Interview Date: 04/07/2010
Run Date: 04/13/2010
As a member of the comedy troupe known as Broken Lizard, Kevin Heffernan has been making movie audiences laugh since playing Grogan in the group’s debut: the 1996 film, “Puddle Cruiser.” (No, it wasn’t “Super Troopers.” That didn’t hit theaters ‘til 2001.) Although their comedic sensibilities are perhaps an acquired taste, we here at Bullz-Eye have certainly acquired it, and it’s nice to see that Broken Lizard’s latest film, “The Slammin’ Salmon,” remains up to the standards the group has set for themselves…even if we’re not entirely sure what those standards are. We had a chance to chat with Heffernan on the occasion of “The Slammin’ Salmon” hitting DVD, and we asked him how the film came to fruition, what it was like taking the directorial reigns from the group’s usual director, Jay Chandrasekhar, why you might find “Club Dread” better now than you did the first time you watched it, and when we we’re finally going to see the oft-rumored “Super Troopers” sequel.
Kevin Heffernan: Hey, Will, it’s Kevin!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, man, how are you doing?
KH: Good, how’s it going?
BE: Good. I just finished watching “The Slammin’ Salmon” this morning, actually.
KH: Nice. But…wait a minute, you can’t laugh in the morning time!
BE: You know, you wouldn’t think so, but I’ve got a 4-year-old daughter who’s been sick, so I needed a good laugh, and I got it. So thanks!
KH: (Laughs) Okay, all right. What do you have going on there? Stomach flu?
BE: Pollen attack. I’m in Virginia, and it’s awful.
KH: Really? ‘Cause my pollen thing hit today, and it’s terrible. But I have a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, and they got the stomach virus, and they just passed it back and forth between each other.
BE: Nice. So I watched the bonus feature on the DVD, where the group is reminiscing about their real-life experiences as waiters, but I can’t seem to recall you saying anything. Were you never a waiter?
KH: I never was a waiter, no. I washed dishes for a couple of nights in a restaurant, and that’s as close as I ever got. I was always an office-temp guy. I never worked waiting tables.
BE: Should I ask why you only washed dishes for a couple of nights?
KH: Uh…it wasn’t for me. (Laughs) It just wasn’t. And I wasn’t much of an office temp, either.
BE: So how do you guys come up with the premises for your films? Do you just have a hatful of ideas, and you just pull one out once in awhile?
KH: A lot of times. For this one, for example, it was based on the experiences of these guys. It’s hard, because you have to find a world or an idea that can accommodate five guys and have equal parts in the movie for them. We’re like a basketball team. So, yeah, it’s hard. You’ve got to sift through these different worlds, then you’ve got to get five guys to agree on something, which is never easy. But the waiting thing, enough of the guys had done it, and I think everyone who’s waited tables has got funny stories, and everyone thinks that they’d make for a great movie. (Laughs) So these guys collected their ideas and put them all together.
BE: So how is it that the one guy who wasn’t a waiter ended up directing the film?
KH: I don’t know. It was lucky I had all of these technical advisors with me. (Laughs) But, no, it was kind of a weird confluence of things. You know, we shot this movie with private financing, and it was a script that we had written a couple of years earlier, knowing that, if we wanted to, we could go raise some money and shoot it for low budget. So when the writer’s strike approached a couple of years ago, everything started drying up, and it was, like, “Okay, this is the time.” So we went out and found money very quickly, and when we did, Jay Chandrasekhar, who had directed our previous movies, at the time he was obligated to a Warner Brothers movie, so he couldn’t do it in the window that we had. So I said, “I’ll do it!” And, luckily, the other guys agreed. But it was a very collaborative kind of thing. We all started together and learned how to do this together, so I’d been always involved in pre-production, production, post-production, editing, and all of that kind of stuff, so I felt like I had a good background to do it.
BE: Were you hazed at all, since you’d never directed the other guys before?
KH: (Laughs) It was a little rough, because you’ve got Jay as well as Paul Soter, who had directed an independent film previously also, so you had guys who were already directors looking at you from the corner and whispering to each other.
