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Elston Gunn Talks To Allen Covert And Kevin Heffernan About STRANGE WILDERNESS!!

Hello. Elston Gunn here. STRANGE WILDERNESS is a new comedy, written by Fred Wolf (JOE DIRT) and Peter Gaulke (ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN), directed by Wolf and starring Steve Zahn, Allen Covert, Kevin Heffernan, Jonah Hill, Justin Long, Ashley Scott, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Patrick, Harry Hamlin, Joe Don Baker and many more. The story centers on a haphazard wilderness TV crew searching for Bigfoot. Paramount Pictures is releasing the new comedy on February 1, 2008, but they're launching the new red band trailer today. Check it out HERE. Also, look out for Paramount offering up an R-rated trailer mashup contest next month. Covert, who has appeared in at least a dozen Adam Sandler movies and is also producing STRANGE WILDERNESS for Happy Madison, and Heffernan, of Broken Lizard fame, took some time to answer questions for AICN.

[Elston Gunn]: You shot the film in Hollywood, right? [Allen Covert]: Oh yeah.
[EG]: I know some of it was supposed to take place in the Andes. [AC]: Oh yeah. No, we faked it. We had no money. (laughs)
[EG]: Tell us a little bit of what the movie's about. [AC]: Steve Zahn basically took over this wildlife show called STRANGE WILDERNESS from his father. Steve Zahn plays the part of Peter Gaulke, who is also one of the writers. But that's, literally, Fred [Wolf] and Peter [Gaulke] just named the characters after themselves. So, anyway, he inherited the show. His dad was really beloved in the community and on the local airwaves. And Steve isn't. We're just not good. Our show sucks and we're going to get cancelled. Jeff Garlin who plays the head of the network tells Steve Zahn and I, 'The show sucks. You're cancelled. Two weeks and that's it. You're done.' And, so, out of desperation, we come up with this plan where we go and buy a map that tells us where Bigfoot is. And our big plan is to load our whole crew into the Winnebago and drive down to South America and find Bigfoot at his house - in his cave - and we're going to film him and save the show and it's going to be the biggest animal discovery of all time. And we're going to film shows along the way and that's where some of the animal footage comes in. Like, we'll see sea lions and we stop and a lot of crazy shit goes down.
[EG]: So, you didn't have to actually work with any animals? [AC]: A big snake, some baby turkeys - you know, they kept us away from most animals.
[EG]: Any scary moments there? [AC]: My wife would not even walk near the snake - it was a giant python. But, no, the worst part was actually we had to wade through this water at this Arboretum place and it was really gross. And they were literally going beforehand, 'Okay, if you get this water in your eyes or in your mouth or in your ears get out immediately.' And we're like, 'What? What are you talking about?' They're like, 'There's a lot of bird shit in this water and it's bad.'
[EG]: The bacteria is scarier than any python. [AC]: Yeah, we all had to put on these wet suits. So, that was about as dangerous as it got.
[EG]: Are they earnestly in search of Bigfoot, or are they staging a hoax? [AC]: No, we have a map that tells us where Bigfoot is and we go to find him. Oh yeah. It's full on, man.
[EG]: There's a shot in the trailer where it looks like someone is in a Bigfoot suit. [AC]: (laughs) Oh no, we're going to find the real guy, we head to South America and it's like, you know, look, the crew - the characters in the movie - like I said, we're not the greatest wildlife people. We're not real good at it and, literally, five minutes after we start the road trip I think we end up in the hospital with one of our guys mauled by something.
[EG]: From the trailer and one of the posters it looks like some of the crew are kind of a typical group of stoners. [AC]: Yeah, well, I mean even the ones who aren't stoners are just weird. I think Kevin Heffernan's guy is an alcoholic and he's always, like, every time he talks he goes, 'I just want every one to know... two hours sober.' (laughs)
[EG]: (laughs) I'm sure you hear that term 'stoner comedy' a lot. [AC]: Oh yeah. Oh, please, I hear that a lot with a little movie called GRANDMA'S BOY.
[EG]: Right. (laughs) [AC]: (laughs)
[EG]: So is that a label you use yourself. Are you concerned for the state of the 'stoner comedy?' [AC]: I don't know. Because, to me, I know GRANDMA'S BOY is classified as a 'stoner comedy,' but, you know, we just... we didn't set out to say, 'Let's make a weed movie.' We just said this character smokes weed and this guy would smoke weed in real life. And we just loved the idea of the crazy weed dealer. You know, the guy who names all his weed. I knew a guy like that. He'd be like 'Check out my Egyptian Iguana.' And I'd be like, 'It's a fuckin' lizard.' They'd always be like, 'This is the Kervorkian.' He had names and always had these weird animals like, 'I'm getting a marmoset.' And, so, Swardson and I we just amped it up and made it lions and shit. But I mean, look, there's a lot of great funny... look, right now what is it, SMILEY FACE, starring Anna Faris? That's apparently great. I loved the first HAROLD AND KUMAR... hold on, let me say 'good night,' my daughter's taking a nap. (to his baby daughter) Good night. Have a good nap. I'll see ya in a minute. (pause) Hopefully, I'll see ya in two hours.
