Vacation Friends 2 Director Clay Tarver on John Cena, Comedies, and Sequel Ideas

Vacation Friends 2 aims to keep up the laughs and maybe a third film?

Vacation Friends popped onto Hulu in 2021, delighting those who watched it with a surprising and raunchy comedy starring Lil Rel Howery, John Cena, Yvonne Orji, and Meredith Hagner. Written and directed by Clay Tarver, previously best known for his work on Silicon Valley, Vacation Friends spawned a sequel which has since been released just two years later. Vacation Friends 2 brings back the core four cast members as their outrageous, adventurous selves and adds Steve Buscemi as the father to Hagner's Kyla. It's a wild and shocking comedy, bringing the group to Mexico as Howery's Marcus found luxurious accommodations for the squad there.

"They talked to me right away about it," Tarver told ComicBook.com of Vacation Friends 2. "This time, we went to Hawaii to shoot this one and we actually got to see each other's faces and that was a big step-up, and it was really fun. And I think we all felt like we got to spend even more fun time together and do a project we all loved."

Cena was one of the standouts in the first Vacation Friends movie, with his comedic star rising quickly. The wrestler-turned-actor has now earned plenty of laughs from audiences through titles such as Blockers, The Suicide Squad, Peacemaker, Trainwreck, and more. "When he first showed up in the first one, I couldn't believe how good he was," Tarver said of Cena, acknowledging James Gunn's DC Comics properties with the star beat him to the punch. "He's a really talented guy. And so, for the longest time, I thought, 'Well, wait until everyone sees this because this is a depth of John Cena no one's seen before.' And then, Peacemaker came out right before and I was like, 'Damn, he's really good in that one too as well.' He's good in everything."

Praising his actors is common for Tarver, who seems to maintain a loose set where the talent thrives and sometimes drives the movie's narrative in their own creative ways. "In the first movie, my favorite scene was this big scene in at a rehearsal dinner. And one of the funniest parts I think was just in eighth of a page on the script and Rel just made it this huge thing, that's where he's taking credit for everything. It was great. And that scene was largely him just going off and doing whatever he wanted. And it was tough on the fly to just know what we had, but when we got into the edit room, I couldn't believe how good it was. And that's all him," Tarver explained. In the case of Vacation Friends 2, Howery's improv skills stole the movie again. Tarver explained Howery added his own lines and beats to a sequence involving the film's ensemble in Vacation Friends 2, one which viewers will know when they see it.

ComicBook.com's full interview with Clay Tarver can be found in the video above. Below, a full transcript of our questions from the Vacation Friends 2 interview for the director, producer, and writer can be found.

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(Photo:

Meredith Hagner, Yvonne Orji, Lil Rel Howery, and John Cena in Vacation Friends 2

- Hulu's Vacation Friends 2)

ComicBook.com: After making Vacation Friends, when did Vacation Friends 2 become a possibility?

Clay Tarver: Right away. They talked to me right away about it. And I think the actors and as a director, all of us really wanted to do it again. We had fun, although it was tough. The first movie was shot, large part, during the pandemic. We actually shot the first two weeks in Puerto Rico. And on the way back from Puerto Rico, I thought that was going to be the hardest part. And we were in San Juan Airport about to head back to Atlanta high-fiving, "We got through it, and it's only downhill from here," and we got shut down by the pandemic. And so, we finished the movie prevaccs. I think we were the first movie back that I knew of. And so, anyway, it was a weird time. And so, this time, we went to Hawaii to shoot this one and we actually got to see each other's faces and that was a big step-up, and it was really fun. And I think we all felt like we got to spend even more fun time together and do a project we all loved.

CB: Two weeks before the first Vacation Friends releases, the world sees John Cena in tighty-whities in The Suicide Squad. How do you look at John Cena and everything he's doing in comedy and say, "All right, this is what we want to do with him in this sequel"?

CT: Well, when he first showed up in the first one, I couldn't believe how good he was. And he's a really gifted comedic actor and he does all these things that are really the hardest things to do, which are listen and play off people. And he's just skilled. He's really good. He's a really talented guy. And so, for the longest time, I thought, "Well, wait until everyone sees this because this is a depth of John Cena no one's seen before." And then, Peacemaker came out right before and I was like, "Damn, he's really good in that one too as well." He's good in everything.

And so, it's a funny challenge in working with him to do a second one. It's funny, you want all the characters to grow and evolve and face new things, but not completely change. And it's funny because both Ron and Kyla are characters that part of their joy is how oblivious they are. You don't want them to change too much. But for this one, John and I played with this idea of him having to face something that really bothered him, but in a pretty narrow, small way. I won't give it away, but he was just so good, and the only way to pull that off is to be as good as he is.

