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INT: Adam McKay

TALLADEGA NIGHTS director Adam McKay just might have the easiest gig in the world. It’s basically a two-step job: 1) Put camera on Will Ferrell; 2) Let him do whatever he wants. Ok, I may oversimplifying things just a tad. The point is McKay has really discovered the key to successful comedy filmmaking: the most important tasks are those undertaken before the camera is ever turned on. Write a solid script and put together an ensemble of actors skilled in the art of improvisation (as McKay did previously with ANCHORMAN), and chances are good that the end product will bring the laughs.

McKay recently stopped by the Four Seasons in Chicago to talk about his experience making TALLADEGA NIGHTS. Check it out.

Adam McKay

We all know how funny Will Ferrell is. Did any of the other actors surprise you?

I’ll tell you who got me on this movie: John C. Reilly. Man oh man is he freakin’ funny. What amazed me about him is that…all of people we cast are improvisers. That’s one of the things, if you’re gonna come do this movie, I warn everybody that we improvise a lot. If you’re gonna do it, say yes to the other actors. Don’t walk. Don’t say no. Don’t be put off by that. But with Reilly, he’s so economical. It was amazing; he doesn’t waste a word. He doesn’t improvise by talking a lot. The monologue he did about posing in Playgirl – he didn’t waste a word. I threw him the idea. I said, “Why don’t you confess something about posing in Playgirl?” And right away he goes, “You know, that summer you went away to junior college…” and right away I’m on the floor. He got Will to laugh during takes too. He was really good.

It seems like a movie like this wouldn’t work if there wasn’t some sense of the real NASCAR world.

Yeah. That’s always the trick. We came into this knowing that the racecar stuff had to look at least decent. That was one of the first things I did – I wanted to get a second unit director who was legit. So we went out and got a guy who had shot big-time stuff…he had just done the Lindsey Lohan movie (Herbie Fully Loaded), which is more of a Disney-type movie. They had him doing pretty soft stuff. So I could tell that he was just itchin’ to let loose. And so I told him to just uncork whatever shots he wanted. I told him to do the coolest shit he wanted to do…I wanted to try and make it as badass as we can, because if the car stuff doesn’t work, we have no stakes for the movie. The driving has to feel cool. We can’t have it be silly, because then who cares what he’s doing. And if we put cool music in it, it will actually be kinda fun.

How hard was it to get the NASCAR folks to come on board?

We were shocked, to be honest. It was a crazy-ass script that we gave to them. I mean, we had the baby Jesus stuff, the cougar, the French guy, the marriage breaking up in three hours. But they were so cool. We couldn’t believe it. We were all ready for them to pull out and for us to have to make up a fake driving league, but they were just cool. It was one of the biggest shocks for us. We only had to cut one joke from the script…otherwise, they let us go to town. I’ve really gotta give them credit on it.

People get so easily offended these days. When you’re writing this stuff, is that a concern?

Well, we still had to be PG-13. There was no way they were going to let us do R, because it is a big sport that appeals to family. I think when you go to R, that’s when you get into trouble, because you’re showing a little nudity, you’re saying “fuck,” you’re doing all that kind of stuff. If we had gone to R, there would have been problems. But when you hover in PG-13, it’s pretty hard to be too offensive. I mean, I thought Anchorman was way more offensive than this.

You had sexual harassment; you had guys with boners and all the stuff. You look at this and it’s way more tame. The nice thing was that we still were able to avoid kind of a Pollyanna end, where the whole family was perfect and fixed. I mean, they were still kind of screwed up in the end when they drove off…there wasn’t too much that was offensive. The gay relationship, that was the tricky thing that I think some of the NASCAR fans might be a little weird about, but given Brokeback Mountain and what that did…and we were also so playful with it, the way that we did it.

Do you have second movie for the DVD?

We do not on this one. The way we were able to do it with Anchorman was we cut a whole storyline. So that’s how we were able to get the second movie. That having been said, we still had like seven hours of cut material. The best scene we have is a giant song we did with Chris Isaak, called “F’in Red, F’in White, F’in Blue.” Will and John C. Reilly sing it with Chris Isaak the night before he races the French guy. It’s the most jingoistic, over-the-top American song you’ve ever heard in your life. And it’s like 13 minutes long. I gotta say it’s one of the best scenes we shot for the movie.

It just didn’t fit into the rhythm of the movie. It was just so long. We tried desperately to get it in there but it just broke the rhythm of the movie. So that will be a distinct highlight. There’s like six other scenes that are like giant set pieces. Then there are the phone calls where Reilly called Will…we had like eight of those phone calls. We just kept improvising. And in the hospital, too. I cut an extended version of the movie – I couldn’t help myself – that’s like 20 minutes longer. People are gonna rent it and be pissed off. “Why is this movie so long?” But I couldn’t help myself.

What about all the product placement?

All of that was written in the script. A year and a half ago we wrote, “Ok, what do we want Ricky Bobby’s sponsor to be? Wonderbread. What would we want Cal Naughton to be? Old Spice. What would we want Sacha to be? Perrier.” That was just us dreaming. What would the most hilarious sponsors be? And then we went to the companies and we were like, “They’re gonna say no, but let’s try ‘em.” And they all said yes. But we got no money for any of it. We didn’t get any cash. It was all just like, “We’ll allow you to do it.” The shocking one was Applebee’s, because we actually yell on-camera, “Applebee’s has rats!” When they told us we could do it, we were like, “This has to be a typo.” We were all ready to create a fake name, like Sizzlebee’s. But they said we could do it.

So are you doing the Land of the Lost movie?

We are kicking it around. We’re not sure yet. We’ve got a really good script that got turned in, but we’re a little gunshy after the Bewitched fiasco. They really raked us over the coals on that one. So we’re trying to take a little breath. But Land of the Lost was such a cool TV show. I just wanna do sleestacks. [laughs]

What makes a good TV adaptation?

Sleestacks. If we could have gotten sleestacks in Bewitched, I think we would have been all right. That’s really the trick.

Special thanks to Kari Tejerian and the rest of the Sony crew.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com

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