Saturday Night Live celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to kick off the gala, Saturday Night Films and Paramount Pictures is releasing the latest SNL character movie, Superstar, featuring nervous schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher.
I sat down over breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel to speak with director and former Kid-In-The-Hall Bruce McCulloch and the film’s stars stand-up Harland Williams and SNL cast members Molly Shannon and Will Ferrell.
The trend in romantic comedies lately has been to favor cute over funny. Superstar seems to buck that trend. It’s sweet, but rather dark. Nothing about it seems “cutesy.” Was this a conscious choice?
MS: I feel [American movies] are so self-conscious, it’s boring. I feel like yecch. I feel they are all filled with like so many gorgeous people up there on the Big Screen and it’s like blah. I like seeing a regular broad up there with a regular looking face who looks like herself, a real girl doing weird things. I think that that’s refreshing. We don’t see enough of that. I just get so bored seeing the same kind of women in magazines. It’s different in Europe, where women age more gracefully. America’s like ugh. And LA? Ewww! All these broads are getting their eyes redone. Thirty-year-old girls. It’s so self-hating.
What did you think when you were offered Superstar?
MS: I was really scared. Lorne called me into his office and he said, “What do you think about making a movie with Mary Katherine Gallagher?” Oh my god, I was grateful, like “Thank you.” And then I got nervous. I got a little bit scared because I thought, “Well, I don’t know. I don’t think that everything that goes on SNL should have a movie.” I was like, “Maybe it wouldn’t work.” Why not just do the sketches? Sketches are fine. Maybe you shouldn’t show her home life. Just leave that to the imagination.
BM: When I read the script, it didn’t seem like “Oh, this is a Saturday Night Live skit movie.” I was certainly intrigued by the sort of outsider point-of-view in the film. It was people who didn’t fit into the world, which is the comedy I’m interested in and I feel the most as a person (giggles). I read it, and it had a certain spark and spirit. I kept thinking about it, and it became something I couldn’t turn down even though I knew it was going to be hard.
Was it as hard as you thought it would be?
BM: It was hard, but it was hard in a good way. It was almost like TV in a sense that some things moved really fast. That you would change something that would be filming the next day. Or we would improvise some things. Like the toast scene with Mark McKinney or some of the Mary Katherine Gallagher stuff in her room. So it was hard, but it was good hard.
How much improvisation was encouraged during filming?
BM: Well, to the extent that it was helpful. You know, the cast was people who had comedy brains, who think comedy thoughts. Harland Williams and Mark McKinny and, obviously, Will and Molly, you know Tom Green and others. And I think we did enough just to keep it kind of fresh. And there are certain times, certainly with Molly when she does the tree scene or whatever, it’s just, do whatever, you know, go! Just get a camera tight and one camera wide and it’ll be fine. Writers hate to hear that you improvised a lot,. But I think sometimes improvising isn’t coming up with new lines, it’s just finding weird physical things, pushing someone, or trying something else in the scene. It’s just enough to keep it fresh.
How did you find working with one another on a film?
HW: One thing I was surprised about Molly is that I thought she’d be goofy and crazy all the time, but she’s so focused and committed to her performance that there’s a real intensity to Molly when she’s working. It’s great when you’re acting with her because she’s so in tune with the other characters and with my characters and with her own character that it just felt very real all the time with her. It’s a great, great level to work with. I like it when it’s really intense.
MS: Harland and I were pretty serious together. We didn’t kid around that much. Harland can be really serious.
WF: If I was able to do every movie here on out with Molly Shannon, life would be a breeze. We’re good friends, but more importantly, we also have the same sensibility in terms of how we approach comedy and how it should be performed. The working part of it never felt like working.
How much of Superstar was molded on your experiences in high school?
WF: I’m probably unique because I’m one of those people who had a great time in high school. I loved high school. Loved it a little too much. I still go back every…every week. Just to drive around the parking lot. No one knows that. We’ll just keep that here.
BM: One of the reasons I wanted to do the film is high school, you know, is a terrible time. It’s a horrible time, unless you’re those three people who happen to be popular and it’s probably horrible for them too. I think this film’s about popularity and it’s about trying to fit in groups. You know, I think we all remember that kid from HS that it was going terribly for and we don’t know how it got that way for them and often we were the abusers going “Ah, what’s he doing. He stinks.”
