Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Interview caught Daley in between filming Bones and a meeting for his directorial debut, a remake of the 1983 John Hughes/Chevy Chase film Vacation, to discuss Ace Ventura, writing scripts in crayon, and his myriad projects.EMMA BROWN: Hi John, it’s Emma.
JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: Hey, Emma.
BROWN: I hear you have a writer’s meeting right after this, what’s that for?
DALEY: It is for Vacation, it’s the first meeting. We’re directing it as well, but they want to do some tweaking to the script, to get it to casting and all that. I’m extremely excited.
BROWN: Have you ever directed anything before?
DALEY: This is the first chance for [my writing partner Jonathan] Goldstein and I, this is our first feature. But we’ve done a few shorts together over the years.
BROWN: Are you nervous?
DALEY: Not yet, it’s pretty far from the start date to be nervous, but I’m more excited than anything else. This is something that I’ve wanted to do since I was little; literally since I was seven years old, I’ve been directing things and ordering friends around to be cast members in stupid little short plays and movies.
BROWN: What was the first thing you directed?
DALEY: It was a play, when I was eight years old called Small Evil. I actually think that I wrote the script in crayon. [laughs]
BROWN: Well, you wrote an original script—that’s pretty impressive! When I was eight I was directing my friends in play adaptations of Hocus Pocus and Star Wars, so no originality there.
DALEY: Yeah, but the script was in crayon, so that gives you an idea of the quality there. Though I wouldn’t put it past Quentin Tarantino write something in crayon. [My play] was about a dwarf who lured women back to his place where he would kill them. It’s pretty dark for an eight-year-old, but I thought it was clever the way it was titled Small Evil and was about a dwarf.
BROWN: Good play on words there.
DALEY: The only reason it was a dwarf was so that I could be the lead. It was a very serious thing—the notion of a kid portraying [an adult] character would break the fourth wall, so I had to make him a dwarf to make it understandable that he was a small adult.
BROWN: I was wondering, you’ve obviously grown so much since Freaks and Geeks, do people always say that to you, “Oh my goodness, you’re so tall now”?
DALEY: All the time, they have to be standing on stairs a few steps above me to recognize me. I’ve grown probably about eight inches since Freaks.
BROWN: When did you have your growth spurt?
DALEY: You can actually see it on-screen. [It was] betweenThe Geena Davis Show  and another pilot that no one ever saw . . . so I guess you can’t really see it on-screen. [laughs] It was between the ages of 15 and 16.
BROWN: So how did you get the Vacation directing gig? Did you petition for it, show them your shorts?
DALEY: Well Jonathan and I, after we wrote the script, we decided to try our hand at directing. Even just pitching ourselves to direct, it was a long shot, because they were meeting with established directors that had done features before. But I think we gave them a pretty good pitch on why we have the best vision for the movie and a great lookbook to accompany it. We’ve been with New Line for so long—our first script was The $40,000 Man in 2007, and since then I’ve done probably five features with them, not all produced—that relationship, I think, also helped us. We’re part of the New Line family.
BROWN: Is it frustrating when your scripts don’t actually get produced?
DALEY: No, not really. The first one still hasn’t been produced, The $40,000 Man. I’m just so excited to be a part of the professional screenwriting world. It gained a lot of momentum in the first couple months after we sold it, where we had a director attached at one point, and an actor. So we were just really excited at how quickly everything changed. We got a bunch of meetings following our selling of that script. And it was on The Black List, so it was an honor to be a part of that as well.
BROWN: I’m curious as to how you met your writing partner and how you started working together.
DALEY: We worked together on a show called The Geena Davis Show, which I mentioned before, he was one of the junior staff writers there, and I was an actor. I remember at one point I was playing some short film I had made, some stupid short film, and he mentioned that it was very much like something he had made when he was my age. He brought the film in the next day to show me how similar it was. Since then we realized we had the same sensibility, the same sense of humor, and started to write things together a couple years later and direct small shorts. We were able to collaborate easily together.
BROWN: And every script you’ve done has been with your writing partner?
DALEY: Yeah. He still works independently writing on TV shows, and I still have my acting jobs. Everything in the feature screenwriting world, and now directing, we do together.
