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‘Wedding Crashers’ at 15: The Secrets Behind the Hit Comedy Starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson

Wedding Crashers
Richard Cartwright/New Line/Aver

When director David Dobkin brought the 2005 comedy “Wedding Crashers” to the marketing team at New Line Cinema, he didn’t get the reception he thought he would. Marketing head Russell Schwartz thought that Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s characters were too misogynistic, since their main aim seemed to be crashing weddings to look for girls.

Dobkin pushed back. He saw it a different way: The pair loved weddings and were the life of the party. When the film came out on July 15, 2000, “Wedding Crashers” became the first R-rated comedy to break $200 million at the domestic box office.

“Wedding Crashers” follows Jeremy Grey and John Beckwith — played by Vaughn and Wilson, respectively — two divorce attorneys who spend their free time sneaking into weddings in hopes of meeting eligible women. When they see that the Secretary of the Treasury Cleary (Christopher Walken) is celebrating his son’s marriage, the two crash the wedding and are invited back to his house in Maryland. Wilson ends up falling for his daughter, Claire (Rachel McAdams) who is dating Sack Lodge (Bradley Cooper). Vaughn even finds love with the erratic Gloria Cleary (Isla Fisher). Secretary Cleary’s wife, Kathleen (Jane Seymour) and black sheep son Todd (Keir O’Donnell) round out the cast.

The cast and crew shared their behind-the-scenes memories with Variety for the film’s 15th anniversary.

Producer Andrew Panay, who snuck into a wedding in his early twenties, came up with the idea for “Wedding Crashers” based on his own life experiences.

Panay: I was with a friend of mine and we were in Las Vegas and we were heading to the pool and we ended up in a wedding reception and everyone’s like, “Let’s do it!” and it was only for a few minutes but that’s where the inspiration came from. It was inspired by that and also my male relationships, the friendships I had with my male friends in my 20s and how we were really close and had a lot of love for each other and I just thought it would be really wonderful to see that onscreen.

Even though the majority of the film centers on Secretary Cleary’s house on the Chesapeake Bay, the film was actually shot in seven locations.

Dobkin: The dock is one location, the football scene is another location and the kitchen is in there, too. But the hallway and the entryway are actually in Pasadena and a bunch of the interiors are shot there. There were a bunch of sets for the bedrooms and the dining room. It was a monster to put it together but I just needed it to work in a certain way. There were no two houses that would work. We just kind of looked at each other, me and [production designer] Barry Robison, and I said, “You know what, we’re going to shoot all of the interiors in L.A. and we’re going to shoot all of the exteriors in Maryland.” Robison had to really make sure all the moldings matched. It was kind of crazy. We shot at writer Peter Tolan’s house. It was a Lego set.

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Bradley Cooper, David Dobkin, Rachel McAdams Richard Cartwright/New Line/Avery Pix/Kobal/Shutterstock

When Dobkin brought the film to Schwartz, he thought that they wouldn’t be able to sell the movie because the two lead characters seemed like womanizers.

Dobkin: There was a fear from the marketing department at New Line at the time that these guys were misogynists and that they were [going to] weddings to get laid. Schwartz sat me down and said, “I don’t know how to sell this movie, it sounds so mean spirited.” I was like, “Oh, god, I’d never even read it that way.” To me, they love weddings, that’s the funny part is they love the food, they love the bands, they love the grandparents, they love the kids. They’re the life of the party, they make the weddings the best they could possibly be. And the byproduct of that is seduction. And a seduction means that you’re sold on something, that somebody gets you over the hoop. You wanna be seduced in life. When I pitched that to him, he’s kind of like, “Oh, that’s interesting, I hope you can pull that off.”

Dobkin had already been planning on working with Wilson and Vaughn, and finally found a script that worked. He saw over 100 women for the role of Claire, including some Oscar winners before casting McAdams — before “The Notebook” had come out in theaters. It was O’Donnell’s first big role, and he showed up in full costume, inspired by Conor Oberst of the emo band Bright Eyes for his role as Todd.

