IR Interview: Jay Sits Down With Author Kevin Kwan and Co-Stars Gemma Chan and Jimmy O. Yang to Discuss Their Delightful New Film CRAZY RICH ASIANS

by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-Chief

“Crazy Rich Asians” is a contemporary romantic comedy based on the acclaimed worldwide bestseller by Kevin Kwan. The story follows New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life. Not only is he the scion of one of the country’s wealthiest families, but also one of its most sought-after bachelors. Being on Nick’s arm puts a target on Rachel’s back, with jealous socialites and, worse, Nick’s own disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh) taking aim. It soon becomes clear that the only thing crazier than love is family, in this funny and romantic story sure to ring true for audiences everywhere.

Directed by Jon M. Chu, “Crazy Rich Asians” features an international cast of stars, led by Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, and Awkwafina, with Ken Jeong and Michelle Yeoh. The large starring ensemble also includes Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remi Hii, Nico Santos, and Jing Lusi.

Gemma Chan plays one of the book’s most beloved characters, “Astrid’s story is so big, we had to be very strategic about which parts of it to include,” Chu acknowledges. “Casting was also challenging because Astrid is so flawless, you wonder how such a person could exist on this planet.” In sync with many fan-site wish lists, the director’s search led to Gemma Chan. “She’s so elegant and warm. She can appear both relatable and untouchable at the same time, which is, I think, the trick to playing Astrid with all those facets to her personality and upbringing. Gemma was the
absolute embodiment of the role,” he says.

Bernard Tai, enthusiastically portrayed by Jimmy O. Yang. Not technically related, Bernard nabs the honor of staging Colin’s bachelor party via his father’s business ties with Colin’s dad. In other words, they’re stuck with him. Yang calls him “a billionaire playboy not doing much with his life except partying and having fun. He’s kind of a douche, but he loves himself and he loves life. Imagine an 18-year-old who just graduated high school with a billion dollars.”

Author, Kevin Kwan served as an executive producer on the film and makes a cameo in the montage where the gossip over Nick and Rachel’s imminent visit goes viral. He consulted on myriad details from character to costumes, locations to design, opened up his private family albums to inspire the design teams and even put the filmmakers in touch with a private watch collector who lent the production a prized high-end timepiece that arrived with its own security escort. “He was the best creative partner,” Chu attests.

I was fortunate to speak to author Kevin Kwan, as well as Gemma Chan and Jimmy O. Yang on their recent stop in Boston.

The following interview has been edited for content and clarity.

By virtue of the process there are always differences between a book and film. Going into it were you told they were going to change some things? Did you have input even though you weren’t the one adapting the book for the screenplay?

Kevin Kwan: I was involved in the very beginning. I chose the screenwriter and worked with him. I helped to really lay out the general outline of the story and I knew that HE needed to make the choices, the hard choices. I didn’t know which babies I wanted to sacrifice. I’m glad I didn’t play that role. It was very clear to me from the start that we needed someone to make those hard decisions and really adapt a five-hundred page book into an hour and forty-five minutes. You’re going to lose storylines, you’re going to lose characters and hopefully we can do many more movies so THAT gets covered. I’m thrilled with how it was adapted.

What does this movie mean to you? It’s the first big studio film in a quarter century to feature an all Asian cast and there’s not enough of these being made. Did you feel the added weight of that responsibility to make sure the film was great so that there would be more opportunity for Asians going forward?

Jimmy O. Yang: I think as an actor and seeing the script with a full Asian cast, it’s so surprising that you think, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this is getting made and I NEED to be a part of this.” Then I start uncovering more and more how great this project actually is. Reading the script, it’s a good, funny script and getting to audition, I auditioned for Colin first and then they offered me the Bernard role which I was more than happy to play. Then start to listen to the audio books and hang out with everyone. When we landed in Singapore, in the hotel lobby and we’re all like, “You like Asian food, too?” like, of course. “And you like karaoke?” It was just such a special bond that all of us have and still have. We’re still really good friends, all of us.

Kevin Kwan: Which never happens, right? You see them and then you never see them again.

Jimmy O. Yang: Yeah. All the time. I might have one friend from each movie that I still kinda talk to. THIS is different. When Ronnie (Chieng), whenever he comes from New York to L.A. or Gemma (Chan) is in town, when Kevin (Kwan) is in town… it’s like, let’s hang. We are each others priority, because really… for me culturally, yes, of course, it’s very important. In just a microcosm in a personal sense, it felt like I found my creed in my peers, which has been very hard for me as a comic and as an actor. Hopefully the audience will feel the same way, watching this movie they will finally feel like our voice is being heard and that our faces are being represented. Hopefully it’s just one of many to come and this is to just open up the doors. I think it’s a great start and we’re all very excited about it.

Gemma Chan: What really excited me when I read the script and the books was that although this specific story was about these characters that happen to be Asian, the themes of it are really very universal. Love, friendship, family, relationships, the conflict between old and new and different generations. It excited me that I could feel that that would be something that would resonate and would appeal, hopefully, to people who aren’t Asian.

Kevin Kwan: Absolutely.

Gemma Chan: If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t quite fit in or that you’re an outsider, that that’s something that would speak to you. For so long the universal experience has been assumed to be white and what I hope this shows, this story, is that it doesn’t have to be. Anyone should be able to watch this film and identify and feel for these characters. That’s the significance for me.

Jimmy O. Yang: Yeah. It’s an Asian story, but at the same time it’s a very authentic story, I think that’s why it’s so good because Kevin actually knows these people and has had the experiences. I think it encourages more authentic writing from everyone, which includes Asians and other minorities.

Did you find that because of Hollywood executives might make the argument that because you have non-white leads and a non-white cast that you had to compensate in any way to make the film especially appealing.

Kevin Kwan: We really didn’t encounter that, actually. There was one producer that suggested we change the lead to a white Reese, Johansson or someone like that. I didn’t even entertain that. Every other producer that came was really truly interested in the idea of this film because of the story. The story is one that transcends race. It’s called Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s not just because their Asian. It’s a universal story. They saw the potential for this in the worldwide market.

