Second Act Interview: Director Peter Segal On Creating The Balance Of Heart And Comedy

Not everyone gets to live their dream from the get-go. Some have to focus on real-life circumstances in order to make ends meet, but it’s never too late, as proven in the upcoming film Second Act, starring Jennifer Lopez.

Below is a synopsis for Second Act:

Value Shop assistant manager Maya Vargas wants only one thing for her 43rd birthday — a promotion. While her résumé may not scream upper management, her track record certainly does. Vargas is an innovator who listens to her customers and delivers results. When she loses the job to a college-educated candidate, Maya sets out to prove to Madison Avenue that street smarts are as valuable as book smarts — and it’s never too late for a second act.

I had a chance to hop on the phone with director Peter Segal and discuss his latest film. Check out the whole interview below, and don’t forget, Second Act hits theaters tomorrow!

LRM: Okay. So, let’s get started on discussing Second Act. What was it about Second Act that made you want to jump into it and be a part of it?

Segal: Well, first of all, I’m a big fan of Jennifer [Lopez]’s, and I’m a big fan of the kind of movie that this is. It reminded me of Mike Nichols’ Working Girl, and nobody’s really making movies like this anymore. And so, I have to tip my hat to the studio, STX, because they are still crafting stories like this, and telling stories like this. So, the combination of those two things really is what drew me to this.

LRM: Now, you tend to have this magical way of including the perfect touch of comedy and emotional films. How do you do that? Because in this film, you did that pretty well.

Segal: Oh, thank you. I appreciate that. That’s actually one of the challenges that I like the most. I started my career doing Joke Book comedy with Naked Gun, which is only about the joke. But then I learned fairly quickly with Tommy Boy, that if you can add some heart to the story, and make people relate to the characters in a different way, other than just the jokes, it may resonate more. The story may resonate more, and last a little longer. So, I am sort of drawn to stories that have both laughs and something else. And this one had certain issues that it was dealing with, and it was also from a female point of view, which was different for me, because most of my films are male-oriented, and I enjoy those challenges. That’s what’s fun about filmmaking.

LRM: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, it was a perfect chick flick. When I got the notice on it, I was like, “Yes. I need it. I need some laughter.” I need a little laughter, a little joy, especially with so much going on, and it just gets too depressing.

Segal: Well, you know, timing is everything, and I feel like it’s the right time for a story like this. I mean, obviously this is a very specific and important time for women in the world. And this is a story about strong women and friendships between this group of women, but it’s also, like you said, it also is funny. And with every message and with every serious story that you tell, I think there’s always a way to weave in comedy and make people laugh. And then the other bit of timing, is we’re the first comedy in the last five weeks that will be in the marketplace. There’s a lot of other things out there, and especially at Oscar time, a lot of the stories tend to be very serious and dark, and so this is just another flavor of ice cream for people.

LRM: Yes, and you said it very well, right now. It’s kind of like finding a way to embrace the negative.

Segal: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yup. Exactly. This character learns that the mistakes in her life are some of the things that brought her to where she is, and you need those down turns to add up to the good turns. We’re sort of the whole sum of our parts. Life can’t always be great, you know, and this is a story of a person who thought that she was sort of done. That she’d been dealt the cards, and she was supposed to be a certain kind of person, and she was never going to add up to being the kind of person that she wanted to be, because she’d made some wrong turns in her life. And she realizes at the end, that it was because of all those things, that she is who she is. And it inspires her to keep reaching for things that she thought were impossible. I think that’s sort of an inspirational message that the film seems to be telling people.

LRM: Yes. For sure, that it’s never too late. How did you direct the scene where you had a little bit of choreography? Was Jennifer involved in that?

Segal: In the choreography?

LRM: Yes.

Segal: Yes. We actually reached for the stars, and we hired Mandy Moore, who was the choreographer for La La Land, because I was such a big fan of that movie and so was Jennifer. But also, Mandy works on Dancing with the Stars, and we knew that Jennifer knew how to dance, but we didn’t know that whoever we … Freddie Stroma was with the guy that she danced opposite. We weren’t too sure about his skills, so Mandy is used to taking people who have no experience dancing, and turning them into well-oiled machines on the dance floor. So, she was great, because she also understands comedy, and she knew that we were trying to do things. She not only did the Christmas party, which was a little more refined, but she also did the “Push It” scene in the kitchen.

LRM: Yes. Yes. That was a cool song by the way. It kind of takes you back.

Segal: Oh, yeah. Well, it was like one of their high school songs. You know, or junior high, I should say. It’s like they’ve known each other their whole lives, and that was something that we were saying, they used to dance to back in 8th grade. So to cheer her up, they wanted to let it loose again.

LRM: Yup, that’s me, but elementary. Elementary school kids still dance too. So, when it comes to the cast, how did Lopez and [Leah] Remini come together? Because that was like the perfect duo for this. And how is it working with both?

