April 2003
A Mighty Wind : Interviews with Fred Willard and Bob Balaban

A Mighty Wind: Interviews with Fred Willard and Bob Balaban

Fred Willard and Bob Balaban are part of Christopher Guestís latest film, A Mighty Wind, which reunites actors from his previous films, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. In an interview with blackfilm.com, the two actors talked about their roles in the film.

AAH: Where did you get the hair?

FW: I think my wife saw a picture of the rock group Journey and theyíre kind of aging, and the one guy had dyed blonde hair with black roots, and I said, ĎI like that idea.í My idea was to get a little earring, I wanted to have a dangling earring, but Chris vetoed that. It was the idea of a guy who wants to keep current. Someone once said they told a writer friend of theirs who said, ĎYeah, Iím having trouble getting jobs because Iím over fifty, or over forty.í And he said, ĎGet an earring.í When you think about it, itís a good idea. Suddenly youíre like a pirate, youíre 65 years old and youíve got an earring,

AAH: It worked for Harrison Ford.

FW: Yeah.

AAH: Did you tell Chris about the earring or did you just show up with it?

FW: I showed up and his reaction was like that (shakes head). He toned it down a bit in the movie. It was really blond. Ironically, my wife was the first one to get tired of it. She said, get rid of it. But it started to turn white.

AAH: You guys have a lot of scenes by yourselves in the film. Can you talk about performing and improvising in that setting as opposed to playing off of another performer?

FW: Let me go first because I had most of the individual scenes. You prepare more for that. I didnít want, when he says action, to start saying, ĎI donít know, what should I say?í So I just wanted to come right out of the barrel. But itís more fun in a way to do ensemble scenes, where you know your background, you know the scene, but you canít prepare because someone else is going to say something that is going to lead you off. So I prefer an ensemble scene. But you prepare more; I do for one of those interviews with the camera on your face telling about yourself.

BB: I think the things where youíre talking to the camera are really important for the movie because since we donít rehearse, and some of us think about it, and other times we donít particularly Ė they are really the only time in the movie you have to be with your character, so you really use them as preparation in a funny way for everything else. The details you start inventing during them, who youíre like, truthfully most of the scenes in our lives are like, hi, Iím here, whatís going on? Youíre participating; you donít really have a chance to figure out who you are. So even if they cut them, theyíre like great acting rehearsals for preparation for being in the rest of the movie I think. And they also give a chance for the characters to reveal things that you would never do in front of the people in your life. But as soon as the camera is on we now know that people are just thrilled to have somebody focusing on you and paying attention to you.

AAH: How in depth do you go with Christopher about your characters Ė do you discuss the backgrounds?

BB: Youíre allowed to do anything you want. I donít at all. I donít know that you do (to Fred). Most of us donít do too much. If we have an idea you could say, ĎWould you mind if,í but now by number three I think we sort of Ė mostly itís what affects other people. If my history is a certain thing that everybody knows, and is going to have to know about, then you have to agree on common stuff. If itís just you, you could do anything.

AAH: I was thinking about you and your brother and sister Ė was there more of that in the movie, that was very funny and I wanted to know more.

BB: There is generally more of everything in the movie.

AAH: Did you realize that you had a more diverse background and that your brother left?

BB: No. You only need to know if you would be denying it to someone. You canít be there in a movie saying, ĎI donít have a brother.í Oh no, you actually do have a brother. Thatís the fun of it, the stuff that you find out during these scenes is so exciting and the fact that youíve never talked about it, you have complete permission to do stuff. I want all acting to be like that. Thatís the goal when youíve got a script, you read it, learned it, and now forget it and pretend that youíve never heard any of this stuff, only we donít have to pretend we never heard of it before.

AAH: Isnít it the basic rule of improv to go with the flow?

FW: With me heís told me what my character is and then I take it and I might change it just a little. Like in this movie he said I owned a comedy club, so I turned him into an ex-standup comic who owned a comedy club. In the last movie Best in Show he actually sent me the tape of the Westminster Dog Show and he said, ĎListen to Joe Gargiola, he hasnít really taken any effort to learn about the dog show,í which really helped me because I listened to that and I just hooked right into that character and expanded it.

AAH: Do you think you are in any way responsible for him no longer doing the show?

