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Vince Vaughn takes humor seriously

Despite his work in 'Swingers,' it took many years for the actor to get cast in comedies. Now? That thinking is so old school.

July 10, 2005|John Cook | Special to The Times

Chicago — Tell someone that you're scheduled to interview Vince Vaughn at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, and you're likely to get a response along the lines of, "Yeah, good luck." Not our Vince Vaughn -- Trent, the prowling Lothario high on nightlife in "Swingers"; Beanie, the married electronics impresario desperately holding domesticity at bay with a beer bong in "Old School." No, at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, Vince Vaughn will be recovering from the exploits of Friday night, if not still living them.

And yet there he was at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Chicago on a recent Saturday, Starbucks cup in hand, without even the benefit of dark sunglasses to shield him from the unforgiving light of day. With his imposing 6-foot-5 frame, slightly puffy eyes and mild case of bedhead, Vaughn, wearing jeans and an untucked shirt, stood out a bit from the crowd of Midwestern early risers already filling the Ritz's 12th-floor restaurant.

"Eight-thirty is a late call for me," said Vaughn, who is in Chicago shooting "The Break Up" with Jennifer Aniston for Universal Pictures. "It's been 5 or 5:30 this whole week. I think I speak for all actors when I say sometimes you get punished for being successful. People see you a certain way. And that's your job -- to come off and make that character seem very real. So it's a compliment, sort of."

Vaughn has been getting his fair share of compliments lately. Ever since his pitch-perfect comedic performance two years ago as the fast-talking, ear-muffing arrested adolescent in "Old School," the 35-year-old has been on a midcareer roll: "DodgeBall," the goofy buddy flick in which he starred opposite Ben Stiller as an, um, arrested adolescent, took in $114 million at the domestic box office last year, according to Box, beating out "The Aviator" and "Million Dollar Baby." He stole a good deal of the spotlight and some critical praise from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie -- no small feat -- with a supporting role in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" as a professional assassin who still lives with his mother. And there is buzz about his performance with Owen Wilson in "Wedding Crashers," in which he plays a ... well, if divorce mediator Jeremy Gray isn't exactly an arrested adolescent, he's too old to be elbowing his way into strangers' weddings to meet women at their most vulnerable.

The attention helped him shepherd "The Break Up," a romantic comedy that he developed with writers Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender on spec and which he is producing, into a reported $12-million payday at Universal -- four times his previous top fee.

The Ben Stiller connection

"For a while, before 'Old School' came, I couldn't get any comedies," he said. "People would say 'Vince Vaughn's not funny' because I hadn't done anything since 'Swingers.' Even after 'Old School,' Ben Stiller had to really fight for me to get the part in 'DodgeBall.' "

Stiller, Vaughn said, is the common link in what has come to be known as the comedy Mafia -- the rotating cast of performers said to include Vaughn, Stiller, Wilson, Will Ferrell, Jack Black and others, who regularly appear in one another's films and have gained enough box office clout to develop movies on their own. But aside from Stiller's generosity, he said, the comedy Mafia is a myth.

"I have respect for all those guys, but if anything I started with ['Swingers' writer, star and co-producer Jon] Favreau. And I guess Favreau directed Will in 'Elf,' but somehow he's not a part of whatever this comedy Mafia is. It's very confusing how the lines are drawn." (A studio spokesperson says the producers haven't begun to address the role of a director yet.)

However the comedy Mafia lines are drawn, there seems to be a single line running through most of Vaughn's characters. Are they just different shades of Trent? Not according to Vaughn.

"To me these characters are really different," he said, making an impassioned if not entirely convincing argument. "The character in 'DodgeBall' is sort of not trying at life; he's very lazy. Whereas the guy in 'Wedding Crashers' loves life, and he's extremely motivated. Trent is a smoother character than Jeremy. Where Jeremy loves to eat, likes to dance, Trent never dances in 'Swingers.' He's not a big eater. He's more of a card player. The one thing they have in common is they're both trying to pick up girls."

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