Former SNL staffer Matt Piedmont couldn’t refuse when his buddy Will Ferrell suggested they make a Mexican telenovela together. In Spanish. Paul Byrne talks to the director of Casa de mi Padre.
Six years as an Emmy-winning writer on SNL gave Matt Piedmont one of the most valuable gifts a funnyman can have these days – a friendship with Will Ferrell.
It led to Piedmont working on Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Funny Or Die website. And now it’s led to Piedmont’s feature film debut – Casa de mi Padre, in which Ferrell goes full Mexican telenovela as the brother who must return honour to his family, save their ranch from an evil, cigarette-smoking drug lord (Gael Garcia Bernal), and rescue his brother (Diego Luna) from a life of crime. Oh, and he’s also got the hots for his brother’s very hot and somewhat bothered bride-to-be (Genesis Rodriguez).
It’s bonkers, of course, but deliberately so. For Piedmont – who has shot commercials for the likes of Pepsi, 7Up and HBO, picked up a Grand Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking at Sundance for Brick Novax’s Diary (2011), and created the popular web series Carpet Bros – it’s a chance to do something different. And maybe kill his feature film career before it’s even started.
PAUL BYRNE: With a budget reportedly around the $8m mark (according to the Hollywood Reporter; the mighty wikipedia says $6m), there was little commercial risk involved here, but how confident were you that this curious creature would actually fly?
MATT PIEDMONT: The real budget was under $6m, but still, that IS $6m, the GDP of some countries. But yes, I was absolutely confident that this movie would fly, maybe because it was so ridiculous, or maybe because I am a bit crazy — but we knew that we would come up with something that we loved and would work for those on the same frequency. Or at least we would know we made something different to what was out there and that people may find it.
You’ve had plenty of experience with Will before, but did it take any convincing from him and Adam to go with a Spanish-language telenovela spoof as your feature debut?
Not even a second’s thought. Andrew’s script was amazing and had everything. The fact that was in Spanish only sealed the deal for me. You only get one “first feature”, and I’m thrilled mine is a Spanish language satire rated R for “sexual content, drug use and bloody violence” as stated by the MPAA. They can’t take that away from me.
Diega and Gael did their time in Mexican telenovelas, so would be all too familiar with the wobbly sets, the even-wobblier plot twists and the hammy acting. Did it take you long to adjust your set here? Telenovelas are pretty much American daytime soaps on some serious tequila…
Well, I love the old Hollywood way of working. Even the big blockbusters back in the 50’s, like Douglas Sirk’s melodramas or even westerns like The Magnificent Seven utilized fake skies on sound stages — that’s a look I much prefer to CGI. Plus, I had just done a short film called Brick Novax’s Diary (which won at Sundance, he said modestly) that was exclusively shot with dolls and miniatures — everything was fake. So it’s just a natural extension of that aesthetic. Seeing the filmmaking process like that where everything is analog makes me happy.
Being deliberately bad is rarely any match for those who are just naturally bad. There are more laughs in one M. Night Shyamalan chiller than ten Rob Schneider comedies…
Well, yes. I think the tone of our film was very meta in that the whole joke was that the film was a film done by a bad filmmaker with grand intensions but the budget just wasn’t there. Diego describes it as he was playing a bad actor playing the role of Raul Alvarez. We just tried to push it all as if we were making an epic drama like the Godfather but doing it very poorly.
I’m sure young Mr. Steele wrote a fine script, but, given that Will is what we like to call in Ireland one funny fucker, was there a lot of improv in the final edit? Or did the spoof nature of the film demand sticking largely to the script?
We came up with a lot of stuff as we were shooting, but the majority of it was all in Andrew’s script. Will of course could not improvise, but I encouraged the other actors to do so. Of course I didn’t know what they were saying until after I called “Cut”. Then I found out they were just cursing me out in Spanish.
You described the shoot to will as a 22-day fever dream. All good, or a little heart of darkness?
For Will it was surely a Heart of Darkness in that he pulled off something almost impossible that surely caused him night sweats: having to act in a very specific Northern Mexican accent in a language he does not speak. He is the Muhammad Ali of improv and we tied one hand behind his back and threw him to the lions covered in barbeque sauce (to mix several metaphors that don’t necessarily go together). For me it was pure joy and a grand psychedelic trip down a crazy rabbit hole, like being strapped to a rocket ship of love made of liquid lightning (to use several similes that ALWAYS go together).
Mixed reviews – but then, even with lots of subtitles, this was never going to be a critics movie. Will has joked that Ron Burgundy would walk out of casa. So, who’s the movie aimed at? Besides you, Will and Andy…
Well, really we said if we were lucky enough to live to be old, it would be great if Andrew, Will and I still loved the movie and were able to raise a vodka on some porch in the future and laugh about it. Anyone else that enjoys it is pure gravy. But I think people who appreciate serious mischief and a commitment to that mischief will like the film. And there are a million film references in there for those who are film buffs.
According to imdb, you have King Dork, the Frank Portman adaptation, lined up for a 2014 release – all falling into place, or does the final box-office of casa determine your future career and happiness?
Really, if you get to make the thing that you love, that is the purest victory. Whether anyone else likes it or not, or whether or not it makes a trillion dollars worldwide doesn’t really matter to me because like Joe Strummer said of the Clash’s triple album Sandinista: “I stand by every note”. I stand by every frame of this film. And that is the purest form of happiness. To have created something you love.
Like me, you collect vinyl records, although I had a nifty head start, working in a record shop from the age of 13, and having a brother who was damned good at shelving. Given your alter-ego Clyde Mego, is music the career that got away? Or did you know from that first day in SNL that comedy was your true calling?
After SNL, my wife and I moved to Portland, Oregon for a year. I hunkered down in my basement and recorded a Syd Barrett-like album. I played all the instruments and it was soaked in reverb and psychedelic effects. Pretty amateurish and yet also not bad. Still, I can’t say music is the career that got away because I am no way good enough to have had a career in music but I do love it so. At least I have a fun hobby I’ll be able to enjoy until the day I die.
Finally, i’m going to need Genesis Rodriguez’s phone number, email and address, along with her favourite flower and most loved Marvin Gaye track. Thanking you in advance…
Her favorite flower is the azalea and her favorite Marvin Gaye track is the theme to Trouble Man. Here is all of her info (although please don’t publish it): XXXX XXX XXXXX XX
WORDS – PAUL BYRNE
Casa de mi Padre hits Irish cinemas June 8th