they going to end up together? That tension was interesting to me.”
The director acknowledges, “This genre has been around so long, people are always trying to come at it from different ways. What appealed to me about the script is that you’re not watching a romance bloom; you’re watching it die. A break-up is actually more universal than a romance that’s working instantly.”
With Reed in place to helm the film, Vaughn called upon an old friend to fill out his producing team. Peter Billingsley, who in his early days played young Ralphie in the holiday classic A Christmas Story, has since become an accomplished film producer. Billingsley and Vaughn have known one another since a youthful meeting 15 years ago when acting together in a CBS Schoolbreak Special.
Years later, the two reunited to collaborate on Made, in which Billingsley served as a co-producer. Billingsley notes, “I was finishing up Zathura with Jon, and I was excited from the second I read this script.”
Finding the Comic Actors: Casting The Break Up
The filmmakers now embarked on casting the project and, according to Billingsley, “made a decision to get a group of actors-not performers or standard comedy people that you might expect to see in a romantic comedy.” This philosophy led Vaughn’s team to seek out and cast diverse talents. Billingsley continues, “The caliber ofactors we have in this movie certainly helps that process a lot.”
Director Reed believes that the actors’ positive responses were due to the script-and Vaughn. “It’s hard not to respond to Vince’s enthusiasm,” he explains. “A lot of members of the cast are people that Vince has worked with before and people that we are both really big fans of. And, we were shooting in Chicago for the summer. Fortunately for us, we were able to move people’s schedules around and make it work.”
Chicago native Vaughn relates his character, Gary, is “just your regular American guy. He means well, and he’s a positive guy. But he’s not big on doing stuff that’s not in his wheelhouse. He’s a little bit selfish; he’s a little bit unaware.”
Vaughn, Garelick and Lavender faced a minor dilemma when deciding what profession Gary should have. “So much of the film takes place in the condo, we wanted to open things up and go somewhere,” says Lavender. “We wanted something that gave Vince the ability to riff and something that was specific to Chicago.”
The idea of Gary as a double-decker tour bus guide was suggested, and it stuck. “If we gave Vince a microphone in a job where he could just talk and talk, we knew we’d be fine,” says Lavender. “The double-decker tour bus is such a Chicago image, and it opened things up. We could show off the landmarks and shoot it in the warm weather.”
It would clearly take a formidable female talent-one who could dish out the wisecracks as expertly as her male counterpart-to play the role of Brooke. Jennifer Aniston was always the actor/producer’s first choice for the role.
“I started thinking of her when I was writing because she’s not only a great actress, but she has a quality that’s very likable, very warm and appealing,” says Vaughn. “There’s a genuineness to Jen. And she’s also really funny.”
After meeting with her, the director agreed there was no better choice. “When I came on board, Vince was obviously attached, but we had not cast Brooke yet,” says Reed. “He’s also 6′ 5”, so you have to cast someone who can really be a presence in the frame. It takes a tough woman to be able to spar with Vince’s rapid delivery on screen, and Jennifer definitely holds her own. I loved the idea of the potential chemistry between these two actors.”
Aniston recalls, “The script was hilarious. It had everything that I love-a combination of multiple levels of drama and comedy.”
Aniston describes Brooke as the typical, supportive girlfriend. “She’s an artist at heart, but she’s not really accomplished,” says the actor. “She’s in a relationship that she’s been in many times before…hoping to break a pattern she’s been repeating.”
Jon Favreau, who first paired with Vaughn 10 years ago in the quintessential L.A.-nightlife story Swingers, was a natural choice to play Johnny O, Gary’s thuggish best buddy from Chicago’s South Side. Vaughn describes his relationship with his pal as akin to “a couple of old teammates.” The director, too, knew he needed an actor who could help Vaughn play to the worst side of the male ego.
“In a weird way, it’s like seeing those characters from Swingers 10 years later in our movie,” offers Reed. “Jon and Vince have this very easy rapport. You see them in the frame together and you know they have a history together. The scenes that they did together were scripted, but I gave them a lot of leeway to just riff and have fun.”
