A Futile and Stupid Gesture has a sprawling ensemble cast of comedians, and we interviewed two more. Matt Walsh plays National Lampoon editor Matty Simmons, later producer of Animal House and the Vacation movies. Tom Lennon plays Michael O’Donoghue, National Lampoon contributor and later Saturday Night Live cast member.
Lennon and Walsh were at Sundance where we spoke about A Futile and Stupid Gesture. Lennon ended up telling some funny road rage stories and talked about his screenwriting credits on The Naked Gun and Baywatch remakes, while Walsh addressed the final season of Veep. You can watch A Futile and Stupid Gesture now on Netflix.
WLE: Playing Matty Simmons, could you not help but think he’s eventually going to be the producer of Animal House?
Matt Walsh: I didn’t get ahead of myself. I truly just approached him as like the adult in the room who thought he was as funny as the guys but knew he had to be the adult. I think that’s generally how I thought about him in various scenes.
WLE: Michael O’Donoghue and there’s material on him. Was that helpful or something you’d avoid?
Tom Lennon: Oh, no, I very specifically sought out everything. I read, of course, the Mr. Mike book and then I sought out his special, Mondo Mike. I very specifically am trying to impersonate Michael O’Donoghue as closely as I can. I just felt like, since there was so much evidence there and there’s a weird amount of overlap between me and him. We’re both sketch comedy writers, we both have probably a little bit of Irish rage.
TL: Wait, do I have an intensity?
MW: You can access an intensity. I don’t think you live in that moment but I think you absolutely can go.
TL: It used to be a problem. I would pull people over with my car and stuff sometimes.
MW: Like road rage?
TL: Yeah, I’m like a citizen’s arrest kind of guy. And Mr. Mike carried that cane apparently to smash stuff. To make an impression. It was very interesting, in a room of people, of comedians you respect playing comedians you respect, how weird that was was noted.
MW: Did him and Annie Beatts get married?
TL: They lived together for a while and then later on he was married to a woman.
WLE: How did you pull regular people’s cars over?
TL: You’ve got to Starsky & Hutch. Literally, you’ve got to nose [ahead of the car]. Thanks to my excellent psychiatrist, Dr. Suberman, I don’t do this anymore.
MW: You can’t. You have a child. You’re going to get shot.
TL: My wife says this stuff too, says, “You’re going to get shot” a lot. “You will get shot.”
MW: Can a Prius pull over a Hummer? Back then, were you driving a modest Toyota Prius?
TL: I might’ve been in the wife’s Prius.
MW: Would you pull over a Dodge Charger?
TL: You know the story of me getting in a fight with Colin Farrell at Cafe Gratitude, right?
WLE: I don’t know this story either.
MW: America needs to know it.
TL: The only way it ties into the movie that there’s a lot of Mr. Mike in me. Colin Farrell blows past me on Larchmont Blvd., pulls in, takes the parking space that I’m clearly waiting for at Cafe Gratitude. Now these are real soft problems. These are some of the softest problems in the world. I’ve just had my parking space stolen by the incredibly handsome, I’d say the darling of the Golden Globes many years, Colin Farrell, noted Irish actor and dreamboat. Now, I didn’t know who it was so I just pulled up behind this car, I pull my little Prius right up to his bumper, kick open the door of Cafe Gratitude and I say, “What the F was that?” but using the word. He turns around and it’s Colin Farrell. Oh my God, he’s so handsome in person. He’s a movie star, you can tell.
MW: He has the weird eyebrows, perfect symmetry, strong hairline.
TL: Just gorgeous. So he turns around and he says, “Did I steal your spot, dear? Oh, for crying out loud, I’m a right cunt, aren’t I?” Then he hugs me and it was one of the greatest hugs. We hugged each other for a while and then I got pregnant. Anyway, so it turns out he’s a dreamboat.
MW: That’s so disarming.
TL: The little bit of Irish rage, yeah, I got it.
WLE: Have you run into Colin Farrell at any industry event since?
TL: I haven’t, no.
MW: That’s such a great disarming move, to take a hostile person and go, “I’m a righteous cunt, come here.”
