KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
The Gaffneys, a suburban couple, become embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that the Joneses, their seemingly perfect new neighbors, are governmental secret agents.
In March 2014, it was announced Greg Mottola would direct the film from a screenplay by Michael LeSieur, with Fox 2000 Pictures having their eyes set on Jon Hamm and Zach Galifianakis to star, while Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald would produce under their Parkes + MacDonald Image Nation banner, and Marc Resteghini serving as an executive producer. In October 2014, Isla Fisher joined the cast of the film, also confirming the casting of Hamm and Galifianakis. In February 2015, Gal Gadot was in negotiations to star in the film. In April 2015, Maribeth Monroe and Matt Walsh joined the cast of the film.
Zach Galifianakis as Jeff Gaffney
Jon Hamm as Tim Jones
Isla Fisher as Karen Gaffney
Gal Gadot as Natalie Jones
Maribeth Monroe as Meg Craverston
Michael Liu as Yang
Matt Walsh as Dan Craverston
Ari Shaffir as Oren
Patton Oswalt as Scorpion
Kevin Dunn as Carl Pronger
Jona Xiao as Stacey Chung
An ordinary suburban couple (Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher) discover it’s not easy keeping up with their impossibly gorgeous and ultra-sophisticated new neighbors, the Joneses (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot) – especially when they discover that Mr. and Mrs. “Jones” are really covert operatives.
For the first time in 11 years, Jeff and Karen Gaffney find themselves facing a challenge that all parents eventually face: the empty nest. With their kids away for the first time at summer camp, the Gaffneys hope to spend some quality alone-time and reignite the romantic fire that has started to flicker. This proves easier said than done when Karen’s imagination is distracted by the sudden arrival of new neighbors on the cul-de-sac: The Joneses, whose stunning looks are only matched by the worldly sophistication of their lives. Tim Jones is an accomplished travel writer whose hobbies include blowing his own glass sculptures, and his wife Natalie is social media consultant, cooking blogger, and heroine to the plight of Sri Lankan orphans. As Karen asks, “Why would people this attractive and accomplished ever want to live here?”
Despite Karen’s initial misgivings, Jeff sees in Tim the coolest best friend he could only dream of having – while Karen, too, is soon seduced in Natalie’s glamorous and sexy approach to suburban life. But as soon as the friendship seems to be cemented, The Gaffneys find themselves in the center of a storm of international espionage that will give them a breathtaking glimpse of life “outside the cul de sac” -- and will show both couples what “being a good neighbor” really means.
KEEPING UP WITH…
When Tim and Natalie Jones move to the cul-de-sac, the neighbors, including Jeff and Karen, understandably view the newbies as exotic outsiders. But we soon learn that even well-traveled, well-heeled and well-versed (in everything!) people like the Joneses have problems of their own. “No matter how perfect people look on the outside, everyone has their issues,” notes Mottola.
On the surface, Tim Jones embodies everything the movies have taught us about spies. He’s handsome, suave, and a master of weaponry and the martial arts. But it was the way the character defies expectations that really drew Jon Hamm to the role. “The interesting thing about Tim is that he’s a reluctant spy,” says the actor. “He’s very good at it, but he doesn’t necessarily still like it. He’d like to be more like Jeff—a normal suburban guy.”
“As a covert operative, you’re constantly lying and deceiving other people, and that’s starting to gnaw at Tim,” adds Mottola. “He’s not going to start brewing his own beer, like Jeff does, but Tim wouldn’t mind having more of a life, and this is something he and Natalie don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on.”
In addition to Tim’s surprising complexities, Hamm was drawn to the film’s combination of comedy and action, neither of which were featured much in the acclaimed series Mad Men, in which the actor starred. Hamm also was pleased at the chance to reunite with Galifiankis, with whom he had worked on some digital comedy shorts. “Zach has such a unique comedic mind, and it’s always fun just to catch up with his energy,” Hamm explains. Galifiankis returns the compliment: “I knew Jon before he was ‘suave Jon’,” he jokes. “He is actually really funny. To be that handsome, too, is kind of unfair, isn’t it?”