Dobkin: I had been looking for something with Vince and Owen. Vince was at my “Shanghai Nights” premiere and I saw the two of them and Vince was talking to me in the foreground and Owen in the background and I was looking at them like, “Oh my god they’re like Abbott and Costello.” And Vince is talking really quick and Owen’s got his Texas drawl and I told my agent that night that I want to find something for Vince and Owen. Eight weeks later he’s like, “I just read a script and I think this is it.”

Walken was a very specific choice because I wanted someone who never had to threaten the boys in a real way but you felt like if they ever got caught, you want to have the person that would find that out before someone that you think would kill you. I remember I had a list of five people, it was like Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones, people that you’d be like, “If that was my girlfriend’s father, I’d be sh–ing a brick.” And Walken was one of the names on the list. I went after him first and I was just shocked we got him.

Fisher did the “I Love You” scene and she was so funny in the room and so crazy. She climbed on top of the casting director who was reading opposite her and totally all over her and she was so free and could take these crazy emotional turns that were very believable.

Senator John McCain and political consultant James Carville also cameoed during a wedding scene where they greeted Secretary Cleary.

Dobkin: I said to Vince, “I’m gonna bring in Carville” and Vince said, “You probably want to bring in a Republican as well.” So I said, “Let’s get McCain,” and Vince actually made the call. I don’t know that the two of them knew that they were going to be there. Cause I remember when they walked on set and looked at each other, they were like, “James?” “John?” I think that they each thought they were the guy that was supposed to be in the scene and they saw that they were both in the scene and it was a little bit funny.

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Isla Fisher, Vince Vaughn Richard Cartwright/New Line/Avery Pix/Kobal/Shutterstock

Seymour went nude for the first time in a major motion picture. During the scene, she asks Wilson to grab her breast, and the actor was nervous for the scene.

Seymour: We all hung out together all the time and Vince kept saying to Owen, “Are you ready to see more of Seymour?” And I looked at them and said, “Look, Vince, I know you’re funny and a brilliant comedian, but you really think I haven’t heard that before? I mean you really think you made that up?” Owen used to be quite shy around me which was quite funny and really odd.

Every time I would go into an airplane and they would show the film, I’d be sitting there and seeing people watching it and I can see that they’re watching that scene. And then I can see them press stop and rewind. They keep thinking they’re actually going to see my breasts.

Dobkin: He’s a gentlemen, so to him, even in a movie scene, putting a hand on a breast was so uncomfortable and it was so funny because Jane was so comfortable. Owen was very stiff in the scene. He didn’t really want to squeeze her breast when she was telling him to. And I was like, “Dude, you gotta do it, it doesn’t look right, your hands look like crab claws.” And then he did it eventually and that scene ended up being way funnier than I thought it was going to be.

Todd also makes a move on Jeremy in a bedroom scene where he is tied to the bed. The scene underwent a series of rewrites to get it right, including changing the painting that Todd makes for Jeremy.

Dobkin: Originally in the scene, Todd didn’t get on the bed. In rehearsals, we kept going, “Well what’s the funniest thing that could happen?” and Vince was like, “Well I’m stuck in the bed, the kid should get on the bed.” So then the guy was on the bed and it was like, “Well, sh–, somebody should walk in, who’s the worst person to walk in?” And we were like, “It would be Walken.” And then Walken walks in, and what should he do? He sits on the bed and he looks at the picture.

The picture was supposed to be like mutilated genitalia, that’s what was written in the script. And the day before, Owen goes, “I think it would be funny if it was like Vince in the garden of Eden taking the apple.” We laughed so hard and the props department painted the picture overnight.

O’Donnell: I walked away being like, “I don’t know, I feel like that scene is going to get cut or something.” It just didn’t necessarily feel like it worked somehow. And sure enough, not only does it work, but it’s to this day one of the most recognizable things that people quote to me and say that they love about the movie.

The chaotic dinner table scene where Gloria grabs Jeremy’s crotch and the grandma (Ellen Albertini Dow) makes homophobic comments took days to film, and Vaughn fed the lines to the grandmother to see how far he could push her.

