Office Christmas Party cast on film's merry mayhem
Pssst. Spread the word. It’s going down. Only one movie this holiday season, Office Christmas Party, combines two things people love — Christmas and parties — with one thing they don’t: offices.
The raucous Tonight’s the night! ensemble comedy features Jennifer Aniston as Carol, the grinchy interim CEO of a struggling tech company who informs her teddy-bear brother, Clay (Silicon Valley’s T.J. Miller), that bonuses are off, layoffs are on, and the yuletide bash at his Chicago branch is canceled. But when Clay and exec Josh (Jason Bateman) try to land a key client (The People v. O.J. Simpson‘s Courtney B. Vance) by throwing a sick bacchanal behind her back, all holiday hell breaks loose, including shopping-cart tree jousting, an ice Santa with nog flowing out of his privates, and a save-the-day Christmas miracle from Olivia Munn’s (X-Men: Apocalypse) cocksure IT whiz. (The movie, in theaters now, also stars Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Rob Corddry, Jillian Bell, and lots of cocaine.)
“We have an allergy to Christmas movies, but no matter how coal-filled your heart is, you can’t help but want to connect with people and buy into that fantastical time of year,” says Will Speck, who directed this film — and Blades of Glory and The Switch — with Josh Gordon. “The goal was to make a movie that checked elements of that box but also disrupted and was an anarchistic version of a Christmas movie.” Adds Gordon: “The good news is that Will and I have figured out what it would be like to run a nightclub.” (A nightclub where people photocopy body parts, pound tequila and gin from office watercoolers, toss vending machines through a high-rise window, and set Christmas trees on fire.)
To get the Party started, we invited Aniston, Miller, Vance, and Munn to relive the good times. Someone brought salad; someone else brought Scotch.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your agent sends you the script for something called Office Christmas Party. Your first reaction is…?
T.J. MILLER: To sign up without reading it, because that’s actually what I did.
JENNIFER ANISTON: [Laughs] You do have representatives, right?
MILLER: Actually, I have your representatives. [CAA chief] Richard Lovett was like, “Do you want to read the script?” and I was like, “I don’t think so.” The name alone tells me what it is. I’m going to be improvising the entire time. Jen’s going to rewrite her and Olivia’s lines. Olivia’s going to rewrite mine and Olivia’s lines.” No, I said, “It’s Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman.” I heard the cast, I heard the concept.
OLIVIA MUNN: After The Newsroom and X-Men: Apocalypse, I was really excited to go back into a comedy…. Okay, people reading this can’t see that Courtney B. Vance and Jennifer Aniston have the healthiest snacks right now. [Pointing to Miller] This guy’s got — what is that, whiskey?
MILLER: I’m drinking a Scotch and soda. Courtney’s having cucumbers that Jen brought.
ANISTON: [Motions to salad and cucumbers] This is for the table.
MILLER: That’s a perfect example of why Jennifer Aniston is America’s sweetheart.
ANISTON: Would you rather have almond butter?
COURTNEY B. VANCE: I didn’t read the script at first. I met with Will and Josh. And they said, “Courtney, we really want somebody in this role who people will believe is a straight-ahead guy.”
ANISTON: [To Vance] We all just saw you as Johnnie Cochran.
MILLER: He just won a goddamn Emmy, all right?
ANISTON: [To Vance] I just loved what you did in that.
VANCE: You know, I didn’t know what I was doing. But that’s another story.
ANISTON: I’ve known about this movie for so many years. Will has become one of my best friends since The Switch. So I always was joking throughout the years, “There better be a part for me in there.” And all of the sudden he was like, “Hey, so we’d like you to play a part,” and I was like, “Really?” It started off as a little cameo. It was supposed to be just a small little thing.
VANCE: I didn’t know that.
MUNN: And then they go, “Wait, Jennifer Aniston is willing to be in the movie? What if we call it a cameo and just extend it and extend it?” Day 15, she thought it was a cameo still.
ANISTON: But it was great. And, of course, it’s Will and Bateman and Josh, and honestly those three are like family, so how it got fleshed out was just sort of organic and fun. And it was all about having fun. We just really wanted to have a good time and make a fun comedy.
MILLER: And we didn’t. But that was the intention. [All laugh.]
