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  • Interview: The Foot Fist Way

    Mon, 05 May 2008 09:51:38

    Interview: The Foot Fist Way - Comedy Clan: Jody Hill, Danny McBride, Ben Best and Will Ferrell

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    There are a lot of movie theaters in Los Angeles. Texas has churches and L.A.'s got movie theaters. Then again, it's the entertainment capital of the world, so what would you expect? Some are hallowed and ornate institutions a la Grauman's Chinese Theatre, while others are pristine and new. Take a trip to The Grove's massive multiplex on 3rd Street for modern art deco cinema elegance. The Arclight on Sunset is somewhere in the middle. It's been around for a bit, but has a slightly contemporary aesthetic. Its Cinerama dome pays homage to the '70s with a retro sign, but its massive screen and state-of-the-art sound are enough to placate even the most ADD MySpace junkie. Needless to say, this is a great spot for the filmmakers of The Foot Fist Way (Paramount Vantage) to be hanging out on a Sunday afternoon. The film tells the hilarious tale of Fred Simmons (Danny McBride), a Southern strip-mall Tae Kwon Doe instructor that's obsessed with his favorite action movie hero, Chuck "The Truck" Wallace (Ben Best). Fred's such a big fan he goes on a pilgrimage to meet Chuck and convinces him to appear in a Tae Kwon Doe demo at his dojo. Big laughs ensue, and Fred learns a life lesson or two in the process. With its realistic main character and ceaseless situational comedy, The Foot Fist Way elevates the genre while paying homage to classics. That middle ground perfectly suits their theater of choice today, The Arclight.

    Jody Hill directed and co-wrote the film with Ben Best. They cast Danny as the lead, and in 2006 they made the film completely independently. Mega-star Will Ferrell saw it a year later and insisted on releasing it via his production company, Gary Sanchez. Now the three North Carolina Art School alums are poised to make a big splash as the newest comedy triumvirate. Behind pricey concession stands and theater track lighting, they're just college buddies sitting on a couch. Their Southern hospitality shines through immediately as Danny offers me gum, and their humor kicks in when Ben storms in and plops down onto the middle of the couch. "Alright fine, I'll take bitch seat," he laughs as he wedges himself in between Danny and Jody. Later the gifts will keep coming, when at the press conference Will Ferrell asks, "You guys got the Power Bars I sent, right? Those were for you." The Power Bars were almost as good as the gum. Not quite, though.

    Ferrell had a great initial reaction to The Foot Fist Way. "I saw the movie when I was filming up in Montreal and I immediately urinated on myself, which has never happened to me watching a film before. So my first reaction was, I have a medical problem. After a battery of tests, I continued watching the film," he laughed. "These guys were so specific in the world that they captured, that's where the humor comes in. Now, we're just looking for an 80 million dollar opening weekend." Success is definitely in their future at The Arclight and beyond. However, it was on that couch that the men behind The Foot Fist Way provided ARTISTdirect with some exclusive insight into their comedic gem.

    The movie's hilarious, but it's got an important message. People need heroes to look up to, but at the same time, they can also learn more about themselves from those heroes, eventually realizing that they don't need them. Would you say that's the case?

    Danny: I definitely think so. The movie doesn't have a crazy, earth-shattering message to it, but I think what you said is the truth my character, Fred, finds in all of this.

    Jody: Actually, your saying that makes me think about it even more, because I think our only message is, "Sometimes, shit happens to you in life. You take a lesson away from it, but usually it's a lesson of survival." There's no revelation at the end. It's not like he gets the girl or beats up Chuck "The Truck." There's something personal though. It doesn't even really register with Chuck that Fred bested him somehow, but to Fred, it's important. If there is a message or a plot, that's exactly what it is we're trying to convey.

    Ben: Sometimes your heroes are complete douche bags. That happens.

    Danny: Sometimes your hero is me! [Laughs]

    It seems like this was a really fun movie for you guys to make.

    Ben: Man, it was a party. From going to film school together at the North Carolina School for the Arts and having worked on each other's movies, I look back and some of those days were just the most fun you could have—especially when you're delirious from so much work [Laughs]. This movie was great. I don't know if it will ever be like this again, because it was so under the radar, and we didn't have to answer to anybody. There were times where we were just hungry, and it'd be late. Then we'd just get this delirium where everything would become pricelessly funny.

    Jody: I remember when we were filming that scene where everyone's drinking Kool-Aid and eating pizza. Danny's trying to recruit the kid to be his mentoree. It was four in the morning, and we were behind. Danny just started yelling at this kid, and I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't keep a straight face. It was just so funny that he would single out this little kid. There's stuff that we didn't even include in the movie, because it's too over-the-top. However, in that scene, Danny's just telling this little kid he's disgusted with him and he should be ashamed of his life. I remember it was so funny.

    What kicks off the real laughs is the first karate demo scene early on. Danny tells that one little kid, "Don't fuck this up." That was priceless.

    Ben: [Laughs] That always gets a great reaction. I love the way this movie starts, because it's like, "Okay, it's on. Go." As soon as that line drops, you see this guy's an asshole.

    Fred's not an asshole so much, but rather, he's an over-obsessed fan. Chuck "The Truck" has given him something to believe in, and Fred is endlessly pursuing that ideal.

    Ben: Which is a horrible ideal, when it comes down to it [Laughs].

    Jody: Some people may see him as an asshole, but ultimately we wanted to have a real person with awkward flaws. People make mistakes, they get emotional and they act out of emotion. At the core of the story, that was the main driving force behind the character.

    Danny: If the idea for us behind this movie was to follow a guy who's not flawed and who the audience is sympathetic for the whole time, it would be boring. We wouldn't be cutting new ground or doing anything different. There's already been a million of those movies.