BROWN: Jonathan’s quite a bit older than you. Does the age gap show, or do you feel the same age?
DALEY: We only feel different ages when bringing up pop culture references. Otherwise we pretty much feel the same age. He’s married with a kid, and so he’s further along in his personal life. As far as our sense of humor and the thing that we’re attracted to, the types of movies and comedy, we share the same mind.
BROWN: I wanted to ask you about upcoming projects as well. So you’ve finished writing Horrible Bosses 2 and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, is that it?
DALEY: Yeah, we wrote a couple of drafts of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which brings us back to do a bit more work on that. We’re nearly finished writing the first draft ofHorrible Bosses 2. It’s going well, we will bring back the three guys with hopefully a new supporting character to work with them.
BROWN: You had so many great actors in the first Horrible Bosses.
DALEY: Thanks. It was one of those things where, if someone asked [who was in the film], I would feel kind of like a dick [listing them]. There were so many big names. That kind of is the same thing for Burt Wonderstone, this magician movie that we wrote together. It’s going to be finished probably when you publish this. It has an insane cast and so by the end [of listing them], when I’m mentioning Jim Carrey or Alan Arkin, people go from being excited for me to resentful.
BROWN: Did you love Ace Ventura when you were little?
DALEY: I wanted to be Jim Carrey when I was little. He doesn’t know this, but I do the best Jim Carrey impression, and I don’t think he ever will know this unless he readsInterview.
BROWN: I’ll send it to him.
BROWN: When all these really exciting actors, like Kevin Spacey, sign up to do your movie, were you surprised? Or just really happy?
DALEY: I was happy and I was also surprised. You know, as a screenwriter and a half-Jew, I tend to look at the glass half-empty.
BROWN: Do you hang out on set and get to know the actors? I know you were in Horrible Bosses, but are you inWonderstone?
DALEY: I have a small cameo in Burt Wonderstone as well. But, I was able to hang out with the cast of both movies. It was one of those things where halfway through hanging out with people like Jim Carrey, I would think to myself “Oh! I’m talking to Jim Carrey right now!” and if nine-year-old me could see me doing this, he would literally crap himself.
BROWN: Freaks and Geeks is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of you, but I suppose more people most know you from your current show, Bones.
DALEY: It depends. If I’m in L.A., I get recognized more forFreaks and Geeks. Same with New York. It’s definitely a coastal show. When I’m anywhere else—Chicago, Colorado, it’s Bones. Or if I’m in Vegas, it’s Bones, because a lot of people that go to Vegas come from the Midwest and I think that Bones is definitely a show that attracts viewers from that part of the country more than it does on the coast.
BROWN: Were you originally a guest actor on Bones?
DALEY: Yeah, they offered me a seven-episode stint on the show. And the second episode in, my manager told me that he guessed I would probably get a regular role on it. And sure enough, I think after we shot the third episode, the offer came in.
BROWN: Do you find yourself getting really into the character and psychoanalyzing your friends in everyday life?
DALEY: I’ve always been the type of person that has told friends, if they’re going through a rough time, I’m always there to talk to. When I’m going through a rough time, [talking to friends] is what keeps me sane.
BROWN: Do people take you more seriously now that you play a psychologist—confuse fiction and reality?
DALEY: Not at all. Even if I played the President, they wouldn’t take me any more seriously.
BROWN: Freaks and Geeks was such a great show to start your career in. Did television feel like a bit of a let down after that?
DALEY: It’s tough to find a show that matches the quality ofFreaks. Even if I wasn’t in the cast, I would say that it was one of the best shows on television and one of the finest ensemble casts. The thing that I love about doing Bones, though, is it’s the first successful show in the sense that a lot of people watch it and continue to watch it. It’s the first show I’ve ever done that’s lasted longer than a season. [The creator, Hart Hanson] really found a niche and is able to speak to a big audience.
BROWN: And you wrote an episode of it, right?
DALEY: Yeah, I co-wrote it with my writing partner. It was the first television script I had ever written. The fact that there’s six acts that you have to fill is really overwhelming. I’m impressed at how they’re able to pump out episodes every week that deal with a completely different way of getting murdered.
BONES AIRS MONDAYS AT 8PM ON FOX. THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE COMES OUT NEXT YEAR.