With 85 wildly varied film roles to Christopher McDonald’s credit including Happy Gilmore, Thelma & Louise, Grumpy Old Men, Requiem for a Dream, 61*, Grease 2 and The Perfect Storm, he’s most likely been in at least one of your favorite films.
Now with Craig Mazin (Scary Movie 3 & 4) and David Zucker’s (Airplane & The Naked Gun) latest spoof comedy, Superhero Movie, Christopher McDonald boldly takes on yet another genre as Lou Landers and his evil alter ego, The Hourglass. In Superhero Movie, McDonald does a stellar job of spoofing the quintessential supervillain, as a dying man who must kill each day to gain new lifeblood and survive. When he meets up with his nemesis, Dragonfly (a purposefully thinly veiled takeoff on Spider-Man) played by Drake Bell, a hilariously stereotypical rivalry ensues. Supporting performances by Marion Ross, Pamela Anderson, Tracy Morgan and the master of deadpan, Leslie Nielsen, round out the cast and enhance Superhero Movie’s joke factor. Sara Paxton does an excellent job of portraying a silly Kirsten Dunst-esque love interest for Dragonfly, complete with fake cartoon-like nipples.
I met up with Christopher McDonald at a W Hotel in New York where we scrambled around as if playing a game of musical chairs in trying to find one another, as we both failed to realize the existence of several W Hotels within a ten block radius. We finally both landed in a mellow lounge and Christopher took a business call from one of my favorite directors, Miguel Arteta (director of “The Good Girl” with Jennifer Aniston). That got my juices flowing as we drifted into a conversation about acting, writing, philosophy and the many types of characters McDonald has chosen to take on throughout his thirty year acting career. Christopher McDonald loves to act and he is a kid in a candy store when I question him about the various parts he has slipped seamlessly into over the years.
The day before our meeting, he was downtown in the financial district. McDonald was honored in ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange for a gaggle of twenty-something traders on the floor, who apparently treated him like a long lost fraternity brother.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): How was ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange yesterday?
Christopher McDonald: One of the biggest thrills! You go up into this big boardroom which used to be the place where they did it all. It’s beautiful. The furniture there is pre-dating 1900. I meet all these people, I take some pictures. It’s a half an hour before the end of the day and I walk through and all these people are yelling, “Shooter!” All the traders, they recognize me from Happy Gilmore. There were waves of people and they were pretty jazzed because at that time, I think we were up by 320. I did a quick interview and came down with the main man there, and as soon as I walked back on there, they went up 40 points, and it was crazy! I think we got to 392 or something.
PR.com: Do they bring a celebrity down there to get everybody jazzed up?
Christopher McDonald: I guess they don’t do this all the time, but they knew I had a following with these guys on the floor. They’re all young bucks and they’re all big fans of some of the movies I did. I was shaking hands, taking pictures and signing autographs. The girls who were taking me around, the PR [people] were like, “Dude, you have a lot of fans!” (Laughs.) And I was like, “Wow, yeah!” Especially on the floor (the floor of the New York Stock Exchange) they’re all superheroes and that’s why we wanted to do it; a PR gamut to get the Superhero Movie logo and The Hourglass (McDonald’s character in the movie), this metal cape, fantastic thing. I got up there and I felt like a high schooler. I was like, “Oh my God! This is insane. This is set aside for heads of state and heads of corporations.” So, I felt quite honored.
PR.com: Did it give a little boost to the stock market?
Christopher McDonald: I think it did, yeah. I’m taking full credit (laughs).
PR.com: Tell me what it was like to wear your costume in Superhero Movie?
Christopher McDonald: It was one of the reasons I wanted to do the movie, because I always wanted to play a superhero. Then when I saw the diagram for [the costume] I was like “Wow!” I wasn’t supposed to play that part. I was offered the part of the crazy newspaper guy. But I went in to meet the director (Craig Mazin) and we had such a great laugh and I said “By the way, who’s playing Lou Landers, the villain? That’s a great part.” And he goes, “Hmmm, take it home and come back tomorrow.” Long story short, we made it work and it was great.
