Published at: July 16, 2007, 12:46 p.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here with my interview with one of the hottest comedic minds working right now.
Some would say the he's the primary reason to tune into "Saturday Night Live"; some might say he's the only reason (I would not be one of those people). Andy Samberg made his mark on the show thanks to a series of digital shorts, most of which were musical in nature. Maybe you know a couple of them; maybe you've hummed or sang them in the shower so many times that you feel like fixated mental patient. "Lazy Sunday" (better known as the classic tribute to THE CHRONIC- [What?!] -CLES OF NARNIA; a hardcore rap offered up by Natalie Portman in which she professes her love for all the dorky fan boys that want to make sweet, sweet love to her; or the "Dick in a Box" duet Samberg masterfully pulled off with Justin Timberlake. It was a real struggle for me not to spend our entire time together talking just about this pop masterpiece. The SNL digital shorts made fans aware the Samberg had a digital life before SNL with his comedy crew Lonely Island. If you haven't been to www.thelonelyisland.com, you don't know what you're missing.
Samberg was in Chicago recently to promote his feature film debut HOT ROD, made with his Lonely Island comrades Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone, as well as a few other familiar faces. The movie manages to tread the line between extremely stupid and wildly hilarious. There are jokes the bomb magnificently and ones that knock you on your ass with laughter. And compared to some other SNL players first films, HOT ROD is freakin' CITIZEN KANE. When I first walked into the room where Andy was waiting, he was pouring himself a glass of water. He turned to me and asked if I wanted any thing from the assortment of waters and sodas, and he was clearly prepared to pour it himself if I'd accepted. I said "No thanks," to which he responded with his trademark enormous grin, "But it's totally freeeee." Andy might qualify as a celebrity who doesn't quite know how famous he is just yet.
Oh, and one more thing. I have never once begged for an interview on this site in my nine years of writing for it. But there's a segment of our discussion in which we talk about our mutual admiration of Samberg's SNL co-star Kristen Wiig, who I am desperate to interview [and possibly make out with after the interview, but that's totally optional]. Anyway, back to business. Here's our brief but lively conversation…
Andy Samberg: [noticing my slightly oversize tape recorder] Dude I love that. I buy into that Don't Put the Cell Phone to Your Head, so I got one of those old-school, big head sets, over the head, like Jerry Maguire, and I walk around my apartment in New York and anyone who comes in goes, "What are you doing?" And I'm like "Buy! Sell!"
Capone: I've long suspected that anyone who has based a character on SNL on Kuato from TOTAL RECALL has got to have a little film geek in him.
AS: [busts out laughing]
C: What in god's name made you think that obscure creature was worth pursuing as a recurring character? Clearly you were correct, so I'm not questioning your judgment.
AS: Thank you. I don't know. I grew up just loving sci-fi stuff. I did a sketch on the show with Jack Black that we had done in our "Awsometown" pilot [the sole pilot attempt from the Lonely Island gang] that is basically just ENEMY MINE. You've seen that movie, right?
C: Of course, and I remember the sketch.
AS: That reveal where the alien says it has male and female genitalia. And I remember the first time I saw this going, "Ew, I was watching this movie, and it just got super creepy." So it's all about that alien situation and how it was super grossly hitting on the man. And he's like "What? Huh? That's cool." I think you draw from your influences and what you're into. So me and my buddy Jorma, he writes on the show with me, we were just joking around about Kuato one day. I used to do all these Kuato jokes in high school with my friend Kingston. Me and him used to spray paint "Kuato Lives" on the walls. "Open your mind, Quaid." And Jormo just loved hearing about that, and one day he just said, "Let's just do a Kuato sketch."
C: Well, it's obviously inspired. HOT ROD had me giggling like a little kid pretty much non stop for 90 minutes. Rod isn't really a dork per se; he's more a guy who desperately wants to be extraordinary, when in fact he's pretty ordinary. Was that you when you were younger? Or is that how you saw yourself? And what lengths did you go to to be extraordinary?
AS: [laughs] Yeah, definitely. I was always kind of goofing around. I would definitely always describe myself as someone who was on the outside. I was always self-confident, but in a really naive way. I would dress really weird in high school, wearing sweat pants and weird combinations. I wore these cool bowling shoes and stuff. I was always trying to do something that was entertaining to me and treating everything like it was a joke. But, I was not nearly as self-serious as Rod, but certainly that naive positivity was in there, believing you can do anything even if somewhere deep down inside that you actually can't. [laughs]
C: I used to be one of those kids who built totally unstable ramps for my bike. Did you do that? I imagine Rod started out his stunts that way.
