September 28, 2010 8:33am EST
When Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures and director Jon Favreau began casting Iron Man 2, many names popped up that made a lot of sense to me. Scarlett Johansson was an obvious choice to play the seductive secret agent Black Widow, while Mickey Rourke's hiring as the tech-savvy super villian Whiplash was inspired. But I was puzzled when I heard that legendary laugh-meister Garry Shandling would be joining the production. Where were Favreau & co. going to fit him into the Marvel Universe?
As time went on I learned that Shandling would lend his skills to a character named Senator Stern and as soon as the teaser trailer for the film hit, I found that Shandling was born to portray a no-nonsense politician who has a courtroom clash with playboy protagonist Tony Stark. The comedic sparks were flying on the set that day and now, with Iron Man 2 on Blu-ray and DVD, you can relive the hilarity of that soon to be classic scene anytime you want!
We sat down for an exclusive talk with Mr. Shandling to talk about the current state of comedy and his work on Iron Man 2. Read on for the complete interview and be sure to get your hands on Iron Man 2 today!
Q: What do you think about the current state of American comedy?
Garry Shandling: You know it’s funny, coincidentally, I bumped into David Mamet at a function last night - I’ve never met him – and he came up to me and he said “Gary, David Mamet” and I said “Oh my gosh, I always had you confused with Neil Simon.” Which I think is hopefully a good opener for David Mamet. He couldn’t help but smile and I think that phrase is very specific: “He couldn’t help but smile.” And he had told me that he had done a couple of videos for Funny or Die, and I said to him “I have to check it out, because those fellas are friends of mine, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy, over there at that production company that Will has, and I’m about three months behind. I check in about every three months, which I have to change, but I love the idea that certainly online we can, on that site, do quick, short things. We discussed several things that I’ll eventually get to doing on that site. We’re going to shoot a kind of retro, very dirty version of the 20,000 Dollar Pyramid. Which I can’t do for you now, but I’ve done it before with my buddy Alan (inaudible) and we want to shoot that and put that on there. Both Adam and Chris play basketball here so we talk about some of that stuff in between games occasionally, so I love that particular website.
The state of television, seems to be, that in fact what I was thinking when I was describing the Larry Sanders Show to HBO in ’92, I had a vision of the show that is basically what it is, you know it’s exactly what it is, strangely enough. I realized that I could not use any other shows that were on TV even as examples for – in segments even, I couldn’t even use pieces of other shows as an example – so, that show must have been different because I’m working backwards, you see. I remember when I described that show to them, I could not describe it other than directly, what my vision was and I know that they couldn’t quite visualize it yet. But Michael Fuchs had given me a 13 show commitment so, I was lucky because they trusted me because they know I’m tougher on myself than they would be, as a critic, I’m tougher on myself. And they knew the first series, and that thing was also different, so we were really constructing basically, my audience is Stephen Hawking. You know, a man who writes the scientific explanation of how something can come out of nothing, is exactly what The Larry Sanders Show is and how we worked, so there was something coming out of nothing because there was no precursor to it exactly other than I was influenced by The King of Comedy where Scorsese has a cut backstage to a talk show that I think Jerry Lewis played a character that hosted and it was very cinematic. And I remembered that as a way of delineating what happened in front of the curtain and what happened behind the curtain, and so I think then the naturalness of the acting and the decision not to use, of course, a laugh track and then the strong reality of it and the organic quality that’s not forced at that period of time was only appropriate for cable television. The networks, you know might have – you can look up ’92 and see what’s on, it’s quite different than Larry Sanders and quite different than what’s on now. We’ve seen the slow disappearance of the regular old school sitcom and I wasn’t interested in doing a sitcom. So, I think some of the shows, there are certain similarities and tone on the broadcast networks that didn’t exist before Larry Sanders and I think that probably it showed people what could be done and it probably had some influence. I’ve been told by others that it’s been an influence on them, Ricky Gervais being one, and then others and that’s an interesting circumstance and yet here we are, speaking in this moment.
It’s also, by the way if I may, it’s also the way Jon Favreau works and when I was shooting Iron Man 2, the same time I was making this box set – or helping out with the box set, I didn’t have as much a hand in this that I’ve had in some of the others – and he also believes in this organic kind of spontaneous acting and that’s why he called me and I think the DVD of that is coming out as well and I’m sure it’s gonna be evident from the outtakes in that and the documentary and backstage look at how that movie was done, you’ll see the willingness to create in the moment that Jon brings. And then Downey just loves to improvise, and to look and to reinvent constantly. Those are the people I love working with.
Q: In the main court room scene that you were in on Iron Man 2, he (Downey) was bringing the laughs and you were really playing the character more straight. What was it like sharing the set with him there?
