Pretend You’re Robert Bresson: Matt Piedmont on Casa de mi Padre

The director of the Will Ferrell satire on the film's unexpected influences, getting 'serious' actors in broad comedies and his next film, King Dork.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

 

Former 'Saturday Night Live' writer Matt Piedmont didn't screw around when he made his debut feature, Casa de mi Padre, an ode to diverse genres of film and television including telenovelas, Alejandro Jodorowski, Sam Peckinpah and other influences that would perk the ears of film students everywhere. That the movie stars Will Ferrell, speaking only Spanish, and is a broad, broad comedy isn't quite incidental, but comes close. Casa de mi Padre is out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, and Mr. Piedmont was kind enough to call in to CraveOnline to discuss the strange genesis of the film, the butt double of co-star Genesis Rodriguez and offer revelations about the casting process, the film's sense of humor and his upcoming movie, King Dork.

 

CraveOnline: I’m happy to talk to you about Casa de mi Padre. It’s such an interesting, interesting film.

Matt Piedmont: [Laughs]

 

I mean that in the best possible way. You chose to lampoon a genre that so many Americans are unfamiliar with.

Yeah. Thank for thinking that. Usually “interesting” can mean any number of things, but I’ll take any of them. I’m fine with it. We’re really proud of the film. It’s definitely a thing that’s kind of out there, especially being all in Spanish. We basically took everything that’s ever made money in a movie and did the exact opposite. But we used that telenovela thing as a jumping off point for a film, as an opportunity for us to combine a lot of things, whether it be classic Hollywood westerns or spaghetti westerns… [It’s not] telenovela-specific, even though the melodrama from that is there. It kind of encompasses the wide variety of cinema.

 

What was the initial concept? Did you start with westerns or telenovelas, or was it just making a movie in Spanish…?

Well, Will Ferrell, who is the star of the movie, who you know, he always had this idea that he just thought was funny. He was just flipping out watching telenovelas – this was five years – and thought it would be funny if he was in one of these films and speaking in Spanish. So nobody ever took him seriously, Will being Will Ferrell. […] And then my friend Andrew Steele, who runs Funny or Die, and we were also on “Saturday Night Live,” Will approached him and said, “Do you want to write this movie?” And Andrew went, “No, I don’t.” Then he thought about it. And so Andrew went off the write the movie and then he brought it to me, and we all then collaborated and made it what it was. Will had a window in his schedule and we were able to go out and sell it, and get some money to shoot it. So we were off and running. But the initial idea came from Will.

 

Did you actually get Kris Kristofferson for that opening line of dialogue?

Yeah.

 

Was that originally planned or added later to introduce audiences to the concept?

No, I thought of it while were actually in pre-production, because I’m a record collector and I love Kristofferson. On his Me and Bobby McGee album, on that song that he does with Janis Joplin, he goes, “If it sounds country, man, that’s what it is. It’s a country song.” It’s been an inside joke with Andrew and I ever since we’ve known each other, as a funny thing. And I go, “What if we did that with him and got Kristofferson?” It was a just a weird way to open the movie, in a fun way, and so we were able to get a letter to him and he was game for it. There’s maybe one out of a trillion who will appreciate that reference, who can get what it is […] I think it prepares everyone. This is going to be weird, why is Kris Kristofferson in this movie?

 

Did you watch a lot of telenovelas for this, or did you feel you only had to get the gist of it?

