This week I attended the press junket for Universal’s movie adaptation of the SNL sketch MacGruber and had a chance to talk with stars Will Forte, Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillippe, along with SNL writers Jorma Taccone and John Solomon who directed and co-wrote the film, respectively.
The conversation was fast and funny, with topics ranging from the unlikely journey of MacGruber from sketch to feature film, the late 80s/early 90s action flicks which inspired the movie, and the soon-to-be-infamous “celery scene.”
To be specific, I had a chance to speak with stars Will Forte (who also co-wrote the film), Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillippe, and director Jorma Taccone; somehow we made it through the entire set of interviews without co-writer John Solomon saying a word. Maybe he said half a word, but if so, it was too soft for the voice recorder to register.
Although, looking over the conversation it’s understandable why someone would remain speechless. Here are the highlights:
Will Forte on his mom’s set visit on the day they shot that infamous “celery scene.”
WF: Yes she was there for the scene…involving celery – and she was not alone. She was with two friends…We were shooting in Albuquerque and they very quickly decided to go to Santa Fe for the afternoon…I forgot that I should probably warn her about what was going on. She was actually ok with it – it’s really more her friends. She couldn’t seem like she was ok with it in front of her friends, but I knew she was ok with it…She’s seen me in compromising positions before.
RP: I had to go to a really dark place for that…no body double…When I first read the script, I’m like, “I wonder how tied they are to this moment? Wonder if I can get them to do it a different way…” And then after spending a couple of weeks on the set and seeing Will constantly naked doing anything it took to make the scene work and be funny, there was no way I could back down.
KW: And they made him do it.
RP: Yeah, I just went for it…and it will follow me forever.
Has MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) seen MacGruber?
JT: I don’t know if he’s seen it…
WF: I don’t think he’s seen it…he just sent me an email last night just saying “Good Luck” and we love that guy – he is such a tremendous guy. We got to make a couple of MacGrubers [with him] for SNL and for the Super Bowl Commercial we did last year and just fell in love with the guy.
Which 80s/90s action flicks influenced and inspired MacGruber?
JT: We all sort of grew up in that era…All of us are HUGE fans of the original MacGyver series, and obviously we found that inspirational for the initial pitch for [the MacGruber sketch] – we basically took his name and made it stupid…In terms of inspiration for the movie, that really came from our love of late 80s/early 90s action movies. So like the whole Lethal Weapon series, and Rambo, and Die Hard and every single Schwarzenegger and Stallone movie…
WF: Uncommon Valor, Tango and Cash…
JT: Road House gets a little nod with the throat rips…there’s a lot of different stuff in the movie. It’s detailed…like when you first see MacGruber working on the bomb in the opening credits – that bomb is a replica of the Die Hard bomb…When Piper, Ryan’s character, is looking at POV through binoculars, I went and found binocular [POV] from Commando and freeze-framed it. There’s a lot of stuff like that. The love runs deep.
RP: I think we were all conscious of paying homage to Die Hard, and Lethal Weapon and Rambo…but in terms of actually portraying the character, for me it was just about trying to play a legit soldier and trying to deal with this complete moron…but I didn’t base the character on anyone in particular…we played it like we were in a real 80s action movie and it works that way.
KW: I don’t think there’s a character that’s like Vicki in those ’80s movies…so I kind of made it up as I went along…I think that heightens the comedy, when you have people really playing it serious.
How does MacGruber compare to Naked Gun?
JT: We were in a lot of ways trying not to be spoofy…this is our attempt at sort of making our own ode to late 80s/early 90s action movies. A lot of the acting in it we were sort of trying to have be as deadpan and serious as possible. All the characters that are surrounding MacGruber, it was our intention to make them a little less goofy than you’d maybe expect from an SNL movie.
WF: Make no mistake though, we are huge, fans of those [Naked Gun] movies.
JT: Powers Boothe, when he first found out we were interested in hiring him, he was like “What is it – am I Leslie Neelson?” And we’re like “No, no, pretend you’re in a real action movie…” It was always our intention to surround this character with a cast of dramatic actors.
WF: It’s a lot different than the sketch. I think people are thinking that it’s just going to be the sketch over and over again for 90 minutes and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how different it is.
JT: …It’s hard because I think when people hear “SNL comedy” I think that rightfully so you expect it to be a certain type of goofiness…so we would constantly have to fight against that and try to go for the more real 80s action movie kind of choices.