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Anh-Minh Le | Photo: Courtesy of John Hamburg | January 6, 2017
John Hamburg, writer/director of the Silicon Valley–set comedy Why Him?, on James Franco, the Valley, and tech mogul typecasting.
For his recently released flick, Why Him?, writer and director John Hamburg—known for his work on Zoolander, Meet the Parents and I Love You, Man—turns his attention to Silicon Valley. Zoey Deutch and Palo Alto native James Franco play a young couple who call the area home. (He’s described as “an internet zillionaire” in the trailer.) When her parents, portrayed by Megan Mullally and Bryan Cranston, visit them in the Valley, things do not go smoothly. “No father would want their daughter with this guy,” says the latter. A full-court press to win over the father ensues. Hamburg spoke with us about the story development, casting and more. (Psst…Watch for a cameo by Elon Musk.)
Is the storyline rooted in any personal experiences, or where did you draw inspiration from?
The storyline of Why Him? is thankfully not based on my own experiences. The inspiration came from a few different places, including my own fears and anxieties as the father of a daughter. Granted, she’s only 5, but it’s never too early to begin worrying about the future.
Is Laird (portrayed by Franco) based on any real Silicon Valley entrepreneurs?
Laird is not based on one particular person. His character is inspired by what my co-writer, Ian Helfer, and I imagined certain young tech moguls might actually be like—as well as a few people we know who are brilliant and well-meaning, but lack a certain social filter, so they just say whatever comes into their mind. And more often than not, they get away with it because they’re so damn genuine.
Since he’s a Valley native, did you know from the start that you wanted him to star in the movie?
Well, James was always the actor I wanted to star in the movie. The fact that he was from Silicon Valley was just further confirmation to me that he was the perfect guy for the role.
Why did you decide that the film should be set here?
Silicon Valley represents the future to me. If you’re old-school like Cranston’s character, it’s a totally foreign world where a new generation of talented young people are making extraordinary amounts of money doing things many people cannot comprehend. It felt like the perfect setting for someone like Laird to work and live—and to throw this nice Midwestern family, the Flemings, into.
With such an amazing comedic cast, was there a lot of improvising?
Yes, there was definitely a good amount of improvisation. We always start with the script, and some scenes stick pretty close to what we’ve written. But, more often than not, we use the script as a jumping-off point and then go down paths none of us saw coming when we arrived on set that morning. It’s a great collaborative process and one of my favorite parts about making these kinds of movies.
Originally published in the January issue of Silicon Valley