"Meet the Fockers"
Movie Production Notes
Release Date: December 22, 2004. Universal Studio
Four years ago, audiences were invited to come along with male nurse Greg (a.k.a. Gaylord) Focker (BEN STILLER) on a weekend as he lost his luggage, set the backyard on fire, went a little over-the-top in a game of water volleyball, spray painted the cat and was administered a lie-detector test by Jack Byrnes (ROBERT DE NIRO), his girlfriend’s father (who turned out to be not a horticulturalist, but an ex-CIA operative reluctant to allow Greg into The Byrnes Family Circle of Trust) in the blockbuster comedy Meet the Parents.
The film became the runaway hit of the fall of 2000, tallying more than $300 million worldwide. Now, Greg has managed to earn his way inside the Circle of Trust and things are going great. He and his fiancée Pam (TERI POLO) are excitedly planning their wedding and there’s only one tiny, itsy-bitsy little thing left to smooth the way to the altar: the future in-laws need to spend a weekend together.
So, Greg and Pam climb aboard Jack’s new state-of-the-art RV (with the Kevlarreinforced hull and the two-inch Plexiglas windows) for a trip to Focker Isle, the Cocoanut Grove domicile of Bernie and Roz Focker (DUSTIN HOFFMAN and BARBRA STREISAND).
The next 48 hours will provide the parents of the intended bride and groom a little time to get to know each other, but more importantly, give Jack the opportunity to study Greg’s parents.
Things start off well enough, but that’s before Jack discovers that the lawyer and doctor Greg presented are, in fact, a liberal stay-at-home dad and a senior citizens’ sex therapist.
Then there’s the RV toilet episode, the overly zealous game of touch football, the saucy Cuban caterer with the secret, the incident with the toddler and the glue... Ready or not, it’s time to Meet the Fockers...it’s just one weekend together. What could possibly go wrong?
The makers and stars behind the runaway hit of 2000, Meet the Parents, are reunitedand joined by some formidable future in-lawsin the follow-up comedy, Meet the Fockers. Returning to the roles they originated in Meet the Parents are ROBERT DE NIRO as Byrnes clan patriarch, Jack; BEN STILLER, as the soon-to-be son-in-law, Greg Focker; BLYTHE DANNER as Jack’s wife, Dina; and TERI POLO as Greg’s intended, Pam Byrnes. And joining as Greg’s inimitable parents, Bernie and Roz, the Fockers, are DUSTIN HOFFMAN and BARBRA STREISAND.
Director and producer JAY ROACH (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers in Goldmember) returns to the helm, along with screenwriters JIM HERZFELD (Meet the Parents) and JOHN HAMBURG (Along Came Polly, Meet the Parents); the story is by Herzfeld and MARC HYMAN (The Perfect Score). Meet the Fockers is produced by JANE ROSENTHAL (About a Boy, Meet the Parents), Robert De Niro and Jay Roach, and is based on characters created by GREG GLIENNA & MARY RUTH CLARKE (Meet the Parents).
The behind-the-camera roster of talent includes Meet the Parents alums, as well as new additions to the family: director of photography JOHN SCHWARTZMAN, A.S.C. (Seabiscuit, The Rookie); production designer RUSTY SMITH (Elf, Meet the Parents); editors JON POLL (Austin Powers in Goldmember, Meet the Parents) and LEE HAXALL (television’s Arrested Development and Hack); costume designer CAROL RAMSEY (Dodgeball, Scary Movie 3); and composer RANDY NEWMAN (Monsers, Inc., Meet the Parents). NANCY TENENBAUM (Pop Life, Meet the Parents) and AMY SAYRES (Secondhand Lions, Meet the Parents) serve as executive producers.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION...
An old show business axiom dictates that comedy is trutha glimmer of recognition, the acknowledgment of a familiar situation, as in “Hey, that happened to me,” quickly followed by the nearly instantaneous feeling of relief that this (most probably) painful situation is happening to someone else, onscreen.
For instance: being introduced to the intimidating parents of your intended spouse and finding out that your future father-in-law is a covert government agent with a knack for ferreting out the truth.
