In the comedy film “The Watch” (formerly titled “Neighborhood Watch”), four civic-minded men in Glenview, Ohio, take it upon themselves to form a neighborhood watch group, after there is a series of strange break-ins and vandalism in their community. The four men are Evan Trautwig (played by Ben Stiller), an uptight manager at Costco; Bob McAllister (played by Vince Vaughn), a freewheeling guy who has a rocky relationship with his teenage daughter; Franklin (played by Jonah Hill), a young man with emotional problems and violent tendencies; and Jamarcus (played by Richard Ayoade), a socially awkward divorcé who has recently moved to the neighborhood.
Armed with flashlights, walkie-talkies and spiffy new jackets, the guys find more than they bargained for when they uncover an alien plot to destroy Earth, and now these bumbling heroes are Glenview’s only chance to save the neighborhood (and the world) from annihilation. Here is what Stiller, Vaughn, Hill, Ayoade and :The Watch” director Akiva Schaffer said when they sat down together at a Los Angeles press conference for “The Watch.”
For Ben, you’ve worked with Vince Vaughn multiple times before you did “The Watch.” Does that history make it easier to work together?
Stiller: Jonah and I did a scene in the “Night in the Museum 2” together, which is we had so much fun doing that. We were really looking forward to working together again.
Hill: He had fun.
Stiller: We had fun. You said you had fun, too.
Hill: Yeah, whatever. I’m joking, we had an amazing time. It was my favorite day to shoot.
Stiller: I love working with these guys. It’s great to work with the people who make you laugh and who you are a fan of. Vince and I had a really fun time working on “Dodgeball” together and it was exciting to have a chance to do something. It had been a while for us.
So it was exciting to have a chance to do something new together and being in a totally different kind of relationship, too. I’m a fan of these guys. And Richard, I met a little bit because we had been able to be executive producers of “Submarine” …
They’re all just really funny guys. And when you’re a fan of somebody, that really helps, especially on a movie like this, because a lot of it was going to be the ability to have fun with each other and feel like you want to hang out with these guys. So if you’re enjoying the process, hopefully, that will translate.
A lot of modern comedy is about the characters changing from the beginning to the end of the story. Each of these characters doesn’t change that much compared to a lot of modern comedies. Is it nice to lock into a character groove like that and stick with it and not go for the easy “sympathetic” moment?
Stiller: [He says jokingly] I try to inject all of my characters with wrong-headed machismo. Unfortunately, Jonah took that from me in this movie. [He says seriously] I think the fun thing for me is to be a part of a movie where you don’t have to worry about…being in R-rated film, you can have a lot more freedom. In terms of the structure, I think that these characters were who they were, and I don’t think it was about having it all sort of tied up in a bow.
It was more about, again, these guys hanging out and how they affected each other, but it wasn’t like about teaching lessons or anything, I don’t think. I do think there is sort of, you know, an emotional connection these guys do have by this ending up being together and do show up for each other at the end.
The fact that you think it isn’t necessarily there or you don’t think it’s overt is a good thing. I feel like it’s there underneath the surface, but it’s not too sappy in that way or anything.
Vaughn: I think the fun of it is that all the characters are kind of unique in their own ways, struggling with their own things, and this kind of larger circumstance really kind of brings them all together. You kind of earn more of the friendship with that, the characters were all kind of conflicted first, or they were all seeing differently, but, ultimately, I think you really earned a friendship or an understanding between the characters. So it’s more about them kind of being faced with something extraordinary versus just them growing some sort of personal way.
Schaffer: They’re their better selves. It’s the same guys, just better versions of it. They are doing the same things, but they are kind of a better version of the same thing.
Stiller: They’re just probably more realistic. This is an ultra-realistic film.
We never see the alien ship in “The Watch.” Was it important to keep the CGI low?
Schaffer: I liked the idea … to have the alien not disrupt the comedic flow, basically. So you guys had something to look at, and we weren’t just playing against the tennis ball and trying to act like it was an alien. So I liked having somebody really there, really doing the things that these guys could. You know, once again, they just need all the help that they can get. And I was just trying to throw them a bone.
Ayoade: I still use tennis balls in my process, though.
Schaffer: I had to tell them that it’s real. They never met Doug Jones.
Hill: Even when I acted with Richard, he would tape a tennis ball to my forehead. Even though I was an actual person.
Ayoade: Yeah, I find it weird not looking at people if they don’t have tennis balls attached to them in some way. It doesn’t feel true.
Schaffer: We did end up using CG for some of it, and at some point it’s actually a hybrid of a guy in a suit and a little bit of CG.
Since Hollywood likes to put performers in boxes, is it nice to be action heroes in the comedy genre that is familiar to you all?
