Why Central Intelligence Director Finds Action More 'Relaxing' than Comedy

Rawson Marshall Thurber, director of Central Intelligence, with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart
Rawson Marshall Thurber, director of Central Intelligence, with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart

Why Central Intelligence Director Rawson Marshall Thurber Finds Action Easier than Comedy

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber has a simple strategy for making a successful action-comedy: cast Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart — and don’t mess it up. “Put the biggest action star in the world and the funniest guy in the world in your movie and you’re in good shape,” Thurber tells Made in Hollywood reporter Julie Harkness Arnold. “Most of my job as director was not laughing over takes. It’s pretty much it.”

In Thurber’s new film “Central Intelligence,” Johnson plays a CIA agent who reunites with an old high school classmate played by Hart. The years have brought a role-reversal, with Johnson — once a chubby kid bullied in school — now a muscular and lethal government agent, and Hart — a former Big Man on Campus — now an accountant whose life is going nowhere. They team up save a U.S. spy satellite system. Shootouts and other forms of mayhem ensue, along with, Thurber hopes, lots of comedy.

Rawson Marshall Thurber Says the Planning for Action Scenes in Central Intelligence Left Him More Relaxed on Set

As the writer-director of “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” and “We’re the Millers,” Thurber would seem more comfortable getting laughs, but he preferred directing action sequences.

“It’s so much easier than the comedy side,” he says. “When we’re doing comedy, my brain is going 1,000 miles a second. … I’m thinking up punchlines and I’m super, super focused. On the action side, there’s so much planning that goes into it and so much preparation. You have all of these experts in their field: stunt coordinator, stunt drivers, special effects, and you’ve designed it for so long that by the time you actually execute, it’s just: The car’s going to blow up or it’s not going to blow up. It was incredibly relaxing. I can’t wait to do more of it.”

Another challenge was more technical. With Johnson about one foot taller than Hart, simply fitting them both into the same frame proved tricky.

Rawson Marshall Thurber On the Challenge of Getting Tall Dwayne Johnson and Short Kevin Hart in the Frame in Central Intelligence

“Typically when you shoot an over-the-shoulder shot, you’re literally shooting over the shoulder of the other person,” he says. “Because of the height difference we sort of shot off Dwayne’s elbow to get to Kevin. There are a couple of other tricks. There is a long history (of this) in Hollywood. Most stars are not as tall as they seem.”

With the jokes and bullets flying, Thurber — who also wrote the script — knew he needed one more performer to ground the story, and he found her in Amy Ryan, the Oscar-nominated actress from “Gone Baby Gone,” who plays a CIA agent alongside Hart and Johnson.

“I wanted Amy Ryan from the top. I wrote it with her in mind,” says Thurber. “We needed somebody to class the joint up a little bit – and she does it. Also you needed a serious dramatic actress to hold that center and to hold a sense of danger. If you had somebody known for their comedy playing that, it wouldn’t have the same peril.”