Or, even worse still, after meeting the couple that produced the person you love, having your future in-laws down for their first introductions to your own flawed, idiosyncratic familya stay-at-home father and liberal lawyer from the 1970s and his plain-speaking, sex counselor wife.
Parents...meet the parents. In order for the originating filmmakers and cast of the runaway comedy hit of 2000, Meet the Parents, to return to the story of a male nurse named Gaylord Focker and his desire to marry the WASPy daughter of a CIA operative, all needed to be sure that the story was worth continuing and that the new ground trod would prove (as it had in the past) rife with comic and truthful possibilities. And while the first film ended with the question that suggested a possible sequel, (when Jack Byrnes asks his wife, Dina, “What kind of people would name their child Gaylord Focker?”), it was much easier in theory than in reality to continue the comic storyline begun in the original.
Because Meet the Parents proved successful with the publiceventually grossing more than $300 million worldwideas well as critics, all concerned realized that the bar for a potential follow-up had been sat rather high. “The response to the first movie was so overwhelming, that it was quite hard to find a story that could live up to our expectations for a sequel,” says producer of both Parents and Meet the Fockers, Jane Rosenthal. “We were genuinely thrilled that Parents had struck such a chord with audiences. So it was always about finding the best story.”
The key to the follow-up lay in finding out just who had produced Gregwhat sort of people would, in fact, shackle a child with the name Gaylord Focker? For the director of both films, Jay Roach, the issue was not so much who these Fockers would be, but how they would compare to the upstanding family from Oyster Bay, the Byrneses. And although always attached as the director of the possible sequel, Roach “needed to be convinced that there was a reason to make another film,” offers Rosenthal. “He always said, ‘There has to be a compelling reason to tell this story.’
It was never just a sequel for a sequel’s sake. He kept that question in the forefront of everyone’s mind every step of the way.” Says Roach: “I think Greg Focker dreads the Byrneses meeting the Fockers because he knows that they’re worlds apart, both culturally and socially. In almost any way that you can imagine, the Fockers are going to be a little bit problematic for him in terms of the way he knows Jack Byrnes will look at them and judge them. It’s Greg’s dread and bleak fantasy that drives this all forward.”
Greg has continued in his habit of bending the truth, trying to tell people what he thinks they want to hear. It doesn’t help that he has intimated that his father is a lawyer (which he was, but put his career on hold to stay at home and raise Greg) and his mother, a doctor (true, but he’s left out the vital detail that she counsels senior citizens on ways to improve and prolong their sex life well into their twilight years). It is the impending family get-together that will allow Pam’s father the chance to evaluate the legacy potential of the Focker family lineas Jack says in the film: “...like studying a frozen caveman, if I can see where you came from, I’ll have a better idea of where you’re going.”
“Jack is going to get a sense of what the two gene pools will create in terms of grandchildren and Greg knows that is what Jack is obsessed with,” notes Jay Roach. “Greg sees his potential downfallJack will look at his parents and see what Greg is truly all about. Because of this, Greg over-compensates and tries to manage things... which just makes it all worse.”
Once the idea for the movie was formulated and a screenplay embarked upon, the thoughts turned to casting: Who would and more importantly, who could play the Fockers? “In our fantasy world, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand were our ‘dream team,’” offers Rosenthal.
“The fact that they were initially intrigued with the idea was beyond our wildest dreams. Jay met with them, then Ben [Stiller] and Bob [De Niro] called them both up. Ben and Jay, I think, were really instrumental in helping persuade them both to be a part of the Focker family.”
Roach explains, “When we were looking for the perfect people to play Bernie and Roz, there weren’t a huge number of choices that seemed exactly right. There really were only two people, when you picture them with Ben.”
“I initially had this image of who ‘Dustin Hoffman’ was supposed to be,” explains Ben Stiller, who originated the role of the Focker scion and reprises it in the new film.
“The actor from The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy and Rain Mana real body of work with an iconic stature. But in reality, he’s a really funny and goofy guy, actually closer to Bernie than to some of the famous roles he’s played. He’s incredibly warm and generous as an actor.”
Filmmakers initially approached Hoffman, taking a cue from psychology textbooks that the father/son link is perhaps the most profound in establishing exactly who a son turns out to be. Says Roach: “We wanted to lock that relationship in first, to provide a really important dynamic and complete what would be a key triangle, between Jack and Greg and Greg and Bernie.”
