When veteran director Garry Marshall makes a movie, he insists that it be a family affair, and he makes sure everyone involved has a fabulous time. It's just how he rolls.
With his latest all-star ensemble holiday film Mother's Day, Marshall works his magic in weaving several stories together about three generations of all different types of mothers – the divorced, the widowed, the meddling, the long-lost – and delivers some big laughs mixed with heartwarming moments.
While finding new friends in stars like Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis, the 81-year-old auteur also gathered up some of his favorite people, including Kate Hudson (whom he's known since she was 9 and hanging with mom Goldie Hawn on Marshall's Overboard set); Hector Elizondo (who has been in almost every Marshall film); and of course, his Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts.
Fandango sat down with the effervescent Marshall to talk about why he chose Mother's Day, how he makes the set a fun place, and the Pretty Woman reference in the film that got a certain someone choked up.
On doing his third ensemble piece:
Garry Marshall: I like working. I don't know if I'll do more holidays, but I must say, to me, this wasn't really such a holiday movie. I've been saying this to everybody, the hardest job is being a mom! And this is kind of a salute to my mother, who is where we got our sense of humor – Penny [Marshall] and I and my sister, Ronny [Hallin] – and why we are really in the business. Now she's not really any of the moms in the picture necessarily, but a lot of moments are from her.
Motherhood is not an easy job but also what's changed in society, we learned years ago is the word “divorce.” So now there's so much dual custody of children. So to see a story about dual custody and not a horror story with hate, I thought needed to be told. That back and forth is hard. My oldest child was divorced, and the kids are now grown up but they didn't like that back-and-forth business. I thought we told it well and Jennifer Aniston really led the way with that story.
On incorporating all kinds of mothers:
Marshall: I served in the army in Korea and am very pro military, so Jason Sudeikis plays a father [his character is a vet], who is also the mother because the real mother has passed [killed in action]. So the different kinds of stories interest me about what mothers go through. How many times has your mother said, “You're really dating THAT GUY?! Why would you date him?!” Like Kate Hudson's story, which is one of the funnier ones.
I think the comedy balance is there, but there's also some sadder moments in this story. I have in my life talked to a lot of boys and girls who don't know who their mother is and they want to find them. Sometimes they find them and they wished they didn't find them, but sometimes it worked out. I'm a positive type of guy, so I'd like you to enjoy and have a good time.
"I have two people in a room. They kiss or they don't kiss. That's the picture."
On working with Julia Roberts again:
Marshall: Working with Julia was great and she's now a mom of all sorts. We were doing an interview, a double interview, and she's talking, but do you know what she's really thinking about because I know her? It's going to rain outside and [her son] Henry is on a field trip, and she's worried it'll rain on him and he doesn't have the right coat. And he's too little to have a cell phone. That's what a mother worries about, and a mother knows what's going on better than everybody.
On that Pretty Woman reference in the film between Julia and Hector Elizondo:
Marshall: That first take, he choked up! I didn't know what was wrong. I thought he was sick, I was like, “Cut, cut… what was that?” He says, “I'm verklempt. I'm looking at her, she's a grown woman now. Remember [on 1990’s Pretty Woman], in pre-production she was 20?” He says, “I just got taken away.” So we did it again but it was that kind of thing.
On the trick to making these ensemble pieces seem so seamless:
Marshall: I think what works on the ensemble is you don't have to ask everyone to work months. “Hi! You wanna come and do a few days? Good, we'll get you in and out.” I'm always prepared. Jennifer had the longest run here because she carried a big part of it. And the gamut of all the emotions. She really did a terrific job.
I also have a very open set. You can bring all your relatives and some are in the movie and some are not. One of my grandkids kick [Mother's Day] off for me, that little girl at the beginning of the picture that didn't want to go to school? That's my youngest granddaughter. It's pretty cute. She listens to me, so we get along fine. Rarely kids listen, but she likes it all. Her name is Sienna LaGambina, you wanna get any more Italian than that? The perfect name [laughs].
On making sure his cast and crew have a blast on set:
Marshall: I get asked about why [the set] is so fun. Interesting thing I don't say too often, the law now on movies, because there have been so many accidents, is you have to have a safety meeting every day on set. I mean I don't blow people up. They don't fly around. I have two people in a room. They kiss or they don't kiss. That's the picture. But before you shoot, there must be a safety meeting. The stars don't always come, but the crew must. I've got to be honest with you, sometimes they are a little boring, I discovered. And people didn't come, they'd hide or be busy or be at craft services.
So one of my punch-up writers, who is also a comedian, I have him do the safety meetings. I learned a trick from the police, with the traffic school and comedians. So everyone came to the safety meetings! A lot of the actors came early to hear safety meetings. You try to make things that are usually negative, positive on my movies, so people have a good time.
On doing another holiday movie… like maybe Arbor Day?
Marshall: I've joked about that. But how to make a tree funny sounds hard. To hug a tree is nice, but… Arbor Day is a challenge. They want me to do Italian holidays, Jewish holidays, Spanish holidays. I like the obscure ones. Someone wanted me to do Sukkot. No one knows what the hell Sukkot is. So who knows what we're doing. But we'll keep working, I love working.
Catch Mother's Day in theaters April 29.