FW: I hope not. He did two more years on it. The only criticism I heard of the dog show was from Joe Gargiola. Like the woman who runs it loved the movie, all the people who show dogs. He said, ĎI think itís supposed to be funny, but I know a lot of these dog owners,í he didnít want to say he didnít like what I did about him, Ďthese dog owners arenít that crazy, they are all decent people,í blah, blah, blah. Iíve never met him, I admire him greatly because he was a big league ballplayer which is what I wanted to be and heís had a great career. I hope I donít run into him some day and he goes, ĎCome here. Letís go in the other room.í

AAH: In the previous films your characters have been pretty straight, very quiet Ė I didnít think so this time, your character seemed to be a little more outrageous, and had his own problems.

BB: I think that having been around a few times before I tried to take a half a page from Fredís book. And I didnít realize that during the shooting at one point there were certain things that if my character didnít prepare for them it would actually be unreal. If youíre talking to 1800 people in an audience and introducing a show, youíd better plan something, because your character would have planned something. Iím happy to be out there drowning, but my character isnít supposed to be doing it. I suddenly realized, youíre not breaking any rules to plan something. And in other things you donít plan anything if you donít want to, and I did tend to do that. Iím glad to hear that Iím somewhat different, I didnít consciously think of doing that but I also had the wonderful opportunity of being around a number of days. The more days Iím there, I start feeling more comfortable and more at ease and know more things, and then I have a chance to interact with different people in different ways. Christopher scoops out your six best things and puts them in the movie, so there was more stuff to choose from probably this time.

AAH: The flower thing cracked me up, did they take you in there and there was that arrangement and you just did that?

BB: We had a day of me torturing that poor Michael Hitchcock. Some of the things they do say things, like Fred said, you come from here and this is what youíre talking about. This just said, ĎBob and Michaelí and it said, Ďflowers,í and then it would say, Ďon the stage,í and then we had the food preparation scene where I was especially offensive, but I donít think thatís in the movie. Literally, we had been together for 8 hours by the time he hit me on the head. I had no idea he was going to do that. Itís so funny, I did have a Freudian slip during it, which is in no way did I mean to call the scenery furniture, but I did. Then Chris said, ĎSay that thing about furniture again,í and I said what? I was completely embarrassed because it made me look so stupid, but my character would have done that.

AAH: Does working on projects like this spoil you for other projects where you have to read a script?

FW: I guess it does. I donít think about it. Itís like two completely separate things. I never compare it. Itís such a pleasure to work in these movies, itís almost like itís not really happening. I just worked in the movie American Pie 3, and youíre there at 6:30 in the morning, and you have your sides and youíre in your trailer, you block and you rehearse, itís almost like two different Ė I never say, ĎThis isnít how we did it in A Mighty Wind.í So I never think of it that way.

AAH: Who are you playing in Pie 2?

FW: I play the father of the bride opposite Eugene, who plays the father of the groom. So that was kind of nice. And Jennifer Coolidge has a scene. Itís like the difference between a basketball game and a baseball game. I never really compare it Ė do you?

BB: I direct sometimes and you start feeling looser about certain things, like if itís interesting why donít we go in that direction? Although, truthfully, most things that youíre involved with you must say every word exactly as itís written. And then there are other situations when you can say whatever you want to. I was in Gosford Park, which I also produced, and at one point we had a very nicely written script and Julian Fellowes, who is a friend of mine who wrote it, and he did a beautiful job. At one point Robert Altman said, ĎYou know, since heís American and Julianís a British person,í - I was the only person who was supposed to be speaking American-like, Bob said, ďWeíre just going to do some telephone calls now, just say whatever you want.Ē Iím sure that if I werenít used to doing these kinds of things I would have Ė for it was like, ĎOh, good, now I know what weíre doing.í That I can do. Donít tell me anything and I can do that.

FW: Ever since these movies, a few of the jobs Iíve got which I know come directly from these Ė the producer or the director will say, ďListen, this speech, if you donít want to say this, say whatever you want to, which is nice but itís kind of scary because you werenít there from the beginning, and a lot of times you have the tendency to go off Ė

BB: And youíre not supposed to be telling jokes anyway. Thatís the point of these things. It might end up being funny but you didnít necessarily do it for that.

AAH: What films?

FW: Well, American Pie that I just did, directed by Jesse Dylan, Bob Dylanís son whoís a wonderful director and a really great guy, but he just counted on me a lot to say things, which is fine Ė in several TV shows Iíve done, Iím trying to think of what Ė just say something here, we need something funnier here.

