An Oscars Performance Of Good Afternoon Is ‘On The Table’ If Nominated
Mar 19, 2023
Oscar producers Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner no doubt have a number of wishes when it comes to the musical performances that will permeate throughout the upcoming 2023 Academy Awards telecast. Rihanna singing “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Lady Gaga belting out “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick” and even Taylor Swift singing “Carolina” from “Where The Crawdads Sing.” But in a massively competitive year, there would be something energetic about Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell recreating their number from the cheeky “Good Afternoon” in Sean Anders’ holiday movie musical, “Spirited.”
READ MORE: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Taylor Swift and more make 2023 Oscars Best Original Song shortlist [Complete List]
Written by former Oscar winners Justin Paul and Benj Pasek alongside Khiyon Hursey, Sukari Jones, and Mark Sonnenblick, “Good Afternoon” is a delightful romp through 19th century London where Ebenezer Scrooge (Ferrell) and his client, Clint Briggs (Reynlonds), insight the former’s countrymen with a decidedly sharp version of the aforementioned phrase, “Good Afternoon.” With voting extremely competitive, The Playlist asked Reynolds if he’d commit to performing a version of “Good Afternoon” live on the Oscars if the song was nominated.
“I wouldn’t do it without Will. So I’d have to talk to him, but it’s definitely on the table,” Reynolds sheepishly says. “I can’t guarantee anything. But it is definitely on the table. Look, our bread and butter are not being a couple of Charlotte Churches, we are Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. So, the threshold for success here is not insanely high. So I can’t imagine a scenario in which we wouldn’t want to get out on that stage and do a version of “Good Afternoon” for the Hollywood s**t show. It should be fun.”
Over the course of our conversation earlier this week, Pasek and Paul discuss the process of writing the songs during the height of the pandemic, Reynolds reveals how the song’s tap dance number came to be, and everyone explains how “Good Afternoon” has changed as a searched phrase in Google.
The Playlist: Guys, congratulations on the movie and making the shortlist.
Benj Pasek: Thank you. Thanks a lot.
The Playlist I read somewhere that this number wasn’t originally in the script. It was just an idea that sort of popped up. Can you guys talk about how it all sort of came to be?
Justin Paul: Yeah, well, if you could go back to the Dickens of it all and the “Christmas Carol” [story], “Good afternoon” is something that Scrooge sort of violently yells at people as he shuts the door. But I think the idea of turning it into this phrase that it became this sort of very naughty, horrible insult, I don’t know if it was the screenwriters, if it was Ryan coming into the picture of as they were developing the piece. But then I know that the first time that Benj and I ever met on this project, Ryan sort of said, “Look, here’s the deal. My number one wish for this project is that there is a song called ‘Good Afternoon.’ And it’s using the idea of this being just a terrible vile phrase that is hurled at people as an insult in London. And it’s got to become a major production number. I don’t know the details, that’s your job, but it’s got to be in there and it’s got to be great.” And it was a brilliant idea and we set upon the task of figuring out how to make it work and how to get it into the script and how to turn it into the big production number that it is. But this is a Ryan Reynolds brainchild, which is not a surprise to anyone.
Ryan Reynolds: That’s high praise. If it were left just to me to actually create the song, it would be simple grunts and then I would eventually just revert back to “F**k you” instead of “Good afternoon.” But yeah, I think Benj said it best too. The beauty of it culturally speaking is it gives permission to say good afternoon to anyone and everyone. My kids do it now. And also alternatively take offense to it. My three-year-old, I wish I was making this up, is totally true, whenever someone says, “Good afternoon” and she hears it, she says, “How dare you?” And I think it’s fantastic. That’s where I feel like the job is occasionally effective.
The Playlist: But Ryan, where did this idea come from? Were you inspired by another movie or musical?
Benj Pasek: Oh no. And it was just really kind of to echo what Justin said. Oh, it’s in that Dickensian lore. He says, “Good afternoon” to people and slams the door in their faces. So, that right there is this invaluable foothold into it, which if you were just a casual observer from the future, you’d think, “Well, is good afternoon sort of tantamount to saying, ‘Go f**k yourself for a thousand years?’ Is that what that is?” And so we crank up our imagination and imagine what that would be like if it was that. And what better way to do that than through the expressive medium of song?
