The comedic actor discusses searching for Big Foot and working with Ernest Borgnine
Strange Wilderness is gearing up to sneak attack unsuspecting audience members that might not yet be ready for the first big comedy of the New Year. It is a film that has been slightly off the radar until now. A glorious new Red-Band trailer is premiering on the web this week. And it is pretty darn funny. If this two-and-a-half minute stretch of cinematic gold is any indication, Strange Wilderness is going to be a must-see hit.
The cast line-up for this particular Happy Madison project is amazing. They have Steve Zahn, Allen Covert, Jonah Hill, Ashley Scott, Peter Dante, Harry Hamlin, Robert Patrick, Joe Don Baker, along with Justin Long and Jeff Garlin. The iconic actor Ernest Borgnine even turns up in a supporting role.
The plot revolves around animal enthusiast Peter Gaulke (Steve Zahn) and his sidekick Fred Wolf (Allen Covert). Together, they host an ailing wildlife TV show entitled Strange Wilderness. With the ratings in steep decline, Gaulke hatches a Hail Mary scheme to find the one animal that could truly turn the show around and change the nature-show landscape forever. That's right: Bigfoot.
To celebrate the release of the Red-Band trailer and to learn a little bit more about the film, we got on the phone with co-star Allen Covert. We discussed everything from Borgnine, to Bigfoot, to "Grandma's Boy". Here is our conversation:
Allen Covert: Hey, Paul.
Hello. Now, the first thing I noticed about this movie is that your character's name is the same as the writer/director of the film Fred Wolf. Is Strange Wilderness at all based on a true experience that he might have had?
Allen Covert: I don't know if it is based on any true experience. But I do know that Fred and writer Peter Gaulke, whom Steve Zahn plays, have had this idea for years. They actually wrote it for themselves to star in. I think they figured that they were too old to try and act in it at this point. Even though they are the same age as me. I would always laugh when they would call me "Fred" on the set.
That is pretty funny, actually. Now, I noticed in the clips that you are playing both the soundman and the editor of this show within the movie called Strange Wilderness. Were you at all versed in the technical side of bringing a TV show to life?
Allen Covert: (Laughs) The funniest part is, if you go all the way back to the first acting that I ever did, it was for this tiny, little, low budget film. It also happened to be the first film that Adam Sandler ever did. I think it is called either Going Overboard or Babes Ahoy. I'm not sure what the title is on it now. It was actually this tiny little project. They said, "Hey, you want to be a PA?" I was a waiter at the time. I was like, "Sure." I didn't know what a PA was. So, my first job in the movies was doing technical stuff. But that is only because I helped move the set. And I was a PA. That was the first job I ever did, and then I ended up doing five different jobs for them.
Now, is that the film that has the video cover of Adam Sandler with the sunscreen on his nose and the buoys on his arms.
Allen Covert: (Laughs) Yes, that is the one.
I remember that one.
Allen Covert: Yeah, you remember seeing the cover of the film. You remember seeing the box. Or you would remember the actual film itself.
You are right. I can't claim that I have ever sat and watched the film. But I have seen it in the cutout bin at Wal*Mart. I've seen that box quite a few times floating around.?
Allen Covert: (Laughs)
After making this film, do you think you believe in Bigfoot a little bit more than you used to? Or is your stance still firm in that he doesn't exist?
Allen Covert: I have always been very open to Bigfoot. I grew up down in Florida. There, they have these things called the Swamp Apes. That was a story they would tell us when we'd go camping. I've always been waiting to find him. Anytime there is a Bigfoot show, where they supposedly have recordings of him, I am watching. I love the idea of Bigfoot. I want him to be out there somewhere.
You grew up in the Seventies, when shows like In Search of... were really prominent on the television.
Allen Covert: Yeah. I loved anything that had to do with UFOs. Or the Bermuda Triangle. Or Bigfoot. I was always glued to the TV.
I got to know, were you a fan of the more fanciful type Bigfoot fair? Like Bigfoot on The Six Million Dollar Man, or the Krofft show Bigfoot and Wildboy?
Allen Covert: I've got to admit, I was a little disappointed in the Bionic Man one. I think there was a movie called Legend of Boggy Creek that had to do with a Bigfoot creature. It was an obscure little southern swamp movie. But that Bigfoot in the Bionic Man. I was really disappointed with him.
He was pretty goofy
Allen Covert: I liked that tunnel effect that they did.
I just read an article in Entertainment Weekly about the resurgence of Bigfoot. Why do you think he is becoming popular again? Why do you think he has started to pop-up all over the place?
