Just in time for the release of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Series One on DVD and the fast approaching premiere of the show's second season on IFC, I was lucky enough to pick the brain of...well, the brains of the operation: David Cross. He stars as Todd Margaret, all around bumbling screw-up who is sent to London to sell a terrible energy drink with the help of only one employee. He's got no experience, and though he continues to insist he spent time in England as a child, manages to offend British culture in every unimaginable way. Obviously, this invites some comparison with his past work - as does the fact that Will Arnett is once again sharing the screen with Cross - so we managed to sneak in a few Arrested Development questions while on our quest to learn more about the confounding Todd Margaret universe.
We’re all really big fans of you around here. We loved last season of Todd Margaret. He’s sort of this tragically incompetent character. Where does that inspiration come from? He’s so incredibly full of mishaps.
A number of people have asked me that. He’s not really inspired by any person in particular. But with this show, as opposed to anything else I’ve done so far, the story came first. Before I even developed the character, or wrote for the character and he became fleshed out, the whole thing started with this story. The story was necessitated by the idea—I was approached by this company RDF about doing a show that would be written and produced in the UK, and aired in the UK, but also to potentially go back to the States. That informed the story. So the story came first, I guess. He’s not inspired by any one particular person, but one aspect of Todd, which always makes me uncomfortable—it is inspired by many people I know, but one guy in particular (he represents so many people)—the kind of guy who mistakes female attentiveness or kindness or hospitality for a sexual invitation. And that’s always made me uncomfortable, and that’s based on a couple people I know. One guy in particular who just literally thinks a woman glancing at him and holding a door open for him: ‘Oh, she wants to fuck me!’
Well that’s how it usually works, right?
As I understand it, no!
Yeah, not so much. He’s incompetent in his own way, but I think, for a lot of us fans, it’s hard to not make comparisons between another beloved character of yours: obviously, Tobias from Arrested Development. But I’ve always sort of wondered, if you were to pit Todd and Tobias against each other in an incompetency competition, who would come out on top? Or on the bottom, I guess?
[Laughs] I’ve always thought that Tobias was a bottom. But that’s interesting. To get those two guys together?…Wow, my mind is reeling. I love this! I love that idea! Those two guys being in the same room and sort of forced to be friends. I think Tobias would kind of suss Todd out as somebody he could manipulate. And then he would manipulate, but Tobias is so incompetent, he would get it all wrong.
I think we need a Funny or Die video going.
Yeah. There you go.
Of course, this is also the third TV show where we’ve seen you paired up with Will Arnett, which is always something I’m a personal fan of.
It’s actually the fourth.
Because there was an animated show that Will and I did together.
Of course. That’s even more of a reason for my question. Do you actively seek out opportunities to work with Will?
Well, I actively seek out opportunities to employ Will, because he owes a substantial amount of money. I can try to garnish his wages on other things, but then there’s all this legal crap you have to go through. So the easiest thing to do is just write something for him, give him the job, and then take his money when he’s not working.
It seems like the most seamless way.
It’s smart, believe me. I’m certainly not making a lot of money from his GNC voiceover commercials.
The show was made for the UK in the first place, but Todd is kind of…it does some pretty offensive things to British culture. When you were filming—obviously you film in the UK—was there anything in particular that you were maybe a little wary of shooting, or a little worried about shooting?
Nothing that I was worried about, but there were two specific things that everyone around me—the producers and people working on the show were…I don’t want to say “wary,” but it raised issues. One was me walking down the embankment across from Parliament, the houses of Parliament—the embankment on the River Thames. And I had the BNP shirt: the British Nationalist Party, which, you know, in the States, doesn’t mean anything. But there, it’s akin to walking with like a Nazi or a KKK-type shirt. Walking down the street, I’m just sort of whistling. That was a pickup shot. We were waiting for the sun to go down for this one scene, so we found ourselves with an extra forty-five minutes. So I was like, “Let’s go grab the camera and just shoot me walking down and see if anybody reacts to it.” With flowers, walking to his quote-date-unquote with Alice. And that was one of things where the guys were like, “Just take the shirt off! Come on, David! It’s not funny!” And the other thing…we just don’t have anything that is comparable in the States to their Day of Remembrance. Episode 5, when they’re laying the wreath at the cenotaph. That is a huge deal in the UK. We just don’t have anything that is remotely comparable in the States, where there is literally two minutes of silence, the entire country stops, and it is the single most solemn, reverential moment in the British calendar. So when we did that scene, that was—again, not that anybody was scared, or anything—but it was like, “All right, we have to handle this right, because we’re going to have a lot of extras, a lot of people that are from regiments, that are real guys from regiments. We just have to make sure that they know that we’re still being respectful. Which, of course, we weren’t, so we had to lie. But even if I could tell you that, and you could watch it…still, you have no idea what a big deal that was to shoot that scene.
