Interview: The MacGruber Braintrust

By  · Published on May 21st, 2010

Our non-stop coverage of MacGruber appears to be coming to a stop. This is interview two of two from my time spent with the principle cast and creatives on the film during their trip to Austin during SXSW. There, an unfinished version of the film was received very well by the hungry crowds. Today, you can see MacGuber’s big-screen debut at your local multiplex. The film is an extension, nay, an explosion of the Saturday Night Live sketch upon which it is based. Characters are fleshed out, storylines are drawn and plenty of new faces have been thrown into the mix. As I said in my earlier piece, it’s easily the best SNL movie since Wayne’s World.

The following is an interview conducted with the three men who created the film, writer/star Will Forte, writer/director Jorma Taccone and writer John Solomon. I had the fortune of sitting down with them (along with several other journalists) to talk about the origins of this MacGruber story, the creation of the new characters and the world’s chances of seeing a Laser Cats movie.

Could a Jon Bovi movie be next?

Will Forte: Oh man.

Jorma Taccone: We didn’t even think about that. We kept getting asked the question of what SNL sketches should or should not be turned into [movies].

Will Forte: I’m trying to think of what the Jon Bovi answer would be.

It doesn’t have to be an opposite answer.

Will Forte: Oh no, no, you do.

I think a Jon Bovi movie would be good.

Will Forte: Now I’m not sure if you’re oppositing that.

Jorma Taccone: It’s a brutal spiral of opposites.

Will Forte: Once you start, if you do a Jon Bovi sketch, for the next week… we spend so much time thinking of stupid opposite lyrics that for the next week, that’s all your mind is doing, thinking of oppositing anything anybody says to you. You see a commercial, you opposite it.

How did you get 175 pages out of this script?

Jorma Taccone: Oh my God. It’s because this guy ‐ –

Will Forte: I don’t even think that we finished the third act either. I think we were still trying to figure out some things, we were like, “Okay, let’s just…”

Jorma Taccone: We did have several scenes that were probably like 15 pages long I think. All just friendship probably. Is that a good answer? Out of friendship. 175 pages out of friendship.

Was there anything that had to be cut?

Jorma Taccone: I think, I will say this. We originally wanted to actually cut Cunth’s dick off and shove it in his mouth. That became sort of a note.

The MPAA wouldn’t go for that?

Jorma Taccone: It wasn’t that.

Will Forte: We all had pretty equal say so individually there are little things that one of us would love and the other two would not. We all had to ‐ –

Jorma Taccone: It’s democracy.

Will Forte: The last pass, we all had to suck it up and lose our individual babies so most of the stuff in the movie is stuff that we all three agree on.

Jorma Taccone: Except for “Live it up.”

Will Forte: Oh, that’s all right.

Jorma Taccone: I won one.

Was this always going to be an R rated movie?

Jorma Taccone: Yeah, the original draft I think I looked up the phrase “f*** 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].

Will Forte: 16 sounds light to me for some reason.

Jorma Taccone: In an 84 minute movie, to say the phrase “f*** you,” it’s insane. There’s a lot of f***s I would say.

Will Forte: But in the course of a day, I don’t know. Not “f*** you” but the word “f***.”

What’s it like writing an R-rated script when you can’t even swear on TV?

Jorma Taccone: Well, in the digital shorts we certainly swear a lot and bleep it quite a lot. I think in some of our songs we actually have, I think in Natalie’s rap we had like 16 swear words and that was like two and a half minutes.

Will Forte: See? 16 in two and a half minutes.

Jorma Taccone: You’re right, we did a really bad job not packing it. It is sort of a little bit of a release having been on a network show where you don’t get to do a lot of that kind of stuff. I think we got overly excited.

How much of this is MacGyver and what did you do to bring the character to a full movie?

Jorma Taccone: I’m really not saying this because of whatever impending lawsuit. I really don’t know anything about any kind of lawsuits but absolutely none, I would say. We really were looking at 80s and early 90s action movies for inspiration. I will say that me and John were watching maybe a Seagal movie or something like that. There was a moment where over an explosion you heard a cougar growl. We were like, “What was that? Oh my God, we have to put that in.”