BE: Did you enjoy the experience enough that you’d be willing to helm something else?
KH: Oh, I’d love to. I thought it was great. It was a lot of fun. It was a little hard. The part that was harder than I thought was the acting and directing stuff, just because you don’t realize how many things you have in your mind when you’re acting a scene. So, yeah, maybe it’d be nice to try it while not acting, but, yeah, I’d love to do it again. I had a great time.
BE: So who was the inspiration for the character of The Slammin’ Salmon himself? Was it a takeoff on Joe Frazier, or…
KH: It was actually Mike Tyson. It’s funny, ‘cause we started writing the script, and we were, like, “Who’s going to be the owner?” And we went through all of your usual things. “It’s the mafia boss!” or whatever. I dunno, it was probably that Mike Tyson did something stupid that was in the news, or something like that, and we were, like, “Hey, imagine that guy is your boss! He’s insane, he can kill you, yet there’s something loveable about him…” (Laughs) And we just kind of went off on that riff, and we started writing the character in that voice, in that Mike Tyson high-voice-for-a-tough-guy kind of thing. The problem was that we got down the road and then we realized that we had to cast it. And then you’re, like, “How many guys out there can play the former boxing guy who’s terrifying yet at the same time is hysterical?” We were lucky to find Michael Clarke Duncan to come in and do it. It was a very fun character to write, and then Michael had a lot of fun doing it.
BE: It seemed like, at least from the clips during the closing credits, that he did at least some ad-libbing.
KH: Oh, yeah, he did, and it was surprising, because…Mike, first of all, had never really done an independent film before. He’s always kind of done the big-studio movies, and he’d also basically done action and drama, but he hadn’t done a lot of comedy. So I think we weren’t sure, he wasn’t sure how it was all going to work out, but he came in the first day, he was prepared, he nailed it, and then he started improvising and it ended up being a very fun, funny experience for him and, I think, for us, to see him come alive like that.
BE: How did Cobie Smulders come on board the film? I know you’d worked with her before, on “How I Met Your Mother.”
KH: Yeah, I did an episode of her show, and that’s where I met her. It was a short time right after that where we put our movie together, and we were very lucky because the writer’s strike had shut down all of the TV shows, so all of these actors weren’t doing their shows and we were able to get Cobie to come in. She was looking for a movie to do right in that gap, and it worked out quite perfectly because… (Laughs) …we started shooting our movie the day the strike started, and we finished the day the strike ended! And she was able to come in and do the movie in that time period, which was great because, you know, she’s really incredibly talented. Like, she’s one of these actresses who’s beautiful but at the same time can do comedy. I think people see her on that show and know that she’s got a huge movie future ahead of her if she wants it.
BE: You know, Joss Whedon said he wanted her to play Wonder Woman.
KH: Oh, yeah. God, I would work with her again in a heartbeat. As a director, she was a dream, ‘cause, y’know, from a logistic point of view, she comes in, she hits her mark, she delivers her line, and she’s confident.
BE: She’s really good at getting laughs with the way she delivers lines that are clearly not supposed to be very funny…if you know what I mean by that.
KH: Yeah, it’s that delivery she has, and the look she’ll throw in with it.
BE: Sidebar question: how was it playing a porn star on “How I Met Your Mother”?
KH: (Laughs) It was okay. You know, those things are uncomfortable because the shows are such a family amongst their casts, and you’re walking into this family and doing your one episode and leaving, but those people couldn’t have been nicer. That’s what was so nice about Cobie. She’s, like, “Hi, how are you?” And she’ll give you a hug. She doesn’t know who you are… (Laughs) …but they embrace you coming in on that show, so it was a lot of fun coming in. What was weird about it was playing a porn start at 8 PM in prime time television. (Laughs) You’re not really a porn star. You’re a TV porn star.
BE: Was “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as enjoyable an experience?