PR.com: Is this the first spoof comedy that Craig Mazin has ever written?
Christopher McDonald: No, I think he wrote Scary Movie 3 and 4. He knows that genre. Plus David Zucker, who directed those two, among many other spoofs (including “The Naked Gun” and “Airplane”).
PR.com: Did David Zucker tip you off as to the secret of playing a spoof comedy?
Christopher McDonald: I didn’t get any kind of secrets like that and I just kind of delved into it. It’s a whole different way of approaching material. It’s spoof acting, if you will. I had to go and look at some of those older films we spoke about, just to get the gist of it. For spoofing Spider-Man, I would watch it and go, “Ok, that’s what he did. Ok good, that’s great. Ok, the ladder sequence. Got it.” There’s always a way to make fun of that kind of stuff and it’s all in the writing. How you deliver that stuff, Leslie Nielsen is brilliant at it. (He goes into a Leslie Nielsen impression) “The woman was badly hurt in an accident today. How was she hurt? Badly!” Ok… moving on. You’ve got to do it a little tongue in cheek, but you can’t let anyone else in on the joke. Leslie is so good at it! It’s just basically, deliver it super real and super straight.
PR.com: Did Leslie Nielsen give you any advice?
Christopher McDonald: I probably got some out of him, but he just makes jokes all the time and he sticks that fart machine on you.
PR.com: He still has that fart machine?? He’s been doing that for years!
Christopher McDonald: That’s what makes him laugh.
PR.com: In any spoof comedy or any time they’re going for cheap laughs in a movie it’s always farting, orgasm noises and prominent nipples.
Christopher McDonald: Yeah, I think we got all three in Superhero Movie, and then some.
PR.com: Which would you say is the funniest of the three?
Christopher McDonald: Well after seeing the fart sequence in [Superhero Movie], I was shocked, appalled and hysterically laughing at the end. It kept on going and going and going… it was so funny. And of course nipples, I’m a big fan of nipples.
PR.com: What’s the difference for you between a straight comedy and a spoof comedy like Superhero Movie?
Christopher McDonald: It’s 33 percent funnier (laughs). They’re just laden with jokes. Bang, bang, bang, bang. It’s almost to the point where, I saw a screening where people were laughing so hard that they missed the next two jokes. So, they almost have to go see it again.
PR.com: You went to see it with a regular audience?
Christopher McDonald: Yeah, here in New York City. It’s really fun to see a movie in New York because they’re so vocal. They speak back at the screen. They get like, “Watch out, look behind you!” One time I had to stop a guy. I was trying to watch another movie called The Wake and that’s kind of scary, and he was like, “Damn girl! You’re gonna get…” I was like, “Dude, you’re not in your living room.” But every now and then it’s a great way to watch a movie.
PR.com: For any given scene, when it comes to this kind of humor, do you have to keep rehearsing it so that each person’s joke is right on point?
Christopher McDonald: I’m kind of a quick study. I kind of get it and I’m ready to bring it. I don’t really like to rehearse a lot because then you almost ruin it, especially in comedy. We didn’t rehearse it a lot, but we did do a lot of takes.
PR.com: How is Craig Mazin as a director? Does he give a lot of direction? Does he have you adlib?
Christopher McDonald: There’s not a lot of adlibbing, but there is a lot of really cool direction, because he hears the jokes so much in his head. So I said, “Bring it. Tell me how you hear it.” But he was very supportive and I would love to surprise him every time out, and try to do something a little bit more tweaked. And he’d go “Bigger! BIGGER!!” It was so funny.
PR.com: Is it cool to get a laugh from the guy who wrote the line?
Christopher McDonald: Yes! That is a big, cool thing to get. Because he’s only heard it a thousand times in his head. He knows funny.
