Mr. Beaks Talks THE OTHER GUYS, ANCHORMAN 2 And Little River Band With Adam McKay!
Published at: Aug. 5, 2010, 2:22 a.m. CST by mrbeaks
Four films into his career, it's safe to say there is not a single director currently working within the studio system who is as committed to total comedic anarchy as Adam McKay. Starting with 2004's ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGANDY, McKay has, with his coconspirator/muse Will Ferrell, made a series of movies that are as raucous and unique and utterly divorced from reality as those churned out by The Marx Brothers, Frank Tashlin and the ZAZ team in their prime. They are at once smart and infantile, subversive and sophomoric, precise and undisciplined. And while his films are not for everyone, they have a large enough following that studios are more than willing to keep financing his flights of lunacy (with little to no executive interference). Thank god.
For those concerned that McKay's fourth Ferrell collaboration, THE OTHER GUYS, might be more conventional than his previous efforts due to its action-film pedigree, not to worry; aside from a couple of shoot-em-up set pieces, this movie is as inexplicable as all that's come before. On the surface, it's a buddy comedy starring Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as two mismatched detectives toiling in the superstar shadow of supercops Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson. But it doesn't take long for McKay and cowriter Chris Henchy to send the whole thing clattering merrily off the rails. And while I'd love to tell you where it goes, that would be spoiling the fun of yet another McKay/Ferrell triumph.
I've been an admirer of McKay's writing since his stint as a writer on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (he headed up the staff for three seasons in the late '90s/early '00s), and could've easily devoted all of our twenty minutes to fishing for backstage anecdotes; however, aside from a question I've been waiting to ask McKay for close to a decade (which closes out our interview), I mostly stayed current. The first part of our chat is dedicated to THE OTHER GUYS, while the second half veers off into some rather heartbreaking talk about the dead-and-buried ANCHORMAN 2. Also discussed: McKay's involvement in the big-screen adaptation of Garth Ennis's THE BOYS, a proposed Lee Atwater biopic, and Brett Gelman's love-it-or-wish-death-upon-it "1,000 Cats".
There are some joke spoilers below, but they're well-marked. If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend that you avoid these passages.
Beaks: Let's start with something easy: has there been a planned progression in your career?
McKay: I think Will and I like to go into different worlds with each movie. I don't know how consciously we do it at the time, but a lot of what we find funny kind of reflects what's going on in the world in some way. TALLADEGA NIGHTS was during that crazy swell of Bush love, and ANCHORMAN was when we first started realizing that the corporate mainstream media is pretty much useless. We're not saying, "Let's go do a political diatribe!" But in a way of responding, I think that does lead us a little bit. And what was interesting with [THE OTHER GUYS] was... the buddy-cop genre is basically dead. For the last ten years, there haven't been any big hits. But crime has changed. You can't do a drug [storyline] anymore; it's almost adorable at this point. So that was part of what led us to this. That and wanting to see Will and Wahlberg together. It's a mishmash of things that lead us to each movie.
Beaks: I ask because it felt like after STEP BROTHERS, which I think is your most absurdist comedy...?
McKay: Oh, without a doubt.
Beaks: And maybe the most... I don't want to say "free association", but...
McKay: You can say "free association". Absolutely. The whole thing with [STEP BROTHERS] was that we'd just done TALLADEGA NIGHTS with all those car crashes and stunts. I just love talking-head comedy, so I wanted to go and do a whole movie that just took place in a house. Just get great actors who can improvise, that are game, and go. We shot a million feet of film on STEP BROTHERS. We improvised so much, it was crazy. We could do, without exaggeration, a five-hour cut of that movie. (Laughs) So you can say "free association", yeah.
Beaks: (Laughing) Okay, good. I was just wondering because you went so far afield with STEP BROTHERS, that it seems like THE OTHER GUYS might've sprung from a realization that you need to throw mainstream audiences a little more red meat this time. I mean, STEP BROTHERS was successful, but perhaps you wanted to give yourself some genre constraints just to make the studio happy?
