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Jack Whitehall & Shailene Woodley on “Beautiful Message” of Raunchy Rom-Com

May 18, 2023


From the co-writer of Borat, Anthony Hines makes his co-directing debut with Robots, a raunchy romantic comedy, premiering in theaters and on demand on May 19. This “outrageous, out-there comedy” stars Shailene Woodley (Divergent) and Jack Whitehall (Jungle Cruise) as the leads in what begins as a rom-com that then spirals into a sci-fi adventure. While promoting their movie, Collider’s Steve Weintraub spoke with the two of them about joining the project, the challenges faced while filming, and more.

Like most rom-coms, our main characters in Robots meet by an act of fate while ice skating and set up a first date. Unlike most rom-coms, both have a secret agenda, and an illegal robot double they appoint do their dirty work. What womanizing Charles (Whitehall) and gold-digging Elaine (Woodley) don’t count on is their doubles falling in love. According to Woodley, the R-rated humor is pared by the underlying message, saying, “underneath all of the comedy, and underneath all of the insanity, was this really beautiful message of love and connecting to who we are as people.”
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A movie about shameless humans and their tender-hearted robot doubles required a great deal of preparation for the two actors. During their interview, which you can watch or read below, Woodley and Whitehall discuss playing multiple versions of a single character, which scenes they were looking forward to shooting, and exactly how relevant this bizarre future may be to today’s world. Whitehall opens up about the struggle of living his in his father’s shadow after Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father and Woodley quizzes her co-star on The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

COLLIDER: First of all, I just want to say thank you to you guys for making me laugh, which is always nice. So, because I have some extra time with you guys, I like throwing in some curveballs at the beginning. For both of you, if someone has actually never seen anything you’ve done before, what is the first thing you’d like them watching and why?

SHAILENE WOODLEY: Definitely I’ll answer for Jack, and I would say Clifford the Big Red Dog because I think that it really exemplifies Jack’s ability to live in a state of wonder and to be really present as an actor, to be someone that understands how to inspire both adults and children at the same time. It’s a rare quality; I think a lot of actors take themselves too seriously and they don’t know how to just be grounded and real, but also live in this wonderful fantastical world. So for Jack, that’s what I would say.

JACK WHITEHALL: I also think of Clifford as a bit of a companion piece to Robots, and really hope that there will be a fanbase in America that I’ve maybe managed to cultivate through Clifford that will be now coming to Robots and expecting it to be a continuation of that wonderful family-friendly entertainment, and will probably be leaving the cinema within about five minutes [laughs].

Of Shailene’s, I mean, I would probably say The Secret Life of an American Teenager is where I would start.

WOODLEY: The American Teenager.

WHITEHALL: The American Teenger. Sorry, in England we call it what I just said [laughs]. Yeah, that’s where I would start just because I think you wanna feast on that and then you can devour the rest of her oeuvre.

WOODLEY: What did you love about Secret Life?

WHITEHALL: I just love the, kind of the– the family motif. I love the design and look of the show–

WOODLEY: What about my character?

WHITEHALL: Your character? Your character I just thought was the glue that, like, held it all together. It was such a great– It was such an insight into the life of a teenager in America, which for me was like, because obviously I was a teenager, but never in America, and just understanding what that was like watching it. I found it very informative.

It’s very funny, though, because I’ve been to London a number of times and I have friends that live in London, and I’ve gone to parties over there, and one of the things people would always ask me, is high school really like it is in the movies and on TV? Because it’s so different over there.

WHITEHALL: Yeah, we have a very different approach to– I mean, they all start drinking at about 13 different.

WOODLEY: [Laughs] I was going to say, it’s a lot of alcohol.

Jack, this is a question for you. Who is more famous in the United Kingdom, you or your father?

WHITEHALL: That’s a tough one. I mean, I think I’m probably still more famous, but maybe he’s now more beloved, which is, if anything, more galling. Even now in America, it’s beginning to happen, there’s enough people that– I was over there with him and he got recognized and I didn’t, which was a horrendous moment to me. And then the two Americans that had clocked him, then walked past me, and because they didn’t know who I was, I overheard their conversation, and he said, “That’s the man from [Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father].” And the other guy was like, “What’s that?” And he goes, “It’s a show on Netflix about an esteemed, elderly English gentleman that travels the world with his doofus son.” And I was like, “I’m just the doofus son?”

