The legend of The Foot Fist Way precedes it. Shot a few years ago in North Carolina with a cast of mostly non-actors, the movie, about taekwondo instructor Fred Simmons and his personal crises, came to Sundance and then started making its way through Hollywood via bootlegs. Some movies do that – they become buzz films in the industry and you’re nobody if you haven’t seen the film or, even better, own a burned DVD someone at a studio or an agency made for you. Championed by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, the film finally got itself a distribution deal and will be hitting theaters this weekend. And the buzz was right – this is a damn good movie.
Rapidly up and coming comedy star Danny McBride is Fred Simmons, a role that showcases his disarmingly relaxed and natural style. Director Jody Hill (who is next working with Seth Rogen on Observe and Report) also appears in the movie as Fred’s impossibly skeevy and weird friend Mike. Co-writer Ben Best also appears (it’s one of those kinds of movies) as Chuck ‘The Truck’ Wallace, a faded action star who is Fred’s lifelong hero… and eventually archnemesis. Will Ferrell’s name on the credits may make some people think this is another Anchorman or Talladega Nights, when the truth is that the comedy is much closer to Ricky Gervais – observational and sometimes excruciating reality.
A couple of weeks ago Paramount Vantage brought The Foot Fist Way boys together and did a special screening in Hollywood at the Arclight, along with some press opportunities. I was lucky enough to get to sit down with them for fifteen way too short minutes.
Some of you have noticed that I have been a big Danny McBride booster. As the beginning of this interview shows, you’re not alone…
Danny: You’re writing so much good stuff about the movie that people think me and you are hooking up!
Let’s see what we can do about that.
Jody: I’ll turn the tape off.
Leave the tape on! That’s how I get the hits.
This is a film that you made on your own in 19 days. How did it end up in front of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay?
Ben: It got passed around like…
D: Like a whore at a frat party.
B: I don’t remember who called, but one day I flipped – Will Ferrell
has seen this movie and liked it and wants to put his name on it.
J: We were at Sundance in 2006 and sold the UK rights right away, and
had some interest from smaller people, but the fan response was… and
that’s what we’re all about. Even if the industry didn’t get it at
first glance, it sunk in after a couple of months of these illegal
tapes getting around. People in Hollywood – people we never met –
started liking it, and then the studios started taking interest. And
Will Ferrell and Adam McKay wanting to be involved made the studios pay
D: We were really surprised. We were surprised that he had an hour and a half of time and that he chose to use it watching this!
The characters in this film, were they characters that you guys had?
Did they come from the script or had you been playing with them before?
J: I grew up doing martial arts, so the world and all the tae kwan do
stuff is heavily influenced by that. If you go to the tae kwon do
school [where they shot] you’ll hear the same language. You’ll even see
the same kids who were in the movie taking class. Fred is based on…
well, one, Danny was in All The Real Girls and we went to film school
together. When we decided to make a movie about martial arts and had
Danny as the tae kwon do instructor, that was the seed.
B: On All The Real Girls I was working as David [Gordon Green]’s assistant –
D: Fluffer. I bet you didn’t know there were fluffers on that movie.
B: Yes, fluffer. His ‘confidante,’ if you will. We had someone back out
on the character of Bust-Ass, and Danny was someone from film school
and the North Carolina School of the Arts, because the teachers didn’t
want us tainting their students we had to use each other as actors, and
we realized Danny was hilarious and natural. There’s something easily
watchable, and he doesn’t seem fake. I suggested Danny for Bust-Ass,
and he was a scene stealer. Then it was like, ‘Shit, we gotta get a
movie for Danny.’ When Jody came up with the idea for this I was
jealous for the first five minutes, like ‘Fuck, why didn’t I come up
with this? It’s such a good idea!’
J: And then he ended up writing it with me! But let me see, all of the
guys were loosely based… Ben’s character, Chuck the Truck, was based
on all these guys whose heyday was the 70s, when martial arts first
started showing up on television, and we tried to get Michael Dudikoff
for the role –
B: Yeah! We couldn’t even get a call back.
How do you not get a call back from Michael Dudikoff?
D: He had gone a bender that he never returned from.
You have to go downtown to the soup kitchen…
B: I had never acted before at all, I was just writing this thing; but
they found some cops who told them about a martial arts guy who was
living in a trailer.
D: He had trained with the Gracies in Brazil, and we were like, ‘Get
this dude’s address.’ Jody and I and Jody’s brother, our producer, are
driving to where this guy lives. It’s a week before production and we
need a Chuck the Truck. We drive into this trailer park and we’re like,
‘Okay…’ and then we’re following the numbers and his trailer is the
one all the way in the back, with all the broken cars around it.
J: It was literally the last trailer in the trailer park.
D: We knocked on the door, and that scene in Foot Fist, in the hotel
room where they meet Chuck and he’s all wired and doing his kicks, that
was taken from this guy. He was in his trailer doing something – I
don’t even know, he kept talking and then darting in and out of the
trailer, and he was doing that shit where he was kicking our legs and
checking our stances…
J: And there was somebody inside and he kept being like, ‘Bobby! Make
sure the goddamned door’s locked! I’m sorry, as I was saying…’
D: ‘There’s a million ways to kill a man.’ And we’re scared shitless.