No, just the gist. Because what I didn’t want to do is a parody. We kind of think of it as a satire. What I did watch, in my own time, was a bunch of old films, mostly westerns. Some of the ones that are known are Duck You Sucker from Sergio Leone, or some [Sergio] Corbucci ones. Even stuff that’s not even known, stuff that you can find down in Chinatown on a DVD that’s not even out officially. We watched The Magnificent Seven of course, we watched a lot of [Sam] Peckinpah. My favorite of his is not The Wild Bunch, but is Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. A lot of the trippier stuff too, in the trip out sequence, there’s influence [from] Roger Corman. I’m a big fan of LSD exploitation films, like The Trip or Psych-Out. But then also more experimental films, like Alejandro Jodorowski films like Holy Mountain. Stuff like that. I’m a big fan of vision quest movies, so it was kind of a cool opportunity to be able to do it right, but also, under the guise of what we were doing, to not throw in everything but the kitchen sink… but there are references to Scorsese, [to] New York Stories. Just little references and cinematic nods that I don’t think you have to know to enjoy the movie, but if you do they’re there for your enjoyment, if you want to go deeper into it. It’s not necessary. But it was fun to be able to do a movie with shootouts, drama, westerns, a lot of genres you don’t normally get to do these days.

 

You have earned so much mileage from me for referencing Jodorowski about a Will Ferrell movie.

[Laughs] It’s funny. Obviously it’s a comedy, but it’s always based in a real cinema in my mind. My passion lies there. You’re trying to mix the two, mix comedy and cinema. […] But I think they can mix. It’s just fun to be able to do that and pretend you’re Robert Bresson and The Pickpocket, be able to do your own homages. I think most people wouldn’t notice, and I would direct anything, but it’s great to have that at your fingertips and be a part of that, put your stuff back into the big soup.

 

One thing that I think that helps is that increasingly, I’ve noticed over the past decade or so, a lot of people that would be considered “serious” actors are showing up in increasingly silly projects. Gael Garcia Bernal, a lot people mostly him from stuff like The Motorcycle Diaries… Was he in that?

Yeah, he did The Motorcycle Diaries, he did Y Tu Mama Tambien. Mostly serious roles, you’re right.

 

How game was he? Was he just excited to be in a comedy?

Yeah, it was such a cool thing for us, because when you sit down… It’s tough for comedies, because even now, my dream cast is like, Daniel Day-Lewis, DeNiro. That’s never going to happen. So for this movie, we said who would be the ideal guy? We said Javier Bardem, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. Those are the guys that we were wanting to cast, especially Gael and Diego. But it’s one thing to say that and another thing to pay them scale to come to L.A. and shoot this thing. But they both got it, they read the script and I was able to get on the phone with them. Diego was in Mexico and Gael was shooting in Russia. He had a half-hour cell phone a day on a mountain. They go, “What is this? Is this some sort of joke?” I go, “No, this is how we’re going to approach it. There’s kind of a cool message in there about the drug wars.” They go, “Are you going to keep that in?” I go, “Most definitely, and here’s how we’re going to shoot it. It’s not going to be like a soap opera on video. It’s actually going to be pretty epic. We’re going use CinemaScope lenses, it’s going to be a ride.” […]

Diego is not playing the character of Raul Alvarez, he’s playing a bad actor. He’s playing the role of a bad actor playing the role of Raul Alvarez, and I thought that was kind of meta and cool. I think it was freeing for them, because they were able to poke fun at themselves. We took everything about this film seriously, like we’re “serious filmmakers,” in quotes. But you have to be serious, if that makes sense. They, I think, approached it the same way. They approached it like it was fun to be able to do all the things that you’re not supposed to do if you’re being serious about it, but we could turn it inside out, and I think that’s the best thing for anybody, especially actors.

 

Were you able to get an offer out to Javier Bardem?

I actually met with him, and he was going to Hawaii. He had just married Penelope Cruz and he was then going to a Terrence Malick film. He was a great guy, [but] it never got to the point where we could offer because he became unavailable.

 

It’s hard to compete with Terrence Malick.

What are you talking about? What’s Malick got on me? [Laughs]

 

Now, I don’t speak Spanish. How did Will Ferrell do? Are you fluent?

