'Horrible Bosses': The 'Freaks and Geeks' connection
Screenwriter John Francis Daley finds that he elicits a certain reaction when he walks into a Hollywood meeting.
"I don't think anyone associates me with acting until I go into the room, and then their eyes light up and they say, 'Wait, you're that guy from 'Freaks and Geeks,' " Daley recalled over iced tea this week.
"And I roll my eyes," adds his writing partner, Jonathan Goldstein.
Daley is indeed that guy -- the one given a kind of sideways pop-culture immortality as Sam Weir, the likably normal kid at the center of Judd Apatow's misfit TV constellation more than a decade ago.
Daley still acts -- he has a supporting part on the TV procedural "Bones" -- but he has moved beyond fictitious high school to a career as a screenwriter. He slides over the tassel on his cap this weekend, when his first produced script, the R-rated comedy "Horrible Bosses," opens across the country.
Goldstein has his own unusual backstory. A Harvard-educated attorney, he decided a few years into practicing law that he'd had enough of the legal life and moved to Los Angeles to pursue television and film writing. "I always had this comedic sensibility that I didn't knew what to do with, "he said.
It was Goldstein's time at a large New York law firm that actually inspired "Bosses." "It was a generally miserable environment," Goldstein said of the job. "There are always people just around the corner who can ruin your day, or your weekend, or your month. It was the kind of thing that felt like it wasn't there to serve the client but someone's own desire for power."
The movie's bosses -- Kevin Spacey's cold, cruel bigwig, Jennifer Aniston's sexually predatory dentist and Colin Farrell's obnoxious, cokehead entrepreneur -- go deep into abuser territory, prompting three friends (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) to hatch a plan to murder one anothers' employers. The tone veers between absurdist and natural as the three banter, often crudely, and start tentatively down a criminal path.
"This is something of a black comedy, which is a tough thing to pull off. You have to walk the line between the characters being sympathetic but also not chickening out from your premise," Goldstein said. Added Daley: "We need to see someone die at some point."
Daley said he knows Apatow a little from his time on "Freaks and Geeks." And it was the success of Todd Phillips' "The Hangover" that jump-started development on "Horrible Bosses." But with "Bosses," Daley and his partner have the distinction of getting an R-rated comedy made without an assist from the two dominant R-rated comedy mafias run by Apatow and Phillips. ("That's not by choice," Goldstein said dryly.)
Daley, who came to Hollywood with his family from suburban Chicago while still a teenager, met Goldstein working on the short-lived "The Geena Davis Show" 10 years ago. (Goldstein was writing; Daley acting.) They paired up to sell a spec script, and eventually went on to land writing gigs on several high-profile Hollywood projects, including development titles such as a reboot of National Lampoon's "Vacation" and the Steve Carell magician comedy "Burt Wonderstone," as well as "Bosses," which they overhauled from an early draft by a writer named Michael Markowitz.
Many writing duos are contemporaries who met in a school or other social environment. Goldstein, quietly sardonic, and Daley, dorkily effervescent, met professionally across the actor-screenwriter divide. "When we're writing, John sees things a little more as an actor would," Goldstein said. They also have sought to bridge the generational divide -- at 42, Goldstein is 17 years older than Daley.
While some might view Daley's past as something that shadows him uncomfortably -- he is, after all, No. 94 on VH1's "Greatest Teen Stars," which is a little like being popular in Canada -- the former child actor said his life has worked out pretty much as he planned it.
"I always wanted to write at the same time I wanted to act," he said. "There just aren't many 9-year-old screenwriters out there."
Photos: John Francis Daley on "Freaks and Geeks" (top) and last week at the "Horrible Bosses" premiere. Credits: 20th Century Fox; Nina Prommer/EPA