Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a little sit down interview I did with Will Forte about his dramatic turn in Alexander Payne's newest flick NEBRASKA. When the interview offer came in my immediate response was “MacGruber? Hell yeah!” I trusted Payne to deliver the goods (and he did) and I knew I could spend as much time as they'd allow me chatting with Mr. Forte.
He's always come across as a super humble dude who is happy to be what he's doing and works his ass off to keep at it and that impression of the man is not incorrect. He was as open and friendly as I hoped he would be and was eager to talk all about Nebraska as well as indulge my slight obsession with MacGruber. We start off with that, get an update on the sequel and move on to working with such heavy hitters as Bruce Dern and Stacy Keach. Enjoy the chat!
Will Forte: Do you live in Austin? I've always felt like Ain't It Cool News was here...
Quint: Largely, it is. If this was like the Marvel universe we'd have a big skyscraper in downtown Austin with a giant cartoon Harry head spinning at the top of it.
Will Forte: Where is he?
Quint: He's here. Not literally right here, but in Austin, yes. We have some guys in LA, Chicago and all over the place, but there's more AICN folk in Austin than any other place, for sure.
Will Forte: I'm a huge Ain't It Cool News fan, so I'm happy to talk to you.
Quint: I'm a big fan, too. Funnily enough, one of my proudest moments was being quoted on the MacGruber poster.
Will Forte: Are you serious?
Quint: I am indeed.
Will Forte: Well, thank you then because I don't think we put any negative quotes on the poster.
Quint: It's actually one of the better quotes of mine a studio has used. Usually it's something boring, a one-word exclamation or something, but this one starts like it's going to be negative and twists it around. It's something like “crude, ridiculous and very, very funny.”
Will Forte: Oh my God, that's you!
Quint: Before we start talking about Nebraska, I wanted to bring up a little tradition a bunch of us bloggers who saw the movie together at the SXSW premiere have. We don't always get to see each other throughout the year except at film festivals, so a tradition was started where we all gather at Sundance and watch MacGruber at one of our condos.
Will Forte: Wait a second. I think I know one of your friends you do that with. It's at Sundance you always do this...
Quint: Katey Rich, James Rocchi, Erin McCarthy, Matt Patches?
Will Forte: Patches! Love Patches! Is Mike Ryan part of that group, too?
Quint: He wasn't when it started. Don't know if he's joined up since it began, but he's a good dude.
Will Forte: Those guys are great. That is so cool to hear!
Quint: Last time I heard you talk about MacGruber you said you guys were going to make a sequel even if you had to shoot it with your iPhones in Jorma's backyard. Is that still your feeling?
Will Forte: That's still our feeling. We've made very little progress, admittedly, but the three of us John Solomon, Jorma Taccone and me have all been individually very busy and we work best when we're all together, so we're trying to carve out some time when we can all be together. We have an outline filling up and we're excited to write it. If anybody lets us do it that's another story, but we feel like it's going to happen.
I mean it when I say we would have no problem just making it on our own if we had to do a real shoestring budget. It's something that's really important to us. It's something we really, really want to do.
Quint: You already made the first one on the cheap. MacGruber cost what? $10 million? It looked three times the budget, thanks a lot to Brandon Trost's photography.
Will Forte: Brandon and Jorma worked so well together. They made that thing look so expensive!
Quint: The big trick is you've got to find a villain to top Kilmer. Maybe Stacy Keach! There's our segue into Nebraska! I think one of my favorite movie moments of this year is Stacy Keach singing In The Ghetto.
Will Forte: I've gotten to watch the movie a bunch of times now and it just gets better and better every time you see him do it and that cackle he gives at the end of that scene... for some reason it didn't resonate with me the first couple of times I watched the movie, but now it's one of my favorite moments in the whole movie when he goes, “Heh-ha-ha!” So delightful.
Quint: I'm a huge fan of his. As someone who loves the films of the '70s Nebraska is really fascinating because you have Bruce Dern in a lead, you have Stacy Keach in there... Have you seen Brewster McCloud?
Will Forte: No, I haven't.
Quint: It's a Robert Altman movie that he made either right before or right after MASH, I don't remember, but you have to check it out. Stacy Keach's character is an old man, so he's in this crazy old age makeup for his entire role.
Will Forte: I've definitely heard of that movie, I just have never seen it. I somehow don't see a lot of movies. I love them so much. I love going to the theater to watch movies, but for some reason... I go through stretches where I see everything in a theater for a month and then I'll go through four or five months where I don't get to see anything.
Quint: That's pretty common for people who work on movies. I have friends who are even bigger cinephiles than I am, but if they're producing or crewing a movie they have to make that the priority.
Will Forte: That's the funny thing about Alexander (Payne). I don't think he watches many current movies. I know he watches a ton of obscure old films and to hear Bruce and Alexander talk about movies is just amazing because Alexander knows every actor and every scene in all these old movies that Bruce talks about and I don't know anything! It's just so fun to listen to them talk about these things.
Quint: Can we talk a little bit about how you worked with Alexander specifically. One thing that's really interesting to me about Nebraska is your performance. It's not really the comedy/drama jump so much as in your previous work you usually play very extroverted, loud characters. Your character in this is the exact opposite. He's very introverted and quiet to the point that you could have easily disappeared amongst the more colorful characters. So, I guess my big question is how did you work with Alexander to not do that?
