Even life as part of the Bundy family may not have fully prepared Christina Applegate to become a member of the Griswold clan.
For the revival of the beloved “Vacation” franchise, the actress brought her comedic skills to the role of Griswold matriarch Debbie, who joins husband Rusty and their kids on a new but still epically failing cross-country trek to Walley World.
However, taking on the mom role didn’t sand down some of her rougher edges: Sitting down with journalists to discuss the film, Applegate admits the the presence of her on-screen kids couldn’t curb her own salty, unscripted language.
You must have been excited to see what you were going to be able to do once they gave you the script.
Christina Applegate: Yeah, without spoiling anything, my big moment was not there originally. And I had a talk with the boys and said, “Look, if we’re going to do this, we have to step up the game with Debbie and really find a life for her and make her a much more modern character.” Not that it wasn’t there, but I said “Let’s give her some edge, man.” So it ended up, Debbie’s got an edge. And I like that about her.
When we found out about Debbie’s debaucherous background, did you do most of your own stunts?
Oh, gosh, no. I stood up on the thing. I drank a fake pitcher of beer. There was no beer in it. So that’s CGI. They did a really good job with that. I climbed up the one thing and went through the one thing. And that was all I was going to do.
No “Celebrity Wipeout” in your future then. Did you know anybody from your past that you could borrow some things from for Debbie’s edgy past?
Everyone I know. Although none of the people I know ever went to college or would have been in a sorority girl. My friends are all bartenders and are tattooed, but we’ve all been there in our own way. So yeah, it was a lot to pull from.
Obviously, you and Ed Helms are funny together in this movie. So can you talk about that dynamic between you two and how much you improvised?
You know, it’s funny: The comedies that are happening these days, it’s almost like expected of you to improv, which, you know, we’re not – we didn’t all grow up doing that. I’ve never taken an improv class. I probably should now since it’s almost expected of you. I came from a totally different generation where the words were God. That this was, you do not mess with what the writers just spent months writing.
So it’s taken me years now. “Anchorman” was the first one that was like, “Just change everything. We don’t care.” Because Will [Ferrell] and Adam [McKay] wrote it. It’s taken me a long time to really get used to that, to not having that be precious. I’m getting better at it. I’m definitely getting more comfortable with it. There are some moments in there that – there’s some stuff that I improved that I’m shocked that they used. Like a line that I say in there that I was like, I said that just to kind of make myself laugh. But I can’t believe you actually kept it in there.
Because Ed does come from that background, did he bring that out in you?
He’s kind of respect-y of the book too. “The book?” I’m in New York now. You know, [theatrical] “Simon wrote the book!” No, I mean, he’s really good at getting in the pocket and finding the appropriate places to do that. But there wasn’t a lot of that. There was so much more that the things that were happening to us were physical. So like there wasn’t a lot of conversation. But we did throw our own stamps here and there.
I loved some of the interactions with her kids, where she’d be irritated and say something awful under her breath, just like any over-it mom might. Was that hard to say with the kids right there?
If it had been to other actors, it probably would have been harder. But Steele [Stebbins] and Skyler [Gisondo] are so game for anything. And Steele, he’s like so comfortable saying these things, which I feel like I’d say to his mom, “Lisa, what’s going on?” No. He’s got a lot of older brothers, and it’s not anything he hadn’t heard before. So I didn’t feel like precious about it. I mean, I was the worst around them.
OK, you’re going to see outtakes; they did a gag reel of it. They had me, like, even approve recently that I say something while we’re in the car, to the directors, that I can’t believe I said in front of this child. And then Steele repeats what I said, like, “What’s a blank-blank?” And you should see my face go like, “Fuck.” I’m like, “I’m so sorry.” And then his mom’s like, “Great parenting, Christina. He comes home and keeps asking me what a blank-blank is.” I’m like, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m from a different generation.”
It looked like you guys had a great time doing the film. What’s your next film? Are you thinking about something more serious?
I just got back from New York. I did a movie called “Youth in Oregon” with Frank Langella and Billy Crudup and Josh Lucas and Mary Kay Place and Nicola Peltz, and there’s not a funny moment to be seen. It’s a sad, tragic, dark movie. So, yeah, in answer to your question, yeah.