Jimmy O. Yang: I think people should look at this like a Game of Thrones, this author has so much source material that takes you to a different world. When we watched the first clip at the wrap party, just a little trailer that Jon (director Jon M. Chu) made for the cast, I was like, “Oh my god, the color, the people, the sets-”

Kevin Kwan: The music!

Jimmy O. Yang: The music! It was just like, oh this is not just a bunch of Asian people. This is literally like taking you to Narnia or Middle Earth or Westeros. It’s a whole new world that they’ve set up that hopefully everyone can enjoy. It just so happens that in this world everyone is Asian.

Was there anything from the book that you wanted to keep in the film that didn’t end up in the script?

Kevin Kwan: Wow. So much. There’s so many characters and storylines that were dear to me that didn’t make it in.

Gemma Chan: Astrid and Charlie.

Kevin Kwan: Beginning with Astrid and Charlie. That’s a huge storyline that her entire emotional arc was very severely cut down. Although we did restore quite a bit of it as we went along. But there was just no time. An hour and forty-five minutes.

Gemma Chan: I’m waiting for the spin-off.

What were you most excited to see brought to life from the book? Was there anything that surprised you in the film?

Kevin Kwan: I think it was really cool how Jon supersized things. I had a vision of an amazing, obnoxious bachelor party, for example. In my book it takes place on a super yacht and he was like, how can we make this cinematic to a degree that people’s jaws will drop? So he did it on a super tanker. The wedding, for example, in my book it’s only a fifty million dollar wedding and that’s old hat at this point for the really, truly rich Chinese. So how could we take that and really convey that in a way that would be spectacular? I think he succeeded. I watched it and my jaw dropped in the wedding scene when the bride enters. Not only is it a spectacle, it’s just so emotionally engaging. The music, everything, it all worked. To me, those were the surprise moments.

What was it like shooting in Singapore?

Kevin Kwan: Singapore and Malaysia.

Kevin, Gemma: It was hot.

Jimmy O. Yang: It was like one-hundred fifteen degrees.

Gemma Chan: It was SO hot.

Jimmy O. Yang: The bachelor party scene was in an empty parking lot in the middle of nowhere in Malaysia. It had a functioning helipad that was three stories high. I got sunburned from my gold chain. We couldn’t have shot that anywhere else. It was brilliant.

Kevin Kwan: You could feel the heat.

Jimmy O. Yang: You need to feel the experience, right? And eat the local food. It was like a whole immersive experience. I do not think we could have done this movie on a sound stage in L.A.

There was obviously material that was excised when adapting the book to a screenplay, but were there scenes that you shot that you were bummed to see cut?

Jimmy O. Yang: There was a lot of the bachelor party that was edited out. That was actually way more ridiculous than (what was in the film). We improvised quite a bit. I was happy with how it turned out. We got some of it back in the wedding with the scene of me and Chris Pang and Colin. That was completely improvised and I’m glad they kept it in there. I know that the character serves the story and I gotta come off the bench and hit a couple shots, you know? Because everyone is so good in this romantic, great plot and I just need to get some laughs in the serious moments to cut it up and I get that. It’s no hard feelings, everybody else is so great. If everybody else sucked and they cut out my great scenes I would have had a problem, but this whole movie was such respect for each other and everybody pulled their weight. Even when scenes got cut we were happy to see other people shine.

Gemma Chan: I really thought that the whole cast did such a great job. Every character, no matter how long their screen time was were distinctive and had their moment and did shine. It was amazing to watch. Same as Jimmy, I did do scenes that did not make it into the movie, but when I saw the film I was completely happy and understood why that had happened and this just means there is a wealth of stuff we can put into the sequel.

 

Be sure to check out the delightful Crazy Rich Asians in theaters today!

Indie Revolver Talks to Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal About Gentrification and Their New Masterpiece BLINDSPOTTING

by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-Chief

In Blindspotting, Collin (Daveed Diggs) must make it through his final three days of probation for a chance at a new beginning. He and his troublemaking childhood best friend, Miles (Rafael Casal), work as movers, and when Collin witnesses a police shooting, the two men’s friendship is tested as they grapple with identity and their changed realities in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood they grew up in.

Their other mutual love was Oakland. But the Oakland they’d grown up with, a place of equal parts defiant grit and revelatory grace, was changing so fast it made their heads spin. Hipsters had invaded the boulevards, healthy foods (and prices) had hit the bodegas, and business was booming … but what was being erased in the process?

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal about Blindspotting, one of the years best films, after a charged screening of the film in Boston back in April. The energy of these two artists was palpable as we spoke in a closed hotel bar the morning after.

The following interview has been edited for content and clarity.

IR: The theme of change while trying to maintain identity is at the heart of Blindspotting. Post incarcerated Collin feels like a guy who is struggling with his own personal gentrification in his relationship with Miles while the city they inhabit, Oakland, itself is also struggling with gentrification. The film doesn’t seem to take a stance on whether gentrification is good or bad which I found interesting. What is your opinion when it comes to gentrification?

Daveed Diggs: Gentrification is problematic when it either ignores or very intentionally covers up or destroys the community that already existed. The soul cycle place is not the problem. It’s the… I mean, you move into a new area where you’ve never been before and you sort of have a choice when you move there, are you going to interact with the community that’s already here or do the easier thing to do and what you’re often encouraged to do if you’re in a new groundswell of people moving into a brand new building with no history attached to it and where, generally speaking, it’s all new people in that building… The thing you’re encouraged to do is participate in a brand new life that popped up out of nowhere in this desert where this newly discovered frontier of places to live… So gentrification is tricky, right? Space is at a premium, everything is getting more expensive, we don’t have answers for how communities are supposed to deal with it and everybody is dealing with it differently. You see cities trying to, in every new building, make sure certain percentages have to be low income housing. There’s all that stuff that is happening, but it all gets complicated by what, because ultimately the flow of the money is going to dictate the policy. So, if new people move in with more money and therefore have more power to dictate policy and say we don’t want these people in this building or we’re moving out. The policy might change. It’s very complicated and layered and you’re right, in the film we’re trying not to take a stance, we’re trying to present the lesser seen effects of a changing landscape.