[EG]: (laughs) The naps end soon enough. [AC]: I know. She's thirteen months and she's down to one. I'm like, 'Slow down!' My wife's like, 'What happened to the two naps?'(laughs)
[EG]: You have a pretty great cast here. You, Zahn, Heffernan, Garlin, Jonah Hill and Justin Long, but then you have Harry Hamlin, Ernest Borgnine, Joe Don Baker and Robert Patrick. [AC]: That's right. Yeah, we've got WALKING TALL. We've got the original WALKING TALL.
[EG]: Did any of those guys - especially the latter group I listed - surprise you in terms of comedic ability? [AC]: You know what, the funny thing is... they're all good. You know, they're good actors. Robert Patrick is a great actor and he was funny because he was like, 'Now, I've never done a comedy.' He claimed he'd never done a comedy. And he goes, 'But I hear you play it straight.' We go, 'Yeah, just play it straight.' And he did and he was so goddamned funny. He's so intense. I mean, he's such a great guy. And Harry Hamlin's as handsome as ever. You just sit there and go 'God, I wish I looked like that my whole life.'
[EG]: Yeah, he's a good-lookin' guy. [AC]: And Joe Don Baker is funny, man. They're all just funny and, you know what, at the end of the day they're all just actors and they want to do different stuff, too. They don't want to be just like the serious guys. They all want to have fun and do something funny. They were great. And Ernest Borgnine. Here's a guy who's ninety. He's doing more movies than me.
[EG]: Who does he play in the film? [AC]: He plays a guy who actually worked with Zahn's father and, so, he comes in and out as kind of like the voice of reason - to tell Zahn, 'No, you do this and you do that.'
[EG]: He's your oracle. [AC]: Yeah, kind of. He's Steve's mainly.
[EG]: As an actor do you approach these comedies in a way, say, maybe a dramatic actor would a more serious role? Because in each movie you seem to transform differently into your character every time. [AC]: Oh, that's just because I like to hide. People are like, 'Are you a method actor?' And I'm like, 'If my method involves hair and make-up, yes.'
[EG]: Well... and you have. You've gained weight, shaved your hairline. What did you do for this one? [AC]: This one I grew a crazy mustache again. Back to the WEDDING SINGER days. But, no, Fred and I just talked about what kind of guy this was and it's kind of actor-y stuff. I just try to figure out what the writer thought the guy was. And for me, honestly, it just helps if I know what I look like.
[EG]: Right. [AC]: Because it's not what I really look like, so it makes it easier for me to just kind of do different stuff.
[EG]: Are you playing 'Fred Wolf' as Fred Wolf? [AC]: No, no, no, not at all. Not at all. It's so funny, though, because I've known Fred forever. I know him from when he did stand-up and I used to run the showroom at The Improv. We go way back that far. That's how long we've known all these guys - Fred, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Judd Apatow. I mean, me and Sandler, these are all the first people we met when we first moved to L.A. Fred and I just finished another movie, this Anna Faris movie called I KNOW WHAT BOYS LIKE. Fred directed and I produced with Heather Parry from our company.
[EG]: What do you have coming up after that, or has the strike put things on hold for you? [AC]: Well, we have a couple of things at Happy Madison that were sold and in production before the strike started. Adam's got a movie, we have a Kevin James movie, Swardson and I have a script that is a go-cart mini-golf extravaganza, which could be the most violent comedy ever written. So, we have that together, but yeah, in all honesty, it's not like I can do rewrites and it's not like I can go to the studios and pitch a new movie. I have a few ideas I'd love to go pitch. So, we're going to do the ones that the scripts are locked and hope this all works itself out so that everyone can get back to work. Because, you know, that's the bottom line, everyone needs to be compensated and I just want it to end a little bit sooner because I know a lot of 'below-the-line' people, as it's called, who are losing their jobs and it's just not fair to them. Like I said, we need to work this out and everyone needs to be compensated for their work. I just wish we could do it in a better way that doesn't involve hairdressers losing their jobs.