Segal: Well, that was actually easy, because those two are actual best friends in real life. And so Jennifer had asked me, she said, “Hey, what do you think about if I just ask my best friend to play this other character?” I said, “Well, are you kidding?” Because first of all, I’m a big fan of Leah’s, but secondly, you can’t teach chemistry. It’s either there, or it isn’t.

LRM: Correct.

Segal: And the same way there’s chemistry with men and women in a Rom-Com, there’s also chemistry with two women who are portraying best friends. When I got to go over to Jennifer’s apartment and read the script with both Jennifer and Leah, I realized that they behave like sisters. They fight and poke each other, and they’re physical, and they push, and they laugh their asses off. And that’s just who they are. So, I said, “Oh, my God. You’ve got to bring some of this to the set, because this is like gold.” And so Leah said, “Is that okay, if I do a little improv?” I said, “Yeah.” Well, we kind of paid the price, because the scene where she says, “Who’s the champ? Who’s the champ? You’re the champ.” It’s something that Leah actually does with Jennifer before she goes on stage, in Vegas or the AMAs, or whatever, except she improv’d a little too much and starts slapping her. She says, “Just go with it. Just go with it.”

LRM: Yes. Yes.

Segal: When she started slapping her, Jenn got pissed and slapped her back, clocked her really hard. And that’s in the movie. You can see that Leah almost breaks up, because she wasn’t expecting it.

LRM: Yeah. That was not expected by anybody.

Segal: Yeah.

LRM: So, it sounds like this was already … When casting, you guys already knew it was for Jennifer.

Segal: Well, yeah. I mean, this is not an expensive movie. This was fairly low budget. It only cost 16, and by movie standards, that’s pretty low. So, we knew we didn’t have a lot to spend. We couldn’t afford huge stars, so we went with our gut, and we said, “Hey. Those two are friends. Milo Ventimiglia, we all loved from This Is Us, so we said, “Let’s not even do a casting search. Let’s just go after him.” That’s someone that Jennifer really wanted. So, when she asked me what I thought, I said, “Are you kidding? We’d be lucky to get him.”

So, we just kept our sights very focused, and we just went after the people that we thought were right. Some of the other cast members, they don’t have a lot of experience, like Deirdre and Lacretta, are straight from Broadway, and they’re, in particular, so excited about the Premiere, this week, because they’ve never been to a big movie premiere, and then here they are, they’re in it. And those were the other friends in the “Push It” scene.

LRM: Yeah. So to kind of finalize, because I know I’m running out of time, so there was the child actor, John James Cronin, who plays Otto, was hilarious, and said some of the surprising, unexpected lines. How do you … I mean, it’s already, I imagine, a little challenging directing adults, but then what about with kids? And with lines like this?

Segal: Well, that was just taken from my own parenting. I’ve got three kids, and they’re a little older than Otto, but you know, they’ve got mouths on them. Let’s just say that, and it reflects kind of poorly on you, if they go out into the schoolyard, and they’re cursing like a sailor. But let’s just say, my wife and I aren’t always the most well-behaved with our dialog, and so the kids are sponges, and they pick up everything like that.

Segal: So, that’s what I put into the script, was that. And then of course, when you’re auditioning kids, I feel bad for their parents, because I say, “Is it okay if your kid curses?” And they go, “Oh, you don’t think they curse? Of course. Just go for it.” And I realized it’s something fairly relatable, that all parents go through this. But it’s still weird, when you’re encouraging a little seven-year-old to say shit. I still feel a little guilty, but at least all the parents out there understand that that’s just life.

LRM: Yes. It was definitely hilarious. He was one of my favorite characters because it was different. It was unexpected.

Segal: Oh, good. Good.

LRM: Yes. And just to finalize, since it seems I have another minute. Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about? I understand there’s My Spy?

Segal: Yeah, My Spy. I just got back from Toronto a couple days ago. I was there for four months filming this movie. It’s an action comedy with Dave Bautista, and I’m really excited about that one. It’s a very different kind of movie than Second Act. But it leans more towards a family audience. Most of my movies are male oriented. And this one’s different again, because it’s an unlikely story between this CIA operative and this nine-year-old girl, that he’s having to watch over, and it’s funny and heartwarming and exciting. So that will be coming out next year.

LRM: Great. We look forward to 2019 and seeing what you have. And thank you for your time. And Happy Holidays. Congratulations on everything.

Segal: And to you, too.

Second Act hits theaters tomorrow!

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Nancy Tapia

Nancy Tapia has been an interviewer for LRM and Latino-Review Media since 2011. Currently a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Former UCLA Bruin specializes in Management. Covering entertainment has been an unexpected lively journey. Always open to the next, new experience. From solo traveling to adding a new peak to her personal 100 Hike Challenge. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @inancytapia

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