Courtney, you hadn’t done much comedy. You swing from the lights, slip ‘n’ slide across the floor, and accidentally do a ton of cocaine. Was there a desire on your part to throw everyone a curve and try a different genre?
VANCE: As actors, we all love challenges. This is one of those where I said, “Oh, they’re going to have me do some crazy things,” but I didn’t really know the full extent [laughs] until I really was in it.
ANISTON: Guess what? I don’t think they did either. [All laugh.] That was the fun of it — what was coming out of the moment, what things were spontaneously happening. [Points at Vance] What a team player, though. Good sport.
MUNN: [To Vance] They threw a lot at you. You had to go from the really buttoned-up guy to have this secret and then explode. And it was awesome.
VANCE: I loved my scene when the cocaine hit me. [All laugh.]
ANISTON: Oh my God. You just went off the rails.
There is a ton of cocaine in this film — most of it blown into your face, Courtney. How did you get yourself that jacked-up? Can you give us three tips to playing high on blow?
VANCE: Just jump. Go. Go. Go. Blow…. Will and Josh said, “Just more.” They said they wanted high octane and I —
ANISTON: Gave ‘em high octane.
MILLER: You went super high octane.
VANCE: And I knew if it was too much they would bring me back and if it wasn’t enough, I would ramp it up. I wasn’t anticipating. I saw the blow but I thought it would be a gradual thing. I forgot that it was like [freaking out] EEEE!!! EEEE!!!
MILLER: Courtney’s this subdued gentleman — there’s an elegance to Courtney B. Vance — and he’s discussing work and how fortunate he feels and the diversity of projects he’s involved in, and they’d go, “Action,” and he’s like, “YEAHHHHH, LET’S PARTY!” It was a switch that he would flip.
VANCE: That was more difficult, because there were scenes where you’d try to concentrate and you have 500 extras around you and there was really nowhere to go to actually get a moment. So you really had to be ready when you came onto set, because once you came onto set from your trailer, there was no more privacy. But… I didn’t really have to worry, because if you didn’t get it the first time, [the directors] were going to come up to you with the Post-it notes: “Okay, Courtney. Here, say this one.”
MUNN: You want to be prepared and have your lines. They say, “Whatever’s in the moment, just use it,” but I’d be there and I’m like, “I don’t know how to use the visual of this guy right now putting his naked parts into a wreath.” Like, how do you use it?
MILLER: The movie is not about the crazy cocaine party, the movie is about the idea of throwing the rules out of the window for one night. It’s not about, “You gotta party, do coke, buy a gun.” It’s more: ‘The next day, all will be forgiven,’ so everybody goes for it that evening. And that was the feeling, actually, on the set. It was long hours, it was tough, but everybody kind of went, ‘We’re just going full tilt on this one.’
T.J., you drool on Jen and wrestle with her. How quickly did that sibling chemistry form? And what does it feel like to be inside of an Aniston headlock?
MILLER: It’s the softest, sweetest headlock a person being wrestled could ever hope to be in. [All laugh.]
ANISTON: That’s a disappointment. I was hoping to be a mean, mean fighting machine like the Krav Maga student that I had been through months in training.
MILLER: When she slaps you, though, you know that she means it.
ANISTON: In my head, it was like a Jeanie-in-Ferris–Bueller-all-grown-up kind of relationship, where he was always getting away with murder, f—ing up royally, and Jeanie just couldn’t get a frickin’ break.
MILLER: But at the end of the day, her values were in the right place. That’s a great f—ing comparison. This is It’s a Wonderful Life crossed with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. With a hard R… We had brother-sister chemistry. [To Aniston] I was really surprised because I had heard about you and what a terror you were. [Aniston laughs.] I heard that you were very sweet, but I thought, “How do we establish this chemistry?” And so quickly you were welcoming and you were like, “Well, here, text me and let’s try to have a dinner.” [To EW] The chemistry was there already because she was a little sisterly to me on set, in a sense of “Hello, little baby wannabe-movie-star fellow, I’m going to look out for you.” I think she naturally is kind of a big sister to all that are in the room.
Jen, how did that chemisty gel for you?
ANISTON: I was a fan from Silicon Valley, so I knew of him. [to Miller] And I remember when you were hosting the Critics’ Choice Awards, like you were an insane human being taking on something like that.
MILLER: Wait ‘til you see this year.