Potential scheduling difficulties were ironed out once the director sat down with Hoffman at his Los Angeles office: “Dustin is barefoot in his office and I listen to him talk about his family and everything else.
He’s incredibly generous and open, and 10 minutes after you’ve met him you, you feel like he’ll tell you anything...and I realized he just is Bernie Focker.”
So strongly did Roach feel that the actor inhabited the qualities he saw in the head of the Focker family that he fed the writers details about Hoffman to incorporate into the character.
“Who Dustin is and who Bernie came to be were in perfect synchronicity,” adds the director. “Dustin has no personal space issues whatsoever. He’ll eat the food off of your plate and you can eat the food off of his.
After talking with his wife, Lisa, I realized that he is the Jewish mother of his own family, similar to Bernie’s relationship to his family. And that dynamic is in direct contrast to Jack’s alpha malenot wanting to relinquish control of his family.
With that set, I knew the core of the movie was in place.” In essence, Roach was asking Hoffman to play himself. “And over all these years, no one had ever asked me to do that,” says Hoffman.
“Bernie Focker is basically the kind of a guy who wouldn’t mind leaving the door open while he went to the bathroom on an airplane just so he could continue a conversation with the people that he was talking to around his seat,” says Hoffman. “In looking at Bernie and Jack,” he continues, “I guess I would say that opposites are sometimes the same.
We appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, ideologically speaking, but in a way we’re both overbearing to our children, not allowing them to individuate. This is the third time I’ve worked with Bob, and it’s always easy and fun to be in a project with him. And Ben’s comic instincts are as sharp as any actor I’ve ever worked with.”
In looking to casting Bernie’s mate, the list was, once again, extremely short. Per Roach: “We wanted someone who was a truth-speaker, very direct and uninhibited also very open and affectionate. And Barbra just brought an amazing complexity to the character. Roz is the breadwinner and Barbra has this strength that was right for Greg’s mom.
Barbra Streisand in real life is incredibly sweet and incredibly loving and also very direct. She just says exactly what she thinks and has strong opinions about thingsas with Dustin and Bernie, the character and the actress were perfectly in tune.” Stiller found the part of Roz provided Streisand “with a chance to return to some of the lighter comedies she’d done previously, like What’s Up Doc? and others. She’s a truly impressive artistshe is an icon, but she’s also funny and smart and just great to be around. She’s extremely warm and, like Roz, she has that ability to really listen.”
The teaming of Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman and the two characters that they portray in the film proved fortuitous and joyous. The joie de vivre they invested in Bernie and Roz provide a marked contrast to the stand-up rigidity of Jack and Dina Byrnes, as created by Robert DeNiro and Blythe Danner.
Streisand hadn’t acted in eight years (since The Mirror Has Two Faces) by her own volition. “I felt I had settled into a relaxed way of living at this point in my life, not worrying about getting up at five in the morning. But, Jay was very persuasive, and I adore him. It’s always nice to be asked by a director who wants you, specifically, in a part. Ben called me from Europe and was very insistent that I should play his mother, so I resigned myself to getting up at five in the morning,” recalls Streisand. “And it’s turned out to be a good decision and a wonderful adventure.” Considering that she is an esteemed comedic talent, it is remarkable that prior to Meet the Fockers, Barbra Streisand had made only one other comedic film in the past 25 years, the 1993 romantic comedy The Mirror Has Two Faces (which she also directed and for which she wrote the Oscar®-nominated theme song). She starred in The Main Event in 1979.
Streisand and Hoffman have been friends for over 40 years but the new film is the first time the two have worked together. “We went to an acting school together, and Dustin was dating my roommate at the time,” recalls Streisand. “He was the janitor at the school to pay for classes and I was babysitting for my teacher in exchange for classes.
Working with him is really fun, because we both like to improviselike musical riffs, instruments playing around the melody.” Streisand also describes her character as “earthy.” “Roz looks like she was dropped out of the 1970s, with the big curly hair [a wig since Streisand has straight hair] and clothing reflecting various ethnicities and eccentricities. She is a sex therapist, and her office is extremely bohemian with the very suggestive, sexual images that reflect her profession. Actually, at first, I thought I was nothing like Roz...someone who is very open about sexual matters...but then I thought we both believe in love and passion in the later stages of life.