Rafael Casal: You have a neighborhood that’s had decades of tension between the community and police before an influx of new people come in. And then these new people show up and they have a different relationship with the police. The previously existing residents don’t inherit the new position that the police have with the new neighborhood. If anything, the old neighborhood feels more criminal, because now there’s this… You can identify the old and new by where they live and what they look like and who gets protection and safety are two very different populations of people. So, if anything, it creates tension between the old community, it feels even more violent because now, right on top of you, is a community that’s getting policed just fine and the original residents are getting the police called on them in spaces that used to feel like theirs.

IR: It definitely feels like you had those themes in there but you didn’t make a social commentary or political film. You wrote a personal story and that stuff is in there, but it’s a smaller individual story.

Daveed Diggs: That was the hope, right? We weren’t setting out to write a film about issues. We were just trying to tell these guys’ story.

IR: Everything is inherently political now.

Daveed Diggs: We’re also all dealing with these things all the time. Everybody is. You can’t not. This is world we live in. All we’re doing is telling this story of these two guys who we hope the audience cares about. But not ignoring the way the world works.

Rafael Casal: There’s no such thing as non-political art.

IR: Not now.

Rafael Casal: Not ever. You’re either supporting the status quo or you’re challenging it. That’s it. We didn’t set out to make something political, but we are aware that everything we make is political. A great story is a personal story that has a universal value. So instead of coming out all preachy, with politics on our sleeve and shit… We don’t really have to. All we have to do is… The great mechanism of empathy is if things are corrupt or wrong or worth investigating all you have to do is show them in the most human way. And then empathy broods. Everyone is rooting for Collin in the movie and no one is rooting for Collin in the world. Straight up. So the political act, to me, is just an audience of people rooting for Collin for once. That’s it. I love when people gasp in fear for him. I love hoping that that’s just collective whiteness gasping.

Daveed Diggs: It’s also blackness gasping. It’s humanity gasping. It is, hopefully, a moment where everyone in the theater is feeling the same thing. Which is wild, right? Because Collin’s fear is based in the fact that generally in the world that is not true. That’s why we can all look at that moment and go, “Oh shit, he’s fucked right now.”

IR: The film really works because it makes the audience ask those questions and does provoke thought and engaging an audience, which doesn’t happen enough these days. It doesn’t spoon-feed all the answers and challenges you to look at yourself and the world around you a little differently.

Daveed Diggs: Check your blind spots.

Great advice, check out Blindspotting in theaters now.

IR INTERVIEW: Broken Lizard Reveal the History of the Meow Gag, Beef With Jim Gaffigan and Taking the Piss out of Canada With Super Troopers 2!

L-R: Paul Soter (“Foster”), Steve Lemme (“Mac”), Erik Stolhanske (“Rabbit”), Jay Chandrasekhar (“Thorny” Writer/Director) and Kevin Heffernan (“Farva”). PHOTO CREDIT: Aram Bogoshian

by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-Chief

I hate to be a bummer, but I’ve been going through a real rough patch lately due to the passing of my mom just before this past Christmas and then April fourth being the ten-year anniversary of my dad passing away.  So I’ve been in a pretty dark place for a while now. On the tenth anniversary of my dad’s passing I sat down to talk with Kevin Heffernan (Farva), Steve Lemme (Mac), Paul Soter (Foster) and Erik Stolhanske (Rabbit), who comprise four-fifths of the comedy troop Broken Lizard (You were missed, Jay Chandraskhar), about Super Troopers 2 and I came out feeling a lot better than I had thanks to their humorous stories and the fact that (thanks to a local appearance) were in their complete Vermont State Trooper costumes. (They were even kind enough to sign a liter of cola for me) I really couldn’t have asked for more than that.

We covered a lot of ground, from the origins of the iconic meow joke in the original film, to Kevin Heffernan’s beef with comedian Jim Gaffigan (who appears in both films), to how they go about crafting an R-Rated comedy in today’s social climate. It was a great chat and the new film is really funny, so be sure to check it out this weekend!

The following interview has been edited for content and clarity:

So what was it like being on a set together for the first time in a while?

Kevin Heffernan: We’ve known each other for so long and we’ve been doing it for many, many years. So it was kind of old hat. It was just a matter of growing the mustaches and putting the uniforms on and you’re right back into it.

Steve Lemme: We’ve done these characters before so it’s not like trying something new. It was like slipping back into a nice comfortable slipper.

Paul Soter: I think that’s part of what a lot of people like about the films, the easy familiarity from the fact that we’ve been buddies for almost thirty years. So, for us, it’s just hanging out with the buddies again.

Lemme: There’s a lot of B.S., like for instance just now, Paul was talking and Kevin was pouring his water, which you’ll probably hear on the microphones. It reminds me of a funny story. We had our first test screening back in March and Kevin had a great idea to bring his phone (to record audio of the audience) so we could hear where the laughs were during the movie and we could bring that in the editing room to line it up against the movie. I was sitting next to Kevin and I had my Nachos (all four start to laugh) and it takes a while to get through a plate of nachos. So for the first thirty minutes of the tape is just me CRUNCHING. (Laughter)

Soter: And then also you hear Heffernan, “What the fuck are you doing? Eating nachos while I’m recording,” and you (Lemme) were like, “I was hungry.” (Then Heffernan was like) “We just had dinner.” (Lemme) “But they were for free.” Suddenly they’re like this husband and wife bickering. Between that and the sound of the nachos, it was unusable audio.

Lemme: So making movies with your friends, that’s what happens.

When you’re slipping into a comfortable role, you guys have played these characters before, does that facilitate the process versus having to step into completely new characters and completely new roles and archetypes?