GS: Well, it was fantastic, I had been in Hawaii for three weeks prior to starting that movie, in fact Jon had called me in Hawaii to offer me this role, and when I got back from Hawaii I went in and sat with Robert and Jon to see where our sensibilities lie so that we could see how it worked, and we really hit it off. And I am so challenged by Robert and sparked by Robert that, again, on the DVD, there are so many different takes. Some in which I’m which I’m funny and some in which I’m straight and there’s so much other material because we just would go on and on and around and around. I think that that Senator if not played straight, is not going to communicate effectively what that scene is about. And so, my first very strong intention was to be honest and true to the scene and the character, but you know there’s still a twist in that guy that isn’t exactly of the norm. And that’s what Jon sensed. He called me up and he said, “What are you doing there in Hawaii?” and I said, “Just hanging out,” and he said, “I don’t think this is the time to withdraw,” and he said, “Come on man, I think we can really do something no one expects in this thing and then we can look to make it a little longer because it’s just been on my mind,” and he said, “I want to be there to support you to go to some place that no one expects including us.” And that’s what got me into it, because he was talking about the work itself and the style of work.
Q: Will you be reprising the role in future movies (The Avengers, Iron Man 3)?
GS: They have not spoken to me about reprising that character, which I would do in a second. I mean I really rarely have a good time working because I need to be around the quality of people that was in and around this movie and the Marvel people were fantastic but they have not yet mentioned anything about doing more, but I think I heard conceivably I could get free parking.
You know, I feel, I could impress somebody with free parking to the next Marvel project. One of my pitches for the end – it was a joke – was, I said I’d like to say “I’m Iron Man” as he did in the first one and I said to Robert that you should say, “No I’m Iron Man,” and then they would have an argument with him about who really is Iron Man. When Jon called me and he said, “I'm doing Iron Man 2 and there’s a part for you,” I said, “What kind of suit do I get to wear?” and he goes, “A regular suit.” And I said, “I mean no, what kind of weapons will be on it?” We hadn’t gotten to the senator part yet, so I said, “What kind of weapons will be on it?” and he said, “No, it’s a suit and tie, you play a senator.” Yeah, it’s a three piece, there’s a vest, a tie, a jacket, pants and a belt.” So I said, “So I get no weapons?” I brought a gun, I had a gun in my pocket the whole time.
Q: Maybe we can get some sort of arm piece or a helmet or something.
GS: From your mouth to God’s ears.
Q: GQ called you the comedian’s comedian’s comedian, what does that mean? And how do you feel about being the comedian’s comedian’s comedian?
GS: I think what they mean by the comedian’s comedian’s comedian is I am the comedian’s comedian unless they watch too long and then they change their mind. Then I’m just a comedian. So I’m the comedian’s comedian slash comedian again. I end up as a comedian, I think that’s what they mean. They’re giving me a compliment and then taking it right away.
Q: Who are the three entertainers that you follow or most look forward to seeing new stuff from?
GS: Oh well, look. For the sake of this conversation and the fact that we have just discussed it, I have two projects coming out on DVD in two months which I find hilarious if I may say somewhat facetiously, what about a high point in my career that I have two DVDs coming out. But, here you go it feels like I’m selling DVDs today, so while we’re on that I think the Scott Pilgrim DVD comes out the first week of October, it comes out as well in this time period. And I have nothing to do with that except, I’m a big fan of Michael Cera and I would recommend also picking that one up. Probably I would go in this order: Iron Man 2, Scott Pilgrim, and then God forbid anyone has any money left, Larry Sanders: The Complete Series.
Q: If you think that any comedian could be elected to be Commander in Chief, who do you think that would be?
GS: Well, I mean Al Franken’s already got a head start. I think we need a Native American in as Chief of Staff, if Rahm Emanuel leaves, we’ve got to get a Native American into the administration and it seems natural that that should be Chief of Staff. I think it’s an insult to the Native Americans that it’s not a Native American – it’s the Chief of Staff. So there’s the discussion of Rahm Emanuel.
Q: I was always hoping for Dana Carvey so that way we can get his own opinions and more imitations of George Bush as well.
GS: Well, Dana Carvey would be great and Jimmy Fallon does some great impressions and he would be great. And I wouldn’t leave out Sarah Silverman just as a nice big change, that would be big, big change.
