I was 22, sweaty, and nervous. Waiting around an Austin hotel, Bill Paxton strutted past me, all blue jeans and cowboy boots. As I watched Paul Rudd flit in and out of conference rooms being used for interviews, I prayed I would have something interesting to ask him when my turn came. I wouldn’t. My press credentials for the 2007 South by Southwest Film Festival guaranteed me access to a few celebrities, but they didn’t provide me with intelligent things to say to said famous people. I only even applied for certain film interviews on the encouragement of a coworker who was covering the festival; being granted access to actors didn’t seem like a possibility until suddenly, I was face to face with them. Interviewing takes skill, and considering I hadn’t been a professional all that long, I should have been better prepared. I was far too green to be trying to wing interviews. At least I watched The Ten, David Wain’s comedy featuring 10 vignettes loosely based on the Ten Commandments, before trying to talk to him, his co-writer and star Ken Marino and star Rudd. (Producer Anne Chaisson and co-producer Jonathan Stern also were present.) But not knowing much about Wain and Marino, or “The State,” and having only seen Wet Hot American Summer once, I was on shaky ground. You can’t converse with funny people and not be on your game. I simply had no game. And so began my most awkward interview session to date.
Some people will humor you if you ask a generic question; others won’t. These men went about 50/50. They were polite, with Wain asking me where I was based out of (Abilene) and Marino eagerly talking about Diggers. Rudd was busy being professionally charming, and the three of them combined, with their shared humor and history, created a force I couldn’t compete with. I had to just roll with them, even regrouping a bit and having fun, letting them take their tangents and forgetting all notions of legitimacy — if I laughed with them, perhaps it wouldn’t seem they were laughing at me. I can’t blame them for trying to entertain themselves during interviews; even though it’s generally necessary for artists to promote their works so potential consumers can learn about them, it seems many do so kicking and screaming. SXSW, at least, has a laid-back atmosphere, which these gentlemen clearly took to heart. Them turning the tables and asking me questions about myself shows to me a desire to change the promotion routine, or at least talk about something new for a change.
I recorded the entire interview, which ran close to 30 minutes, transcribed it and ran it as is. I couldn’t think of any other way to convey the bizarreness of the encounter. Surely those present, not to mention their press handlers, imagined their talk would lead to a piece about The Ten as well as Marino’s more serious (and better) film, Diggers in a newspaper. Instead, it went on the paper’s struggling entertainment blog, destined to be read by perhaps a dozen people. Until now. With SXSW Film starting Friday, I thought it a fitting time to dust off this five-year-old interview and let more people share in my experience. I like to think I’d handle the debacle better now, having plenty more interviews under my belt. Maybe I would. Or maybe I’d just admit defeat again and let Paul Rudd talk to me about bats. You’d probably do the same.
Interview for The Ten and Diggers, SXSW, March 2007
[Introductions and hellos]
Me: How do you come up with an idea for a movie like The Ten?
Ken Marino: We wanted to make a movie that was funny. So we sat down …
David Wain: Some of the early ideas we had were The Eleven, The Nine. It didn’t seem quite right. We wanted something rounder. The Twenty seemed a little ambitious.
Marino: And I think it was you, you had taken off your shoes, you looked down, and I don’t know what you were looking at, but all of a sudden you said The Ten.
Me: So how’d you come up with using the Ten Commandments?
Wain: Well, we figured if we’re doing 10 different stories, what else is 10? And one of the things is the Ten Commandments, and we connected them.
Paul Rudd: [is chuckling] I’m laughing because I’m reading all of the character names [on a handout about the film]. These names are never said. Clovis Handleman. Helen Campbell Holland. Greer Dreadern. Skydiving guy Chris Gnarl.
Me: So Paul, how’d you get involved with the cast members who’ve been around since “The State” and with “Stella”? How’d you get in with them to do Wet Hot American Summer and this?
Rudd: Wet Hot American Summer was the first time I’d ever worked on anything that these guys had done, although I met them before that and had become friends — not like great friends, although now after working together we’ve become good friends. A lot of the same stuff makes us laugh.
Marino: It seemed like a good match.
Me: It’s a distinct kind of humor. Wet Hot American Summer is hilarious, but it’s also pretty silly, and I think The Ten is a lot like that. Do you think this kind of humor has a mass appeal, or do you think it reaches more of a niche audience?
Wain: I think that the work we’ve all done over the previous years seems to, at least until now, have had a ceiling of how far it goes into the mainstream, for whatever reason. But as much as it doesn’t do that, it seems to really resonate with the people who do like it. It’s gratifying, if not lucrative.