MS: Superstar is very close to my experiences. When I was young I never had boyfriends or anything, I was more into obsessive crushes. I didn’t have boyfriends at all. I was really weird. I was a really late bloomer, so I’d just get like one painful longing after another. I liked this one boy for three years and he didn’t even look at me. Once, he was like “Hey, take a picture, it’ll last longer” and I was like “uhhhh.” It was horrible. I had made up something that he liked me and it was like devastating. But still to this day, I tell my girlfriends “Are you dating anybody?” “No” “Well, Do you have a crush? Because crushes count because that’s your heart.” Crushes count. Anything involving your heart counts because you’re growing closer to what you’re supposed to be. I was very obsessive. I would go into fantasy to escape bad feelings. So I think it’s nice to tell a story about that. It’s funny to me.
Are you in a relationship now?
MS: I was in a relationship before, but we broke up. No, I don’t have a boyfriend now, I’m single. I’m just dating.
Do you have a crush?
MS: (laughs) No, no I don’t have a crush.
BM: Superstar is about being recognized in the world. And I think certainly as a society, it seems like the only options for kids now if they watch a lot of TV is that they should be a rock star, that they should be on a TV show or they should be a model. They don’t see that it’s not about stardom. And I think the stark -- or maybe it’s not stark, it’s subtle contrast -- with Superstar is, that it really isn’t about making it and being a star and having people, it’s about something internal. It’s sort of a corny message, but a lot of important messages are corny.
Is it tougher to be a teenager today?
HW: I do think it’s tougher being a teenager today, because you know when we were coming through high school, you tried to live up to the standards of what was cool in your school. There was always the people that set the trends, and maybe you’d see something on the news about the latest, but then MTV came along, man, and all of a sudden all these images of what’s cool and what’s not was projected at people. So now kids are under pressure to like the right band and wear the right earrings and have their hair gelled properly and wear the right clothes. I think there’s a loss of identity, but then I think there’s always gonna be the kids who see through all the crap and, you know, carve the new buttercarvings. I think it’s harder on average for kids these days because they have so much more stuff to deal with, even on like a violent level, on a sexual level, and a social level. It’s crazy. I don’t know if they’re becoming adults at an earlier age, but they’re killing at an earlier age. It’s spooky. When I’m driving through a neighborhood and I see a school, I just take the long way around.
WF: There’s a lot of stuff that kids are exposed to much more than I was. And yet they’re probably more savvy. They’re more experienced, they’re better equipped to handle all this stuff.
What advice would you give nervous schoolgirls who want to be superstars?
BM: Become fishermen. I care about people. I care about kids and I think it’s important to think. You know, Molly had pasty legs and she wouldn’t let the makeup people touch up her little bruised knees and I think, it’s really not about having half shirts and tiny bellies and having a body type you don’t have and being famous. It’s supercorny, but I think it’s about figuring out how to be happy, which is figure out what you like to do in the day and do it.
HW: I would say drop out of school and get your ass to Hollywood. Just follow your dream, man. Don’t let anyone kick you off your rails. Just go, go, go! Pick your target and fire, man.
MS: I get tons of mail from young girls. They really identify with the characters adolescent struggles. I think a lot of young women at that age, like 13 to 17, they start to feel very disempowered and their grades go down. That’s an age when they’re coming into their bodies. That’s a really hard time for young women and they really respond to the character because it’s like real, it’s not all fake-y. So, girls seem to really identify with her and like her, so as a result, as a performer in the movie I didn’t feel like I wanted to have any kind of makeover or anything. Like Mary Katherine Gallagher didn’t get pretty or anything. It would have been nice for me, for ego reasons, to be really pretty, to make yourself real cute at the end, to get a kiss. But she isn’t pretty, she just accepts herself, from the inside. It’s all perception. Beauty is, you know, beauty. I don’t know, beauty is a funny thing. So I feel that’s a really nice message for young women.
What’s your favorite SNL film?
HW: Let’s see…I hear Superstar’s pretty good. I think it was Stuart Smalley was my favorite because you really felt sympathetic for that character. And it’s like this movie. I felt that the movie just wasn’t about him doing his bit. It’s about a really sweet guy with a real dilemma and it was drawn out through a whole story where he was trying to find the love in his family. And because it was played out that way, I think I enjoyed it more, I got more emotionally involved than just the one beat of a skit. Yeah, Stuart Saves His Little Family…Smith or whatever it was called.