McKay: I don't know if we ever think like that. The thing is, I'm a big movie fan. I love all kinds of movies. In fact, most of my favorite movies are documentaries. So, for me, as a film fan, it was exciting to come off of STEP BROTHERS, where it's people talking in living rooms, and to say to Will, "Let's do a big, fat Hollywood movie." It wasn't necessarily "Let's throw 'em some red meat." It was like, "This is fun to do." And we always know we're going to do what we do within it.
So STEP BROTHERS came from more of a place of a ten-year-old kid wanting a new toy. I was like, "Man, I want to shoot some action scenes! I want to do a slow-motion shoot-out with a cool song playing!" And we like to work with different actors to see if there's a different chemistry. That just keeps it interesting. And shooting it in New York City was really exciting for us. It really comes out of a much more primal, childish place than a calculated business decision. (Laughs)
Beaks: But in terms of things that are calculated or planned, I'm wondering if you had any gags you'd been holding back that you were finally able to use in this movie. I really like the way you use the Little River Band in this. It felt like something you'd been dying to unleash.
McKay: Once again, it's a combination of a lot of different likes. I'm not snobby about music. There are one or two Little River Band songs I actually like. I like that song "The Night Owls."
Beaks: (Sheepishly) I have that song on my iTunes.
McKay: It's a great song! And this is pushing it a little, but I even like the song "Lady". (Belts it out) "Lady! Let me take a look at you now!" It's cheesy and over the top. It's like Jethro Tull. I both love Jethro Tull and think they're a little ridiculous. I'm always listening to music like that. And when we're writing, Chris Henchy is a big music fan, and Ferrell's also a big fan, so that's where that comes from. As for something like the TLC references, I think that came about by accident. I think we were writing some crazy truisms for the captain [played by Michael Keaton], and I stumbled into "Don't go chasing waterfalls." And it just led to that joke. Again, it's a mishmash of different likes.
Beaks: That's a great running joke. And now that we're talking running jokes... first, I have to congratulate you. When I got out of the screening, the first thing I did was hit Urban Dictionary and look up "soup kitchen". (Laughs) And none of the four definitions refer to what you refer to in the movie. So you've coined it. Well done.
McKay: (Laughing) Actually, I did not coin it. Rob Huebel coined it. I brought in Rob, who's one of the best improvisors on the planet, and we just let him run wild. He said "soup kitchen" at one point, and we were dying. I give full credit to Rob Huebel for that.
Beaks: That does not surprise me.
McKay: He is a funny dude, man. My god.
Beaks: That's a great scene, but it took me two minutes to get back in the movie. It really took the wind out of me. So where the hell does a running joke like "Dirty Mike and The Boys" come from?
McKay: If you really want the evolution of it, here's what it was. The first joke was that they abandoned [Ferrell's Prius], and horrible stuff happened in it. So it was one of those jokes where we were just listing horrible things. We were asking, "What would be a bummer if it happened in your new car?" And one of them was, "What if a bunch of street guys had an orgy in it?" (Laughs) I don't know if you could ever get in your car after that. That's step one.
Step two is we do roundtable rewrite sessions, where we bring in friends of ours. Andrew Steele, the head writer for FUNNY OR DIE, came in and ran the table. They came back with all their jokes - and I'm purposely not in the room for these sessions. I don't want to affect them. I'm like, "You guys say whatever you want, and do whatever you want." And one of the jokes that we loved about the orgy in the car was "What if there's a thank you note?" (Laughs) And the thank you note was signed "Love, Dirty Mike and The Boys". So Chris I go, "Well, we've got to see Dirty Mike. What does that guy look like?" So we write into the script that they pop up, and... I always like to do a little role in everything I do just to remind myself how incredibly miserable and difficult it is to act, so I said, "I'll play Dirty Mike." So we did that. And then it got called back when they're walking out [of the police station]. That just started with one joke and kept evolving basically.
Beaks: I loved it so much that I was hoping it would pay off somehow in the third act.