Stern: I think the more people who actually get exposed to it, the bigger an audience you’ll find. And I also feel in a way that that style of humor is creating its own audience. Five years ago when people were seeing “The State” or “Stella” or Wet Hot for the first time is different than five years later when now there’s a growing connection to this kind of humor.
Wain: For example, the movie Saturday Night Fever both reflected and chronicled the disco movement, but also largely created and popularized and promoted this movement.
Rudd: So basically what we really think, what David is trying to say, is that hopefully The Ten will revitalize the disco movement.
Wain: I’m thinking of going really deep into the Flashdance movement.
Marino: It’s about time. It’s about time.
Wain: It’s a movement about aesthetics …
Marino: Crotch-grabbing under the table …
Rudd: You are a maniac.
Me: Are you hoping The Ten will be an even bigger hit?
Wain: [somewhat sarcastically] An even bigger hit … of course I’m hoping it will be big …
Me: How much of it is scripted? Is a lot of improv involved?
Wain: There’s a lot of improv involved in the way we wrote it and then maybe going back and forth with the actors before we shoot. But, unlike, say, “Reno 911!” or Christopher Guest movies, once we roll camera we’re not really much doing improv. …
Marino: Once we would get what was scripted, we would keep it loose enough to go back and play with it. We’d stay true to the script.
Wain: Our style is to really try to be flexible during the shoot so that if anybody has an idea we can say OK, let’s try that. I’d rather try it than talk about it. OK, try that, try that, you never know.
Rudd: It seems as if that a lot of comedies lately that have been successful, some of the funniest ones I think, have been a lot of improvisation.
Wain: That’s almost exclusively in the Apatow universe.
Rudd: Yeah, he works that way, but also movies like Borat, and Anchorman, which was Adam McKay. It seems that so many of these movies now rely upon improvisation heavily, and I think it’s the opposite with your [Wain’s] movies. We’re pretty true to the script.
Wain: Though often our stuff is usually perceived as, “Did you even have a script?” … I respond to that way of working. I don’t know how the American “Office” works, but the British “Office” had this feel to it that it was improved but it was scripted line by line.
Me: So let’s talk about The Ten a little more. Is there an overall point or theme to it?
Wain: Like, what the f*** is going on?!
Rudd: Why’d you hate The Ten so much?
Me: I liked it!
Stern: So what were your favorite things about it?
Me: Some of my favorite things …
Rudd: The ending?
Me: Some of my favorite skits were the prison skit with Rob Corddry, the one on Take This Sabbath Day, the first one with Adam Brody with his leg sticking out …
Wain: Thank you. What was your question again?
Me: What was the overall point to it?
Wain: I think ultimately the point is life is what you make of it. We want people to go home and feel empowered to … for example, if a woman is in a bad marriage, after seeing The Ten hopefully she would go home to her husband and say, “I need certain things to stay in this relationship. I need you to give me attention when I need it. I need you to recognize my power, what I bring to this.”
Marino: You know what’s so funny? Before we started writing it, that’s the exact speech you gave me before we starting writing the script. Before we put one word on the page — that was it. It hasn’t changed and it’s inspirational, and I hope every woman out there who’s in an unhappy marriage or engagement or any relationship at all ultimately sees The Ten and gets back home and …
Wain: The Ten is a love story between Jeff Reigert (Rudd) and Gretchen Reigert (Famke Janssen), and the nuances of their relationship are extrapolated and told through these parables, each one having to do with the Ten Commandments. He strays and finds what ultimately turns out to be …
Marino: I’m still hung up on extrapolated. I think he said extrapolated? What does that mean?
Wain: Of course when Jeff and Gretchen get back together and with the resounding chorus at the end, we learn it’s really all about love.
Rudd: I think you did accomplish what you were going for in having women feeling empowered after seeing this film. I know for a fact that after the very first screening, my wife saw it and immediately asked for a divorce. Now I’m going through an awful, ugly divorce.
Marino: Well, you’re welcome.
Rudd: It was important. It gave my wife the courage …
Wain: If one person has the courage to divorce you, then we’ve done our job.
Me: She doesn’t like ventriloquist dummies, does she?
Rudd: Ventriloquist dummies, is that what you’re asking? No, no, no.
Marino: She is dating a hand puppet. I saw her downtown with a hand puppet. But I don’t think that has anything to do with it.
Wain: You’re referring to the story with Kelly (Winona Ryder) and Gary the puppet.
Me: Uh huh.
Marino: That’s right, Dave. That’s right.
Wain: Ultimately that’s a story of a woman who kind of is …
Marino: Searching, she’s searching.