    Jody: We're all fans of British comedy and movies from the '70s—weird things like that where they didn't follow the rules so rigidly. We're also fans of straight-faced humor, like droll stuff. The film is definitely a combination of that. We set out to make a character piece. It's an emotional plot rather than a physical plot.

    Ben: Plot sometimes can become overbearing, and it can just take away from the comedy. I firmly believe that if you present an interesting enough character, that's all you need. Personally, I could watch Danny do anything in the movie. It could keep going, and I could keep watching him, because I'm just interested in that person. It makes you cringe when he does something stupid, because you know you've done something like that—maybe not to that level. There are certain situations where as soon as the situation is set up, you're like, "Oh my God, I can't wait to see what this idiot's going to do in this situation." I don't mean to keep calling you an idiot Danny, I'm sorry [Laughs].

    That delirium that you mentioned from the process percolates through the vibe.

    Ben: Oh, yeah!

    Jody: It's one of those things that we put on a credit card, we didn't have to check in with a studio, and we shot it in Concord, North Carolina, which is the sticks, essentially.

    Ben: That's Jody's hometown. [Laughs]. The headline should read, "Local Boy Disses Hometown."

    Jody: I'm so fuckin' glad I'm away from that shitty redneck town. I'm just kidding [Laughs]. We were shooting it to make ourselves laugh. There wasn't anybody that we had to check in with. I don't know if it'll ever be like that again.

    Ben: There were times when Danny and I would be away from Jody after finishing a day, and we'd be like, "Fuck, Jody's putting all his money into this, dude. This could be a big mistake. Oh, well." [Laughs]

    Jody: You still owe me that 50 bucks.

    Ben: I know…[Laughs]

    This is a fun movie, and that sense comes through. It's the kind of comedy that warrants multiple viewings, because you're laughing so much you miss other jokes.

    Ben: My band scored the movie. I got to watch this thing so many times—scenes over and over again. There were a couple guys in the band that didn't get it. They didn't like the movie the first time around. Our band Pyramid is very dramatic, so we were definitely doing an about-face by playing rock and roll. I swear to God, after three or four times, this movie just grows on you. The 10th time that you watch it is the funniest time. It just gets better and better. I love that.

    Jody: I hate comedy in America where it feels like everything's spoon-fed to you. Every time someone says something funny or stupid, they'll cut to a scene where someone's like, "Oh how weird was that?" It sells out every joke. It seems like so much comedy is disposable, and we just wanted to make a story about a real guy that was also funny.

    It's tangible in that aspect, because it's stuff you could see your friends doing.

    Ben: We also wanted to get Danny at the front of it, after seeing him nail everything we did in film school together. You've got to watch the behind-the-scenes on the All the Real Girls DVD. It's amazing.

    Danny: Those are all the gems. All the deleted scenes are just scenes I'm in.

    Ben: It's too funny. He just took over. It was like, "Goddamn, we've got to do something with him."

    Jody: Our friend David Gordon Green made All the Real Girls, and Danny was in it. Seeing him in that movie was inspiring. It was one of those things. We didn't know he could act. I don't even think David knew he could act.

    Danny: I still don't know.

    Ben: I knew! I believed.

    Jody: He was always the funniest guy in the room, but in terms of acting, nobody knew. Then once he put on that Tae Kwon Doe uniform, it was on.

    Ben: It really was amazing watching it. The transformation was something.

    Jody: Watching him get his haircut and a mustache was hilarious.

    Your creative process seems very fluid and organic.

    Jody: It's pretty traditional, and it all starts with writing.

    Ben: When we were actually filming, anything that seemed too clever or unrealistic—no matter how excited we were about the joke when we wrote it—we just made sure it seemed real. That's the process for us, to try and be as realistic and honest as possible—just not be clever or jokey.

    Jody: People often get stifled, because they try to fit the image to the script that's in their head. Whereas we have a script, then once we get on set we do what's best for the image, what's the funniest, most natural thing.

    With American comedy films, there's a dichotomy. They're either overly pretentious and snarky or completely ridiculous and stupid. You've created something that's real.

    Danny: Exactly, and that's how we felt. We went to film school together, and I wouldn't say we were just comedy guys. It was more about telling stories. Comedy seemed like it would be a good route to go for this. For me personally, when you just go for jokes all the time, halfway through the movie, I just end up getting bored. Then once they try to throw plot in there, you don't give a shit, because no one seems like they're real anyway.

    Jody: You want to be able to follow them on their journey.

    Ben: We've invented a whole new genre [Laughs]. Will you write that? We invented filmmaking! [Laughs]

    Danny: They'll buy it.

    There are so many fans that would go on a similar pilgrimage to Fred's journey to Chuck in the movie. It's completely true.

    Ben: God, yeah! During that part where Danny's clapping, I'm like, "Oh, man, I know people that would get that excited about shit." I have a bunch of friends that are really into sports—I don't think any of us are really into that, as you can tell by our ripped up bodies. Write, "He says as his muscles ripple beneath his shirt." [Laughs] I've got friends like that, and they live and die with their favorite player. If they met him, it would mean the world. Or if that player traded teams, it would crush them. I'm like, "What kind of weirdo are you putting everything on this dude?" It is important to some people though, you're right!

    Jody: It's one of those things.

    Ben: Like Jesus. [Laughs]

    Jody: There's that scene in the movie where Danny's trying to get Ben's autograph, and we could not get through that scene [Laughs]. The thought of one man telling another man, "You're my favorite movie star" freaked us out.

    Danny: My character Fred's almost horny about it [Laughs].

    When people come from a small town, they often need somebody to look up to just to get out of the monotony.

    Ben: Sure…not me though. [Laughs].

    —Rick Florino

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    Tags: Danny McBride, Will Ferrell, Jody Hill, Ben Best

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