I can imagine. Was there anything that you were shocked that actually made it to TV? Was that it?
Well, no. I mean, it is cable. There were a couple of things that Brent Wilts says. And believe me, we loved writing them. That is a gift for a writer to write for that character. And Shaun Pye, the sole co-writer on the first series—and then it was Shaun Pye and Mark Chappell doing the second series with me—there were things that Wilts would say that would crack us up, and we would laugh for five minutes hard, that are so offensive and disgusting. I can’t say that I am surprised that they made it onto the air. I’m just thankful that there is a loving and just god that would allow those things to make it to the air.
Are there any pieces of that that didn’t make it to air that we might find on the DVD?
Yeah, there’s a bunch of extra—I mean tons and tons and tons of bonus stuff. We cast every single person with an eye towards their ability to improvise. Literally, everybody in that show. There is definitely stuff that Will and Spike [Jonze] riffed. Sara Pascoe, who plays Pam, who could not be more unlikely her character—I mean, she is the exact opposite: she doesn’t swear in real life, she’s very quiet, cerebral—and the stuff that she riffed that didn’t make it in, that’s in the bonus stuff on the DVD, is also just jaw-droppingly like…“Wow. Where did that come from?”
Well, I can’t wait to see that.
Yeah, there’s some good stuff on there.
And I have to ask about Jon Hamm, of course, being in Series 2. From the clip that’s floating around on the Internet.
He’s Dave Mountford’s personal valet. A butler, as it were. Dave’s personal assistant.
Is he just in one episode?
No, he’s throughout most of it. I think he’s in four episodes.
That’ll be fun.
And I always kind of wondered where Alice’s obsession with gastro-molecular cuisine came from. That’s a really interesting part of the show.
That was necessitated basically by [the fact that Alice] was the only character that really changed from writing the pilot to actually what you see on air. That was because of Sharon Horgan, the actress. We had Alice written more as an ingénue, not as savvy, when we cast Sharon. And Sharon came to my attention—she’s very well respected over there. I had never heard of her or seen her work. Back when we were casting this pilot for Channel 4 in the UK, there were a handful of people that Channel 4 was very interested in. They were kind of pushing these people. And I saw Sharon immediately, just physically, and I was like, “Oh no, she’s not right. She’s older, and she looks harder and smarter. She would never go for Todd.” And then I saw Pulling, which is a show that Sharon co-wrote, produced and created. And it’s just nothing short of brilliant. It is a fucking phenomenal show. And I saw that, and I was like, “Oh my God, she’s amazing!” She was so gifted. I was like, “Yeah, let’s get her in.” So I met with her. And then Shaun, the other writer, and I—Shaun knows Sharon—we were like, “We have to completely rewrite this character.” Because we want to work with Sharon and use her. So we had to come up with a thing that would make the actress Sharon Horgan want to do Todd Margaret, and not just be the ingénue spouting expository dialogue. And so, we had these other ideas that just didn’t really pan out. And then, I can’t remember how we came up with that. It just seems like a very fun thing to make fun of. Dumb, stupid molecular food shit. And when we sort of stumbled upon that idea, we just embraced it. “Yes. This makes sense.” Now we have a reason for her to be there, to move beyond this café, what her real interests are, and something fun for Sharon to do. So that’s where that came in. And really, that’s the only thing that was necessitated by the casting.
I just have one last question. Do you actually play Snooker?
That joke came about, that run, because I had an inability in the writer’s room—I would always say “Snooker.” And they’d go, “Dave, it’s snoo-ker.” I can’t even say it now, in this interview! I have a hang-up problem with it. But no, I’ve never played it. I don’t understand it. I don’t get it. I don’t know what’s happening, why everyone is cheering when a ball goes in the thing. I don’t understand. No, I do not play it. Play a mean game of darts, though!
Todd Margaret: Series One hits shelves Dec. 27 and the show returns to IFC on Jan. 6 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT.
February 07, 2011 12:46pm EST
When a dramedy gets too sentimental it quickly becomes sappy but with the right balance – and the right actors – it can work well enough to entertain on multiple levels. Alexander Payne’s Sideways is a perfect example of tonal equality; bittersweet in every sense of the word but outright hilarious when the comedy gets going. I thought the best qualities of his direction would carry over into his latest production the recent Sundance entry Cedar Rapids. While his influence as producer is identifiable (particularly in its score) director Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) made a more conventional film than I expected to see.
