Just over 20 years ago, Tim Matheson ("Eric Stratton, Rush Chairman, damn glad to meetya") turned to his fellow Deltas in a moment of crisis and uttered the immortal line: "Road Trip." The film was "National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)," and those two words led to one of the movie's funniest and most memorable sequences.
Ivan Reitman, the producer of Animal House (1978) and now an executive producer on "Road Trip," knew what was true then is still true today: that this collegiate "rite of passage" is rife with comedic possibilities. "Ever since Animal House (1978) I have thought there was a funny movie to be found in expanding the idea of the college road trip," Reitman attests.
However, it was not until the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, when Reitman saw Todd Phillips' award-winning documentary [Frat House (1998), that he found whom he thought was the right filmmaker to take a new generation on a no-holds-barred road trip where anything can happen...and usually does.
For Phillips, the connection could not have been more perfect. "I always saw Frat House (1998) as documentary's answer to Animal House (1978)" the director reveals. "When I met Ivan at Sundance, he talked to me about a new film idea he had, which eventually became 'Road Trip.' It's been really exciting for me because I grew up on Ivan's comedies, and they're still among my favorites."
"Meeting with Todd, I just had a sense that he knew where the joke was," Reitman recalls. "It's not something you can teach; it's something innate - some people have it and some don't. I felt Todd had it, and as we developed the script, I was even more sure."
Producer Daniel Goldberg concurs, "Ivan had a sense about Todd, and it really paid off because he turned out to be a terrific director. Every day he came up with new ideas and original approaches to things that were just great. When you talk to Todd, you realize immediately that he has a comedic edge and a genuine point of view, and he brought both to the film, beginning with the script."
In writing the screenplay, Phillips collaborated with fellow writer Scot Armstrong, who notes, "We wanted to create some funny college characters and put them on the road. Once we had a good reason for them to go, we could do virtually anything...put them in different situations and see how they react. The universe of what can happen on a road trip is wide open, so it's a great comedy structure, and anyone who's ever stopped at a restaurant or rest stop in the middle of nowhere can tell you there's a bunch of weird, interesting people to mix it up with. There's always that one guy eating pie who you're thinking, 'What's his deal?'"
Phillips adds, "When you write a comedy, I think the key is, of course, to make it as funny as you can, but then to cast actors who make every scene funnier onscreen than it reads in the script. Having seen our cast work, I can definitely say they made every scene funnier than what was written on the page."
"The best thing a comedy writer can have is a terrific cast who can take good jokes and make them great," Armstrong agrees.
Heading the young ensemble cast is Breckin Meyer, who is the relative veteran of the group, having appeared in such films as Go (1999) Clueless (1995) and 54 (1998) among others. Meyer stars as Josh, whose infidelity instigates the spontaneous road trip. Meyer says, "Josh is this guy who has been in a sheltered relationship with the same girl since he was five years old. It's almost like he's lived in a box his whole life, but finally someone opens the box...and it's this really hot girl. The blinders come off and he sees people- one person in particular- who have something different to offer him. Getting pseudo-intellectual on you, he goes on the road trip to save his old romance, but he comes to realize a lot of things about himself along the way, so his journey is metaphorical as well as literal."
The actor continues, "That's what attracted me to the script; it has a lot of different aspects to it. It's definitely an outrageous comedy with some really raunchy moments, but at the same time it's a romantic comedy with some very smart humor."
Joining Josh on his road trip is his best friend E.L., played by Seann William Scott, who recently gained attention for his film debut role in the comedy hit American Pie (1999). "I got the script and thought it was hilarious," Scott relates. "My agent wanted me to let him know which part I was most interested in auditioning for, and I said, 'Are you high? I want to play E.L.' He's such a character, and I knew there was so much I could do with him. What I found especially endearing about E.L. is that he acts like he's suave and a smooth operator, but deep down he's a bumbling idiot. He was great fun to play."
The brains of the group is Rubin, played by Paulo Costanzo, who counts "Road Trip" as his first feature film. Costanzo notes, "Rubin's the smart guy, but not stereotypically. He's very real. He pays a price for his genius. He 'thinks too much.' It was great for me to play him because I'm also of the persuasion of people who 'think too much.' Also, I think the part changed after I was cast because I'm kind of a goofy, quirky individual and I think I brought a lot of that to the role."