Soter: Yeah, because it’s always the hardest part of any movie. Like, coming up with ideas, we could do that all day. Writing jokes (is something) we do all day. Five guys with five different voices, you know? You read it on paper and if you haven’t distinguished those different voices… People read a script and it’s just a bunch of talk. But everybody had that voice established (already). 

Heffernan: You’re able to hit the ground running and you don’t have to worry about character so much. You just worry about the bits and the jokes.

Lemme: I think that contributed to the insanity of Farva in Super Troopers 2. Anytime we had an un-PC line or an obnoxious line, we gave it to Farva. And as a result, ALL he says is un-PC, obnoxious shit.

Heffernan: He’s a little bit unhinged.

Erik Stolhanske: Makes you wonder a little if he had a tumor.

Soter: (To Heffernan) Would you consider, if there’s a third one, do you want to push it even farther so that he’s just completely like…

Heffernan: No, we were talking about going in the other direction and I would be the romantic lead.

Soter: Oh, ok.

Heffernan: And I would get the girl.

Soter: You will have survived the tumor operation and it will be like Regarding Henry and you’ll be a quiet, thoughtful soul.

Lemme: By the way, that’s a terrific idea.

Soter: Ok, let’s all agree to sit on that one. You can’t use that.

We’ve got it recorded here if you need to find us.

Soter: It all depends on opening weekend.

You previously said that there were a lot of re-writes and with your improv background and having guys like Tyler Labine and Will Sasso, how much of the script makes it to what is seen on screen?

Heffernan: We definitely like to shoot the script, because we spend a lot of time crafting the jokes. We’ll improv in rehearsals and will put lines in that way, so it will hopefully be fresh. When you bring the new players in, they want to have fun and that’s a good thing.  Will Sasso is one of the great improvisers around and you can’t NOT improvise when he’s around.

That kind of lead to that scene, the Danny DeVito scene, which was not in the first thirty drafts of the script. We just put some filler in there for the scene and then we started hanging out with them and we did this Danny Devito riff where we were talking about this topic and after work we’d be riffing about it and they were like, “God, that’s so funny let’s put it in.” So we wrote the scene, like the day before and we shot it and we’re all like, “No way it’s gonna get in the movie.” It’s so weird and esoteric. And why are you spending time with the bad guys? Then we cut it in and were like, “nope that’s not even gonna make it.” Then, the first time we showed it to an audience and they laughed we were like, holy shit this is really funny.

Soter: Usually that’s the kind of riff that’s hilarious to us at the moment, when we’re stoned, and the next day you look at it and you’re like, “Yeeeah ok,” and you chalk it up to being high. In this case there was still that feeling of, was this something that was just funny to us in the moment?

Heffernan: The response has been amazing. People love that scene. I think that’s because it’s just a fun, weird, different kind of conversation. Not that it’s earth shattering in any way.

Lemme: Traditionally in our movies you don’t really get to go behind the curtain of your nemesis and this is just one of those things where you can take a break from us and get to know these guys a little.

Soter: One of the things that really helps is that our intention was always… In the first one the bad guys are just dicks and they really had no business being dicks to us, but in this case these are guys who from their point of view… These guys just show up and are claiming we’re all American  now and they’re going to lose their jobs. So it allows to have that balance of, yeah we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys but at the same time, I dunno, maybe we’re the bad guys and they’re the good guys? Canadian jokes can be followed up by American jokes and it keeps things light.

Lemme: Let’s just say we enjoyed taking the piss out of Canadians.

Heffernan: And us. We get as much as we give.

Thirty drafts is SO many. How did it come to thirty drafts?

Heffernan: Part of it was how long it took the movie to get made. Every time there was a chance that we got funding or whatever it was, there would be a flurry of activity and you do five or six drafts. Some of them were just joke drafts and some of them had full plots that ended up being too hard to shoot or (were) too expensive or there were too many characters. For multiple, multiple drafts we had a United States Homeland Security guy.

Lemme: Jim Bigwood.

Heffernan: And we had too many characters and we’d fold them in. A lot of them were just like, “Let’s punch this scene up,” so you’d have a new draft once you punched the scene up.

Lemme: Technical stuff, like the pull-overs for instance, we knew we wanted to do pull-overs but the nature of the pull-overs in the first one was like, we’re bored (and) this is how you meet people. We’re just peppering them throughout the movie. In this one we couldn’t really do that, because essentially we have to be on our best behavior. So the challenge is where are we going to put these pull-overs? Each draft has a different set of pull-overs and different locations and finally we just realized we were going to put them at the back of the movie (for good reason). Those were like ten drafts just trying to figure out how the pieces go.

Farva’s got an amazing Canadian counterpart in the film. How did that character come about?

Lemme:  He’s a funny character. Originally it was just a mention of that character. Then at some point we were like, we should see this guy.

Heffernan: Lonnie Laloush.

Soter: As we have come to find over the years, when we talk to people who love the first one, everyone is like, “I’ve got a Farva in my life.” We thought to make it just a little throwaway that of course in Canada they’re going to have one, too. We found ourselves too intrigued and were like, I gotta know what this guy looks like and what this guy sounds like and then you (motions to Kevin Heffernan) had met Paul Walter Hauser as he started to take off.  

Heffernan: Yeah. He’s the bodyguard in I, Tonya, Sean Eckhardt. It was fun. He was a young comic and had some credits and I had done an improv show with him and after it was done I said to these guys that I had found the guy who is going to be Canadian Farva. The guy is fucking great. So we sent him in to our casting director and he did the read for it and he got the part. The same casting director was casting I, Tonya and they needed this character. Because he did Super Troopers 2, they called him in and he got that part. We felt great that we helped get him along into bigger and better things.

Lemme: Also from his audition tape, we were like this guy is so fucking funny, we need to see a little more of him. So we decided that they should run into each other. And that was the evolution from a name on a page, to a scene, to a second scene.