Stiller: I feel like, first and foremost, the movie is a comedy, so the action in the movie should be believable. You should believe the aliens, but just enough that you can have the fun of the movie. Because I feel like when people come to a movie like this, they want to laugh and they are not necessarily looking for us to be these sorts of kick-ass/badass hero guys. They want to feel like it makes sense for the movie and the comedy of it.
So I feel like just sort of finding that tone that makes it feel real enough to these real guys in that situation. And especially to the last part of the movie, try to find as much humor within all this action moments that feel like it’s still a part of the same movie.
Vince, you play an over-protective dad. Do you think it helped you to be mentally prepared for what’s ahead in your future?
Vaughn: My daughter is just 19, 20 months now, so I’m a long way away from that.
Hill: What do you do when a guy rings a doorbell for prom?
Vaughn: That happened the other day. I said it was a little bit inappropriate. She’s too young to make her own decisions. They have to walk before they fly. But for the character what I found is that clearly has a real friendship with his daughter. She’s, you know, going down the road that he’s not comfortable with. So I liked that you liked that you could tell that they have a real nice thing between them, but it’s been tested in this time.
And the other fun part of it was he’s a guy [who ] takes being a father very seriously, but it is really joining The Watch because he wants some guys to hang out with and just sort of laugh and kind of getting away from those problems. So I think that’s something that’s just relatable for all of us where you love your family, they are invested in it, but it is nice to get a break and get some perspective.
But thankfully, I’m a long, long way from answering any of those questions as far as being protective. But I have encouraged her to get on some scooters, motorized vehicles, that kind of stuff. I threw her in the pool, but she swam so it’s fine. I call her Half-Pint.
Ben, your character has a very intense, Tom Cruise-style of running. Was that something that you perfected back in the day when you used to do impressions of Tom Cruise?
Stiller: I think Tom Cruise’s running has a huge impact on the world. I mean, let’s face it. Culturally, everybody wants to run like Tom Cruise. I think Evan is probably a Tom Cruise fan, and when he sees his moment to run after the alien, he goes into his full Cruise-mode.
Jonah, do you prefer doing dramas or comedies?
Hill: I honestly could not have had a better time making this movie with this group of guys. I don’t know, I really like doing both. I really like doing dramas, I really like doing comedies, and they are both very different.
This was, I can say, the hardest I’ve ever laughed just being around the group of people while you are making a movie. On a drama set that generally is not the case. These guys are people who have made me laugh for a long time, people who I’ve learned a lot from watching their movies before I was ever in movies.
Stiller: When you were a child.
Hill: Yeah, when you guys were in your early 40s, I was like 4 or 5 or whatever. No, I don’t know, I really love these guys. Ben and Vince are very important people to me from learning about comedies growing up and stuff. So, getting to work with them was great. And Akiva, Richard and I were friends beforehand, so it was a great experience.
Ayoade: I like these fellows’ comedies a great deal. I think Buster Keaton is pretty good, and that whole deadpan thing he does. Yeah, those five people are all pleasing to me. I’ve never been in a film before, so I feel uniquely unqualified to participate in this.
Hill: Is this your first movie ever, really?
Ayoade: Yeah, I’ve never been in a film. Not really. I think maybe for a day. That’s as much as anyone could stand previously. My wife said, and she’s right, it’s going to look like I won a competition to be in a film with movie stars.
And there were several days when I was like, “Why are Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill looking at me? Oh! I’m in a scene with them. I ought to start trying to act back.” But that didn’t happen until late in the film. What happen until then it’s just a record of my bewildered face.
Stiller: Then we started holding tennis balls up.
Ayoade: The tennis balls came and then it worked out. It’s very surreal and I’m a huge fan of these people. I can’t maintain eye contact, so I’m going to look there. So yeah, it was a great pleasure for me to get to somewhat bring down the film by being in it.
Vaughn: Bring up the film. Richard is so funny. It was so fun. He brought such an original voice and great ideas and is just funny in the movie. The great thing about comedies is that — that’s the thing in life that we all remember — sometimes it’s just really good to go and not take things seriously and get a chance to laugh.
And I think this movie does that really well. You get a bunch of guys together from different walks of life and at the end of the day there’s a lot of laughter and a lot of camaraderie. For me, what I love about comedies is that, at its best, it helps us laugh and brings us all closer together.
Hill: Are you crying?
Vaughn: Inside, but not here. Jonah, I’ll never give them that much. Never.
For Vince and Ben, with news of “Anchorman 2” coming out, are you interested in reprising your roles for another ultimate anchorman showdown?
Stiller: Yeah, sure.
Stiller: I would show up for that.
What kind of weapons would you bring this time?
Vaughn: The tongue is mightier than the sword.
Stiller: Oh yeah. Your tongue, for sure. I’d like that net. They had that “Planet of the Apes” net in that fight.
Vaughn: That was good.
For more info: “The Watch” website