MacGruber: That’s My Forte

Matt Kiebus :: Thursday, May 20th, 2010 3:30 pm

Story by Matt Kiebus

Photos by Kevin Zacher

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When casting a leading man for a summer blockbuster studios normally stay away from actors who are known for their uncanny ability to play a convincing sex offender. But Will Forte is about to redefine what it means to be Hollywood star in the action-comedy of the summer, MacGruber.

“When you put the wig on and the clothes for some reason you just feel a little different,” said actor Will Forte on a bright day in Santa Monica, California. “And right when you put on the mustache you just feel different. You automatically talk differently from feeling this thing above your upper lip, you just become a different person. I’m a mustache away from being a very realistic looking sex offender.”

If you haven’t noticed, Will Forte is not your typical movie star. His reputation on SNL has been marked by underwhelming, nuanced roles delivered with deadpan hilariousness. Forte is known for his quiet and uncomfortably strange characters on Saturday Night Live, such as pedophiles and weird politicians.

In person, Forte’s self-deprecating humor and everyman charm shine through. He’s nothing like the weird perverted characters he’s become known for on SNL and he’s just as surprised as everyone else that he’s starring in a movie that includes Val Kilmer and Ryan Phillippe.

Saturday Night Live has been a fertile breeding ground for many young comedians over the past four decades. Icons such as Bill Murray, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Chris Rock started their careers on the SNL stage at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Lorne Michaels’ live sketch comedy show has always been known for its innovation. On a few occasions a sketch is popular enough to adapt to a feature film. The Blues Brothers, starring John Belushi and Dan Akroyd is a revered comedy classic that was born on Saturday Night Live. In the nineties, SNL produced a plethora of spin-off films, including the most successful to date, Wayne’s World. The Mike Myers and Dana Carvey film grossed over $120 million in the box office and remains immensely popular to this day. In fact it was so popular Lorne Michaels made to the questionable decision to green light other SNL spin-off films, which ranged from mediocre (A Night At The Roxbury) to the truly terribly (It’s Pat).

It’s been ten years since the last SNL adapted movie has hit theaters. Thanks to the new generation of SNL cast and writers the time has come for an uproarious comedy to help us forget about The Ladies Man. This summer first-time director Jorma Taccone and leading man Will Forte look to prove that SNL is more than viral sensation Digital Shorts. Taccone, one of the triumvirate behind “Lazy Sunday,” “Dick in a Box,” “Jizz in My Pants,” and “I’m on a Boat,” has been handed the keys to this Summer’s most unlikely summer blockbuster, MacGruber.

MacGruber is wunderkind Taccone’s brainchild. It all started with a failed pitch depicted for a character named MacGruber who was MacGuyver’s stepbrother and dismantled bombs with nothing but dog shit and pubic hair. Taccone’s creation has come a long way since then, but the trailers show that Forte’s character hasn’t forgotten his feces-related roots.

The short popular skits on SNL revolve around a failed MacGuyver character, aptly named MacGruber. Forte’s character has roughly 20 seconds to use his unique skills to defuse a bomb. Each time, without fail, MacGruber becomes distracted, either by booze, his gay son, his stock portfolio, or a midlife crisis.

Forte excels at playing the blissfully dumb, creepy, and awkward characters. His most memorable portrayals are as the hilariously awkward public speaker Senator Tim Calhoun, Jeff Montgomery your friendly neighborhood sex offender, side-splitting uninformed sports commentator Nick Stink, and, of course, the resourcefully stupid MacGruber.

Like most superheroes, when Forte dons his uniform of the mullet wig, flannel shirt, and khaki colored utility vest he seamlessly transforms into the character of MacGruber.

In 2009, when filming MacGruber Super Bowl commercials for Pepsi, Lorne Michaels informed Taccone and Forte that there was interest in expanding MacGruber into a major motion picture.

“Our initial reaction was just what everyone’s initial reaction was: This is a 90-second sketch, and there is an explosion at the end of it every single time. How are we gonna turn this into a 90 minute movie?”