[EG]: How did you get involve specifically as the producer for STRANGE WILDERNESS? [AC]: It was just I was going to be on the set. I think Sandler and Jack were off doing something else, but it's kind of like the way we did GRANDMA'S BOY, which was just they were shooting CLICK and I was off shooting GRANDMA'S BOY.
[EG]: You've been producing now for a while. How do you like that vs. writing and acting? [AC]: I like it because I like being in control. (laughs) You know, everybody does. They want to be able to be in control and it's different, it's interesting. It's not something I ever set out to do, but it's just something that we do. It's just kind of how we do it at Happy Madison. I was always there and I'm always doing stuff, so they were like, 'Well, you're actually producing.' And I was like, 'Oh, really?' But I love it. Like with the Anna Faris thing, I didn't act in it at all. I mean, I did one little - I played, like, a waiter in one scene because Fred was just like, 'You have to do something.' But it's a lot of fun, it's a whole different thing. Let me tell you, I recommend almost everybody should have to at least work in production on a low-budget movie, so they know.
[EG]: You have to have your hands in everything. [AC]: When you're shooting low-budget like GRANDMA'S BOY or STRANGE WILDERNESS it's a whole different thing. Because when you're doing a studio movie they're like 'Okay, we can cover that. We can figure that out. We can pay for that.' When you're doing low-budget it's like, 'How do we do this?'
[EG]: How many days did you shoot for STRANGE WILDERNESS? [AC]: Thirty-five or forty. I think it was seven weeks - five day shooting weeks. GRANDMA'S BOY we did in five weeks. We shot that in twenty-five days. That was just craziness. But, like I said, people were so into it and the cast, you know, if this was a big-budget movie that took ninety days, we would never have had as much fun as we had because we were out in the woods at two in the morning just running to get shots before the sun comes up and we're all just laughing and, you know, it's so ridiculous we're like, 'How many scenes are we shooting today?' Whereas, normally, you would come on the set and you're like, 'We'll be in the kitchen shooting this scene for the next week.' Whereas, we would come in and say, 'We have to shoot five scenes in five different locations today. Let's go!' So, it's fun. It's kind of like student filmmaking, but with equipment and a budget.
[EG]: You mentioned Judd Apatow. You've got to love the fact that now he's doing what you guys are doing and working on six things at once. Film comedy for all you guys has to be fun right now. [AC]: Oh yeah. We're all happy and appreciative about where we are. And I love Apatow's monstrous success. Of course, he's always been great and this amazing writer even back when he was... when I ran the showroom at the Improv these guys weren't even the guys who got weekend spots. You know, the Wednesday night would be like Apatow would be the emcee, it'd be Fred Wolf, Spade, Schneider, Sandler, Drake Sather, Mark Brazil who went on to create THAT 70s SHOW, just a bunch of people like that who are all giant in comedy now and it's like, that was our Wednesday night lineup.
[EG]: You even did an episode of UNDECLARED. [AC]: I did UNDECLARED and FREAKS AND GEEKS. And, actually, the funniest is that I'm not in KNOCKED UP or SUPERBAD, but I'm in the DVD extras. Apatow's like, 'Dude, you've got to come do a DVD extra for SUPERBAD and for KNOCKED UP.' And KNOCKED UP it's the one where they do all the people who got fired before they gave the job to Seth Rogen.
[EG]: Wow. You're everywhere. [AC]: Oh, please.
[EG]: That's great, though. [AC]: That was, literally, they were filming near my office and I saw Apatow and he goes, 'Hey, you want to do one of these?' And then they would do it and the same thing would happen a year later for SUPERBAD. He goes, 'Do you want to do one of these?' I go, 'Can I take my shirt off?' He goes, 'Yeah." I go, 'Yeah, let's do it.' (laughs) My requirements are not big. It's like, can I humiliate myself? If I can, I'll do it. If I can't, go find someone else.
[EG]: Best of luck with STRANGE WILDERNESS. It looks funny. I'm anxious to see it. [AC]: Oh, good, good. Everyone in the cast is awesome and if you thought GRANDMA'S BOY was funny and SUPERBAD... if you think movies like that are funny, you're gonna like this one. It's crazy. I will tell you that. It's crazy.
[EG]: Safe isn't good. Crazy is okay. [AC]: There's some craziness in this one.
[EG]: I've got Kevin Heffernan next. [AC]: Oh, great. See, you throw in the Broken Lizard guys with the Happy Madison guys and some of the Apatow gang.
[EG]: It's like back when Monty Python and Cheech & Chong got together. [AC]: Yeah, that's the funny thing. We got Broken Lizard and Happy Madison and Judd Apatow, then we got Justin [Long] and Ashley who are just great.
[EG]: And Ernest Borgnine. [AC]: Oh, the Borgman.
[EG]: Happy Holidays, man. [AC]: Thank you. You, too.