Allen Covert: I don't know. It is a pretty interesting take on it. Now, these days, Bigfoot is kind of a comedy guy. At least in those beef jerky commercials, its always Bigfoot hanging out and having fun with people. They are kind of getting away from the older Bigfoot, where they showed this guy as someone that would eat you in the woods apparently.
Its like with the Grey Alien. It has been said that, like, when you go into a head shop, there is this poster of this Grey Alien. And it is so predominate, because this is the way that the government is trying to acclimate them into our society. So when they show up and make their presence known, we won't be scared of them. Do you think that maybe the same thing is happening with Bigfoot right now? Like, he is gearing up to make his presence known in the world. That this is his big coming out party, and movies like Strange Wilderness are getting us prepared for that announcement. That he is real? And friendly.
Allen Covert: Maybe that is the thing. Maybe the government captured him years ago, and they are just easing him into society. (Laughs) I want to go back to that theory about the Aliens in the headshop.
What? You've never heard that?
Allen Covert: I just love the fact that they think stoners are the ones that need to be eased over. I think they would probably be the ones going, "Ooh, dude, look at that flying saucer." "Ah, yeah. Cool." (Laughs)
Headshops are where you always see those posters. If you go onto any sort of conspiracy board on the Internet, that is the idea.
Allen Covert: Yeah, it is always that big pointy-head with the big round eyes. And the pointy chin.
Well, I just caught the trailer for Strange Wilderness this morning. And it looks really funny. Is this something that isn't so much spoofy as it is played pretty straight?
Allen Covert: The characters were pretty much there. Fred and Peter have been working on this for a long time. Everyone had such great, crazy characters. Pretty much all you had to do was slap on the wardrobe and say the words. It was all written. The characters take themselves seriously, even though they don't know what they are doing in any way shape or form.
This next question may seem a little bit weird. But I'm wondering, as an actor and an artist, do you consider yourself a part of the neo-surrealist movement in film?
Allen Covert: Oh, I don't know. Honestly, I just like to make movies. The funnier the better. That is our goal. People have a hard enough time during the week. Hopefully, we can let them sit down for an hour and a half and let them laugh their asses off. But I will say that I love being surreal. I love jokes that come out of nowhere. The ones where people look at the screen and go, "What the Hell was that." As long as it somehow ties back into the story, somehow.
My next question kind of ties into that. Either intentionally or unintentionally, there is usually a lot of profound subtext to be found in a Happy Madison production while still managing to be very funny. I'm wondering what you think the underlying theme or message of this new film is?
Allen Covert: Oh, god. I've got to tell you that this one is the craziest we've done so far. During one test screening, a partner of mine at Happy Madison leaned over to me and was like, "This is the craziest fucking movie I have ever seen." What is funny is it is about this guy. Steve Zahn. He is so great. He's just a guy that wants to carry on his father's dream. And it doesn't matter to him that he is not as good as his father. You know? He is just determined that his father's legacy will continue. And we have all bought into his leadership. We are all like, "Let's go!" He basically almost dies to save a very bad TV show.
What I was reading on the Internet, so of course it might not be true, is that you have a lot of original wildlife footage from Bill Burrid?
Allen Covert: Yeah. That is actually where the basis of this came from. Both Fred Wolf and Peter loved to watch Bill's show growing up. And they loved the fact that he would leave in the part where the ostrich bit his ear. A lot of the footage was him "Not" being the expert animal handler. But he would leave that stuff in there.
You have been with Happy Madison pretty much since its inception. Do they pretty much trust you to go off and do whatever you want at this point?
Allen Covert: Yeah. Well, we work together at certain points in the process. On this one, it was a matter of Fred being someone we've worked with forever. He was the head writer on Saturday Night Live. Back before that, we knew him when he worked the Santa Monica Improv as a stand-up. This was a matter of me just having produced "Grandma's Boy" for us. So we were all there. Fred knows how to make movies. We trust each other. We want to do a few more things, so I am actually starting to do more Happy Madison projects that I oversee. It gives us other things to do. I just finished this project over the summer. Heather Parry and I just produced this Anna Faris movie.
Is that the Playboy movie?
Allen Covert: Yes.
Ah-ha. We have actually been doing quite a few stories on that one.
Allen Covert: We are actually having a test screening tonight. We just finished mixing it last night. So I get to stay home today and play with my daughter, because we have this test screening tonight. We are doing more things like that. Then, Sandler likes to go off and do what I call his "artsy-fartsy" projects. Which are fun for him. He gets to go off and work with all of these great directors. Which is a good break for him. Because he gets to just go act.