A sense of fun and freedom, a self-assuredness, a desire to help other people actually, the pursuit of life, liberty and above all...happiness.” Roach realized that the performer had always been responsible for carrying her films as an actress or as a director (sometimes both), so his first job was to remind her that her own responsibility was to enjoy herself.
“I told her that Roz would liberate her,” says Roach. “The only thing she had to do was enjoy creating and performing the character. She and Dustin both found they’re own chemistry and a process which enabled them simply to play.” For the producer, the Fockers and the Byrneses, as different as they are, have more in common than they realize. Rosenthal observes: “Basically, if you look at the Fockers, there is such a thing as loving your child too much.
That said, however, that actually makes them very much like the Byrneses, who’ve been a bit overprotective of their daughter. If you really boil it down, it’s sort of the difference between cats and dogs. The Byrneses have Jinx the cat, who’s back, and the Fockers have Moses, their dog. So it’s cat people versus dog people, really.”
“It was, in the beginning, a surreal experience,” adds Stiller, “coming to work and seeing De Niro and Hoffman and Streisand on the set together. I would just step back and take in the enormity of it. But the really surprising thing for me was that after the first week or so, it really felt like a family.
Dustin and Barbra are so good and so committed to the characters, that they had a great connectionand it was fantastic to just plug in to that. The entire cast, I just felt like it was a once in a lifetime experience to get to act with these people.” Roach relished the chance to work with his returning cast, as well as the new additionsyet felt the pressure of helming such a high-voltage group of acting talent:
“I can’t say I wasn’t intimidated when I started this movie. I mean, I was completely intimidated the first time I met De Niro, and Ben’s one of my all-time comedic and acting heroes. And then you throw in Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand, and add Blythe Danner and Teri Polo; all six of them together make one amazing cast. During preproduction on a film I’m always stressed, and maybe I was even more so on this one, but I fought through that fear while directing the film and telling the story because I really wanted to deliver for these talented people, to give them the best environment they’ve ever had.”
De Niro also enjoyed his return engagement as the now semi-retired CIA agent, Jack Byrnes, obsessed with guaranteeing the Byrnes family lineage into the futureand digging in the Focker family closet to disclose any possibilities of chinks in the chain to tomorrow. Additionally, De Niro returns in his capacity as producer. On his relationship to his character:
“With every part you use some parts of yourself. But there are some things that I’m definitely not like himI’ll let you figure it out. “Working with Ben again, who’s got priceless comic timing, and this great cast it’s been amazing. Jay is very easy and accommodating, really terrific at trying to make everyone feel at ease. I know it’s hard on him, but it’s easier on us. Basically, he suffers for our sins,” he adds, smiling. Returning as Mrs. Byrnes, the ever elegant Dina, is Blythe Danner, who looked forward to re-crossing the rocky familial terrain first traversed in Parents. Sporadically, over the last four years, the actress had been asked by fans of the original when the follow-up could be expected. For her, the wait has been more than worth it.
Danner says, “Not that I’m recognized all the time, but when I am, nearly always someone would ask, ‘When’s the next one?’ I have to say re-visiting the character has just been a ball. And with Barbra and Dustin added to our growing family, it’s a little bit like the Marx Brothers on the setone is wackier than the next.”
In addition to providing her with another foray into comic territory, what particularly intrigued the primarily dramatic actress was the potential for growth for Dina: “Coming from their world into this new milieu, at first, takes their breath away. It raises their eyebrows, so to speak.
Then, she just loves it. She loves the freedom of these people, the abandon of these people, the openness of them. A lot of people say that comedy’s much harder than drama and I haven’t really done enough to know. I mean, every time I’ve done a comedy, which has been a handful, I’ve just had a ball. I’ve been lucky enough to have great co-workers and great directors, which I have here in spades. So for me it’s been wonderful.”
