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‘Vacation Friends 2’ Interview: Director Clay Tarver

‘Vacation Friends 2’ Interview: Director Clay Tarver

Premiering on Hulu beginning August 25th is ‘Vacation Friends 2,’ which is a sequel to 2021’s ‘Vacation Friends’ and was once again directed by Clay Tarver (‘Joy Ride’).

“Time for another round.”


R1 hr 45 minAug 25th, 2023

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What is the plot of ‘Vacation Friends 2’?

Picking up a few months after the conclusion of ‘Vacation Friends,’ the sequel finds newly married couple Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) inviting their uninhibited besties Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), who are also newly married and have a baby, to join them for a vacation when Marcus lands an all-expenses-paid trip to a Caribbean resort. His reason for traveling there in the first place is to meet with the owners of the resort to bid on a construction contract for a hotel they own in Chicago. But when Kyla’s incarcerated father Reese (Steve Buscemi) is released from San Quentin and shows up at the resort unannounced at the worst possible moment, things get out of control, upending Marcus’ best laid plans and turning the vacation friends’ perfect trip into total chaos.

Who is in the cast of ‘Vacation Friends 2’?

Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with director Clay Tarver about his work on ‘Vacation Friends 2,’ bringing the characters back together for a sequel, how their friendship has grown since the first film, why John Cena and Lil Rel Howery are so funny together, Meredith Hagner’s wild performance, introducing Steve Buscemi as Kyla’s shady father, and the rest of the supporting cast.

Director Clay Tarver on the set of 'Vacation Friends 2.'

(Center) Director Clay Tarver on the set of ‘Vacation Friends 2.’ Photo credit: Katrina Marcinowski.

You can read the full interview below or click on the video player above to watch our interview.

Moviefone: To begin with, can you talk about creating an organic reason for these characters to reunite together on another vacation in this sequel?

Clay Tarver: It was really interesting to bring everyone back together physically because I think we all knew that we had a really special sense of chemistry, because ultimately this movie, like the first one, was about friendship. I think we all together wanted to do something that was about where the friendship went, and how it grew in unexpected ways with new developments in their lives. They know each other now, so what could go wrong? A lot does. The challenge is when you’re directing and trying to tackle something like this, for me, I didn’t want to make it feel like it was just a repeat of the first movie. But it needed to change a little bit, and it is different. The first movie, you didn’t really know who Ron and Kyla were, and so that was the thing that held the story together was that you kept waiting for the other shoe to drop with them. Who are they? Are they crazy? Are they drug dealers? Are they con artists? It was a refreshing end to the first one when they were none of that. They were just nice people who were a mess. So I found the storyline interesting about, “Oh, they have a baby now. How does that change them? Marcus and Emily are thinking about having a baby now. Well, what does that mean for them?” Everyone’s lives have taken another step. I think as a longtime fan of comedies and sequels, I want it to go to someplace new, but I don’t want the core characters to change so much that they’re not recognizable, they’re not the people I fell in love with. But I wanted to take it to someplace new. I think we all did, and it was important to us to not just retread the first movie, but take a risk a little bit and try to take it in a new direction.

MF: Can you talk about the idea of introducing Steve Buscemi as Kyla’s shady father?

CT: There’s one joke in the first movie, I think Kyla says, “Oh, I’m so sad my dad never got to meet Ron.” Then Emily says, “Oh my God, is he dead?” But she’s like, “No, it’s just that San Quentin is so far,” which I actually didn’t write. Someone else wrote that and I thought it was really funny. But there was always this looming, what are Kyla and Ron’s background? What do they have to deal with and what is in their lives beyond the people who we meet? For all of us, that seemed like a natural, interesting place to go. Then when I was lucky enough to get the honor to cast Sir Steve Buscemi, I feel like if we had knights in America, wouldn’t he be Sir Steve? He’s a national treasure. So I was thrilled when he came aboard because I’m going to tell you if you don’t know, he’s the nicest guy on earth. Having someone on set that was so well respected and beloved as Sir Steve was, it elevated the proceedings and everyone really just was thrilled to be around him. You cannot find a nicer guy and a more fantastic actor. After each scene, I would say, “Steve, it turns out you’re really good at acting. I think it’ll go okay for you.”

John Cena as Ron, Steve Buscemi as Reese and Ronny Chieng as Yeon in 20th Century Studios’ 'Vacation Friends 2.' Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

(L to R) John Cena as Ron, Steve Buscemi as Reese and Ronny Chieng as Yeon in 20th Century Studios’ ‘Vacation Friends 2.’ Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Related Article: ‘Vacation Friends’ stars John Cena and Yvonne Orji talk about their new comedy

MF: Can you talk about Marcus and Emily and Kyla and Ron’s friendship, and how that’s grown since the first film?