McKay: Oh, man. There are some jokes we discovered where I wished we could've reshot and brought them back. I would've loved for Dirty Mike to show up one more time. But because you're thinking of it while you're doing it, it's kind of tricky. And Hal and Christinith [played by Brett Gelman and Natalie Zea], too. "Wouldn't it be great if, during the chase, you saw Hal and Christinith at some point?" But you can only do so much of that.
Beaks: Well, fans of "1,000 Cats" would've been happy.
McKay: Come on! Are you really making a "1,000 Cats" reference? Oh, my god!
Beaks: It killed me.
McKay: It is the best! But you talk about a polarizing piece of work...
Beaks: Actually, I was just talking with a friend who was like, "You loved that? That was the least funny thing I've ever seen in my life! I turned the channel for five minutes just to get away from it, and when I went back, it was still going!"
McKay: (Laughing) Wow. "1,000 Cats" goes under that "Tim & Eric" heading of comedy. You're going to suffer a little bit. You're going to really question in your mind what's going on. I love "1,000 Cats". That was one of my favorites. I'm a big fan of Brett Gelman.3>
Beaks: So I heard about the big ANCHORMAN 2 disappointment today, that it was going to be a stage musical on Broadway first. And now it's dead. It's such a bummer. Logistically, how was that going to work? Was that four-month run going to include previews? Once you add in however many months it takes to shoot the movie, that seems like a rather large chunk of time to block out for all of you guys.
McKay: We figured it out. We were really going to do this. We got a Broadway producer. We figured out the whole schedule, that we were going to do a couple of a-capella, no-prop previews at Largo [in Los Angeles] like we did with the Bush show. Then we were going to do legitimate previews, and our cast was going to stay with it for two or three months. Then we were going to try to get a replacement cast if we could, just because we thought maybe it was original material. Then we were going to leave the show - kind of like The Marx Brothers did - and go right into shooting the movie. That was the idea. We were really starting to work towards it. And then we got the plug pulled, so...
Beaks: So it was going to be like THE COCOANUTS or ANIMAL CRACKERS?
McKay: Yeah. Isn't that insane? We were like, "No one's ever done this before! Premiere the sequel [on Broadway]!" It just made us giddy.
Beaks: That's a shame. I interviewed Carell a couple of weeks ago, and he still seemed hopeful. I was hoping you'd be bringing a little bit of good news today.
McKay: Here's the truth: to get all of those guys lined up - Carell, Rudd, Koechner, Applegate, Ferrell - in the right schedule is very, very tricky. The other tricky thing is that there's no way you can pay anyone full freight, myself included. We would all have to take massive cuts to do it, because you can't do a $120 million ANCHORMAN 2; it even goes against the spirit of the movie. So there's a bunch of things that have to line up.
Then, truthfully, Paramount was not doing backflips about it. They were kind of like, "Eh." I could tell [President of Production] Adam Goodman really wanted to do it because he worked on the first one, but the marketing [people] and others were all, "Yeah, the numbers on the first one were alright." And we kept saying, "But it grew after the box office, with the DVD and [cable]." AUSTIN POWERS did it. But they were not seeing it. I'm not sure if it will ever happen. Maybe that's for the best. Sequels are... I mean, we have plenty of different ideas.
Beaks: Yeah, but if you think you can find a way to make it work for a reasonable budget, why wouldn't they want to do it? I hear the movie quoted all the time. "Stay classy." People have grown to love ANCHORMAN.
McKay: We really wanted to do it. The musical idea got us really excited. We had a bunch of ideas, met with Judd [Apatow], started kicking around more ideas, and, truthfully, we were shocked when they said "No." We thought that was our one ace in the hole: "Well, we can always make ANCHORMAN 2." But nope!
I don't know. We'll see. We've talked about STEP BROTHERS 2, which seems to slowly be building fans as well. It's not ANCHORMAN, but there's a possibility we might do that. Although, maybe we just don't do sequels. It's not a bad idea to not do sequels. I kind of like it.
Beaks: Personally, with the others, I'd prefer you don't. But it's always seemed to me that more could be done with those ANCHORMAN characters.
