Bout after bout, Plemons’ and Kyle Chandler’s characters, geared for play-by-play action, rev up for intense competition against familiar foes and fight through personal struggles to bring their A game. No, it’s not Friday Night Lights; it’s part of the premise of Game Night. The new comedy from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, with a criminally silly script by Mark Perez, centers on a group of friends’ regular game gathering that flies off the rails into dangerous territory. Chandler plays Brooks, the secretively successful older brother to Jason Bateman’s Max. As Gary, Max’s creepy policeman neighbor, Plemons has his funniest role yet. We talked with the two to find out what brings out their competitive edge.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you ever think of acting as competitive?
JESSE PLEMONS: To me, it’s like golf. I don’t feel competitive toward other actors. I’m competitive with myself. Every role I take on, I try and bring my best, and to be as honest as possible. I try not to repeat things I’ve done in the past. Which gets harder and harder.
KYLE CHANDLER: And there’s a difference between competitiveness and competitiveness with collaboration mixed in. Yeah, there’s plenty of competitiveness in Hollywood, in case you haven’t read the papers lately.
PLEMONS: There’s nothing worse than a scene with two people that are just trying to win the scene rather than trying to tell the story.
With awards — Oscars, Golden Globes — do you feel like they bring competition into space in a negative way at all? Do feel like competition has no room in that art-making realm?
PLEMONS: I would prefer it if there weren’t winners and losers at all. But it’s always been like that and it probably always will be. But naturally I feel like people have their teams. You’re rooting for your movie and that’s it. And your teammates that bring out the best in your team.
As a person grew up into sports I guess it’s easy for you to fall into those sports analogies — very apt for Game Night. Who are people in your professional life who help you up your game?
CHANDLER: The last guy I had that with was Ben Mendelsohn when I did Bloodline. Every time we did scenes together, it was three-dimensional chess. I never knew what the hell he was going to do. We had more fun, and we always created something new.
PLEMONS: There is something that does start to feel like a game. I remember on Friday Night Lights, we all reached the point where we were very comfortable with our characters. We had to find ways to keep it interesting and to sort of catch someone off guard. And I think that’s the ideal scenario.
Is there a coach to each production?
PLEMONS: I will say that Kyle was, without a doubt, the coach on an off screen of Friday Night Lights. We were always on the verge of being cancelled and we would have these dinners that were maybe last dinner. And then we’d get picked up. He was always good for an uplifting speech.
CHANDLER: I always used the knowledge of the actual [football] coaches. And it was good leadership around us, with Pete Berg’s setup, and let’s not forget Jeff Reiner.
PLEMONS: Jeff Reiner was really helpful in the end because he was really good storyteller could really break down story.
CHANDLER: And he really pushed us to have fun and to go places that weren’t necessarily on the page but the pages were always written with the possibility of going to a lot of different places. It was good writing but he had that ability, “Let’s go here let’s go there,” and there’s some great stuff that came out of him because of that outburst.
Do you know is there some kind of speech Coach would have given Gary in Game Night, to turn his life around?
CHANDLER: He’d tell him to break up with his wife.
PLEMONS: Gary would really freak Coach Taylor out.
CHANDLER: Coach Mike Reed, too.
PLEMONS: Now there’s going to be some fan that’s going to try and draw some line as to how that character and Friday Night Lights could have wound up [in Game Night]. From my Black Mirror episode, I saw something online that someone was imagining how Landry became a programmer. It’s pretty incredible to me, the legs that [Friday Night Lights] has, and fans that are still obsessed with it.
Do you feel like there’s a theory that you can come up with in your head how Landry became Gary?
PLEMONS: Oh, I feel really bad for Landry if he became Gary. I hope that’s not what happened to Landry.
Do you feel like you take experiences from shooting Friday Night Lights and bring them into a project like this?
CHANDLER: What I learned from Friday Night Lights I take with me to every project. That was probably one of the better acting classes I ever had. It was so enjoyable. I’ve shared some of the things that I learned from that job with other people, and they’ve thanked me for it.
PLEMONS: I feel like that show kind of raised the bar and changed what I thought was possible with filmmaking or acting or television—the level of realism.
Did you guys share many shooting days on Game Night?
PLEMONS: A couple, three or four…
CHANDLER: …Late at night…
PLEMONS: …On the bridge…
CHANDLER: …Jesse’s massive mega car hood slide where he could fall off.
PLEMONS: I wish you could see my first attempt on that one. I mistimed it and jumped too late and just ran right into the side of the car. A big swing and a miss at like 4 a.m.
When something like that happens, with the mix of cast and crew on the shoot, do people hop up to try and help you?
PLEMONS: Definitely, both the ADs obviously jumped in and made sure I didn’t hurt myself, so they didn’t get trouble. But, no, there were definitely some some jabs there from everyone who was laying on the ground watching. Bateman didn’t let that one slide.
I doubt much gets past him.
CHANDLER: Nothing gets past Bateman.
What’s your board or card game of choice?
PLEMONS: I play a decent amount of poker and do fairly well half the time. I actually played Clue for the first time while we were shooting Game Night. We were playing in between setups in [costar] Billy Magnussen’s trailer. And I play that game HQ.
CHANDLER: I still do love chess—I really don’t have people around me who play, so I play the computer. That’s pretty unsatisfying only because I lose constantly. When I was a kid I loved playing Risk; we would always break out in a fight because people would start making make deals with each other across the board… That’s the best part of it, when you get a board thrown over. I guess I was a little competitive. I don’t like losing, even now.
Are you competitive with each other?
CHANDLER: I don’t really feel I have to be competitive against Jesse, to be honest.
PLEMONS: You’re in a different class entirely.