AAH: Youíre not supposed to be doing jokes when youíre in front of the camera, but your character says funny things Ė how much thought did you give to those beforehand?

FW: In this last movie I gave it quite a lot of thought to my character and I fell back on a lot of managers and agents that Iíve had, and my early New York days where comics would sit around a table doing jokes and the managers would have jokes, and so I based it on a lot of that. And I did a lot of preparation, I didnít want to come in and when he said, ĎRoll Ďem,í just say, ĎNow what do I say?í So I prepared a lot for those characters.

AAH: You donít necessarily write it down and memorize it?

FW: Oh no, no, no, no.

AAH: You have a great ensemble cast, but you donít work that much together Ė Best in Show was a couple of years ago.

BB: But Iíve worked with many of the people in this in between even in things that you didnít see. I developed a television series last year and cast Ė you wonít see it because it didnít get picked up Ė but I cast five people from this movie. Itís probably not something I should do too frequently if I want ever to appear in them again. But it was fantastic and we had such a good time, and I have this little sidebar thing where occasionally I produce these little animated things, and Iím always calling on some of the people to do these voices. We end up seeing each other.

AAH: I guess my question is when you do a film like Best in Show and then this movie a couple of years later, is it hard to go back into doing improv?

BB: No, you have to remember that for us who are used to drop and pick up all the time in our lives, there is no time between. If I worked with somebody 7 years ago and then weíre doing another movie, I must have been in that movie last year. I donít feel that thereís time passing. You feel it when you look at yourself in the mirror, but I donít sense it. I can remember every moment of Waiting for Guffman, everything anybody said or did, or what we ate for dinner. And Iíve been on movies for ten months and I donít even remember who directed them sometimes. If youíre having a good time, time stops basically.

AAH: Out of the members of your cast, who are the ones whose skills you really admire?

FW: Someone Iíve always admired is Catherine OíHara, and I realized in Best in Show the scene where they tell her and her husband, Eugene, they have to sleep in the mob room, and she says, ĎWhereís the washroom?í and he says, ĎGo down to the lobby,í and the look on her face, suddenly it just brightens a little and I thought that was just so wonderful. I think sheís one of the best actresses in the country, not only comedy. I just think sheís just a step aside from everybody, sheís just wonderful. I just admire everybody and sit in awe and watch them and say, ĎHow do they do this?í

BB: You stop thinking of them; I do during it, as different people in a funny way. You just notice that everybody is on this wonderful level and then every once in awhile and it can happen with anybody, a little piece of spark catches fire and somebody goes off, and you just sit there waiting for it to happen. It infects everybody else, Iíve talked about this before, it happens with Eugene Levy, we were (doing a scene of) the press conference and we were all saying very dry things, it wasnít anything much, nothing had to happen except we had a press conference. And we had to do it many times, usually we donít do it too often, but because there were 10 of us there and the audience was big Ė and Eugene had said the exact same thing over and over and over again, he didnít memorize it, it was just what his character was doing. Then all of a sudden, I donít know where it happened Ė it was like take 9 or something Ė he just started going on this thing, and I canít tell you what it was. It was just Ė thatís the most fascinating thing I ever heard. It was funny and weird and went on and on and then it was over and he didnít do it again in the next take. Itís just this pleasure of knowing that any of us, or any of them, could at any moment do something Ė itís a drug basically, thatís what we wait for in our lives is for a mistake to happen or for a surprise to happen, because it is divine intervention. It really is. When he does those things, he may plan certain things but when itís happening in front of somebody else, we know Ė if youíve sort of been around a long time, you can tell the difference between the real thing and almost the real thing. We never get to see the real thing much in our lives, no matter what you see when you see the movie. What weíre there seeing itís like (?), ĎThe real thing just happened right now.í You canít believe that youíve been invited to see that. And it doesnít happen every time. Itís never bad, and then every once in awhile itís like oh my God, itís like a great musician Ė isnít it jazz basically? And I didnít even mention Christopher Guest, because you kind of expect to be overwhelmed by him. He was very flamboyant in Guffman, then the guy with the nuts, now musically, you just take it for granted, so what else is new?

AAH: Is there an idea for the next film yet?

FW: He says he doesnít have an idea. I call him every once in awhile with ideas and heís very polite, I just hope he includes me in it.