Teri Polo, re-cast as youngest Byrnes daughter and Greg’s fiancée, Pam, echoes her onscreen mother when she says, “It’s insane on the set. It’s like trying to wrangle a bunch of kids. We’ve been very silly. But it’s been so much fun, so much laughterI’m sure that the producers and Jay and everybody else were just ready to rip their own heads off, but we had a blast. Sometimes, I found myself just sitting there, watching the scene because I’m so blown away by what I’m seeing. And I realize that, oops, I’m supposed to be acting and reacting off-camera. I’m in the scene! But it’s been a complete honor and a blast at the same time.”
Polo points out that while her family embarks on a road trip that takes them down to Florida and the Focker family home, the true journey is for Greg, that “it’s really about his coming to accept his own parentsand all of us get to go along for the ride.” Roach is quick to laud the females in the Byrnes clan: “Of course it’s great that both Blythe and Teri are backit wouldn’t be a family reunion without them! What’s even better is that they’re both so comfortable in their roles that they really provide a stability in the scheme of things. We even get to see them both grow as characters, which gives us more insight into the excellent work that both of these wonderful actresses are doing as Dina and Pam.”
Of their director, Stiller seems to speak for the cast when he says, “Jay is sort of a comedy-savant type of director. All of these thoughts go through his head and then he shoots them out of his camera onto the screen. He’s one of the most unassuming guys you’d ever meet. He has the ability to make a movie that nearly everybody can relate tohe makes it look easy, so most people don’t understand the intricate process and the incredible juggling act that he’s constantly doing. It’s his own fault. I mean, if he’d just sweat sometimes then maybe we’d see how much work it is.”
Hoffman adds, “He’s indefatigable. In a good comedy, the audience is opened up by laughter, so that a director can slip in unexpected truths about the complexity of being a human being, getting through life...like being able to leave your parents after you left your parents. Everyone can relate, and that’s the nature of the comedy. Jay gets that on a fundamental level. He’s also funny.”
* * *
While Meet the Parents was shot on Long Island, there was little need to return back East since this time around, the storyline was about meeting the Fockers, who reside around Miami.
Waterside locations were scouted from Ventura County to Orange County, but nothing caught Jay Roach’s eye until he visited the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden and spied the 120-year-old Queen Anne Cottage, built in 1885, that is one of the centerpieces of the grounds. While the house could not be touched, the production was allowed to put a “skin” around it to provide a South Florida look and dress the front of the structure with appropriate indigenous foliage.
Says producer Rosenthal: “Our production designer, Rusty Smith, created a wonderful setting for the Byrnes home the first time around. And this home is pretty much the antithesis. When you walk into the Focker house, you know you are in some place totally different and fun. You can feel their personalities coming off the walls.” To finish off the setting, the filmmakers pumped in one-million gallons of water to fill up the dry lagoon in front of the house.
Locations in the Sepulveda Dam Basin in the San Fernando Valley and Recreation Park in Long Beachboth very flat expanses, no hills and very greenwere used for assorted Florida roadways. The Paseo Colorado, an outdoor mall in Pasadena, was utilized for the scenes where Roz takes Pam and Dina shopping. It was for only one day of filming but Teri Polo remembers it vividly: “As it turns out paparazzi were everywhere since we were shooting in public and I remember thinking at that moment what a giant star Barbra is, as well as Dustin and Bobthey have these giant lives. And every day after that I thought what an honor it was for me to be watching these genius actors perform.”
Roach closes, “I think audiences will be very pleased by the balance between what they expect and what they might find surprisingand occasionally very magical when Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner and Teri Polo meet Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman and Ben Stiller. It’s pretty amazing.”
Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures Present A Tribeca/Everyman Pictures Production of A Jay Roach Film: Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand in Meet the Fockers, starring Blythe Danner, Teri Polo. The music is by Randy Newman. The costume designer is Carol Ramsey. The co-producer is Jon Poll. The film is edited by Jon Poll and Lee Haxall. The production designer is Rusty Smith; the director of photography is John Schwartzman, A.S.C. The executive producers are Nancy Tenenbaum and Amy Sayres. It is based on characters created by Greg Glienna & Mary Ruth Clarke. The film is produced by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Jay Roach. The story is by Jim Herzfeld and Marc Hyman, with a screenplay by Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg. Meet the Fockers is directed by Jay Roach. © 2004 Universal Studios and DreamWorks LLC www.meetthefockers.com