While Forte is recognized for his acting, he got his start in the industry as a writer. Over the course of his career Forte has written for multiple MTV Music and Movie Awards, The Late Show with David Letterman, as well as several episodes of 3rd Rock from the Sun and That 70’s Show. So after hearing the news from Michaels the MacGruber writing trio of Forte, Taccone, and fellow SNL writer John Solomon began crafting the film’s script.

Once the trio of writers decided to deviate from the normal plot of the “MacGruber” sketches the film took form. Without the normal restrictions of network television or NBC, the possibility for raunchy expletive-laced jokes are endless. In fact there were worries from the MacGruber camp that the film was crude and vulgar enough to earn to an NC-17 rating, not in a Showgirls way, but in an outrageous-genitalia-joke way.

The general vibe of the film is inspired by the classic action movies of the eighties like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. The character of MacGruber is basically an extremely inept version of Sergeant Martin Riggs and Officer John McClane. To capture the feel of these films the streets are hosed down and a smoke machine is present in every scene.

Forte is a product of eighties television sitcoms. Growing up in Alameda County, CA when he wasn’t skiing at Lake Tahoe on the weekends Forte was watching A-Team, MacGuyver, Dukes of Hazard, and Quantum Leap. Unknowingly teenage Will Forte was studying for the biggest role of his career.

MacGruber may invoke the memory of eighties action movies, but it is very much set in the present. Thanks to the creativeness of Taccone and director of photography, Brandon Trost, they stretched the film’s modest $10-million budget to the look and feel like a $100-million film. To put that in perspective, MacGruber’s budget is 1/20th of an average Michael Bay film. The entire movie was filmed within an ambitious 28 days in New Mexico. Working six days a week on a tight schedule with a first-time director could put a film in a rather precarious situation, but Taccone handled it like a pro.

What separates MacGruber from other SNL spin-off films is an A-list supporting cast starring Val Kilmer and Ryan Phillippe. Despite the small budget of the film and asinine subject matter Kilmer and Phillippe were sent the scripts and came in for a table read. As it turned out both fell in love with the script and signed on, which gave MacGruber immediate credibility and definitely helped secure a summer release date.

Kilmer and Phillippe are both known for being primarily dramatic actors. MacGruber is Phillippe’s first true comedy role of his career after appearing in Best Picture winner Crash and starring in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers. Kilmer entered Hollywood via eighties comedies Top Secret and Real Genius. However Kilmer is more remembered for his roles as Jim Morrison in The Doors, Doc Holliday in Tombstone, and, of course, Iceman in Top Gun. Needless to say the MacGruber cast and crew were jumping around and celebrating when they heard the news that Kilmer and Phillippe signed on.

“It’s so weird to say I’m friends with Val Kilmer,” said the still-surprised Forte.

Kilmer has built himself a mysteriously hilarious persona, which his guest appearance as a gun-toting, cell-phone-loathing Sherpa in an episode of Entourage seemed to embrace. In MacGruber, he’s revisiting his comedy roots as the film’s villain, Dieter Von Cunth. On the set, Kilmer just added to his complex stereotype as a different kind of dude.

“He’s a very interesting person and a little mysterious,” said Forte of Kilmer. “So it’s fun discovering the truths behind the mysteries. He’s just a really fun person to hang out with. He gave me the shirt off his back actually, literally gave me the shirt off his back. There was a shirt that I liked and I wear a lot of plaid cowboy shirts. And I said, ‘Oh, I like that kind of shirt.’ He just took it off and handed it to me. For a while he was walking around the set with his shirt off, which was a treat.”

Over the past eight years, Forte has transformed from an SNL cast member who was terrified to appear in sketches to having the on-screen confidence required to usher in a new era of Saturday Night Live films.

In the past year and a half MacGruber has evolved from funny sketch, to Pepsi Super Bowl commercial, and now into a major motion picture. It’s been a hell of a ride for the destructive 90-second skit. Forte has no problem staying humble about his fortunate climb to Hollywood leading man, but make no qualms about it he’s ready to be a star. Hell, he’s already thinking about the sequel.

“All you can do is work as hard as you can and do something that pleases you and hope other people out there are going to like it,” said Forte. “MacGruber 2 — the budget is going to be 250 million dollars, but it’s all gonna go towards blow and grass.”