ANISTON: It was incredible. I think we already knew we were doing it at that point. You came by after you had done this very committed bit on stage. [to EW] It was one of those “Hey!” “Hi! You’re doing amazing!” And then we were absolutely soaked down the back of our necks because of the amount of sweat that was pouring off him. He’s quite a shvitzer.
MILLER: Well, I was carrying a four-person puppet rig.
ANISTON: But I felt like we knew each other. In that one little moment I felt like, “He’s the sweetest guy.”
NEXT: (Naked) extras and holiday cheer [pagebreak]
The directors said they had a hard time controlling the hundreds of extras to film the giant party scene at the center of the movie.
ANISTON: Three hundred and fifty extras. Naked. Not all of them. They loved it.
Josh Gordon said one day he showed up to set and everyone was missing, and he was told that they had to have another HR session with the extras because of all the people hooking up. Jen, you don’t look like you’re acting when you first walk into the party — the shock looks real.
VANCE: Was that the first day?
ANISTON: Yeah, that was kind of intense. It’s a lot, walking into a lot of extras. And they’re naked. And they’re walking toward you in the scene, and they’re directed to sort of, oops, lunge toward you, onto you. Yeah, it’s overwhelming. I don’t like crowds to begin with. I’m not great at concerts. Never have been since I was a kid.
MUNN: Me neither.
ANISTON: I don’t know what that was. What was that about? When did that start? I don’t know.
MUNN: [I feel like] I can’t escape.
ANISTON: And being trampled. Stompled. Stampled. Stampede.
MILLER: “Stompled,” I like. Stomped and trampled.
ANISTON: Did I make that up?
MUNN: I was there a long time with these people, to the point where I looked over to the left and there was this guy who literally was just birth-naked, everything out, legs spread open—
VANCE: I’ve never heard that before! Birth-naked. I like that!
MUNN: By this point I was desensitized, and he goes, “Hey, Olivia,” and I looked down and there he is, just waiting for an invitation from somebody. I go, “Yeah?” and he was like, “What was it like working on The Daily Show? Because I just really love Jon Stewart. What’s he really like?” And I’m like, “Um—”
MILLER: “That’s your d—, sir!” They’re very committed. The extras made the movie… The only thing that was uncomfortable for me was that you could feel so many conversations happening among the extras, with guys trying to figure out a way to be like, “You know, if we’re making out, we’ll probably be on camera a lot more, so do you think maybe would you like to make out during this part of the scene?” And there were a lot of girls that were like, “Okayyyy… I guess…” And then three days later they’re making out for hours and hours and both of them are like, “This was a terrible decision.” [All laugh.] So, that was fun chemistry to be around.
The Hangover and Deadpool recently took the R rating to new levels of outrageousness. Is there pressure these days—
MILLER: To work with Ryan Reynolds again? Yes, there’s a lot of pressure.
And to up the ante when you’re doing an R comedy? The harder the R, the better?
MUNN: I don’t think there’s a pressure to do it. It’s just that you want to do your best movie and the fact that because R movies have done so well, it’s like, “Okay well, they’ve done this, it ups the bar.”
ANISTON: The pressure is not to out-fart-joke each other, or out-d–k-joke each other…because to me that’s sort of gratuitous and sophomoric. It’s, How do you match up with the quality of those others? I know that there’s an elegance that you can still reach and a high quality with an R. I mean, you have to have your level of penises on a Xerox machine, I imagine, but—
MILLER: You don’t have to click “enlarge” on the copy machine.
VANCE: There’s a fine line. Within the genre of these kind of movies, you’re saying, “Let’s go to the high end of it and not go down to the—”
ANISTON: [Don’t] dumb it down. You want to speak to the entire audience.
MILLER: And also [do] unique versions. The 3-D printing of a penis is funnier than just showing a reindeer’s d—.
What did you get each other for Christmas?
VANCE: Here it is: a $100 million opening.
MILLER: I’d like to get Courtney B. Vance a second single-letter initial for his middle name. And then Jennifer Aniston…I will get her a smartwater bottle full of vodka.
MUNN: I’ll get them all signed posters of Zootopia because that was a big hit. And I know Jason [Bateman]. I think I can get him to sign a couple posters for me.
ANISTON: I’m trying to think… Honestly, we’re trying to make preserves from our garden. From our fruit trees.
MILLER: You are so weird. And sweet.
A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly #1443, available here.