In Garry Marshall’s ensemble romantic comedy New Year’s Eve, an all-star cast celebrates love, hope, forgiveness and second chances, on a night in New York City that many see as the most magical of the year. While only some of the characters actually cross paths with each other, each individual seems to ultimately be searching for the connections that make their lives memorable and meaningful.
At a press conference to promote the film’s December 9th theatrical release, co-stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Hilary Swank, Josh Duhamel and Lea Michele talked about what attracted them to their roles, not putting so much pressure on that one day out of the year, their own New Year’s Eve plans, and what they drew on from their own lives, in bringing their characters to life.
With such a big cast in this, can you talk about the experience of working with your scene partners?
HILARY SWANK: I got to work with Robert De Niro and, for me, he was on my bucket list. He was on the top of the people I have to work with, before it’s all said and done, so I got to check that off. I also do mostly dramas. I usually die in my movies. I don’t live to see the credits, but this was to work with Garry Marshall in a comedy. They had already started. They were working three weeks, and then I came in. I was thinking, “What’s it like? What’s the vibe? Am I going to be one of those things that’s not like the other?” And yet, I started with a dramatic bit with DeNiro. My first two days were with him, and it was the real dramatic stuff. I thought, “This isn’t really funny. I’m not being funny.” So, I got onto the set, and it was the latter half of the day. I went in and Halle Berry and Robert were in the room. They’d been working all morning and they had their thing going, and I was the outsider there. I didn’t even know the crew or anything. I walked in and was just trying to get a sense of the vibe, before I started working. I walked in and Robert was in the bed and laying there. You hear all this stuff about Robert DeNiro, and he’s method. This is a comedy, but he’s dying. I didn’t want to get in anybody’s way. So, he was laying there and he saw me, and then he shut his eyes, and I was thinking, “Wow, he’s giving it to me. We’re connected here. We are connected. Me and DeNiro are method.” I started getting a little emotional. The camera was not on me, but we were just getting into the mood, of the father-daughter relationship, and the father dying. I was feeling it, and I was going deep with DeNiro. The next thing I know, he’s like, “Anyone got that coffee?” I was like, “Oh, my god, he was sleeping!” I thought he was going deep for me. The truth is, he’d been in that bed all day and he took a nap. So, that was that. But, getting the opportunity to work with him was an absolute highlight for me.
LEA MICHELE: I got to work with Ashton [Kutcher]. I got to be stuck in an elevator with him for two weeks, which was awesome. He’s hilarious. I got punked, a couple of times. He actually opened the door with only a towel on. He was supposed to have all of his clothes on. But, he’s also really smart and would talk about everything going on in the world, and I had absolutely no idea about half the stuff he was talking about. So, I would go home and Google everything, and try to brush up on everything that was going on in the world, to come in the next day and try to have a conversation. But, he was great. He made me feel really comfortable.
ZAC EFRON: I met Michelle [Pfeiffer] a few years ago, during Hairspray, and had a huge crush on her, always, from day one. Back then, I was very, very young and very bashful and, around her, I tended to put my foot in my mouth a lot. I didn’t really know what to say to her and everything just came out wrong. I was like, “Do you want to rehearse the scenes?” I didn’t know what to do. I was very shy. But then, I got to talk on the phone with her, about this part. She said, “I think we should take this to the next level. We should really push it. Let’s get a kiss in there.” I was like, “I am in! I’m in this movie! Put me in! Sign me up! Let’s do it!” It turned out to be awesome. It was lovely working with her. Every single second with her was amazing.
MICHELLE PFEIFFER: Well, I’m the envy of every girl across the planet, I think. I got a kiss in there with Zac Efron, which was pretty clever of me, at the ripe old age of 53. I was sitting here thinking, “Okay, there must be something negative or awkward about working with Zac,” and there was nothing. I signed on to do the picture, and a pretty impressive cast was assembling, but [the role of] Paul was not cast yet. And then, I heard that Zac was possibly doing it. He called me and I was in the middle of a class, and I screamed and yelled in the middle of this environment. It was just a blast. We had so much fun. He’s so collaborative and so talented. I loved his Paul, and that goofy haircut he showed up in. We didn’t really talk that much before [shooting], until we showed up [on set]. I think he was a little disappointed, when he opened my trailer door and there sat Ingrid. His little face just fell, and I felt really bad. But, I think probably the sweetest thing about him was that he never let on, and he still won’t admit how disappointed he was.