CB: You gave him a lot to work with in Vacation Friends 2. I'd love to hear about just what do you think makes him so special of a performer because he can be hilarious, but he can also on a dime get serious and almost rip your heart out?

CT: Well, he is particularly good at things with really strong attitude. And so, he plays in, working together on the first one, it was sort of like the character's the funniest when he's super-psyched about something or incredibly earnest. And so, we tried to play around with that as much as we could. The first movie, when he signed on to do it, I was a big fan of that movie, Blockers. And I called up Ike Barinholtz, who I don't know, but I wanted to just say, "What is it like working with John Cena?" He got quiet and he almost got angry and he was like, "I think he might be the nicest guy I've ever worked with." And he was just like, "He's so good," and it was totally true. So we just tried to steer into that as much as we could on this one.

CB: Lil Rel Howery's Marcus in both of these movies is kind of the audience's entry point to the world, that we feel would be us in these situations. We're the sane ones surrounded by chaos. In Vacation Friends 2, who of this cast do you think is actually the most like their own character?

CT: Wow. I'd probably say there's a piece, I'm going to cop out of this one, but there's a piece of them in all of them, I think. And they all have such different, specific voices. And John is the consummate professional, but he taps into the wild side of himself. And Rel has so much fun. I think he really embraces being the guy just going, "What the hell is this?" and being exasperated and exploding. It's one of the more fun things to see. And Meredith Hagner, she's just real free spirit and really tapped into herself. And I don't think she's as wild as Kyla, but there was a part of her that probably was. And likewise, Yvonne Orji, in a way, she has the hardest job because while we may be... What? Rel was playing Marcus, Yvonne sort of plays the sensible center in all of that, which is really important in an ensemble comedy. And man, it's so hard to do. And Rel and Yvonne have known each other for 20 years, and so, they really feel like a couple. You know what I mean?

CB: You got to add Steve Buscemi to the cast this time around. I'd love to hear about your experience, what he added to the film, because he brings so many years of comedic genius and experience to any project, I imagine?

CT: Yes. I weirdly met him 30 years ago and new for a fact, even then, that he's the world's nicest guy. And then, after working with him, it turns out he's a very good actor. But one of the things he brought was he sort of elevated the proceedings because everybody really was so psyched he was there, and he's so good and it really brought the best out of everyone. It was like the perfect ingredient to introduce in a sequel.

CB: Him and Cena are about to have a wrestling match for the world's nicest guy title.

CT: Yeah. Yeah, it's true. I tend to the nice guys.

CB: I've seen you talk a little bit about there's a lot of improv on the Vacation Friends movie, so with Vacation Friends 2, is there a scene or a moment that you got to give credit to the cast, that you're really proud is in the film, but it stands out to you as one that really got you to pop on set?

CT: The scene when Marcus has been sent a bag of cocaine and they're all together. I had sort of written a scene that... It was funny, in the first movie, my favorite scene was this big scene in at a rehearsal dinner. And one of the funniest parts I think was just in eighth of a page on the script and Rel just made it this huge thing, that's where he's taking credit for everything. It was great. And that scene was largely him just going off and doing whatever he wanted. And it was tough on the fly to just know what we had, but when we got into the edit room, I couldn't believe how good it was. And that's all him.

CB: There is a common criticism in the film industry and with people saying, "Comedies don't happen anymore. There's no good comedies anymore. People aren't allowed to make comedies," and stuff like that. They also are citing things like raunchy humor or edginess. I feel like you guys have a lot of that in Vacation Friends 2. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the evolution of comedy in the film industry right now.

CT: Well, I feel like our movies are a bit of an outlier. And the thing I really liked about the first one when I got handed the script was that it felt like a movie that they used to make all the time in the '70s or '80s or '90s. And the premise was so classic, it felt like it could have been from the '40s. And so, I feel like both of them are tapped into the spirit that is like, they used to make movies like this all the time that were sort of small, grounded and about relationships and friendships and they don't have to be the highest stakes in the world. And those are my favorite comedies growing up. I mean, I loved Slap Shot and Bad News Bears and Things That Live on Planet Earth, and that's what I felt like we sort of stand out. And I really do like that there's a platform for movies like this in streamers. I feel like that these are the kinds of movies that you want to watch.

CB: Does the experience of making a film for a streaming service change anything or give you more freedom in that regard or in any regard?

CT: No, I felt really lucky that there was a place for it without the same kind of pressure that box office has, in that comedy's really struggling right now at the box office, but I really don't want them to go away and it just feels like a good home for these, so I hope more of these kinds of comedies get made.

CB: We will end it on this, and this is a hopeful question since we're talking about more comedies. We have two Vacation Friends movies, do you think Vacation Friends becomes a trilogy?

CT: I don't know about that. We'll see. We'll see how it goes. I think we all had so much fun doing this one that we would all love to do another one.