AS: Yeah, I would, but I was terrible at anything with wheels. It was the always lamest because that was right when being good at skateboarding or BMXing was the coolest. Obviously now, it's everybody's thing. But all my friends were super-sick skaters, and I was come up and say, [in his best enthusiastic nerd voice] "Hey guys, I wanna skate too. Whaaaa!" I hurt myself a lot trying to keep up. So it's actually kind of fitting that Rod…it was very similar in the fact that he was trying to be in that world of extreme stuff, but not really being able to do it well.
C: I like that his ambition is to be a stuntman. When I was growing up, the idea of being a stuntman was kind of cool, because they didn't have the skateboard or snowboard superstars like they have today. Do kids want to be stuntmen any more? They all want their face known and be famous. They don't want to be anonymous and double for anybody. That seems like a dying dream.
AS: That's true. And also, I feel like the role of stuntman is being replaced by magicians, you know what I mean? That style of celebrity now. You get a special for this big thing or trick. It's not Evel Knievel jumping stuff anymore; it's David Blaine sitting in water for hours. We met some stuntmen on the movie, so it's still out there. So I think it's more like, I want to be a stuntman in movies or TV, it's not a daredevil sort of thing, which is too bad because I think it's kind of interesting.
C: How important is it to you to make this transition into films, or is that not really the goal?
AS: It would be awesome, but I grew up watching SNL. I've always been super into comedy, but SNL specifically since I was eight. I used to sneak into the TV room to watch "Saturday Night's Main Event" WWF, and it was only on once a month and I could never figure out which week it was. I would go in there, and the weeks it wasn't on, it would be SNL. That's how I started watching it, and from that moment on I was like, "Dude, I want to be on SNL." So being on that show, it's hard for me to look past the fact that this happened this fast, was like "Okay?!" But inside I'm still like, "I'm on SNL!" I don't have aspirations too far beyond that. That's my point. This is the thing I've always wanted to do, and now I'm doing it, so I'm just enjoying it.
C: Once the idea that you might actually be able to make a movie became a reality, was it always your intention to use the Lonely Island guys as the core creative team behind this film?
AS: If people were willing to let us, there's no doubt that's what I wanted. The three of us always talked about, "Dude, what if we got to make a movie." That was definitely always a goal of ours, especially with Akiva as a director and I think a really good one. Akiva, even more than me, is a movie maniac. He'll watch ANYTHING. I can remember once calling him and going, "Hey, dude, what's up?" "Oh nothing, just watching A WALK TO REMEMBER." "What?" "Dude, Shane West! Come on, man!" "Alright!" I've ended up watching so many weird movies that I would never watch, because Akiva will watch literally anything. He's just soaking it all up. He's like the Lawnmower Man of movies.
C: How the hell did you get Sissy Spacek and Ian McShane in this film?
AS: I don't know! [laughs] I still don't know how we pulled it off. McShane, we were like, we want to go after McShane. We read the script and we said, "Dude, Frank [the character of Rod's stepfather] has got to be McShane." Because we are obsessed with "Deadwood." "Deadwood" and "Carnivale" we watched all the time. And if you're going "Deadwood," Swearengen is the most bad-ass dude ever. He's such a bad ass, and we assumed he'd never do it but it can't hurt to ask. We figured he'd be funny because he's kind of funny of "Deadwood." And he read it, and went, "Yeah, sure." And we were like "Seriously?" And he said, "Yeah, come on. Let's go have lunch." And we had a meeting, and he's like the nicest, most charming British dude. "I love it. The script's hilarious. I was thinking I'd dress like this." And we were like, "Yes, you will!"
And with "Sissy Spacek, we didn't even think of her because we figured there was no way in hell. But one of our producers, Jill Messick, was like "I think she'd be great." And we were like, "Yeah! Ask!" For us, it's a smaller part, and we didn't want to insult her, because she's one of the best actresses ever. But I think she was just in the mood for something kind of fun. And we hung out with her, and it was really comfortable, and she said, "Yeah it sounds like fun." Both of them were really specific about their look and their hair cuts, which I thought was really interesting.
C: I think everybody in the movie is really specific about their hair cuts.
AS: Well, that's true. They are actual actors, so they found a character, whereas I felt like we were just like, "Is that funny?"
C: Selecting a love interest for Rod had to be tricky because obviously you want someone beautiful, but not so crazy glamorous that you'd never believe for a second that she would fall for him. How did you find Isla Fisher?
AS: Lorne [Michaels, one of HOT RODS' producers] definitely first brought her up to us, and everyone was super juiced off with her from WEDDING CRASHERS. She just destroys in that movie. And she's obviously adorable as well. We felt like she was a really good choice for that part because even though she's super pretty, she's able to play things in more of a sweet way. You actually buy her as the girl next door in our movie, just as much as you could buy her as a beauty queen in another movie. She's got that good range, and also she really understands comedy, so it seemed like a good fit.