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Christopher Walken, Ellen Albertini Dow Richard Cartwright/New Line/Aver

Seymour: I remember Grandma, she had no idea what she was saying. Vince was on the other side and feeding her lines. She just looked deadpan and said whatever it was. Quite often we know that she did not know what the words were that she just said. There were some words that did not make the movie, but we were dying because this just became a sport, like what can we get out of her mouth?

Claire and John’s budding romance took them on a bike ride and to the beach, and according to Dobkin, the biking scene almost didn’t happen.

Dobkin: We were over budget and the studio was like, “You gotta cut a scene, you gotta give it up.” Richard Brener [executive producer at New Line Cinema] was really nice, he was like, “You gotta lose that scene.” I finally said, “Ok.” And then I called Owen and Rachel and said, “Would you please work on Saturday? I’m getting a van and two bikes and we’re going to go out just you me and the DP.” We went and shot the scene when nobody knew about it.

Off-screen, Walken’s dark humor entertained the cast and at times baffled them.

O’Donnell: Walken and I were sitting in the makeup trailer, and someone said, “Chris, I heard your wife was in over the weekend.” And he was like, “Yeah, she was,” and I was like, “No way, man, I wish I could have met her.” And he took a long pause and looked at me and goes, “She’s still here.” And I go, “She is?” And he goes, “Yeah, she’s in my freezer.” And he had this cheeky smile on his face and I was like, “Oh, my god.” How do you respond to that?

When Dobkin went to see the film, he noticed that many older women were buying tickets. The demographic ended up being key to the success of “Wedding Crashers.”

Dobkin: Everybody in line was buying tickets to the movie and I looked over and a bunch of them were older ladies. I was like, “Oh, no, they’re not going to like the movie.” Women over 50 were the hidden secret weapon of this movie and I couldn’t believe it. When I went into the film, they were loving it. Of course, there’s two guys in suits and they’re dashing and kind of sweet and funny. But it’s not like that was a target audience, and so when the movie opened at $34 million, I’m sure a third of the money was an audience that we tapped into that we didn’t know we were going to.

Over the years, New Line Cinema has approached Dobkin wanting a sequel. A script is in the works, but the director doesn’t know if it will pan out.

Dobkin: There is a script that has been worked on. I have been involved in it, but Vince and Owen have not read it, and I have no idea if it’s going to connect with them. There was a lot of pressure to make a sequel. Every year they would call me saying, “Are you sure?” And my agents were like, “You understand you could retire if you make that movie.” I was like, “I kind of think we made a great film and I don’t want to just make ‘Jaws 2.’” And Owen and Vince and I sat down a couple times, and no matter what you did you were making the same movie.

And then 10 years later they called me again and they said, “Will you please think about it?” And I was like, “I’ll think about it” and I hung up the phone. The minute I hung up the phone, and I was like, “Oh, men that are in their late 40s who suddenly find themselves single again and trying to go back to dating, that’s a real story.”

“Wedding Crashers” became a comedic staple and shot Cooper, O’Donnell, Fisher and McAdams into stardom. Dobkin went on to make “Fred Claus,” “The Change Up,” “The Judge” and most recently, “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” with McAdams and Will Ferrell.

Dobkin: Oliver Stone came up to me at a DGA event and was like, “One of the greatest comedies ever made.” And I was like, “Oh my god,” he’s like my hero. When I was a kid, “Platoon” was seminal for me and so was “JFK,” “Natural Born Killers” and I was just like, “Whoa this is crazy.”

Judd Apatow was always really nice and said, “You kicked down the door and that’s why “40-Year-Old Virgin” worked. Which is not true, but he always is very sweet and tries to give me credit.

Seymour: I think it’s going to be remembered forever as one of the quintessential comedic films of all time. I think it was Vince and Owen at their best, two completely different comedians playing up on one another brilliantly. I think it will stand the test of time. It is laugh-out-loud funny still.

O’Donnell: No matter whose house I go to, I look at their DVD collection and sure enough there’s “Wedding Crashers.” Everyone seems to own that movie.