WOODLEY: I have to say that people, when they find find out that I worked with Jack, they’re like, “Did you meet his dad?”

WHITEHALL: That’s so depressing. And he fucking never stops now, as well. I did one show with him and that’s all it was meant to be. Now he’s cut me loose and he’s off doing his own shit. He’s got side hustles galore, like, literally cannot say no to a job. He does a podcast with my mom, he’s on breakfast television every morning doing the circuit there, promoting his fucking thing, he does reality television. I was watching The Last of Us the other day and I’m pretty certain he popped up as one of the living dead in that. He is relentless, a parasite.

[Laughs] I love it. You both have millions of followers on Instagram, and I’m curious, how much do you debate hitting publish or post right before you do it?

WOODLEY: I usually post and delete, like, five minutes later. I’m such a big deleter on Instagram. I just haven’t figured out my relationship with it yet. I don’t know how we belong together, so I’ll think that I understand something and I’ll post it, and then I’ll realize, “Oh no, that was definitely the wrong thing to do.” It has nothing to do with other people liking something or commenting on something, it all has to do with me creating doubt in my head about, “I don’t know that that was the appropriate thing to post on Instagram.”

WHITEHALL: I’m a bit trigger happy, I think. In most things, I’m quite good at self-censorship and thinking it through, and I would tend not to get drawn into anything particularly controversial on social media to do with current affairs or culture wars stuff. The only time that I often let my guard down there is with sports, normally because I’m drunk when I’m watching them and get very passionate, and then I’ll hit send on some tweet that will rile up a load of rival sports fans and then I’ll be getting death threats from angry soccer fans for the next week. So that’s the only area in which I think I need to really kind of just reevaluate my relationship with social media.

Jumping into why I get to talk to you guys today, what was it about the script and story that said, “Oh, I want to do this?”

WOODLEY: For me, it was working with the directors of this movie, and also with Jack, and having the opportunity to do a comedy for the first time. That was the most exciting thing. And then the story itself I loved because it was so obtuse and crazy and had these ridiculous modalities to it. But underneath all of the comedy, and underneath all of the insanity, was this really beautiful message of love and connecting to who we are as people, having the elements of both the kind of outrageous things with the heart was something that grabbed me.

WHITEHALL: I mean, for me, it came along at just the right time, I think. I’d done Jungle Cruise and Clifford the Big Red Dog, and they were great movies and I had a lovely time doing them, but I was somewhat constrained with improv and how I could sort of express my comic voice upon them. And then Robots came along, and it was this outrageous R-rated take on a romantic comedy, and it was really near the knuckle humor. It came from these two amazing creative minds, Anthony Hines and Casper Christensen, whose work I knew and loved. I read it, and I was like, “This is exactly what I need to go and do. I’ll be kind of off the leash – excuse the dog pun – and able to go back to what I love,” which is making really outrageous, out-there comedy.

And then, the fact that Shailene came on board to do the movie was just a godsend because it took what was an exciting project that could have been like a sort of fun distraction into something that was just so much more elevated. She brought everything to the character of Elaine and E-2 – and E-3, indeed – and was the perfect kind of partner to go on this mad adventure with.

When you guys were reading the script, and you saw the shooting schedule, what was the day you had circled in terms of, “Oh, this is going to be a tough day,” or a day that you’re like, “I cannot wait to shoot this?”

WOODLEY: Definitely the E-3 day, for me. I was so excited to do that scene, mostly because we didn’t really rehearse it, so we kind of had no idea what it was gonna be until the day before, I think. We were at that location and we kind of sketched it out a little bit. But that scene, it was complicated. There was three different versions of me and there was only me and one body double, and so trying to play all of those characters and map out what it was gonna look like while also keeping the humor in there, it was just fun, and I was excited to do something ridiculous and wild.

WHITEHALL: I would say I was definitely very aware of that scene being on the horizon, quite a long part of the shoot. In my head, it was more going to play out like a game of erotic Twister, and what it turned out was something I would say closer to a UFC bout. I thought that that was a genuine red hand mark on my arse, as well, when I watched the premiere of the movie, and then was informed afterwards that that had been CGI-added to my buttocks.

WOODLEY: No!

WHITEHALL: That’s a bad job, isn’t it? Some poor–

WOODLEY: Wait, but your ass was red! I kept asking Jack–

WHITEHALL: It was reddened! It was added in post.

WOODLEY: It was tomato-red in real life, as well. The camera just might not have picked it up [laughs].

