Tom Lennon Talks About Dealing With Children On The Set Of A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas
There’s an old saying in Hollywood that you should never work with children or animals. This is because unlike your average adult actor, children and animals tend to have no problem ignoring all the rules, make your life absolutely miserable, and extend movie shoots. Naturally this was a bit of a problem for Tom Lennon, who, in A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas spent almost all of his screen time holding one of three two-and-a-half year olds.
Sitting down recently with the actor/writer one-on-one to discuss his role in the new comedy sequel, we not only talked about dealing with the baby, but also how shooting in 3D made him sometimes feel like he was talking to an imaginary friend, his future projects, and how he doesn’t have the patience to direct his own feature film. Check it out!
*Note: This interview starts off a bit differently than most, as he actually opened the conversation. This is me telling you that the next sentence is where the interview begins.
How good was I in this movie?
You’re amazing in this movie! You’re amazing in every movie, though.
I don’t know if that’s true.
What movies aren’t you amazing in?
Exactly. You can’t think of any.
I don’t know how I was in What’s Your Number, that was alright. There's some other stuff I'm not amazing at too.
You're right, I'm amazing at everything.
I mean, can anyone wear Dangle shorts like you?
No. Well you gotta commit. You just gotta commit. You just gotta get over worrying about how you look or feel. And that's the gateway to success. And you're free. I look terrible in most of this movie.
You look good in this movie!
Like what's up with my hair in this movie?
It was fine.
I wanted it to look weird. My hair in this movie is based on, sort of designed- do you remember Geraldine Ferraro?
Oh of course, yes.
Is this for the internet?
Can you put up a picture of her hair and my hair from this movie next to each other?
I can most definitely do that.
That would be great.
We'll have them side by side.
Or, like on the side of this interview, there'll be a picture of me from this movie? Click on it for a link to Geraldine Ferraro.
I can do that.
That would be great.
Uh, I don't know. I feel like it's a wig. I like to just choose something. Like for 17 Again, my hair looked like Kate Gosselin.
But for this one I just kind of chose Geraldine Ferraro. I just like ladies' hairdos that don't look good on a man. Yeah.
And I guess, one other question I have also- you spend a good amount of this movie spending time with children.
You're a parent.
So how was that experience?
It was one of the worst experiences of my life. Certainly the worst working experience. Um, every single scene we shot with the girls we would have to blast Beyonce's “All the Single Ladies” and dance around for about ten minutes. [laughs] And then the baby whisperer would say something like, “Let's all brush our teeth with our finger!” There was three of them. Because you can't work with one, you need three. And then... there was a trick to get them to do everything. The babies weren't told, “Hey, you're doing cocaine.” They were told like, “Hey, we're blowing pixie dust!” Which is fun. I didn't even swear in front of the babies actually.
But, uh, the time I say that “My baby's fucked on cocaine?”
You might be able to tell that's looped, because on set I'm just mouthing that. But there were days- before the baby whisperer came on- there were days when we'd get 20 seconds of useable footage of the babies. Maybe ten seconds. And then the baby whisperer came on and it started going up to ten minutes a day. Great baby stuff. But it was hard and there were a lot times when I was just like, “Is this- is any life, is anything worth this? Is any 3D stoner movie worth how terrible everything is on this set? And how hard this is? And we have three screaming two-and-a-half-year-olds.”
Oh, Dawn. Dawn is a wonderful woman. We've now done two films together, she was also with me on What to Expect When You're Expecting. And she is a person who can, through very exciting and fun games and rewards, get babies and toddlers to do almost anything in a movie.
And to have fun doing it. And once Dawn came onto the movie, it was tremendously fun.
Just when a two-and-a-half-year-old is melting down, which, when you have three two-and-a-half-year-olds, one of them is always melting down-
Always. That's just math. So it was intense.
Did any of your parenting skills possibly work?
I actually thought so. They worked off-screen more.
We'd play around for hours and then we'd start shooting and they'd say “NO WE DON'T WANNA!!!” And we'd be like, “Oh, great.” And then sometimes John Cho would do that too, like, “I DON'T WANT TO!!”
Yeah, but I hear he's like that just every day.
He's a nice guy.
They're actually two very funny guys.
Um, that's hard to say. I think doing both probably keeps me sane. Because right when one is so frustrating; because they're both careers that can crush your soul; the disappointment level is- well, pick which one you're going to be more disappointed about, because they're both going to be pretty disappointing most of the time. Right when you're about to give up on one, it's great to have the other to sort of bounce back to, keep you sane. It also reminds you why you like the other one, to keep going back and forth.
And how does being a writer affect how you look at scripts and how you look at characters?
Um, quite a bit. I've actually known Jon and Hayden for years, the guys who wrote these movies. I've always been a fan of their stuff. Um... it does and it doesn't. Sometimes it's like, if I'm reading a script to rewrite it I have a totally different attitude about it. If I'm reading a script to act in it, I'm just like, “That's fun.” I love the idea of stepping into something that's written. And I don't have to figure out, I don't have to improvise a reason for everything that happens. I can just walk in and say these funny things. To me, every once in a while, that's a real treat. That said, I like to have some input, but most of what I do in this movie is exactly the way it was written in the script.
Interesting. I mean, working with Todd, is that something- did he give you the option to improvise?
He sort of did, somewhat, but it was also a very technically challenging film because of- well, as you can see, it's not one of those fake 3D movies.
It's like, very intense, very beautiful, real 3D 3D movie. So the process was arduous. So it was not totally conducive to just goof around all the time. It's like we've got these two giant cameras. Each camera is two huge genesis cameras. And nuances when there's a stereographer around the DP, and y'know it was just super complicated.
