A psychological Thriller with Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett, Ian Nelson and Kristin Chenoweth. directed by Rob Cohen, written by Barbara Curry, produced by Jason Blum, John Jacobs, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Benny Medina, Jennifer Lopez. Executive Poducers Couper Samuelson, Jeanette Volturno-Brill, Zac Unterman.
Jennifer Lopez leads the cast in The Boy Next Door, a psychological thriller that explores a forbidden attraction that goes much too far. Directed by Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) and written by Barbara Curry, the film also stars Ryan Guzman, John Corbett and Kristin Chenoweth.
The Boy Next Door is produced by Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions, Lopez and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas of Nuyorican Productions, Benny Medina of The Medina Company and John Jacobs of Smart Entertainment.
There is little that’s more overpowering, reckless and all-consuming than intense desire. For some, that desire bleeds into obsession. Global superstar Jennifer Lopez Maid in Manhattan, Out of Sight, Monster-in-Law, The Wedding Planner) leads the cast in The Boy Next Door, a psychological thriller directed by industry veteran Rob Cohen (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The Fast and the Furious) that explores a forbidden attraction that goes much too far.
In the film, Lopez stars as Claire Peterson, a high-school literature teacher struggling to get back in the dating game after separating from the cheating Garrett (John Corbett of NBC’s Parenthood, Showtime’s United States of Tara), her husband of 18 years. As their teenage son, Kevin (Ian Nelson of The Hunger Games, The Best of Me), deals with being bullied by his schoolmates, it’s as if Claire’s prayers are answered when a handsome and charismatic 19-year-old named Noah (Ryan Guzman of Step Up series, TV’s Pretty Little Liars) befriends Kevin after moving in next door to care for his sick uncle—following the tragic deaths of both his mother and father. Though he becomes friendly with Kevin, Noah’s attraction to Claire at first sight is more than palpable.
Although Noah spends the majority of his summer hanging out with Kevin, teaching him how to talk to girls and fix cars, he never stops looking at Claire out of the corner of his eye. Claire welcomes the friendship, and subsequently the flirtation, inviting Noah over for dinner while his uncle is in the hospital, and engaging in conversations about his love of literature. Claire’s seemingly harmless flirtation continues to encourage Noah’s behavior, and before she knows it, he’s fallen hard for her. The only catch? Noah has enrolled as a fifth-year senior at Claire’s school.
Then one night, at the behest of Vicky (Primetime Emmy and Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth of TV’s Glee, Pushing Daisies), her best friend and the vice principal at her high school, Claire goes on a blind date that goes horribly awry. Feeling dejected once again, Claire comes home, only to receive a call from Noah asking for her help with a cooking “emergency.” Once there, Claire is instantly at ease, even as Noah begins showering her with compliments. Just as she’s about to leave, Noah takes this opportunity to show her how he feels. He begins kissing her and taking off her clothes, even as she’s gently pushing him away. Although she knows it’s wrong, this is the first man who has made her feel worthy in a very long time. In a moment of weakness, she surrenders and they have a brief, but extremely intense and steamy, night together.
The next morning, Claire wakes up to the cold reality of her perilous error. Hurrying to leave, she apologizes profusely to Noah for her egregious lapse in judgment, but his once charming and flirtatious demeanor turns quickly into a dangerous, violent obsession. After his series of threats and an embarrassing piece of blackmail showing proof of their intimate night together, Claire realizes she cannot combat him alone and confides in Vicky about what happened. They work to safeguard Claire’s family.
Noah’s fatal attraction will force Claire to her limits as she protects her world from being torn apart and her family from a psychotic danger.
Marking director Cohen’s 15th film for Universal Pictures, The Boy Next Door is written by Barbara Curry in her first produced feature and is the latest collaboration between Universal and blockbuster producer Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions (The Purge series, Ouija). In addition to Blum, Lopez and Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas (Maid in Manhattan, TV’s The Fosters) of Nuyorican Productions, Benny Medina (TV’s The Fosters, upcoming Wonder Woman) of The Medina Company and Jonh Jacobs (Ted series, Blades of Glory) of Smart Entertainment also produce.
