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  • Interview: Strange Wilderness star Allen Covert

    Wed, 14 May 2008 10:29:34

    Interview: Strange Wilderness star Allen Covert - The comedian behind <i>Grandma's Boy</i> talks about pot humor and the <i>Strange</i> hunt for Bigfoot

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    Allen Covert is one funny dude. The first thing that he says, when clicked over to speakerphone, speaks volumes about his sense of humor. "Am I on the speakerphone so you can humiliate me in front of a room full of people? I'm used to it, don't worry," laughs Covert. Covert was anointed a comedy hero after the release of Grandma's Boy, the seminal pot comedy of this generation. He carried the movie to new heights of hilarity, with a one-two punch of sharp sarcasm and charming wit. However, as a producer and writer, Covert can churn out jokes with the best of them. Now, in Strange Wilderness, due out on DVD May 20, Covert plays stoner soundman Fred Wolf with the same vibrancy that he injected into Grandma's Boy's stoner video game whiz Alex. Sense a pattern? Wilderness is a hilarious, raunchy romp through the woods with Steve Zahn and Covert spearheading the hunt for Bigfoot to save their wildlife show.

    Before delving into the movie in this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect, Covert jests, "You're just going to trick me into saying something stupid, and everyone in the room is going to quietly laugh. I know how this works. Don't worry! You don't even have to trick me. I'll say something stupid, un-asked." However, everything Covert said was just downright funny.

    No joke, Grandma's Boy and Strange Wilderness are two of the funniest and most outrageous comedies to hit the theaters in the past decade.

    Aw, thank you! I love them. I think they're both really funny, and thank God for DVD [laughs].

    During Strange Wilderness, the laughs come so quickly that you need to watch it more than once to catch everything.

    Yeah, we tested it after it was first put together. I remember we were out in Ontario, California, and during the turkey scene, Jack, our partner at Happy Madison [Adam Sandler's Production Company], reached over to me and said, "This is the craziest movie I've ever seen" [laughs]. I was like, "I agree!"

    You guys incorporate the filmmaking process into the movie itself. The characters are making their own movie inside Strange Wilderness. That reflexive look at filmmaking makes it even funnier.

    That's always funny to put in. My favorite part is that we end the movie on a blooper. When I saw that Fred Wolf, the director—not Fred Wolf, my character—did that in a test screening, I was like, "That's the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life. Don't let anyone convince you to change it. Please! Fight for that harder than anything!"

    Including old school animal footage was hilarious, too. None of it was current.

    No [laughs]! That was all real footage from the host who was supposed to be Steve Zahn's father in the movie. His dad was a real guy with a California wildlife show. It was a local show that our director Fred knew of. It wasn't a national show, but Fred knew about it. The host would leave the bloopers in. You would see the ostrich eating his hat, and he'd be like, "Oh yeah!" We were trying to run the show in the movie, and apparently we were just terrible at it.

    How did you prepare to play a sound man?

    Well, sound guys are always the funniest, because they're never really looking. They just have their headsets on. They'll be like, "I hear a phone!" The phone could be ringing right in front of them, but they're not looking. They're just listening and yelling, "I hear a phone! Someone needs to get that." Plus, Fred, in the movie, is a little burnt, to be honest. I love the character. Apparently, he started smoking weed in the fifth grade and has not stopped [laughs].

    Did you get to choose that "Hippies Smell" t-shirt that you're wearing?

    Oh yeah, I picked that one. I was like, "This is a guy that everyone thinks is a hippie." He got so fed up with people thinking he's a hippie, because he's really just a dude who loves his hair. He's like, "I'm not a hippie, just because I've got long hair and smoke weed" [laughs].

    It's also pretty funny when the gang bangers come by and say he has a "Super Mario mustache." That ties in the video game references with Grandma's Boy.

    The Mario Brothers line killed me! I don't know if we used it, but in the scene with Jeff Garlin, he called me "Doug Henny." There were a bunch of references. I think that guy actually came up with the Mario Brothers reference on the spot, too. We were just ripping and he said, "Shut up you Super Mario-looking-motherfucker!" I laughed so hard. There's actually a scene in the movie with all of us laughing that Zahn talked about. He couldn't believe that no one called "Cut." Then he sees the movie, and the scene's in the movie. That was the scene where Blake Clark is saying his name's "Dick." We were all really laughing!

