‘Dinner For Schmucks’ Director Says Stars Are ‘Brilliant Improvisers’

'I feel extremely lucky to get to work with them,' Jay Roach says of Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and more.

LAS VEGAS — At this very moment, it’s hard to find a hotter trailer on the Web than the one promoting “Dinner for Schmucks,” an offbeat comedy starring Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and Zach Galifianakis that is quickly rocketing up the ranks of must-see summer films. Lucky for us all, then, that we recently caught up with the film’s director Jay Roach — who is ccertainly no schmuck when it comes to comedy.

“Steve Carell and Paul Rudd are very funny guys; I feel extremely lucky to get to work with them,” grinned Roach, the hugely successful filmmaker behind the “Meet the Parents” and “Austin Powers” franchises. “They’re brilliant improvisers — we all know that from ’Anchorman.’ ”

A loose remake of the 1998 French comedy “Le Diner de Cons,” the July 23 film casts Rudd in the familiar role of the straight man, but bumps Carell to a level of sublime character silliness we haven’t seen since the heyday of Brick Tamland.

“Paul plays a character who gets a job, and the initiation into that job [if he wants] the promotion is that he is supposed to bring a special person, a guest, to dinner,” Roach explained of the concept, which has other guests bringing eccentric ventriloquists, mind-readers and such to break bread for their amusement. “The guests don’t realize that they’re being made fun of until afterwards.”

Ultimately, the film goes beyond its laughs to make us explore our desire to be successful — and fear that such success could turn us into, well, jerks. “It’s a weird little convent of rich guys who do this weird dinner,” Roach said of the meal for morons. “Steve Carrell, who is a guest, turns [Rudd’s] life upside-down and turns the dinner upside-down in a very funny way.”

Asked for his favorite improvised scene of spontaneity, Roach pointed to a moment glimpsed in the new trailer. “There’s a scene at the end when they face off against Zach Galifianakis — Steve Carrell works for Zach, and Zach has stolen his wife,” the director explained. “Zach believes he has mind control.

“So he gets Steve Carell in a trance — which of course only works because Steve Carell believes he’s in a trance — and those three guys improvising off of each other was electric,” Roach said of the film’s comedic climax. “There are about another dozen off-center characters around the table too, including a vulture trainer and a guy with a giant beard — it literally has swirls, he’s a beard-competition guy. [There’s also] a lady who talks to dead pets, and Jeff Dunham, the great ventriloquist, [plays a man] with a wife who is a puppet who’s constantly trashing him.

“I love it when the secondary characters come in and stir the pot in a new way, partway through the movie,” he added. “Jemaine Clement is in it too, from ’Flight of the Conchords,’ and he’s fantastic … it’s a table full of interesting, off-center people.”

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