WF: Wayne’s World, of course, I’m a big fan of. There’s a little film called “A Night At The Roxbury….” If you saw AFI’s 100 Greatest Films it was not in, but should’ve been. I enjoyed “The Poseidon Adventure” I think Lorne really nailed it on that. And “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”
How does “It’s Pat” rate on the scale?
MS: I never thought that much about that movie, to be honest. That’s not Lorne’s movie. A lot of people think that Lorne Michaels produced that, but he didn’t.
WF: I don’t think a lot. I have very low brainwaves. I’m actually characterized as dead.
Who are your comedy idols and influences?
HW: Oh man. I would say, I don’t know, I would probably say, I don’t know if you’ve seen Second City, the TV show, but guys like Harold Ramis and Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levy -- guys like that that we’re just like, really really funny, but not so hit-you-over-the-head funny. They were a lot more subtle and a little crazier, kind of like Monty Python as well. The guys from Monty Python, really. I get a charge of that kind of more bizarre, obscure humor than the obvious stuff.
BM: Howard Stern, a year ago, two years ago, was doing the most shocking stuff and now there’s other shocking stuff. And I think that’s just an element that’s there. I think it’s great to have savage and weird and smart comedies all being commercially successful. It’s certainly good for me.
HW: I don’t know why Americans like would look down on Jerry Lewis, you know, because I think he’s like incredible. He was a groundbreaking guy who took a lot of chances and that’s what comedy is about, you know. It’s opening new doors. I think Americans don’t like it when their heroes get old, you know, and Jerry had that young, wild energy. But then as he got older, he was perceived as kind of Vegas-y and cheesy, so I think Americans didn’t like that, you know. And I think if Marilyn Monroe had made it into her fifties, she would have gotten the same treatment, you know, they would’ve gone, “What a skank!” Jerry made the American mistake of showing his age. He’s a genius and deserves the accolades the French give him. Just because he got old doesn’t mean he didn’t do what he did. It’s documented, you know. And he’s probably influenced more comics than anyone gives him credit for. One of my favorite other physical comedians is Jacques Tati and he’s another guy who’s really quiet, but really subtle and I don’t know, Jerry’s great. God bless, Jerry, I hope I wake up with him one day.
WF: I would love to be able to do the kinds of things that Jim Carrey and Tom Hanks have done, to be able to crossover at some point into a more dramatic role. It’s a challenge I would love to try. But more importantly though, I’d really like to break into porn.
BM: You know, it’s funny. Porn is bigger than it’s ever been and with all that stuff, people’s brains are changing. Whether you’re making love to a pie or a tree. Sexy stuff isn’t really funny, because your brains gonna go one way or another. You either want to turn the lights out or you want to invite friends over.
Bruce, would Kids In The Hall be popular today?
BM: We are popular today! I don’t feel like an old cat or anything. It seems like that’s a question maybe for someone else since I am a Kid-In-The-Hall, but I think our themes, which again are like the Superstar theme, is outsiders. People who work in banks who hated their bosses or whatever that is, is kid of universal. You know, it’s weird, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I do comedy for the entire world, although Superstar may be a very successful movie, as may Dog Park, and Kids was in its own way, too. But I think there’s something for the disenfranchised, you know a certain kind of comedy. The mainstream of comedy almost now has a therapeutic effect like rock music. Like it’s fun to go and almost get stuff out of you in a certain way and have fun revolting through your laughter.
HW: The Kids In The Hall fit into the same category, sort of a mixture of Second City and Monty Python. They would take really obscure premises and bring them to the screen and make the dialogue even twisted within the premise. So you get like two layers of funky funky fungus meat. It’s like unraveling baklava at a Greek Toenail Festival.
Bruce, can expect another album?
BM: I might, you know. I’m doing a one-man show, or two man show, with Brian Connelly now and I think we’re gonna be recording some stuff over the next couple of months.
What’s something you do in your life that has nothing to do with acting or comedy?
HW: I write children’s books. It’s a character called Licketysplit and he’s a little dinosaur. I just wanted to do something that was kind of more innocent. Movies and TV kind of inundate you with agendas or violence or sex, and I just wanted to leave something behind when I’m gone that was just like sweet and has no hidden motive, you know? Just make kids laugh and keep them entertained and, if anything, a little positive message, you know, about being good.
Do you have kids?
HW: No, I don’t have kids. I hate those little…