Favreau welcomed both the chance to come back to a city he used to call home and the opportunity to play a different kind of character opposite his buddy. “When I’ve worked with Vince before, I’ve been the main guy and he’s been the funny supporting guy. It’s fun to flip responsibilities.”
Johnny O’s female counterpart, Addie, is played by another member of Vaughn’s repertory, Joey Lauren Adams. The production team cast her as Brooke’s best friend, a married mother of two who’s always on hand to offer Brooke plenty of self-help advice. Adams came to the project through Vaughn, whom she too has known for years.
She recounts, “I first met Vince years ago at The Dresden, and this was pre-Swingers.” Several years later she “went in to audition for A Cool, Dry Place, and Vince was standing there. We’ve been friends ever since.”
After she read the script, Adams was hooked. “I thought it portrayed relationships in a real way,” the actor recalls. “It had substance to it. And my role was not just playing `best friend.’ I had a real character and something to do with it.”
Addie’s husband, Andrew, is played by executive producer Billingsley, who had acted in only a couple of productions over the last decade. “It’s something I hung up for a while, but it’s fun to be acting again,” Billingsley notes.
Billingsley got the part after a table reading for the movie, marking the first time he’d been on screen with Vaughn in years. “We hadn’t cast some of the roles,” explains Billingsley. “So I read four or five roles just to keep the reading moving.” After his reading of Andrew, the group refused to let him abdicate the role to anyone.
John Michael Higgins, best known for hilarious turns in the Christopher Guest films Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, came on board to play Richard, Brooke’s pathologically musical brother. An avid member of the Tone Rangers, his all-male a capella singing group, Richard is the sensitive guy to Gary’s beer-drinking everyman.
“I’m attracted to characters that have no social referencing skills,” laughs Higgins. “The scene that I auditioned with is one of the most memorable in the movie. Here’s this very nice dinner table, and suddenly one person just starts going off and trying to make everyone sing.”
When the filmmakers told Higgins they needed someone familiar with a capella singing, Higgins didn’t flinch. “I’m actually not an a cappella person,” he confesses. “I used to sing with a group a long time ago. But I said, `You know what? I can write arrangements. I can rehearse a group.’ Me and my big mouth.”
Taking him up on his offer, the filmmakers gave Higgins the tasks of preparing music, writing arrangements and convening/rehearsing a vocal group for their scenes. “Michael was put in charge of rallying this group, and he ran with it,” says Lavender. “He brought together this tremendous group of extremely talented singers from L.A., New York and Chicago.”
The casting of perennially sexy, two-time Oscar-nominee Ann-Margret as Mrs. Meyers, Brooke and Richard’s mother, was a coup for the production. “We were talking about the role, throwing out ideas,” recalls Reed. “Someone said, `Let’s get Ann-Margret.’ We all laughed. Then it was like, `Is it possible we could get the Ann-Margret?’ And we got Ann-Margret, which for me was a thrill. From Viva Las Vegas to Bye Bye Birdie to Carnal Knowledge-her whole body of work is amazing.”
The actor was attracted to the project for several reasons. “I read my scenes, and I was laughing out loud. I thought it would be so much fun,” she says. “Also, when my family immigrated from Sweden, we settled in Fox Lake, Illinois. Coming back to the Chicago area was really fantastic.”
Another actor who added prestige to the project was Judy Davis. Fortuitously, it was Aniston who suggested her for the role of Brooke’s boss-brutally honest, eccentric gallery owner Marilyn Dean. At Aniston’s recommendation, Vaughn, Garelick and Lavender got to know Davis’ work by watching her films, including Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, which earned Davis one of her two Oscar® nominations.
“The next day, I’m reading USA Today in my hotel room, and there’s a column about Judy Davis,” Lavender recalls. “It discussed how she’s one of the best `unknown,’ unheralded actors of our time…lauding all of her credits.”