Soter: That was the fun thing about bringing in guys. Everybody wanted to make those contributions, so the exchange between Lonnie Laloush and Farva was quick, but in those ten takes he had a different line and had prepped a different read and we got into the editing room and EVERYTHING was gold. How do you choose one of these ten things? He didn’t prep us, so we were trying not to laugh and he just kept pulling this shit out of his pocket, each thing funnier than the last.

Is there a reason you didn’t focus too much on what the main characters had been up to for the last fifteen years?

Heffernan: Yeah, we just didn’t want to get bogged down narratively. The whole idea was just to get to the laughs. I think we just kind of made a joke about it essentially in the opening scene, this idea that we got fired and went on America’s Got Talent and all of a sudden became a band and it kind of went from there. We talked about that a lot and there was so much time that we didn’t even know if the movie was going to get made, so that we kind of made a conscious effort to gloss over that and get us back where people want to see us, in these uniforms, and go from there.

Soter: For a long time we felt that we needed to establish exactly how many years had passed, exactly what we’d been doing, and went around and around and around because it was like,  if we talk about it in real time is that exposing how much longer it’s been? Then if we pick it up right after the first one left off, are we gonna look old and stupid, trying to be young again? At the end of the day I think… do we need to get hung up on it? Does the audience necessarily need to get hung up on the nitty gritty? Let’s just start and make it funny and let’s get everybody along for the ride.

How tough is it to craft an R-rated comedy now compared to when the first film came out? People have become a lot more sensitive, is there ever a concern that you’re going too far?

Heffernan: I think we just use the same bar that we’ve always used and that’s, does it make the other guys laugh? If you can make the other four guys laugh then you’ll probably get it in the movie. We didn’t get too caught up in, I don’t think we did, crossing any boundaries. The funny thing is, when we shot a couple years ago, there was a Stephen Hawking joke in there and now that he’s recently died we look like assholes. But we wrote it and shot it a couple years ago.

Lemme: We wrote… Well really, Rob Lowe came in with the Halifax explosion riff. That was all his idea and his riff. We showed this thing in Toronto on the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion. That came up and some of them gasped and we were like, “I guess, fuck it.”

Soter: Certainly there were times where we discussed that we might need some sensitivity to, “What are cops doing to innocent people?” So even something that’s a pull-over, we’d definitely talk about it. We tried to make some call-outs, like when the little kids (in the film) are on drugs or you have them on leashes… This is the kind of thing that could go viral. (We) tried to stay away from anything cruel or unwarranted.

Heffernan: I think our philosophy, in general, is to create a world where you’re likable guys and then people want to hang out with you in that world. So, it’s never like we go into it being mean or controversial or that kind of stuff.

I recently read a tweet in which Patton Oswalt referred to Ted Nugent as a beta and the first response I saw was someone saying it was sexist to refer to him as a beta. It just seems like frequently people are looking for new ways to be offended. It just seems like it could be tougher to make an R-rated comedy now with people finding ways to be offended constantly.

Heffernan: I guess we’ll find out that Monday after opening weekend if we crossed the line. I don’t know.

With this being in development for so long and with so many different storylines, why did you settle on this specific one?

Heffernan: It kind of mutated for a while. When we first came up with the idea, it was kind of a post-9/11 border reassessment type of thing. Then, it kind of shifted over the years to become more of a border war, kind of in the vein of how topical it is to maintain our borders. We were just able to shift it with the times a little bit. Things kind of mutated as time went on. You’d take things out thatn didn’t fit.

Stolhanske: But that main plotline was always involved.

Soter: You do wanna straddle that line on a sequel of familiarity to the first film with some kind of new landscape. It’s like Bad News Bears go to Japan. We’ve got to put them someplace new. In our case it was like, alright these guys are right on the border. So you bump these guys up just fifteen miles and you’re getting the best of both worlds. We’re still more or less in the same landscape and yet you get fish out of water comedy and conflicts. To us it didn’t seem like we were going too far into sequel-itis, but still creates a different dynamic.

I have to ask you guys about my favorite Super Troopers gag. The meow gag. Because when I think of Super Troopers, I’m sure I’m not the only person whose brain goes right to that joke. I’m so curious of the oral history of how you guys came up with that gag.

Lemme: It was late at night.

Heffernan: (Laughing)

Lemme: We were in the Travel Lodge on Pico in Santa Monica. The five of us were all jammed into just one room. It was late at night so we were partying a little bit, just hangning out. We were not writing the script and we started riffing on this magical clown-wizard.

Soter: A wizard. Who could turn your tongue into a cat’s tongue. And how funny that would be if your tongue was small and sandpapery and that was the riff for a while. Then somebody was like, “Yeah, yeah and instead of saying ‘now’ you’d say ‘meow.’” That illicited a new round of laughter and we were kind of yelling and screaming meow at each other in this hotel room to the point of getting noise complaints. To me, it just sort of distilled the essence of… our humor is like guys being idiots trying to make each other laugh. We had this construct of… We’ve been on so many road trips and were always in cars together. What if this was our life? What if this was your job? Driving around trying to make your life intersting and trying to make the other guys laugh. It’s so absurd.

Heffernan: The funny part was when we wrote that scene and then we went around to the studios trying to get money to make the movie and inevitably people would point to that scene and be like, “What the fuck is this?” Like, all these movie executives would be on the page  and be like, “What the fuck is this?” And we’re like, “It’s this thing, uhhh.” Nobody ever got it and it got us booted out of rooms. But we ended up doing it to the point that people love it. Then we had to figure out in this one how to call it back. We had this idea of the meow game is something people point to and maybe it’s iconic, but in these guys lives, these characters, it was just one game they played many years ago and they have a thousand of them and if they pulled over that same guy and he’s like, “That’s my game,” and they’re like, “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” We kind of had a riff like that. It was the funny twist on the meow game.

Soter: Right. That idea that we’ve let out into the cultural atmosphere this bizarre little thing that gets repeated back to us all the time, but when we put ourselves in Mac and Foster’s shoes we were like, would they remember the meow game? The idea that this many years later someone could be like, “I saw you on the job fourteen years ago and you said something”. You might be like, “Why the fuck would I remember what I said fifteen years ago?” It felt like a meta way to re-approach the material.

