How to Get Some Life Lessons from the “Bad Teacher” Cast

We all remember a teacher we didn’t like growing up – the one who smelled bad or who hated you just because or was a mean as a snake. But I’m pretty sure we never had a educator quite like Elizabeth Halsey.

As portrayed by Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth is a very, very bad junior high English teacher indeed. She drinks, smokes, curses and has absolutely zero interest in teaching anyone anything. In fact she’s only doing the school thing because she needs to find another sugar daddy pronto, setting her sights on the new, filthy rich substitute Scott Delacorte (Jason Timberlake) and deciding she needs a boob job to get him. That’s it. That’s her motivation through the whole movie.

Directed by Jake Kasdan (Orange County), the rest of the hilarious cast is rounded out by Forgetting Sarah Marshall funnyman Jason Segel, The Office‘s Phyllis Smith and Dinner for Schmucks actress Lucy Punch. They all gathered one bright Sunday morning in Los Angeles for a press conference to talk about the meaning of Bad Teacher.

On playing someone with such wrong self-image values:

Cameron Diaz: “Obviously, if I felt I could get somewhere by having bigger boobies, I would have done it by now. For her, it’s everything. It’s called hard economic times, ever heard of this? You couldn’t get a millionaire like you could three or four years ago before the crash. It’s an investment. Even Suze Orman would have been like, ‘Girl, five year plan.’ To get what you want, you have to have a goal. And for her, it’s to invest in her business of finding sugar daddy. It was fun to make fun of it.”

On making Elizabeth likable, despite all the flaws:

Diaz: “I read 30 pages into the script thinking, ‘There’s no way I’m playing this character. How can I redeem her? This is a horrible person.’ But then 10 pages more, I was like, ‘Uhh, I think I like her!’ By the end, I was like, ‘This is amazing because I don’t have to apologize.’ And that’s the beauty of this script, such a breath of fresh air. Usually you spend the last 20 minutes of the film apologizing for the first hour and a half because you can’t own up to what it is. In life, you don’t have epiphanies and just change your life. It happens but it’s not the norm. I just think at the end she slows down the train a little so she can jump off and climb on the train going the opposite direction.”

On Elizabeth and Scott’s dry humping scene (yes, you heard correctly):

Justin Timberlake: “Nothing wrong with a jean jam. And collectively, I think we all felt a responsibility to those young people who are buying tickets to other movies and sneaking into ours. It’s a public service announcement to safe sex. No one got pregnant with their jeans on.”

Diaz: “That’s pretty much the only message in the movie that we are proud of. If we are going to be role models in ANY way, we should at least offer a jean jam.”

On SNL changing Timberlake’s life:

Timberlake: “I grew up with SNL as an institution. It is part of the humor and chemistry I had with father, who let me stay up and watch it with him. I came from a divorced family and I didn’t get to see my father a lot, so it’s something we shared and is special to me. Just a huge fan of the show. And to be honest, I’m here at this press conference because of SNL. I have no doubt in mind about that. I owe getting a shot to be in Bad Teacher directly to Lorne Michaels and SNL. I’m not a five-timer yet, only hosted four times, but just to be there and rock out with all I got. And can I just say… that really IS a thoughtful Christmas gift.”

Jason Segel: “I’ll join the five-timer club when I host SNL FIVE MORE TIMES.”

On the fact women behaving badly is so funny these days:

Diaz: “Women have always behaved badly. Maybe more so than men. Any of my friends, if I tell them what women really talk about, they’re like ‘lalalaalalaalala’ and plug their ears. They can’t take it. But I think now, these kinds of films, everyone can laugh at them. I mean a male could have played this role and it would have been just as funny.”

Timberlake: “As a male who likes the dirty things women say, I think funny women have been around forever. Carol Burnett, Madeline Kahn. There’s always been genius female actors in comedy. I also think we live in an age where technology has afforded a generation who look at the world in a more crass way. The Internet is a really strange place to be. Like Cameron said, that’s the coolest thing about this movie, that a male actor could have played the role but it’s great to see a female do it and do it as well as Cameron does it.”

Segel: “I feel like the boob story would have had to change a bit.”

On the cast chemistry:

Timberlake: “After the first week of rehearsal – and orgy – it all kind of came together.”

Jake Kasdan: “It wasn’t that hard. We just really funny people to play every single part. The material was great… it wasn’t that hard.”

Diaz: “It was comedy marksman, precision. Pull the arrow back, slow the breath down and shoot. Bullseye! You had to be like that with the fast paced comedy. Jake would come up and give me notes and then wouldn’t say anything to Jason, and Jason would say, ‘So just be as awesome as I was last time?’ [Segel looks at Kasdan and nods]”

Segel: “I’m just super good at this. When you’re in a cast like this, there’s a sort of mutual admiration society element to it, especially when you are off camera, sitting in awe, watching great comedians do their thing. That’s when I feel the luckiest and also the most humble, working with people who are actually amazing at what you profess to do.”

On having memorable teachers:

Segel: “I’d like to give a shout out to my high school drama coach. He changed my life. Right before I left high school, my last high school play before I met Jake [looking at director Jake Kasdan] and started working on ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ wow, 13, 14 years ago? Anyway, my drama school told me, ‘Don’t forget, the best actor in the world is out there stuck doing dinner theater somewhere, so don’t ever get arrogant, thinking you are entitled to this.’ It stayed with me this whole time.”

Timberlake: “I had a teacher in 7th grade who told me to have more realistic goals than being a songwriter and that my school work was suffering. And I like to say to her, and you can quote me on this: Suck it.”

Phyllis Smith: “All of my teachers were exactly like Elizabeth. So that’s they way I am.”

Opinions on the public education program:

Timberlake: “Man, we’ve got to figure out how to pay our teachers more. They are like our surrogate parents away from home. In doing these interviews and hearing you guys ask us about having “bad teachers” – which I get, it’s a natural question – I’ve come to realization the teachers I remember the most were the ones who taught me life lessons rather than just trigonometry. They have such a huge responsibility and under appreciated and underpaid.”

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