The production tracked Davis down in her native Australia, and she agreed to join the project. Aniston was admittedly “over the moon,” when Davis accepted the offer. “This was a difficult role because on the page, Marilyn Dean is a very big, very strange personality,” adds Reed. “She’s an odd character, and Judy really delivered.”
Playing Brooke’s nerdy, country club-set father was Vaughn’s own dad, Vernon. “He’s my good luck charm,” says Vince Vaughn. “Swingers was the first movie that Favreau and I put together, and my dad was in that. That one did well. Then I produced Made with Favreau, and he was in that, and that one did well. So I figured, three’s the charm. Don’t break a winning streak.”
Joining the cast as Vaughn’s on screen brothers are Vincent D’Onofrio and Cole Hauser. Along with Gary, the Grobowski brothers own 3-Brothers Bus Tours, which aspires to conquer Chicago tourism “by land, sea and air.”
“When Vince and I were talking about who could play Gary’s socially-awkward older brother, Dennis, we focused on Vincent D’Onofrio,” says Reed. “I loved the idea because they look like they could be brothers, and Vincent is a brilliant actor. We were both excited to see what he would come in and do with the character of Dennis. Sure enough, he came up with something that was really unexpected.”
Cole Hauser, known for his primarily dramatic performances in such films as Tigerland, White Oleander and Paparazzi, plays prowling bachelor, youngest brother Lupus. “I love Cole, and I’ve known him for a long time,” says Vaughn. “The part was sort of based on him. It’s exaggerated, obviously-he’s not as extreme as Lupus-but it was based on stuff I’ve heard Cole say and do. He’s a terrific actor, and he does a lot of great dramatic stuff. It was good to see him get to do something a little more comedic.”
Considering the casting choices for the Grobowskis, Reed wanted to portray family members that would explain Gary. The director notes, “Gary’s from the South Side and is not going to spill his guts every afternoon when he gets home from work.” The brothers had to reflect that mentality. “You really feel like these guys are Polish guys from Chicago and have a real brotherly relationship.”
Rounding out the cast are Jason Bateman as Gary and Brooke’s realtor friend, Riggleman, and Justin Long as Brooke’s flamboyant colleague, Christopher. Bateman, another member of the Vaughn comedy circle, has recently appeared with the actor in Starsky & Hutch and Dodgeball. “I read the script, but it didn’t really matter,” says Bateman. “I mean, to be involved in a project like this, you’d pay them- which I almost have,” he jokes.
Justin Long also worked with Vaughn and Bateman on Dodgeball and stars in the forthcoming comedy Accepted. “He’s one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet, and he brought a real take to Christopher,” says executive producer Billingsley. “The wig, androgynous clothing and obscenely high heels were his idea. He approached the role with a strong point of view.”
With casting complete and a solid script from which to draw, both the director and the producers knew they were ready to roll. Stuber offers, “We took a step back and looked at this roster of talent…we knew we just couldn’t assemble a funnier or more talented group for the film.”
Sticking to the Script: Improving or Improv
Pre-production finished, Reed and Vaughn knew they could now play with a favorite style of sport: improv. Reed knew he’d found a kindred spirit in Vaughn, someone willing to step outside of his comfort zone to get just the right take. “Vince as a producer is a lot like Vince as an actor,” the director explains. “He’s tireless. He’s got tons of energy, and he has a vision for the movie that’s very clear. He knows where the movie’s got to be funny; he knows where the movie’s got to be dramatic.”
That clarity toward humor often lent itself to improvisation. Reed states, “Vince and Jen would stick close to the script. But after a couple of takes, when we knew we had it, we’d just let ’em go. That’s really where Vince excels, and it’s what people love to see. It gives the comedy a real immediacy, like you’re watching him find his thoughts.”
Aniston also found this solid repartee while shooting her rapid-fire scenes with Vaughn and enjoyed the freedom to give something extra when it was time to step off the page. “I loved the way we volleyed together-there was a great rhythm to it. You don’t get that all the time,” she admits. “I had that on Friends, but that was also 10 years in the making.”