The psychological thriller is lensed by David McFarland (The Black Tulip, upcoming The List), with Charles Varga ((500) Days of Summer, Alex Cross) setting the scene as production designer. Edited by Michel Aller (The Forger, Daddy Day Camp), Cohen’s behind-the-scenes team is rounded out with music by Randy Edelman (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Leap Year) and Nathan Barr (TV’s True Blood, The Big Wedding) and costume design by Courtney Hoffman (upcoming The Hateful Eight, Palo Alto).
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Originally planning to develop the film on a larger scale, producer John Jacobs brought writer Barbara Curry’s The Boy Next Door, which landed on the 2011 Blood List of the industry’s most-liked genre scripts, to Universal Pictures.
Curry, a former federal prosecutor, was determined to create a strong and contemporary female protagonist with her inaugural screenplay, and Jacobs felt she did so quite successfully. Says Curry: “I wanted Claire to be a strong character who is deeply flawed. But Claire’s flaw is not that she succumbs to temptation by sleeping with this young man. Her real flaw is that she can’t forgive her husband for his infidelity. It’s a flaw of pride, really. I thought it would be interesting to have this strong, proud woman make a mistake that’s equal to her husband’s, so she would finally understand how he could have made his mistake and be deserving of forgiveness. That’s the moral of this story. We can’t be so strong that we are unable to forgive.”
The writer imagined Claire as a woman at a crossroads. With a pending divorce from her once-beloved husband, struggling to balance her work as a high school teacher with a teenage son who doesn’t fit in with his classmates, Claire has very little time to consider what she wants or needs. Curry walks us through where we find her protagonist: “I knew both male and female audience members would need to get behind Claire, even though she makes this terrible error in judgment. So I tried to stack the deck against her. She is extremely vulnerable when she meets Noah. Like anyone might feel when their spouse cheats on them, Claire feels worthless, unattractive, unloved. And here comes Noah, someone who seems to understand her and appreciate her. There is a physical attraction between them, certainly. But it’s more than that. There is a real emotional connection, a meeting of the minds. And that is something Claire really needs at this low point in her life.”
It wasn’t until Jacobs met with Jason Blum to discuss the Blumhouse model, at the suggestion of Universal’s co-president of production, Peter Cramer—whom Jacobs credits with shepherding the film—that it was decided that the intimate thriller would fit perfectly within Blum’s formula. Blum loved the concept and jumped at the opportunity to produce the film. The psychological thriller found its home, and The Boy Next Door was green-lit.
Of the journey, Jacobs shares: “I worked with Barbara Curry for quite some time to find the right home for the project. Zac [Unterman, executive producer] and I thought the concept was one of those great thrillers in the Joe Eszterhas vein that you just don’t see anymore, classics like Basic Instinct or Fatal Attraction, but with a woman playing the Michael Douglas role. It was too great an opportunity to pass up.”
After an initial meeting with Blum, in which they discussed potential projects for her, multihyphenate Jennifer Lopez was drawn to this particular story. Blum divulges some details of that first meeting: “Jennifer had just changed agents, and her new one told her, ‘Here are five things you need to do,’ and I was lucky enough to be on that list.” He laughs, “A meeting with me may have been the fifth item, but it was there!”
Initially, Lopez had simply signed on to star, but once the team tailored the story line to her sensibilities, the producers took it to Rob Cohen to direct. Blum shares: “Rob was one of the first directors we sent it to. He responded quickly and had terrific ideas about how to make the film fit that perfect trifecta of thriller, sexiness and action.”
Lopez adds: “Once Rob came on and started adding more elements, it took everything to another level. With his experience on action movies, we were able to take this character-driven drama and create a roller-coaster ride of a movie that’s not only scary and disturbing, but also exciting.”
Over the past decade, Lopez has produced primarily on the TV side, but with Cohen on board and Lopez’s excitement for his vision, she decided she wanted to produce the film alongside Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas under their Nuyorican Productions banner. It was serendipitous that, years prior, Goldsmith-Thomas and Lopez had discussed making a movie in which the main character made a mistake and had to deal with the collateral damage of that error.
Goldsmith-Thomas was particularly taken with Cohen’s vision. She shares: “Rob’s absolutely a guy’s guy, but he also has a poetic heart. The mythological overtones of the script touched him: the fact that Noah was somebody striving to create his own tragedy, his own story and be his own hero. At the same time, Rob was able to add a lot of action to it and imbue it with sexiness.”