A couple of minutes later...


[Kevin Heffernan]: How's my friend Covert? Was he long-winded or what?
[Elston Gunn]: He was good. He gave me some good stuff. [KH]: (laughs) He's a great guy. [EG]: Didn't make me work too hard. He was funny. So, how did you get involved with this one? [KH]: Basically, it was kind of an agent thing. I had the same agent as Fred Wolf at the time and they passed the script on to me to give it a read. Fred and Pete Gaulke were looking for a different eclectic kind of comedy ensemble and they were fans of the Broken Lizard movies. I read it and I thought it was unbelievably hysterical, it was really funny.
[EG]: So, you didn't have to audition for it. [KH]: No, I just went in, sat down and shot the shit with those guys. I'd been kicking around for a little while and they would kick around for a little while, you know, and swap stories, really hit it off and they were like, 'We'd love to have you do it.' And I said, 'I'd love to do it.' And we did it. I just kind of joined on.
[EG]: Tell me about your character. [KH]: I play this guy Whittaker who's, like, the animal handler, but he actually has no animal handler experience. They interview a lot of people with a lot of experience and they don't like any of them. They like my guy, who's actually an alcoholic/former car mechanic, who's out of work and so they hire him to go with them on the trip and, basically, I play the animal handler who never handles an animal.
[EG]: Were you around the python in the movie at all? [KH]: Yeah, they hung one off of a branch at one point and you just had to walk underneath it and (laughs) that was the closest I think I got to any animal. The rest of it was all animatronic animals and stuff like that.
[EG]: Was that a new experience for you? [KH]: The python or the animatronic...? (laughs) [EG]: Either way. (laughs) [KH]: Well, they all were, actually. I read the script and there's this scene in it with this turkey, and it's this hysterical scene, and I was like, 'How the hell are they going to do that?' And you get to the set and they build this unbelievably realistic animatronic turkey.
[EG]: Covert said that wading through some water was probably scarier than any animal. [KH]: Yeah, we actually went out and shot that in the Arboretum, which is out in the Pasadena area. They actually have swamps and jungles there. Yeah, we waded through all this swampy kind of shit water with snakes hanging around and stuff like that. It made you feel like you were in the shit, man.
[EG]: Oh, wow. [KH]: Yeah.
[EG]: Do you do any kind of preparation for a character like this at all? [KH]: I sat down with the guys beforehand. We chatted through a few things and just going through the script and saying here's something we can maybe tweak, or here's something we can expand on. They were great. Fred and Pete were really collaborative in terms of allowing people to do stuff and they had some ideas in their mind of what they wanted, so I just talked with them beforehand, really. I didn't go out and handle any animals or anything.
[EG]: Well, you're used to contributing to a lot of the writing of all the Broken Lizard films. Did you get to ad lib much here, or did you have to stick pretty much to the script? [KH]: We did do a bunch of ad-libbing and these guys come from like a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE background and stuff like that. They would make changes on the spot, like, you would show up on the set with five new pages of dialogue and stuff like that, which was really great. So, it was actually kind of a nice change and show up more as an actor as opposed to the Broken Lizard movies where you kind of do everything soup to nuts and make sure the writing is done and all kinds of stuff. And this was kind of a fun experience where you just have to show up and do some improv, basically.
