This article appeared on Film School Rejects, published in May, 2010. Interview by Neil Miller.
MacGruber is in theaters today. You should see it. It is easily the best movie adapted from a Saturday Night Live sketch since Wayne’s World and perhaps some of the best action comedy you’re going to get all summer. I was fortunate enough to catch an unfinished version of the film at South by Southwest (SXSW) in March. And even though the special effects weren’t finished, the jokes were there. And they are many. They range from awkward sex scenes to direct references to Rambo III to the various body parts that can hold a stalk of celery. It’s exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from the minds of Will Forte and Lonely Island member Jorma Taccone.
And speaking of hot, sweaty sex scenes, I had a chance to sit down along with a group of journalists at SXSW with stars Will Forte and Kristen Wiig. Among the topics for the day: shooting a sex scene in a 100-degree room and trying not to burst into laughter, the development of these characters from short-form to feature film, the prospect of a Gilly movie and Will Forte’s unique relationship with Maya Rudolph’s newborn daughter. Read the entire interview below.
Where do you start with a character? Do you begin with a costume and develop a personality or come up with a voice and build a look around it?
Kristen Wiig: I guess it kind of depends on the character. Mostly if I’m writing with someone, we just kind of think of something like probably how they talk and how they look usually comes after, I would say probably. Is it for you the same?
Will Forte: For this specifically?
Wiig: No, for any character on SNL. I guess it depends – like, sometimes it depends.
Forte: I probably start with a dumb voice and afterwards you get this in your head as you start doing it. It becomes clear –
Wiig: What they look like.
Forte: What the person looks like. Usually for me, it’s a guy with a moustache.
Wiig: And usually for me, I have a turtleneck on and some sort of like patterned cat sweater.
Forte: And I’ve also been getting into male-pattern baldness with really long hair in the back. Like there’s this character we do Jack & Stan these bad country singers, and that is my ideal look.
Wiig: You look insane in that. Your moustache totally covers your lip.
Forte: It’s a super-long male-pattern baldness wig that’s super, super long in the back and a nice moustache.
As established comedians, do you feel like you have to top what you’ve previously done every time you come up with something new?
Forte: I haven’t done a lot of stuff, so…
Wiig: Well, I mean, just for SNL, every week, yeah, you try to think, because you always think when that show is over, okay, I don’t have anything else. Because it’s hard to think of new things. So I’m constantly thinking I don’t have any new people inside my head, but you kind of just challenge yourself, I guess, and try. Sometimes it doesn’t work, though.
How does the show gauge what characters become recurring, and how long they return?
Wiig: I never know when I come off, I never know how well things go. Sometimes the person that I write it with will say let’s do it again, and I’m like, are you sure people want to see that again? I never really know. Sometimes they know – the producers or Lorne will order a sketch and say, I want you to write that this week.
Forte: Usually the first couple of times that you would do something it’s motivated by you just wanting to do it again and if it seems like it goes well a couple of times, then Lorne will start asking for it. But usually you can just tell; there are some things that, it’s usually like a character-based thing and it’s hard, although I forget who it was, somebody was bringing up the fact that there are a lot of recurring premises. Like, in the past there have been a lot of recurring characters, but it seems like this year particularly there are a lot of recurring premise sketches.
Wiig: Like what? What do you mean?
Forte: Like, uh, well…
What Up With That?
Forte: Yeah. Yeah, but I guess he’s a character in that as well. And like the ESPN, but then again those are..
Wiig: That’s true, but that’s kind of charactery, though, too. I love those guys. They’re like my favorite guys. Greg Stink and Pete Twinkle (laughs).
Kristen, was it easy to be more understated here given how stylized the rest of the movie?
Wiig: I think you just have to adjust it to what project you’re doing. I think SNL is probably the biggest that I act, just because it’s that charactery comedy stuff. But it just depends on what you’re doing; if you’re doing something in a movie that’s supposed to be understated and real, I try to do that.
Kristen, It seems like a lot of you characters are defined by your physicality. Is that something you practice or develop?
Wiig: Um, no, I don’t know. I don’t know where that comes from. I think it just comes from the characters, I guess. I don’t have a good answer for that.
Does your neck hurt after you do Gilly?
Wiig: My mouth hurts sometimes. When the camera’s not on me, I’m going like this (stretching mouth). I’m like stretching out my cheeks a little bit. But yeah, sometimes.
Are you gunning for a Gilly movie?
Wiig: I don’t know. Do you want to see an hour and a half of Gillys?
I want to ask about the sex scene. How much of that was improvised, and how many takes were involved?
Forte: She was a real trouper because it was-
I don’t know how you could do that without laughing.
Wiig: Oh, if you watch the movie again, you will see that I’m fully laughing.
You turn your head away from the camera.
Wiig: I turned my head, and when I saw the screening of it, I was like, they can’t use that take! Because I’m fully laughing. No one else noticed it, but I’m (turns head away) turning my head and fully laughing.
Forte: It was more than 100 degrees in that room, though.
Wiig: It was probably 100 degrees, and then when they would cut they would just turn on a little fan. It wasn’t even an air conditioner, it was just like a little fan and we would stand in front of it. We had like sweat and he had his little sock on, and I had this weird nightgown tube thing.
Forte: We wouldn’t have been sweating if we hadn’t been moving at all, but I felt bad for her because she was just laying there, and I’m a sweater anyway.
Wiig: Oh, just like drips of sweat coming from the belly button.
Forte: I was pelting her with major drops of sweat.
Wiig: Bew bew bew!