Well-known to audiences as a director of big-budget studio films such as XXX and The Fast and the Furious, Cohen had long wanted to work with Lopez. He gives: “I read the script and understood exactly what they liked about it, and knowing that Jennifer would be starring was a huge draw for me. She is a completely self-made entertainer who came from the Bronx, and since Selena, she’s carved a series of very memorable performances that have one thing in common: a natural, emotional level.”
When we first meet Claire, she is still reeling from the betrayal of her husband nine months prior. After finding out that he was cheating on her with his much younger assistant, she has separated from him and lives with her 17-year-old son, Kevin. After Noah befriends Kevin and spends weeks flirting with Claire, their one intense night of pleasure turns into a series of terrifying events for her.
To make sure The Boy Next Door remained a realistic thriller, the filmmakers were careful with the development of Noah’s character and actions. Cohen shares: “Noah never becomes a monster in the sense of a horror film. He’s a psychotic guy, madly in love and blinded to all reality by this love, and goes off the deep end.”
With their breadth of experience, the one thing Jacobs, Goldsmith-Thomas, Lopez, Medina and Cohen hadn’t done before was make a film using the Blumhouse model.
Cohen, for one, was excited to move in this direction: “It became clear to me several years ago that the industry was going to divide into $150 million to $250 million blockbuster franchises or incredibly inexpensive films. Having this opportunity was something I sought because I wanted to challenge myself to create this and make it feel like one of those big-budget films.”
Lopez elaborates: “Blumhouse has created a great model in which you can find material you’re interested in and not be at the mercy of endless development. We thought it was exciting to have this project, a film that validates the idea that quality- driven projects don’t have to be expensive.”
For Blum, a new aspect came to light when developing The Boy Next Door, one that’s never been part of the Blumhouse model…until now. He explains: “To make our movies, we look for a director first; we identify a director whose work we admire, and we pitch our model to them and see if it’s a fit. For The Boy Next Door, that didn’t happen. We had Jennifer on board first, which is something I’m proud to have done.”
Forbidden Desire: Claire Meets Noah
The key to a successful psychological thriller is for the audience to be able to imagine that they could find themselves in the same situation as at least one of the film’s characters. As for the role of Claire, Lopez was drawn to the character’s authenticity. The actress/producer shares: “I felt that Claire’s vulnerability to her situation and circumstances makes her human. When her husband cheats on her with another woman, she feels unworthy, undesirable, dismissed. Her attraction to Noah stems from his coming in at this time and making her finally feel attractive and wanted.”
Ryan Guzman, who is best known for his roles in the Step Up series, first heard about the role of Noah, the 19-year-old who’s as charming as he is evil, through his manager. Guzman learned that Lopez wanted him to participate in a table read. He laughs: “When I was told that she wanted me to come in, I thought it was a prank. But they assured me it was real, so I read the script. I loved the character because Noah was so dark and completely different from anything I’d ever done.”
Cohen shares what drew him to Guzman for the role: “We had a cold reading of the script one Tuesday night at Jennifer’s, and the first guy who walks in was Ryan. We were amazed, but he was the first actor so we thought, ‘He’s great, but let’s see who else is out there.’ We read about 150 other young actors, but we finally got to the point where we realized that the best guy we had seen was Ryan.”
Lopez adds that she appreciated the honesty of his performance: “We knew that it was such a challenging role for any young actor, but Ryan came in and right away showed us he knew what he had to do to play this character. We did make him read several times, because going from the boy next door to a sociopath is no small feat for an actor of any age or experience.”
As it turns out, Guzman connected with both sides of his character. He elaborates: “We’ve all been there with our first loves, where we didn’t know how to handle the love or how to interpret what the new feelings were. This was an opportunity for me to experience that again, and obviously show a dark side that I’ve never shown anybody. That was the attraction to the whole character, demonstrating that I could be a bad guy.”
