Interview: The Minds Behind ‘I Love You, Man’ Have the Balls to Talk to Us

Producer Donald De Line and Writer/Director John Hamburg discuss I Love You, Man, film school rejection, and the fine art of O.J. Simpson memorabilia collecting.
By  · Published on March 14th, 2009

Donald De Line and John Hamburg are the kind of filmmakers I love. Last night, they stood on stage at the historic Paramount theater in Austin, saying just a few words before screening I Love You, Man for an audience that laughed so loudly that a dozen chunks of dialog were drowned out in the roar. This morning, they’re sitting across from me in a nicer-than-necessary meeting room in the Four Seasons asking if its rude if they eat breakfast while we talk.

For the record, it’s not. But, De Line and Hamburg share that polite, understated sort of personality – the warm front of two good storytellers who have confidence enough in their own projects not to projectile vomit overcompensation all over your face. Speaking with them is a little like sitting down with old friends and meeting for the first time.

After they find out who I write for, Hamburg bites into a piece of Four Seasons bacon and proclaims himself bravely as a film school reject.

“I got rejected from USC, UCLA, Columbia and AFI.” Hamburg would go on to NYU Film School, only to quit after two years. De Line went to UCLA to study film, but changed tracks after realizing students had to spend two years before even being considered for the program. He switched quickly to communications and is currently sitting on more than a dozen in-development credits. Not bad for a couple of rejects who just created a comedy together (and with the usual team of hundreds) that, in many ways, is about rejection.

I Love You, Man is a film about the difficulty of making friends once you’re out of college and securely in the work force. For what appears to be the next domino in the line up of R-rated comedies being churned out desperately before the trend ends again – the story itself really comes from a lonely place. There’s a universality to the question of how to go about making friends, especially for men, and it’s a strong starting point that De Line and Hamburg jumped off from.

“Donald had been developing a script called ‘Let’s Make Friends’ by Larry Levin,” Hamburg describes the beginning of the process.

“We’d basically been spinning in circles until John came along and totally had his vision and cracked it in one draft, and it became a movie,” De Line adds. Apparently there were several attempts to bring Hamburg on board to no avail, although the premise resonated with him – playing upon a lot of the themes that he likes to explore in his writing including “friendship and awkwardness in relationships.” He began writing notes, checked to see if the project was still available, and then the team reformed to build the film that would become I Love You, Man.

The appeal for Hamburg was specifically rooted in delving into the difficulty of making friends. “I think it was that as I got into my mid-30s,I started feeling like it was harder and harder to make new friends. I had acquaintances, but I didn’t have people that I genuinely wanted to call and hang out with. There were people that I did want to do that with, but I just didn’t know how to do that.”

For De Line, it was the same. “Absolutely. That’s why I was so enamored of the idea to begin with. Because it’s such a real thing, and no one had explored it. I think it’s very relatable. You’ve got high school and college friends, and you’re a pack, and then career happens, relationships happen or a family happens – and your friendships can drift by the wayside. All of the sudden you look up one day, and it can be an awakening. It’s awkward and strange for guys.”

We discuss the flip-side of independence for a bit longer – talking about the transition from college to the real world, the shift from hanging out every night to spending more time alone, and the pitfalls of making friends that you work with. The consensus is that college is a dream scenario where all friends are present at a moment’s notice, ready to blow off studying to grab a beer. Hamburg talks about being lonely after leaving film school and brings up the quintessential sign of friendlessness – the brutal, blinking red zero on an answering machine.

“I remember coming home, and there was nothing on the answering machine and thinking ‘you are the lamest of the lame’…there’s nothing worse than that blinking zero,” Hamburg says, adding that the thing that got him through the tough time – something that probably got us all through a tough time – was the O.J. Simpson trial.

We joke around, remembering all the players in the drama, and (apologizing for yet another tangent) Hamburg claims that he worked with a storyboard artist for Along Came Polly that also worked as a court artist for the O.J. Simpson trial. So, of course, if you go to Hamburg’s office, you’ll be able to see a courtroom sketch of the jury from the biggest trial of the mid-90s. An interesting real world connection in his career harkening back to a lonely time when he was in New York City trying to write. Somehow, this all has something to do with I Love You, Man. It’s all interconnected, like most comedy is, but I can’t quite figure out why.

The movie is a fresh take on a few things. For one, it’s – for lack of a better term – a platonic comedy. It’s a movie that uses the trappings of a romantic comedy to build a non-sexual relationship between two men. For two, Paul Rudd being funny is hilarious, but Paul Rudd attempting not to be funny is even more hilarious. Lastly, it displays a man and a woman about to be married that are actually honest with each other. Too often, the pivot point of any comedy is when one of the characters gets caught being dishonest before realizing his true feelings – and it’s always frustrating to wonder why he doesn’t just fully explain himself when he gets caught. In I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd’s character Pete explains his feelings and himself upon the first sight of any confrontation.

“A lot of these movies are about immature men who can’t express themselves. Our movie is about a really mature, well-rounded guy who needs to tap into his inner adolescent. So his character is very honest with women. He’s a very healthy boyfriend. So I wanted to write that. I haven’t seen that sort of character portrayed that often,” says Hamburg. According to De Line – this is a very Hamburgian concept because John himself is very forthright about his feelings and problem solving. Hamburg claims it all just flowed naturally from Pete’s character.

For the last ten minutes, a press assistant enters the room to stare me into the submission of ending the interview, but we talk just a bit more about Paul Rudd’s performance – specifically his ability to make terrible jokes and still be funny. “For me, it wasn’t tough because Paul is genuinely brilliant, and I think all of us share a love of guy who’s trying to be cool and falls on his face,” Hamburg says.

“Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Life is just a repeated cycle of that, isn’t it?” De Line jumps in to say.

With the intense pressure of the publicist’s assistant giving me the death stare, I shotgun a question to Hamburg about who might be directing The Little Fockers (since he’s penning the script currently). De Line sells him out claiming they’re trying to twist Hamburg’s arm into doing it – but he shies away from giving me any real answer. I also shotgun a question to De Line regarding the adaptations of both The Jetsons and Yogi Bear. Apparently, there will be no R-rated humor or projectile vomiting in those movies.

“Ah, hell no. Hell, no…well, maybe projectile vomiting. In a family friendly way,” jokes De Line, going on to talk about what drew him to the projects. “Yogi Bear, I love the voice and character of Yogi Bear, and we’re approaching it with a bit of an edge so that it’s still a family film, but it’s something that I think everyone who grew up with Yogi Bear can appreciate. And as for The Jetsons. Forget it – who wouldn’t want to go to Orbit City?” De Line says.

If it wasn’t clear from the interview, De Line and Hamburg often finish each other’s thoughts and sentences – the casual confidence of two men with incredible rapport. That, according to the entire underlying premise of our discussion and the plot of their movie, is something incredibly rare. Almost as rare as a “Judge Ito Approved” courtroom sketch.

Seriously, that thing has got to be a collector’s item.

I Love You, Man opens nationwide next Friday, March 20th.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.