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You might have thought it was kind of dumb for Lorne Michaels to try and make a movie out of the MacGruber sketch, something that worked only in 90-second bursts and ended every time with the main character exploding. Would it make you feel any better to know that the sketch's creators feel the same way? Director Jorma Taccone and writer/star Will Forte both admitted they had to talk themselves into the notion of a MacGruber movie, but things started moving along once, they say, they threw out enough insane ideas to make the whole thing work.
And that's how we get the movie MacGruber, which is the best SNL movie you've seen in a long time, and just as insane and funny as you'd expect for a movie about a guy with a mullet who carries his car stereo with him everywhere he goes. I got the chance to talk to Taccone and Forte about how they expanded the character of MacGruber, all the hidden tributes to 80s action movies, and the unpleasant surprise awaiting Forte's mom when she visited the set.
Will, is it true that your mother visited the set on the worst possible day?
Will: Well, there were several worst possible days on this movie. But yes, she was there for the scene where I'm naked involving celery. And she was not alone. She was with two friends. We were shooting in Albuquerque, and they very quickly decided to go to Santa Fe for the afternoon.
Are any of you big fans of the original MacGyver? And what other 80s TV shows and movies were an inspiration?
Jorma: We all grew up in that era. I'm a little younger than these guys, but I would say all of us are huge fans of the original MacGyver series, and obviously we found that inspiration for the original pitch for MacGruber. In terms of the inspiration for the movie, that really came from our love for late 80s/early 90s action movies. The whole Lethal Weapon series, and Rambo and Die Had, every single Schwarzenegger and Stallone film. Road House there's obviously a little nod to with the throat rips. When you first see MacGruber working on the bomb, in the initial opening credits, that bomb was a replica of the Die Hard bomb. The love runs deep for 80s action movies.
What about the Naked Gun spoofs?
Jorma: We were in a lot of ways trying to not be so spoofy, in a way. This was our attempt at making our own ode to late 80s, early 90s action movies. A lot of the acting in it, we were trying to have it be as deadpan and serious as possible. All of the characters surrounding MacGruber, it was our intention to have them be maybe a little less goofy than you would expect maybe from an SNL movie. Powers Booth, when we were first interested in hiring him, he was like 'What is this? Am I Leslie Nielsen?' And we were like, 'Oh no. Pretend you're in a real action movie. When he's offering to fellate you, it's heartbreaking for you. It's the worst thing imaginable. To have your protege at his lowest point is really heartbreaking.'
Will: It's a lot different from the sketch. I think people were expecting it to be the sketch over and over again for 90 minutes. I think they'll be pleasantly surprised by how different it is.
How did you even go about pitching this movie, when it's so ridiculous?
Will: We had to sell ourselves on the idea first. Lorne approached us and we were as skeptical as anybody else. We also thought that it would be stupid of us to not at least see if we could come up with some ideas. When we sat down to write it, the first thing that was clear was that we couldn't do that, we couldn't just run the sketch over and over again for 90 minutes. We just started throwing out all these insane ideas and soon had enough of them that we thought, man, this is really fun, let's keep going. Every step of the way we kept thinking that someone was going to come in and say, oh, you cannot do that. That step never came. We had so much freedom on this, and really were able to make exactly the movie we wanted to make. We're really happy with how it turned out.
You guys had free reign to do what you wanted this character--- how did you even decide what MacGruber would and wouldn't do?
Will: That was the trickiest part of the process. Figuring out just how good he was at certain things and just how bad he was at certain things.
Jorma: Because he's weirdly capable. And you know from his back story that he's thought of us this hero beyond all heroes.
Will: The celery thing does work! He's an out of the box thinker.
Who's idea was it to make Val look like Steven Seagal?
Jorma: I think that was Val's idea. He had that ponytail already, and he asked us if we wanted him to keep it. All of our hair people were like, 'Please make him cut it! Make him cut his hair!' And we were like, 'Absolutely not.'
Is this what it's like behind the scenes of SNL? Without the network would we be getting weekly comedy like MacGruber?
Jorma: I think the advantage we had with MacGruber is the speed we had to put it together. We were moving so fast. It's almost like the way that the show works, where everything is happening so fast you basically have to go with your gut. We're just so thrilled that we can even be sitting here with you guys. From this very stupid pitch as the impetus for this thing to this character we really grew to love to putting him in this crazy action move. It's been such a dream that we're just happy it exists.
Will: We're really proud of how it turned out. Filthy, disgusting proud.