Does it actually affect the way you act?
It's a little different because the mat box is super wide so you're almost never- well, usually in a movie, if you're doing a scene where someone's off camera, they stand right next to the lens and you're talking to them like that. But the mat box on these cameras is so big, about a foot and a half wide at least, that they can't do that. So anytime the other actor is offscreen, you're looking at a piece of tape. Always. Which is pretty brutal. So you're only really doing scenes with the other person if you can both be seen at the same time.
Oh, they're there.
You just can't see them. You can't really look at them, which is kind of distracting because they're there, and they're saying the lines, just not where you're looking.
So does it feel like you're talking to an invisible friend or something?
Well that's nice. You get to use your imagination.
Yeah, but it's weird. Watch people's eyes in the movie, it's interesting. The 3D thing, it's interesting.
And what was your familiarity with the series before you joined it?
Uh, moderate at best. I mean, I knew Jon and Hayden and I thought they were funny guys. I'd seen the movies without... well, I'm not a big pot-smoker.
Kind of never have been, because it causes me to have horrifying panic attacks. Like really... I see all these people who are laughing, saying everything's great. I have no idea what that's like. Because I have some weird thing in my chemistry that creates a panic attack the second the tiniest toke of marijuana enters or is near me. Um, so I was aware of the films and had seen that they were funny, but I wasn't a diehard fan of them.
Sure. I mean, do you enjoy stoner comedy in general?
I don't know if it's like, a huge genre. I don't own a ton of it. I don't have any pot paraphernalia in my house. But, uh, I think this one certainly is a pretty fun one. Like the smoke coming out at you from the screen is really insane. It's pretty amazing. It was like it was in the theater, in front of you.
He's a super funny kid, I really like him a lot, he does a ton of stuff over at College Humor, he has a great webseries called Jake and Amir. Those two dudes sitting across from each other, and they're really, really funny. I like him a lot, we've become pals. I don't see him that much because he's on the east coast, but...
I am curious about some of your upcoming projects. One thing that I'm curious about is the Vin Diesel movie, The Machine.
Oh yeah, The Machine, the concept of the movie is sort of... it's in the style of that Peter Sellers movie, do you remember Being There?
But instead of a Chauncey Gardiner type, it's an 80's terminator robot that's been in mothballs for 25 years underneath the Library of Congress. And he has a little adventure and like, meets a girl and stuff.
It's just sort of, it's a remarkably sincere family film about an 80's terminator robot.
And this is your second movie that you've written for Vin Diesel. How does that change approach? Or does it?
It doesn't at all, except that we're really excited that he would want to attach himself to it. Um, I mean for us we're always just- well, there's a couple kind of movies we're writing. Like those kind of action-comedies and then stuff with Ben Stiller. Which is the other thing we always try to write.
You're doing Rentaghost too, right?
Rentaghost is going with Ben, which is really cool. I think that has the potential to be an extremely big hit.
Right, it was in development with him for a while, and then that sort of fell apart it seems like. And then we re-tooled it when we heard that Ben Stiller was interested in doing it, and that he liked our take on it a lot. It was originally a BBC series, we're not Americanizing it in any way, other than Ben Stiller's in it. It's going to be a love letter to the old show, I think.
And can you talk a bit about the plot? I actually don't know much about the original series.
I can probably tell you the most general things without giving out any spoilers about it. Basically, Ben Stiller will be playing the Fred Mumford character from the old series. It's about a guy who runs an employment agency for ghosts. So it's a big, kind of scary family comedy. But with some scary stuff. And funny. It's our take.
Is it adult humor?
I think it's kind of, y'know, like Night at the Museum, maybe a teeny bit scarier than that.
Ok. And another one, really just reading the logline it blew me away, is Boondoggle. Which is kind of another comedy, like duo comedy adventure movie.
Yeah, Boondoggle is a movie I wrote with me and Rob Riggle and it's about these two guys who have this horrifying, uh, they go down to these islands to negotiate this deal on a business trip, and it just spirals out of control. Like they take these drugs and end up in a prison camp and all this crazy stuff happens to them.
And you're planning on starring in that too, am I correct?
That will star me and Rob Riggle when it happens.
Awesome. And what's the latest on that front?
Slow, slowly getting off the ground. Here's the thing I'm learning lately: small movies fall apart just as fast as the big movies. So it's like, we're in some various stage of getting that one going also.
It really does not appeal to me, honestly.
Just directing doesn't appeal to me that much. I don't know what it is, it's just not really in my make-up. There's some people that have that sort of thing where they want to be in charge of stuff. But to me, that's sort of what I'm doing in the writing process. Which is I like creating the whole world and characters and things like that, but I'm also not the most patient person.
But you're an actor, you're standing around all day on set. [laughs]
I'm not standing around, I'm writing movies. I go to my trailer and I write movies as fast as I can, but directing requires depictions of a sight. Because everything will be evaluated, and there's only so much you can do about it.
When you are on set though, for the movies that you do write, do you take an active interest in them?
Absolutely, but we're usually not allowed on the set of movies that we write.
Usually they invite you once as courtesy, but for the most part they don't want you there. Because all you'll do is stand over the director's shoulder. They know you'll just be like “NO NO NO STOP STOP NO!” And they don't really want that.
So is that kind of something you kind of get?
They know that you're just going to be fucking annoying if you come to the set.
Do you know that as well?
Oh, I'm well aware of that. And I probably will, I'll stand there going “NO NO NO NO NO STOP STOP STOP! You've got it all wrong, I pictured it like this back in my room, back in my library where I wrote this!” [Laughs] “Fuck you. This is the location we've got, shut up” [laughs].
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