The comedic actor-turned director shares his thoughts on Broken Lizards' upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release
After a very long wait, Broken Lizard fans are finally going to get the gang's 5th official film The Slammin' Salmon, which hits home on DVD and Blu-ray April 13th courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. This time out, Kevin Heffernan has taken over the directorial reigns from usual ringleader Jay Chandrasekhar. And while it upholds the usual lunacy we've come to expect out of Broken Lizard, it's a strikingly different sort of comedic endeavor. The story finds former Heavyweight Champion of the World and current restaurant entrepreneur Slammin' Cleon Salmon indebted to the Japanese Yakuza. To pay off that debt, he challenges his wait staff to a contest where the top-selling server will win $10,000, while the waiter in last place gets a broken-rib sandwich from the champ himself. Needless to say, complete chaos ensues. We recently caught up with director, writer, and co-star Mr. Heffernan to get his thoughts on the film. Here's what Kevin had to say:
Let's start with the quote on the DVD cover. It says "easily the best work Broken Lizard have ever done." Do you agree with that? Or do you see it as a backhanded compliment on your own DVD? Because the word 'easily' suggests to me that this particular reviewer didn't think your other work was very good.
Kevin Heffernan: Its hard for me to agree with that quote. Movies are like your kids. You can't pick one you love more than the other. I wouldn't say that The Slammin' Salmon is better than any of our other movies. I'd say it's as good as our other movies. Certainly. Anchor Bay put that quote on there so that people would know its in the same vein as those other funny movies that we made in hopes that they would check it out. It didn't get as wide of a theatrical release. They want you to know it's in the same food group. Check it out.
You don't think it's a bit of a slam on your other work?
Kevin Heffernan: I didn't think so. It was flattering. That quote came out of SXSW last year. We had a lot of critics that really liked the movie. They had a good experience with it. I think that's where that quote is coming from.
When I talked to the other guys, they said you weren't in the movie much. But you're really the main character with the most to lose. Did that come out in the editing, or were the other guys just trying to down play your role in the film?
Kevin Heffernan: (Laughs) Maybe it was a conspiracy against me! The weird thing about it is, and it's the part I took for myself because I was directing...Most of my scenes are with the champ. And we're not in the thick of the craziness on the floor. It was easier to take myself out of that so I could direct it. In doing so, I didn't interact too much with the other guys. I mostly acted against Michael Clarke Duncan. So they probably felt that way while we were shooting it. My character was always meant to be the straight man, in the sense that he is a pussy who ends up getting some balls by the end of the movie. His arch is what bookends the movie.
Your character almost seems like a real reflection of your job behind the scenes. He is in control of this motley crew of waiters, just as you are in control of these same people as actors.
Kevin Heffernan: It's funny. When we did Super Troopers, it was the same way for Chandrasekhar. He was the head cop. So he had that persona on the screen and behind the scenes. When we did Broken Lizard's Club Dread, the next movie, we intentionally made him a foppish idiot so that his character wouldn't be the same as he is as a director. If I get to direct another one, I'm hoping we'll switch it up. I'll be some sort of weirdo crazy guy.
Jay really takes on the crazy idiot role here. He's played a little broad at the beginning, but you come to really love his character. When you set out to create a script, do you each writer solely for your specific characters, or do you create each character as a group?
Kevin Heffernan: Its weird. What we do is mix it up every movie. Some guys are the straight men, some are the crazy characters. We start writing them as a group. We don't cast them early. We cast them late. So that everyone is coming up with stuff for all of the characters. We mine the most comedy out of them that we can. Its interesting, because then each guy will take it and turn it into what they want to do. Here, Chandrasekhar wanted to take his character and make him like Clark Kent turning into a crazy man. It worked out very well. I thought it was very funny how he did it.
What do you honestly feel sets this film apart from the other Broken Lizard films that Jay has directed?
Kevin Heffernan: I think the context should make it feel different. Its one night in a restaurant. We shot it in one location. That makes it different than our other movies. We almost shot it like a stage play. We were in the exact same location for twenty-five days. I think that gave it a different flavor. It's not so much about me being different from Chandrasekhar. The subject matter in Super Troopers and Beerfest was very male oriented. A restaurant staff is not that way. We had the women in the movie playing comic roles also. That gave it a little bit of a different flavor. I think that's a result of the subject matter.
How is it decided who gets to turn double duty as twin brothers? You played twins in Beerfest, now we have Paul Soter playing twins here. What do you personally love about the Patty Duke archetype? And why do you think it's important to comedy?
Kevin Heffernan: I played twin brothers, but never on screen together. This one was more the Patty Duke archetype. It was more intentional. Beerfest was different, because we had been developing the movie at a studio. We had an executive that was trying to get us to hit different plot beats. "At the end of your second act, your characters are at their low point." We were joking around. We thought we should kill off one of our characters, and then we would truly be at our lowest point. But we were like, "Wait a minute! One of us is out of the movie." So we decided to bring him back in the next scene and say it was his twin brother. It was a winking joke to the executive. In this one, we wanted to do one of those things were we put the same guy in front of the camera at the same time. That was pretty fun. It was good for the actor. Paul Soter was able to play an asshole and a very innocent guy in the same movie. It's a great part for the actor to do.
What sort of logistical challenge did choreographing and editing each individual's table journey pose to you as a director?