KH: Oh, that was one of the best things ever. It was very intimidating, you know, because you hear a lot of stories about it. The way they operate is that they don’t have a script, so you walk in and they essentially give you a sentence. “Here’s what happening. Go!” That kind of thing. So that’s the way you audition for the part, and you audition with Larry David, so you go in there and they say, “You are this guy,” you do it, and you’re, like, “Ah, I totally screwed it up!” But, luckily, I got the part. Again, it’s a family they have there, and they’re so comfortable with each other because there’s no script and it’s just them being their characters, but it’s a very cool way to work, and you wonder why every show doesn’t do it that way. (Laughs) And you realize that it’s because not every show can pull that off! But it was very fun. I just did a day shoot with them, but you’re just in the room with Larry and making stuff up, and they’ll say, “Yeah, keep that,” or, “Dump that,” and by the time you’re done, you have a scene. It was very funny.
BE: Did you hear anything back from TiVo?
KH: No! I was expecting maybe a lifetime supply of TiVo or something.
BE: That would’ve been nice.
KH: That would’ve been really nice. But they didn’t give me anything. And I was expecting my character to recur, but that didn’t happen, either. Damn!
BE: Okay, back to “The Slammin’ Salmon.” With Will Forte’s character, I knew there was going to be some sort of punchline to offset the sentimentality, but I have to say that I didn’t expect the one you delivered. It struck me as very Python-esque.
KH: (Laughs) Yeah, I think he was concerned, because, y’know, the way we shot it…I think we shot his punchline stuff on a different day from the stuff at his table. I won’t give anything away, but it’s a very slow burn, and I think he was concerned that it wasn’t quite pedal-to-the-medal enough for him, that it was too reserved. But I think that was all part of it, and I think it ends up playing really great.
BE: I thought the pairing of Sendhil Ramamurthy and Olivia Munn was a great one…and I hope I pronounced Sendhil’s name right, because I’ve never actually had to say it out loud before.
KH: Yeah, you got it right. He always said to me, “You say it like ‘sandal.’ Like you wear on your feet.”
BE: What made you think of him for the part? Because he’s certainly not considered a comedic actor. Not particularly, anyway.
KH: He actually is a cousin of Jay Chandrasekhar.
BE: I did not know that.
KH: Yeah, and it was very funny because when his show (“Heroes”) came on the air, I was watching it, and one day I went into our offices and said, “Jay, there’s a hot, new, dashing Indian on the scene. You’re out, man.” And he said, “Oh, are you talking about Sendhil?” “Yeah, the guy on ‘Heroes.’” “Yeah, Sendhil. You know Sendhil.” And then he reminded me: when we were living in New York City, we were sharing an apartment, and Jay’s 18-year-old cousin came and lived with us on our couch for, like, three months one summer. And that was Sendhil! (Laughs) I didn’t even remember him…and he lived with us for a couple of months! So, anyway, we were doing this movie, and we were looking for a dashing guy to play the part, and, again, it was the strike, so his show wasn’t shooting, so Jay just called him up and said, “Can you come do this for a day?” And he came down, and he was great. And it’s funny, because Olivia Munn apparently had a crush on him, so the fact that she got to hang out with him was pretty awesome for her.
BE: She’s just, like, the coolest woman ever, by the way.
KH: Oh, she’s phenomenal. She’s so gorgeous and yet so funny. You turn the camera on her, and she’s so natural and starts improvising jokes and funny lines. It was nice, because she was a fan of “Super Troopers” and had us on her show a couple of times, and then when we shot this movie, we asked if she would do that part, and she came down and it was great
BE: How was the challenge of filming Paul playing twins, and was he up to that challenge consistently?
KH: (Laughs) Yeah, I think so. It was fun, ‘cause it was kind of a cheap way that we came about it. We had started writing the script, and we liked the two characters, but neither of them were substantial enough, so we said, “Okay, so we’ll just combine them.” Suddenly, it becomes a very juicy thing to do, because as an actor, you get to play the submissive guy and kind of an asshole guy. So he had a great time doing it, getting into a fight with himself. I think those kind of things ended up maybe tiring him a little bit, ‘cause he had to shoot everything twice… (Laughs) …but it was fun for him, I think, to do that kind of “Freaky Friday” kind of thing.
