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Interview: director Greg Mottola opens up about bringing Fletch back to the big screen with ‘Confess, Fletch’

Director Greg Mottola is no stranger to comedy or working with actor Jon Hamm.

Having worked together in the past, most notably on the underrated ‘Keeping Up With The Joneses’ in 2016, the two creatives clearly have a strong collaborative relationship. For their latest team-up, Mottola and Hamm are bringing back Fletch, last seen in the 80s played by Chevy Chase and based on the books by Gregory McDonald, in new film ‘Confess, Fletch‘.

I caught up with Greg to discuss bringing the film to life, his plans to continue the ‘Fletch’ franchise and to talk about his time on the cult Lisa Kudrow show ‘The Comeback’…

Let me start by saying I really enjoyed the film. This is the first time Fletch has appeared on the big screen for years and you’ve succeeded in bringing him back, when many others have failed. How did you do it?

The short answer is Jon and I gave back some of our salary so that we could have enough days. We were given a budget number that we had to hit that was not very high and we thought it was too few days to do the film correctly. Jon gave back 60% of his salary, I gave back about a quarter of my salary and we bought more shooting days with it.

It’s a shame the other films haven’t been made. They all sounded like cool Fletch projects. In a weird way, it probably would be easier to tackle Fletch if some other people had tackled it too (laughs). The example I use is Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe was played by many different actors over time from Humphrey Bogart to Elliott Gould, and James Garner. I think Chevy (Chase) looming large over the character is probably part of it. It’s hard to get people to imagine someone else playing that part. I don’t know why those other films didn’t happen but Jon and I just said, ‘OK, we’re making a low budget Fletch and then they left us alone. We did our thing.

Greg Mottola with Jon Hamm on the 'Confess, Fletch' set
Credit: Paramount Pictures UK

You’ve worked with Jon many times before. Was he the only choice to play Fletch?

Well, he’s the one who came to me. He’d read the ‘Fletch’ books when he was a teenager, and loved them. I love detective fiction and movies but for whatever reason, I hadn’t gotten to the ‘Fletch’ books, although I always heard that they were great, and I loved the original ‘Fletch’ movie. When Jon contacted me about it, I went off and read about five or six of them, and I thought they were great and completely lined up with my sensibility. I also saw how they were different than the original movie.

Jon came to me saying, ‘I think to do this, we should go back to the tone of the books a bit and not try to recreate Chevy’s interpretation’. I said, ‘I don’t think it should be a nostalgia exercise. We shouldn’t use the same music. We shouldn’t put in a million easter eggs’. There’s a few, we tried to pay respect to the original without outright stealing from it. It’s tricky because when it’s something some people really love, you kind of want to give them the adrenaline jolt of nostalgia. I think it’s better that we didn’t do too much of that.

The only one that I wish we could have done, that we cut for financial reasons, was we had the band at the Yacht Club playing ‘Moon River’, which was a direct reference to a proctology exam Fletch gets in the original film (laughs). He sings ‘Moon River’ in the middle of it, which I just thought was so stupid that I kind of liked it as a tribute. But ‘Moon River’ is kind of an expensive song.

Another writer was already adapting the book that Jon had chosen. Miramax owned the rights to all of the books but the first one, so the idea was we would hope and pray we get to do others. When Zev Barrow, who wrote the original pass on this, when his script came in it was very funny and it was very good. Zev’s an excellent writer, but he loves the original ‘Fletch’ and I think he couldn’t quite help himself. He really wrote a movie that I felt was written for Chevy, and not quite what Jon and I were trying to do. I took over the script and brought it closer to the book and brought in more characters from the book, updating them to now. I really went for the tone of the book more, for better or worse, but that’s what we that’s what we set out to do.

Jon is so perfect as Fletch and it’s great to get to see his comedic side, as he’s such a great comedy actor. What was he like to direct in this film and what responsibility do you take for drawing out his performance?

I can’t take too much responsibility (laughs). Jon is a really funny guy. The things that we talked about a lot, and the things I would try to keep an eye on, was that we didn’t want the character to punch down. If he’s messing with people, we wanted it to feel like he was messing with people who kind of deserve it; people who are rich and tone deaf and privileged and arrogant. He’ll lie to people but it’s a different style of lying; he has some fun. He toys with some of the jerks in the movie who deserve a little kick in the shins because Fletch doesn’t have full respect for authority.

The interesting thing is our main antagonist is a police detective played by Roy Wood Jr. and they have kind of a begrudging affection for each other. They actually kind of respect each other. Even though Fletch lies to him constantly, and gives him shit, you can tell he likes him. He thinks he’s smart. It was fun to play that, it’s sort of a different way to go than the tough cop who is on your ass the whole movie, and he is on his ass the whole movie (laughs) but it’s a very specific kind of relationship.

