Turning any SNL sketch into a movie is a tricky proposition, taking something short and tailored for a live television audience and twisting it instead into a feature-length satire that can hold up without a foolproof laugh track.
Then there’s MacGruber, a special case by even Saturday Night Live standards – the recurring 60-second quick-hit vignettes that feature a hapless variation of MacGyver dealing with his insecurities even as he fails to disable the bomb ticking down to detonation.
I’ve always thought the sketch was funny, and checking out the movie last weekend, I was intrigued by how the filmmakers went about adapting the concept – namely through ego, repetition and vulgar tirades. Not exactly the most sophisticated comedy in the world, but when you meet a villain named Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), hear MacGruber talk about taking an “upper-decker” in Cunth’s toilet, watch the cocky secret agent accidentally blow up the bomb he’s building and then use a colleague as a human shield, or witness the ways in which director Jorma Taccone immediately follows up one of the most bizarre, pathetic and hilarious sex scenes ever filmed with another sex scene that’s even more peculiar, who needs sophistication? (More at Techland: The most badass archers of all time)
This is vintage Will Forte, reiterating the same punch line with greater and greater intensity. And MacGruber is everything it promises to be: An R-rated comedy about a thoroughly incompetent and insenstive anti-hero. MacGyver could take a paper clip and save the world; MacGruber is handed a machine gun and doesn’t quite know how to make the thing fire. We cornered Forte at New York press event and pushed the secret agent wannabe to answer six questions – about SNL, making the leap to the big screen, and just why the movie has a scene of MacGruber sticking a stalk of celery where the sun don’t shine
I see you’re listed as one of the writers – I have to think that this is one of the harder SNL sketches to adapt into a feature film. The original version is just so, so short. That was one of its charms. But how do you take something that is half the length of your normal SNL sketch and stretch it out?
Ironically, in a way, the short nature of the sketches helped us, because there was very little back story that we had to worry about and we could create our own crazy origins just for who the hell this guy is and why is he here. Very early on, we decided that we just weren’t going to worry too much about the info that people have seen on TV, and so this is really nothing like the sketch at all. It’s like we plucked the characters from 2010 television and dropped in them into the middle of an ‘80s action film and just ran with it. They let us write whatever we wanted to, and so we just ran with that – doing what we thought was funny.
But there are parts here that are more than just funny; they’re kind of gloriously demented. I’m thinking of the bomb that explodes when you don’t expect it, the name for Kilmer’s character, that celery stick that’s being stuck in orifices no one would quite expect. How do you even begin to come up with stuff like this? Are you all sitting in a hotel room getting drunk?
Most of the time we’d be sitting in a room together, and honestly some of the craziest stuff came because we were exhausted. We were writing this during SNL production weeks, and you’d reach a point of being so tired and so loopy that you’d go to these places that you normally wouldn’t. And it got to the point where we were like: Let’s go for it. After you pull an all-nighter, just write down the first thing that comes to your mind. So we came up with the celery, among many other things, and every step of the way we kept thinking: Someone’s going to make us take this out. But every step of the way, they let us get away with it. This experience was unlike any creative process that I’ve ever had, because there was just so much freedom to let us push the envelope.
Was there ever a point where you decided to pull back yourself, that maybe you were doing things that would just make people uncomfortable?
Well we were actually concerned that this might be NC-17. The guy who did the sound for the movie sort of knew how the ratings board worked and he said they looked at the number of pumps in sex scenes, and that we had way beyond the number of pumps that they would allow.
Oh, but there were plenty of pumps my friend.
Yep, we got them all in. God bless ‘em.
There’s a lot of love here, for all the fine points of ‘80s action films. Right down to the suits, the cars, the soundtrack – did you have one particular movie in mind that you wanted to spoof?
Well with this movie we talked a lot about structure – a lot of time the structure is such a bummer because you have to put all this information out there and it’s hard to keep the comedy going. But then we decided that we’d use the structure to almost comment on itself. And so John Solomon and I were both born in the 1970s, so these ‘80s movies were huge in our lives. We loved them. And after you see enough of them, you can start to see the patterns and the structure. And they’re clichés that become so ingrained that I didn’t even go back to watch any old movies, we just tried to take all of the standard elements and turn them upside down into something insane.
Gotta ask the two celeb questions here: First, has MacGyver seen it, and second, how the heck did you snag Val Kilmer?
We love Richard Dean Anderson, just love him, and we got the chance to do a Super Bowl commercial with him, where we played MacGruber, and it was just such a thrill to have him come in. He gave us his blessing and to hear that he had indeed seen the skits and enjoyed them, what more can you ask for? As for Val, you could tell he just has that energy of someone who loves playing along with something like this. Our casting director managed to convince him to do this table read, and he came in and Ryan Phillipe was at the table and the two of them just started rolling with it, and the punch lines came to life like we had never seen before. And I think they just got hooked on the silliness. I know I did.
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