BE: Was Conor’s plotline about losing his job at all based on a real event? Because it really felt like one.
KH: Oh, yeah. That’s a true story, and that happened to Steve Lemme, the guy who played the part of Conor. After we made our first movie, “Puddle Cruiser,” we sold the idea as a network show, and we were going to write the show for…well, I can’t remember which network it was for, but, anyway, Steve was still waiting tables at the time and literally quit and walked out in a blaze of glory, throwing the food around, telling everyone to piss off, and then walking out the door. And then about three months later, after he’d racked up all of this credit card debt because he was going to be a big TV star, the whole deal fell apart, and he ended up having to go back and ask for his old job back… (Laughs) …’cause he had so much debt. It was one of the low points in his life. He went back and waited tables for a couple more years, actually. But he always thought it would be a funny thing to put in there, so, yeah, it was a true story. Not the nose part, though. The nose part wasn’t true.
BE: Actually, within that plot line, Lance Henriksen was great.
KH: Yeah, he’s awesome. He’s a guy that we’ve always loved, and we had tried to get him in a few other movies earlier, but it never really worked out. Finally, it worked out for him to come do this part of a slimy TV producer, and he was great. He loved it, and we had a great time with the guy.
BE: Who do I talk to about getting an MP3 of “Cry of the Cougar,” the song that plays over the closing credits?
KH: (Laughs) I know, right? I was hoping we could manage to release it somehow.
BE: That’d be awesome.
KH: It was funny, because we had cut that whole scene together to “Eye of the Tiger,” but then we couldn’t get it because it was too expensive for our little independent film budget, so we said, “Ah, screw it: we’ll just write ‘Cry of the Cougar’ and do that.” So we did. It was a lot of fun.
BE: I’ll start wrapping up here, since I’m sure you’ve got another interview behind me, but what do you think is the most underrated Broken Lizard film?
KH: I don’t know. I guess we should wait ‘til people see this one and see how they feel. “Club Dread” is always a little bit underrated to me, because I really do love that movie. But it had a problem in the sense that I think that, being as it was the second big movie of ours that people saw, they wanted it to be the same kind of thing as “Super Troupers,” but it was in a different vein. So I think it kind of took a hit in the beginning. Now, a lot of people I’m talking to are rediscovering it and realizing how much fun it is when you get out of the context of “Super Troopers,” so I always thought it was underrated. But I also hope people check this movie out, too, ‘cause I think of it as being in the same food group as all of our other movies, so I think people will like it.
BE: And what’s your favorite project – not necessarily with Broken Lizard – that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
KH: I dunno. I’d probably say “Club Dread” again. It’d probably still be more Broken Lizard stuff. We’ve done a lot of stuff in terms of scripts we’ve written. We’ve written a couple of fun scripts for Warner Brothers that haven’t gotten made. We wrote one about an NFL player who turns to ballet to hone his skills, and it was called “Nutcracker.” (Laughs) I always thought that was kind of a fun thing. It was fun to write. But, you know, you have a lot of little babies that don’t quite make it.
BE: Lastly, what’s the status of “Super Troopers 2”? It gets talked about a lot by people who aren’t actually in Broken Lizard, but is it really happening?
KH: Yes! We’re very gung ho about it, and we’re working pretty hard on it now. We’ve written a couple of drafts of the script…four or five now, I think…and we’re just kind of honing it and revising it. I think that, in a couple of months, we’ll have something done that we’re really happy with, and then we’ll go out and try to put it all together. You know, it’s the kind of thing where we wanted to make sure we did it the way we wanted to do it and made the script feel good to us before we went anywhere with it. So I think we’re just going to play with the script for a little while longer and then hopefully try to shoot it maybe in the next year or so.
BE: Excellent. Well, man, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
KH: Yeah, great, thanks! Hope your daughter feels better!
BE: And here’s hoping your kids are completely done with the stomach flu.KH: (Laughs) Thanks! Later!