CT: The first story was about new friendship and it was about people that you met on vacation and how weird that conversation is and how you cross boundaries too quickly over a week, some boundaries that you probably shouldn’t but you’re in the mood. What happens, and then how that can boomerang to echo back onto your real life, whether or not you’re really friends. Now I feel like what’s great about it is that they, and what was fun for all of us to explore was the idea of where does the friendship go and how do adult friendships mature? How much do you trust somebody? Because some friends you say you trust, but you don’t. You wouldn’t hand them the keys to your car. Ron and Kyla, all those things that make you love them so much are the same things that you are like, “Uh-oh, bad things could happen just because they’re around.” The first movie was really about these people who were ultimately harmless. I thought with the introduction of Steve, especially casting him, it was just interesting to see, “Oh, this is a guy where he’s not harmless. So what does that do to their friendship?” Ultimately they bicker, and I think that’s part of the fun is the conflict. I always love Marcus yelling at Ron because Lil Rel and John Cena are amazing together. Even though it stretches to the breaking point, it never does, and it’s really about friendships growing in unexpected ways.

Lil Rel Howery as Marcus, Yvonne Orji as Emily, Meredith Hagner as Kyla, and John Cena as Ron in 2021's 'Vacation Friends.'

(L to R) Lil Rel Howery as Marcus, Yvonne Orji as Emily, Meredith Hagner as Kyla, and John Cena as Ron in 2021’s ‘Vacation Friends.’ Photo: Jessica Miglio/20th Century Studios.

MF: Did you have any idea how funny John Cena was when you cast him in the first film?

CT: I was amazed. No, I didn’t know. When he first signed on to do the movie, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will tell you this story. Ike Barinholtz who was in ‘Blockers,’ which was a movie I really loved, I’d never met him before, and somehow I got his number and I called him up to ask him how it was working with John Cena. He got quiet and then he almost got angry and he was like, “I think he might be the nicest person I’ve ever met.” He just sang his praises and he said, “He’s fantastic and you’re going to love working with him.” He was just so good. He does all of these things that are so hard to do so easily. He really listens and plays off other people, and there’s a lot of his improv in it. I was just amazed and felt blessed and lucky to have him around on set every day.

Yvonne Orji as Emily and Lil Rel Howery as Marcus in 20th Century Studios' 'Vacation Friends 2.'

(L to R) Yvonne Orji as Emily and Lil Rel Howery as Marcus in 20th Century Studios’ ‘Vacation Friends 2.’ Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

MF: Lil Rel Howery is also a very funny comedic actor, but in this movie plays the straight man a lot. What was it like directing him in those scenes?

CT: He’s a straight man who also, he’s really funny when he is back on his heels, when things get too chaotic and he loses it completely. So on the one hand, he is the straight guy, but he’s the guy that loses his mind quicker than anybody else. So just trying to embrace that and make sure there were moments where he would make some assumption and completely freak out and just play to all of those strengths with him. It was really fun to direct a movie with him a second time around, because I think the first movie we shot entirely, except for the first two weeks, through the pandemic. This time we just knew each other a lot better. He’s just an amazing person to do a movie with. Both of those guys are, and Yvonne and Meredith too, there’s just not a weak link in the cast. They’re all so good at what they do, and they all do completely different things.

MF: Meredith Hagner, who plays Kyla, has really created a loveable cinematic character over the course of these two movies. What has your experience been like working with her and does she improvise a lot on set?

CT: They all do improvisations. They all improv, I think I can say. She always makes it better. She will go left sometimes when the script says right. She just has this instinct for making everything lift up. She just adds life to it and makes scenes work. The same for Yvonne who just in a certain way has one of the hardest jobs as her character is the sensible center of this comedy. She is still so funny and so good at it, and just the way that she plays off of all of them together and off of each other, it’s a really difficult job and she’s just incredibly talented in that way.

Meredith Hagner as Kyla and John Cena as Ron in 20th Century Studios' Vacation Friends 2.'

(L to R) Meredith Hagner as Kyla and John Cena as Ron in 20th Century Studios’ Vacation Friends 2.’ Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

MF: Can you talk about Ron and Kyla’s parenting skills?

CT: Well, I found it funny that at first you might think that they would be people who would be these ultra-protective parents. We all know people who are wild, and then once they become parents, they become these helicopter parents. But instead, they’re people who think they are and have not changed at all. So they’re still the wild people, but they talk as if they’re these careful parents. But at the same time, everything always works out for them. It always gets to the precipice and they get way too close to the edge that would make someone like me comfortable, and yet it always works out. As a parent myself, sometimes I think a lighter hand might be a good thing every once in a while. Maybe not as light as they do it, but I really enjoyed as a director playing around with them about their attitudes of parenting because I think they’re both characters that you don’t want to see them change. You don’t want to see them suddenly stop being who they are.

MF: Finally, can you talk about filling out the supporting cast with excellent actors like Ronny Chieng, Jamie Hector and Carlos Santos?

CT: Well, I was really blessed because all of them, I mean it when I say there was not a weak link in the bunch. They’re all so good from top to bottom and they all do really different things. Carlos was in maybe three scenes in the first movie, and he just came on and killed it. Everybody loved him. He made everyone on set laugh the entire time. He was just a joy to work with. Jamie Hector, I’d been a fan of many years from ‘The Wire’ and ‘Bosch,’ and it was just an honor to get to work with him. He’s also the world’s nicest guy, despite how scary he looks sometimes when he’s acting. Ronny, I’ve known for many years and been a huge fan of. I had actually written the part with him in mind and it was just a joy to get to work with him on something. I hope to work with all of them again.

Director Clay Tarver on the set of 'Vacation Friends 2.'

Director Clay Tarver on the set of ‘Vacation Friends 2.’ Photo credit: Katrina Marcinowski.

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