PR.com: Do you think there’s going to be a franchise for Superhero Movie?
Christopher McDonald: I would hope so, if it has legs. It’s all about the almighty dollar. So, I would think there’s always a chance of it. And even though I died, they said, “Oh no, don’t worry about it. It’s a spoof.”
PR.com: Plus you’re the supervillain.
Christopher McDonald: What superhero movie can exist without a supervillain?
PR.com: Who’s your favorite superhero?
Christopher McDonald: Superman, I would have to say. There’s a big lawsuit going on right now at Warner Brothers, because of certain rights from the initial sale of a deal for $130 back in 1938. Now it lapsed, so there’s tens of millions of dollars at stake. But, that was just a great story. A guy is from another planet and can do anything, yet he can walk among us as normal. Once he put those glasses on I didn’t know who he was (laughs).
PR.com: (Laughs.) It’s kind of goofy.
Christopher McDonald: Yeah, it is kind of goofy. I also love Lois [Lane] and I can really identify with Jimmy [Olsen]. I just love that whole series. Spider-Man is pretty great. Batman of course is great!
PR.com: Do you have a favorite Batman from the movies?
Christopher McDonald: George Clooney (laughs). He’d laugh and go, “My rubber nipples were hard, weren’t they?” Yes George, they were (laughs). No, I think Val Kilmer did a great job, and that new guy is terrific too (Christian Bale).
PR.com: In the script for Superhero Movie, they wrote in Craigslist, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. What do you think of Internet culture working its way into the entertainment world?
Christopher McDonald: I think it’s a given, actually. People spend a lot of time on the Internet. You can use those pop icons, which they all are. And in ten years it won’t be MySpace, it will be this other new thing they’re doing. But, that’s our audience for Superhero Movie, around 14 to 25, and they live in that world. That’s all part of life and you can’t get them off the computer. Back in the day it was, “Come on, stop watching Happy Days and get outside.”
PR.com: With the Internet growing, what do you think is going to happen to the movie business, as far as people going to the movies?
Christopher McDonald: I think that the youth will always go to the movies. And whenever you get that banner movie like, There Will Be Blood, you don’t want to see that in your home. You really want to go and see it in a theatre. They’ll make these movies that will be so much better when experiencing it with a bunch of people. But, basically it’s going to happen to everything. People aren’t going to want to leave their house. Why would they go to Blockbuster when Netflix will send it to you, and right now you can download them from a satellite. It’s “I want it now!” And, you get it now. The only thing that will get them out into the theatre is when it’s a total, huge blockbuster film from the studios where they invested hundreds of millions of dollars and it has to be seen on the big screen. And, then you’re not cool if you don’t see it, because then you can’t talk about it at the water cooler.
PR.com: You seem like a guy who genuinely loves to act.
Christopher McDonald: I do. I love to act so much that sometimes I have a hard time saying no. That’s what this call was right here (referring to the phone call he took right before our interview). It’s not a huge part, but it’s a fun part, a part I haven’t done yet. That’s why I love to do what I do. I’ve done every kind of movie. I’ve played bad guys and good guys, and now a spoof (referring to his role in “Superhero Movie”). Right now what I’m looking for is to find something that is just… that perfect role for the perfect actor. Kind of like when James Gandolfini got The Sopranos. It was the perfect actor for the perfect part. That’s something I want to get married to for a little bit.
PR.com: What’s your perfect part? What fits you to a tee?
Christopher McDonald: I knew you’d ask me that. I’m not quite sure it’s written yet. I may have to write it myself. And, there’s so much brilliant writing on television now too. When I started out it was all episodic, but now the best writing on the planet is for television. Whatever medium it is, I’ll follow the best writing. I really don’t know what it is; maybe a middle aged Irish guy who just loves to eat life, and loves to make those choices. I choose to be happy, and there are a lot of people who don’t choose to be happy. It’s a choice, and this world will beat you down if you let it. I try to let stuff role off my back because life is too short anyway. That’s the kind of character I’d like to play. Somebody who’s like, “Ok, I’m half way through it here, or more. So I’ve got to take that trip I always wanted to.” Just to make a movie of that mid-life crisis, if you will, in someone’s life. Someone who pretty much likes his life but who’s just doing it for the experience.