I was going to ask you about that. You sometimes have what could be perceived as this dark presence. You could just come out of nowhere and get one of those Jackie Earl Haley Oscars. Is that something you'd be interested in? Or do you just plan on sticking to the comedy?
Allen Covert: I like comedy. I think I'd feel kind of foolish if I was on the set being all emotional and crying. Unless I was in the middle of fighting someone over something we were doing. (laughs) I don't know. I just like comedies. I like making them. I got to be in the Anna Faris movie. I'm a waiter in that. I just sat on the set, laughing, trying to come up with jokes. Maybe I would do something like that someday. Maybe take on a dramatic role. I just don't know. Not right now. I'm just having too much fun. Some of that other stuff seems too intense. Like, Sandler on Reign Over Me, I know he was depressed all of the time.
Allen Covert: He is just sitting in his trailer thinking about having to do this scene where he has to talk about his dead wife and children. In the meantime, I'm over on the set of the Anna Faris set screaming, "Dump a bucket of water on their head!" That was sort of a girl movie. So that was interesting for me to do. I was sitting there saying, "This is the scene where we would normally hit someone in the balls. What do we do here?"
How do you think that one is coming together?
Allen Covert: I think it is great. I love it. Anna is amazing. She is a great comedic actress. She is a great actress, period. It was her idea. She brought the writers and the script to us. I thought, "Well, that was easy. Lets go!" We'd worked with her on The Hot Chick. She is great. I thought, "Yeah, I'll go do this for the summer."
I've got to ask you about the experience of working with Ernest Borgnine in this film. What was that experience like?
Allen Covert: He was unbelievable. He is, like, ninety! On our shoot, he did what is called a drop pickup. He shot for a couple of days in the beginning. Then we went off and shot the rest. And he had some stuff to shoot when we came back. During that period where he wasn't on our film, he went to Italy to make another movie. You'd think he was forty. He's like, "Oh, I am going to Italy to shoot this movie. And then after that, I have a TV movie." He is just nuts. He goes non-stop. I hate to bother people, so I tend to sit back and let them talk. I don't like to ask questions, because I feel like I am bothering people. I just loved to hear him talk about film going all the way back to Marty. He also talked about McHale's Navy. I grew up watching that. I hope I have half that energy when I am his age.
You guys got a pretty amazing cast for this film. How did that come together.
Allen Covert: We just sort of put it together. As far as the cast goes, I had just finished "Grandma's Boy". So I was taking a vacation. So Jack and Adam said that they would be producing this movie next. So, I went, "Give me the script. I will read it on the plane." I just wanted to see if I could offer any notes. Or throw in some jokes. I hadn't read it. By the time the plane landed, I called them back and said, "I have to be in this movie!" That was pretty much the response to the script. Zahn jumped right in. He literally came right from Vietnam, where he was shooting the Werner Herzog Rescue Dawn movie. He went from Werner Herzog and being out in the jungle to us out in the jungles of Pasadena. I had just worked with Jonah Hill on "Grandma's Boy". We had meet with him and loved him. He came up with that character that he plays. And he was the one that said, "You should meet Justin Long. I just finished "Accepted" with him." So, then Justin came in and loved it. Then we met Ashley Scott, and she was awesome. Then Kevin Heffernan came in. We'd been trying to do stuff with Broken Lizard for a few years now. He jumped right in, and that made us all excited. Basically, everyone loved the script. So we were very lucky to get all of these people. And we have a lot of friends, so somebody like Jeff Garlin will just drop in. He is a friend, and he said, "yeah, I'll come down and do that." We just got really lucky. Everyone came in and really stepped up. I was psyched about that.
This film is rated R, right?
Allen Covert: Yes.
I know it always depends on where the audience is going, but right now R rated films are more accepted by the studios then they were when you guys first started Happy Madison. All of those earlier pictures are PG-13.
Allen Covert: With this and the other movie I'd just done, "Grandma's Boy", I felt like they should be R rated. You know? We made this before the big run this summer. We are kind of catching the tail end of that wave. People are like, "Hey, it is okay to see an R rated comedy."
Do you think that allows you more freedom with what you are doing?
