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'Mad Men' creator Matthew Weiner says film debut shares DNA with hit TV show

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TORONTO - "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner was able to wrest only 33 days to shoot his long-gestating directorial debut, "Are You Here," so it helped that he had a trusted team to lean on.

The nine-time Emmy Award winner essentially ported over practically the entire crew from his beloved moody period piece, working with "Mad Men"'s cinematographer, editor, casting team, production designer, composer and hair and makeup departments.

Getting the band back together helped turn "what could have been a scary experience" into an "adventure," said Weiner.

But even with a similar team behind the camera, Weiner was hesitant to guess whether the exacting fans of his decorated TV drama would find something to love in his earnest debut film.

"It's hard for me to know," said Weiner during last September's Toronto International Film Festival. "Obviously I cherish the fact that I have a devoted audience on the show and that there is an expectation of anything from me — and the fans are quite protective and opinionated about the show.

"I do think that people who enjoy 'Mad Men' for the fact that it's layered and for the fact that it doesn't judge the characters and that there's some depth to it and some honesty about how people behave — they will find something in the movie that's very similar.

"It stands up to multiple viewings. And I think it just doesn't have a lot of judgment. (The characters) are four very flawed people and they're doing the best that they can, and you kind of realize that by the end of the movie, which is tragedy and it's poignant and it's beautiful. And that's really what I'm shooting for on the show."

Still, the shared creative DNA between the two projects doesn't translate into many surface-level similarities.

For one thing, "Are You Here" — opening in Canada both theatrically and on video-on-demand this Friday — is firmly contemporary, a buddy-dramedy centring on self-centred weatherman Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) and his bipolar stoner best bud Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis).

When Ben's father dies, the odd couple venture home to his family ranch to spar over the inheritance with Ben's pragmatic sister, played by Amy Poehler.

Ultimately, Weiner terms this a story about a character who needs to get off drugs (the perpetually faded Steve) and a character who needs to get on them (manic Ben).

And the film's Maryland setting does betray the fact that this is a personal story for the 49-year-old Weiner.

"I had been married for about ... seven or eight years maybe, and I noticed that my friends were gone," said Weiner, who grew up in Baltimore and married in 1991. "There was another point in my life where my friends disappeared — when I became successful, but this had not happened yet.

"And I was just trying to figure out if my wife had replaced them, (since) she was obviously my best friend, or if I had outgrown them. ... But then I started thinking about, what holds people together?"

Weiner has rapturous praise for his cast. He was long a fan of Wilson's knack for "guileless likable characters" and praises his "light comic touch," but wanted to challenge the glib character type Wilson usually portrays. He was "blown away" by Poehler, and Galifianakis brought a "huge ego" and "imperiousness" to his character that are, of course, completely absent in his real personality.

Still, it was important for his three very funny leads to still be funny onscreen, said Weiner.

"Personally as a moviegoer, I don't want to see somebody's serious movie," he said. "If I go see Zach Galifianakis and he is not funny, I'm going to be irritated."

— Follow @CP_Patch on Twitter.

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