Heffernan: And bring in Jim Gaffigan again, who is now much larger than he was.

Lemme: When we made the first Super Troopers, Jim Gaffigan was a guy who was doing commercials who came in to audition for the movie. He did a great job with the audition and four of us wanted to cast him in the role, but Kevin had a personal rivalry with him because they would always see each other at commercial auditions and Gaffigan won the part every single time.

(Laughter)

Soter: It always came down to those two.

Lemme: It’s an unspoken rule that we have veto power. If there’s one guy you got beef with, you can be like, “Nah, fuck that guy,” and Heffernan was exercising that. He said, “Nah, nah, not this guy. I hate this fucking guy.” But we were like, this audition is too good, this guy is money. So we put him in the role. On the day we were shooting the scene and we’re having a great time with Gaffigan and he’s telling dirty jokes and all the guys are gathered around. We’re like, this guy is awesome. And there’s Heffernan alone at the craft services table. But then, cut to: we’re making the (new) movie with Gaffigan now and now he shows up in his private jet, he was doing Wilbur Theatre shows (in Boston) so he flew himself on his own dime on a private jet and shot the scene for six hours and then flew out of there.

How hard is it finding that balance to the references you want from the first movie and putting them into the second movie?

Heffernan: I think it homogenated a little bit. I think that’s a criticism of a sequel, that you take the same joke and bring it back. Our philosophy was that if you’re going to bring a joke back, let’s put a little spin on it, a little twist on it, or some other reason to call it back, like the meow thing. Then it will make it funnier, like bringing back Lonnie Laloush to do the “who wants cream?” joke from the first movie to put a little spin on it. That was in our minds, of not going too far.

Soter: And to always have it be something that, if you hadn’t seen the first one, it wouldn’t take you out of the movie.

Stolhanske: A lot of people have asked how we could shoot in Canada and not have a maple syrup chugging scene. But it was that balance where you couldn’t bring back everything. So it was trying to find that fine line.

Was there anything that didn’t make the final cut?

Heffernan: It was more like cutting things back in scenes, like the liter of cola callback scene was like, how far do you go with the liter of cola joke. To pull back a little. People want to see them, they want to see those references so you have to find a way to do them cleverly so you’re not just doing the same joke over and over again.

Lemme: The fans will be like, “You gotta bring back the stoners and the border cops and the meow game and the repeater game and you need Johnny Chimpo, BUT don’t make the same fucking movie this time.”

 

Super Troopers 2 is out today nationwide, so make sure to incorporate it into your 4/20 plans. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Jay Talks With Actor Paul Scheer and Screenwriter Michael H. Weber About The Disaster Artist!

12/06/17 – 12:00PM

by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-Chief

With The Disaster Artist, James Franco transforms the tragicomic true story of aspiring filmmaker and infamous Hollywood outsider Tommy Wiseau—an artist whose passion was as sincere as his methods were questionable—into a celebration of friendship, artistic expression, and dreams pursued against insurmountable odds. Based on Greg Sestero’s best-selling tell-all about the making of Tommy’s cult-classic disasterpiece The Room (“The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made”), The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and welcome reminder that there is more than one way to become a legend—and no limit to what you can achieve when you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with actor Paul Scheer and the co-screenwriter of The Disaster Artist, Michael H. Weber when they stopped by Boston to present the film. We get into some great topics such as Tommy Wiseau executing his singular vision better than Steven Spielberg, some big cameos that hit the cutting room floor and more.

The following interview has been edited for content and clarity:

Jay: Paul I know you covered The Room on an episode of your podcast, How Did This Get Made (I’m a big fan), but what was your familiarity with The Room prior to your work on The Disaster Artist?

Paul Scheer: I always say that The Room is like this ayahuasca-esque experience where you hear about it and you don’t know what it is, but then you’re kind of curious about it. And that’s kind of how I got brought into it. People would talk about it all the time, there was that billboard in L.A. and I watched it one night with a group of friends at a big… we like rented a house, and it was like one of those things like you’re sitting on the edge of your couch and you’re moving forward and you’re like, ” Wait, wait, what’s going on? The sex scene is playing again?” Our minds were blown. So much so that the next night we re-watched the movie again. It’s a move that keeps on giving, honestly. That was my first introduction to it. I think once you see The Room your next goal is to find someone who has not seen it and then introduce them to it.

When it came to our podcast, we wanted to do an episode about The Room, but it had been so often discussed, so we wanted to do it in an interesting way. We had a friend who reached out to us who said, “Hey would you like to have Greg (Sestero) on the show?” I was like, “Absolutely.” That’s where my love of The Room went deep, because he had not written the book at that point. I think maybe he has just sold a pitch for it. (He) just started telling these stories about these guys and I feel like that book became, which is an amazing book and a book that I listen to on audio cassette and I highly recommend because his voice is…

Jay: I have the book, but I did not know there was an audio book so I’m going to have to track that down.

Paul: It really is a treat. So (the podcast) led to that, which then led to this and it just keeps on going.

Michael H. Weber: Scott Neustadter, my writing partner and I, we would not have been able to write The Disaster Artist without the book. There’d be no movie otherwise. I am a lifelong New Yorker and my first trip to L.A. was probably in ’03 or ’04 and I remember driving around with Scott and it was also his first time there, and we saw the billboard and we were like, “What the fuck is that thing? Is it an immersive theater experience?” We didn’t call the number, of course. We were like, we don’t want to get murdered.

Scheer: That’s the thing about that billboard that I don’t think people realize, everyone knew that billboard. It was in a beautifully central location-

Weber: It worked!

Scheer: It worked. And there’s not many billboards up in L.A. where you’re like, “What is THAT?” And that managed to be this billboard.

Weber: In your lifetime, how many billboards do you remember anywhere?

Scheer: That was the one. On that level, Tommy (Wiseau) is a genius.

Weber: Really. For a guy that wore all the hats making his movie, the hacky warfare sort of marketing and publicity might have been the best of all.

