Will Ferrell's last-minute casting and more Wedding Crashers secrets: 'Is this really going to work?'
As the R-rated comedy classic turns 15, director David Dobkin looks back on some of the outrageous debauchery.
"Once we finished the movie, I remember with the marketing campaign they were like, 'Look, we don’t know how to sell this,'" recalls Dobkin, who recently reunited with Crashers alums Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell for Eurovision. "They were cutting the movie to look like a romantic comedy and I was like, 'That’s not right, this is a movie about sex and men growing up — it’s a coming of age story…for 35 year olds [laughs]."
Dobkin truly did get the last laugh as his film earned almost $300 million at the worldwide box office and proved to be one of the defining entries of the R-rated comedy boom in the early 2000s.
Now, 15 years after walking this classic down the aisle, Dobkin takes EW through how he built the ultimate wedding-party montage and Ferrell's "insane" cameo.
The Endless Party
"I was a little bit paranoid that people would not understand the idea behind them crashing,” David Dobkin says of Jeremy (Vince Vaughn) and John’s (Owen Wilson) penchant for lying their way into a couple’s most sacred day. “It wasn’t this seedy, dark intention. I read the script and saw that they just loved weddings.” Dobkin hoped to quickly convey that message via an almost five-minute-long wedding crash montage that kicks off his hit 2005 R-rated comedy. “I was afraid that if I put it later in the schedule, the studio would shut it down,” he says with a laugh. “So I took the entire first week of shooting, and it was about three or four days in [before] people realized we were still shooting the same thing." They would tack on an additional part of the montage when Wilson had the idea for the "10 percent of our hearts" quote, prompting Dobkin to pull his actor and an extra aside while filming the reception where John and Jeremy meet the Clearys.
Working off just one script page and mostly a vision in his head that the filmmaker says he "couldn't quite explain,' Dobkin credits his stars—with whom he’d worked before on Clay Pigeons (Vaughn) and Shanghai Knights (Wilson) — for trusting him. "It was a really hard way to start a movie," admits Dobkin, who says the repeat nature of the shoot wore on everyone. “At one point Vince turned to me and said, ‘Why are we popping more champagne?’ [But] we used everything. My editor [was] like, ‘You did five takes of exploding champagne, and we needed all of them.’”
But, thankfully, only one location was needed for the wide array of venues. “We went from room to room to room," shares Dobkin. "Half of the room was dressed like an Indian wedding, and the other half was a Jewish wedding. So I could shoot a scene, turn around, and shoot another scene in the same room. And we did that with about half a dozen rooms."
While Dobkin and his stars came up with much of the montage as they went, the Isley Brothers’ wedding staple “Shout” was long part of the plan. Dobkin loved the idea of an homage to the 1978 classic Animal House, which also memorably used the track, but he found that it wouldn’t be so easy. “I couldn’t reach the rhythm that I needed,” explains Dobkin, who then added keyboards, drums, and backup vocals to increase the scale and the final “flurry.” The conclusion cuts between John and Jeremy dropping topless women on beds and popping those much-needed bottles. “It was this fervor of energy, concept, sexuality, and fun.”
The Last-Minute Crash
When it comes to another memorable moment, Dobkin perks up when asked about the hilariously ridiculous Crashers cameo of his future Eurovision star Ferrell. "That thing is insane, and I love it," the director says with a laugh. As John struggles with depression after losing Claire (McAdams) and his best friend getting engaged, he seeks out Jeremy's wedding crash mentor, Chazz Reinhold. But what he finds is far from what he expected, with Chazz living at his mother's house, wearing a kimono and nunchucks, and yelling for mom to make some meatloaf for their guest. And yet, Chazz is still revolutionizing the crash game, having successfully moved on to picking up women at funerals. While Dobkin believes the fun and surprising scene served as a "rocket boost" into the final act of the film, it wasn't a part of the original script.
"Vince and Owen and I did about three weeks of work on the script before we started shooting, where we’d go through and improv the scenes and create ad-lib stuff and kind of rewrite those scenes," recalls Dobkin. "This scene wasn’t in the movie, and there was a moment when Owen was like, 'Wouldn’t it be funny if we crashed funerals?' It didn't really fit in that opening montage, and then later when I was looking for an all is lost moment I said, 'Owen, what if you go see Chazz? You mention this guy Chazz and we never see him in the movie. What if you wanted to go see this guy to get some advice and he was crashing funerals? And you think all of this sounds really dark and you’re really at your bottom, but when you go with him and you’re at the funeral, it feels all wrong and you realize you should be by your friend’s side.' And so Owen kind went and wrote that scene."
For the role of Chazz, the Crashers team was desperately hoping to land another high-profile member of Vaughn and Wilson's comedy crew in Ferrell. The Saturday Night Live alum had plenty of experience getting laughs with the duo, considering he starred opposite Wilson in Zoolander and Vaughn in Old School, not to mention his similarly wild cameo the year before in their big screen version of Starsky & Hutch.
"I remember it was midnight the night before and we were still trying to nail Will down," shares Dobkin, who says they had to shoot all of Ferrell's role in one day. "He got in in the morning, he read it, and he came out with his kimono on and the nunchucks, which was Owen's idea that he have those around his neck. [Will] was like, 'You want me to wear this?!' He was very laid back in the first take and I remember looking at him and I just said, “I think he’s a little crazier.” [Laughs] Which is bad direction by the way. He was like, 'Oh, I know what you mean,' and he did it again, and I was like, 'Maybe more?' I mean, I really believe that I directed him by just saying “more" until he had that fifth take and that is the whole take that is in the movie. It was one of those things that you shoot and you’re like, 'Is this really going to work?' It's a pretty weird sequence."
But Dobkin's concern would be put to rest after a roaring reaction in the film's very first test screening. "The craziest thing happened, which is that when Will comes walking down those steps as Chazz, you cannot see him, and there is an audible reaction of people starting to laugh and have this reaction to the character before you even see that it’s Will," says Dobkin. "I can never explain it, and I remember showing it to Owen later and being like,''How do they know? What is it that they think is about to happen here?' I always wondered what it was the audience thought was coming down those steps, because the energy in the theater was just so crazy. And I think at that point of the movie you’ve had so much fun, it’s such a great ride that you’re just not expecting one more thing."
In 2020, Dobkin believes there's no way to keep something like this from getting out, as he learned with a big sequence in Eurovision that was spoiled ahead of release. But, back in 2005, he was determined to keep Ferrell's Crashers involvement a secret — and it somehow worked.
"Every first trailer that they cut had him in it, and I was like, 'Guys, you can’t do that, you’re ruining the joy of a reveal,'" he says. "Yeah, you need to sell the movie but you’ve also got to leave an experience for people and something for them to discover. We asked all of the reviewers, 'Please don’t ever say that he’s in the movie,' and there was so much love for the film that no one leaked it. It was such a lovely thing."
Rule No. 23: Never ruin a surprise for audiences.