Set Visit: Starsky & Hutch
Before there was Riggs and Murtaugh, there was Starsky and Hutch.
The seminal 70s show is credited (or blamed, depending on your point of view) with originating the whole buddy cop genre that reached its apex in the LETHAL WEAPON series. It featured two cops one straight-laced and affable, the other hot-tempered and abrasive who rode around in their trademark red Ford Gran Torino, busting bad guys and chasing girls. Along the way, they were aided with tips from their infamous pal Huggy Bear, a swaggering pimp/informant. Considered edgy in its day, the show looks like Sesame Street when compared to current shows like NYPD Blue, CSI and Law & Order. Then again, how many prime-time shows today feature pimps as lead characters?
With the success of tv-show remakes like CHARLIE'S ANGELS and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, it seemed like only a matter of time before Hollywood did a number on Starsky & Hutch, and, in April, shooting commenced on a feature film starring real-life pals Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as the original crime-fighting odd couple (tentative release date: March 5, 2004). Will the duo be able to replicate the chemistry that made the original so successful? Last Wednesday, I stopped by the Millenium Biltmore Hotel, in downtown Los Angeles, to get a sneak peak at the eagerly-awaited film.
Upon walking onto the set, the first impression that came to mind was Sabotage, the Beastie Boys retro riff on the gritty crime dramas of the 70s. The scene being shot involved Stiller and Wilson - both wearing disguises - preparing to bust the lead villain, played by Vince Vaughn. Just the sight gags alone made me chuckle. Dressed in a plaid polyester suit, Vaughn also had a sweet handlebar mustache and ultra-curly hair that reminded me of Mike Brady in the later years of the Brady Bunch. Wilson had a cowboy motif going on, while Stiller wore an awful Kelly green suit and not one, but two wigs. The film also co-stars Snoop Dogg, Fred Williamson, Chris Penn, Carmen Electra, among others.
Of the three actors, Vaughn appeared to be the dominant personality on the set, making wisecracks and pumping himself and others up like a football coach. Wilson and Stiller, perhaps owing to end-of-the-shoot fatigue, were much more low-key and businesslike in their approach.
Watching over it all was Todd Phillips, whos batting a thousand with his first two films, ROAD TRIP and OLD SCHOOL. With two successful comedies under his belt, the young director seems well on his way towards becoming the Harold Ramis of his generation. The disheveled Phillips, wearing a flannel, jeans and about two weeks worth of facial hair, took a break from the shoot to talk to us, with a "special someone" joining us about halfway through the interview.
Did you go through different concepts of how this would be before you finally decided on the films comedic tone?
Yeah, we were playing with it for a while. We went through a lot of concepts, actually.
So, what was the evolution?
The evolution was: what plays best for a comedy? Were making a comedy with action, as opposed to straight action comedy or action movie. The casting obviously lends itself to being a comedy. So, we thought, well, if we play it in the 70s and play it straight, I always feel like, the more real you play it, its kind of, you have more to play against.
Other films based on 70s TV shows, including Charlies Angels, The Brady Bunch and The Mod Squad, were set in the present day. Did you ever consider doing that with Starsky & Hutch?
Well, no. I mean, Ive seen all those movies, but it wasnt that we thought, Oh lets not do that because Charlies Angels did that. This movie is a world of difference than Charlies Angels, except that they both happen to be shows from the 70s. I liked Charlies Angels a lot, but we dont have Cameron Diaz in panties or anything like that. So, we have to sell something else, which hopefully is comedy.
Is this a parody?
Its not a parody. Its an interesting tone the movie has, because its not really a spoof or a parody. Its really just saying, this is the prequel to the series Starsky & Hutch. This movie takes place before the series was shot, ostensibly, in your mind. Well, because its an origin story. Starsky and Hutch meet in this movie.
Weve heard that Vinces character was made larger because of the improv and stuff that have been going on.
Well, Id made Old School with Vince, so I went to Vince first and said, will you play the villain in this movie? and he said, yeah. Based on that, we wrote his part a little bit bigger, but it was never anybody else that was gonna play it, cause Vince said yes.
And how much improvising is there?
Well I mean, in Old School I did Road Trip, then Old School and this. In all the movies in all comedies, probably we just kind of let it go a little bit. If you see us shoot today is a tricky thing to see because its a little bit technical, so its a little bit slower going, and its not so much comedy here that were shooting today generally well do a take and well say, We got whats in the script. Ok, lets do a free one. You know, which is basically improv-ing.