Scheer: Yeah, it’s amazing. At the end of the day the person who is going to make the most money off of anything is Tommy. The DVD’s, the merch… If you see Disaster Artist you’re going to want to buy a “You’re Tearing Me Apart, Lisa” shirt and he’s got it already made and ready to go.

Weber: The book was sent to Scott and I by Franco and Rogen. We had never met those guys. We read the book and flipped for it.

Scheer: Was that just a cold call?

Jay: I was curious about that, too.

Weber: So one of our managers knew James Weaver, who works at Point Grey and basically is a producer that runs the company for Seth and Evan (Goldberg). I guess they were looking for writers who specialize in relationship stories rather than just… Look, they’ve worked with some brilliant writers, but who tend to have more of a comedy background than Scott and I do. So I think they were looking… They knew the comedy would come, which was great because Scott and I, we thought let’s, for the most part, write this like a drama, knowing it will be funny working with them. So that’s really how we approached it. Scott probably, I think he stopped after the third chapter and watched The Room. And I waited until after we wrote the first draft because the goal wasn’t just a movie that was fan service, it had to work for people who’ve never even heard of The Room. We like to strike a kind of balance when we approach any project, where usually one of us is more of an expert or inherently more interesting to one of us than the other. How do we get the other one more into it? That’s really how we came at it.

Scheer: I have a question, because I’ve heard you talk about this… What was your reaction to The Room after reading about it? That’s an interesting way in. It’s all laid bare and your mind is probably putting together a lot of things. Was that a trippy experience to kind of see it…

Weber: Yeah, the weird thing is I’d felt like I’d seen it, which I think is a tribute to the book. The book really is designed also so anyone can read it. You don’t have to be in the film industry and you don’t need to have seen The Room to read the book. It does such a great job of describing those moments of… like the flower shop and how certain scenes turned out the way they did. You know, at the end of the day the pull for Scott and I wasn’t, ha ha let’s make fun of this bad movie. It was, let’s tell the story of these two friends, because we related to it. We were two guys who met in New York working at a production company who did no want to be doing what we were doing at that production company. We wanted to be making movies. It seemed like everyone was telling us no. So that kind of friendship, forged in sharing a dream, you don’t need to see The Room for that.

Scheer: I always say that… By the way I acknowledge that we’re still on the first question. To me it’s like, the other thing like…There is… I don’t know if I’m articulating it well, but I will say there is no difference between Paul Thomas Anderson and James Franco and Tommy Wiseau in the sense that they are people who have visions and they want to create and tell a story. The execution is where the difference is. That instinct is, I think, the most relatable thing whether you’re in the business or not. I think especially if you’re in the business it’s like, yeah let’s build something. I come from the UCB, which is the Upright Citizens Brigade, and that was a very community based thing. Did I put up some of the worst shows ever? Yeah, I did. Robot TV, it was a show by robots for robots.

Weber: That sounds amazing.

Jay: Right?

Scheer: But there’s that thing where you have an idea and everyone is leading you on and like, yes that’s a good idea and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. I think that’s relatable. That is the fabric of creation. You know? It’s not like you’re going to hit all of them out of the park.
Unless, of course, you’re Paul Thomas Anderson.

Jay: In your own opinions, what is the best entrance into The Disaster Artist? Is it seeing The Room before or after? I read the book after seeing the first trailer, then saw The Room, then saw The Disaster Artist.

Scheer: I will say the thing that I’ve been saying as we’ve been talking about this movie a lot. I think it works as a prequel OR a sequel. If you’ve seen The Room, like I did, and then saw this movie or read the script, it’s a great… It opens up your world. It’s a… I think it really works. But if you’ve never seen The Room… For example, my dad saw The Disaster Artist. He’s never going to see The Room, but I think he found so much joy in it that he might now want to see The Room because of it. Because he’s like, “Wait. That’s a real person?” I really think it works as a prequel or a sequel. I think there is no… I think that people are hesitant. “I don’t want to watch a bad movie.” For those people who are like that, go see The Disaster Artist first because you’ll be so intigued that you’re going to want to go see it. I think that’s a testament to these guys because the movie works independently of everything. You don’t need to know anything about it.

Weber: See, I think it’s a tribute to what Tommy made. The fact that we’re now having this discussion of how you approach The Room, he made a lasting piece of art that you can come at a bunch of different ways. You can argue about the technical qualities of various filmmaking elements within it, but clearly he made something lasting.

Scheer: In a world of bad movies, or in a world of movies that have questionable choices, he has reached the apex of that mountain unlike anyone else. I think you can be very hard pressed to come up with any other movie that is like this. If you tell me that Gary Busey is the gingerbread man, I can give you ten movies that are similar to that. It’s like, yeah schlocky, bullshitty… You know, how many mumblecore movies of coming to terms with being thirty-five in Ojai… There’s a million of them.

Weber: That’s my favorite genre.

Jay: Dinner party mumblecore films.

Scheer: Yes! So, in that world, yes, he’s created something so wonderfully unique and not able to be copied. Not even by Tommy. It’s this rare gem.

Jay: It’s almost like it’s one of those things where he came at it from such an honest and earnest place that anyone else who tries to do it is trying to do something ironically, which is not coming from the same place. Movies like Sharknado are purposely trying to generate cheesy. They know they’re being cheesy and they’re attempting to be cheesy and it’s not coming from a genuine place. Paul, you said that every choice Tommy made seems to be the apex of wrong.

Scheer: Yeah.

Jay: But he doesn’t know that at the time. He thinks he making the right choices to make a good film, which is not something you can really replicate. His bad movie is so great because he thinks he’s making all the right decisions.

Weber: Also, I’ll say Tommy has a more singular vision than Stephen Spielberg. Spielberg will work with the best DP’s who have thoughts. Those guys don’t get steamrolled. They have ideas and the collaborate with Spielberg. Yes, he’s the captain of the ship at the end of the day, but Tommy… It’s really his vision. He was not taking input from ANYONE ELSE at any level of making the movie. It’s really fully his vision and what he wanted it to be.