“There aren’t that many people who look like Jon, who are also funny,” Mottola confirms. “He has this Cary Grant-like thing, where Jon can be incredibly light on his feet and very dry and funny. And he and Zach have great chemistry.”
That chemistry is on full display as their two characters bond over a meal of exotic snakes and an afternoon of indoor skydiving. But where does that leave Tim’s gorgeous wife, Natalie? “Well, they aren’t particularly good at talking to each other, and it’s through Tim’s friendship with the guileless Jeff that he realizes things aren’t perfect in his life and in his marriage,” says Mottola.
Gal Gadot, who recently starred as Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman, and who reprises the role in the upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League, portrays Natalie, an ex-Mossad agent who now works for the Agency, and is partnered with her husband. Unlike Tim, she loves being a spy; second-guessing her life’s work just isn’t in Natalie’s nature. Still, “When we meet them, Natalie and Tim have a good relationship, except that he doesn’t share a lot with her,” says Gadot. “Tim may even be a little intimidated by Natalie. After all, she’s quite dominant and is always in control. Natalie wants things to happen when she wants them to happen.”
Moreover, the fetching but tough-as-nails Natalie absolutely will not tolerate disrespect, which some of her neighbors learn the hard way during an annual cul-de-sac celebration known as Junetoberfest. Jealous of Natalie’s, well, everything, the women turn on her immediately, while the men drip of condescension when she joins them in a soon-to-be-not-so-friendly game of darts. “That duality is something Gal really hooked into—that there’s a person there with feelings underneath all that beauty and ability,” says LeSieur.
Like her on-screen hubby, Gadot relished the chance to do comedy. “I was thrilled on how easy the laughs came for me when I was reading the script,” she says, pointing to one scene where Natalie suddenly steps out of a department store dressing room—wearing nothing but a thong and low-cut bra—to confront Karen, who had been following her mysterious new neighbor. Here, again, the film’s mix of laughs and unexpected moments of emotion and vulnerability are showcased. There’s a real sense of comedic intimidation, as Natalie easily gets control of the situation and of Karen, until Natalie suddenly lets her guard down and opens up to her.
Gadot’s ability to intimidate, even in humorous circumstances, impressed many on set, including her director. “Gal has this great intensity,” Mottola notes. “She can be very serious and intense, and then she breaks into a smile and, on a dime, turns into the warmest, most earthy woman who’s just so sweet.”
THE SCORPION (YES, HE ACTUALLY CALLS HIMSELF THAT)
A movie about super-spies, even one with a blithe sense of humor, warrants a mega bad guy, right? Not so much with KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES, which delivers a villain of uncommon ordinariness—and fun. That’s not surprising, given that actor-comedian-Twitterer extraordinaire Patton Oswalt takes on the role of the nefarious Scorpion (“Wait, he actually calls himself the Scorpion? That’s lame,” observes one of the characters).
Moreover, the Scorpion is every bit as nerdy as Jeff, with whom he has a surprising and unhappy connection. “We liked the idea of our villain being an angry, bitter former engineer who had a petty gripe about a parking space with the company from which he is stealing secrets,” says Mottola.
“We’ve developed a lot of movies that depend on a kind of super-villain, and they’re the toughest thing to make fresh,” says Macdonald. “For KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES, we’ve come up with a villain is, like so many people, driven from insecurity. That’s a surprising take on that kind of character.”
The filmmakers note they were lucky to get Oswalt, who, says LeSieur, was a perfect choice to embody the character’s “weird energy of an engineer who went rogue and started selling military secrets.” That actor-character synergy and surprise was evident in early screenings. As LeSieur recalls, “When Patton as Scorpion first appears, you can feel the audience collectively learning forward. Like, ‘ooh, this is going to get interesting.’”
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