C: I have to ask you about the soundtrack.
AS: Yeah, we're putting out a soundtrack actually.
C: I've never heard this much of this kind of music in any movie before. Are these songs you like or just ones you thought were appropriate for this movie and this character? Would these be the songs that would inspire someone like Rod?
AS: [laughs] Yeah, yeah. We love all the music in the movie, except for maybe one song, but I'm not going to say which one. [laughs] The Europe stuff, there's a lot of Europe. We were listening to a lot of "Europe going into it, like the song "Ninja" in particular. Those dudes are from Sweden, and their songs are all about the plight of the Native American and the the tradition of Ninjas. Oh, my God Europe are amazing! I think we ended up using all but two songs from The Final Countdown. There was one point where Akiva said, "What if the soundtrack for the movie was The Final Countdown? But there ended up being too many other songs that we really liked. So, yeah, we're really excited that we get to do a soundtrack.
C: You've never made a digital short about that kind of music.
AS: Yeah, yeah. Hmmm…
C: Speaking of that, when you were hired at SNL initially it was on the strength of the stuff you did with the Lonely Island guys. Did Lorne hire you to do things like that? The Digital Short format didn't exist before you joined the cast. The actually remind me of the old Albert Brooks short films that he did in the first season.
AS: He did, but not initially. We got hired initially because we had a writing packet, and they liked me and my actual acting audition. And the word on us was, if you hire the three of them, you get the best of them because we're such a unit. When we first started working there, Akiva and Jorge did this thing called Bing-Bong Brothers, which was kind of a Ying Yang Twins things, which I love. They brought that in to show Steve Higgins and Mike Shoemaker, who are two of the producers there.
It's so hard because there's all this new cast, but we're always looking for pre-taped stuff because you've got these acts during the show when you need to transition from one set to another, so they need pre-taped stuff, like "TV Funhouse" fills in those spots. So they were like, "By all means, if you want to go out and shoot stuff, we'd love to see what you come up with." Which for us was like, "Wow!" We've done a lot of stuff together and almost all of it has been that kind of a thing, so it actually makes sense. Someone like Kristin Wiig comes in, and she's been doing sketch comedy her whole life, and you can tell. She hits the ground running and she's got amazing characters.
C: No offense to you, but she's probably my favorite new cast member.
AS: Oh, me too. Trust me, I'm totally smitten with her. With comedy, she's amazing. For us, it was like, Oh, that makes sense, we should try that because that's what we know we can do. That's what we spent the most time doing. So we went out, and Will Forte has this idea for the Lettuce thing, and we shot it on the stoop of our apartment building one morning before we went in to do blocking. And we put it together and were like, "What do you think?" And they said, "We'll put it in dress." And it played pretty good, and they threw is on. And after that they definitely asked at that point. They were like, "If you guys want to keep doing these, we're encouraging you to do it." And the next one that aired was "Lazy Sunday."
C: I wanted to ask you about your songwriting process. Obviously the music video short are meant for laughs, but they're also ridiculously catchy. For months after the duet with Timberlake, I could not stop humming that tune. Do you have a process, or is it all about the collaboration with the other performer like Justin or Chris Parnell on "Lazy Sunday"?
AS: And with Natalie [Portman] as well. It pans out differently every time. With Timberlake, we knew that Loren wanted us to do a song with him, and we were like "Alright." So we came up with this idea, and said to Justin what do you think of this idea?, and he said "Yes! Do it!" So we wrote out most of the lyrics and I came up with a loose melody because Jorge had a beat made for it already. And he came up, and I said "I was thinking something like this." And he was like, "Okay okay." And he sort of took the reigns at that point. And I was like, "Oh, right. It's like this, but you can sing really good." [laughs] And he just schooled up on how to record vocals and all that stuff. So the joke part of it, we take full credit for, but a lot of the catchiness is Timberlake.
C: What was that like performing the song with him at Madison Square Garden? Were you thinking, At last, this is where I belong, or was it This is the last place I belong?
AS: [laughs] The LAST place I belong. Comedians do not get to do shit like that, at all. I was kind of crapping my pants, but it was awesome. I was totally freaked out, and it was so loud I was singing out of tune. And I totally ditched the choreography we were supposed to do. I was on one side of the stage going, "What's happening?" But it ended strong.
[At this point, the publicist comes to break up the interview.]
AS: Wow, that was fast.
C: Well, I know the guy who's coming in next, so I should probably be cool about ending on time.
AS: [whispers] I heard that guy's a dick.
C: You'll find out soon enough. Thanks, man.
AS: Thank you. Nice to meet you.