Maybe Mark of Zorro?

Jorma Taccone: It is a technique obviously but you’re supposed to put it low enough that it’s just a hint of something. So our sound dude, we kept being like, “No, louder. You’ve got to do it louder.” He was like, “No, people are going to think we’re bad at our job.” We were like, “Don’t worry, we’re going to put your credit, it’s going to come up right when that cougar growl comes up.” But all sorts. 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. I think originally we were going to have you 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.

Was Lorne looking for a sketch from this generation’s cast to do a movie?

Will Forte: I don’t know.

Jorma Taccone: I don’t know how Lorne’s wonderful mind works. I’m sure he was. Obviously we were able to do Hot Rod. That wasn’t and SNL movie. It was just a Michaels/Goldwyn thing. I’m sure he was. 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. At certain times, he always thought it was a good idea and when the opportunity for the Pespsi 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.”

Will Forte: 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, “Oh, let’s do MacGruber.” Then I think they kind of pulled back and were like, “Uh, maybe.” So we said, “Ah, let’s just make it MacGruber.”

Jorma Taccone: “Let’s just do it. You’ll like it. You’ll probably like it.”

Will, how did you figure out the combination of obnoxious self-importance and total naivete?

Will Forte: I don’t know. I think just we would just feel it out from day to day, just constantly through the scriptwriting process and doing it each day.

Jorma Taccone: John and I would occasionally give the note of, “More MacGrubery? No, less MacGrubery.”

Could you not get away with the joke of dying over and over in the movie?

Jorma Taccone: Actually having him die? We’ve already written the next three installments so we can’t have him die. And it’s definitely going to work out. End parenthetical sarcastic note.

Will Forte: 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.

Jorma Taccone: Which was so odd to us that that was the comic, like, “What’s it gonna be?” You’ve got to make a plot out of it. 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, that Megatrax song comes in. I don’t know how often Megatrax is used in movies, but it’s nice that people get that moment.

Where did the character of Cunth come from? Was Val Kilmer first?

Jorma Taccone: He certainly made it more Cunthy, but no, it did come before Val. I think it was your line. Maybe one of us added the von. Dieter Cunth was yours.

Will Forte: Yes, the naming, I get naming rights on that.

Jorma Taccone: I would say you get most naming rights.

Will Forte: I know where it came from and this makes me sound like a turd. My mom will be proud to know that this particular gross thing was me. What was the Jack Johnson shoes? When these guys had first gotten to [SNL], Shoes that Look Like Feet, there was a commercial parody. We all had to stay there, I think basically I just walk in, go to a J J Casuals. There are these Jack Johnson shoes that just look like human feet. 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.

Jorma Taccone: What was great, I was super excited was the clearances person said that this was the only movie that she’s ever worked on where every single name cleared at the first pass. They’re all names like Tet Beamer and Verne Freedom. She’s like, “That’s the first time that’s ever happened, first past.”

Who’s idea was Kilmer’s pony tail?

Will Forte: His, right? He was way into it.

Jorma Taccone: One of my favorite moments is after he cuts off his mullet and then he puts it up to his own hair and it looks very similar. “Look at me, I’m a dumbass.” Yeah, but you look awfully similar.

How did it bless the sketches when Richard Dean Anderson did them?

Will Forte: Oh, we are big fans of Richard Dean Anderson and he’s wonderful. We would have loved for him to be a part of [the movie.] We had done a number of them to that point and just had no idea how he felt about them. So to have him come in, he was so nice, the nicest guy and it was really fun to get to work with him because we’re all big fans of his. We loved getting to meet him and work with him.

You nail the Tony Scott/Adrian Lynne aesthetic. Did you have visual references?

Jorma Taccone: No, we were really trying to just, with how fast we were having to shoot, we were just trying to be conscious of keeping the camera moving a lot. Then just from ’80s film, our DP was fantastic, his name’s Brandon Trost. He had just done Halloween II. This was his 20th film. He’s 28 years old so he started when he was like 17 which is crazy. He does not want to mention any of the films that he’s worked on because a lot of them he’s not [proud of]. But he’s great. His big thing, he’s a huge fan of ’80 movies too. When we first started talking to him, he was just like, “Yeah, f***, Robocop!” It was very mutually similar sort of tastes. We just put smoke in every single interior and wet down every single exterior. Even with our tight schedule, we were like, “Gotta get the water truck in” every single time.