McKay: I agree. It was not mined. I feel confident we would've at least done a decent movie; it wouldn't have sucked, that's for sure. Would it be as good and fun as the first one? No, probably not, because that's the first time you've done it. But if we did enough different shit with it... THE GODFATHER PART II, to me, is the only sequel that's better than the first one. I mean, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was great...
Beaks: I think TOY STORY 2 is better than the first.
McKay: Eh, you might be right. But the trick with THE GODFATHER PART II was that it was a totally different world. It had a whole different look and feel. If we could've been able to pull that off, we'll never know. But we would've for sure gone down in a blaze of glory. We were going to do the craziest shit we've ever done. We were doing that as a rule. "Let's do fucked up shit in this movie."
Yeah, I don't know. Maybe it'll happen. Maybe a year from now things will be different.
Beaks: Well, Paramount's giving us xXx 3-D, so we've no right to bitch.
Beaks: Obviously, you're very politically active. With your movies, are you still trying to figure out how much weight they can bear with regards to political content?
McKay: You know, I never think of politics as a separate thing. I always think of it like, "We live in this country, we live in this culture, it's all the same thing." I like to do a lot of different stuff, and, to me, stuff in the White House and the Senate and elections are just part of the picture. I just try not to ignore it. Things like TALLADEGA NIGHTS: there was no doubt that came out of the fact that Bush's approval ratings were at ninety percent when we started writing it. The world was crazy at that point. So we said, "Okay, let's get into it. Let's go to a NASCAR race. Let's see what's going on." It's not so much political as it is social.
Beaks: I know you're thinking about doing THE BOYS. Were the action sequences in THE OTHER GUYS a warm-up to that? And are you trying to get deeper into the studio game? Or would you like to step back and do something a little more dangerous and indie? Where are you headed?
McKay: We have two projects that are on the horizon. I didn't hear about THE BOYS until after we shot THE OTHER GUYS. I'm a comic book fan, so I was obviously aware of THE BOYS, but when I read the script and re-read the comic, I was like, "Oh, shit. This is really good." I try not to think in terms of "the studio system" or "not". I like people to see the movies we do; I think it's important to have an interaction with the audience, because otherwise it's a one-sided story.
On the other hand, another script we're working on is the Lee Atwater story. We have Jesse Armstrong [Academy Award nominee for IN THE LOOP] working on a draft of that, and we have research being done. That would definitely be a smaller movie. I don't think you'd get more than $8 million or $6 million to do that; even with a giant star, I don't think you'd get more than that. What's interesting to me is this: if you're on set, and you're bored or it feels like a job... this kind of work should never feel like that. That's what I'm trying to avoid. I feel like I'm incredibly lucky to be in this situation and have this kind of opportunity, so whatever I do, I want to feel like there's a reason for it to be done.
Beaks: One last question: I always felt like you might've had some involvement in one of my favorite SNL segments ever, "Conspiracy Theory Rock" I mean, I love Robert Smigel, but I can feel your sensibility in there.
McKay: I wrote it with him. I think I'm credited on it. Maybe I'm not credited. I gave him a joke or two for it for sure. You know the story with it, don't you?
Beaks: They pulled it.
McKay: Yeah! A friend of mine was in the control room, and he called and told me that they pulled it. I was like, "What do you mean?" And he said, "GE pulled the piece." Somehow, it got leaked to a bunch of different newspaper sources, and there was a big brouhaha. God bless, Lorne Michaels: he didn't care. But GE was freaking out, and they wanted someone's head on a platter for that. It eventually went away; I think their PR people were like, "Better to be quiet than make a story out of it." But, yeah, that was first-hand, obvious corporate censorship.
You know, Howard Dean, back when he was ahead of everyone for the Democratic nomination, did an interview with Chris Matthews, and he was asked, "What would you do about media-opolies?" And he said, "I'd break them up." And [Matthews] said, "You mean you wouldn't let GE run NBC?" And he said, "Absolutely not. It's unhealthy for a democracy." The next day, all of the mainstream press started asking "Is Howard Dean too angry?" So you talk about media-opolies, there you go.
THE OTHER GUYS hits theaters this Friday, August 6th. Prius owners beware.