Can you give us a little setup as to what the plot is?
If you look at those 70s movies, something that Ive always liked is that theres always a singular villain. Its not like its some crime syndicate with computer disks and a hacker with a thing talking to them on a walkie. Its very much like they were in the 70s, with a really singular villain. And Vince is basically a guy whos doing a big coke deal, and Starsky and Hutch kind of stumble onto the biggest case of their lives.
How are you adapting to being an action director?
Its not huge stuff. You surround yourself with good people, so its not so much adapting.
Youve got the car chase stuff.
Theres car chase stuff, but, you know, as a director your job is to really just set the tone of the movie. I always think that youre the purveyor of tone. It doesnt matter if youre doing action or romance or whatever. Once you set the tone and once you and the actors have that tone figured out, it doesnt matter if you happen to be shooting a car running by or a guy talking to a guy. Its not any harder, except its a little more time consuming.
Was that something that was discussed a lot?
Yeah, it was, because its a tricky tone. A lot of times you can just fall into becoming a spoof and thats sometimes the easier way out. So, it was very much about trying to avoid that and going for laughs in a different way, which is basically the character comedy with Ben and Owen.
How did you decide on them for their roles?
Thats the only choice, to me. I mean, either that or you do it with Paul Michael Glazer and David Soul and you do a real one, right? But, if youre going to update it and make it now and you want to make it funny, Ben and Owen seem to be a great team and a logical choice.
Are Ben and Owen critical of each other? Do they coach each other?
Yeah, theyre great friends, and, you know, were all critical of each other. On a movie any movie, I think - it works like that. (At least) a good set where people are getting along. They (Ben and Owen) are great friends. Vince is a good friend. So everybody is just kind of critical of each other, in a good way.
Do they ever direct each other at all?
I dont know about directing each other, but if somebody is having trouble with a line and it doesnt sound right, if its Bens line, Owen might suggest something, sure.
One of the famous visuals of the series is the car. Do you have any kind of special introduction to the car in the film?
Yeah, actually. Were shooting that this weekend, on Saturday, I think. When Owen sees the car for the first time. Its Bens car and, you know, its not necessarily a special introduction, but its definitely its own thing.
How many shooting days do you have?
55 shooting days.
And where are you so far?
Were on like 45.
In the TV show, the characters of Starsky and Hutch were on equal footing, yet very different. Can you talk a little about that?
Well, I think that the essence of comedy is conflict, right? So, we wanted to set up some kind of by the end of the movie, they get into the rhythm of the show, which is: theyre good partners. But, in the beginning, it was much more of, Wait a minute. Were coming from different places. But then they learn to work together and, basically, by each taking a step towards each other. Its almost like a romantic comedy between two men.
Ben is the much more straight-laced, supercop, and Owen has his own style and his own way of doing it, which is a little bit more subdued and, he thinks, a little bit more effective. And so those styles clash, but by the end they kind of become a great team.
So, besides being TV-inspired, what do you think sets this apart from other buddy cop movies?
To me, movies are all about casting. I think the casting in this movie is just so dead-on for right now. Between Ben-Owen, of course, and Vince, Juliette Lewis, and Snoop Dogg. Will Ferrel does a cameo, which is great. We have just some great stuff in the movie. Not that other cop movies arent cast well. I just think that this movie (has a) pretty exciting cast.
How much of this is filmed on location?
90% of it was done on location. But this is basically a studio, right? We come in here and make it look like we want. So, but 90% of it is finding a room like this and then shooting.
Can you talk a little bit about the casting of Snoop Dogg in the Huggy Bear role?
To me, when I was growing up watching Starsky and Hutch, Huggy Bear was the coolest guy on TV. So I was just thinking whos the coolest guy, right now? You know, a lot of African-American actors wanted to play that part, because they grew up also thinking this is the coolest guy on TV. But I thought, out of respect, we had to go to Snoop first.
This is the 2nd time youve worked with Snoop, right?
Yeah. I like to bring back a lot of the same people. Juliette Lewis and Will and Vince and Snoop.
At this point of the interview, a certain "Vince Vaughn" walks up and joins in the conversation...
Phillips (to Vaughn): Whoa. I feel like were at a Dead show. Ladies and Gentlemen, Vince Vaughn.
Being a villain, albeit a comedic villain, how do you like that?
Vaughn: Love it, thank you.
Its kind of a big day for you. Do you have a lot of lines today?
Vaughn: Not a lot of lines today, but a lot of lines for me, in general, today. You know what I mean?