Will Forte: It was very intimidating going in. As you said, I'm very used to these big, absurd characters so this was intimidating. Alexander was very good about calming me and getting me out of my head, but the script was just so well-written. When I read it for the first time I felt this really odd connection with the character. There was something about the character who is kind of like who I am in real life, so that was kind of a scary thing because it made me feel vulnerable. In MacGruber I put a piece of celery in my butt and that was nowhere near as scary for me as acting like a normal person.
It was the best experience and Alexander was great. Going in I think I was erring on the side of underplaying it. I might have gone too far in underplaying it and he'd boost me back up. I just wanted to make sure I didn't seem at all sketchy or unreal.
Quint: Did that happen more early on in the process or was that balance something you searched for throughout?
Will Forte: It would vary scene by scene, but at that point I had also gone through the audition process, so I knew I was at least in the ballpark. I put myself on tape first and he called me in based on that tape and then I (auditioned) in person. I figured “This is generally how he wants me to do it. He brought me up a little bit because I was underplaying it too much and maybe might have shrunken into the background.
Also, when you add in Bruce and June (Squibb) and Stacy and all these amazing actors it's just easier to find out the level you should be at. They are such good actors that it's almost like having another director there. Between the script and those actors you know the way and if you're off track at all, Alexander will push you in the right direction. All my feelings of intimidation going in melted away pretty quickly. It was a delightful experience.
Quint: Does Alexander rehearse a lot? I know a lot of detail-centric directors on his level either rehearse for ages or meticulously plan and then let the blocking figure itself out on the day. Kubrick was pretty famous for that.
Will Forte: I think that's probably more like he is. I know we did not rehearse a lot. We came out for a rehearsal period, but we didn't really put anything up on its feet. We read through the script once, just me and Bruce and June with Alexander, but that was it. The rest of it was us driving out to the different locations in Nebraska and getting comfortable with each other so that by the time we started working we were all tight.
Quint: So, the family unit aspect was more important than memorizing lines weeks in advance.
Will Forte: Yeah. And I think I've heard him talk about storyboarding. I don't think he storyboards, but he know exactly what he wants. It's so reassuring to get in there and be with somebody who knows exactly what he wants and has this confidence. That bleeds out to the rest of the group.
Quint: When he knows what he wants it must make you feel protected, like you can do whatever you want and he'll only let the take end when he's happy.
Will Forte: Oh yeah. There would be times where we'd be scrambling to finish a scene because we had another scene we had to get to and maybe my coverage was last and I would go up to him afterwards and go, “Are you sure you got what you wanted from me or are we just moving on because we need to get to this other scene?” and he said “I would not move on if I didn't get what I wanted.” I thought he was lying the first couple of times that he said that! (laughs) But soon I realized that he knows exactly what he wants and knows when he gets it. It was really wonderful working with someone like that. It was just awesome.
Quint: You got to spend a lot of time “alone” in a car with Bruce Dern. I've never met the guy, but as a big movie fan the dude worked with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne and was in Silent Running, which is one of the craziest weird low key sci-fi movies ever made. I have to imagine he's got a ton of stories. Is he the kind of guy that would just sit around and tell stories about his career?
Will Forte: He just, and I mean this in the most complimentary way, but he would not stop talking. He just has the best stories. He's such a character, so full of energy and vibrant. He'd reeling off story after story of all these greats, like you were mentioning going as far back as John Wayne, Alfred Hitchcock, Elia Kazan, Marylin Monroe... I got all these amazing stories and some kind of wonderful R-rated stories, too, that were just so much fun. He knows basically everything. He's like a Cliff Clavin but with mainly factual information. Mainly.
Quint: Print the legend, right?
Will Forte: It's such a testament to what a good actor he is because who he is in real life is the polar opposite of who he is in this movie, which is a guy who barely talks and doesn't know what's going on. He is so present and wonderful and sharp and funny. It's an experience I'll never forget. It was like being at this neverending, fascinating lecture on the history of Hollywood. He was so good to me, too. We got to be really, really close. I love the guy! The relationship we have as friends and co-workers is very similar to the relationship we have in the movie.
Quint: So, you're saying you bought him a truck.
Will Forte: I actually did! It's funny because at the end of the shoot I had gone to this toy store that just happened to be in South Dakota and I saw this little toy truck and they happened to also have a mini-air compressor and that figures very prominently into the story. I bought him this and wrote him a nice letter. I later heard him answering some questions and he told a story about how when he first read the script he sent Alexander a little toy truck as a way to say, “Hey, I would love to be involved with this. Here's a truck for you.” I found that funny, but I felt bad that I was not original.
Quint: But did he send a mini-air compressor with it?
Will Forte: He did not! He did not send him an air compressor, so I one-upped him! It was an experience I will never forget. It just came out of nowhere and I'm so thankful to be a part of this.
Quint: I think we've hit our time...
Will Forte: If you have more questions, I'm always fine to keep going.
Quint: I would just end up being me telling you what you guys need to do with MacGruber 2, so it's better we cut it off here.
Will Forte: (laughs) Tell me! We need all the help we can get!
Quint: Well, you're going to have to write in a bunch of real life sex scenes since that's the only thing he seems to do nowadays, but you guys really should bring Shia LaBeouf back as MacGruber's closeted gay son.
Will Forte: (laughs) I think we had asked him... I can't remember, but there were several things that we wanted to do in the first one... I think we talked with Shia, but he was busy doing something else, but we love Shia.
See, I told you Will Forte is a cool guy! Hope you folks dug the chat!