"We originally wanted to actually cut Cunth's d*ck off and shove it in his mouth," Jorma Taccone told reporters last week. "That became sort of a note." Suffice it to say that MacGruber, the latest adaptation of a Saturday Night Live skit to arrive on the silver screen this May 21st, is made of sterner stuff than some of its predecessors. "I think I looked up the phrase "f*ck you" in the original draft and I think it appeared 16 times. So it's less than that now, but it was always aggressively hard [R]."
The film debuted last Tuesday in Austin, Texas at the South By Southwest film festival, and the following morning, members of the cast and crew, including stars Will Forte and Kristen Wiig and director Jorma Taccone spoke to the press about the prospect of expanding a two-minute skit to theatrical length.
"We really were looking at '80s and early '90s action movies for inspiration," Taccone explained about the film, a redemption story in which MacGruber is called back into service a decade after his fiancée is murdered. "I actually rewatched Rambo III after we had written the script. The monastery scene, I could not believe how similar it was to Rambo III, and that was not intentional actually at all. It just sort of felt right to find this dude who's opted out of society. He's so crushed by what's happened with his nemesis and the loss of his wife and everything that he goes off to a monastery."
Taccone indicated, however, that they never intended to take MacGruber's reclusive meditation too seriously. "I think originally we were going to have [MacGruber] burn down the monastery too, right? He was going to throw an oil lamp at Cunth's [picture], burn it down, walk away in slow motion as monks are desperately trying to put out the fire. He's just such a bad person."
When asked whether longtime SNL producer Lorne Michaels was specifically looking for a skit to bring to the screen, Taccone explained that the process seemed less like a calculated strategy and more a happy convergence of circumstances. "I know Lorne's always been a real champion of the sketch. He's always liked it and thought of it maybe even more highly than we did," Taccone remembered. "At certain times, he always thought it was a good idea, and when the opportunity for the Pepsi commercials came up, he immediately thought that MacGruber would be a good idea, so he's been really good to us with that sort of thing. The Pepsi thing was a completely spec thing. We literally made it independent of Pepsi because we always wanted to do a MacGruber where he sells out, so it just sort of worked out that we were like, oh no, this is the type of crappy thing that this guy would do."
Forte dismissively added, "They originally said, 'yeah, we might do something. We're interested in doing something with SNL.' Lorne came up with the idea and he said 'let's do MacGruber.' Then I think they kind of pulled back and were like, 'uh, maybe'."
In the original Saturday Night Live skit, MacGruber typically spends so much time explaining how he's going to defuse a ticking timebomb that he never gets around to actually doing it. When asked how they adapted the material to suit the demands of a 90-minute story, Forte observed that they knew there would be a certain kind of expectation for audiences going in. "I think a lot of people out there probably think that's what the movie will be is just a series of explosions over and over again," he said.
Taccone bemusedly added, "Which was so odd to us that that was the comments [we heard] - what's it gonna be? You've got to make a plot out of it." the writer-director remembered. "What do you expect? It's so odd. But we did put that one little sort of nod to the original sketch in the movie, which is really nice that people kind of seem to really get that moment when that music comes in. I don't know how often Megatrax is used in movies, but it's nice that people get that moment."
As far as that aforementioned villain, Dieter von Cunth, played in the film by Val Kilmer, Forte explained that the name actually came from a different SNL skit, albeit not in a way that anyone would likely recognize. "Yes, the naming, I get naming rights on that," Forte said. "I know where it came from and this makes me sound like a turd, [but] my mom will be proud to know that this particular gross thing was me. When these guys had first gotten to the show, [they did a skit about] shoes that look like feet, a commercial parody. There are these Jack Johnson shoes that just look like human feet. It was a commercial parody for SNL and I was a guy who basically had to drive an hour and a half away just to walk into this restaurant with these feet, like a really teeny part. We had to spend all day doing this thing and Bill Hader was the maitre'd and I would just sign in every time to this book, this sign-in book and I signed in as Dr. Cunth."
As indicated above, there was ultimately no genital mutilation in the film, but MacGruber does manage to non-surgically remove the throats of a few of his foes. Taccone explained that finding the right level of intensity became a fun challenge as they were working out the practical and CGI logistics. "I think we were all pretty on board, but it was interesting because I don't think we intended to go quite so gross with it. We meant it to be a little bit more subdued and then as soon as we saw, they did one version, the company that was doing the visual effects did one version that was very aggressive on the second throat rip. It was like 'blehhhh,' where it's everywhere and we were like, oh no. More, just do more on everything."
Forte asked, "How do you do a subdued throat rip?"
Taccone replied, "Road House is actually fairly subdued if you watch it again. It's definitely not that, but we had a great dude doing our special effects on set who did my makeup for Chaka in Land of the Lost. He came out and did the prosthetic leg thing, the bullet wound and the throat rips too. If you see that thing, that's this really cool prosthetic piece. He did Cunth's makeup as well."
"Oh, if you watch the movie again, you will see that I'm fully laughing," she revealed. "I turned my head, and when I saw the screening of it, I was like, they can't use that take! Because I'm fully laughing. No one else noticed it, but I'm turning my head and fully laughing." Wiig explained that the scene was difficult to shoot because of other reasons as well: "It was probably 100 degrees," she said, "and then when they would cut they would just turn on a little fan. It wasn't even an air conditioner, it was just like a little fan and we would stand in front of it. We had like sweat and he had his little sock on, and I had this weird nightgown tube thing."
Forte and Wiig digressed into a discussion of his profuse sweating. "We wouldn't have been sweating if we hadn't been moving at all, but I felt bad for her because she was just laying there," Forte remembered. "I'm a sweater anyway."
"Oh, just like drips of sweat coming from the belly button," she added.
"You could even see them because the way Jorma had set up the lighting," Forte continued. "The way the light was coming in, you could in several of the takes see gigantic drops of sweat. There was one in particular that I remember that came off and just went right in your face. Some of those where we were just trying to avoid the sweat. Her hair was all over (laughs). And it was her birthday too!
"It was," Wiig confirmed. "It was my birthday. I was nervous for Lorne to see that scene because I was like, oh, I don't want Lorne to see me do this. Because he's like our dad."
Forte indicated that Michaels was apparently pretty amused by his efforts. In a sex scene that immediately follows the one with Wiig's character, Forte said, "I'm sitting there naked about to do this scene, and I turn around and Lorne has his cell phone out taking a picture of me from behind."
Amazingly, Forte said that wasn't the most surprising detail about shooting that sequence. "Oh, Maya [Rudolph] was eight months pregnant at the time," he revealed. "She was very pregnant. She was a trouper. [But] now I know her daughter very well."