In Vacation, which arrives in theaters Wednesday, Ed Helms portrays Rusty Griswold, a bumbling suburban dad who sets off on a cross-country road trip from the Midwest to Southern California’s Wally World amusement park with his patiently exasperated wife (Christina Applegate) and two bickering sons in a souped-up station wagon. The character himself happens to be the son of a certain Clark Griswold: Chevy Chase’s suburban every-dad who similarly embarked on a trans-continental journey of discovery en famille with the young Rusty (then played by Anthony Michael Hall) in the hit 1983 comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation.
En route, the new Griswolds accidentally bathe in raw sewage, face down a murderous trucker and cringe through repeated sing-alongs to Seal’s lachrymose 1994 single “Kiss From a Rose.” They also warm to the charms of a glib Texan TV weatherman portrayed by Chris Hemsworth—the husband of Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann)—in one of the summer’s funniest cameos and even encounter the elder Griswolds, Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, who lend the new Vacation iteration their implicit cosign.
Making their directorial debut, co-writer/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (the screenwriters behind such films as The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Horrible Bosses who recently landed the job rebooting the next Spider-Man movie) discuss why the time is right to resurrect the Vacation franchise and attempt to explain the whats and whys of Hemsworth’s character’s gigantic prosthetic penis.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Defend your reboot. Why a new Vacation? Why now?
JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: I would ask you, why not? If we were making a remake, I would share your dubiousness. There have already been three sequels. Granted, it’s been a long time since the last one and none were as successful as the first. But because we approached it as a continuation, bringing it to a new generation with a grown up Rusty, it was a legitimate next step.
New Line Cinema presented you with this idea?
JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: Right. They came to us just to write it. We were excited to do that. When we were given the offer to direct, we made sure it was the movie we wanted to make so we weren’t facing the obvious hurdles.
JG: We knew we were taking on something that has a certain amount of baggage, no pun intended. People come to a new Vacation movie with a certain amount of resentment if they love the original. They feel this is sacrilegious to tamper with it. So we wanted to make sure this is respectful of the original. The first movie is a classic. But we also had to make a movie that stands on its own if you’re not familiar with the original.
Hence, that scene where family is saying, “I don’t even remember the first Vacation.” You wanted to acknowledge the situation head on?
JG: Absolutely. That was the main cynicism we were up against making the movie. So as long as we told people we’re aware of it and just be patient, and watch the movie and enjoy it on its own merits, that was our own way of saying, “We know, we know, just give it a chance.”
Tell me about casting Ed Helms and Christina Applegate.
JFD: Ed is such a likeable actor. You forgive him so much. Even though he’s blundering through things and making some foolish mistakes because of who Ed is, you know it’s coming from a good-natured place.
JG: He’s a guy who’s trying to make his family whole and do right by them, to get to a place where everybody is happy and together.
Yet he’s quietly suppressing his rage.
JFD: Oh, absolutely. He realizes his intentions aren’t exactly selfless. He has this misguided notion that this trip will make everything all right and solve all the problems. His stubbornness to realize it’s never that easy is a fun thing to play with. And then Christina, she was such an incredible get for us. She’s one of the funniest working actors today.
JG: We tailored the part to her. We wanted to make sure there were layers to Debbie Griswold so she wasn’t just “the long suffering wife.” We learn she has a somewhat checkered past.
JFD: Just to give her a range of emotions and personality traits was so important. Because so often you see the wife character in one of these family movies standing on the sidelines and shaking her head but ultimately accepting her silly husband. We knew we had to do more than just that. But we liked the notion she was this completely different person in college and lived a very crazy life. Christina is kind of like that.
JG: She was Kelly Bundy and now she’s a mother and a responsible adult.
Meanwhile, I had no idea Chris Hemsworth had a sense of humor.
JFD: Well, to be totally honest, neither did we when we first hired him. It was New Line’s idea to have him and we were very excited about having this big movie star doing our movie. But we had no idea of the comedic range that he had. One of our concerns was he was going to go too broad with the character. And we’d have to spend the whole time trying to rein him in. It was such a relief to see he completely got it.
JG: He took it as seriously as any dramatic role. He got a dialect coach to get the Texas accent. We had long conversations about his hair and what it would look like.
JFD: He’s such a big, bombastic character, the TV weatherman, we knew he would have fun embodying it. In the same way we were focused on his physical attributes, there was a long conversation about his penis size. We had two choices, two prosthetics to choose from.
So did you go with the bigger or smaller one?
JFD: Of course the bigger!
It’s a brave performance.
JFD: Afterwards, he said to us, “I wonder who they’re going to get to play Thor 3?”
What did you tell him about his motivation?
JG: I remember saying something like, “We should never know if you’re doing this to mess with them or oblivious to the fact you are putting your genitals in their face? Are you so used to your genitals being that big that you don’t even think about the fact it affects other people?” There were a couple of things we found on the day, just him putting his leg up on various things. Manipulating his penis through it.
The Seal song “Kiss From a Rose” turns up again and again in the film, getting funnier and funnier—and then it’s poignant. How did that develop?
JG: We wanted to take advantage of the fact Ed is a great singer and acknowledge that thing when your mom or dad is singing in the car and it’s not a song you really know.
JFD: It was a bit of a nod to the Wally World song they all sing in the original movie. The kids are not as excited about going to Wally World in this movie. They wouldn’t be joining in. The funny thing with the “Kiss From a Rose” song – in the original script it was Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.”
JG: But Tracy does not allow people to use her music. She may be regretting that now.
JFD: Hell yeah!