While in New York City over the weekend, I was invited attend an advance screening of the movie Pixels, followed by a casual group interview with several members of the cast, and the director, Chris Columbus.
Pixels, which will be released in theaters nationwide on July 24, 2015, tells the story of childhood friends Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage), who bonded over 25-cent arcade video games as kids in the ’80s, and are called upon as adults to use their particular set of classic gaming skills to save the world from an intergalactic alien attack. Joining them is Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), a weapons specialist who reports directly to the President of the United States.
Sitting in a room with Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, and Michelle Monaghan, is every bit as entertaining as you might imagine. The actors joked and teased, and gave more ridiculous answers than serious ones.
Josh Gad–best known in my house as the voice of Olaf, from Frozen–had this to say about working with Adam Sandler and Kevin James. “It was truly a dream come true. I mean, look, the fact of the matter is, these guys have been idols of mine forever. I grew up in the generation of, you know, Adam Sandler being on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and watching it religiously. That cast was like my cast, you know?” About the director, Gad said, “Chris Columbus, enough can’t be said about the fact that he defined my childhood. Goonies and Gremlins (also directed by Columbus) were the movies that defined Josh Gad and made me the national nightmare that I am today.”
There were a few kids in the interview room brave enough to raise their hands, and the actors–all parents themselves–praised the kids and thanked them for their questions. When asked by a young lady how Michelle Monaghan felt playing the girl power role, she responded enthusiastically, “It felt awesome! You know, I think what was exciting, really the job title and the name got me, for this film. She’s Lieutenant Colonel Violet Van Patton. I could not say no to that. She’s a weapons designer for the government…. She’s very cool, she’s strong, she’s confident. She’s got beauty, brains and brawn.”
And, when asked by a 12-year-old fan if the actors had played classic video games as a kid, Adam Sandler answered, “We loved it. It was our whole life growing up…. Right around 12. Maybe a little younger like 10, 11, 12… That was a big deal. The arcades opened up. You got to leave [the house], if your parents said okay. There were girls there you got to talk to. You’d go down there, there was some food…. There was some tough kids walking around that you were scared of. And you were like alright, he put his quarter down, stay away from that guy. And I remember you got to take the bus. Ours was downtown… the arcade. You got on the bus. You rode with a couple of your friends. Your parents gave you like a dollar. You could choose to play one game and [have 75¢] for a hamburger at McDonald’s, or… play all four games and have nothing to eat, but whatever.” Kevin James didn’t miss a beat and jumped in with, “Guess what I chose? I never played. They dropped me off at the arcade and I just walked to McDonald’s.”
Listening to director Chris Columbus talk about filming Pixels, set partially in the ’80s, was a highlight for me, as someone who grew up watching his movies as a kid in the ’80s. It’s incredible that he’s been making box office hits–like Harry Potter and Night at the Museum–for more than 25 years. He had this to say about filming the climax of Pixels, where the actors are fighting for their lives inside the game Donkey Kong: “We built the entire Donkey Kong. All of the platforms. It was mind-boggling. You walk into that stage, it was just stunning…. We really didn’t want to do everything CGI. We wanted to actually have a tangible set that these guys could actually perform on…. I think it was a pretty grueling few days of filming. It was not the easiest shoot…. We put a lot of work into all it. These guys worked extraordinarily hard. We gave it our heart and soul. So, I was really proud to work with them.”
But then, things got silly again when Kevin James answered the next question with mock seriousness, saying that if he were President, he “would make it mandatory to siesta every day.”
Pixels, rated PG-13, opens in theaters on Friday, July 24, 2015. You can read more about it on the movie website.