Much has been written about women in comedy of late. You gave Rose Byrne a chance to outshine the guys in “Neighbors,” and it seems like Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza will have equal time with the boys in “Mike and Dave.” How do you write strong scenes for women?
Cohen: It’s a trial-and-error thing. As we were writing “Neighbors,” we’d constantly write the same scene of Seth hiding everything from his wife. It was just repetitive.
O’Brien: Originally, “Neighbors” was about Seth and his friends fighting the frat. It was amazing we even got to the right place. It took Seth and Evan and Nick saying, “The wife would be way more involved.” And everything just flowed from there.
Cohen: I think Seth’s wife actually said that.
O’Brien: Yeah, Lauren [Miller] said, “Why is the wife on the sideline?”
With “Neighbors,” you showcased a comedic side of Zac Efron. You just worked together again on “Mike and Dave,” and he recently signed on to the “Baywatch” movie, so can you talk about his approach to comedy?
Cohen: He’s amazing and so earnest. He gives 150 percent to everything he does and there’s something likable and funny about that. Most of the time when he’s funny in “Neighbors,” it’s because he genuinely thought he was going to be friends with Seth, like when he brings over walkie-talkies. His earnestness is part of his secret weapon in comedy. To me, he’s like Cary Grant. He’s the full package and when people underestimate him, it’s because they’ve got six reasons to underestimate him — right below his pecs.
O’Brien: On “Neighbors,” even he would admit he was a little nervous about how he was going to fit in with all these people who were such improv maniacs, but on “Mike and Dave,” he’s playing the sweeter, more straight guy and he’s hilarious.
“Mike and Dave” is based on a pair of real-life brothers from Albany, so how’d the ball get rolling on that project?
O’Brien: We brought the idea to Chernin Entertainment. We thought, “Yeah, that could be a good movie,” or it could be a potentially very bad movie because it’s about two party bros who need to bring dates to their sister’s wedding or else they’ll go crazy. They’re just these stunted dudes who have a very codependent relationship and two girls who are in a codependent relationship as well.
Cohen: Honestly, the breakthrough was: What kind of girls would they end up bringing? It seemed like if they had nightmare dates who were crazier than they were, they’d get what they deserved. There was a cosmic justice aspect of it that really cracked us up.
Did any funny shit go down on set?
Cohen: [nervous laughter] Hawaii’s a fun town!
O’Brien: We originally had the movie set in a winery in Northern California and one day we were talking and saying, “They could potentially make this movie and we could either have to go to Northern California or… we could go to Hawaii.” We ended up in Hawaii all because we just changed the scene. The power of writing!