Our story begins in Brown Valley Wisconsin where the dignified Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) works lives and loves his former 7th Grade teacher (a dull Sigourney Weaver). When the top dog at the insurance company he works for dies it’s up to him to represent at a do-or-die insurance convention in Cedar Rapids Iowa a bustling metropolis compared to the small town he’s never left. Once there he befriends a pair of agents (Isaiah Whitlock Jr. and John C. Reilly) cavorts with another (Anne Heche) and parties with a local prostitute (Alia Shawkat). When it comes down to business however he learns quickly that the insurance racket isn’t the noble industry he once thought it was.
Though it has some heart the film doesn’t hit the funny bone like its trailer teased. The biggest laughs don’t come organically; instead Reilly’s crass Dean Ziegler (the best part of the movie) spews them from every orifice he exposes. Most of the other jokes are flat including the bulk of Helms’. Lippe’s naivety is all too reminiscent of Andy Bernard his beloved character on The Office and though you’d think that would be a good thing it just feels stale. Heche gives the best performance of all portraying a melancholy working mother who’s both vulnerable and independent but her character doesn’t have much effect on the narrative. The most fun comes via a series of supporting roles and cameo’s from the likes of Thomas Lennon Stephen Root Rob Corddry Kurtwood Smith and Mike O’Malley but none of them have enough screen time to leave a lasting impression.
Lack of humor aside the film suffers most from trying to tackle too many topics at once. Screenwriter Phil Johnston stuffs many themes into the 87-minute feature including the growth of the man-child (an indie cliché at this point) corporate corruption and separation of church and office but no single subject is developed enough to care about. Had the filmmakers stuck to their guns and delivered an all-out comedy be it conventional or quirky Cedar Rapids would be easier to endure.
September 25, 2004 11:24am EST
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is an ambitionless electronics salesman whose idea of grabbing life by the throat is chugging beer at the local pub the Winchester. After three years Shaun's ennui starts to grate on his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) who presents the 29-year-old slacker with an ultimatum: Set some goals or get ready for the single life. Of course it isn't long before Liz dumps lazybones Shaun who drowns his sorrows in a pint of cold ale at--where else? The Winchester of course along with his out-of-shape and equally lethargic buddy Ed (Nick Frost). What Shaun and Ed are too wasted to realize however is that the good people of London are turning into zombies all around them. When Shaun is almost bitten by a strange pale lady lurking in his garden he realizes something's up--namely that the dead have risen and are feasting on the living. A newly-inspired Shaun springs into action and comes up with the perfect plan to thwart the undead. With the help of Ed he rounds up Liz her roommates his mom and stepfather and takes them to his idea of a safe haven: The Winchester!
As Shaun Pegg who had a small roles in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and the comedy 24 Hour Party People is quite endearing. Although he's shiftless Shaun is someone everyone can relate to--stuck in a comfort zone with no plan to change in his life. But Pegg brings some complexity to the character giving Shaun a sympathetic edge. Of course the film tends to overplay the sympathy card complete with shots of Shaun's fake tears after he splits with Liz. But in the end Shaun is not the lazy loser Liz and her friends all thought he was--just an easy-going guy who enjoys the simpler things in life. Ashfield who has starred in several British feature films is also impressive as Shaun's disapproving girlfriend. The on-screen chemistry between the two stars is surprisingly sweet and almost too down to earth for a parody; sure it's silly at times but incredibly believable. Frost meanwhile nails the sidekick role of Ed--a character you'll first despise but eventually grow to almost love.
In vein of his 1995 spaghetti Western spoof A Fistful of Fingers writer/director Edgar Wright uses his parodying skills once again for his second feature Shaun of the Dead--this time lampooning George Romero's 1978 zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. Like Romero whose zombie films take a satirical look at American counterculture of the late 60s Wright's Shaun takes aim at the dreadful idleness plaguing the underachieving Gen-Xers. The film's first 30 minutes are undoubtedly its best as Shaun and other young Londoners mechanically go through the motions of life without ever taking the time to smell the proverbial roses; they schlep to work traipse to the pub and slump into bed never fully appreciating their lives. While anticipating the imminent onslaught of zombies Wright takes pleasure in blurring the lines between the undead and the just plain lethargic. But the film loses its focus once Shaun's character takes a heroic turn and we are forced to endure several poignant moments with his mom and stepdad. Remember Shaun is suppose to be a zombie satire not a Lifetime movie of the week.