The director's ensemble comedy stars Paul Rudd as a bumbling stoner who can't stay clean while on probation (for selling weed to a cop) and Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer as his put-upon sisters. Here, the onetime bass player for the Lemonheads explains how the movie came together and how he got started as a filmmaker.
DETAILS: Your sister Evgenia was one of the movie's writers. So are you the idiot brother?
Jesse Peretz: It's autobiographical in the sense that we dug into our experiences of adult-sibling relationships. But each of the sisters is my sister more than I'm the idiot brother.
DETAILS: And I couldn't help noticing that the Elizabeth Banks character is a writer for Vanity Fair, just like your sister.
Jesse Peretz: We were having the hardest time finding a good location that worked as an upscale magazine for our budget. So Evgenia was like, "Let me check with Graydon Carter and see." And he read the script and was so supportive. We were about to buckle and create a fake magazine, which I always think is a bummer in movies—like when someone gets out of an airplane and it says United States Airline.
DETAILS: So where did the story itself come from?
Jesse Peretz: I've been looking to do something else with Paul Rudd for a long time. We did this movie The Château 10 years ago. Somehow I always see him as kind of a laid-back, hippie type of guy, even though he's never played that character. I love it when he plays really good, nice guys whose goodness and niceness become his Achilles' heel. Then I met this guy who used to work on a medical-marijuana farm in Northern California and broke the guidelines but managed to avoid jail by joining a monastery and swearing off drugs. He's the sweetest, most laid-back, long-haired, bearded dude. That's where the story started.
DETAILS: How did you get such relaxed, natural performances from your cast?
Jesse Peretz: The important part is finding the point of empathy, even when the characters are doing the meanest, harshest things. It's gratifying when people tell me they really believed that these people were siblings and that there was an ease in the way they dealt with each other. A lot of people had worked together, were friendly. And the beauty of a lower-budget movie is that we couldn't afford to have trailers for all these people, and because they all really liked each other, they ended up hanging out all the time. Elizabeth and Rudd have done, like, four movies together, so this was the embodiment of their relationship—not that Elizabeth puts Rudd down, but there's a familiarity that lets them play both sides.
DETAILS: Going all the way back to your "Big Me" video for the Foo Fighters, a parody of the Mentos commercials, you seem to be drawn to a kind of comedy that is irreverent but has a certain sweetness.
Jesse Peretz: Yeah, I surprise myself sometimes with my attraction to more sentimental stuff. I guess I'm always looking for that at the same time that I'm looking for the laughs of a comedy.
DETAILS: Before you became a director, you were a member of the seminal Boston punk band The Lemonheads. Was that just a passing diversion? Did you always want to direct?
Jesse Peretz: It was a long passing diversion. I started the band with Evan Dando, the lead singer, when we were seniors in high school and did it all through college but didn't stick with it forever because honestly, I really wanted to make movies. When I was 15, I was a busboy and worked with these two older women who were probably 23 and went to Emerson College, and I had the biggest crush on them ever. They asked me to be in their student movie as this kid who moves in next to a 30-year-old guy who finds out I'm a virgin and sends in one of his friends to deflower me. It was this incredible trauma of "Will I get an erection or won't I get an erection?" and the further worry of which would be worse. That was the last time I ever acted, but the experience made me psyched to conceptualize making movies.
DETAILS: Sounds like that experience laid the groundwork for your entire approach to comedy.
Jesse Peretz: It's funny you say that—the movie about me would have been a good comedy right there. At any rate, being in the band was undeniably an awesome and exciting thing in my late teens and early twenties. For the entire four years I was in college, everyone was sort of waiting around for me to finish classes, then we'd go straight to the airport and fly to Europe. I was on tour every moment that I wasn't going to school. It was this total fantasy life, then I got out of it, just as things started to take off, because it wasn't what I really wanted to do with my life.
DETAILS: But you used the band as a springboard for your other ambitions, did you not?
Jesse Peretz: Well, yeah, because the first thing I did was music videos, and the first 30 I did were for people I met through the band. When I went out to L.A. to shoot "It's a Shame About Ray" for what was then my ex-band, the Lemonheads, Evan and Johnny Depp had just become best friends. Atlantic Records said I needed a production company, which of course I had no idea how to get because I had done everything myself, so Johnny hooked me up with a production company. Then, the second day I was out there, the L.A. riots started. I was staying at this dodgy little hotel, and Evan called up and said, "Johnny says you gotta come up here now." I remember driving up Laurel Canyon and there was this incredible tension in the air in the city and thinking that I was going to a safer place. But then I get up to their house, and I'm looking down at all these fires below, and the two of them had taken Xanax and were in a hot tub reading Bukowski to each other, and I just remember having this total panic attack, thinking, "This is where all the movie stars live." I'm not exaggerating when I say that I came to peace with the idea that I had probably a 50-50 chance of making it through the night alive.
DETAILS: Do you ever miss playing music?
Jesse Peretz: Every now and then people try to get me to jam with them. I think that happens when people who thought they were cool in their twenties become 40 and have kids and suddenly want to chase things that they did in their twenties now that they feel completely uncool. I'll get sucked into that idea sometimes, but I always try to avoid saying yes. So basically, music for me right now is playing Simon & Garfunkel songs on my acoustic guitar to my kids, who don't give a shit at all—it's really me playing for myself and staring at them, wishing they gave a shit.
Also at Details.com:
Director Jesse Peretz on the Making of Our Idiot Brother and Why He Turned Paul Rudd into a Stoner
The Ultimate Oral History of Wet Hot American Summer
Bridesmaids Revisited: Here Come TV's Copycats