Ryan Reynolds: And I’ll say even now when you do Google searches, Justin, you can tell me exactly what it is, but I know if you [search’ “Good afternoon” the phrase that would come about is, good afternoon, an authentic slang from the 1800s?
Justin Paul: If you write into Google, “Was good afternoon…” If you just start to type that, then the first thing that comes up is that “Was good afternoon an insult in the 1800s?” So it’s become, it’s permeated the Googleable universe.
The Playlist: I love that.
Benj Pasek: And a question of it, was it real or was it something invented? And that’s what Ryan does so well it just really blur the line there.
The Playlist: I believe this project was conceived during stay-at-home portion of the pandemic. And I read somewhere that Benj and Justin were writing lyrics with other writers on a Google Doc, which just seems crazy to me. Is that just what songwriting is these days? Do you miss the days of getting people in a room and making it happen? Or is that just not possible anymore?
Justin Paul: I think we love the days of getting in the room, but this wasn’t possible at this particular juncture because this was early in 2021 and we had a group of writers that we wanted to include in the process that is fantastic theatrical writers. And so we all were just on a Zoom together and we were working between the hours of 9:00 PM and 2:00 AM because one of our writers has day jobs. So, we would all gather and we would drink tea and put on our little snuggies and have a slumber party, and write all the songs to “Spirited.” And what was really cool is on Google Docs, we literally had a 55-page document where we would just be pitching ideas as joke writers would do or folks in a TV writer’s room. And everybody would just be trying to best each other’s ideas or even almost think about it like Legos, we would just be writing one line and be like, “O.K., could another rhyme be on top of this? Could another interior be on top of this?”
Benj Pasek: And somebody can jump in and edit that line and put an extra rhyme in within that line. It’s just a crazy interactive process.
Ryan Reynolds: I didn’t even know that. That sounds so fun.
The Playlist: I didn’t realize it was that similar to a writer’s room for a series.
Justin Paul: It was like that and it was even more fun because you can literally erase someone’s line if you want to, you know what I mean? So the power of it is also beautiful.
The Playlist: Wow. Drunk on power. I love that.
Ryan Reynolds: You don’t exist.
The Playlist: Ryan, I might be wrong, but I think I also read that you wanted there to be a tap number at some point in the movie.
Ryan Reynolds: Well, not really, no. I was very excited about everything to do with the song and the subject matter of it, but the tap number, both Will and I found extraordinarily intimidating. So, we worked and worked and worked on this tap number forever,, or at least what felt like forever. And then when we got to the location, or at least when we went and scouted the location, we weren’t ready to shoot yet. The entire street was cobblestone. We couldn’t tap on that. I’m sure certainly a proficient tap dancer could tap on anything, literally anything but not us. So, necessity being the mother of invention, that’s where the wall came in. I had this pitch of two people at a brawl inside a pub and that they hit the wall so hard in their brawl that it comes down in front of us, thus giving us a surface now to tap on. And then I think Will or Sean had the brilliant idea, they upped it, which was what if we just had a little game of cat and mouse with an old-fashioned acne-style bomb? And then we throw that in there and that’s what sort of blows the wall down. So, the wall was what granted us the ability to actually make good on all these tap lessons that we’d done and learning this routine for so many months because it would’ve sucked if we had to essentially bin this dance number that we’d probably we were most stressed about and had worked harder on than any other part of the dance. But Chloe Arnold and Maud Arnold are geniuses not just as tap dancers, but as teachers and choreographers. So they really helped us. And the same with Benj and Justin
sitting in the recording booth recording these songs and certainly being on set in the parts that we were singing live. It was like having just the ultimate, and I mean this in the best way, enabler with you, that would help get you to be the best possible version of yourself. I’m certainly not going to ever profess to be a Whitney Houston out there that would be slightly insane or a Pavarotti, but I felt comfortable enough to be the best I could possibly be out there and that’s all you could ever really hope for. And Ben and Justin really facilitated an environment that allowed us to really step into the best version of ourselves we could be.