    It seems like the movie was filled with moments like that. Was this a really fun movie to make?

    We had a blast. We didn't have a ton of time with a movie like this. So it's not a lot of people sitting around their trailers getting bored and antsy. It was literally just running from scene to scene in the woods, laughing our asses off and hoping we were going to get everything.

    Do you feel like there's a real family vibe with the Happy Madison crew?

    Yeah, we knew pretty much everyone on the cast. Scott was one of the only people we actually met at the audition. I did Grandma's Boy with Jonah Hill, and he had been in Click. We didn't know Justin Long. Jonah brought him in. He was like, "Hey, I just did Accepted with this kid Justin. He's the funniest. You should check him out." Everyone else was a friend for the most part. A lot of the cameos were people Fred knew or wanted to bring in—just fun '70s cameos like Joe Don Baker.

    Robert Patrick, a.k.a. T-1000, coming in as Gus Hayden the tracker was hilarious.

    That was the best! He was like, "I've never done a comedy. What should I do?" We were just like, "Play it seriously" [laughs]. Fred kept saying, "Play it seriously, and it'll be the funniest thing ever." The next thing I know, Robert's got me in a headlock for 20 minutes. He's very intense, but he's the nicest guy in the world. Walk the Line had just been out in theaters. I'm looking at him going, "This guy might get nominated for an Oscar, and we're making him have the Frankenstein balls [laughs]?" It's always amazing to me what we can get Oscar winners to do. The first one that we ever worked with was Kathy Bates in The Waterboy. It was this situation where we wrote the scenes with her in mind, never in the world thinking that she would do it, because she had won an Oscar for Misery. Then there was the day on the set where someone came up with the idea for her to play badminton with a mule. We were sitting there going, "How do we ask Kathy Bates that?" I think we even had to draw straws to see who would have to ask her. Then she was like, "Oh my God, that's so funny! Give me a racquet!" You always feel like you have to tiptoe around it. Like me, I didn't even want to send Doris Roberts script for Grandma's Boy. I was like, "Are you kidding me? She's got four Emmys and a billion dollars, why would she want to be in Grandma's Boy?"

    It seems like she was really into it.

    She loved it! I couldn't believe when she called. They were like, "Doris Roberts called, and she wants to meet about the movie." I was going, "Yeah, sure. She'll probably say, 'If you take out all the marijuana, I'll do it.'" No, she didn't care! She was just like, "Let's talk about the relationship between the grandmother and the grandson and why she loves him so much." She had one or two little notes. She just said to me, "The scene where you masturbate…" I went, "Now Doris that's funny!" She goes, "It is. It's very funny, but you mention it like six more times. You don't need to mention it that many times." So I was like, "You know what? You're right. We already took three of them out!" Because we had. This woman knows comedy, though. She's won four Emmys. It's not because she doesn't know comedy. You forget. Actors like different things. She totally got it. It was always funny. We had Ernest Borgnine in Wilderness too.

    That was pretty cool.

    That was very cool! When Fred told me they got Ernest, I was like, "You're kidding me." He was awesome. The guy's 90, and he's just making movies left and right. He gets it. He's got grandkids that are Justin Long's age.

    Being a writer, you get to insert even more of yourself into the movies. How does it feel to be on both ends of the creative process?

    I love it! In the beginning, no one wanted to work with us, so we had to do everything ourselves. Then we became such control freaks that it was like, "Let us do it. We know what we're doing!" Part of me can't believe that I write, because I spent my entire academic career searching for courses where I didn't have to write anything. At NYU, I never wrote a thing. I'd be like, "Now this class, is it a project or term paper?" They'd go, "Oh, it's a performance project." I'd respond, "That's the class I'm taking!" Now I have to sit here with Nick Swardson and write all day.

    As a producer, actor, and writer, it's got to be fun to see those laughs come to life on screen.