EFRON: She looked absolutely stunning.
PFEIFFER: But, he grew to love her, anyway. He’s just a great guy. I love him.
JOSH DUHAMEL: First of all, I had a blast working on this movie. When there’s so many people, in a movie like this, you want to be able to go in and do your best work right away, and feel comfortable and contribute, as best you can. When I was working with Yeardley Smith, I kept thinking, “This is Lisa Simpson.” She was playing the pastor’s wife, and there were a few takes where she was really frisky. My character is telling her this story about this girl that I’d met the year before, and she played it like she was getting all hot and bothered. I kept thinking, “I’m making Lisa Simpson all hot and bothered,” and there was something really wrong about that.” I got to work with Hilary [Swank] for a minute. I worked with Sean O’Bryan, Larry Miller and Yeardley. I don’t think they get enough credit. There are a lot of really great peripheral characters in this movie, too. Larry Miller is a guy that I’ve seen and watched, forever. He was a really interesting dude to work with. I really liked him.
Michelle, what was the biggest challenge for you – dancing, flying in the harness or driving the motorcycle?
PFEIFFER: Riding the motorcycle, but not because I actually drove it. I think it was the elements that were a bit challenging. The weather was one [challenge]. The paparazzi were also out in full force, in the scene, in the shot. Garry [Marshall] was constantly talking Zac [Efron] and I off of a ledge.
EFRON: But, on the plus side, it was basically just us, snuggling very close.
PFEIFFER: Yeah, that was nice.
EFRON: That was nice. I felt very comforted.
What was it like to play a non-glamorous role like this?
PFEIFFER: I’ve actually done that a lot. I really like it. It’s what I love. One of the things I love most about acting is just disappearing in the role, as much as I can. I think that’s one of the things that intrigued me about it. I had to just try to figure out, “Who is this woman who’s lived in New York City, all of these years, and never been to any of these places?” That’s where it led me.
With so much pressure attached to that one night, have you ever had a particularly miserable New Year’s Eve experience, in your own life?
DUHAMEL: You have to keep expectations low.
SWANK: Exactly. When I stopped wanting my New Year’s Eve to be perfect, to bring in the New Year right, is when it started working out right. When I was young, I was always looking for the best party to be at, to ring in the New Year, and I always ended up in the car going, “Happy New Year.”
DUHAMEL: Or, you’re asleep at 10:30 pm.
Lea, this is another role that lets you show off your singing talent. Do you intentionally lean towards roles where you can sing?
MICHELE: I didn’t really intend on doing a film where I sang. I sing so much on my show that I felt like maybe I would start looking into things that didn’t involve me singing. But, when I read the script, these songs were already in there. They didn’t add them for me. I just felt that it was such a perfect part for me to play, for my first film, just to transition from Glee. I thought it was great. I had so much fun. I got to be a back-up singer for Bon Jovi, which was awesome. I think that, from now on, I might start to try to look into other things without singing, just to give my voice a little break. But, when something as perfect as this comes along, where it just makes sense and it fits, it’s a no-brainer.
You were connected to Funny Girl for a bit. Now that it’s being postponed and reworked, would you still be interested in doing it, if your schedule permits?
MICHELE: Of course! I would do that show for an empty room, by myself.
Michelle, Hilary and Lea, what’s your favorite way to spend New Year’s Eve?
