The Bad Guys’ Director Shares Connecting With the Film’s Male Friendships

The Bad Guys is, on paper, a somewhat basic new Dreamworks film, highlighting a group of former criminals who decided to "go good" as a cover only for their efforts to reveal more about themselves. A beautifully animated film with a crisp and controlled sense of action, the story slowly peels back the layers of the characters and exposes its own big beating heart, elevating the story beyond any familiar tropes to delve into a heartfelt story about friendship. It all adds up to an impressive product, especially for the first feature-length film from veteran animator Pierre Perifel.

Ahead of the film's April 22 release, CBR sat down to speak with The Bad Guys director Pierre Perifel about the excitement of tackling the animated film as his feature directorial debut. He also dove into which characters grew to become his favorite members of the cast and why it was important for the film to be so focused on the emotional aspect of male friendship.

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CBR: Congratulations on the film! It's super impressive to see such a strong directorial debut from you. What was it like stepping into a film this ambitious as your directorial debut on a feature film level?

Pierre Perifel: Well, I got very lucky because it was material that I was completely connecting with. It was a story that I was really connecting with, characters that I was connecting with on a personal level, as well as on an artistic level, in terms of what I could bring to the table with my own knowledge and my own influences and training. Therefore, I was able to put everything in this story with the blessing of the studio.

I think it helped me tremendously to go through the whole process with no massive issues. Really, the studio was incredibly supportive. The crew was so in tune with where I wanted to go and really just [helped] me [in] getting there. Again, remember we are working in a studio like Dreamworks Animation, where people know each other really well, and we are all very close. You feel supported, you feel helped throughout the whole process.

So even though it's my first time, I think it almost feels like it's a team effort. It's not just me. It's like, you have a conundrum, and you don't know where you're going? Well, your friend is going to be there to help you and just help you figure it out, which was incredible. It was a great adventure. So it didn't feel as... It felt scary at first. Then, slowly, you realized, "Oh, my God, I'm not by myself. Great. So let's do this together."

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The throughline of the film is these five characters who you immediately assume are threats, revealing themselves to be far more complex and relatable characters. Which one surprised you the most over the course of production?

Well, this is a very long process, and you kind of discover the characters little bit by little bit. When you do a voice recording, and you have an amazing performance by one of the actors, then you're like, "Oh, my God, I discovered this." Then you have an animator giving you an animation test, and you're like, "This is exactly that. That's amazing."

I think the character that surprised me the most... I mean, it's not surprising so much, but that grew... We struggled to get Foxington's voice to be the right voice for her -- not the voice itself, but the character's voice. What was her angle? Where was she coming from, and what were the values that she was carrying with her, and who is she compared to Wolf? I think we needed a character that was incredibly charismatic and yet playful at the same time so she didn't come... Because she's the antagonist at first, so we needed her to be the antagonist and yet lovable.

So it was quite difficult for us to write her until [Zazie Beetz] came in and just knocked it out of the park. The charm of what she brought was incredible. The animator taking that character over after that was just so inspired by that voice and what she brought in. She saw those steps, [and] she was like, "My gosh, she's great." So that character became so much more. I think she's one of my favorite characters.

This is also a film largely about the friendship between two grown men that's willing to get openly emotional about it -- which just isn't something you see very often.

No, you don't... I think the idea of as long as you're honest with your best friends, and you're able to peel off the layers of protection that you have -- and these guys have tons, obviously, because they had to protect themselves -- when you peel off those layers and be vulnerable, even with your best friends, I think that's where the real connection exists.

I think it's quite an important message there. I think that's exactly what happens. This is why it's kind of a bromance because it's not a coming of age, but that's the idea. It's like the two characters just reinventing themselves.

The Bad Guys comes to theaters April 22.

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