I don’t think Bob Odenkirk remembered, but this was the second time I interviewed him about Let’s Go to Prison. The first time was a couple of months ago, when I did a phoner with him and Will Arnett for Mean Magazine (on stands now! It’s the issue with Tenacious D on the cover). What was interesting is that in the Mean phoner I got funny Bob – he and Arnett were trading dry jokes back and forth (and by dry I mean like the Sahara. Seriously, check the interview out).
This time I got a more serious Bob. I don’t know if it was because he was going to coach his son’s soccer team or maybe it’s because his movie was opening just two days after I talked to him, but I liked that I got that side of him as well. Odenkirk’s one of my favorite funny men – Mr. Show is a golden classic to me – but I was very interested in the fact that while the film, which stars Arrested Development’s Will Arnett, Punk’d’s Dax Shepard and is written by Reno 911’s Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant, seems like a comedy home run on paper, Universal isn’t screening it for the press. When you’re on the phone with a guy who’s just trying to score laughs, it’s tough to talk about a “serious” (come on, this is the movie business, not international diplomacy. Things are only ever so serious here) topic.
Bob, why prison?
Odenkirk: [laughs] Why prison. I was looking for a script I wanted to direct and this was one that made me laugh and it was really dark and different from all the others. It was unique in the structure and not by the numbers at all – nobody grew or changed. And it had some great jokes, some great moments. So it just stuck out of the pile.
I went in and talked about how I wanted to shoot it really straight and serious and play all the violence and danger seriously, and how I thought it was more related to Chopper than Stir Crazy. And I guess everybody agreed, because they hired me to direct it.
It wasn’t a movie I wrote, and it wasn’t a movie I found and went out and got financing for. It was a movie that had financing that they wanted to make.
You have a really great cast. How did you come to cast Dax Shepard?
Odenkirk: I didn’t know Dax. Somebody mentioned him and I saw him on Punk’d and I thought he was perfect. Like I told you, I wanted to play it straight, and his ability to be really powerful and play something – you know how in Punk’d he’s duplicitous? That’s kind of the key to this movie. The character Lyshitski manipulates the system to abuse Will [Arnett]’s character, but Will doesn’t know it for a long, long time.
He was just perfect. He had the look – he looks a little white trashy. And tough. Lyshitski is a guy who has spent his whole life in jail, so he’s a rough guy. He just had a rough quality he needed for it, and I liked him. Hey, I feel lucky because I watched him on Punk’d and thought he would be great, and he was. So was Arnett, by the way.
I talked to Dax last week and he said that what he brings to a film is an ability to improv and bring something new to a scene. As a director do you like to improv, or do you like to stick to the script?
Odenkirk: Well, I don’t know. That’s all relative. There are moments you have to hit. But I guess I would say that if you’re not improvising some, you’re not bringing it to life. So I would be someone who was encouraging improv, but only to a point.
Sometimes I hear about directors who say they love improv, but I don’t really buy it. If you just improvise a movie you won’t have much. Even a Christopher Guest movie has a pretty strong outline, and he ends up throwing out so much footage. Not many productions can afford to shoot as much as he does.
So yeah, I encourage improvisation. I like to see it. For me it helps when people put things in their own words or see things that aren’t otherwise there. It can be very powerful and important but very small at the same time. I think sometimes when people say improv they think it’s like Robin Williams where he just goes off for ten minutes, but I don’t think a lot of movies do that anyway. Not even Robin Williams movies do that.
It’s much more structured usually.
Odenkirk: Yeah. I mean, come on, you have a day to make, you have all these pages. You have to have something like a story. You have to hit the story points. But I guess I would be seen as liking improv because I can handle it.
Is Tom Goes to the Mayor going to be on DVD?
Odenkirk: It’s coming out. I’m not sure when, but they’re packaging it right now with lots of extras. It’s going to be great. I can’t wait for that to come out – I can’t wait to see it myself. I did commentary months ago.
What about new episodes?
Odenkirk: No, but there’s a new show called The Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job. It’s live action, and I consult on it and also appear on it. We’ve been working on that together and it’s going to be great. That will come on February 11th. It’s really funny, crazy stuff. You’re going to love it.