I’m not. I have about two and a half years of high school Spanish. I can understand it. I can pronounce it correctly. I know how to throw together each vowel […] all that stuff. We wrote it all in English, obviously, and had it translated into bad Spanish. Will, I think, had about a month and a half prior to shooting, and he got it pretty good but he also, he said, at some point he just had to do it phonetically. He obviously knew the script in English. […] He was also speaking a specific northern Mexican rancher accent, and he just knocked it out of the park. But he did have to, a lot of times, rely on just memorization, but everyone said oh my god, he did amazingly. I think we had cue cards standing by, but he never used them. We wanted to make sure that he did all of lines captured live, or captured there on film, no overdubbing. That was our trick. So we made sure he got the bulk of it, and it had to be pronounced correctly. We called it a fever dream, because he’d get through one day and feel so good, and then the panic would set in [because] he had to do it the next day.

 

Whose butts were those in the sex scene? Because there’s no way Will Ferrell is that sculpted.

One was definitely Will’s, so you’re seeing Will Ferrell’s butt. And actually I’ll give you an exclusive, it was a butt double.

 

It was a butt double.

Yeah. And Genesis [Rodriguez] got to pick the butt double. She was the one who got to pick it out.

 

Fair enough.

[Laughs] Spoiler alert.

 

Another interesting trend I’ve noticed in comedies lately, where there’s a series of jokes in which the joke isn’t that what people are doing is funny, the joke is that they’re doing it longer than you would ever see in any other movie.

Yeah.

 

There’ s a scene early in the film where they’re just laughing way too long.

Right. I think there’s some language that the three of us… Will and I and Adam McKay, we all worked “Saturday Night Live” from ‘96 to ’02, and not to sound egotistical, did that kind of stuff in those days, and now it’s kind of popping up everywhere.  There’s just something about that, subverting the audience’s expectations as to what’s coming or moving by and keeping things a little off balance. It’s like “Okay, they’re going on too long.” Then, “Oh, it’s kind of funny because they went on even longer.” There’s something about wasting the audience’s time, in that Andy Kaufman way, that we all find very funny. I think a lot of people don’t really like seeing that, but I think there’s ways to do it. It’s subverting the genre, and I think it’s a post-modern way of poking fun at what comedy is. It’s moving the ball forward, so to speak.

 

What can you tell me about King Dork?

King Dork just got pushed back. We should be shooting now, but it’s an amazing script set in 1987 about two high school kids who are outsiders, and one of the kids’ dads is dead, committed suicide, but they, as outcasts, form a band and play at the Battle of the Bands to overcome their outsider status in the school. It’s very cool. D.V. DeVicentis, he was one of writers on High Fidelity, he’s a great writer; he wrote the script based on this book by Frank Portman, and it’s really about the discovery of music when you’re that age. And it’s set in 1987. That was the same time I was growing up, when I was seventeen, and I found these records when I was nine. Like the Stones […] that kind of thing, and it really kind of saved me. It was an escape from my life in Spokane, WA. So the script really resonated with me. It’s really visual. It’s kind of like a darker John Hughes. It’s almost like Rushmore meets a John Hughes movie, but it’s really well done. We’re supposed to shoot now, and the funding went away while we were in pre-production, so we pushed it to keep our cast. We’ve cast Thomas Mann, obviously […] and I want to cast Marisa Tomei. I was just about to talk to her. So hopefully we will shoot next year sometime.

 

Are they going to be doing original songs or covers in that band?

They’ll be original songs that the kids play. I was going to send them to this music institute here in Venice, to almost Rock Camp, because I want them to play live. It’s always more fun when the actors are actually playing, and also coming up with songs spontaneously on the camera. […] And then, coupled with that, [we] moved a lot of the budget to music […] The history of everything from The Velvet Underground, The Sex Pistols, The Studios, The Clash. So I had allotted a lot of the budget to, basically, the history of cool, true, punk-oriented rock and roll from anywhere from ‘66 to ‘78, up to ‘81. That was the basis. Kind of a “three chords can save the world” kind of thing.