'Ibiza' Director Reveals the Best Way to Make a Cocaine-Fueled Romantic Comedy (Exclusive)

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Photo by Aleksandar Letic / Netflix

So, you want to make a movie about the nightlife capital of the Mediterranean, complete with exclusive clubs, endless cocaine and a pulsing EDM soundtrack? And you want it to be a buddy comedy, an R-rated romp about three best girlfriends (played by Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer and 2 Dope Queens' Phoebe Robinson) getting into drug-and-sex-fueled hijinks? And you want it to be a romance, a story about girl meets boy, girl falls in full-on love at first sight with a world-famous DJ?

"I've always loved rom-coms, and I've always felt like they, at times, will get knocked for not being funny enough," director Alex Richanback explained. "There's a whole era of rom-coms that are super funny, and I love the idea of being able to do something that is all the way a romance and all the way a comedy, so you're not compromising either."

Thus came Ibiza, a rom-com about 20-something Harper (Jacobs), in Barcelona for a business trip her besties decide to crash, as she pursues a DJ (Richard Madden) across Spain. Richanbach, who cut his teeth at Funny or Die (notably, on "Frenemies" with Ibiza screenwriter, Lauryn Kohn), phoned ET to discuss Magic Mike's influence, doing improv and why he's perfectly happy to be streaming on Netflix: "I thought, like, 'Well, the first time I saw Indiana Jones, I was at home watching it on VHS...'"

ET: Every movie has its own path to the screen, and this one has had quite a journey since Lauryn's script was bought back in 2014. When did you come in and where was the project at?

Alex Richanbach: I think I was officially attached late November of 2016. Lauryn and I had worked together for a long time and she called up me one day, in like October of that year, and was just like, "We're gonna make Ibiza" -- at the time, I guess it was called I'm in Love With the DJ -- and, you know, "I'd love for you to come onboard." I had always loved the script. When we were working together at Funny or Die, she had shown me a rough draft, and I had always loved it and felt like it would be a really great project for us to collaborate on. So, at the time, it had been developed by the studios for a while, and she brought me in and we were going to do it at Netflix, so, at that point, [she] and I got it going with our producers in terms of finding the cast and then tailoring the script to that cast.

What movies did you watch or reference while you were prepping for this?

I watched a lot of movies getting ready for it. Our movie takes so many different journeys that I did reference a lot of different things in my research, but something I always look at is Lost in Translation. Step Brothers. I actually watched Magic Mike XXL quite a few times on this one, because I thought that there were a lot of comparisons, in just having a super fun movie about a trip that is really funny but also really open and fun and honest. I also watched 10 -- I don't know if you know 10 -- it's an old Blake Edwards, Dudley Moore movie about a midlife crisis. It's one that I've always really loved and often watch in reference. And then, alternatively I watch a lot of French New Wave stuff. I watch a lot of Sofia Coppola, a lot of Adam McKay stuff. It was all over the map, because I really wanted it to be able to be as big and funny as a McKay-type film but also to be super, like, emotional and have that whole Sofia Coppola-type texture to it.

It's interesting to hear you list your influences because, like when the trailer dropped, you see very easy comparisons to Bridesmaids. After watching Ibiza, I'm not sure how much I agree with those, but I guess it's because it's an R-rated comedy starring women and there still aren't many of those.

And that's a movie I love, as well, but I agree with you in that, it shares a lot of qualities -- in they're both movies that are really fun to watch and really funny and have an amazing cast -- but I think I saw other movies that I thought were more tailored to our film. There's just a lot of McKay and Sofia Coppola references throughout the movie. And, from a production standpoint, our club scenes I would even reference Saving Private Ryan, from the standpoint of, like, setting up this huge physical production and then shooting it really documentary style. Like, the idea of this is all happening for real and we're just putting cameras in it. That was how I approached our club: Let's actually build these thousand-person club experiences and we were really playing the music and we really had the DJ going and we really had 1,000 people dancing, and we just did all the comedy and all the performance right there in the middle of it.

Gillian and Vanessa and Phoebe are so good and, more so, so believable as a group of friends. Is that casting, or bonding before shooting, or just look?

It's all of it. When we went out to cast it, that was my number one focus, was to find people that had really strong individual voices that LK and I could tailor the script to. So, it starts off as just bringing in people who are really individual and have their own voice and are super funny. And when I saw the three of them together for the first time, you just knew immediately that that was the group. We saw them all read the script together for the first time and we were like, Not only did we want to watch that movie, if we're going to be in Europe together for six months, that's who we want to be with. [Laughs] One of my favorite parts about the movie is that when I watch it still, I do feel like it's what it's like to be in Europe with those three. It's not a huge leap. Like, that is what it's like to hang out with them. I was actually at dinner with Vanessa last night and we were talking about that. She felt the same way when she watched the movie. She was like, "Man, it really felt like what it's like to hang out with all of us."

