Director Tom McGrath on 'Boss Baby' memes and doing trivia quizzes with Jeff Goldblum (exclusive)

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·11-min read

Watch: Trailer for The Boss Baby 2

Jeff Goldblum not only plays a villainous headmaster in the new animated sequel The Boss Baby 2: Family Business, but he also put the film's director through his trivia paces.

The film — a sequel to the 2017 DreamWorks hit — sees Tim Templeton (James Marsden) and his brother Ted (Alec Baldwin) zapped back to being children in order to foil the scheme of Goldblum's baddie Dr Erwin Armstrong.

Director Tom McGrath told Yahoo Entertainment UK that Goldblum is "quirky and smart" and really threw himself into the challenge.

Read more: Sam Neill says Goldblum drove people crazy on Jurassic World

He said: "Jeff in the booth really got into his role of this teacher and headmaster, so he would just do trivia that came out of his head to me. 

"It was difficult to keep up. It's like trying to focus on the script, but also do a quiz show at the same time."

Jeff Goldblum plays a villain in Tom McGrath's 'Boss Baby' sequel. (Jason Mendez/WireImage/Universal/Jesse Grant/Getty/Environmental Media Association)
Jeff Goldblum plays a villain in Tom McGrath's 'Boss Baby' sequel. (Jason Mendez/WireImage/Universal/Jesse Grant/Getty/Environmental Media Association)

McGrath added that Goldblum's unusual approach also allowed the animation team to spread their wings and really push the visual boundaries.

"His timing is so unique and I think the animators all really loved how his timing and his delivery allowed them to play with the physical mechanics and the expressions. He was a joy to work with for the animators as well," he said.

Read more: Jeff Goldblum teases possible MCU return

McGrath also spoke about the cult popularity of the Boss Baby franchise, which has spread beyond the young audience to which the films initially cater, whether it's with internet memes or academic symposia.

"Our goal was really to have a movie that everyone could go to. Parents didn't have to bring the kids and look at their watches — they could laugh along," said the filmmaker.

Jeff Goldblum as Dr Erwin Armstrong in 'The Boss Bay 2@ Family Business'. (Universal/DreamWorks)
Jeff Goldblum as Dr Erwin Armstrong in 'The Boss Bay 2@ Family Business'. (Universal/DreamWorks)

He added: "I remember as a child that my parents would take my brother and sister and I to go to see Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther movies. They'd laugh at some jokes that were way over our heads and we'd just laugh at him doing gymnastics on a stairway and falling down the stairs. 

"As a family, you're having a great time whether you're laughing at different jokes or not."

Read more: Boss Baby secrets with Tom McGrath and producer Jeff Hermann

The cast of The Boss Baby 2: Family Business also includes Eva Longoria, Amy Sedaris, Ariana Greenblatt, Jimmy Kimmel and Friends star Lisa Kudrow.

Read our full interview with Tom McGrath in which he discusses the chances of Boss Baby 3 and the challenges of keeping the film on track during the COVID-19 pandemic...

Alec Baldwin returns to voice the titular infant in 'The Boss Baby 2: Family Business'. (Universal/DreamWorks)
Alec Baldwin returns to voice the titular infant in 'The Boss Baby 2: Family Business'. (Universal/DreamWorks)

Yahoo Entertainment UK: Was it an easy choice for you to come back and do this all over again for a second film?

Tom McGrath: It was hard, actually. The first one was taking Marla Frazee's 10-page book and turning it into a big story. It told the whole story. Then at the end of the movie, it was revealed that it was Tim as a father telling his daughter. We had a baby wink at the camera in a suit, and it wasn't to set up a sequel. We just wanted kids to think that maybe Baby Corp is real and there is a real organisation taking care of babies. 

Then when the studio approached me to do a sequel, I was like: "there's got to be a story there". I started thinking about it and thinking about my relationship with my brother, which was part of the first movie too. Family is like an ongoing drama. You can be sibling rivals early on and then make amends but, as you go into adulthood, you can drift apart easily from all family. I thought it would be great if we picked up where the first movie left off, with Tim as a father disconnected from his brother. 

And we thought we could use that little girl baby in a suit to have a strong female lead and voice for the movie, along with Tim's wife and his daughter. The first movie is very boy-centric, so we just felt there was an opportunity to put forward a female perspective as well. That launched us and we just thought: wouldn't it be great if Baby Corp developed this formula which turned the two brothers back to kids again? Tim would have a unique perspective, being able to see his daughter in school and help her as a school friend. That was a fun premise to play around with.

Amy Sedaris joins the cast of the 'Boss Baby' franchise as Tim's daughter, Tina. (Universal/DreamWorks)
Amy Sedaris joins the cast of the 'Boss Baby' franchise as Tim's daughter, Tina. (Universal/DreamWorks)

Then we thought about who could be the antagonist. I don't want to give anything away, but we immediately thought of Jeff Goldblum because he's so quirky and smart. We thought we could touch upon the fact that we're so reliant on technology and our phones — parents especially — that it could be our ultimate Achilles Heel. The villain plot exploits that fact, which felt like a fun idea.