PR.com: As you were talking, I’m picturing a character, either in a TV show or a movie, where there’s a lot of crazy chaos in the guy’s life and yet he’s always centered, and always making a choice to be happy. And people ask him… his family asks him, his friends ask him, “With all of this stuff going on, why are you so calm?” And he goes, “I choose to be happy.” (Laughs.)
Christopher McDonald: That’s pretty good. That’s a good line for that. That would be a good thing, to leave that work out there too. Yeah, shit’s happening, but we do what we can and live each moment. Do you write in that formula (referring to script writing), or are you afraid to, like me?
PR.com: I’m not afraid to fall on my face.
Christopher McDonald: I’m not afraid to fall on my face, I’m just afraid it won’t be good, and I want it to be really good. Even though I was an English Major and I’m a smart guy, but to sit down and write “Fade In: We meet our hero…”
PR.com: You know what’s interesting about writing, and I don’t know if this would apply to acting. Obviously you need your brain to write. But, just like dancing, singing, writing a poem or whatever, when you write it has to be feeling free from thought. The minute you start to think, your inner critic starts to take over and then you can’t be creative. Even though your brain is orchestrating it - your putting pen to paper and writing words - it comes from somewhere else.
Christopher McDonald: Absolutely. You channel it from someplace else. When you’re acting the same thing happens. When you think about it, you’re just going to trip over your own feet. If you just let it go and you’re in the moment and you’re just giving better than you get, it’s really uplifting. We call it being in the zone. My God, it’s a great feeling! Like, “I don’t know how I did that, but that was pretty cool. Were we rolling?” It’s hard to get that every time, but when you get it, ooh it’s magic!
PR.com: Yes it is. In Superhero Movie, what was your favorite scene to shoot?
Christopher McDonald: Although it was painful to put that uniform on, I actually had a couple [of scenes] that were really great. The whole sequence where I walk in [to the dinner] and give her the bottle of wine and I say “I’ve never been married,” and she goes “Fruitcake?” And I say “No, just never met the right woman.”
PR.com: That’s my favorite line.
Christopher McDonald: It’s a funny line and it was a Leslie Nielsen delivery too. So, I just stole that from him. And the whole pee sequence was funny.
PR.com: You’re a character actor, but there are characters and then there are characters. Do you feel most comfortable playing a guy whose life resembles your own, or playing a character whose life is completely different from your own?
Christopher McDonald: There’s challenges in both of them. People that are closer to me are more difficult to play because I don’t like playing that. I like to lose myself in a character. When people go, “I didn’t know that was you,” there’s something so freeing about that. That’s my favorite, and I look for chances to do that; change hair color, grow facial hair and things like that. But it’s much deeper than that. It comes from the inside when you’re playing a broken person. Someone who thinks they have it together is more interesting than playing someone who’s got it together. Because then there’s cracks in his veneer. There’s flaws there and we like to play those flaws.
PR.com: What’s your favorite type of material that you’ve done up until now?
Christopher McDonald: Hits. Hits are my favorite.
Christopher McDonald: Big fan of hits. They’re great, and really fun to play (laughs). I like dramedys, just like real life. I saw this movie called Smart People. [It had] wonderful dialogue, wonderful characterization, a real strong character driven piece. I like that in life, and I like it in my art. It was smart, witty, emotional and at the same time new. It’s something we haven’t seen before. Ultimately, it was a love story and I’m a sucker for that stuff. I’m a romantic. I think people like to escape to the movies to see that, because ultimately, isn’t love everything?
“Superhero Movie” is in theatres now. Check www.moviephone.com for times and theatres or go to www.superhero-movie.net.