    Yeah, it's always fun when something you thought of gets a huge laugh. However, the weird part is, you only get to enjoy that twice. It's usually just at the test screening and then opening night, because other than that, it's not like you're sitting at home laughing and going, "Oh man, I'm the greatest!" Then there are moments when you've had your first test screening and something that you wanted to work gets a huge laugh from the audience. That's always gratifying, especially when other people didn't think it was going to work. We always play the game at test screenings where if your joke that you fought hard for gets a huge reaction, you get to stare everyone down. Literally at test screenings, you'll see people in their seats leaning forward and looking at the other writers and producers like, "Yeah, you said that wasn't going to work." Then if it eats it, you get the reverse look, where it's like, "You idiot! You made us waste valuable time keeping that in the movie."

    Was it fun to actually go out into the woods and get this footage?

    We had a great time. It's funny, because people are like, "Where did you go?" Well, we never really left Los Angeles, actually. Everything we shot was in L.A. There are so many places. That's why I always laugh when people are like, "We went to Morocco." I'm like, "Dude, you could've gone to Hemmett or somewhere out in the desert." There are people that drive to the desert every weekend. You don't have to go to Morocco to shoot. All of the sea lion footage was Malibu. Dude, I don't even want to tell you how close Bigfoot's cave is to the Hollywood sign. That was my favorite location, because I live near there! I'd be like, "Alright, I'm five minutes from Bigfoot's cave. Let's go!"

    What's next for you?

    While Happy Madison was making Don't Mess With the Zohan, I went and produced The House Bunny with Heather Perry here in our office. That stars Anna Faris, and Fred Wolf directed it. It comes out in August. It was a big change. People were like, "The guys that made Strange Wilderness are going to make this girl-driven comedy?" But, Fred was the head writer on Saturday Night Live when Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon, and all of those girls were there. So he knows his female comedy, and Anna Faris is just the greatest. God, I love her. We had her, Katherine McPhee, Emma Stone, and this whole group of funny girls. It was kind of like a Strange Wilderness with funny, young girls. They're all funny and in a nerdy sorority. Nick Swardson, Adam Sandler, and I are writing a movie about a kid from Iowa who is pretty sheltered. The first time he sees a porno is from the '70s, and he realizes that his parents are the stars. Instead of being grossed out, he just figures that means that he's destined to be the biggest porno star in the world. So he moves to Hollywood to become the biggest porno star in the world. We're shooting this movie Bedtime Stories for Disney as well. I don't have any acting come out, but I'm definitely going to be doing something in the porno movie, which sounds weird, especially when I say it to my wife. She asks, "What are you writing?" I'm like, "I'm writing this porno movie." She's like, "What? I'm coming to the set. I don't know what's happening." I'm like, "Oh no, it's a fake porno, and it's starring Swardson."

    There need to be more movies where you can just sit back and laugh throughout the whole flick. To be able to get that release is one of the highest forms of entertainment.

    Thanks, I've got to tell you one of the funniest things that we ever went through was the notes process for Grandma's Boy. People giving notes would be like, "Now the girl just kind of comes in, and her and the guy get along. That's it?" I go, "Yeah, because it's not a romantic comedy. That's not the focal point of the movie." They're like, "The third act's actually about four pages long." I go, "Yeah, because we don't care. It's a movie about making people laugh. There's an African tribesman sitting on a couch that brings in a monkey that does karate. How realistic do you think we're trying to be here?" A monkey drives us to the finale. I masturbate to an action figure [laughs]. It's like, "Are you kidding me?"

    In Strange Wilderness you've got the already infamous turkey scene.

    Exactly! We've got a whole scene with Harry Hamlin where the upper half of his body is separated from the lower half. That's my favorite scene in the movie.

    The apotheosis comes when you finally get to Bigfoot and blow him away!

    [Laughs] That was the best. There's a reason we sit at that campfire silent, because people were still screaming. We had to become straight-faced. I love the whole conversation there. We're like, "Nah, that bastard had it coming." We all agree, "He was vicious, and he wanted to kill us." The poor guy was coming out to get his morning paper, and he just gets blown away.

    —Rick Florino

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    Tags: Allen Covert, Jonah Hill, Steve Zahn, Adam Sandler, Fred Wolf

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