What’s the DVD future of Let’s Go to Prison?
Odenkirk: There will be some extra scenes, including some really cool
stuff that I shot that didn’t get in to the movie. There will be a
great documentary about the soundtrack, which is awesome. It features
some great Motown players and Rahzel from the Roots. You know Rahzel
the Human Beatbox? He’s all over the movie. He does the whole movie –
he actually scores some scenes, it’s just him. I had him watch the
scene and just score it with sound. We were sitting at the synthesizer
one day working on music and Allan Elliott, who did the music, he put
it on sounds and he was just farting around on it, and we were both
like, ‘This is awesome! It’s funny and gutsy and weird and different.’
So we got Rahzel.
I see a ton of ads and posters for Let’s Go to Prison, but Universal isn’t showing it to the press. Why is that? Is it so dark that they’re afraid of it?
Odenkirk: You know, I don’t know. I can tell you this, because I sat with them when they watched it: they like it. They absolutely like the movie. They sat there and laughed. I don’t think they don’t like the movie… they know it’s dark, they like it dark. Come on, they didn’t have to get this movie. It was independently made, they didn’t have to buy it. They didn’t own it. It’s not theirs. They took it on to distribute it.
I will say that this is what they said to us – we won’t get anything out of reviews, and I guess we could be hurt if people really hated it because it’s so dark. It can’t help us, but it could hurt us.
The other thing I want to point out, Devin – it’s interesting that you say you’ve seen ads. They have a very small marketing campaign. I would be shocked if we were a third of Tenacious D, even a quarter of what they are. I saw the campaign, I saw it all laid out. We are on no networks, except the NFL and on Saturday Night Live we had one spot. None. Zero networks. We are only on cable, and only in five places on cable.
That’s interesting because I don’t watch a lot of TV but I’ve seen the ads. And my friends, who are in the 20-30 age range, have seen the ads and have an awareness of the movie as well.
Odenkirk: Because they narrowcast it. It’s one of the smallest campaigns, financially, but they’re doing it really smart. They’re only going after the audience they think might like the movie. I get the New York Times on Sunday, huge ads for every single movie coming out and no ads for Prison. None. And I think they’re right – this is a movie for 15 to 35 year old guys.
And interestingly enough, girls like it because there’s a romance in it. Which we always knew was there, but we didn’t know it would work as well as it does. Girls love it, and girls especially love Chi McBride in it. He tested 68 among girls. We tested it three times, and he always tested in the 60s. They love him because his character falls in love and breaks down and cries. They love his character and they love that story because we play it real.
I think some reviewers would like it, and see it for what it is – an independent, dark, dark comedy. I don’t think anybody would say it’s the greatest movie of the year.
It’s a weird thing – I’ve been through so many things in the last eight years. I’ve had so many pilots fail, and I had Run Ronnie Run, which was just a terrible experience, but when I finished making this movie I think it came out to be in the best place it could be in terms of what the script was. It was in the spirit of what I read. Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant [the writers] are happy with it, and that makes me really happy. That’s it. If somebody wants to distribute it, I wish them well, and I’ll help them anyway they can. They can do whatever they want – I didn’t write the movie and it’s not a Mr. Show movie. It’s somebody’s movie that they let me direct, and I had a great time doing it and I think we did a great job. Beyond that it’s theirs, and I hope it goes well.
It’s weird – I don’t have a problem. I think they’re doing a great job. And as for the no reviewer thing, I kind of get it. What are they going to say? They’re going to say, ‘This movie’s mean!’ Who cares? It’s not an art film. It’s not my life story.
I remember I read this review of the last Who album. Not the most recent one, but the last one, so it was twenty four years ago. I’ll never forget this line:
[clears throat] ‘The album is bafflingly circumlocutory at best.’
It was in Rolling Stone. Bafflingly circumlocutory at best. I was like, what? It’s a rock and roll album! Will you chill out with the language? In a lot of ways this movie is like that – it’s a comedy about two jerks who go to prison.