Wain: She falls in love very easily from man to man. She has not had the wherewithal, the rudder emotionally in her life to really understand what she really wants, so now we see her living the difficult life in New Jersey with Gary the Puppet.
Me: So it’s all about love?
Marino: Life is what you make of it, and it’s all about love. Yeah.
Wain: Gloria Jennings as played by Gretchen Mol has a bittersweet reunion with Jesus at a café in St. Louis years after their story, and what that says is that you felt a great love and now it’s faded, but there’s still a spark.
Rudd: I think that’s really true with people. People can relate to that. Many people have fallen in love with somebody but it didn’t work out. And years later you’ll run into them, or even if you don’t run into them you might just have a special place …
Wain: The smell of sweatshirt.
Marino: A certain song.
Wain: Like in college when everyone’s drinking and remember the house!?
Marino: The feel of the rain — that moisture on your skin.
Stern: Like a really good orgasm!
Marino and Rudd: Aw, Jon, jeesh …
Wain: Well, next question.
Me: How has the film been received? How was it received at Sundance?
Wain: I think they FedExed it.
Marino: FedEx dropped it off at the office.
Stern: [Spits out coffee, cracking up]
Wain: Oh my God! That’s horrifying!
Marino: That’s disgusting!
Wain: Wow, that was really gross.
[Everyone is laughing]
Rudd: Mouth and nose! I think the funniest part is that it wasn’t a great joke. That’s what did it for you?
Wain: Seriously, it was received at the central Sundance mail office and they gave it to the projectionist.
Me: Oh, OK, good.
Rudd: [Imitates Stern spitting out his coffee]
Wain: And after Sundance they sent it back to us.
Wain: And I think in Austin it was received at [the SXSW] headquarters.
Me: So what’s up next?
Marino: Dave and I just finished the first draft of a script we wrote and we’re hoping to finish it up and get it out as soon as possible.
Me: What’s it about?
Marino: Uh, people in the world today and how they uh …
Wain: That life is what you make of it.
Marino: And about love — it’s all about love — and about life.
Wain: You can catch me and Marino together on Reno 911!: Miami, in theaters now. And Paul.
Me: How was it making that — was it fun?
Marino: Listen, this is about The Ten. No, it was a blast. It was wonderful. We got all “The State” people together for the first time since we stopped doing “The State.”
Wain: I’ll tell you what, though, I thought we were all going to go to Miami but they did most of it in Los Angeles.
Rudd: They did some parts in Miami, but most of it in Los Angeles.
Wain [to Rudd]: Did you get to go to Miami?
Rudd: No, no.
Marino: But it was great.
Rudd: So what’s next for you?
Me: Oh, you know, back to work.
Marino: Well do you use a computer or do you use one of those old typewriters with the [makes sound of typewriter]?
Me: A computer, actually. I wish I did. I could wear a hat with …
Rudd: With ‘Press’ on it?
Me: Yes. I suggested that, but we haven’t done it yet.
Marino: How come they don’t have computers where when you type on it it makes that noise?
Stern: They have that function.
Wain: I use to have that on my Mac.
Marino: [Keeps imitating sounds of typewriter]
Stern: I have it so when you hit ‘return’ it makes the sound of the Star Trek doors closing [makes sound] — like that.
Rudd: Hmm. [Makes sound and face as if Stern killed the joke]
Marino: [claps] So let me ask you something. How long have you lived here?
Me: In Austin? I don’t live here.
Wain: She lives in Abilene. Or were you EVER going to listen?
Marino: I wasn’t.
Me: I’m from San Antonio, though.
Marino: Ah, San Antonio.
Rudd: Do you like to go to the Riverwalk?
Me: … Occasionally.
Marino: When you have people visiting, you go, “Hey, let’s go to the Riverwalk!”
Rudd: Do you know Manu Ginobili?
Me: No, unfortunately.
Marino: Wait a second! Isn’t Austin where they have the bats come out of the bridge!?
Rudd: Yeah, I saw them last night.
Marino: It’s amazing. Did you see them right over the bridge?
Rudd: I saw them just flying across … it’s crazy.
Marino: Oh my God, it’s phenomenal. I’ve got to go see that. [To me] Have you seen it?
Marino: You don’t like it.
Me: The bats? It’s … cool.
Marino: When you’re right at the bridge?
Rudd: Do you ever think of taking a hammock out by the bridge and covering yourself in honey and pouring salt all over you and lying there when the bats come out just to see if they’ll come over you?
Me: I hadn’t thought about that, but now I have.
Marino: Will you think about it?
Me: I will.
Marino: That’s all we’re asking.