How did you figure out the soundtrack?

Jorma Taccone: These guys [Will Forte and co-writer John Solomon] are super particular with the soundtrack. They were certain songs that I was like, “That sucks. That’s perfect.” Then I would play it for these guys and they’d be like, “That’s awful. That is an awful song.” And I’d be like, “Why? It’s just as funny as this?” And they were like, “No, because there was this thing that happened whenever you listened to it in high school.”

John Solomon: There were several songs that he was saying this is horrible, and he and I lived through that period a little more than him and we actually thought it was a good song. Like what was it, the Corey Hart “Never Surrender.” That was an all right song and he was like, “This sucks. It’s the worst song ever.”

Jorma Taccone: In a good way. When we say sucks, we mean like wonderfully sucking.

Like Billy Ocean.

Will Forte: That does suck. We love it but Billy Ocean is wonderful.

Throat ripping.

Jorma Taccone: Right, Road House, that’s another reference.

Who took it to that level and do CG throats?

Will Forte: I think we all just wanted severe throat rippage.

Jorma Taccone: It’s difficult to say who came up with that. 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 BLEHHH where it’s everywhere and we were like, “Oh no. More, just do more on everything.”

Will Forte: How do you do a subdued throat rip?

Jorma Taccone: 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.

Why was it necessary to have Ryan Phillippe’s character?

Will Forte: Well, in the sketches, there’s always three of us so I think just starting out, that seemed like the logical structure in just having a character there which could really ground the craziness with something that we thought would be useful also. He did it so perfectly.

Jorma Taccone: Perfectly. Val was just telling me this morning how unbelievably essential Ryan’s character is and how well he played it. It’s probably the most important role in the movie. With any comedy as you know, it just becomes this sort of goof fest if the audience doesn’t have some sounding board of one person they can relate to, a man who’s watching this through your eyes of why would you do that? It’s absolutely crucial.

How difficult was that role to cast?

Jorma Taccone: We got really, really lucky. Both those guys were at the table read. We just got amazingly lucky, because also that preproduction schedule was really, really tight too so it was like an “Oh my God, what are we going to do” sort of thing. It really fell into our laps and we couldn’t believe we got Powers Boothe as well. Everybody worked so hard for like nothing so it was great.

Was there ever a possibility of getting some of the actors in the skit, or including his racism or son?

Jorma Taccone: There was stuff in the original script.

Will Forte: In the 177 pager that we had various elements like that.

Jorma Taccone: There’s a reference to the gay son.

Will Forte: We hadn’t done the racist one yet but there was a definite racist element that we had that we took out.

Jorma Taccone: Oh yeah, we did. We had a whole racist element. His character’s still a pretty big piece of shit, right? I think we nailed that.

What other characters would you make movies for?

Jorma Taccone: I actually would love to see a Laser Cats movie, except for I want to shoot it on VHS, super shitty.

A lot of people online have asked for that. What are the chances?

John Solomon: 100%?

Jorma Taccone: 100%? How many percents can you get? The maximum 1000%?

What’s next?

Jorma Taccone: Don’t know. What are you working on? Let’s f***ing workshop.

Will you continue MacGruber on the show?

Will Forte: Yes. We’re at a very stressful part with it just because we would love to do it but now there’s so much.

Jorma Taccone: We don’t want to do a bad one.

Will Forte: We don’t want to screw up the movie’s chances by doing a bad one and now we’ve done so many of them that it’s hard to find new territory.

They’re topical though, so whatever’s going on?

Will Forte: I would be surprised if we don’t do another one before the movie comes out just to keep it out there.

Jorma Taccone: We were really excited about the racist one. That turned out great.

The movie’s not racist, but it’s homophobic.

Jorma Taccone: He’s clearly closeted in some way.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)