Walter Matthau revealed that he actually didn’t like the script for “Grumpy Old Men” — credited to Mark Steven Johnson of “Simon Birch” and “Daredevil” fame — but he was pleased to hear that the production was already being worked out when he and Jack Lemmon were approached. He said:
“… I hadn’t worked with [Lemmon] for about 10 years. People would send us scripts, but they wouldn’t have any wherewithal to do the scripts. They just wanted to use our names to get the script sponsored. And here, John Davis, the producer, comes up with a script — that I wasn’t cuckoo about — that he would pay us for. He had the money, he had the studio, he had the makeup men and the costume men and he had it all ready to go! It was a go!”
Sometimes it’s just a matter of practicality. One can cull through the history of Hollywood and find hundreds of unmade movies with famous actors attached. Matthau, it seemed, never wanted to “be attached” to an upcoming project. He would rather just get to work and not bear the headache of long-term pre-productions. Matthau was 73 at the time of “Grumpy Old Men” and had become a bit of a grumpy old man himself. With his patience dwindling, he was happy to dive into a film that was already prepped and ready to go.
It also helped that he would be working with Lemmon again, which might have been the clincher. He even said, in plain language: “The only reason I did the movie was to work with Lemmon.”
Once production was secured, Matthau revealed that he and Lemmon agreed to tinker with the script.