Here lizard, lizard, lizard.
No, it’s not a new Taco Bell commercial. But is the return of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, coming to a movie theater near you with their first film project in a few years.
It’s called The Slammin’ Salmon, and the quintet of yuksters who gave us such cinematic efforts as Super Troopers, Club Dread, Beerfest and the 2005 Dukes Of Hazzard film are up to their old tricks again, offering wacky characters, raunchy comedy and themselves in a cast peppered with familiar names and faces.
The story revolves around the title establishment, a Miami seafood eatery owned by a boisterous former boxer named Cleon “Slammin’” Salmon, played hysterically by—of all people—Michael Clarke Duncan. The ex-champ needs thousands to settle a wager owed a yakuza gangster. In order to pay off, Salmon asks his manager to raise the funds, who, in turn, runs a contest with his wait staff to see who can dig up the most loot by the end of the night.
The film comes to in theaters in early December, offering a reprieve of sorts from the family-oriented films and Oscar contenders out there in the multiplexes. In addition, Broken Lizard—whose members met when they were attending Colgate University in the early 1990s—has several projects in development, including Super Troopers 2, Potfest (a sequel to Beerfest) and an Animal House-like collegiate comedy in which the Lizards play university professors.
But it was in mid-November that the five members of Broken Lizard parked their bus in Philadelphia for a set of live shows at Philly’s Trocadero Theater and to talk about their new movie and other topics with Movie Fanfare.
MF: Tell us about the lead character and how Michael Clarke Duncan got involved?
Paul Soter (who plays dual roles as a chef and his busboy brother): We wrote the script with the voice of Mike Tyson in our mind, but we weren’t sure he could play that part. We weren’t sure he would be able to play it—he had to be a boxer who was terrifying yet funny. We sent it to Michael and we didn’t know what his comedy was like. He’s a serious actor, and while he had done Talladega Nights in a secondary role, he had to carry this part. He showed up and his timing in improv was all fantastic. And he was a little scary, too. He is 6 foot 5 inches and was 380 when he did The Green Mile; now he’s down to 280. Our gift to him was to bring him two gigantic slabs of beef, like Omaha steaks, and his response was “I don’t eat meat anymore.”
MF: Did you allow him room for improv?
Kevin Heffernan (who directed the film and plays the restaurant’s manager): He did a lot of the script. He would basically hit the script and continue on. He always nailed what we needed and continue on. You never wanted to say “cut” because you didn’t want to stop him in fear of getting beat up.
Erik Stolhanske (who plays a miserable waiter): Having done Talladega Nights with (director) Adam McKay and working with Will Ferrell, he thought that’s how it was done. They had done so much improvisation, so he was always so prepared to go on for every one of his scenes, every one of his speeches, so he always had something extra.
MF: Is improv always part of the plan with your scripts?
Steve Lemme (who plays an unemployed actor working as a waiter): When we first started out with Puddle Cruiser and Super Troopers, the budgets were so tight, there was no room for that. You do two or three takes and you’re done. For Club Dread and Beerfest, we had a little more time and more money, so you could improvise.
KH: you made sure you got what was in the script, and then if there was more time, you get some more improvised material.
MF: How does your group operate in terms of solo projects and Broken Lizard group material?
ES: We’re always working on Broken Lizard stuff. If one is off doing a project, the others are working on it. If the five of us are fortunate enough to work on an independent project at the same time, we would take a hiatus.
PS: So much of our time is writing, and every now or then we shoot something. So really if that’s the case, if someone’s missing from the writing process, we make up for it and pick up the slack.
MF: Is it difficult to write with five people involved in the process?
PS: We’re pretty lucky. We did the trial and error thing when we started in college. We learned together how to write. We basically sit around the table and come up with the idea and make sure it gets passed between the five guys. One guy transcribes it all and he’s in charge of being the point man of the project and we start cranking out drafts. You get into fights and whatever, but we’ve been doing it so long, it’s second nature to us.
MF: Where did the idea for The Slammin’ Salmon come from?
SL: Jay, Erik and I worked at a restaurant together in New York City.
Jay Chandrasekhar (who plays a heavily medicated wacko waiter): Every waiter says they want to make a movie, but we actually had the chance to do it. We wrote it at the same time we wrote Beerfest. The mission was, ‘Let’s write different scripts with different budgets, just so we’re prepared for any situation.’ So Slammin’ Salmon was considered our lower budget movie. So we sat around and told old waiter stories and amassed a collection of old tales. The pat idea is, a mobster or an ex-mobster is the owner of the place. Then we figured: too obvious. Then we thought, “How about if Mike Tyson owned the restaurant and he could fly off the handle at any second.”
MF: Speaking of “Iron” Mike, were you impressed with his performance in The Hangover?
SL: He was great!
PS: But The Hangover, he probably shot in one day and he could handle that. We wonder now if he could play that part (in our film). We needed him for 14 days and he couldn’t share his part.
KH: For The Hangover, you have him there and the guy playing the bodyguard, who really does the acting. There were too many intangibles at one time. We were going to have Lemme dress up as “The Champ” with a muscle suit on him.
SL: They can do a lot with makeup and special effects. Look at Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder. I lobbied hard for that role (in The Slammin’ Salmon). But the director turned me down. We decided to go for the Oscar-nominated actor instead.
KH: “The Dunc” has been nominated for an Oscar (for The Green Mile)!
ES: We wrote the part for Morgan Fairchild (who plays herself) specifically.
SL: Will Forte (who plays a diner) from Saturday Night Live was offered different parts and he picked his own part.
PS: We have our wish list of people.
JC: Sometimes we write things like Beerfest, the part of the grandmother Gam Gam, with Cloris Leachman in mind. Her agent read the script before we sent it, so it was completely in tune with what we wanted. Lance Henriksen (who plays a sleazy Hollywood type) we love, and we always had in mind for that part. With Vivica A. Fox, we had to find a pop diva. It’s tough to get someone to do that with the comedy. But we had the same agent, so I asked, “Can you please get Vivica?”
MF: Can you tell me some of your comedy influences?
SL: Monty Python.
JC: Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Cheech and Chong.
KH: Steve Martin. Blues Brothers, Caddyshack.
PS: The In-Laws, Chevy Chase in the Fletch movies. Spinal Tap.
MF: Speaking of Spinal Tap, have you guys seen Anvil: The Story of Anvil?
PS: Anvil really resonated for us since it’s about guys getting older and still reaching for it, you know. And sometimes you wonder. What will happen?
SL: They leave, they fight, they cry and they get back together. We are like brothers, we’ve fought, cried and come back.
PS: I gave Kevin the DVD four months ago and he’s yet to watch it.
KH: Busy, busy.
PS: And we have a rule about giving away movies, but that scene where they’re going to play that gig in Finland or something, and they show up in a bar and there are three dudes there and one’s in a wheelchair. And it’s like, ‘Oh, they outnumber the audience.’ That’s awful. And we’ve had that. In the early days, we wondered, “What’s the limit that we won’t put a show on, if there’re less people in the audience than us?” I think we did a show with like four people.
JC: We asked the audience, should we do the show, and they went “Yeah!” We put on a good show.
KH: For four lucky guests.
PS: Sometimes you put on your best shows in these situations.