Set in the turbulent ‘60s each character in Across the Universe represents a different aspect to the unstable times. There’s naïve Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) whose eyes are opened to the possibilities of life beyond her WASPy sheltered upbringing; adventurous Jude (Jim Sturgess) who breaks away from his Liverpool working-class roots to make it as an artist in New York; and Lucy’s brother Max (Joe Anderson) a college dropout who eventually gets drafted and sent to Vietnam. There’s also Sadie (Dana Fuchs) a Janis Joplin-esque rock singer; her guitar-playing lover Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy) who hails from the riot-torn streets of Detroit; and even a burgeoning lesbian named Prudence (T.V. Carpio). They are all soon swept up into the '60s' emerging psychedelic anti-war and counterculture movements while Across the Universe lets the songs from one of the era’s most influential bands tell the story. But what drives the film is Jude and Lucy’s love for each other—and all you need is love right? You know you are in for something different when indie darling Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen) is the most recognizable star. Luckily for Across the Universe the cast of unknowns delivers--and then some. Making his film debut newcomer Sturgess is a particular standout looking very much like one of the Beatles boys in their heyday. His earnest performance as the love-struck Jude immediately hits a chord (pun intended) and he makes breaking out into a Beatles tune seem entirely natural. Wood doesn’t seem as comfortable with the vocals but the actress has a lovely voice--and of course handles Lucy’s emotional ups and downs with aplomb. All the rest of the supporting cast does a wonderful job adding their own unique reinterpretations to the songs (and yes both “Hey Jude” and “Dear Prudence” pop up). The big fun with Across the Universe however are the cameo appearances: Eddie Izzard sings “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” as a surreal circus ringleader; Joe Cocker sings “Come Together” alternating between a pimp bum and hippie; Salma Hayek takes nursing to a new level in a “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” number; and finally U2’s Bono sings “I Am the Walrus” as the Beat poet/counterculturist Dr. Robert. You haven’t experienced life until you've heard Bono sing “Goo goo g'joob.” In any original musical there is always something a little disconcerting when a character just breaks out into song even if it’s Julie Andrews standing on top of a mountain. But as with Moulin Rouge a character singing a song we all recognize--well that’s a little different. And honestly who doesn’t love Beatles music? Still director Julie Taymor (Frida) took a big chance creating a musical around the legacy that is Beatlemania. It must have been a daunting task searching through the annals of Beatles music to find just the right tunes for just the right moment--but her extremely inventive ways truly pay off. From Uncle Sam screaming “I Want You!” from a poster hanging in an Army recruiting office to Max and his college buddies running around campus belting out “With a Little Help from My Friends ” everything fits taking us on this journey of life love and self-enlightenment. Although Taymor’s forte clearly lies with the very wild and artistic most evident in Across the Universe’s psychedelic acid trips she also expertly highlights the stark reality of a turbulent time. Taymor is a romantic at heart though—a romantic who adores the Beatles. John Lennon would be proud.
What No Reservations needs is a smell-sensitive rat who can cook. Instead we get head chef Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones) a perfectionist who runs the kitchen of a swanky Manhattan eatery with an iron fist. Let’s just say she’s in desperate need of an attitude adjustment so in pops new sous-chef Nick (Aaron Eckhart) a free-spirited fellow who cooks by the seat of his pants. Soon he’s got the whole kitchen staff laughing and loving him way more than Kate. Nick tries to charm Kate too but she won’t have any of it. To top it off Kate unexpectedly becomes the guardian of her 9 year-old niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin) after her sister dies in a car accident. The understandably distraught Zoe is having a tough time and won’t eat any of her aunt’s highfalutin cuisine. The little girl only likes fish sticks—and as it turns out spaghetti a Nick specialty. Yes Nick finally melts Kate’s heart when he gets Zoe to eat a hearty bowl of spaghetti. You can see where this is going right? Love—and tomato sauce—conquers all. When you have two incredibly attractive people onscreen together you want the sparks to fly. Think Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. True those two were falling in love for real but still it makes for a more fulfilling and cinematically romantic experience. But alas it doesn’t always work out and in No Reservations’ case the love story between Zeta-Jones and Eckhart deflates like a fallen soufflé. On their own they each hold up well: Zeta-Jones is good at being steely but emotionally stunted when it comes to matters of the heart while Eckhart’s easy-going charm and great smile make his Nick an obvious choice for any woman. Get them together however and things sag like a wet noodle. Too bad. Breslin is her usual cute self playing it a little more somber than she did in Little Miss Sunshine but the little actress ought to be careful not to pigeon-hole herself into the “eccentric but affecting” kid role. No Reservations also has another knock against it: It’s a remake of the German film Mostly Martha a far more stellar—and original—effort. Natch. Turning a hit foreign film into a studio picture rarely works out; something always gets missed in the translation which for No Reservations is surprising since Mostly Martha writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck is listed as the co-writer. What Nettelbeck did with Mostly Martha is revolve her story around master chef Martha (played brilliantly by Martina Gedeck) and her quirks and anxieties over suddenly having to raise a child. The love story with the Italian chef is more a pleasant surprise than the driving force. But of course with No Reservations the romance is played up for that certain chick flick appeal with two people who have no chemistry. Maybe Nettelbeck was lured into Americanizing her original. For his part director Scott Hicks (Shine) is definitely capable enough to carve out what he can from this predictable set up even adding some flair to the kitchen scenes but he can’t quite push No Reservations past its banality.