The list of directors who’ve remade their own films isn’t long, but it includes some august names. Frank Capra, George Cukor, Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Michael Haneke, Takashi Shimizu all did it, either to redo a black-and-white film in Technicolor, or lavish a modest picture with a bigger budget, or reshoot a foreign-language work in English.
This week, Quebec director Ken Scott joins them. His English-language remake of 2011’s Starbuck, now called Delivery Man, opens on Friday, starring Vince Vaughn as David, an irrepressible man-child who learns that his 20-year-old sperm donations have resulted in 533 children.
Because Starbuck was a hit in Canada and a prize-winner at some U.S. festivals, remaking it wasn’t about changing it; it was about choosing an American partner who was equally passionate about it – Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks – and then integrating a few cultural details. “It’s high concept, but we explore some real themes about parenthood and responsibility, so it’s also poignant,” Scott said in a phone interview this week. (It’s a good year for Canadian directors working in the U.S. In addition to Scott, Jean-Marc Valléee’s Dallas Buyers Club is generating Oscar buzz for star Matthew McConaughey, Denis Villeneuve scored with Prisoners, and Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot premiered at TIFF.)
Much of the cast and crew of Delivery Man had seen Starbuck. But on the American set, “it was important that we all forgot about the original and got down to making new decisions,” Scott says. “I was adamant about not wanting to talk about the original.”
One character who gets more screen time in the new version is Emma, David’s long-suffering girlfriend, played by British Columbia actress Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother). During her recent stop in Toronto, I asked her about the eternal appeal of the boy-man. I expected her to say that women like to fix them, but her answer surprised me.
“I think for women who are career-driven and focused, there’s something appealing about men who are able to float through life,” she said. “The fact that they don’t have any stability or security doesn’t bother them. They don’t have to send that thank-you card. It’s a lack of awareness that seems peaceful.”
Smulders, by contrast, seems almost terrifyingly together. At 31, she’s wrapping up a nine-year run on How I Met Your Mother, a show whose ratings, against the norm, have increased as it’s gone on. “Isn’t it crazy?” she asks. “I was 22 when I got it, a Canadian down in L.A. for pilot season, just excited that I had a work visa for the next six months.” She had a small role in The Avengers and a cameo in its spinoff series, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She has an actor husband, Taran Killam; a four-year-old daughter, Shaelyn; and zero per cent body fat, judging by the snug sheath she’s wearing, which is the exact right shade of cobalt for this exact moment. To top it off, she’s almost finished with her Christmas shopping.
“I know, it’s ridiculous,” she says. “But there are so many people I need to ship stuff to.” She lives by checklist, hand-written on a pad – “It’s so satisfying to scratch things off” – and recently began rising at 6 a.m. to get everything done. “I function better when things are in their place.”
Smulders is often cast in what she calls “tough-women roles,” but for Delivery Man, she was drawn to Emma’s moments of vulnerability. “Her relationship with David is so surrounded by drama,” she says. “It was important to me for people to have a reason to root for this couple.”
For Scott, the remake gives him the opportunity to share a story he believes in with a wider audience. “Not a lot of directors have this chance, to redo their own movies. I was excited to direct it the first time, and excited all over again the second.”