TL: It was amazing. By the way, it helps if you look like that. Like, if I just start doing that to people they’re like, “God, just get off of me, guy. Yo, Dangle.”
MW: People want to press flesh with someone that attractive, that’s true.
TL: Where were we?
WLE: Was the tone of A Futile and Stupid Gesture easy to get where there’s comedy even in the dramatic scenes?
TL: In my mind, I’m playing the whole movie like a drama. I’m not sure if I know what the difference is for my acting.
MW: I would agree. You were saying earlier, there are scenes where guys are pitching comedy ideas for the magazine, so they’re comedic ideas and they’re in the room trying to get laughs from their fictional peers, but by the same token, you’re trying to embody somebody who’s desperate for a laugh, so you’re kind of going in it. It’s a very strange muscle but I agree with you. Me personally, I don’t have a lot of laughs in the movie, so it’s more like I just try to manage the chaos. He was the grown-up.
TL: That said, and I think this is probably true for you as well, the more funny I’m trying to be in general, the more deadly serious I will start acting. That generally is just my go-to. When in doubt, try to be as sincere as possible.
WLE: What did National Lampoon mean to you when you were each getting started in comedy?
MW: I think for me the introduction, a little bit of the magazine but films like Animal House and Caddyshack were like the first VHS tapes that got into my life. Being able to watch a comedy repeatedly, our children are going to be like, “Dad, you’re so boring.” That was a revolution for us. You don’t have to wait a summer, or you don’t have to wait for another theater screening.
TL: I suspect most of the people of our era can probably verbatim quote [those movies]. I know I could probably do Caddyshack. It starts with the gopher. “I’m all right. Don’t no body worry about me.” Then the bike shows up.
MW: Going through the nice part of town. No, it starts in the house. He goes over the tracks.
TL: I was abbreviating a tiny bit, sorry. Oh my God, so we can’t do it verbatim apparently.
WLE: Is anything happening with The Naked Gun?
TL: Oh God, no. You know, movies really fall apart fast. I believe in our screenwriting book, we said they fall apart faster than a macrame bikini. I’d say for [Robert] Ben [Garant] and I, the movie business has changed enormously since we wrote the book. It’s a sincere book and we meant it, Writing Movies for Fun and Profit but a lot’s changed. There used to be a time when we were very, very lucky that we could write eight films and maybe get one made. Or 10 to one, it was an amazing ratio for us. I don’t know if that exists anymore. There’s also where we are now. We’re at Netflix.
WLE: When you wrote Naked Gun, was it a tough script to write filled with sight gags?
TL: Ben and I are both sketch comedy guys so I really enjoyed that script. We were really proud of it. The other thing that happens almost 100% when you write movies is you’ll write the movie for whoever the regime is at a movie studio. They will not even be there by the time you turn it in. Almost always, they’re like, “Hey, everybody remember Greg? He was so great. He loved this movie. Okay, the new team hates this whole idea and they’re not crazy fans of yours just in general. So don’t worry about doing those notes.” That happens a lot where you finish a movie and there’s no one there to hate it anymore or love it anymore.
WLE: Are you still writing Cannonball Run?
TL: We just finished The Cannonball Run. It was incredibly fun and we’re really proud of it. Ben and I were saying, it makes more sense certainly than the second one with the elephant.
WLE: Matt, do you know what’s in store for the final season of Veep?
MW: No, the only thing I know is we will have had a year and a half off. I’ve seen glimpses of it. It’ll start to speak to the craziness that we’re currently enduring under the Trump administration. But it’s still a fictional world, no real people. I’m excited to see, with this added time, with the break, what they get to make fun of.
TL: Our original script was called Baywatch: Red Tide. One of the biggest things about it was it was a PG-13 movie. We always thought Baywatch was an incredibly sexy thing with these beautiful bodies of all these people but was also on television every day. So it befuddled us a little bit when they went for the hard R on that. Honestly, I haven’t seen it so I don’t know but I understand we were heavily rewritten. Fresh eyes is what we usually call it.