Actor-comedian Zach Galifianakis has said of his actor co-star Jon Hamm: "You know, I've known Jon, I've known Jon before Jon was truly Jon Hamm, and he's a comedy guy. He's really funny, you know. A lot of leading type guys like that, they don't have humor. they think they do, but they don't. It's almost unfair that he can do both. It's really frustrating because I'm certainly not going to be a, no one is ever going to go, 'You know, Zach does handsome really well.' So, Jon, he just is funny, and he's funny like a comedian is funny, you know, not, 'Look, an actor is funny.' He's funny, and so Jon and I had this, just a friendship, and I'd hoped we'd work together. I think [Jon Hamm] and I got together over the last couple years and we talked about a couple of things that, and then this kind of happened and I'm glad that it did. It seemed like a good fit."
Screenwriter Michael LeSieur found inspiration from some friends' idyllic lives in a suburban cul-de-sac-a street closed at one end. "It was similar to the one in Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016), and my friends could not have been happier living there," said LeSieur. "It was like they had discovered paradise. It's so endearing and funny that people could find that much happiness in something that simple."
Greg Mottola, the movie's director, credits stunt coordinator and 2nd unit director Steven Ritzi with staging the action for maximum impact and thrills. But he and the cast give a special shout-out to actor Jon Hamm, who did much of the driving himself. "Jon did some really great donuts [elaborate car maneuvers] in the Mercedes we were all jammed into," said co-star Gal Gadot. Hamm is modest about his contributions to the scene, noting that to prepare for it, he "drove around an empty parking lot for hours to get used to the car and its moves". Hamm added: "Having that extra time behind the wheel really helped me improve. The key was to not to just make it fun, but to also make it safe. Steven Ritzi made that happen for all of us."
Actress Gal Gadot has said of her secret agent character Natalie Jones: "I think she loves being a spy. And I think that's the problem they have in their relationship. She's so much into this world and he's not. He doesn't like the lies, he doesn't like playing an act or making pretend and she's all about the adrenaline and the mission, she loves it. She's a real spy."
Care was given to find the perfect houses for the Gaffneys and Joneses, one of which would ultimately be blown to bits, spewing remnants everywhere. "It certainly woke up the neighborhood," said art director Jeremy Woolsey in an epic understatement.
A neighborhood in northwest Atlanta in the USA was home to the cul-de-sac, to which the production added a large center island to break up the large expanse of road. "It's a larger than average cul-de-sac, so we added an island made of steel and wood, covered in grass and bushes," said art director Jeremy Woolsey.
Director Greg Mottola largely eschewed green screen and CGI in favor of what he calls a "'you are there' feel with an old school action vibe to it." Mottola enjoyed creating the scene so much that he notes he "had to be careful not to spend too much time on it. But I felt that if we were going to do one major action set piece, let's do it right. It was a lot of fun."
Director Greg Mottola credits screenwriter Michael LeSieur's style and approach as another major draw. "I like Mike's writing a lot. He tends not to create just jokes and one-liners; Mike writes real characters and has a dry and sometimes absurd sense of humor. Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016) has its own distinctive character. It felt like a comedy/character movie disguised as a high-concept idea, and that's the kind of story I love most."
Even before director Greg Mottola came aboard the project, screenwriter Michael LeSieur had successfully pitched the story to producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald. "I think Walter responded to the contrast between the suburban couple, living this boring life, and this fantastic, sophisticated, well-traveled couple that is moving into a neighborhood to which they don't seem to belong," said LeSieur. "The wife is suspicious of the new neighbors, but the husband is thrilled to have these exciting people living nearby. It's a rich premise."
While the action is a key element of this movie, the film always puts comedy and romance front and center. During early screenings, screenwriter Michael LeSieur was gratified by the laughs and by "moments where you can feel the audience connecting emotionally with the movie. That's as satisfying as getting a big laugh, for sure."
After a week of enduring filming deafening gunfire and screeching tires, the cast and crew moved on to The Scorpion villain's posh Hotel Penthouse, which was high atop a Hyatt Hotel in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The interiors of the hotel penthouse were built on stages in Atlanta's Grant Park neighborhood, in a complex of buildings that once housed an ice-cream distributor.