It’s one thing to revive a franchise, but here you get to work with the originals, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo.
Yeah, I’m so lucky.
What were those moments like?
Well, first we were really honored that they wanted to be a part of it. You think that, gosh, we don’t want to mess up what you created. And we’re not trying to redo what anyone did. And we’re not trying to be a sequel. We’re kind of like a distant cousin. And that’s kind of how we like to think of it. And we were so happy that they read it and went, yeah, we approve. And we’d like to be there. And it was really cool. It’s one thing to hang without with Chevy and Beverly off camera. They’re both such incredibly interesting, colorful people. But then you get on set, and there they are. They’re the Griswolds, and it’s like, “Oh, my God. It’s the Griswolds. It’s Clark and Ellen. This is so crazy.” I’m sitting in between them, and this is happening. And I’m here in their presence. It was very cool.
What was your first reaction when you saw that car creation, the Tartan Prancer?
“Where in your weird, little minds, John [Francis Daley] and John [Goldstein], did this come from?” Like, “What is happening in you that this is what you thought would be the appropriate vehicle for this family?” Because when I looked at it, and I went “Oh, shit. We are going to be in that for two months?”
And it was a weird, little car. Had no air conditioning. You couldn’t roll the windows up and down. The gas tank was actually like a little cylinder that was underneath the bumper in the back. So it would just like leak gas fumes into the car. I mean, it was like, it drives, but it’s not a real car. Does that make sense? It’s not a functioning vehicle. But it lended itself for some pretty great, funny moments.
What do you think the swastika button on the key fob does?
Don’t we touch it in the movie? We never touch the swastika button? Yeah, because you just wouldn’t. It’s like, that’s a symbol that you’re like, “Ah, I think I’m not going to touch that one.” I think we all know where that ended up.
Did you have fun shooting the Chris Hemsworth bedroom scene?
Did I have fun? No, no, no. It’s funny because it was not a moment of like, we’re all sitting there being lascivious towards this man in any way, shape or form. I mean, we had already worked with him for a couple days leading up to that time. So we’ve already seen how amazing he is and everything. This was the first time that we got to see what his abs looked like. And that … that was where it was like, we all collectively, as a group – didn’t get turned on. It wasn’t like that kind of thing. We’re all married. We’re all really respectful – but it was such a respect for what he has created and it’s all like marveling at like … what? Because I’ve seen people’s abs, and they do a lot of crunches. And you’re like, “OK. They do a lot of crunches, or they’re doing like T25 or they’re doing this…” This was something so – like, I’ve never seen before – we’d all discuss it. That’s … yeah.
A lot of times the road trip movies allow the cast to bond, but you’re describing a different kind of car. What was the experience like filming in that car?
Besides the car being junk? We had so much fun. We would sing songs. We would tell jokes. We would play games. I mean, we had a lot of fun in the car. If it was any three other people, I don’t think it would have been as wonderful. But for some reason, the stars just aligned and the chemistry was just right. And the personalities all just really meshed really well with one another. And we all had our thing. Like I was the one who had the dirty mouth. And Ed was like the funny, quieter one. And Skyler’s kind of like, the slick, college boy. And Steele’s like this goofy, little, wonderful, sweet little man. And everybody just kind of brought that to it, and it was just a lot of fun.
Have you had any road trip or family vacation experiences to draw from?
No. I was an only child, single parent. So not many. My mom took me to Tijuana when I was seven. That happened.
That must have been crazy at seven.
Yeah, it was. I probably should not have been there. But my dad actually had a pop-up VW van. And we would go up camping. And that was pretty cool. Because I would sometimes visit my dad and his wife and their kids, so we would do that. And then barbecue at, like, on beaches, and I really enjoyed doing that. I just remembered that that happened, so this is really good for all my other interviews. Thank you. Because I keep just using the Tijuana thing, and I don’t know how else to answer that question. Now, I have a whole arsenal of childhood memories.
”Vacation” is in theaters nationwide.
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