ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley about the action fantasy comedy movie (watch and read more interviews). The directing duo discussed the freedom of their source material and Justice Smith’s comedic timing. The film is now available to purchase digitally and will arrive on 4K Ultra HD SteelBook, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on May 30.
“A charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers embark on an epic quest to retrieve a long-lost relic, but their charming adventure goes dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people,” reads the movie’s synopsis.
Tyler Treese: Jonathan, Dungeons & Dragons works great as an adaptation because you have this established world and framework, but there’s also so much freedom with it. You get to be the dungeon master and tell the story that you guys wanted to tell. How interesting was it that you have that benefit of being in a franchise, but you weren’t really tied to a particular tone?
Jonathan Goldstein: It’s kind of the perfect scenario in a way because, as you said, it has 50 years of lore and monsters and spells and locations to draw upon, but we’re not married to any of those. We’re not obliged to use any one story because the process of playing D&D is creating your world and your campaign.
So we did see our roles as the dungeon masters of the film. We started with not really, “Okay, where do we have to go and what kind of monsters do we have to see?” But rather, “What’s our campaign? Who’s in our party? What do they consist of? What are the classes we want to include and how best do we have a fun contrasting group of people who represent the kinds of things you’d encounter playing the game?”
John, I love the whole sequence with the fat dragon. Everybody’s looking forward to seeing a threatening creature, and we get this cute, awkward, chubby guy, but that fight still provides so many thrills. Can you speak to taking it in such a fun direction rather than just a standard fantasy dragon?
John Francis Daley: Yeah, I mean, you hit the nail on the head. There are so many standard fantasy dragons that we felt like it was imperative to subvert what people would expect — especially since it’s a D&D movie, you have that allowance. There’s something that really embraces the bizarre and unique in D&D, so it didn’t feel like we were betraying anything by doing that. Themberchaud actually exists in the lore. We had the idea of this heavyset dragon in mind when we wrote it — before we even knew that that character existed — but then we were able to give him his name and sort of embrace the thing that makes him so special. But we also knew that we wanted the scene to have high stakes throughout.
We never wanted to undercut those stakes by having the thing be so absurd and non-threatening that it was really important to us that he still poses a legitimate threat to our group. Every time our group feels like they’ve gotten away, suddenly he comes right back. He is a relentless dragon, despite the fact that he can barely fly and he has trouble walking on his four feet. That, to us, is just a really fun mix of tones where you’re laughing one second and you’re on the edge of your seat the next.
Jonathan, you both are such a great directing duo, and I’m always curious — obviously you get along and you can share creative vision, but I’m sure that disagreements will pop up. How do you guys work through those and resolve them?
Jonathan Goldstein: We’ve got so many years of collaboration under our belt that we generally don’t dig in on things because we trust the other’s instincts. So if one of us really isn’t feeling like something works, I think, ultimately, we’ll come around to a solution that we both feel good about. So same as in the writing, you know? If there’s a line that one of us doesn’t feel really works, then we’ll go back in and and improve it until we both feel good about it.
John, Chris Pine gets to show his full range in this performance. It’s so great when you have an actor that can be doing comedy one moment, but he has a heartfelt emotional storyline as well and he’s in these great action sequences. How great was it having somebody that could do it all and was perfect for that main character?
John Francis Daley: I can’t speak highly enough of Chris Pine. I think what he represents is an actor that is that really stands apart from most of leading men these days and really harkens back to your Paul Newmans, your Harrison Fords, someone that can so adeptly be able to juggle multiple tones without undercutting any one of them. So the fact that he’s able to find a laugh in a moment where people cry in the next minute is a skillset that you don’t often see and one that we definitely mined the most of when we were making this film.
It was the reason why we always wanted him for this, is because not only does he have that leading man charisma and confidence, he also has a vulnerability that he’s totally comfortable to be able to embrace. I mean, it’s weird — those vulnerabilities and those moments of weakness are something that, very often, leading men these days are uncomfortable to portray because they don’t want to hurt their brand. And, to me, that is such a shame because it creates a character that you as an audience member can get behind and relate to, even though he’s 40 times more handsome than any one of us. [Laugh].
Jonathan, I loved how you both handled this ensemble cast. How was making sure that each member of the core party had that overall storyline and arc? It could have been so easy to just focus in on one more than the rest because they’re all so strong, but you were able to balance it out.
Jonathan Goldstein: That started with the writing. We wanted to make sure that everybody had a journey to travel individually and an arc to complete, and some of those overlap, but I just think it’s more engaging for an audience and you invest more if you can see the weaknesses, where the people they ‘re following need to grow and improve, and then over the course of the two hours, they make that progress. Ultimately, they’re all part of this family, this found family, that makes each of them stronger. That’s really the core of D&D, too — the game. It’s that everyone has their weaknesses. Not one person can do it all alone. So you rely on your compatriots.
John, there’s so much more potential for future D&D movies. Would you like to play in that universe again, be it a sequel or some other type of film?
John Francis Daley: I think it’s too early to say. There definitely has been talk of sequels, but I think, for us … all the pieces have to fit together in the right way. We have to make sure that we’re gauging the appetite to the audience and make sure that they want another one. Also, just the fact that we spent four years of our lives on this thing, pouring every piece of ourselves into this film … it’s going to take a minute for us to catch our breath and decide if we want to jump headfirst into it again.
Jonathan, I just love Justice Smith in this movie. He is regularly stealing scenes and so funny. What impressed you most about just working with him? It seems like he has such natural comedic timing.
Jonathan Goldstein: He does. I think his British accent probably impressed me the most. I mean, it’s so good that Hugh Grant thought that he was British. [Laugh]. No, Justice really is a scene-stealer and he’s a character that people were really drawn to, I think because he represents that imperfect, self-doubting guy. I know I showed it to my kid and John’s kid and some of the kids in his class and asked them afterwards who was their favorite character, and it was Simon. I just think there’s a relatability to him. He’s so likable.
John Francis Daley: I would also add that there’s something very aspirational in that character, in that while he doesn’t have a lot of confidence when we first meet him, he has this incredible power within him that is just waiting to come out. I think there’s something really great about that for people to see, just the potential of what you can be if you really believe in yourself.
John, I was curious, what was the biggest lesson that you learned from Game Night that you were able to apply in this movie?
John Francis Daley: I think the biggest thing that we learned was that you can show a movie in a way that isn’t necessarily comedic and still get laughs from your audience. It was a conscious decision for us to approach that film visually. Like it was a thriller — a David Fincher movie, if you will. And that felt kind of risky because we had never seen a comedy done that way. We also wondered, “Is it going to kill the jokes? Is it going to make it confusing for the audience?”
I think it only helped to bolster those comedic moments because you’re raising the stakes, you’re feeling the danger, and that elicits more laughs. So when we went into Dungeons and Dragons, we knew that we could shoot it like a fantasy film without it, hurting the levity that we also wanted to portray in the film.