MICHELE: I do the same thing every year, for New Year’s, and I’ve done it for the past seven years now. I’m from New York. I did the Times Square thing once, and I’ll never do it again. But, New Yorkers have this special spot in Central Park, where they do this 5K run, the minute the clock strikes twelve. I ran once, and I’ll never do that again, either. But, it’s awesome to watch those people run. It’s such a great environment and place to be. So, that’s where I’ll be, and where I have been for the past seven years.
SWANK: I’ll be eating pie and drinking champagne. I stopped trying to chase the perfect place to be, and realized the perfect place is with your loved ones and your closest friends, around the dinner table, over a good meal, talking about the past year and the year to come and things that you want to change in your life. You hear their stories and talk about things you’d like to see happen in the world. That’s what we do. And, I never make it to midnight, ever.
PFEIFFER: I also never make it to midnight. I celebrate New Year’s at 9 pm, west coast time. I watch the ball drop, in my jammies with some champagne and maybe some pie, or whatever happens to be around. I stopped setting those unrealistic expectations for New Year’s Eve, many years ago.
EFRON: We’re going to change that because she’s coming out with me this year.
PFEIFFER: Zac is threatening to take me out for New Year’s Eve. I’ll have to run it by my husband, first.
EFRON: The parties seem to get better and better, every year. It should be fun. I’ll show Michelle how we do it.
Did you draw on anything from your own life, for your character?
PFEIFFER: When I read this part, I said, “Who is this person?” I talked to Garry and was like, “Garry, come on, this woman has been living in New York for 30 years and she’s never been to any of these places?” I realized I’m actually very much like her, but that happens quite a bit. I don’t realize how much I am like the characters until years later. Actually, I came to that conclusion during this press junket. We were sitting there together, talking, and Zac was Paul and I was Ingrid. I thought, “Oh, my gosh, who knew?” I didn’t. I tend to be a little more of a hermit.
EFRON: I thought it was really fun to play with Michelle because I basically got to push all of her buttons. How am I like my character? At the beginning, he’s a bit douchey, a little self-absorbed and narcissistic. I don’t know. I’m digging a hole here. I guess I’m a narcissist. It was really fun. What happens in our relationship is that we fall in love and he realizes that there’s much more than just a party.
PFEIFFER: Zac is actually fun-loving, like Paul. I would not call him a narcissist.
SWANK: (Screenwriter) Katherine [Fugate] and I were looking to produce this other project that we were doing, and she said, “I just finished writing New Year’s Eve, and I wrote the role of Claire Morgan for you. I just see you in it.” It’s such an honor, to have a screenwriter say, “I saw you, when I was writing this.” It’s so touching, to be thought of, in that way. When I read it, I fell in love with Claire, and the idea of feeling like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. You can’t imagine New Year’s Eve without the ball drop, right? There is no New Year’s Eve without the ball drop. The idea of this woman who really takes her job seriously and is responsible, I felt very in touch with that. I take a lot of things pretty seriously. But, I also love that speech that she has because it’s so universal. I can’t imagine one person not thinking about the year that just passed and the optimism for the next year, and the idea of being able to have a second chance to be a better person, and to love more and to forgive. Essentially, that’s life, in a nutshell, right in that monologue. I was so thankful that [Katherine] thought of me for this role, and I was so thankful that Garry was like, “Yeah, Hilary? Sure!”
What was it like to work with all of the confetti?
EFRON: Every actor has three versions of each scene – the one that you rehearse the night before, in your bedroom, the one you actually get to do when you’re filming, and then the one you wish you would have done, afterward. I remember that I was in my hotel room, the night before, imagining how I was going to kiss [Michelle Pfeiffer], and it was awesome. I was the man, in every way. I just saw it and it was glorious. Confetti started to come up, and the wind swept up newspapers, and there was electricity, and a big dip. I went to execute on the day, and right when I got to the crucial moment, a huge piece of confetti landed in my mouth and I just pulled it out.
PFEIFFER: And take after take, confetti would fall in [Zac’s] mouth.
EFRON: It was everywhere. It was in [Michelle’s] eyes.
PFEIFFER: It wasn’t sexy.
EFRON: Yes, it was. It was awesome.