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It's the Saturday Night Live skit that no one thought would make it to the big screen, least of all its creators. MacGruber, the dumbass, mullet-sporting, ineffectual, obnoxious son of MacGyver, only succeeds in blowing up his comrades with his crappy devices, over and over and over again almost every Saturday night. But in MacGruber the movie, which opens this Friday nationwide and stars Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer, and Powers Boothe, there's way more to it than the Grubes trapped in a locked room with Vicki St. Elmo.
When MacGruber's former boss, Col. James Faith (Boothe) finds out that MacGruber's nemesis Dieter Von Cunth (Kilmer) is in possession of a nuclear warhead, it's time for this lone wolf to return to combat. Joining him are Lt. Dixon Piper (Phillippe) and Vicki St. Elmo (Wiig). Will they "pound some Cunth," as MacGruber threatens, or is it time for this throat-ripping special operative to go back into retirement?
"People, I think, automatically assume that it's just going to be the sketch over and over again for 90 minutes, and I think they'll be pleasantly surprised," star and co-writer Will Forte told reporters gathered in NYC. Director and co-writer Jorma Taccone said, "We were desperately trying to avoid that at all costs." "We didn't want to write that, and we wouldn't want to see that," said Forte.
"It was such a different experience than writing for the show," said Forte. "Every step of the way, we really came up with the most wild ideas possible and we kept thinking, 'Somebody at some point will come in and put a stop to this and say, "You cannot do this. That's weird, that's disgusting,'" and it never, ever happened... We were so exhausted that we kept thinking of weirder and weirder ideas."
Co-writer John Solomon was also on the panel with Taccone and Forte, who all write for Saturday Night Live, but was fairly silent in comparison to his caffeinated cohorts. Later, costars Kristen Wiig and Ryan Philippe also joined the party, offering insights about MacGruber, being sweated upon, and Val Kilmer's email habits.
Tip One: MacGruber comes from a fine tradition of '80s action heroes.
MacGruber's character has its roots in movies like Rambo, Lethal Weapon, and even Lone Wolf and Cub, which writer/director Jorma Taccone has a poster of in his office. "When we were first writing this movie, and this was the case all throughout, we were constantly having to check ourselves and not make it too goofy or too comedy-esque in terms of our choices [with] the costumes and the casting and the sets and the locations and the way we were filming it, because we really wanted this to be our ode to an '80s action movie," Taccone said. "What's amazing is that watching those movies again, there's so much comedy stuff in those movies, like from the villains, the way the villains talk, that we couldn't actually even do because it would feel like it was a comedy choice... There were so many movies where we were like, 'Well, we can't do that because that's too goofy,' so we were constantly having to check ourselves because we wanted basically to keep this character that we really loved who was a slightly ridiculous individual with a lot of flaws and put him into a real action movie, or semi-action - it is a send-up in a lot of ways, too."
Tip Two: Don't bring your mom to see MacGruber - especially if you are MacGruber.
In a movie full of hard-R jokes and nudity played for laughs, almost always at MacGruber's expense, Forte admitted it was hard to choose which was the most humiliating of the bunch. "You could pick about 20 things that were [embarrassing]," Forte said, laughing. "I had to be naked and do something with a piece of celery that my mom will be haunted by for a long time, because she was on the set. These two guys [Taccone and Solomon] wrote that... There's a lot of pretty raunchy stuff that I had to do, but that was really the main one." Taccone added, "But it was amazing how many times you turned around in this movie and saw Will completely naked with, like, a nut-sack protector on. It was impressive how many times that happened. At least five." Apparently, there was also someone onset who was stealing the used celery, for what purposes we can only guess. eBay, perhaps? Why celery? "I think we changed it [from a carrot] because celery seemed more like the plume of a peacock," Taccone said, laughing.
Tip Three: Even MacGruber needs to sleep.
"It was very similarly paced [to SNL]," Taccone said. Forte added, "It was similar, but in certain ways, easier than the show." "Just the fact that you have a turnaround, which is like, you have to have 12 hours off before you go back to work" was a welcome change," said Taccone. "Routinely at the show, you will stay up until 10 o'clock in the morning, and then the next morning get up at 10 o'clock in the morning, and that kind of flip of your schedule really screws you up really quickly, and having to do that weeks on end, I think, gets really exhausting. But I think this schedule was really fast. We shot this in 28 days and had six weeks of pre-production... It's basically been about 14 months since we started writing to now." Forte added, "The writing process was really fun, but really grueling because we wrote it in about four and a half, five weeks, and two of those weeks were SNL production weeks... and those are, on their own, insane, as you've seen from [the James Franco] documentary, but in a weird way, I think it helped with the process." Taccone added, "But also, the speed we wrote it in was sort of helpful in terms of not second-guessing ourselves, because we just wrote what made the three of us laugh." Okay, so maybe MacGruber doesn't need to sleep that much.
Tip Four: MacGruber might be a sex machine but he gives really bad birthday gifts.
MacGruber's not just a fighter; he's a smooth, smooth lover. Okay, he's a sweaty, kinda gross lover who sweated all over Vicki. "I felt bad for Kristen on that day that we actually did it, because it was really – it was very hot in Albuquerque, and this was a second story, a bedroom on the second floor of this house, and already I was sweating just walking to the bed... She was so covered in my sweat by the end the of sex scene.... I felt bad for her. Because it was her birthday. Nobody deserves that on their birthday."
Wiig later turned the tables, asking us, "Have you had anyone sweat on you? Like, really drip sweat on you? You can answer." We all looked at each other; who would be the first to admit it? Luckily, Wiig went on to say, "It's not that fun, but it's Will, so it's like, as creepy as it sounds, it's kind of like my brother so it made it not as bad, but it was a pretty sweaty day. It was pretty bad. It was so hot, and we were in satin sheets, which really don't absorb anything. They just kind of turned to paper. And we were laughing, we didn't know what we were doing. We were like, 'Let's try this!' and nothing was really planned out, really, before we shot it, but it was hard to keep as straight face on that one."
Tip Five: MacGruber gets a lot of email.
Even though Richard Dean Anderson wasn't in the movie, MacGruber's dad MacGyver did drop him a line to show his support. Val Kilmer's character Dieter Von Cunth also enjoyed emailing MacGruber. "He would send threatening emails to Will throughout the production as Cunth, which I thought was really cool," revealed Phillippe, who added they were probably full of "unprintable things... He would just threaten him and tell Will what he was going to do to him." Wiig added, "He's crazy in the best way. I love Val."
Tip Six: MacGruber makes it hard to keep a straight face.
Ryan Phillippe is known for his dramatic roles but was very excited to join the onset antics. "Here, I was just laughing from morning until night, and my only challenge was to not break [character] in certain scenes, opposite Will in particular, because he's so outta control. Like, you never know what's going to happen or come out of his mouth... I would inflict pain upon myself. I would dig my fingernail into my thumb or I'd bite the inside of my cheek - that was really the only way, because the guy's a maniac, in the best possible way." Wiig added, "He's a lovable maniac." She told us that she keeps herself together during funny scenes by biting her cheeks as well - "both of them so I literally can't smile," she said, laughing.