Chances are you’ve seen a few buddy cop movies in your lifetime. There’s usually a formula of a sharp-witted cop and a dumb cop who battle crime while roaming the streets. After a few car chases and exchanges of gunshots, they defeat the villain, save the beautiful girl and get promoted. So what sets the comedy “Let’s Be Cops” apart from the rest? The buddies in this “buddy cop” film are only pretending to be cops (don’t try this at home).
“Let’s Be Cops” is directed by Luke Greenfield (“The Animal,” “The Girl Next Door”) and stars the hilarious Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr., best known for their roles as Nick Miller and Coach in the hit FOX television series “New Girl.” The film follows best friends Ryan (Johnson) and Justin (Wayans Jr.), who are both facing difficult roadblocks in life. Ryan is a lazy ex-football player who is stuck in the past but dreams big, and Justin is a video game designer with an aspiration-crushing boss. After attending a costume party dressed as police officers, the two decide to impersonate real-life cops to reap the benefits. That is, until they get tangled up with a scary drug dealer played by Andrew Garcia.
The Triangle had the opportunity to sit down with Johnson, Wayans Jr., and screenwriter Nicholas Thomas at the rustic Bru Craft & Wurst to discuss their upcoming film.
The Triangle: How did you get involved in “Let’s Be Cops”?
Jake Johnson: I wasn’t going to do this movie until [Wayans] said yes. So for me, I loved the script, it was really cast-contingent. You know, I wouldn’t just sign on to play a character with whoever they chose for the other … but with Damon we knew each other. Knowing we were going to spend 10 weeks with each other in Atlanta, you have to, at least for me, like the other person.
TT: It’s a challenge for an actor to play a cop, but is it more of a challenge to play somebody pretending to be a cop?
JJ: No, I think it’s easier. When you pretend to be a cop as an actor you’ve got to learn how to do what cops do so that cops don’t hate the way you hold your gun. When you’re a fake cop, you don’t have to know any of the moves. We make mistakes we would instinctually make. So if you actually have to play a cop, you have to actually know what you’re doing.
TT: As the screenwriter, how much leeway did you leave for the actors to improvise while filming?
Nicholas Thomas: I’d say anywhere from 60 to 70 percent. Both these guys are writers too … they’re going to give you something different for every scene. But if you know there are three important beats for that scene, that’s all that really matters. Everything else in there is the plot. So you let them play, and they can say what they’re going to say as their own characters.
Damon Wayans Jr.: It’s also because of [Thomas] though, because he was in the editing bay putting it all together. So he did script it, but he chose a lot of the improv sections.
JJ: And what’s important about having a good writer with actors like Damon and I who improvise a lot, is that the script has to be there. So neither Damon nor myself would say yes to a movie where the script’s not there, so the story needs words. And then truthfully, we would have a big scene on Tuesday, so Monday night after shooting, we go to my room at the Renaissance in Atlanta and talk out the scene and write ideas and beat it out. By the time we’re improvising on set the three of us already knew the bits and beats that we liked.
TT: How do the two of you work as comedians?
JJ: Damon’s really good at writing jokes, like he does stand up and he has really good straight up one-liner jokes, and I’ve never seen the show with an audience before, but I heard the jokes before. … He would pitch them to me and I’d be like “Yeah that s—’s funny, man.” And then seeing those one-liners in the movie and seeing an audience laugh, it’s a really cool feeling.
TT: Did you do your own stunts?
JJ: I’m not Tom Cruise, no. I’m Jake.
DW: And we’re tender!
JJ: And that’s what makes us sweet.
DW: No, we didn’t do our own stunts.
JJ: We got injured doing the set-ups of stunts. The stunts in this movie are kind of next level. When you see this movie you’ll know. The movie starts off like a big comedy, then there’s a lot of heart, there’s a relationship story, and then it turns into a straight up action movie. So, we could have tried doing the stunts but there’s a good chance we would have died.
TT: What sets this buddy cop movie apart from others, like “21 Jump Street”?
JJ: First of all it’s not a cop movie! Second of all it’s a fake cop movie! The truth is, it really isn’t a cop movie. … All of the cop movies out there right now we really respect and we really like, especially “21 Jump Street,” with Channing [Tatum] and all those dudes.
DW: What’s fun about our movie is that it’s two regular guys who just dress up like cops. So whenever we’re doing anything that is cop-ish, it’s just two guys dressed up. So our characters are truly faking it.
JJ: I think that’s what attracted both of us to the script, is that there’s something new to a genre that’s very comfortable. Something that you feel like you’ve seen, but you’ve never seen this take on it.
DW: Because we have no authority to be cops. It’s truly a fish out of water story.
JJ: We’re just two dudes, so it’s more of like a stoner-buddy comedy than a cop comedy.
“Let’s Be Cops” is set to hit theaters Aug. 13.