How do you like the outfit youre wearing?
Vaughn: I love the outfit. Makes me feel pretty for the first time in a long time (we all laugh) .
Phillips: Why is that funny?
How did you decide on the facial hair?
Vaughn: That was Todds idea, to wear the facial hair, to go with it. And I liked it. Ive had a whole group of men hit on me that Ive never had before.
Phillips: Its opened up a whole new...
Vaughn: Its opened up a whole new way to look at the world.
Ever been confused for a cop?
Vaughn: That hasnt happened yet, but we can play house later.
What are your memories of Starsky & Hutch?
Vaughn: I just remember thinking that it was badass. I dont remember the stories and stuff, cause I was five when this thing came out. I remember that, on the playground, we were always like, Lets play Starsky and Hutch. And what happened after that is unclear, but I know that we thought that that was cool, because they were like cool detectives busting bad guys.
So was it from the moment that you came on that the part became bigger? Or was it something that was talked about after you came on?
Vaughn: No, I think that the part was what it was when we had a read-through of it, and Todd, as always, after hearing it out loud, sort of just made the whole script tighter and better. It was almost like an editing process, I think. As weve gone through it the movies been somewhat similar to Old School in that were always looking for the best way to service the scene.
How would you say it is working with this director?
Phillips: Whoa. Want me to leave? Ill leave.
Vaughn: No. Phillips is the best. I worked with him on Old School. I think you can see it in his movies that, especially for actors I just think I speak for myself, I think Will feels the same way and everyone else its fun when you have a guy you really genuinely find funny, understands what you do thats funny, encourages that and allows you to do that, and then is good at bringing the whole movie together and making a story out of it.
And what about working with Owen and Ben? Is there a lot of improv between the three of you?
Vaughn: A little bit, yeah. Theyre both great we should have some questions for both of us.
Phillips: No, no. Ive already done my questions, honestly.
Vaughn: Are you sure?
Vaughn: Owen and Ben are great. I think theyre both very funny and both very talented, and I like their approach to filmmaking.
Do you guys spur each other on a little bit? Do you push each other to go a little further?
Vaughn: Not really. I enjoy their work and I have fun when I make movies with them, because Im inspired by what theyre doing. Its easier to get into a scene, obviously, when youre working with someone whos specific and knows what theyre doing. So, its fun to, you know, play basketball or tennis or any kind of thing with someone who likes to play and you can have fun with.
Did you do any ass-wrangling on the set?
Vaughn: Oh no. The ass-wrangling? No, I left that at the MTV show. I turned a page.
For both of you: How has your relationship grown since Old School?
Vaughn: I feel very lucky, because I sort of started in comedy, and then didnt really see a lot of comedies that I found funny. And when Todd first came to me with Old School, after sitting with him and talking to him, I really responded to his storytelling sensibilities and his approach to comedy. For me, before I did Old School, a lot of people were like, Yeah, Vince. I dont know if hes funny, if they didnt see Swingers or anything. So Todd gave me a great opportunity in the comedy world when a lot of people wouldnt. Just doing that has opened up a lot of doors for me.
Phillips: Its weird with Vince and I. I always get the feeling that Vince likes me more than I like him. (laughter) It puts me in an awkward position. No. I am the biggest Vince Vaughn fan on the planet. Ive said it before: we wrote Old School for Vince. He was the only guy we really wrote the movie for. If I could work with him on every movie, Ill be happy. And I probably will, because thats just my goal. I think Vince is, right now, one of the funniest guys going. Before Old School, a lot of people didnt see it. Hopefully, people are going to see it more and hes going to be doing more comedies, because theres just such a sharpness to him. I respect Vince tremendously and I love working with him and I hope we always will do stuff.
How does it benefit you to work with somebody more than once?
Vaughn: It only really benefits, I think, if you like the person youre working with, you know what I mean? Otherwise, its like a bad relationship that shouldve ended a long time ago. When you work with someone whos not funny, but they have a real idea of what they think is funny, its like trying to fit a triangle into a circle. Todd had real good ideas of what was funny, but was also open to us bringing stuff to it and kind of making us better, by saying, thats funny, but lets go this way. We got that feeling while shooting Old School, but after seeing the movie there was even more trust, because you go, Wow. This guy really brought this movie together in a way that was fun, funny and has a nice story to it.
Phew. Great guys. Stay tuned to our site for more coverage of the STARSKY AND HUTCH movie set. Interviews with Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and others to come....
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