“Let’s Be Cops,” a new film starring Jake Johnson (“New Girl,” “Drinking Buddies”) and Damon Wayans Jr. (“New Girl,” “Happy Endings”), centers around two 30-year-old best friends, Justin and Ryan, aimlessly searching for their path in life. After a misunderstanding at a costume party, they fall into a life of pretending to be cops. It’s a buddy-cop movie with a new-school twist, and the film hearkens back to classic ’80s films, with plenty of girls, guns and grotesque nudity to spare.
At the tail-end of their promotional circuit for the film, Johnson and Wayans have been visiting colleges across the U.S. and meeting students and fans in the process. ASU students got a chance to meet and take photos with the duo in front of the Memorial Union on April 26.
The State Press sat down with Johnson and Wayans, as well as writer Nicholas Thomas, about the benefits of improv on film, their working relationship and the craziest thing they’ve done to get a woman’s attention.
State Press: College students have notoriously short attention spans. How would you describe this movie to them in five seconds or less?
Jake Johnson: Fake cops, big trouble. Boom.
Damon Wayans Jr.: Two 30-year-old dudes down on their luck dress up like cops, trying to reap the benefits of being a cop and having the authority. Girls like them more cause they look like cops, but they get into some big trouble.
Nicholas Thomas: That was so long. I almost changed the channel.
SP: This is being billed as a buddy-cop movie, but the distinction here is that you guys aren’t actually cops. Tell me what else stuck out to you about this movie while you were reading the script.
JJ: It felt like a format that was familiar, but there was a new take on it. I like the buddy-cop genre, but I didn’t necessarily want to do one of those movies because I’ve seen a lot of them. This felt fundamentally different because they’re not cops, so these characters in the movie are actually fans of those movies. Rather than just being in it, they’re aware of it.
DWJ: That was spot-on.
JJ: It was a good answer.
SP: I’ve heard you guys refer to this as a classic ’80s movie, with a really funny first-act while segueing into some intense action sequences toward the end. What else sets this movie apart from other comedies that are coming out right now?
DWJ: I like the fact that our villains stay villains. A lot of these movies, the villain is very, very funny, like Ken Jeong in “The Hangover.” Ours is a straight-up villain.
SP: Your characters Justin and Ryan are best friends. Since there was a lot of improv on this movie, there needed to be that inherent chemistry between you two. What was it like coming back to work together on this film after filming the pilot for “New Girl”?
DWJ: It was great because it was completely different experience from network television. With shooting a film, the stakes were higher, and it was a 42-day shoot, so it was a really intense 42 days, and then we were done.
SP: You guys are both clearly comfortable with improv. The dialogue in “Drinking Buddies” was improvised and Damon is a seasoned stand-up comedian. What do you think improv helps bring to the filmmaking process?
JJ: This is gonna be a Nick Thomas question.
NT: I mean, what’s so great about the movie is the chemistry between them. Improv brings a sort of freshness. Their chemistry is the improv. A lot of time there’s five different takes and each take feels fresh and new, instead of the same scene with the same lines. They’re having fun in the scene together, because they’re experiencing it for the first time every time.
SP: There’s some great people involved with this project. Nina Dobrev is a TV superstar in her own right now and you have stars like Andy Garcia, James D’Arcy and Rob Riggle involved in the film. What was the experience like on set?
JJ: We had a lot of fun. It was one of those movies where we would all get drinks after work and talk about bits and talk about what we wanted to do. Nina really kills it. She and Damon’s character have a really great love story.
DWJ: Nina also shoots her show out there so she knows Atlanta like the back of her hand, so she showed us around and was like our personal tour guide while we were there.
JJ: It was also really nice to work with somebody of (Andy’s) caliber. He brought something to the movie that we didn’t have and that we needed to make it what it is.
SP: In the movie, you guys notice that the cop uniforms really grab the attention of the ladies. Have you guys gone to similar lengths to get the attention of a woman, and if not, what’s the craziest thing you’ve done?
JJ: I whipped my hog out while I was wearing my karate uniform.
NT: I think that’s illegal.
JJ: You don’t know that. Really though, I worked at a bar for a while, and when we had mixed drinks, I used my hog as the mixer, so all the girls would line up for my special mixer. But this was when I used to be a sexual dancer.
SP: So you were a bartender/sexual dancer?
JJ: That’s correct.
DWJ: That’s where we met.
SP: Since you guys have been visiting so many colleges, you’ve probably had the chance to interact with a lot of students. With graduation coming up, what would you say to students who are maybe looking to emulate your career or get their start in show business?
JJ: Put yourself on video and don’t spend money on production value. Nobody cares when you’re young and first starting out in L.A. if your movie looks like a Hollywood movie. Shoot it quick, shoot it with natural lighting, make sure the audio works and just show what you like to do on video.
“Let’s Be Cops” opens in theaters on Aug. 13.
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