[EG]: Do you feel less pressure? [KH]: There's definitely less pressure, you know, there's less ownership. (laughs) You know what I mean? But it's a great - right after we shot this we went right into BEERFEST, which is a lot more kind of, like, you're up early and you stay awake really late working hard, and whether it's you're worrying about costumes and props and that kind of shit and you're not necessarily just worried about the performances. So, it's nice to do one of those things where you just kind of worry about what you do on the camera, you know.
[EG]: Oh, you shot this before BEERFEST... [KH]: Just before. Like, literally, I finished this movie and went right to BEERFEST, like, the next week or something.
[EG]: Are the Broken Lizard guys pretty supportive when any of you go off and do something separately like this? I guess it's like when band members do solo projects... [KH]: Yeah, solo albums.
[EG]: ...and then regroup. [KH]: Yeah, as long as you come back to the band, they're cool with it. No, it actually works out really well because you work intensively for a while on one thing like BEERFEST or whatever and then you go off and everyone does their thing. I think it keeps everyone fresh. It also gives you the opportunity to go out and meet a bunch of different people, which you actually end up bringing back into the fold of the Broken Lizard guys. I went and did this movie and made friends with a lot of these guys and have worked with them in different capacities in different things. For example, with Fred Wolf and Pete Gaulke they've had scripts that are - you know, they are really well-established comedy writers - and they have some great scripts, so we brought them into the Broken Lizard thing and worked on those scripts and there's potential for us going to do further projects with them. So, it's good to get out there and branch out and meet other people... instead of our incestuous world.
[EG]: (laughs) Are there any other comedy ideas and things like that you get to bring back to Broken Lizard that you haven't really thought of before, or even in terms of filmmaking when you work with a new cast or filmmakers like this? [KH]: Yeah, you know, man, I guess I mentioned this before, but in Broken Lizard we came from a real kind of independent film kind of world where you're always penny-pinching and we didn't have the opportunity to improv a lot because the film was so expensive and so we would just kind of like shoot the script. And when you do projects like this, like STRANGE WILDERNESS, there was a lot of good improv and there's a lot of good give-and-take between this funny ensemble and I think you bring that back. You know, you learn from that experience and you bring it to the next one. We did more improv on BEERFEST than in the past and it's probably you go out and you learn how to do different kind of things and you bring it to the table. And then, you know, I did an episode of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM recently and that's just pure...(laughs) there's no script and, so, I think in our next movie we'll just have no script. I'm kind of excited about that.
[EG]: Well, in terms of the strike, you may have to. [KH]: Not allowed to write, yeah. Pencils down. Pencils down.
[EG]: Not just comedy guys, but you got to work on this one with Harry Hamlin, Ernest Borgnine, Joe Don Baker... [KH]: That's what was amazing is like every day you show up and there's a new cameo with somebody like Robert Patrick. We did this scene one night with Robert Patrick that was unbelievable and it was just incredibly fun to work with the guy. And I remember we did our scene and the next day I saw WALK THE LINE and I was like, 'Shit, Robert Patrick is great in that movie!' And it was fun because you just worked with the guy.
[EG]: Did you have a favorite moment on this set? [KH]: That scene with Robert Patrick was great. There's another scene in a hospital room with this turkey that I was talking about - which Zahn has an encounter with a turkey, which I can't really elaborate on. But it was great. Like, seven or eight of us just standing in a circle in this room just shooting out funny improv stuff. And there were just so many times where we'd be sitting around and people would be cracking each other up and you have to cut, come back and have to start again. It was just a fun shoot like that.
