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Strange Wilderness is a new comedy starring Steve Zahn as the host of a wilderness television show with plummeting ratings. To increase viewership, he assembles a motley crew and sets out on an expedition to find Bigfoot. The cast includes Jonah Hill, Justin Long, Ashley Scott, Peter Dante, Jeff Garlin, and -- believe it or not -- Ernest Borgnine! The red band trailer for Wilderness just hit the internet. (Need a little incentive to check it out? There's nudity. You're welcome.) Cinematical spoke with two of the film's stars -- Kevin Heffernan (of Broken Lizard fame) and Allen Covert (pretty much every Adam Sandler movie, Grandma's Boy) -- about this film and their careers. First up is Kevin Heffernan...
Cinematical: Who do you play in the film?
Kevin Heffernan: I play a character named Whitaker. When they go out on this trip, they need to hire an animal wrangler. I'm a car mechanic and I have no animal wrangling experience. Basically, I'm just looking for a job. So I go and interview with them and I win the job but I have no knowledge of animals. I don't even like them that much really! It's got this great ensemble cast and some great cameos...
Cinematical: It does have such a great comedy cast, was improvisation encouraged on the set?
KH: Yeah man. The script was so good, I mean it was written by Fred Wolf and Peter Gaulke who have a lot of comedy writing experience, but it was just one of those kind of movies where there's always like six or seven people on the screen. And they left it free for us to do the improv stuff that we all love to do. So there were a lot of people going off, and they had to kind of pull you back to the script a little bit.
Cinematical: Broken Lizard's next film, The Slammin' Salmon, you're directing that one, right?
KH: Yeah! I got the reigns this time. Hopefully I don't screw it up. It's so collaborative, the stuff we do anyway, so everybody's kind of involved. It's not really that daunting, it's been a lot of fun. We kind of put this project together real quick, and Jay Chandrasekhar had another obligation at Warner Brothers, so I was like "I'll do it." Luckily, everybody said yes. That one takes place in one night, we play the wait staff at a high-end seafood restaurant. It's owned by this crazy heavyweight champion Mike Tyson-type guy. And he owes a lot of dough to the Yakuza. So he enters us into this contest to see how much money his restaurant can earn in one night. And it becomes a Glengarry Glen Ross kind of thing, where the waiter who brings in the most money gets ten grand, and the waiter who brings in the least gets the shit kicked out of him by Mike Tyson.
Cinematical: What about Super Troopers 2?
KH: We put together an outline for it. There was a point when Fox Searchlight wanted to do it and we weren't ready. Then we wanted to do it and they weren't ready. But we pitched them an outline and they really liked it a lot. It's set in a post 9/11 world. The U.S. has reset the borders between the countries, and they realize there's a section on the border between Canada and Vermont that claims to be Canada but is actually U.S. soil. So they redraw the border and assign us, the local police force, as an occupational force to monitor the area. They send us in to Americanize a section of Canada. It's very topical. All kinds of political innuendo. Oscar-caliber stuff. And we have another movie we're trying to get off the ground called The Babymaker, Jay Chandrasekhar is going to direct. Broken Lizard is going to produce it. It's about a guy who's trying to have a baby with his wife, but he's shooting blanks. I play his buddy. The guy remembers that he donated a bunch of his sperm to sperm banks in college, so he goes to try and get his sperm back and they won't give it to him. So he hatches this elaborate sperm bank heist. It's pretty much Ocean's Eleven...with sperm.
Next I spoke with Allen Covert...
Cinematical: The one name that jumped out to me amongst all the great comedians in the cast was Ernest Borgnine.
Allen Covert: Oh yeah! Big Ernie. He's 90! He had more energy than anyone! He filmed stuff in the first week we were shooting, and then he came back and shot stuff the last week. So the whole period in between those two times, we didn't see him. And we were like "What'd you do while you were off?" He went to Italy! He did another movie! And he's 90! I hope to be able to get up and take a crap when I'm 90, let alone shoot two movies at the same time!
Cinematical: Did you have any scenes with the T-1000, Robert Patrick?
AC: Oh yeah! That was the best! I have a great scene with him that I'm really happy about. Here's a guy who told us he'd never done a comedy before, and he is so funny in this movie. He just plays it straight and serious and he's so intense. We shot this when Walk the Line was out, and I told him "You're so nice and you're such a f***ing asshole in that movie!" It's so cool when you get on the set and there's the Terminator standing there. And he just exudes this menace. I love guys like that, because I couldn't exude menace if I tried. I have a gun in this movie and I still don't exude anything menacing.
Cinematical: Strange Wilderness is an R-Rated movie, do you find that frees up a lot more comedy possibilities?
AC: It depends on the comedy. I mean, this was "R" from the beginning. Some movies should be "R," and some movies don't have a need for it. I'm sure we could have made a very funny "PG-13" movie here, but when you see it, you'll know that we did some things that could just never have been done any way but "R." And it's not just about saying "F***." If you want to make any movie "R," you just have to have a girl show her boobs and say "f***" twice. But there's nothing worse than watching a movie that forces it, when you're laughing and then all of a sudden you're like "Wow, they didn't need that bit." But knowing we had the "R" definitely frees up like the improv, there's no censoring yourself. You can literally say or do anything.
Cinematical: Your film Grandma's Boy has developed quite a cult following. Do you get stopped by stoners all the time about that movie?
AC: Every day! And all I think is "Where were you when we were at the box office?" Luckily, we live in an era where it doesn't have to die at the theater. Fifteen years ago, that would have been it. We wouldn't have done well at the box office and no one would have ever seen it. Eventually, it would have been on cable maybe. But now three months after theaters it's on DVD, and two years later I have people coming up to me saying "I just saw your movie last night for the first time!" That's crazy, I like that. It was our first foray into making a low budget movie, because we had been making big studio movies for a long time. It was a script Nick Swarsdon and I loved, Adam Sandler loved it, and we just had to shop it around and find some financing. We had a blast making it. Two years later, people don't even know it didn't do well, they just know it's funny. And hopefully for Strange Wilderness, they'll get off the couch and come see it! We have such a great cast for this thing. There's something for everyone here if you like comedy. And this is a perfect time to bring it out. This summer alone, Justin was in Die Hard and Jonah had the double whammy of Knocked Up and Superbad. When we filmed this movie the two of them had just finished Accepted.
Cinematical: You mentioned Knocked Up, I listened to the commentary for that this weekend, and Judd Apatow mentioned that he and you had once eaten an entire turkey together...care to elaborate?
AC: It was Thanksgiving and it was just me and him! We were all pretty pathetic back in the day, you know? Apatow was actually the first person Sandler and I met when we moved to Los Angeles. We went to The Improv the first day and there was Apatow. Trust me, Apatow and I would still eat a whole turkey together if we could.
Strange Wilderness hits theaters February 1st.