Wain: What about taking a hammer and putting it right in the soft tissue between this bone and this bone [at your shoulder] and just poom poom poom poom [motions slamming a hammer into his shoulder].
Me: I won’t do that.
Marino: And now we’re off …
Wain: You said “hammock.”
Marino: Oh and you said hammer — I see, I’m sorry, that’s my fault.
Wain: The thing about The Ten, though, is that I hope it plays theatrically in Abilene when it’s released on August 3, but if it doesn’t, I’m hoping people will buy the DVD.
Marino: The DVD is going to have all sorts of features on it.
Wain: We made another movie’s worth that’s not on the DVD.
Rudd: The DVD will have some extra scenes like …
Marino: Crazy outtakes …
Rudd: I mean, I don’t even want to get into it …
Wain: There’s also unearthed footage that was taken at the Warsaw ghetto in the early ’40s.
Marino: Which is some heavy …
Wain: It’s horrifying.
Marino: Heavy stuff, but it needs to be seen.
Rudd: It’s important, it’s important.
Marino: We need to dust bust it first, and then it will be seen.
Wain: Once in a lifetime a movie comes along that demands to be seen. This is one of those movies.
Stern: You’re the one doing the demanding.
Rudd: This is probably going to sound pompous, but this is an important film.
Marino: There’s life before The Ten, and there’s life after The Ten. And to me, life is much better after The Ten. I feel more complete, I’m happier, I have more regular bowel movements.
Rudd: It’s not any of this kind of frivolous sh** like “Inconvenient Truth” or something.
Marino: Right right right right.
Wain: It’s like Seven, 8 1/2, Oceans 11, Three Days of the Condor.
Marino: Five Easy Pieces.
Wain: Four Days in November.
Marino: Cheaper by the Dozen.
Marino: One Fine Day.
Wain: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Rudd: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Marino: Two for the Road.
Wain: 12 Angry Men.
Rudd: Hard Eight.
Chaisson: Eight Men Out.
Rudd: The Devil and Max Devlin.
Me: Are you done? Can you not think of any more?
Marino: We can.
Rudd: Yeah, let’s keep going.
Marino: 17 Monkeys.
Rudd: The Jackson Five Story.
Marino: 17 Monkeys is a complete different movie …
Wain: I’ve heard of Oceans 11. Why not Oceans 12?
Chaisson: Or 13?
Rudd: Not The Ten, but just 10.
Marino: The Ten Commandments … Hey, what did you think of Three Men and a Baby?
Rudd: Oh my God …
Marino: Three Men and a Little Lady, yeah.
Wain: Wait, wait …
Rudd: Police Academy 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 …”
Wain: Stop stop stop. I heard you say Three Men and a Baby.
Marino: That you get; that you’ve seen.
Wain: I remember, great movie. Ted Danson.
Marino: Steve Gutenberg.
Wain: But Three Men and a Little Lady?
Rudd: It was afterwards; she grew up a little bit.
Wain: I do believe the name of that movie is Three Men and a Baby.
Rudd: No, Three Men and a Little Lady.
Me: It was a sequel.
Rudd: Man, please.
Marino: So, is there anything else you want to know? Anything you got that might help?
Wain: Want to play Timeline at all?
Rudd [to me]: What were you doing in 1986?
Me: 1986? Do you really want to know?
Wain: Yeah, I am bottomed out. I am bottomed out.
Me: I was 2.
Wain: You were 2?
Wain: In 1986, I was bottoming out. OK?
Rudd: Didn’t you wreck …
Wain: At the time, I had two car wrecks in one day.
Chaisson: Hey, you haven’t talked about Diggers.
Me: Sure, let’s talk about Diggers.
Marino: We’re supposed to be talking about Diggers!? Diggers is supposed to be a part of this?
Me: Well, they hadn’t told me that, but let’s talk about it.
[Everyone is talking]
[Rudd throws pieces of paper in the air]
Wain: I’m sorry, I have to pee really quick, but you guys talk about Diggers.
Marino: Diggers is a movie that I wrote and that Paul is the star of and David is an executive producer and Anne is producer and Jon Stern is a co-producer of it. We shot it the summer before we shot The Ten. It’s a very different movie in tone and style — it’s more a slice-of-life character piece that takes place in 1976 in the south shore of Long Island. … What’s nice about it it’s a very different kind of vibe and feel than The Ten, so it’s exciting to have these two different types of movies at the festival. Any other questions about the movie you haven’t seen?
Rudd: It will be startling to you, the difference between The Ten and Diggers. You’ll be surprised that they both came from Ken.
[Our time is up]
Me: Thanks, nice meeting y’all. I appreciate it …
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in Texas.