Getting into the character of Noah required intimate and lengthy dialogue between Guzman and Cohen. Cohen shares: “We talked a lot about what is the meaning of obsession, what happens when you’re obsessed. We discussed the trigger mechanisms and how the obsession has nothing to do with the target of your obsession, and it becomes a horrible round-robin of need and want and self-loathing and punishment and anger at the object of your love for not giving you what you want. So we built it up, scene by scene. I drew him a chart that showed levels of intensity where the mania was starting to happen…and where it had clearly become a departure from reality.”
Cohen knew that Lopez was the perfect partner to help Guzman discover Noah. Of his star and producer, he commends: “Jennifer is a totally open partner in achieving a scene or moment. She is so good at carving out moments and communicating her emotions without it being a wholly intellectual thing; it’s just natural. It’s hard not to love Jennifer.”
Guzman concurs with Cohen’s assessment of Lopez: “At the beginning of filming, I was nervous. Of course I knew I was going to have incredibly intimate scenes with Jennifer, and I was still unsure of how to play it. But as soon as we got going, I felt
The Boy Next Door Production Information 8 at ease. I learned so much just from watching her work. We worked incredibly well
together to make the story line as good as it could possibly be.”
Collateral Damage: Assembling the Supporting Cast
After casting Guzman, filmmakers went on to find the perfect actor to play Claire’s ne’er-do-well husband, Garrett. The kind of actor they had in mind was someone who is intrinsically good, someone people like and would be happy to see rehabilitate himself. Working with casting director Nancy Nayor (Ouija, The Grudge), they got their first-choice actor, one who fit every criterion: John Corbett.
Cohen discusses Corbett’s casting: “I loved him on Sex and the City and Parenthood. When he came in to audition, he was the biggest teddy bear, instantly lovable and funny as all get-out. We couldn’t have done any better.”
For Corbett, the draw was that his character was grounded in reality. He gives: “It’s tough to play someone who does hurtful things, but what I loved about Garrett was that he recognized his mistakes, even if it was several months later, and was trying to mend what he had broken: namely, his relationships with Claire and Kevin.”
Lopez commends her on-screen husband: “I have loved John’s work since watching him go head-to-head with Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie on Sex and the City— you just can’t get more lovable than that. He brings such depth to the character, and we are incredibly lucky that he came on board.”
Primetime Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth joined the production after expressing interest in playing a character who was a departure from many of her previous roles. As Claire’s best friend, Vicky provides support, encouragement and not-so-subtle thoughts on Claire’s love life. Chenoweth shares: “Vicky just wants Claire to be happy! I loved playing this character because she was just like one of my girlfriends—definitely has her friend’s best interest at heart and would go to the ends of the earth to protect her. I also enjoyed being part of this kind of thriller. I’ve never done anything like it before and the challenges were welcome ones.”
Of working with Chenoweth, Lopez shares: “After I had heard Kristin wanted to try her hand at a thriller, she was my ideal choice for the role of Vicky. You don’t come across talent like her every day, and we knew how fortunate we were to have her in our film.”
While the majority of the supporting cast was easily locked in, filmmakers had a tougher time finding the perfect actor to play Kevin. Goldsmith-Thomas gives: “We had been looking and hadn’t found anyone. Finally, we saw Ian [Nelson], and he was just the actor we had envisioned for the role of Kevin.”
Nelson spent innumerable hours researching Kevin’s computer interests to make sure he would accurately portray the character. Nelson shares: “After I signed on, I realized that a physical change was necessary if I wanted to accurately portray Kevin. This resulted in a 20-pound weight gain. However, aside from the physicality, I always saw Kevin as a goodhearted, complex teenager just struggling to grow up. Under Rob’s direction, and through my collaboration with Jen, John and Ryan, I was afforded the creative space to create the Kevin I had always imagined. Despite our short shooting schedule, Rob always ensured that we all did our best work, and his enthusiasm and love for filmmaking inspired not only the cast, but the entire crew throughout those long work days.”
Of Nelson, Guzman enthuses, “Ian is my protégé. He’s the Robin to my Batman. There’s a very intense scene between Kevin and Garrett, and the emotion that Ian evokes throughout the whole scene was just unbelievable.”
For Lopez, playing Nelson’s on-screen mom was just plain fun. She shares: “Ian couldn’t have been more perfect for this role. Even though he’s fairly new to the industry, he has a professionalism that is rare in young Hollywood.”