Allen Covert: That depends on the idea. Too me, like when we did I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry last year. There is no way that should have been in R. But this? This was R from day one. This is just a bunch of crazy people. With a movie like this, the crazier you can get, the better. And you kind of need an R for that. The rules are weird. You never know what is going to get you an R rating or not. I just don't like to hinder people. I don't want to tie them down and stifle what they do. Especially if it is funny. I think they should be able to say whatever they want. Sometimes on a PG-13 movie, you have to do that. You have to go, "no, we can't do that. That will definitely get us an R." With this kind of crazy movie, we knew what we were doing. We knew that it was going to be R rated. If Jonah is riffing on something, he can say whatever the hell he wants. We don't have to sit there in the editing room sweating it, going, "Oh, God! We are going to have to cut around the fucks." Not every movie should be an R. Like, "Lets throw some boobs and a fuck in there just so we can get an R." Um, no.
You guys always have great cameos in your films. Is it harder and harder to keep those a surprise with IMDB always ruining it?
Allen Covert: A little. But people love to read. They like to go onto IMDB and see that Robert Patrick is in this movie. Oh, my God! He is. But what does he do? The surprise still works for me. Unless its something so huge that you have to keep it a secret. Like, Jack Nicholson is Bigfoot. Or something.
Well, I hope you didn't just give it away.
Allen Covert: I love IMDB. I love that people all over the country get that into it. When I was a kid you literally had to go to the theater and stare at the poster to see who the hell was involved. People today know who directors of cinematography are. I had to be a huge film nerd when I was growing up to know who a particular DP was. Or even know what they did. Now, my sister knows about the box office. My sister will call me on Monday and go, "Ooh, that movie didn't do well." What happened?
That is funny. I have a really dumb question for you.
Allen Covert: No such thing, sir.
Well, you might think so after this. You were born on October 13th, 1964. 1964 was the year of the 13th Annual Bigfoot conference? Is this just a conquincidence or is there some deeper meaning to it?
Allen Covert: I am the son of Bigfoot, sir.
You are not.
Allen Covert: (Laughs). Wow! I did not know that. That is so funny. It is pure coincidence.
Are you sure?
Allen Covert: No, I am not. I might have to call my father and ask him. I need to find out what the Hell was going on.
I have one last question I want to ask. I wanted to talk to you for a minute about "Grandma's Boy". I wanted to know your opinion on that film here, a couple of years after it has grown into this cult film. The audience seems to expand every time I look into it.
Allen Covert: Yeah.
How do you feel about that film now, removed from the glare of the box office?
Allen Covert: I've always loved it. It was a labor of love for me. It was also proving a point. That you could make a union movie in Los Angeles for five million dollars. So many people told me that I could never do it. But I loved it. We busted our asses. We had a great time. It was what down and dirty filmmaking is. We went and raised the money, and we got a distributor. I was disappointed in the box office. I mean, who wouldn't be after putting that much into it for two years. But I got a phone call from someone that I respect, that has done a lot of movies that I like. I will leave them alone and not bring them into this name wise. But it was someone that I respect, and he said, "hey, you made a funny movie. And thanks to DVD, people will know that. Don't worry about this weekend. Two years from now, no one is going to know this didn't make money when it came out. That has turned out to be kind of true. I love it. I worked really hard on it. I actually think it is funny. We put as much comedy in there as we could. And I am proud of it. I love when people come up to me and go, "Oh, my God! I saw your movie for the first time last night. And I loved it!" It is two years later. I love that it sill happens. I'm happy with that. Maybe that cultishness, or whatever it is, will help this movie. This movie is just as funny.
Well, that is true for me. Because I do movie stuff, I always have someone coming up to me going, "Oh, my God! I just saw "Grandma's Boy" last night. And it is the funniest movie ever. Have you seen it yet?"
Allen Covert: Yeah. Plus, its one of those things where it wasn't shoved down people's throats. It wasn't touted as this must-see thing. People get to find it on their own. And trust me. I would much rather be a movie star than a cult hero. But at the end of the day, I get it. And that is the main point.
But like you said, it will get people into the theater for this new one. It looks great.
Allen Covert: Everyone was like, "Oh, you care about box office?" And of course I care about it. Because that means they will let me make another one.
Allen Covert: I'm not one of those people that get to do bomb after bomb. And continue to get jobs. It's like, "This one better make some money. Then they will let me do another one." That is kind of the attitude we work under at Happy Madison. You never know when they are going to make us stop. We just have to keep going.
Well, I will try to get the word out on this one. It looks really good. I can't wait to see it.
Allen Covert: Hey, it is crazy. If you like ridiculous R rated comedies, you are definitely going to have fun.
Great. Well, that's my time. It was great getting to chat with you today. Hopefully I will get to see you sometime in the future.
Allen Covert: Thank you. Thanks very much.
Strange Wilderness opens February 1st, 2008.