So, you're saying you did a ton of cocaine while you were there.

[Laughs] We did not. We did not. But we did eat almost every meal together, stayed in all the same hotels, spent all of our weekend time together. It was a lot of us walking around Europe, hanging out, and when we got to the beach, we were all swimming in the ocean together on the weekend. It was just a blast. Gillian, Vanessa and Phoebe were, like, shopping together on their off days. If there was a coffee shop where we shot the film, if you showed up there on a Saturday or Sunday morning, you would see the entire Ibiza team just sitting there having breakfast together. We really spent all of our time together.

Ibiza Premiere, Gillian Jacobs, Vanessa Bayer
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Netflix

Vanessa, in particular, is hilarious in this. She had so many moments where, immediately, I said, "We need to rewind that and watch it 15 more times." Is that scripted? Or did you let her run free?

It's a big combination of both. I do a ton of improv on set -- and that's something that both the writer, LK, and myself, coming up at Funny or Die and working under Adam McKay, improv has always been a part of how we work. So, that was really important in casting, that all three of them be really comfortable with improv. And I was so excited to cast Vanessa in this, because I was such a fan of hers but I had always seen her playing big characters -- which she's brilliant at -- and I was so excited to see, What is Vanessa like when she's playing a real person for a whole movie, you know? And she just brought sooo much to it. I really just think she's one of the top comedic performers in the world, and we got to witness it on a daily basis.

What was her most brilliant adlib?

Oh, my god. Well, her Barcelona business meeting scene near the end of the film, I mean, that was an entire day of that. So, that one was particularly amazing. We did the elliptical machine [scene, and] I think she was on that elliptical machine for, like, two straight hours. It was crazy. She was just sweating and laughing -- and that's the other thing, is she's one of those people who, once she figures out what the joke of it is, once she starts to hit it, there is no amount of physical exhaustion that will get in the way of her keeping going on that joke. But, like, her and Diego (Félix Gómez) by the beach-- I can't pick! I can't pick one out. Every day when we would start improvising, it was just the most fun.

How did you land on Richard Madden? Are you a big Game of Thrones fan?

You know what's funny is I am now -- I've been watching it while we've been editing the movie. Like, I'll come home and watch an episode every night and I love it. I had not watched it before. One of our producers had worked with him before, and she really, heavily recommended him. My wife is a big Game of Thrones fan, so I checked with her and she was like, "Oh man, he is really good." So, I went and watched some of his scenes from Game of Thrones and thought, "Wow. He's fantastic." I was already in Europe, so I got on Skype with him and I just loved him right away. I always joke that it was love at first Skype. [Laughs] But really, we just hit it off so quickly and immediately saw the character the same way and he was really excited about the idea of coming out and doing improv and getting to do some comedy. His chemistry test, so to speak, was that immediately I was like, I'm having so much chemistry with this guy, he's so fun to talk to, that I can't imagine Gillian won't.

When I was doing research for this, I saw that there were emails from the Sony Hack about the movie, and one said there was "one too many cunnilingus set pieces and way too much cocaine" -- but you seem to have not been deterred by that, which I was happy about.

[Laughs] I didn't know that! I think we just wanted to make the funniest movie that we could. We had such funny people that you can go places, because everyone in the movie is so sweet, you know? To me, there's nobody in the movie that I watch and I go, "Oh, that person's bad." Everybody in the movie is so sweet and fun and just, like, on a vacation that I think we hit the exact right quotient. [Laughs]

Is there such a thing as too much, though? Or too big? I'm thinking of the semen stain scene in the hotel room, which is so big and so insane -- and funny. I guess my question is, how do you decide how much semen is the right amount of semen for that joke?

[Laughs] Well, you know, it's trial and error. You get the camera up in the room and you're just kind of playing. We always shoot a ton of footage and a ton of different takes and a ton of different versions, so then you give yourself the opportunity to get into the edit bay and figure out what's the right amount. I think the trick to it not assuming that you always have the right answer, but giving yourself the options. That was certainly a really fun day on set, because we were just goofing off, like, "Let's try more! Let's try more!" and seeing what makes us laugh. It's just trial and error. I would say the secret is that there is no secret. There's no trick to any of it. You just keep trying till you get it right.

Well, thank you so much for hopping on the phone with me, and congratulations again on the movie.

Oh, man, it was an absolute pleasure. The only other thing, if I may, I just want to say, Gillian -- I wanted to add a little something about her. Just that that movie can't work without the performance of Gillian Jacobs. Her ability to carry the comedy and to carry the story and the romance is, like, unparalleled. The whole movie works because Gillian is so good in it.

At this point, I just assume Gillian is going to be great in everything. I'm already sure she'll be great in Ibiza 2.

[Laughs] From your mouth to God's ears!

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