Forte: You could even see them because the way Jorma had set up the lighting, the way the light was coming in, you could in several of the takes see gigantic drops of sweat. There was one in particular that I remember that came off and just went right in your face. Some of those where we were just trying to avoid the sweat. Her hair was all over (laughs). And it was her birthday too!
Wiig: It was. It was my birthday. I was nervous for Lorne to see that scene because I was like, oh, I don’t want Lorne to see me do this. Because he’s like our dad.
Forte: Remember when we went to the cemetery to do that scene? He came that night.
Wiig: He told me that was the funniest thing, though. He was like, Will at the cemetery was like the funniest thing, though.
Forte: Well, I’m sitting there naked about to do this scene, and I turn around and Lorne has his cell phone out taking a picture of me from behind.
Wiig: I didn’t know that. That’s funny.
Did they play Richard Marx on the set to get you in the mood?
Wiig: No, no music. They just had the sound of our, well, your grunting.
Forte: It was written, though. It was in the script. In fact, the takes were really long – maybe two or three minutes of [humping].
Sorry, just one more question about the sex scene. When you guys are doing a scene like that, how do you figure out how long it needs to be to be funny?
Wiig: I would say probably editing.
Forte: It’s usually more [editing] because all three of us, everyone has a different sense of the timing, and I’m the guy who always wants it super long and then those guys are more realistic about it (laughs). But I’m always pushing for slightly longer.
Wiig: You have to find that time in between because when it gets to the point when it’s too long, then you get that second wave of people laughing because it’s so long, but you have to figure it out.
Forte: There’s several scenes in the movie that were tough. Like her at the end of the coffee shop. To me, I was like, just show her until she walks out the door – I love it. And we tried out different versions where it was shorter, but that’s one of my favorite parts of the movie, watching her in the coffee shop after she finds out we’re alive and she’s got to suck it up and walk out. It’s really tricky and that was just one where she’s so good in it that it works no matter what length, but we just had to figure it out.
The Blaupunkt? Whose idea?
Forte: I forget who came up with the idea, but it was probably John Solomon.
Wiig: I love when you get out of the car to talk to Ryan and you’re in the middle of nowhere and you take your stereo out. You’re literally only walking like ten feet to talk to him and then you get back in your car and you take it out.
Forte: I forget when we figured it out, but we decided we were going to take it out everywhere. Then there were a couple of scenes where it wasn’t in the script and it was like, oh geez! I should have my stereo with me!
Wiig: Your look also after they break it is so fun to [watch]. Your eyes get all big.
Kristen, what kind of character do you get to play in Paul?
Wiig: I play a girl who lived with a very sort of controlling, very religious father and don’t believe in evolution or any of that stuff, so when I finally see Paul, I kind of like freak out and question what God is and all of that stuff?
Are you up on all of the sci-fi references that Nick and Simon and Edgar make?
Wiig: Some of them, yeah, some of them. Like there’s a scene in a bar where they’re actually playing the Star Wars bar song-
The Cantina theme?
Wiig: Yeah, it’s like that, but it’s a country version and it’s really slow, so you have to kind of know that. But a lot of people who know it would go, oh my God! But I didn’t know.
Was there anything they stumped you on?
Wiig: I don’t know. I’m sure there were things that went over my head, but I don’t know what.
How much were you involved in developing this character?
Wiig: I mean, not much. I knew when they were writing it, it was going to take place sort of later than the sketch world, and they were so great and smart to include Maya and have that storyline kind of tied together, because she used to be in the sketches, and I thought it was really cool. And I didn’t know to the extent of what my character was going to do, but I thought the music thing was really funny.
How much of it really came alive on set?
Wiig: We didn’t improvise that much only because we didn’t have that much time. The days were like, we kept it moving. But if we had an idea before we shot, we might say, hey, what if we tried this? But there wasn’t a lot of improvising on the day.
Forte: She’s so good at – like I will usually do multiple takes because I think I’m a little crazy and go like, oh, I don’t think we got it yet. But she’s so good at getting exactly what we’re looking for the first time that then she cam play around with it a lot more. So we would have the luxury of trying out a bunch of different things. Whereas with me it was like 15 different takes of pretty much the exact same thing.
What was the day you thought of the celery and thought, yeah, I’d do that?
Forte: Uh, I don’t remember the exact-
Wiig: Was it your idea?
Forte: No, I think it was John and Jorma who thought of that, But I was busy working on some other part of it. They pitched that to me and it was just one of those things like, okay, yeah, yeah, sure – I’ll put some celery in my butt (laughs). And then the best part of it was that my mom was visiting that day, and she’s seen it all pretty much at this point, but we were at this warehouse and she was saying earlier in the day, ‘well, I think I’m going to go into Santa Fe with my friends,’ and I said, ‘oh yeah, there’s this pretty crazy scene we’re doing, so you could stay for that or go to Santa Fe.’ She said, ‘oh yeah? Maybe I’ll stay.’ So I really forgot what we were doing, and I’m sitting there naked, cupping my balls and trying to place this celery, and I look over and there’s my mom. But it was nice – there was no judgment on her face, it was just like, this is what my son is doing today. But the other thing is that she was with two friends, and they were not okay with it.
Wiig: She was sitting in front of me during the screening and when our sex scene started, she was like, ‘look at that!’ (gestures)
Forte: Oh, one little thing about the cemetery scene with Maya [Rudolph] was that she was eight months pregnant at the time. She was very pregnant. She was a trouper. Now I know her daughter very well.