Scriptwriter Michael LeSieur was intrigued by husband-and-wife super-spies, such as those depicted in films like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) - and by a married duo he envisioned living across the street from such a stealthy couple. He said: "I kept wondering, what this average husband-and-wife would think about all the craziness going on in the spies' house. There's a whole other movie going on from the neighbors' perspective. I started thinking about that and combining it with some aspects of the lives of my friends living on their beloved cul-de-sac."
The interior of the penthouse hotel suite, as envisioned by production designer Mark Ricker, had a bar & dining room, living room, and bedroom, along with a real marble fireplace and select wallpapers which came from Germany. "We wanted to create an elite, textured hotel suite that is as fabulous as it is ridiculous - just like the [villain] 'Scorpion' himself," said art director Jeremy Woolsey.
"We didn't design the movie to just machine-gun jokes all the time," concluded the film's director Greg Mottola. He added: "The humor, action and romance are always grounded. These characters are meant to be recognizable, and I think audiences will really like them."
Weapons featured in the film included a K-Kote factory black SIG-Sauer P226 9 x 19 mm handgun pistol; a Smith & Wesson M&P semi-automatic 9 x 19 mm side-arm pistol handgun; a 9 x 19 mm Heckler & Koch MP5A3 and UMP 45 ACP caliber sub-machine guns; an Ingram 380 caliber MAC-11 machine pistol; and an SIG SG 552-2 Commando 5.56 x 45mm rifle.
Producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald sparked to the idea of a suburban couple, who, as Parkes said, "desperately wants to be friends with their neighbors. This connection provides a recognizable and emotional foundation for a high-concept comedy - that the film wasn't just about playing the gag."
Production filmed at Sany America, Inc., a tractor factory that doubled as Jeff Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis)'s place of employment, a fictional military-industrial corporation specializing in defense contracts encompassing satellites, missile technology, radar, telecommunications systems. In other words, it was the perfect setting for espionage and villains looking to steal secret stuff.
Greg Mottola's skill in directing the high-powered action especially impressed his producers Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald. Parkes said: "We were thrilled at how Greg delivered the action. In many comedies, action can be a silly add-on, but Greg was committed to doing it right. Those scenes are very satisfying."
Intelligence agencies, real or fictional, featured and/or referenced in the film, include the actual Israeli Secret Service - the Mossad - and the fictional "The Agency", the latter of whom Mr. and Mrs. Jones work for.
Production Designer Mark Ricker and Art Director Jeremy Woolsey made maximum use of the production's principal locations: the Gaffneys' beloved cul-de-sac, and the dilapidated former Army base across which the film's action centerpiece - a wild car chase - unfolds.
According to early publicity, including a 22 June 2016 article in show-business trade paper 'Variety' entitled "'Jon Hamm' and Gal Gadot Go Undercover in First Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)'", Gadot's character was called Diana Jones, but a later release publicity states her character to be called Natalie Jones. Gadot's human character name when she plays Wonder Woman (2017) is Diana Prince.
Actor Jon Hamm is starring alongside former Die Another Day (2002) Bond Girl Rosamund Pike in the following year's political action-thriller High Wire Act (2017) where a former U.S. diplomat returns to service in order to save a former colleague in Beirut. The Hollywood Reporter states in an article published on 6th May 2015: "Set in 1980s Beirut, Hamm plays a former U.S. diplomat who is called back into service to save a former colleague from the group possibly responsible for his own family's death."
About at least around a dozen crew personnel worked on this action spy comedy involving neighbors and the earlier cinema movie Killers (2010), which was also an action spy comedy which involved neighbors who were covert operatives, made and released around six years earlier.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen (Isla Fisher) break into the Joneses' house and finds out Jeff's 'personal breakdown' on their laptop, Jeff's date of birth is shown to be October 1, 1969, which is Galifianakis' actual birthday.
The climactic shootout in the Scorpion's penthouse is reminiscent of a similar hotel suite shootout scene in the movie True Romance (1993) in the way the main characters are unarmed bystanders and the air is filled with feathers.
Gadgets featured in the film included: a black Mercedes driver-less car, a bugging device hidden inside a small glass ornament, an anaesthetic dart pen, a chef's cooking torch, various computer hardware and software, a necktie with a microphone and a pair of high heeled shoes equipped with a tracking device.
A "MacGuffin", a term made popular by Hitchcock, is a plot device in which an object goal which is used as a motivator. In this movie, the MacGuffin is a set of microchips which could find a key into and unlock the US missile defense system.