“Danny, you look younger every day!” Danny DeVito shouted — not at himself but at Danny Glover, who was busy posing for a photo shoot to promote their new film “Jumanji: The Next Level.”
DeVito had already taken his solo shots, so he set to amusing himself by backseat directing Glover’s session from across the room. “Don’t do that, Dan,” he heckled as Glover crossed his arms for the camera. “Give them all the stuff we’ve never seen before, Dan!”
The character actor was already on a comedic streak after goofing off with his hair and makeup artist while waiting for his costar to show. Now that his friend and fellow Hollywood veteran was here, DeVito was in full-on ham mode. The pair recently spent an extensive amount of time together while making and touring for the “Jumanji” sequel, which is now playing nationwide, yet greeted each other like childhood buddies who hadn’t talked since the last high school reunion.
“DD and DG, baby!” Glover exclaimed, pulling DeVito in for a bear hug.
Their familiar dynamic was fitting, considering they play old pals onscreen, though their characters aren’t quite as comfortable with each other in the movie. “Jumanji: The Next Level” picks up with its main bunch of misfit kids, who have now graduated from high school and gone their separate ways, only to be pulled back into the game for another round featuring new crafty characters and deadly landscapes.
DeVito plays Eddie, the grandfather of Spencer (Alex Wolff), whom audiences met as a high schooler in 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” Glover portrays Eddie’s estranged business partner, Milo, who shows up unannounced on his frenemy’s doorstep just in time for the holidays.
The two actors have only a handful of minutes in the film’s brief exposition to convey decades of history between their characters, from the opening of their restaurant to Milo’s friendship-shattering decision to retire from cooking.
“We were able to establish that right off the bat, right off the top — their relationship,” Glover said. “And you can imagine ... the course of actions within that relationship — the bickering ... the one-upmanship.”
As if on cue, DeVito then slipped into restaurant roleplay, filling in some of the gaps “Jumanji” leaves in their complex backstory.
“Never met a man who cracks an egg so slow,” he fake-scolded Glover, presumably hard at work in their imaginary kitchen. “For crying out loud, don’t examine the damn thing. It’s an egg!”
These were the kind of scenarios DeVito and Glover conjured to explore their characters’ fraught relationship, which sets up much of the movie’s emotional themes before they inevitably get sucked into Jumanji’s virtual world. There, they must pass the baton to their video game avatars: archaeologist strongman Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) and zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), respectively.
Yes, that means part of “Jumanji: The Next Level” involves Johnson and Hart doing their best impressions of DeVito and Glover — a comedic exercise the two blockbuster stars took very seriously, according to their muses.
“It was great to have him looking at you all the time, constantly,” DeVito said of Johnson’s “Method” approach. “When you know that that’s happening — that he’s watching your every move — I turned the burners up a little for him. Let him have a little bit of extra Jersey.”
“Kevin can capture a little bit of me,” Glover said, smiling. “But I think sometimes my mannerisms are often so out there in the public space, you know what I’m saying? Even my grandson makes fun of me.”
DeVito also got an extra impersonation from fellow franchise newcomer Awkwafina, who plays a stealthy cat-burglar avatar named Ming Fleetfoot. Though he joked that the rapper-turned-actress is “better-looking” than Johnson, DeVito refused to reveal who he thought was his better mirror.
“Oh, Awkwafina, definitely,” he quipped, before quickly adding, “No, I’m not saying that. [Johnson] did a great job.”
Much like Eddie and Milo, DeVito and Glover go way back — so far, in fact, that they couldn’t pinpoint exactly when they first met. But they know their first movie together was Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Rainmaker.” Just don’t ask them the year.
“That was in ’99,” Glover said. “No, no, no, that was in ’97.”
“Whatever you say,” DeVito joked. “You could say ’94 right now, and I’d say yes.”
Even before crossing paths via Hollywood’s serendipitous network, the pair’s relationship has always been one of mutual admiration. Unlike their “Jumanji” characters, who spend much of the sequel sticking to festering grudges, DeVito and Glover had no issue showering each other with compliments for their work, both on- and offscreen.
“From my point of view, I always see Dan standing up for the people’s rights in the world,” DeVito said. “I always see him on the right side of history. I watch ‘Democracy Now’ religiously ... and I see Dan all the time, standing up with Bernie [Sanders], standing up for the people — for the homeless, for people who need health care, for people who need education. All good things that I agree with.”
For Glover, meeting DeVito didn’t feel like much of an introduction. He imagined he already knew his contemporary “as an extension” of his performances, and he’s always been a fan. But they’ve since taken their friendship, appropriately, to the next level.
“There’s a deeper bond when you find out that the people that you like believe in the same things that you believe in,” Glover said. “You’re drawn to them.”
Despite boasting more than 300 acting credits between them, DeVito, 75, and Glover, 73, had never shared a scene — not even in 1997’s “Rainmaker” — until “Jumanji: The Next Level.” Upon recalling how they found out they’d be working together, it was as if they’d just received the news all over again.
“When he said Danny DeVito was in it, man, I started laughing,” Glover said, cackling over DeVito, who just kept repeating how “excited” he was, his trademark New Jersey accent growing increasingly loud. “I said, ‘That’s going to be funny, man.’”
“It’s good to be in the same scene together,” DeVito, who refers to Glover as his “baby brother,” added. “Finally, after all these years, we’re in the same scene together.”
Reuniting on the “Jumanji” set was just one of many full-circle moments for the duo, who agree with Eddie’s mantra in the movie that “getting old is a gift,” thanks to life’s latent payoffs. Glover, who has proudly lived in the same neighborhood since he was 11, fondly remembered an instance in which a boy once borrowed $5 from him while on his paper delivery route.
His former neighbor paid Glover back years later while attending one of the actor’s talks at the University of Iowa. For the aging costars, these are the kind of unexpected rewards worth living for.
“There’s a kind of moment where you reflect on your own life through others,” Glover said. “That’s one of the beautiful things about doing that.”
DeVito’s character comes to a similar realization after saying goodbye to his longtime pal in a way best not spoiled until you’ve seen the film.
“It’s a really important thing to have revealed to you during your life,” DeVito said. “If you’re around long enough to have that happen to you, for you to be old enough to appreciate the life that you’ve had, it’s a good thing. It’s a really good thing. And the more it goes on, the better we like it.”