Kevin Heffernan: It was pretty hard. We had to do a lot of preparation beforehand. For a lot of reasons. Our biggest fear was that if you shot this whole movie in one place, it is going to be claustrophobic. The idea was to keep the action moving. But when you do that, you have continuity issues and logical issues about who is where and when. When you shoot a movie out of order, it's very dangerous to be shooting on just one set. All of a sudden, you've shot a scene, and there is someone in the background who's not supposed to be there. One thing I did was sit down withy the DP and map out where each scene was going to shoot. We made sure we weren't over lapping anywhere as the story forged on. It was mostly about doing prep ahead of time to orchestrate it the way we did.
You just reminded me of something you said when we talked before. There are always a lot of things going on in the background of your films. You mentioned some of them to me, and watching it last night, I missed most of that stuff. This is definitely a movie I need to go back and watch again.
Kevin Heffernan: You will see certain characters in the background of different scenes. Someone will walk into someone else's scene here or there. Its all a matter of keeping that stuff together. That's what we like to do in a movie like this. If you layer things in, and stick stuff in the background, people will enjoy watching it multiple times. And they will pick up on some of the more subtle jokes that are going on.
I remember you told me that at one point, a giant champagne bottle gets wheeled across the background. I missed a lot of those kinds of things.
Kevin Heffernan: Mike Weaver, we set him up with a prostitute. Everyone sends champagne to his table. All the waiters line up behind him. The prop master asked me what I wanted for that scene, and I said, "I want the biggest bottle of champagne you can find in Los Angeles." (Laughs) He went and got one of those giant bottles. If you look in the background, Steve Lemme is holding a gigantic bottle of champagne.
I noticed that you are holding a different placard halfway through the reveal of the big challenge winner. Did you guys have different endings for the film planned out? Or did you always have a clear cut conclusion as to who you wanted to see get the $10,000 and who you wanted to see get a broken-rib sandwich?
Kevin Heffernan: We always had the same ending. What you are seeing there is that, when we shot it, we shot the entire order of how they finished. We went one through six. As we were editing, we realized, "Who cares who came in fifth?" You know? What we did was cut it down to the point where you know who just the top three are. But then you see me talking at the end. And I am holding one of the other guy's placards. We basically lifted who came in forth, fifth, and sixth off the end. We did a little chop in the editing.
I'm not trying to point out a glaring error in the editing. I just thought maybe you guys had shot various Clue type endings.
Kevin Heffernan: Right. No, no. We shot it knowing who the winner was going to be.
Is it you vocally imitating Michael Clarke Duncan, or is that all an auditory illusion?
Kevin Heffernan: Hard for me to admit. It is a bit of an illusion. I actually worked quite hard on my Michael Clarke Duncan imitation, despite the fact that he thought it sucked. (Laughs) In post production, we did an enhancement of my thing. We also did a recording of him saying the lines himself. It's a mix. A lot of that is him saying the lines himself.
I thought maybe you were gearing up to be the next Rich Little. You sound just like Michael Clarke Duncan.
Kevin Heffernan: I can't reproduce that baritone that he has in his voice. He said I sound like a girl talking like him. So, you know.
There's a moment or two were you looking genuinely frightened of the champ. Is that great acting, or is Duncan really that much of an imposing force?
Kevin Heffernan: He is totally imposing, And he knows it. When you are off camera, or behind the scenes, he will fuck with you to the point where you are not sure if he is kidding or not. You'll be doing a scene with him, and you'll be between takes. He will look at you with an angry look on his face. And he will say, "If I were to attack you right now, could you defend yourself?" You'd say, "What was that?" And he'd say it again, "If I attacked you right now, would you be able to protect yourself?" Then he would make a move at you. He likes to screw with people. It helps, because you do genuinely fear him.
Are a lot of his crazier lines improvised? Or was that stuff all written for him?
Kevin Heffernan: A bunch of them were improvised. A lot of them were written, because we had envisioned the character as Mike Tyson. And we intentionally wrote in that voice. That wispy, high voice. So we wrote these very fantastical lines for him. Once Michael got the flavor of that, he would improv a lot of stuff. A lot of it was written, and he was cursing us in the beginning. Because of the memorization.
Did you originally approach Mike Tyson to be in the film?
Kevin Heffernan: We talked about it. We realized we didn't have enough insurance on our little low budget movie to go get the guy. Our script had some pretty heavy lifting. It was a good solid two weeks of shooting straight with major dialogue. We'd talked about it, then realized we actually needed someone that could act the part to make it feel right.
After seeing him in The Hangover, are you glad you didn't go with him. Or do you think he did a good job in that?
Kevin Heffernan: He was great in that movie. But he certainly didn't have to stretch beyond who he is. They had a lot of other characters surrounding him to deliver those things that needed lifting. When we saw him, we thought he was hysterical. But he didn't have to go on these flights of fancy that we needed. He didn't need to act. He was just himself.
At the end of the film, we see this painting with your name on it. Did you create that piece of art, or is your name just on it as if to say they whole movie is your work of art. Your painting?
Kevin Heffernan: (Laughs) My brother is Mike Heffernan. And he is a painter. He painted that. I told him to sign it, and he just put his last name on it. People are going to think its me. No. We wanted to create that end scene in Rocky III. I went to Mike. He'd created these great portraits for Beerfest. We had these big German portraits in the Beerfest hall. He did that. So I asked him to do this. He created that piece of art. It's a real painting. We took the still from the actual movie. And I still have it. Its great. Michael Clarke Duncan has been trying to get it from me. He is just trying to take it by force. I have it moved around. Once a month it's moved to a new location so he can't find it.
The Slammin' Salmon arrives on DVD and Blu-ray April 13th courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.