Of working with his longtime comedy partner Jon Favreau, Vaughn commends, “Jon came in and played this part…we were able just to set up two cameras and improvise. Fav’s one of those actors you can do that with, where you know what the intention of the scene is. I would say probably 70 percent of all the scenes are completely improvisation that happen just there on the day.”
Actor Joey Lauren Adams also found it refreshing to work on a set open to impromptu performance. She reflects, “Peyton is from the school of improv-do what you want, do what makes you feel comfortable, let’s try it, let’s do a take. Vince is big on improv, too, so we usually did his coverage first. He sort of takes the scene and runs with it, so when the camera turns around on you, you feel comfortable to do the same.” Adams adds, “You try and keep up,” she adds, “which is hard to do with Vince.”
My Kind of Town: Filming in Chicago
Opting to film The Break-Up entirely in Chicago was as important as any casting decision. Many members of the cast have roots in the Windy City, but it was Vaughn’s unrelenting desire to shoot the film in his hometown that secured the production’s Chicago locations. The city responded in kind.
“I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago watching movies like The Blues Brothers and all the great John Hughes films,” Vaughn says. “The Break-Up in many ways is a love letter to Chicago, and I felt like this town was the perfect backdrop for this film. It’s a very real place, very American. It’s a setting that’s relatable and very accessible to people from all over the country.”
The production shot in or near such iconic Second City locations as Millennium Park, Wrigley Field, the famous Michigan Avenue shopping area (where the Marilyn Dean Gallery is located), the Wrigley Building, the city’s South Side (where Skylark Johnny O’s bar is located), the Chicago River, the Buckingham Fountain, Smith & Wollenskys steakhouse and the upscale nightclub Sound-Bar.
Reed offers, “It’s a movie that could not take place anywhere else. In the way that Woody Allen movies are all about New York, this movie is all about Chicago. The script was smart about how it utilized all the different aspects of life in this city; it’s very much about the rest of the country and the way the average American lives.”
It was also a goal of the production to keep the action true to the city’s layout. For example, the 3-Brothers Bus Tour pickup spot is right in front of the Wrigley Building, a logical stop for a tourist service. “Everything from the scene structure to the locations-a lot of thought was put into making sure that places were what they were, and that the actors within those places looked like how they would,” says Billingsley.
Favreau, who lived in Chicago for a few years, feels this attention to detail is welcomed by locals. “I know that when I lived here, there were only a few movies like this, and people from Chicago really appreciate the accuracy,” he says.
The effort for authenticity permeated the production. Costume designer Carol Oditz notes, “I wanted to prep this movie in Chicago. All of the costumes that are on Vince are Chicago costumes-not New York or L.A. That was the baseline for us.”
Overall, the city extended a warm welcome to the production. “Unlike New York or L.A., people still get really excited that there’s a movie in town,” says Reed. “From a photography standpoint, it’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. The summer is fantastic; the architecture is amazing; the food is unstoppable.”
Breaking Up the Tasks: Designers Get to Work
Production designer Andrew Laws, a consort of director Reed’s in Down With Love, had just completed another film in Chicago when he read the script for The Break-Up. “I loved the idea that the film was a celebration of this city,” says Laws.
Since approximately two-thirds of the movie takes place in Brooke and Gary’s condo, the decisions surrounding this set were crucial. Early on, the filmmakers considered filming in a practical location and scoured the city. Unfortunately, that option didn’t afford flexibility. “There were certain constraints based on how big this condo was really meant to be,” says Laws. “It’s meant to be a one-bedroom condo, and with most of the things that you’d find in that space. Considering that we were shooting there for about five weeks, we would have found ourselves standing on top of each other.”
“Shooting practical can be tough because there’s people that live below or above you, so they’re excited to have the movie there the first night. But come week two, they’re upset if you’re shooting at four in the morning,” points out Vaughn.