Scheer: I will continue this and say the scotchka is a perfect example of The Room. It’s like, that is something that does not exist, scotch and vodka.

Weber: It shouldn’t.

Scheer: It shouldn’t and anyone should understand that. But the fact that Scotchka is in the movie is a testament to Tommy’s… Someone should tell him that that’s not a thing.

Jay: What has been your most surreal Tommy interaction?

Weber: He’s only on set once. He negotiated his own contract and we had to shoot a scene opposite Franco. It wasn’t like we could do him opposite someone else, so there was going to have to be two guys who looked like that somewhere. He didn’t negotiate that we had to use the scene. As you know, I don’t want to spoil anything-

Scheer: But definitely stay until the very, very end. The bitter end.

Jay: It’s tremendous.

Weber: That day he was on set we had written three or four lines for this little nub of a scene and Tommy showed up and immediately said, “This is it?” And he sort of ignored what was written and did his own thing, which was so bizarre. I said, this is what it must have been like on set the day on Being John Malkovich where Malkovich went inside Malkovich, because I felt like I was inside Tommy inside Tommy. It was crazy.

Scheer: I have had the rare distinction of acting opposite of Tommy in Tommy and Greg’s follow-up to The Disaster Artist, because in their mind they consider The Room the first and The Disaster Artist second and their new film third, the ending of the trilogy of these films called Best Friends. So, I got to do a scene with Tommy in a morgue in downtown L.A. late one night.

Weber: Did he know you were in…Because Greg knows. Did Tommy know you from other things?

Scheer: Honestly, no. No. Tommy literally does not recognize me every time I see him.

Weber: Same, same.

Scheer: So I’ve seen him obviously when I did the movie with him, and I’ve seen him when we went to Toronto and I’ve seen him at the premiere and I’ve seen him at the junket. And Every time it seems like, “Hai.” And some times some of those interactions are only separated by hours.

Weber: It kind of explains the “Oh” in “Oh hi.”

Scheer: Yes.

Weber: Because he sort of is almost faking remembering people because he doesn’t remember most people.

Scheer: I would love, speaking of John Malkovich, I would love Being Tommy Wiseau because I don’t know what’s going on inside that brain and it’s fascinating.

Weber: It’s almost a lock that, speaking of Sharknado, that Tommy’s in the next one.

Scheer: Oh, my gosh, he has to. By the way, what was the thing? We were having dinner with them and we asked what he was thinking about and he was like, “You don’t want to know.” and we were like, what are you thinking? And he goes, “Naked girls on the beach.” That is Tommy. He’s just daydreaming about naked women on the beach.

Weber: That’s amazing.

Jay: You guys obviously had a well written script, but was there room for improvisation? I know the scenes from The Room that were shot were meticulously planned and filmed but was there room for improv beyond that in the other scenes? Beyond Tommy tossing his lines, of course.

Scheer: I don’t think there was much improv in the movie. I would say the biggest things that James did so well was do very long takes. You would have a lot of fat on either side of that scene, in a way, so everyone would be in the moment. It was almost like a scene in The Office. Everyone, even though you’re not on camera, you’re in the background and working. So that, I think, helped energize scenes. When we shot Tommy’s death scene, spoiler alert, he let that go on a long time. But it was fun to be in character around it. It wasn’t in the movie, but I think it added to an element of everyone being always on and it was good.

Weber: As a screenwriter James was the ideal director. He created that environment where he was the most protective of the script, and yet it also felt like he gave the actors room to explore within the confines of what the scene was about. So we made sure to get what was scripted and he sort of allowed people to roam a little and make some discoveries, which is what you want. That’s the sort of fine line you have to walk. It’s not always like that. I’ve worked with directors who the screenplay exists only to get them to production and it’s sort of like, “We don’t need that anymore, we’ll just figure it out when we’re there.” That was not Franco’s attitude.

Jay: Outside of Tommy and Greg, did anyone meet of spend time with their real-life counterparts?

Weber: Ari (Graynor) spoke with Juliette (Danielle) quite a bit.

Scheer: I know Robin Parrish reached out to June (Diane Raphael). Some of them are difficult, some of them are harder to track down.

Weber: Jackie Weaver might have talked to… I wonder if Jackie Weaver talked to Carolyn Minnott?

Jay: It seems like you guys have every comedic actor in The Disaster Artist. I have to assume it’s because of how much people love not only Franco and his circle, but because of their love of The Room. Are you aware of anyone who wanted to be in the film that wasn’t? Did you have friends reaching out to you asking to get them in there somewhere?

Scheer: (to Michael H. Weber) You’d probably know more about that. Was any scene cut with people in it?

Weber: There was obviously, June had some more scenes.

Scheer: I mean, people that were cut.

Weber: Yeah, there were people that were cut. Zach Braff had a brief thing that got cut.

Scheer: Oh, I remember that.

Weber: And Jim Parsons had a thing as Greg’s agent and was cut.

Scheer: Did you guys ever shoot the Puppet Master stuff?

Weber: We did. We played around with the Puppet Master and shot that.

Scheer: I feel like the DVD for this will be really great.

Weber: And the Puppet Master scenes, the guy who directed Puppet Master came back and played the director in The Disaster Artist.

Scheer: Oh, wow. I think the one thing too, about this movie is that the ensemble doesn’t stick out.

Jay: It’s not distracting.

Scheer: Yeah. When you see Megan Mullally pop up, you’re excited for Megan Mullally but you’re not, “Oh, Megan Mullally…” It doesn’t feel like-

Weber: -They’re really smart, the production was mapped out. The Room stuff, making (the scenes from) The Room was the first couple weeks of production, so our movie was so populated and then the back side of production was, the final two thirds of it, was mostly James and Dave and a little bit of Alison Brie. But for the most part the back two thirds of production was almost like a play with the two brothers that was really great.

Jay: Thanks a lot guys.

The Disaster Artist is now out in select cities and opens wide December 8th.