The main thing is that it's never too late to have a second chance with family and reconcile your differences. Our singular goal was not only to make people laugh but maybe, at the end of the movie, they feel like picking up the phone and calling an aunt or a brother or a sister or a grandparent they haven't talked to in a long time. That was the genesis for the story and, once Michael McCullers and I started plotting out the story, we thought it would be a really fun movie.

It must have been an absolute "pinch yourself" moment when Jeff Goldblum said yes?

Oh yeah. Jeff's fun and so is working with all of the actors — Amy Sedaris, James Marsden, Alec Baldwin, Eva Longoria. All of the cast is encouraged to improvise. We always do it just like workshopping a play because, otherwise, it would be a waste of their talents. They're all great character creators too.

I think Jeff really liked the idea that his character was addicted to sugar. He had a lot of fun with that. Jeff in the booth really got into his role of this teacher and headmaster, so he would just do trivia that came out of his head to me. It was difficult to keep up. It's like trying to focus on the script, but also do a quiz show at the same time. He just made it really fun. His timing is so unique and I think the animators all really loved how his timing and his delivery allowed them to play with the physical mechanics and the expressions. He was a joy to work with for the animators as well.

At what point did the pandemic come into play? How much of the voice work did you have to do remotely?

Fortunately, we had worked a year and a half. There's like three or four hundred people on the film, so we all knew what it was like to work together in person. When the pandemic hit, it was right in the mid-stream. We were like 25% done in animation and we sat around for like three weeks until the studio found a way we could all work from home. 

Us and other animated movies were the only movies going on in Hollywood because everyone was shut down. We were fortunate to keep going. But I think the fact we had worked together closely in person allowed us to seamlessly work together at home. It was interesting in animation dailies and things because people's kids would want to watch. That was our test audience, to see if the kids were laughing at the animation.

As for the actors, we had to send them recording kits so they could record from their homes. They'd be in their closets because that would absorb the sound and there would be no echo. Bedsheets too. They were all great sports about it and you really can't tell which parts were recorded in a professional studio. They're that good.

'The Boss Baby 2: Family Business'. (Universal/DreamWorks)
'The Boss Baby 2: Family Business'. (Universal/DreamWorks)

I just love the idea that while everyone was doing Zoom quizzes with their family, you were doing remote trivia with Jeff Goldblum.

I had the best seat in the house! I like to go in and be a scene partner and read with them. My singular job is to make sure I don't laugh and blow their take. They'll always surprise me.

Obviously this franchise has such a great young audience, but you also have a sort of cult fan base of older viewers online. Is that something you cater towards at all?

It's interesting. As a filmmaker, you never really cater to anyone but yourself. I grew up with a lot of Warner Bros animation with a lot of slapstick and physical comedy. You have to have a spine of a movie that propels you through the 90 minutes. Our goal was really to have a movie that everyone could go to. Parents didn't have to bring the kids and look at their watches — they could laugh along.

I remember as a child that my parents would take my brother and sister and I to go to see Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther movies. They'd laugh at some jokes that were way over our heads and we'd just laugh at him doing gymnastics on a stairway and falling down the stairs. As a family, you're having a great time whether you're laughing at different jokes or not. It's a great experience. That. for me, is what making a family comedy is about — to entertain as many people as possible.

There's a lot of Boss Baby stuff online. Are you familiar with the "guy who's only seen The Boss Baby" meme?

No! [Yahoo explains the meme] That's awesome. It's crazy. I heard there was some kind of symposium with some psychologists breaking down the movies or something. I don't know what that's about, but I want to be a fly on the wall for that.

Our main thing was that there's a joy in being a child's first film. I remember as a kid that being what got me into animation. We make these films for everybody and just because it has "baby" in the title doesn't mean it's for little kids only. Hopefully families will enjoy it and hopefully they can get out of the house now.

One of the things I really wanted to ask about is that this is sort of a Christmas film?

It is! It was fun. The first one was summer and we thought that aesthetically it would be cool to do something different. Thematically it made sense to do it in winter because over the holidays is usually when families get together, which can go completely dramatic or be a lovely experience.

'The Boss Baby 2: Family Business' ups the ante with infant ninjas. (Universal/DreamWorks)
'The Boss Baby 2: Family Business' ups the ante with infant ninjas. (Universal/DreamWorks)

There's an aesthetic to winter which, as well as the thematic element, worked really well to make it feel different. Our goal was to make it funnier, visually more interesting and exciting and also to add more heart. That was our credo.

You had your American release earlier this year and now you're getting your UK release. How exciting is it that it's a full-on cinema release on these shores?

I love it. We made it for the big screen. Even though we were working at home on small monitors, I'd go into the studio and check it on the big screen. We wanted it to be theatrical and we put so much work into the sound mix to be seen in theatres. I'm glad it's in cinemas in the UK.

Just before I let you go, I have to ask whether Boss Baby 3 is happening?

Well, it's a case of "is there a story there?". You can't do these movies if they just make money. You have to think about whether there's a story worth telling.

So we'll see. I'm also interested in doing something completely original. It seems kind of rude to set up for another sequel. Every movie you make, you want to make it independently stand alone in a way. So we'll see.

The Boss Baby 2: Family Business will be released in UK cinemas on 22 October.

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