The Playlist: Benj and Justin, this might be a chicken and sort of egg question, but you know there’s going to be a number at this point of the script. Do you say, “O.K. we’re putting in a ten-second musical break in the middle of the son for a tap number”? How does it work in terms of actually determining how much time in the song there is for the musical number?
Justin Paul: I think Ryan has learned this by fire. Making a musical is utterly just the most necessary collaborative process that you can sort of undergo because there is so much back and forth with everyone from scenic design to choreographer to the director to the actors, to the music team. The number is constantly shaped and created as we go. So, the director might come back and say, “We can’t film that. We can’t switch locations that quickly. Can you make the lines last two lines long in that location and then move locations?” Sort of Judi Dench moving on till the “Chocolat” moment came. But there was that moment, so it was sort of like, “Hey, we’re going to pause because maybe Ryan has an idea that they want to just riff for a minute.” And we’re like, “Great, we’re going to vamp the music and they’re going to let the geniuses do what the geniuses do and then we’ll move on to the next shot.” And it’s a totally collaborative back and forth. You’re collaborating in pre-production and then still on set. It’s sort of like, “Hey, can we add four bars here because somebody has a fun idea of what these two guys are going to do.” It’s always evolving and it requires real teamwork. Everybody linking arms and saying, “We’re going to take a big swing here, but we’re doing it all together.”
The Playlist: So was Judi Dench adlibbed, while you were recording? Was it something that was written in the original song before you got to set? And then how did you get her to Boston? I know she barely travels…
Ryan Reynolds: She’s not in Boston. She shot that in the U.K., but no, on the day on set, I think we went through half of Judi Dench’s resume on takes. So yeah, Will and I went through all of it, all kinds of different movies. But the one that we just settled on was “Chocolat” or shall I say, “Sh, sh, Chocolat.”
Benj Pasek: And for us in the writing of it’s like, honestly, it comes from… Judi Dench wasn’t the original line that we had come up with. We were looking for a rhyme for wench originally. And so we were just going through all what are the rhymes? And Judi Dench popped up as a prime rhyme.
The Playlist: In that old Google doc…
Benj Pasek: In that old Google Doc, that 55-page Google doc. And as a result, we have three other collaborators who are theatrical writers on the song. And we were going back and forth, everybody was sort of fighting for like, “O.K., what’s the best ‘ench’ rhyme?” And one of our collaborators, Sakari was like, “You know what? Let’s just go strong and wrong here, let’s go big, let’s take a real swing.” And we said, “O.K., let’s just put Judi Dench in the song and see if we can get this past everybody.” And not only did we get it past everybody, but everybody was really down for it to the extent that Ryan and Will were going to sing it, the two of them. But then there was this notion through real Hollywood magic of what would happen if we actually somehow pitched to Judi Dench that she could do a cameo in a Christmas movie in Mackenzie in England. And by God, thank our lucky stars, she said yes. And now she is part of this moment and part of the song forever and it’s a really unbelievable turn of events for us.
The Playlist: I know she has a great sense of humor, so that’s awesome that she did it. Listen, we are in the middle of Oscar voting season and the deadline is coming up. And my question for you, Ryan, is for the AMPAS voters out there, will you guarantee that you will perform at the Academy Awards if this song is nominated? Can you get Will to do it too?
Ryan Reynolds: I wouldn’t do it without Will. So I’d have to talk to him, but it’s definitely on the table. I can’t guarantee anything. But it is definitely on the table. Look, our bread and butter is not being a couple of Charlotte Churches, we are Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. So, the threshold for success here is not insanely high. So, I can’t imagine a scenario in which we wouldn’t want to get out on that stage and do a version of “Good Afternoon” for the Hollywood s**t show. It should be fun.
The Playlist: On that stage. I think you could get out in the audience. I think it could be a whole thing, Ryan.
Ryan Reynolds: Yeah, we could tell a lot of people “Good afternoon.” There’s a lot of specific people I’m sure we have a special message for.
Benj Pasek: Yeah, I think so. I think the idea is that we would have fun with the song and we’d probably change. The Oscars are the ultimate event for anyone in show business. So, if we step on that stage, you’re going to have to, I think, customize it for the night to a certain degree.
“Spirited” is available on Apple TV+ worldwide
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