With no shortage of road trip movies over the years, director Rawson Marshall Thurber said that before he tackled the new comedy "We're the Millers," it was important that he give the wheels on the Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston pot-smuggling send-up a different creative spin.
After all, the last thing any director wants to do, especially during the high-profile summer movie season, is to tread in the same tracks so many others have muddled through before.
"I really liked the premise of the movie, which is a sweet take on a tried-and-true genre of the road trip movie," Thurber told me in an interview Wednesday. "The thing I wanted to make sure that we had in the picture was that -- since it was already funny enough when I got the script, and we already had these incredibly gifted comic actors was to have a little bit of heart to it. I wanted audiences to laugh a whole bunch but care about these people in the end. I didn't want the film to feel disposable."
Now playing in theaters nationwide, "We're the Millers" begins with David (Sudeikis), a small-time dope dealer in Colorado, getting robbed of $43,000 in cash and stash. It's a tidy sum that he can't make up for his supplier, Brad (Ed Helms), so as payback, he's ordered to go to Mexico to smuggle in a "smidge" of marijuana.
Figuring that he'll be a moving target driving across the border, David concocts a plan to pose as the patriarch of an all-American family, and he recruits a surly stripper, Rose (Aniston): a loser neighbor, Kenny (Will Poulter); and a rebellious runaway, Casey (Emma Roberts); to pose as his wife and family.
Renting a recreational vehicle to help execute the ruse, the Millers, as they're now called, find themselves on the run, since Brad didn't tell David that the smidge of a shipment was 2 tons. Worse yet, the shipment was part of big scam Brad pulled off involving a major dealer (Tomer Sisley) -- who wants his stash back and the Millers dead.
While David's plan in "We're the Millers" to form a fake family to create a friendly distraction at the Mexico border appears plausible, Thurber said as far as he knows, the idea isn't grounded in any real-life happenings. Instead, he said, it comes from the minds of screenwriters Bob Fisher and Steve Faber.
"Bob told me that when he would drive down to Mexico, because he liked it down there, he was always seeing the same type of guy getting stopped," Thurber said. "He said he thought to himself, 'Why don't you just clean yourself up a little bit, and you won't get inspected?' That's where the idea stared. It just seemed like a funny premise and we rolled with it."
Thurber, 38, added that if the film inspires a "We're the Millers"-type of smuggling attempt, they're on their own.
"If they're dumb enough to try it, they're also probably dumb enough to get caught," Thurber quipped.
Following her turn along with Sudeikis in "Horrible Bosses," Aniston lets it all loose again with another R-rated role in "We're the Millers." And while the first thing audiences have been noticing from the trailers and TV spots is the former "Friends" star's strip tease, Thurber is thrilled how "We're the Millers" allows her to show off her acting chops.
"She was my favorite part in 'Horrible Bosses' because she was so funny and so unlike how you have ever seen her before," Thurber said. "Jen seemed like the right fit for 'Millers,' and when we sent her the script, we were first thrilled that she said yes and that she was completely game for it. We were pleasantly surprised that she came aboard."
With any luck, Thurber will work with Aniston again, as well as Sudeikis, whom he believes has cemented a permanent place in movies with "We're the Millers" following his long stint on "Saturday Night Live."
"I think Jason is wildly talented and a fantastic, charismatic leading-man," Thurber said. "The guy can do comedy, and he can do drama. He can do anything he wants. If he had the inclination, he could be the next Tom Hanks."
While "We're the Millers" has its share of established actors, Thurber said he was just as thrilled to work with lesser-known talent like the 20-year-old Poulter – who, to date, has done most of his work in his native England.
"Will Poulter steals the show, and he's the heart of the movie," Thurber beamed. "Without him, I think we would have been in real trouble."
Plus, Thurber said, he is grateful that Poulter was willing to endure some "swelling" to his crotch region, which makes for one of the film's most hilarious scenes. Thankfully, the real deal was replaced by some special prosthetics work.
"When Will agreed to do the movie, I told him, 'Don't worry, nothing that you were born with will be filmed,'" Thurber recalled, laughing. "So it was it was all prosthetics and looked very convincing. It really does the trick."