[EG]: Have you seen a cut of it yet? [KH]: I saw an earlier cut of it a couple of months ago. It wasn't the final cut and it was just great. There's a mixture of kind of weird, interesting comedy and kind of funny stuff like Broken Lizard does. And there's another kind of interesting element in it where they had access to all of this old footage from this old wilderness show and they would splice it in - in various places in the movie - and then Steven Zahn would do funny narrative over it as if it was a real wilderness show. And, so, it really adds this funny texture to it where you have these kind of broad comedy scenes and then all of a sudden you'd have, like, three minutes of a lion eating a gazelle with Zahn doing funny shit over top of it.
[EG]: That's what Covert was saying. You've got a little bit of Broken Lizard, a little bit of Judd Apatow's scene with... [KH]: Yeah, with Jonah Hill, who's just great, who's so talented.
[EG]: Justin Long, who's done a lot of comedy recently… [KH]: And Justin Long and those guys were... I hadn't met those guys before and then we were working together every day. They're such funny, talented guys.
[EG]: So, it's as if a lot of modern American film comedy is represented in this movie. [KH]: Yeah, I think that was what Fred and Pete were going for, you know, I think they were literally just looking around and seeing what they could pull from the different people - the Apatow camp, the Happy Madison camp, us, and, you know, just kind of smoosh it all together and see what they came out with.
[EG]: We mentioned the strike earlier. Do you have some things lined up that you can work on or is everything on hold? [KH]: No, well, we definitely have some great things going and you get the door closed on you a little bit right now. But, we kind of braced ourselves for this and were prepared, and we had put together some financing for an independent film, and we're actually going to shoot a new Broken Lizard movie starting in January.
[EG]: Is that SLAMMIN' SALMON? [KH]: Yeah, SLAMMIN' SALMON. We knew the studios were getting a little cagey about putting out money right now for movies and so we just went back to our investors and guys who put up money for SUPER TROOPERS and said, 'Hey we got this script. We can shoot it in about five or six weeks. It's a great funny script and we can do it for a relatively low budget.' And they said, 'Okay, let's do it right now, then.' They literally wrote the check and so we jumped right into it. And, all of a sudden, we're going to be shooting in January.
[EG]: That's great. Well, best of luck with this film, man. It looks funny. [KH]: It's really funny. It's got a great quirky kind of personality to it which I think people are going to like it.
[EG]: That's all I have. Thanks so much and Happy Holidays to you. [KH]: Thanks, Elston. You, too.

Elston Gunn

Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 13, 2007, 6:37 p.m. CST


    by BonerDonor


  • Dec. 13, 2007, 7:50 p.m. CST

    The Borgnine was also a hidden taxicab in GTAIII

    by Orionsangels

  • Dec. 14, 2007, 12:50 a.m. CST

    Word, BonerDoner

    by 'Cholera's Ghost

    The cowboy hat wearing assclown makes me angry just looking at him. Fuck that douchebag. That said Strange Wilderness actually sounds like it has the potential to be funny. "Messin' with Sasquatch" taken up a notch, with layers of deep meaning added?

  • Dec. 14, 2007, 11:45 a.m. CST

    I'll watch it...

    by Forsakyn

    But probably as a rental, as much as I like the cast. Unless this actually gets a really good user-response when it comes out I don't imagine seeing it in a theater. Allen Covert is cool, though - Grandma's Boy was a damn funny film (and big props to the pot-dealer in that as well).