The Big Wedding writer-director Justin Zackham has assembled what could be one of the biggest casts of the year in his comedy about Amanda Seyfried’s big day and the goings-on of the two dysfunctional families that come together for the nuptials.
We spoke to Zackham for an exclusive interview where we explore how one works with a superstar cast when it’s your first movie, sharing dozens of martinis with Robert De Niro and why a wedding is a priceless landscape to tell any story.
As shown in The Big Wedding trailer, the cast is enormous -- from De Niro and Seyfried to Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Diane Keaton, Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace and Ben Barnes.
Zackham said it was the advice of a few fellow directors that proved priceless in his ability to balance all the balls in the air that was making The Big Wedding.
“I took directors like James Mangold and Nancy Meyers out to lunch. I asked them, ‘What do you wish someone had told you before you did your first movie?’ It was a gold mine,” Zackham said.
“The biggest things were that big movie stars want to be directed. Many are afraid to direct them -- forget about the trophy case. In order to do that, you have to be prepared. For me, the hardest part was I didn’t want a single moment where Diane Keaton turned to me and said, ‘What do you think we should do here?’ And I would be just, ‘Well…?’”
For The Big Wedding, he was determined to be as prepared as any director in history! “I always had an answer, but that I was also so secure in where it was going that I could be completely flexible,” Zackham admitted.
We wondered as the “yeses” kept coming in from some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, when did the pinch me moments cease.
“They never stopped! Topher, I hadn’t known, but he’s become a friend. Topher came up to me a couple of times and was like, ‘Dude, that’s Robert De Niro!’ I’d be like, ‘I know!’ And he’d be like, ‘Dude, that’s Diane Keaton.’ And I’d be like, ‘I know! What the (expletive) are we doing?’" he recalled.
“Even talking to you and I’m talking about how I directed all these actors, it’s kind of surreal. We had an amazing time. I’ve worked my way up and I’ve been on the awful sets and I was determined to make it as much of a joy as possible. If you can’t have fun making a movie like this, with a cast like this, then you’re in the wrong business,” Zackham added.
When it came to expectations working with De Niro versus what the experience was, Zackham was pleasantly surprised and in the process, he appears to have made a friend for life.
“He’s Robert De Niro! You go in there and you wonder what he’s going to be like. Anybody who knows him, he’s Bob. And there’s a huge difference between Robert De Niro and Bob De Niro,” Zackham said.
“Bob is the nicest, sweetest. He’s quiet, but he’s really smart. We had some amazing conversations and drank a lot of martinis at the end of the day. He’s the nicest guy that you would think has the right to not be the nicest guy. He signed onto this movie and he gets offered everything under the sun. And by doing that, he planted a flag behind me and supported me to no end. He says more with less in real life than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Movies have long turned to weddings as a plot mover (what is your favorite wedding movie?). Zackham thinks it’s the convergence of all these people from all walks of life that leads to comedy and drama.
“It’s like a hanging fruit in a sense. Any time you have a bunch of people coming together in one place where they are emotionally invested in what is going to happen in that place, and they all have strong ideas of the best way for that event to take place, and those ideas are always different,” Zackham said. “As far as drama goes, that’s just an add a drop of water and you’re there."
His goal with The Big Wedding was to have all the inherent comedy, but also try to make this like Four Weddings and a Funeral. “That’s a movie for me that had both sides. It’s got the romance of it, the craziness of it, some of the sadness and drama,” Zackham said.
“This was about this family coming together and weddings are always about excuses for people who haven’t seen each other to come together. You can’t wait to see each other, and then you can’t wait to see each other leave. We’ve all seen those mother-in-laws that go absolutely berserk.”