In the end, creating the environment on stage allowed the creative team to “bend and flex the set to suit the film and the movement of the script,” says Laws. With a lack of stage space in Chicago and two other films in town competing for the same real estate, the filmmakers lucked out when they secured the enormous National Guard Armory.
Laws developed a floor plan for a condo built in the 1920s, using an existing Chicago home as a jumping off point. “We wanted something that had an older flavor to it,” the designer notes. Once the plans were agreed upon, a platform was built to raise the condo off the floor so that views out the windows looked realistic. A truss was rigged to accommodate overhead lighting requirements. “Then it’s just a slow buildup-getting the walls up, doing the plastering, adding the details,” he adds. These details included placement of functional hardware and windows, vintage glass and texturing on the walls.
The set was built slightly oversized to enhance its realism. “That’s the thing I always said to Andrew-it has to look realistic. You can’t for a second think you’re on a movie set. You have to buy that they really live here,” says director Reed. “Andrew delivered in spades. The detail work, the painting, the plastering…it’s really amazing.”
Reed knew the lighting of the condo was just as important as its design. “I wanted it to have a real sense of reality to it. Vince and I talked a lot about our mutual dislike of really brightly lit, flat comedies,” he comments. “I brought in a bunch of visual reference, like Woody Allen movies that Gordon Willis shot in the ’70s and ’80s that really captured a sense of place and a sense of the city.”
Laws worked closely with director of photography Eric Edwards, who was in charge of lighting this artificial space to make it look like a real condo, complete with views of the Chicago skyline.
“The way this whole set was constructed made it great for us to shoot in,” comments Edwards. “Everything was nicely oversized, and Andrew added these antique glass windows that really helped with the translite and selling the idea that there’s actually buildings out there.”
Aniston loved the condo… so much so that she admits she found it hard to leave when shooting wrapped. “You can see why Brooke and Gary would fight over this apartment. It’s absolutely gorgeous,” she laughs.
Costume designer Oditz gave that same attention to detail. She appreciated the fact that “on set, I really felt like a filmmaker whose area of expertise is costume. Vince and Peyton invite everybody to the table. Whatever ideas you have are welcomed.”
He Said, She Said: Lessons Learned
The eye for perfection taken in the production, cinematography and costume design permeated the set of The Break-Up. The filmmakers knew this was a story that had to be told fairly-and with just the right comic timing-as Brooke and Gary were both innocent victims and guilty participants in the demise of their relationship.
Notes the director, “We went to great pains so that you can see both sides of each argument. It was important to us to have this story play real and balanced. The movie isn’t taking Brooke or Gary’s side. It presents two people having real problems-people who do have a love for each other, but who aren’t at a point where they can communicate it.”
For Vaughn, that’s where the true comedy will always come in: the day-to-day places where the banal offers the opportunity for the biggest laughs…and the most valuable lessons learned. “My taste in comedy is looking at things that can be very funny, on the one hand, and very uncomfortable on the other,” the actor / producer reflects.
He concludes that, amidst the comedy, “The Break-Up is really a cautionary tale. If you love someone, but take them for granted and don’t communicate, you can destroy a once great and positive relationship. Finding a strong connection is possible, but relationships must be nurtured and honored. Ultimately, the success of a relationship isn’t always judged by whether it worked out, but by how much you’ve evolved, and how much better prepared you are because of what you have gone through and learned.”
The Break-Up (2006)
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Justin Long, Vincent D’Onofrio, Cole Hauser, Joey Lauren Adams, Ann-Margret, Elaine Robinson, Rebecca Spence, Jane Alderman
Screenplay by: Jay Lavender
Production Design by: Andrew Laws
Cinematography by: Eric Alan Edwards
Film Editing by: Dan Lebental, David Rosenbloom
Costume Design by: Carol Oditz
Set Decoration by: Daniel B. Clancy
Art Direction by: David Sandefur
Music by: Jon Brion
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, some nudity and language.
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: June 2, 2006