Jon is very witty, very charming, obviously. I really love the idea of Jon being at the centre of a comedy, but not playing a Don Draper type. I mean, he looks like Don Draper, but Don Draper has a lot of secrets and pain and a dark past, Fletch has none of that. Fletch doesn’t like authority and people piss him off, and he’s got opinions, but he’s kind of a happy-go-lucky guy who enjoys people and is amused by them, and doesn’t get flustered.

It was interesting in the book that Fletch was wrong a couple of times in a big way. He thought he’d figured something out and he did not get it right but he never was flustered, never apologized for it. He was just like, ‘oh, well’ and moved on. I thought that’s an interesting character trait. Also who wants to see Jon Hamm be right all the time? That’s obnoxious (laughs). We wrote that into the script. Jon is is very smart but we wanted it to play like he’s a smart guy but he’s not always as smart as he thinks so let him trip himself up at times. It was much fun. I’m very excited about the possibility of writing another one because writing to Jon’s particular version of this is tremendous fun.

Greg Mottola with John Slattery on the 'Confess, Fletch' set
Credit: Paramount Pictures UK

I did feel like this film is set up for the franchise to continue. Is that the plan?

I am officially being hired to write a sequel. Whether it will ever see the light of day, it’s hard to say, Movies are in such a strange, transitional place. I don’t blame Miramax or Paramount for how this was released. It was released in this kind of experimental (way); let’s throw it in theatres, not really market it too much and see what word of mouth brings us. People are still a little afraid to go to theaters. Obviously, spectacle movies are what they mostly go to see, and I understand that. We set out trying to make a movie that Jon and I thought we weren’t seeing a lot of these days. There’s lots of comedy out there but it tends to be a little broader. It tends to rely a little more on mockery and pop culture references and things like that, which are fine and great and there’s a lot of great comedy out there, but this is a slightly different moral fashion style that I miss.

We wanted it to feel like it wasn’t pandering and that it was aimed at a certain kind of audience. I wasn’t going to worry too much about the people I might lose people who might go like, ;this isn’t my thing. I need more sex jokes. I need more CG’. It’s meant to be a bit of an alternative film. Now, whether or not people will think that’s something worth spending more money on, that’s the part that keeps me up at night, but we’re going to try.

I definitely would like to see another film. The critics and audiences are responding positively to the film too and it seems that word of mouth is playing a big part in getting the film seen. That must feel good?

It is very encouraging and satisfying in a way, that it’s possibly more than the film deserves. It’s reaching people in a place of like, ‘I missed this, I want more of this’. Everything doesn’t have to be swinging for the fences. It even happens in discussions on projects. Is this noisy enough to poke through all of the content? I think the unfortunate result of that is there’s a lot of noisy stuff and some of it I find too noisy. It’s trying too hard. Like a lot of comedy it feels, a phrase we use is ‘sweaty’. It’s kind of trying so hard, it’s a turn-off to me.

I wanted to make a film that had a lighter touch. Maybe like everyone else, I’m trying to divert myself from the hellscape that our planet and our respective countries seem to be going through right now (laughs) but not totally ignore it. One of the things I love about Gregory McDonald’s novels is there is real social commentary in them and he was commenting on America at the time he was writing them – from the 70s and 80s and on. I think it’s a fun way to sneak in some feelings about things because people are more receptive if it comes in the guise of comedy or genre or whatever.

That’s part of what excites me about the next one. The one I’m adapting is called ‘Fletch’s Fortune’ and there’s a murder at a journalism conference. There’s a lot to write about the media right now, both for and against the media, and the nightmare of trying to cover the world we live in, and also the ways in which things are covered where the fourth estate is kind of poisoned by the digital age and the need to get clicks and stuff like that. It’ll be fun to weave in thoughts that Jon and I have about that under the guise of a lot of jokes.

We’re coming to the end of our time and I want to end by asking you something completely unrelated to Fletch. You directed two episodes of one of my all-time favourite TV shows, ‘The Comeback’ with Lisa Kudrow. What was your experience on that show like?

That show, I knew it was fantastic. Michael Patrick King who created it is a brilliant guy and and this was a more acerbic thing for him than some of the other stuff he’s done. He very famously show ran ‘Sex in the City’. The satire of (Valerie Cherish) and the darkness of where it was willing to go was great. It’s interesting because I feel like in a way people were willing to, at the time, have a main character who’s actively dislikable at times if it were played by a male. In the case of the female version of that, and Lisa Kudrow is so fucking amazing, it meant the show only had one season at first. I just thought it was really is ahead of its time. There’s a lot of shows that are mockumentaries but one of the techniques that they employed, which is a subtle difference but it was a really effective one, is that you’re watching the footage as opposed to a documentary. You’re seeing the producers, you’re seeing the crew you’re seeing around the edges of everything, so you’re seeing when people drop the facade. It was so smart. Everyone involved that show – the writers, the actors – that was an incredible experience. I was so disappointed it only got one season, then of course ‘The Comeback’ came back. I think you have good taste that you really liked that show.

‘Confess, Fletch’ is released in cinemas on Friday 18th November 2022. Watch the trailer below:

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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