Josh, E.L. and Rubin may have been determined to get from Ithaca to Austin, but it wouldn't be much of a road trip without a car. The only one they know who has a car is an introverted, nerdy kid named Kyle, so he - and his car complete the traveling contingent. Kyle is played by DJ Qualls, who originally came in to audition for a one-line role. Phillips remembers, "We were having trouble casting Kyle until DJ came in. He was only reading for a one-liner, but we took one look at him and handed him the script. He read for Kyle and was perfect."
"When they gave me the script I thought it was a good sign, because when you're a day player you don't normally get a whole script," Qualls offers. "I read it and loved it. It was so original, and the part of Kyle goes through such a transformation."
The actor explains, "He's been really stifled and has had no life experience at all. He has no idea how to stand up for himself or do anything on his own, but by the end of the movie, he's done a complete 180. I think he finds himself. He's still sort of dorky and awkward, but I was really proud of how far he comes."
As is often the case with college guys, the catalysts for the road trip are two women: Beth, the Ithaca University co-ed, whose fling with Josh is immortalized on tape; and Tiffany, Josh's lifelong girlfriend, who is the unintended recipient of the incriminating video that was mistakenly mailed to her.
Amy Smart, who has been seen in such films as Outside Providence (1999) and Varsity Blues (1999) stars as Beth, whose attraction to Josh is undeterred by his long-distance relationship. "Beth and Josh share a mutual attraction, but Beth is more anxious to pursue it since she doesn't have anything to lose," Smart says. "I like her because she's spontaneous and aggressive without even realizing she's being aggressive. She wants to make the most of her college experience, so when she finds someone to have fun with, she just goes for it. I enjoy playing strong women, and I like that the young women in 'Road Trip' aren't just sidekicks to the guys; they're substantial characters in their own right."
In the part of Tiffany, Rachel Blanchard, who is best known for her starring role on the television series "Clueless," agrees with her cast mate. "One of the things that appealed to me about the script was that it wasn't just a guy's movie. The girls in this story aren't passive. They don't wait around for the guys to make the first move; they take their own initiative:"
Rounding out the main cast are Broadway actor Anthony Rapp as Jacob, who has an obsessive crush on Beth; veteran actor Fred Ward, as Kyle's overbearing father; and MTV star Tom Green as Barry, who serves as the film's narrator.
"Tom serves two important roles in the film," Phillips says. "He's a very funny guy named Barry, but he's also telling the story throughout, via this group of people he's leading on a tour of the Ithaca campus...that's like no college tour you've ever taken, I'm sure. I think the thing about Tom that is going to amaze some people is just how good an actor he is. He really came to the table prepared and created this great character."
"I think Tom has extraordinary abilities," Reitman adds. "He's a real original with a very offbeat quality that surprises you every time you watch him. He's also extremely brave; he'll do anything for the part and for the story...as you'll see. I think that combination of danger and charm makes him all the more intriguing to watch."
With the cast in place, it was important to foster a sense of camaraderie on the set, perhaps most importantly for best friends Josh and E.L. "Seann and I had never met, but before we began filming we got together to rehearse and became really close. We just clicked; it felt like we'd been friends for years," Meyer says.
"We needed to have the impression that these people have been friends for the better part of their college experience, so the off-camera dynamic of the group helped what happened on camera," Reitman notes. "Todd Phillips being the same age as his cast also helped; they got into a great rhythm with one another."
"Todd created such a safe environment in which to try things, and if you came up with something better he'd let you do it," DJ Qualls offers. Seann William Scott concurs, "Todd had a vision for what he wanted, which made sense since he also co-wrote it. But if we had an idea of our own, he'd let us do a kind of 'free take,' where we could ad lib and just go with it. It was great for us as actors because we felt like we were giving a lot more to our scenes than just what was written on the page."
Principal photography on "Road Trip" took place on location in and around Atlanta, Georgia. The behind-the-scenes team included director of photography Mark Irwin, production designer Clark Hunter, editor Sheldon Kahn, costume designer Peggy Stamper and composer Mike Simpson.
Completing his first non-documentary film, Todd Phillips reflects, "Coming from a documentary background, I think I brought a level of reality to the story. I believe comedy always plays better when it's based in reality. All of the off-the-wall situations we put these characters into are all the more funny after establishing a foundation of realism."