He’s telling us how he’s in a war with the cops, and they want blood…
So we go back to the car and I said, ‘Jody, there’s no way I’m acting
with that dude. He will snap my neck, no doubt.’ And it was on the ride
back we realized, ‘Fuck, Ben. Why don’t we get Ben to do it?’ It just
B: Yeah, it does. He’s a sleazy character.
J: It’s weird because we’re all the same age, but they’re all different ages in the movie.
Danny, this is a big year for you. You have this, Pineapple Express,
Tropic Thunder, you’re doing Land of the Lost right now, the HBO pilot
you guys shot… whatever happened with that HBO pilot?
J: We’re going to start writing again in September. It got picked up for 6 episodes.
B: The writer’s strike screwed everything up.
D: We shot the pilot for that right before I went to do Tropic Thunder.
We went down to Wilmington and had a blast. They picked it up for four
episodes and we got back last fall, set up our offices and a week later
the writer’s strike happened.
B: It was awesome.
J: Early next year you’ll be able to see it on HBO.
But it’s been a huge year…
D: We talked about this last night. It seems like overnight, because
all the successes and opportunities are coming at once, but we’ve been
working at this shit since we got out of school, getting nowhere with
B: Working thankless jobs. When we got here, all of us were PAs on Battle Dome, which was an American Gladiators-style affair.
D: Our finest day was when one of the Battle Dome warriors fucking
broke his ankle, and we had to form a line of PAs around him so that
the audience couldn’t see him cry. I looked at them and was like, ‘This
is what we’re doing to make a living basically.’
B: One of the guys, T-Money, is now the dad on Everybody Hates Chris.
Terry Crews. I love him.
D: He’s awesome.
B: It was funny – we’re all wearing these black t-shirts that say
Battle Dome, black slacks, standing there eating hot dogs at craft
services next to the Playboy Dahm Triplets, who were in silver bikinis.
I was like, ‘We’ve arrived! We’re in Hollywood!’
J: We were like, ‘Everyone in this town is a snob!’ But maybe it was because we looked like dipshits.
You have another movie, Jody…
J: Yeah, it’s called Observe and Report. These guys are in it, Seth
Rogen is the lead. Ray Liotta will be his nemesis, Anna Faris will be
his love interest.
That’s mind blowing that you got Ray Liotta in your movie.
B: I’m his fucking partner! I was so excited doing the table read the
other day, and I got there and it was just starting and I had to sneak
in and sit at the end. It was early in the morning, and we’re reading
and Ray Liotta’s character doesn’t show up until halfway through and
I’m wondering, ‘Is Ray here?’ And then he starts talking and I’m
like… ‘Fucking Ray Liotta!’
J: It’s great having him because this is old, great Ray Liotta, where
he’s pissed and yelling at people and stuff. This is just like how you
want to see Ray Liotta. And look for Michael Pena in it too, the guy
from Crash. He’s going to be the breakout. He’s never done a comedy
before and he is…
B: He’s hilarious.
J: He’s so funny and so natural, it’s mindblowing. He’s the guy at the end of Crash, you know who he is?
Yeah, he’s in World Trade Center.
B: Yeah, exactly!
There’s thing in Hollywood now where there are different comedy mafias
operating – Apatow has his, Stiller has his… where do you guys stand?
J: We stand alone.
B: We stand alone but…
D: But we make friends with all of them.
J: We go between the tribes.
B: All those guys are amazing. And it’s so incestuous. Everyone works with everyone.
J: We’re friends with Seth Rogen, and everybody probably would say he’s
an Apatow tribesman, but maybe it’s more of the media that puts those
D: But to me it’s cool that there’s so much camaraderie in general. In
the 80s you’d see comics like Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, all these guys
in the same movies with Bill Murray and them. This is the closest the
film industry has had to that in a long time.
B: It’s been lacking for so long.
It was in the 90s that you had a comedy with one funny guy and that’s
it. Nowadays it’s a lot of funny people together in a movie.
B: I love that.
Why do you think that is? What do you think has changed?
D: I don’t know.
B: That’s a good question.
J: I know with Foot Fist Way we got together because we loved martial
arts, we loved the British Office and British comedy in general, and we
were all from the same region. I know Will and Adam did Saturday Night
Live together. It probably just starts with… I can’t speak for them,
but it’s nice to work with friends.
B: That’s the thing. It’s so much more rewarding to have success and
it’s with your buddies. Then you can share it. To look around and be at
Sundance getting absolutely shithoused at some free tequila party and
looking over and seeing Jody stumble over and sit next to Harvey
D: ‘We don’t belong here!’
Do you feel like you belong yet?
B: It’s still just so much… ‘What?’
J: I still live in a one bedroom apartment.
D: I still live in Virginia.
B: I still live in Charlotte. Last week I had to run home to take care
of reality and my 91 Accord doesn’t start anymore, so that’s awesome.
D: This has been like when you’re a sophomore and you make out with a
senior for the first time and you realize, ‘Whoa, these tits feel the
same as a tenth grade girl’s tits.’ It’s not that different.
B: Same erection.
Are you guys doing the show out here?
B: We’re shooting in North Carolina. That’s where you need to come visit.
Is that important to you?
B: It is.
D: I think that’s part of what the charm of what Foot Fist is, it’s all
people from the area. With this, with all kids and stuff, we didn’t
want to cast kids from Northridge and Woodland Hills and have them do
Southern accents. We wanted to get real Southern kids and real Southern
characters. It helps fill out the world so much better.
B: You hear that, you kids from Northridge?
D: Don’t pop off!