I did not expect to talk about the color of your ass.

WHITEHALL: One has to suffer for one’s art.

Image via Company Films

It had to have actually been a lot of fun, or very challenging, to play multiple versions of a character, and on the same day, because that has to get in your head.

WOODLEY: Yeah, it was fun and challenging. I think the most challenging part for me was just making sure that I had all of the dialogue correct for both of them because when you’re memorizing the scene, you’re memorizing all parts of that scene and being able to jump from one to the other, and making sure that you have the alignment of who that character is correct. That was a little bit tricky, also, because we didn’t have a lot of downtime. So as soon as we got one shot, we’d have to just change clothes and jump right into the other. But other than that, it was really enjoyable.

WHITEHALL: I loved it as well because I sort of feel like in everything that I do, I either play one of those two types of parts. I think I only have, like, two modes, either complete asshole or naive milk toast, and in this, I sort of got to do both, sometimes in the same scene. So it was quite nice to be able to bring both of my two character options to the same movie and get to kind of play in both of those worlds. So, yeah, I enjoyed it.

One of the things about this is, it’s talking eight, nine years in the future. What’s funny is, people are really gonna do this, what’s in this movie, at some point. I always find it interesting because I don’t think, as a population, we see movies and then we learn from anything. I look at Jurassic Park and I think the people that are involved with cloning, they’ve never seen the movie or believe that they’ll never be the ones who do this.

WHITEHALL: I mean, it’s so strange how much more – well, not strange, I guess it was inevitable, but we shot the movie two years ago and then even in the time since then we’ve been on our group chat sending each other all of these links to these stories that feel so relevant. Tesla announcing their move into AI and this latest news cycle, which again, feels like it’s a very pertinent time for this movie and story to be told. So, whilst it was the case when we read the script, I mean, it was written four or five years ago, I think, and the original story that it was based on was from 30 years ago. I think, yeah, it’s a really interesting time for it to be coming out into the world and wondering whether, as you say, people are gonna watch this and we be going, “Oh my God, it’s terrifying that this is nearly a reality,” or probably just using it as disposable income and entertainment and then, within a couple of years, this will be our reality.

Image via Neon

Oh, it’s on the horizon. So I definitely want to ask you guys about filming specifically the dance scene, and how much did you think about what you were going to do before because you have a choreographed thing. And Shay, you’re wearing heels, of course, because movies like to put women in heels when they’re doing dances and large action set pieces.

WOODLEY: Yeah, I mean, we committed to that dance sequence. We had a choreographer who we practiced with in his dance studio, as well as under the Albuquerque heat. It was a lot of fun, but I definitely kept messing up. Jack, I think you were on it more than I was, trying to get our steps in line was a little bit tricky.

WHITEHALL: In your head is where you think you look amazing when you’re doing that dance scene, when you’ve nailed all of the moves, and you’re like, “When I watch that back, it’s gonna be unbelievable. It’ll be like a scene from Dancing with the Stars,” and then you see it, and you’re like, “Oh, it’s incredibly underwhelming.” I mean, very funny, I think it worked, it was underwhelming, but in my head, we’d absolutely nailed it, and people were going to be like, “Oh yeah, these robots look like they’re professionals,” which was the intention, but they had to make a slight pivot, I think, in the editing suite.

But yeah, we had to learn to dance, and then I also had to learn to ice skate, which was something that I, again, really committed to and did for months before the shoot started. I went to this ice rink down the road from where I live in London and went and had all of these ice skates lessons, and yeah… It was also totally unnecessary because they only shot me from the waist up, so I didn’t need to be able to ice skate, really. Also, it just meant that anyone that saw me at the ice skating rink in London just assumed that I was training for this show that we have in England called Dancing on Ice, which quite a lot of low-rent celebrities take part in every year. Literally every time I walked off the ice–

WOODLEY: Don’t lie, you’re gonna do it later this year. If the writers’ strike continues, you will be on Dancing on Ice.

WHITEHALL: Yeah, no, I won’t rule it out. I won’t rule it out.

Listen, I’ve already got to wrap with you guys, but I’m just going to say I am really looking forward to The Afterparty Season 2, and Shay, I saw clips from Dumb Money at CinemaCon and it looks so good.

WOODLEY: Awesome. Oh, you’ve seen more than I have, I’m excited for that one!

Robots is in theaters and on demand beginning May 19.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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